Ancient Light

The day in St. Augustine started out dreary, with passing drizzle and smoky cloud cover, but with the polar vortex finally loosening its grip on the Midwest, and the California coastline bracing for epic rain and mud, the local weather seemed well within the bounds of “I can’t complain” conditions for a Florida weekend.

Nevertheless, taking a chance on an outdoor activity seemed risky. So Leah and I hedged our bets and we traveled to St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, where $12.95 will buy a St. Johns County resident general admission for one year. We figured that we could always duck the rain…

Parabolic view

by browsing the Keeper’s house,

containers

and following the marble tiles to the landing anchorage.

approach

Then it’s 219 steps to the top.

signs 2 (2)

Congress authorized new construction in 1870 to replace the fading “Old Spanish Watchtower” by the shoreline, that’s evolved since the late 1500’s.

$100,000 funded three years of construction.

signs 1 (2)

Tourists have been climbing the corkscrew stairs since 1910. The Philadelphia iron works…

stair risers

hug the walls of the 165 foot Alabama brick structure,

signs 3 (2)

occasionally interrupted by keyhole glimpses of life…

looking out.jpg

until the stairs reach an opening…

looking up

to a 360-degree lookout… 

lighthouse view2 (3)

that’s capped by 370 hand-cut glass prisms arranged in a beehive shape towering twelve feet tall and six feet in diameter.

difracted fresnel

The original lens was restored in 1992 because of vandals, 

The Fresnel Lens (2)

and re-lit by a 1000-watt bulb the following year.

difraction close-up (2)

Today, the tower represents the oldest brick structure in St. Augustine, and shines a bright light on a community that preserves its heritage, protects through its presence, and invests in its future.

lighthouse overview

 

 

Southern Fortitude

It was a bad day for Col. Charles Olmstead and the Confederate Army on April 10, 1862, when Capt. Quincy Gillmore’s Union artillery attacked Fort Pulaski from the northwest beachhead of Tybee Island, forcing its surrender thirty hours later,

direction dial

and proving that a seemingly invincible coastal fortification that required 25 million bricks, 18 years, and $1 million to build could never catch up to evolving weapons technology.

Overview

Even 7½-inch-thick mortar walls were insufficient to protect the Fort’s garrison from the explosive bombardment of Gillmore’s experimental rifled cannon fire from one mile away.

gate

Construction on Fort Pulaski began in 1829 as part of the Third System–in defense of Savannah’s 20,000 citizens and dynamic seaport–adopted by President Madison in response to the War of 1812.

Gorge Wall

With Fort Sumter under Confederate control by Christmas, 1860, Gov. Joseph Brown ordered state militia to seize Fort Pulaski–still unoccupied by Federal troops–on January 3, 1861…

Demilune

…and transferred ownership to the Confederacy following Georgia’s succession on January 19, 1861.

the yard

It was a controversial gambit that ultimately escalated into eleven States joining the Confederacy–spiraling the South into Civil War by April 12, 1861.

spiral stairs

Tourist Attractions

When showing family the sights of St. Augustine the first time around,

there are so many tried and true options that abound.

Naturally, driving onto Vilano Beach becomes the main outdoor attraction,

where short legs wade long lengths across silky, sandy satisfaction.

wading out

The Alligator Farm is another familiar and likely choice,

where eager grandchildren are apt to rejoice…

Alligator lagoon.jpg

at a place where rescued reptiles and denizens…

Maximo (2).jpg

Galapagos tortoise1.jpg

albino alligator.jpg

savor a seasonal delicacy,

so good!

yum!.jpg

and feathered friends…

heron

are likely to take up full-time residency.

pretty bird

stork

The Castillo de San Marcos gunnery platoon…

soldier and kids.jpg

castillo model

provides a cannon blast from the past very close to high noon.

cannon blast

And Anastasia Beach State Park’s estuarine channel

egret on the shore1.jpg

offers a vigorous workout with a kayak paddle.

Carrie, Devin, Dan and bird

The Aikens, Grammy, and Kayak

Or how ’bout a free ferry crossing Matanzas Bay…

ferry crossing.jpg

to inspect Fort Matanzas,

inside out

and its cannon array.

Fort Matanzas gun station.jpg

Then again, not withstanding the two-hour drive to Kennedy Space Center,

Kennedy wall.jpg

there’s a universe of exhibits to explore,

a walk on the moon

ISS.jpg

and The World’s Largest Space Shop to enter.

spaceman and kids

But when summer’s heat and humidity just…won’t…allow…another…step,

and when it’s subsequently rainy–as most afternoons are likely to get–

the chosen activity must absolutely meet

the standards of two curious kids, and satisfy their sweet teeth.

hairnet family

Happily, such a happening exists for the young and the grown,

and can be found at the artisan chocolatier, Whetstone.

Whetstone greeting.jpg

The tour informs you of its elaborate process and technique…

chocolate process

But realistically, we came for the chocolate samples we could eat.

Yet unlike the follies of Lucy and Ethel…

our guide served five tastings,

and each one was special.

 

For seven days our family wandered throughout St. Augustine town,

with plenty leftover to experience for the next time around.

Wise Guys

It’s been one year since our visit to Mt. Rushmore, and what could be more American than re-posting this episode on Independence Day…

There’s no better way to celebrate the 4th of July, than a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sure, the crowds were large; that was to be expected. But once the cars were garaged, the pedestrian traffic was easy to negotiate. And with everyone looking up at the mountain, the Presidents’ faces and intentions were never obstructed.

GW

Jefferson

Roosevelt

Lincoln

It was also a time to celebrate family. There were plenty of kids riding in strollers, hanging from moms in carriers, or balancing on dads’ shoulders. Generations of families–many of them immigrants–had gathered to pay homage to the principles of freedom that make our country a beacon for the oppressed and downtrodden.

Seniors were being escorted through the Avenue of Flags by their grandchildren. Extended families organized group pictures at the Grand View Terrace, unified by their love of democracy and their reunion T-shirts.

All expressed awe at Gutzon Borglum’s grand vision and remarkable achievement–the transformation of a mountain into a national symbol visited by approximately 3 million people every year.

long shot

The 14-year process of carving the rock began with dimensionalizing the Presidents’ portraits through Plaster of Paris masks, on view at the sculptor’s studio-turned-museum.

Sculptor's Studio

Additional exhibits detail the construction of the memorial, and the tools used by workers, like the original Rand & Waring compressor, which powered the jackhammers for all the finishing work.

compressor

A little known fact is that Mt. Rushmore was once intended to be a tribute to the “Five Faces of Freedom,” but funding ran short when the Congressional appropriation approached $1 million during the Great Depression. Hence, the unfinished carving of the Great Ape to the right of Lincoln serves as a reminder that we are never far from our true ancestors.¹

Planet of the Apes

No less ambitious, and equally as impressive, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a work-in-progress located 16 miles away in the heart of the Black Hills–considered sacred land by the Lakota people.

Crazy Horse LS

Conceived by Korczak Ziolkowski in early 1940s,

crazy horse model (2)

the memorial, when completed will stand 563 ft. by 641 ft. across, and is expected to be the largest sculpture in the world. Already, the completed head of Crazy Horse measures 60 feet tall…

Crazy Horse CU

…twice the size of any of the presidents at Mt. Rushmore. While the first blast was conducted on the mountain in 1947, the current prospects for the memorial are to complete the outstretched arm during the next twelve years. There is no completion date available for the finished carving, which has been financed entirely by private funding since its inception.

Mt. Rushmore was created by a Danish American. Crazy Horse was created by a Polish American. And visitors to both destinations manifest the melting pot that has brought us all together as Americans. It’s our diversity that makes us strong, our ambition and determination that makes us great, and our compassion and sacrifice that make us whole.

These are the values reflected from the faces we’ve immortalized in stone. Yet, we would honor them more by living according to these principles.

Happy Birthday, America!

fireworks1

¹ Just kidding, but the photograph is real and has not been retouched.

Dynamic Panoramics

Every so often, when visiting many of the iconic vistas across America, I’d struggle to capture the overwhelming awesomeness of the landscape around me.

Grand Canyon NP
South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park

Framing the image through my viewfinder frequently posed a tremendous challenge to adequately represent the expansive angle of the surrounding landscape.

Palo Duro Canyon
Palo Duro Canyon, TX

That’s when I knew it was time to put down my Lumix and pick up my phone.

Mount Victoria, Banff NP
Lake Louise, Banff National Park

By turning to the panorama feature of my Samsung Galaxy S8,

Johnson Ridge, Mt. St. Helens National Monument
Johnson Ridge, Mt. St. Helens National Monument

I found a tool that brought me closer to recording longer distances.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley NP
Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

By instantly and seamlessly stitching successive shots with integrated photo-manipulation software,

Iceberg Pass, Rocky Mountain NP
Iceberg Pass, Rocky Mountain National Park

I found another way to express the world around me.

Shenandoah Valley
Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

Panoramas provide an opportunity to share multiple perspectives simultaneously,

Horseshoe Canyon, Drumheller
Horseshoe Canyon, Drumheller, Alberta

gathering as wide an angle as the scene allows–

Watermark Vista, Capital Reef NP
Watermark Vista, Capital Reef National Park

–eliminating the frame lines and expanding the aspect ratio to maximum effect.

Rainbow Trail, Valley of Fire
Rainbow Trail, Valley of Fire, NV

When used appropriately,

High Bluff, Redwoods NP
High Bluff, Redwoods National Park

whether in color…

Great Smoky Mountains NP
atop Clingmans Dome, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

or black and white…

Mount Rushmore National Monument
Mt. Rushmore National Monument

there is no better way to establish a field of infinite view without sacrificing the integrity of the image.

Badlands NP panorama
Badlands National Park

Conversely,

Bald Butte, Cypress Hills PP
Bald Butte, Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Saskatchewan

a case can be made for showcasing the apparent aberrations and distortions that can arise from difficulty interpolating the multiple parallax points across a scene,

Cinder Cone Crater, Lassen Volcanic NP
Cinder Cone Crater, Lassen Volcanic National Park

thus creating something unique and/or imaginary.

Athabasca River, Jasper NP.jpg
Athabasca River, Jasper National Park

For instance, flattening a circular garden path…

Mable's Rose Garden of Ca'd'zan, Sarasota
Mable’s Rose Garden of Ca’d’Zan, Sarasota, FL

or warping a linear edifice.

Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs, AR
Crescent Hotel, Eureka Springs, AR

Additionally,

Cedar Pass, Badlands, NP
Cedar Pass, Badlands National Park

by stepping away from the camera,

Bryce NP, Amphitheater
Amphitheater, Bryce Canyon National Park

and freeing oneself from the single-mindedness of staring,

Bryce NP, Yav Point
Bryce Canyon National Park

focusing,

Bryce NP, Queen's Garden
Queen’s Garden, Bryce Canyon National Park

composing through a viewfinder,

Canyonlands, NP Crater
Upheaval Dome, Canyonlands National Park

a feeling of liberation arises,

El Capitan and Cathedral Mountain, Yosemite NP
El Capitan and Cathedral Rock, Yosemite National Park

which can also deliver a moment of greater clarity of vision…

Waterfowl Lake, Jasper NP
Waterfowl Lake, Jasper National Park

and kinetic connectedness to the photograph,

Grand Tetons NP
Grand Tetons National Park

as the body slowly rotates to encapsulate the scene.

Rainbow Curve, Rocky Mountain NP
Rainbow Curve, Rocky Mountain National Park

What follows is a retrospective of panoramic images of some of my favorite places,

Painted Desert, Petrified Forest NP
Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park

in an attempt to convey the diversity,

panarama scenic canyon (2)
Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park

and beauty of wide-open spaces across America,

Olympia NP, Hood Canal.jpg
Hood Canal, Olympic National Park

albeit,

Athabasca Glacier
Athabasca Glacier, Columbia Icefield

with a word of advice:

Lake 4, Jasper NP
Lake 4, Jasper National Park

Although this post can be enjoyed on a mobile device,

Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt NP
Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

many of the images are rich in detail,

Olympia NP, Olympic Peninsula
Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park

and are best viewed on a larger screen…

Navajo Knob, Capital Reef NP
Navajo Knob, Capital Reef National Park

to better take advantage of the breadth,

Mt. Edith Cavell, Jasper NP
Mt. Edith Cavell, Jasper National Park

the scope,

Moro Rock, Sequoia NP
Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park

the scale,

Louise Lake, Mt. Ranier NP
Louise Lake, Mt. Ranier National Park

and enormity of the subjects.

Joshua Tree, NP
Joshua Tree National Park

Also,

Bearhat Mountain & Hidden Lake, Glacier NP
Bearhat Mountain & Hidden Lake, Glacier National Park

my apologies in advance to those who are downloading on slow networks,

Gooseneck Overlook, Canyonlands, NP
Gooseneck Overlook, Canyonlands, National Park

for the generous number of photographs with large data files…

Forest Canyon, Rocky Mountain NP
Forest Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park

may make it seem like an eternity before everything eventually loads.

Garden Wall, Glacier NP
Garden Wall, Glacier National Park

But such is the case when shooting a photograph.

Custer Battlefield National Memorial
Custer Battlefield National Memorial

The virtue of patience…

Bryce Canyon
Yav Point, Bryce Canyon National Park

is ultimately rewarded…

Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest NP
Blue Mesa, Petrified Forest National Park

by the satisfaction of knowing that the final image can finally be appreciated.

Brokeoff Mountain, Lassen Volcanic NP
Brokeoff Mountain, Lassen Volcanic National Park

The Denim King

Starting from Shenandoah River State Park…

the Shenandoah

and completing the 105-mile drive through Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive from Front Royal to its southern terminus…

park map (2)

exposed us to more rain in 4 days than we had seen in all of one year on the road. There were moments when the deluge abated long enough to give us broken clouds and glimpses from some of the nearly seventy overlooks of the infinite Piedmont range to the east…

Thorton Hollow Overlook

and the Shenandoah Valley to the west.

green to blue infinity

But mostly, we held our breath as we rolled along the two-lane ribbon of asphalt that wound around the mountains and climbed through a fog and cloud cover so dense at times that Leah and I asked ourselves if our summary road trip on the way to retiring the Airstream could literally be a watershed event.

Our travel plans were non-negotiable, as campgrounds had been prepaid along Skyline Drive and the first 300 miles of the connecting Blue Ridge Parkway before we’d exit eastbound toward Charlotte. We had given ourselves this time aboard the Airstream as a last hurrah–a chance to enjoy one more trip and indulge in driving one of America’s great “scenic” byways.

A moving van brimming with our belongings was awaiting departure from New Jersey to Florida, and slated for delivery by the first Monday in June while we slogged through foul weather on our way to Huntersville, North Carolina where our Airstream was destined for dry dock until the following year, giving us ample time to put our St. Augustine house in order and acclimate to Florida living.

Meanwhile, current weather stats revealed that remnants from Alberto (the first official storm of the 2018 hurricane season) had dumped over eight inches of rain along our travel route, punishing nearby dams and washing out essential bridge footings ahead of us, but we dutifully soldiered on, imagining the glorious views that would be to our left and our right.

Every so often, we’d take a break from our mountain miasma, and venture into the valley to escape the cloudburst and capture some of the local color (see A Touch of Blue and Mount Airy, NC), only to return to the Airstream and listen to the downpour pelting the roof like a torrent of bullets.

At times, we’d have a moment of clarity, like when we reached Mabry Mill at Milepost 176 (see Favoritism) and stopped to gawk at red-tailed hawks as they danced atop the thermals,

dancing hawks (2)

but it would be another hundred miles of slogging through doomsday rain before we’d catch another break from the storm.

Eventually, we disengaged the Airstream at Price Park Campground near Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and backtracked to investigate Flat Top Manor, a 23-room, 13,000 square foot national historic landmark…

porch.jpg

and once the summer home of Moses Cone, son of German Jewish immigrants originally named Kane,

Cone manor.jpg

and aptly nick-named the The Denim King, for Moses and his closest brother Ceasar dominated the textile industry by acquiring and building manufacturing mills throughout the deep South, becoming the world leader in denim, flannel, and corduroy fabric production, and the sole supplier to Levi Strauss for its “501” brand jeans. Moses Cone, entrepeneur, conservationist and philanthropist had led the South to the Promised Land.

Moses and Bertha built their mansion at the turn of the 20th-century for $25,000 with every modern convenience of the time, despite their 20-mile distance from the nearest railhead, and the remoteness of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

storm brewing

The couple (they never had children) enjoyed central heating, indoor plumbing, telephone, and gaslight–for Bertha eschewed electric light–disliking its unnatural glow and how it affected her skin tone. However, years later, after the death of Moses in 1908, she allowed electricity into the house, replacing the blocks of ice once cut and carried from Bass Lake with a food refrigeration system supplemented by one light bulb in the basement pantry.

pantry

The house stands empty, and appears unfinished. No furniture accentuates its over-sized rooms, and cracks have ravaged once-smooth walls.

master bath

closet window

But there are notable wall decorations…

letter

and at one time, a treasure trove of avant-garde art adorned the mansion thanks to lasting friendships and patronage between two unwed Cone sisters, Dr. Claribel and Etta,

Cone sisters (2)
Dr Claribel & Miss Etta (Cone Sisters) by Ronald Brooks Kitaj, c. 1997-2000

and Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Their collection ultimately passed to the Baltimore Museum of Art, now recognized as the Cone Wing, and valued at over $1billion.

Today, the estate–managed by the National Park Service–services over 25 miles of carriage roads and trails.

cone sign

Leah and I dared the rain, and hiked five miles to the Observation Tower at the southeastern edge of the property, where we were rewarded with pastoral guests,

young head old ass

hare

intriguing butterflies feeding on unknown feces,

butterflies

and a breathtaking panorama of nearby Boone–home of Appalachian State University, endowed by Moses Cone–and the neighboring wilderness.

Observation tower view

Upon our return, we stopped to pay respects to Moses and Bertha, buried together under Flat Top Mountain,

grave stone

and overlooking 3,500 acres of his legacy, where an orchard of 35,000 apple trees once produced prized fruit for the gentleman farmer.

grave site

The rain returned during the brief drive back to Price Park, but abated just as quickly to capture a lasting moment of smoke wafting across Sim’s Pond.

smoke on the water

The next morning–our travel day to Charlotte–we awoke to blue skies and sunshine beaming across Grandfather Mountain.

Grandfather Mountain

The run-off from Price Lake was fierce, barreling down Bee Tree Creek.

overflow

Rangers alerted us that the Parkway heading south had been temporarily closed. Flash floods and mudslides had forced a partial shutdown of Interstate 40, necessitating a detour through rural America before we could connect with I-77 S.

Putting our Airstream on blocks in Huntersville was bittersweet. It marked the formal ending of Streaming thru America, but our future holds new surprises.

Already, we’re pre-planning a trip to circumnavigate the Great Lakes during the summer of 2019. Until then, we’ll have to settle for a journey of a different sort, and I hope to keep the world posted.

Favoritism

When I was growing up, I often accused my mother of favoritism–feeling as if she was more devoted to one of my two sisters or other brother than me. Yet today, I can’t recollect a certain situation that gave me the chutzpah to suggest to her that one sibling got preferential treatment over another.

Of course, whenever I raised the indictment, my mother always answered the same way, “How could you say that? I love all my children the same.”

I don’t know. Maybe what she said was true for her. But I was always suspicious of her definition of equality. None of us was the same in our looks, our likes, our talents and abilities. Each of us had something that made us special. So I was never really certain how our individuality and distinctiveness measured against Mom’s distribution of love. To me, she adopted “separate but equal” as a legal family doctrine in order to avoid conflict, but conflict always had a way of showing up.

Later, as a parent, I wrestled with whether one son was better than another. I came to the conclusion that I didn’t love them equally–I loved them differently.

Many years and careers later, when I was in a classroom setting teaching emotionally and learning disabled students, the notion of picking a favorite became a source of reflection. Of course, I was more inclined to curry favor upon students who were better prepared, less of a discipline problem, and willing to try. These were my “go-to” kids who were eager to respond to open academic questions whether they knew the answer or not, and it was hard not to treat them differently.

And so, it’s much the same with determining which is a favorite of the tens of thousands of photographs I’ve snapped since becoming a “serious” photographer. After scanning through archives of images that still thrill me, I’ve decided that I cannot pick one over another, since each “favorite” has a different integrity, or power, or message.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that my favorite photograph is the one I’ve taken last, because it’s in that moment that I’ve given it the most attention, and therefore overshadowing all the other images that have preceded it.

Currently, as I travel south with Leah to meet my new destiny in St. Augustine, I am following a ribbon of asphalt that curls through the ridgeline of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Virginia and North Carolina. And while I’m certain that it’s picturesque, given the large number of overlooks that the 1930’s Conservation Corps has carved out on both sides of the Parkway, the ongoing fog and rain clouds have obscured all sitelines, making this a dissapointing journey.

However, a short break in the weather while passing milepost 176 of Blue Ridge Parkway in Floyd County, Virginia gave us a chance to stretch our legs and take a self-guided tour of the mill by the water…

mill in the mill of the mill

built by E.B. Mabry in 1903. Originally, a blacksmith and wheelwright operation,

wheels

drive pulleys

Mabry later added a sawmill,

sawmill1

and seeing the need, added a gristmill as an additional service.

millstones and fences

From all the rain, the scene was eerily green…

aquaduct

water delivery channels

shed and wagon

and serene.

farmhouse with hemlock

And for one precious moment, it became my favorite place to photograph…

The Mill

until the next assignment!

 

A Touch of Blue

After dry camping (no utilities or hook-ups) for three days at Mathews Arm campground inside Shenandoah National Park,

Hawksbill summit

the threat of rain, the need for groceries, and the desire to charge our tablets and phones drove us off the mountaintops to Luray, the valley town nearest the Thornton Gap park entrance, and renowned for its fancy formations. But having previously explored so many other holes in the ground over the past year, including Luray Cavern at an earlier time, the lure of Luray—after shopping at Walmart—now lay in the living shrine to The Dukes of Hazzard, as memorialized by Cooter’s on US-211 West.

Steer 01

Cooter's ext.jpg

For those unfamiliar, The Dukes of Hazard was a TV show from the early 80’s…

D of H cast pic

that followed a rash of 1960’s programming that satirized rural Southern living, and fish-out-of-water sensibilities beginning with the Andy Griffith ShowThe Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and Andy Griffth spin-off, Gomer Pyle USMC.

The Dukes of Hazard series popularized chase scenes with a Dodge Charger named General Lee that could catch air and outrun every Cherry Top….

Cooter's

and daisy dukes (short shorts worn by Daisy Duke).

Daisy Dukes (2)

With equal parts giftshop…

Confederate gifts

museum…

picture shrine

Cooter's Cruiser

fire truck

Boss Hogg Cadillac

fast-food fare, and live music venue…

Jamboree

Cooter’s has become the perfect one-stop Good Ol’ Boy stop-over. As Cooter is so fond of saying, “With free parking, free museum admission, and free music, if you’re not completely satisfied, we’ll give you your money back!”

Immediately, upon entering, I felt out of place—like I was intruding—even though I’m a big fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band. Perhaps a combination of morbid obesity, and full-color body tattoos may have automatically disqualified me from fitting in. But like a train wreck that’s almost impossible to ignore, I could not be dissuaded from gawking at the regulars,

staff

who come to Cooter’s to: consume heart attack chili, “so good it’ll kill ya!”; show the young’uns all the neat merchandise that Pops grew up with;

D of H merch

take foolish pictures with cut-out faces of the Hazzard cast;

Leah as Daisy Dukes

or take a $10 ride…

Munzter High.jpg

on a monster truck;

climb aboard

 

and enjoy country music with a decided “red (political) and white (racial)” edge.

Cooter's Garage Band

Richie, the bassist got the party started with some tunes by Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, but the mood got serious with a rendition of Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the U.S.A. One-by-one, the crowd stood in obeisance as they sang from hearts solemnly covered by hands. Some of the crowd actually got weepy.

Richie acknowledged their emotional valor with some patriotic pearls, “We sure do love this country—finest country on Earth. But I don’t need to remind y’all ‘bout that, ‘cause this ain’t rocket surgery.”

Richie segued, “Now this here’s the part of the show where I like to ask our visitors where they’re travellin’ from. How many of you folks are from out of town?”

Scanning the room for volunteers brought a few announcements, “Pennsylvania…Maryland…North Carolina…” all met with applause.

Leah whispered, “Are we from New Jersey or Florida?”

“Well, besides the Airstream, there’s only one state I know where we own property,” I advised.

“We’re from Florida!” Leah called out. More applause.

Richie declared, “Then I declare, without even botherin’ to load all that data into GPS, that you people from Florida are the farthest guests from here today, and that makes you the winner!”

As if on auto-pilot from the other side of the stage, George on guitar intones, “Tell her what she’s won, Richie.”

“You bet, George,” affirms Richie. “She gets to pick our next song.”

[To Leah] “Any song, sweetheart!”

Leah panicked, “Quick, Neal. Give me a song!”

I felt like I needed to stand up for the Blue Team. “How ‘bout Blue Velvet,” I offered.

Richie, incredulously, “You mean that number by Bobby Vinton?” [singing] “She wore Blue Velvet, dah da dah, da dah.”

I felt like a contestant on Stump the Band.

Richie confessing, “I think that’s all we got for that one. Why don’t-cha pick somethin’ else?”

Pausing a moment, I suggested Blue Suede Shoes.

“Now, that song’s gonna be a part of our second set,” Richie previewed, “so gimme your favorite country group instead, and we’ll play a song from their songbook.”

“That’s easy. Play something from the Dixie Chicks,” I requested.

Richie didn’t expect the ambush.

Unfortunately for the Texas-bred Dixie Chicks, they were vilified by their fanbase when they spoke out against the Bush/Cheney Iraqi invasion, with some goons going so far as dispatching hate mail and death threats.

The still unforgiving crowd at Cooter’s became uncomfortably silent. People turned in their seats to stare, wondering, “Who is this interloper who dares to break the 11th Commandment at Cooter’s? Thou shalt banish the Dixie Chicks from all of country music’s memory.

Rita, the vocalist fronting the Cooter Garage Band put things in perspective. “It’s been ‘bout ten years since we did this, and I never thought we’d be performing it again, but we’re gonna play it for Florida, so please don’t hold it against us.”

The band launched into a stirring rendition of Some Days You Gotta Dance that even had the most ardent cynics tapping their toes and bobbing their torsos.

Not one to overstay our welcome, we left shortly afterwards in search of BBQ.

BBQ.jpg

Score one for the Blue Team.

Liquidscape

While hiking the Bear Lake Loop Trail at Rocky Mountain National Park, I was drawn to a cluster of lodgepole pines raked across the water, with Mt. Wuh peaking in the distance.

Mt. Wuh

Subsequently, the wind picked up, disturbing the mirrored reflection–a quiver of ripples now transforming my quiet reality into a impressionistic interpretation of my Nirvana.

Bear Lake

I was captivated by the shimmering shape of sky and treeline, and inclined to shift my focus to the water, with the notion of turning nature upside down…

Rocky Mountain reflection

…and anchoring the soft glow of a landscape into a liquidscape.

My Place in the World

Where is my place in the World?
Where is my home?

burl
Is it deep in the forest
where redwoods are burled?
gnome house
Or far in the garden
protected by gnomes?
crashing waves.jpg
Could it be by the ocean,
where waves crash the rocks?
Lake Moraine canoe rental
Or how ’bout the notion
of boats by the dock?
Biltmore Castle
And why not the castle
that touches blue air?
TSQ traffic
Or maybe the hassle
of crowded Times Square?
Banff
Could I hike to the mountains,
reaching higher and farther?
Charleston waterfront.jpg
Or lounge by a fountain
with views of the harbor?
villa.jpg
Might I stroll through a villa,
grapes ready to prune?
Kate's
Or sip sasaparilla
at a Western Saloon? 
Salton Sea.jpg
Can I conquer the valley’s
remote isolation?
Theus Bonaventure.jpg
And weave through an alley
of tombs and cremation?

My place is a harvest
of everything listed.

No one place defines me, lest
l ever existed.

Happy Trails

The shortest distance between two points of outdoor interest is rarely a straight line, but it’s always a trail–whether it’s over water…

Buffalo Pound Nicolle Flats Nature trail
Buffalo Pound–Nicolle Flats Nature Trail
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge trail
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge Trail
Drumheller Valley Star Suspension Bridge trail
Drumheller Valley–Star Suspension Bridge Trail

…or mud,

Great Smokys Andrews Bald trail
Great Smoky Mountain NP–Andrews Bald Trail

…or through a tunnel…

Great Smokys Lakeshore trail (2).jpg
Great Smoky Mountains NP–Lakeshore Trail

…through a tree…

Yosemite Tuolumne Grove Nature Ttrail
Yosemite–Tuolumne Grove Trail

…or under a rock;

Sequoia Potwisha trail.jpg
Sequoia NP–Potwisha Trail
Mammoth Cave trail
Mammoth Caves-NP–Historic Trail

Whether it requires a conventional staircase…

Valley of Fire Atlatl Rock trail
Valley of Fire–Atlatl Rock Trail
Moro Rock trail
Sequoia NP–Moro Rock Trail
Eureka Springs Center St to Main St trail
Eureka Springs–Center St. to Main St. Trail

Descending Lower Antelope Canyon trail

Ascending Lower Antelope Canyon trail
Lower Antelope Canyon Trail
Kentucky Natural Bridge trail
Kentucky Natural Bridge Trail

…or integrated steps,

Arches Windows trail
Arches NP–Windows Trail

…or at times, a ramp,

Hobe Mountain Observation Tower trail
Jonathan Dickinson State Park–Hobe Mountain Trail

trails can be linear or curvey, ascending or descending.

Tower ramp
Great Smoky Mountains–Crescent Mountain Observation Tower Trail

Some trails are meant for bicycles…

Tres Rios Cenotes trail

Tres Rios Cenotes Nature Trail
Tres Rios Ecopark–Cenotes Trail
John Dickinson bicycle trail.jpg
Jonathan Dickinson State Park–EaglesView Trail

…while others are intended for boats…

Everglades Airboat trail
Everglades Holiday Park–Everglades Canal Trail

…or horseback…

Palo Duro Canyon horse trail
Palo Duro Canyon Horse Trail

…or a four wheel drive vehicle.

Canyonlands Horshoe Canyon trail
Canyonlands NP–Horseshoe Canyon Trail

At times there are trails that require more extreme modes of transportation, like an all-terrain Ice Explorer…

all-terrain Ice Explorer
Columbia Icefields–Athabasca Glacier

…or a train to explore the Rockies…

Banff Rocky Mountaineer trail
Banff–Rocky Mountaineer Tracks
Pikes Peak mountain trail
Pikes Peak–The Broadmoor’s Cog Railway

…or a formation of F/A-18 Hornets…

Blu Angel formation contrails

Blue Angels contrails
Marine Corp Air Station Miramar–Air Show

or even a Space Shuttle.

Atlantis shuttle (3)
Kennedy Space Center

But mostly, hiking a trail is best accomplished by putting one foot in front of the other, although the terrain can vary from sand…

footprints
White Sands National Monument
couple taking a walk
Singer Island Beach
Saguaro Valley View Overlook trail
Saguaro NP–Valley View Overlook Trail

…to volcanic gravel,

Lassen Cinder Cone trail
Lassen Volcanic NP–Cinder Cone Trail
Lassen Volcanic Painted Dunes trail
Lassen Volcanic NP–Painted Dunes Trail
Olympic staircase trail
Olympic NP–Staircase Rapids Nature Loop Trail

or from ice…

Athabasca Glacier trail1
Columbia Icefields–Athabasca Glacier

…to salt;

Salt Flats (2)
Death Valley–Badwater Basin

and from granite…

Yosemite Four Mile trail
Yosemite–Four-Mile Trail

…to sandstone;

Valley of Fire White Domes trail
Valley of Fire–White Dome Trail
Valley of Fire Wave trail
Valley of Fire–Fire Wave Trail
Palo Duro Canyon Big Cave trail
Palo Duro Canyon–Big Cave Trail
Bryce Canyon Amphitheater trail
Bryce Canyon–Hoodoo Amphitheater Trail
Wildrose Peak trail
Death Valley–Charcoal Hives–Wildrose Mountain Trail
Death Valley Fall Canyon trail
Death Valley–Fall Canyon Trail
Death Valley Golden Canyon trail1
Death Valley–Golden Canyon Trail

and from tree bark…

Sequoia Cedar Grove trail
Yosemite–Cedar Grove Trail

…to tree roots…

Athabasca Falls trail
Athabasca Falls Trail

…to pavement.

Sioux Falls Falls Park trail.jpg
Sioux Falls–Falls Park Trail
Looking down Kill Devil Hill
Kill Devil Hill–Wright Brothers Memorial Trail

But in the end, regardless of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,

parhelic circle with sundogs
Great Smoky Mountains NP–Andrews Bald–Parhelic Circle with Sun Dogs

it’s the journey to get from here to there that matters most–because it’s the journey that builds character, and defines us like the lines on the palms of our hand.

palm and seed.jpg
Sequoia NP–Sequoia seed

Critters

To be sure, one of our many objectives while streaming thru America was spotting and capturing photos of as much wildlife as serendipity would allow, for it’s rarely nature’s way for wildlife to wander into my camera frame and pose at will. So the game of being at the right place at the right time, and putting ourselves in position to witness the spectacle of earth’s mighty creatures became somewhat of an obsession.

Yet, seemingly, whenever Leah and I set out to search for a particular species, we invariably turned up empty. For instance, lying low at Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley for a chance encounter with bighorn sheep escorting their new babes down from Mt. Washburn at the beginning of summer season never happened, despite a solid hour of wait time, and occasional reassurances from park rangers that the prospect was highly likely since no wolves had been sighted in the meadow where the mares prefer to congregate to lick the salt from the rocks by a Yellowstone River runoff.

Instead, when we were least expecting them, we’d found them gathering by a trailhead parking lot in the Canadian Rockies,

bighorn flock.jpg

and worshipping the moon on the cliffs of Muddy Mountain while returning from a hike through Nevada’s Valley of Fire.

sheep and moon (4)

and surveying the brutal Badlands while cruising the Loop Road in our air-conditioned F-150.

Badlands bighorn sheep

Related cliff dwellers included mountain goats from Glacier National Park…

Glacier NP mountain goat

and the Columbia Icefields of Alberta.

Columbia Icefields mountain goat

In the early months of our journey, our frustrating search for elusive alligators along the bayou and delta landscape led us to create a call that crocodilia were apt to ignore: “Here, gator, gator, gator!” (see Where Have all the Gators Gone?)

However, we would not be denied while airboating through the Florida Everglades…

snout underwater

gater head

Everglades alligator

Lesser evasive reptiles encountered along the way ranged from a bloated rattler…

Joshua Tree rattler

and a horned toad camouflaged against a terrain of cholla cacti within Joshua Tree…

Joshua Tree horned lizard

to a greater earless lizard basking on a Big Bend boulder…

Big Bend lizard

a lounging iguana from the tropics of Quintana Roo…

Playa del Camen iguana

and an angry gopher tortoise from Hobe Sound.

Hobe Sound turtle

On the other hand, squirrels and chipmunks were ubiquitous throughout the entirety of our trip…

and never shy, if there was the faintest chance they could scavenge a meal discarded by humans.

Joshua Tree squirrel

Although, their close cousin, the prairie dog was less apt to wander from the safety of its network of burrows at Prairie Dog Town in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Teddy Roosevelt prairie dog

Equally as omnipresent, and just as opportunistic were the many ravens that crossed our paths: from Bryce Canyon;

Bryce Canyon raven.jpg

to Arizona’s Painted Desert;

Painted Desert raven

to the perch atop the Cathedral of St. Helena.

Helena Cathedral raven

Other fowl that caught our attention included a variety of cranes and herons from multiple coastal habitats…

Carmel crane

Sarasota crane1

Everglades sand cranes1

Redwoods crane

Everglades great blue heron

and pelicans fishing from the Gulf of Mexico…

Naples pelican.jpg

to the Pacific Ocean.

Carmenl pelicans

But what really captured our imagination were the wild horses that always stood out in a crowd;

Teddy Roosevelt wild horses (2)

the Yellowstone black bear that we’ve never grown tired of beholding;

Yellowstone black bear

and the beasts that have defined our heritage as a nation–whether it was the descendants of Death Valley’s Twenty Mule Team…

Death Valley mules

or the mighty bison on the open range.

Teddy Roosevelt buffalo road

Yellowstone buffalo.jpg

Yes, the animal world is prolific; it’s divided between domestic…

Smoky Mountain cows

St. Louis Clydesdale

and wild;

Eureka Springs tiger sanctuary

cariboo (2)

common…

Grand Canyon elk

and sublime.

Channel Islands blue fox

But regardless of the patience required to collect this anthology of imagery, it pales in comparison to the understanding and energy that must be required to keep our environment intact. Of the approximately 2 million animal species identified on our planet, over 16,000 species are rapidly dwindling, due largely in part to habitat destruction and climate change.

According to Endangered Earth,

“There are now 41,415 species on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, and 16,306 of them are endangered species threatened with extinction. This is up from 16,118 last year. This includes both endangered animals and endangered plants.

The species endangered include one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70% of the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 IUCN Red List that are in jeopardy of extinction. The total number of extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or in cultivation. In the last 500 years, human activity has forced over 800 species into extinction.”

We must be resolute and vigilant as conservationists and global citizens to ensure that future generations share the same joy of experiencing wildlife in their lifetime, lest we only have these and other photographs to offer them by default.

Happy Earth Day!

Rocky Mountain elk

Sunrise, Sunset

Six million visitors a year gravitate to Grand Canyon National Park, hoping for a visceral connection with one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. They come to contemplate the Canyon’s enormity and marvel at nature’s possibilities. They come to walk the rim; hike the trails; or ride a mule/bike/train. Others may be inclined to climb the observation tower; watch a tribal ceremony; or dine at El Tovar. But no matter what the activity, It seems that EVERYBODY has arrived with a camera to document every moment of their Canyon experience as if it was a sacred rite.

Long lens, zoom lens, tripod, mono-pod, selfie-stick, large format, DSLR, compact, bridge, Polaroid, point-and-shoot, GoPro, iPads and iPhones–irrespective of the expense or complexity of the equipment–somebody is taking a picture of something or someone, almost always.

While not the world’s grandest canyon by size (Kali Gandaki Gorge in Nepal is nearly four times deeper, and Capertee Valley in Australia is longer and wider), The Grand Canyon more than makes up the difference in its spectacular and overwhelming beauty–so much so, that on average, 12 people will lose their life every year while posing or composing a photograph.

While the scenery is certainly breathtaking, I am more than satisfied to experience the canyon from a less risky perch, and push the photographic envelope in ways that are more within my control–like, capturing a sunrise/sunset sandwich–where different day-parts are recorded–from dawn (at approximately 5:15 am) to dusk (at approximately 7:45 pm).

almost sunup (3)
5:15 am
half sun up (2)
5:20 am
sunrise (2)
5:22 am
Grand Canyon sunrise (2)
5:23 am
sunrise1 (3)
5:24 am
sunglow (3)
5:25 am
sun over tree (2)
5:27 am
8am
8:00 am Colorado River
9am (2)
9:00 am
cliff shoes (2)
10:00 am
CU Colorado River (2)
11:00 am
rope clouds
Noon
bag people (2)
1st time seeing the Grand Canyon
bag ready
Waiting for the countdown
bag revealed
The big reveal at 2:00 pm
5pm (2)
5:00 pm
CU Mathers Point (2)
7:00 pm
stormy sunset (2)
7:10 pm
sunset (2)
7:20 pm
Mather Westbound (2)
7:25 pm
rainbow cloud (2)
7:30 pm
fire clouds (2)
7:35 pm
aurora cloud (2)
7:40 pm (fire-haired face mid-frame)
sunset cloud (2)
7:45 pm

and day is done…

The Aftermath, or If I Could Be Anywhere Else Right Now

It’s been 48 hours since arriving home after one year of steadily moving about the country. However, now that I’m physically situated in one place, it seems my mind continues to wander, yearning for places I’ve been or yet to experience. I fear I’m going through wanderlust withdrawal.

The feeling is eerily reminiscent of adjusting to the constant sway aboard a boat–to where I’ve finally gotten my sea legs–yet after docking, the motion of the ocean has robbed me of my equilibrium. Nothing seems normal to me. I still feel adrift, like a bobbing buoy.

Perhaps it’s some sort of jet lag (without the jet), or some kind of Post-Travel Stress Disorder, where my internal GPS continues to send rerouting instructions with every step taken, redirecting my brain and body back to the Airstream presently parked in Lakewood.

Acclimating to everyday life has been challenging, as I’ve yet to re-establish my new old routine, or shake off unsettling circadian rhythms of disorientation. Already, I’ve forgotten which cabinet holds the coffee mugs, or where to find the bottle opener, or what it was like to sleep on a king-sized mattress. Even after unpacking, I’m likely to open the wrong dresser drawer to find my socks.

Of course, it’s only been two days since landing, so I’m certain the confusion will abate and I will eventually adjust to a different way to fill my day without hesitation. But in the meantime, I will travel to my favorite places through my photographs, and dream about the possibilities.

One special destination–among more than a hundred visited in the past year–that still resonates to my core is reliving the beauty of Banff.

Mount Victoria (2)
Mt. Victoria watching over Lake Louise

Epilogue

We pulled the Airstream onto Colonial Airstream’s parking lot in Lakewood NJ, on St. Patrick’s Day, ostensibly marking our one-year anniversary Streaming thru America, and my one-year anniversary of blogging with WordPress under the same moniker.

Colonial Airstream

This has been a journey of a lifetime after a lifetime of journeys. It seems that everything I’ve done up until last year’s departure has prepared me for this adventure: as a NYC taxi driver, I honed my driving skills; as a restaurateur, I learned to cook using simple ingredients to create meals with complex flavors; as a camper, I grew up with an appreciation of nature and an affinity for adventure; as a producer, I perfected a perspective for planning and budgeting; as a carpenter, I mastered my mechanical skills; and as a special educator, I learned how to gain acceptance with the many special people we’ve met along the way.

This has also been a trip of numbers. As road warriors, Leah and I have travelled to 127 destinations: covering a total of 44,600 miles (5,500 flying miles) to thirty-six U.S. States; one Mexican State (Quintana Roo); and four Canadian Provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia).

Cost-wise, Leah acted as bursar for the trip, and took responsibility for all data entry into a categorized spreadsheet. Using round numbers, our largest expense was campground fees at nearly $13,000. We stayed at a smattering of National Parks (only because gaining online reservations are fiercely contested up to a year in advance), a few State Parks, a handful of Provincial Parks, some County and City Parks, predominantly private RV parks (many Good Sam and KOA affiliates), and an occasional Walmart parking lot when we were transitioning between longer distances. As a rule, we rarely travelled further than a tankful of gas, or the rough equivalent of 400 miles.

Entertainment was our second leading expense at approximately $10,000, which covered films, concerts, shows, tours, park fees, and ample opportunities for sampling the best food of the area, from fine dining to dive bars.

Next, we spent nearly $8,000 purchasing food and groceries–including paper products, personal hygiene, and liquor–with the lion’s share spent at Walmart and Costco.

And our last largest expense was for gasoline and liquid propane, which ran us close to $8000. We made 115 trips to the pump for 3300 gallons of gas, yielding an average of 11.8 miles per gallon from coast to coast to coast, while towing mileage topped out at 10.1 MPG.

Living aboard the Airstream for a year was also an exercise in living with less. At 240 square feet from stem to stern…

2017-airstream-flying-cloud-27fb-2-e1521351550640.png

and cargo limited to a folded rear seat and 52.8 cu. ft. of storage behind the cab of our Ford F-150 pickup…

2017-ford-f-150-carry-on-seats-folded (4)

we learned to live efficiently, but never uncomfortably.

Leah and I scaled down to a small wardrobe of layering, using a combination of casual sportswear, appropriate outerwear and a wide variety of outdoor footwear to address most weather conditions.

The galley held two pots, two pans, two mix bowls, and Corel for four; a drawer of utensils and a drawer full of cooking and kitchen gadgets; a traditional assortment of spices and herbs; one presspot (mine), one two-cup percolator (Leah’s) and two coffee mugs; a tiny toaster, a hand mixer, a built-in microwave, a compact vacuum, and a VitaMix–my biggest indulgence for emergency frozen margaritas.

Electronics included: two mounted LED TVs, two tablets, one laptop, a color compact HP printer, a Kindle, a pair of UE Booms, Jaybird wireless earbuds, a Lumix DMZ-FZ300 for photography, and a tangle of cables and charging accessories.

The truck bed was home to a couple of stadium chairs, a CLAM screen enclosure, a 2000-Watt Honda generator, a hefty tool chest, and a portable Weber grill.

Our bicycles clung to the backside of the Airstream, tied to a Fiamma rack.

bikes.jpg

Getting along for 365 days was our biggest experiment, and a wild card for this trip’s success. While there was no denying our compatibility, we would often joke if we would still be smiling and talking to each other by day 365.

Our roles were defined early on, seemingly divided along gender lines: I did the routing, navigation and driving, the setups and breakdowns at RV sites, and all the general maintenance; while Leah acted as cleaning commando (inside and out) and laundry lieutenant. Invariably, Leah prepared a simple breakfast and packed a light lunch, while I played chef de cuisine for dinner.

Although our living quarters were tight, our door usually opened onto something spectacular, from sunrises…

sunrise (2)

Grand Canyon sunrise (2)

to sunsets…

Mt. Pleasant, SC

sunset

sundown panorama (2)

so most of days were spent exploring the extraordinary.

We brought along a cribbage board and backgammon set, thinking that when our conversation ran dry, we could always resort to games, but when it was the two of us together lounging in our lair, we either stretched out along the dinette streaming Netflix when internet allowed, or sought alone time at opposite ends of the trailer, separated by a sliding screen or a swinging lavatory door.

Our queenish-sized platform bed was roomy and comfy. And the only times we slept apart was for five days when I was fighting the flu. Otherwise, our sleeping cycles alternated between retiring together, or more often than not, Leah retiring early while I night-owled to edit photography du jour, or posted to my blog.

Although this blog is by no means the end, it has been a means to an end. Streaming thru America has given me a springboard to dive into my desire to write consistently for a audience bigger than one, and a jump-start to reinvigorating my passion for photography. Combining my writing and photography in a travel blog has been reaffirming and therapeutic, and the motivation I needed to pump out 160 posts of 100,000 words and 2800 photos along the way.

What started as a forum for family and friends has grown organically to a following of 1900 plus fans through WordPress and social media, with viewers from 140 countries along for the ride. I am awed and humbled every day that people from all over world find value in my words and pictures. And I am determined to keep going.

Long before we started out, Leah had already decided on our exit strategy–that once we’d completed our trip, and our Airstream had served its purpose, we’d put it on the selling block. But I had a different vision–that this trip would lay the foundation for future trips around the continent. While it would never be as epic as this particular journey, I could nonetheless foresee regional trips to faraway fields and streams for a month or two or three.

However, after shoving off and putting hundreds of miles behind us, the new and scary gave way to familiar and fearless, and Leah was hooked.

As it happens, there were so many destinations that we short-changed in favor of keeping the whirlwind spinning (see An Olympian Apology), not to mention sections of the country that we bypassed all together, that today we feel compelled to prepare preliminary plans to patch the holes in our past itinerary.

For now, the Airstream sits in the dealer’s lot awaiting its spring maintenance, although the fourth nor’easter forecasted to hit this area in as many weeks makes us yearn for the Texas heat spell we endured last April (see “We’re on the Road to Nowhere”).

When we return to Towaco, we’ll have a house to sell and a household to pack away for our anticipated move to St. Augustine (see Finally!). Then, in a few months, we’ll recapture the glory of living as seasoned road warriors, as we savor the feeling of hauling our reconditioned Airstream through the Shenandoah Valley and over the Blue Ridge Mountains to a long-term storage solution in Charlotte NC.

And before too long, it will be time to hitch up the Airstream like old times, and follow the road on a new course and a new adventure.

Until next time,

streaming thru america

Happy Trails!

Duty, Honor, Country

It’s a solemn ceremony choreographed with the precision of an atomic clock, executed by a regiment of warm-blooded automatons, and directed with the authority of a no-nonsense commander who only knows perfection. It’s a six-minute pas de trois that happens every hour on the hour during fall, winter, and night, and every half-hour during spring and summer–regardless of the weather or challenging conditions. And it’s a sacrament that’s never stopped since 1937.

The changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery is carried out with the pomp and circumstance of a Shakespearean ceremony, yet with the reverence of a canonization.

The rigorous training and commitment of the corps serving the monument is legendary. They are the best of an elite color guard from the 3rd Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, the nation’s oldest fighting force, serving since 1764.

The highly-selective unit is composed of impeccably dressed volunteers of similar stature, in peak physical condition, and with unblemished military records.

Sentinel (2)

As if marching to a metronome that only he can hear, the sentinel paces to the south, rolling his feet effortlessly along a catwalk of worn rubber,

guarding the tomb

His gait and silent cadence is measured and precise…19…20…and 21 steps, a broad leg sweep, and CLACK, his heels lock with the force of two magnets attracted to each other. He quarter-turns sharply to the east, and whip-snap, CLACK, his heels lock again.

facing east

One Mississippi, two Mississippi…until he reaches 21, and his feet quarter-turn north, and CLACK, his shoes revealing the effort from hours of spit-polishing only achieved through tubs of Kiwi and micro-sanding.

Spit and Polish

He executes a sharp shoulder-arms, repositioning his sparkling M-14 from his right shoulder to his left, as if popping with his prop–his weapon always closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel always stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.

After another 21 seconds of silence, the sentinel returns 21 steps north…

marching north (3)

and CLACK, quarter-turn, CLACK, quarter-turn, CLACK. Shoulder-arms, one Mississippi, two Mississippi…always counting, always focused, no matter the distraction.

The significance of number 21 corresponds to a 21-gun salute, the highest military honor posthumously bestowed upon any service personnel.

A crowd of spectators has lined the marble steps outside the Memorial Amphitheater in eager anticipation of the one-o’clock ritual.

Memorial Amphiteater

The hour tolls, and the sentinel on duty stands motionless, but at the ready.

sentinel awaiting replacement

From the opposite end of the plaza, the regiment commander appears beside the runway, and CLACK. In this ritual variation, the count-up to 21 continues, and marching resumes until the two honor guards pass.

passing (2)

Upon the commander’s return, he pivots to face the crowd of visitors:

Commander announcement

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention, please. I am Sgt. Davenport of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, United States Army, Guard of Honor, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This ceremony which you are about to witness is The Changing of the Guard. In keeping with the dignity of this ceremony, it is requested of everyone to remain silent and standing. Thank you.

Meanwhile, on the south side of the plaza, the relief-sentinel stands at attention and awaits formal inspection from the commander–now marching past the on-duty sentinel.

2nd pass

After a graceful, yet deliberate weapons and uniform check from head to toe…

head down inspection

undertaken with the scrutiny of a dermatologist examining for basal cells…the relief-sentinel is deemed mission-ready.

They parade across the plaza in lock-step…

parading

where they take up new positions in front of the shrine…

the ordered exchange

commander salutes

 

When the on-duty sentinel is officially relieved…

dismissing

the new sentinel’s patrol resumes for the remaining hour.

new patrol

However, on this particular day, at this particular hour, we were also witness to a wreath dedication ceremony from a local high school marching band…

carrying the wreath

placing the wreath

bugle

playing Taps

marching band honor

which only added to an already moving tribute and ceremony.

But there was one last vital piece of business remaining before our day was done: an obligatory visit to the gravesite of JFK to pay my respects.

JFK viewers

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963–the day before my 11th birthday–the announcement by Principal Simon came over the PA system, interrupting my Happy Birthday-song tribute. Immediately, the class went from cheers to tears in an instant, like a bipolar meltdown.

The pervasive sadness swept my home that evening, and I can’t remember when the sadness lifted. There was nothing any of us could do to keep from crying.

JFK quote
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility. I welcome it.

My 11th birthday was a turning point in my life–one of those moments where it’s impossible to forget where you were or what you were doing when you learned of something so profound, or horrific, or cataclysmic that you knew right then and there that your life had changed forever.

JFK grave

And while there’s no going back to a wrinkle in time, processing the tragedy is always hard to reconcile, even after all these years, as is wondering about the wonder that might have been.

The Sentinel’s Creed

My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance.
My standard will remain
Through the years of diligence
And the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect,
his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this Soldier in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

PBS has produced the following video which masterfully demonstrates the precision of the pageantry, and reflects the awe of the ceremony.

 

My Word!

It’s always a pleasure returning to DC’s National Mall…

mall (5)

where I like to keep an eye on my tax dollars by walking through the Smithsonian museums…

Smithson remains

to inspect the work being done by museum curators on my behalf.

nave (2)
Smithsonian Castle Commons

Aside from being a great depository of great aeronautical history at the National Air and Space Museum…

Spirit of St. Louis
donated by Charles Lindbergh

or interpretive history at National Museum of American History…

WE BUILD
Horatio Greenough

I’m always inspired when browsing through the Hirshhorn.

dry fountain
Gordon Bunshaft–Hirshhorn Fountain
rockface and car
Jimmie Durham–Still Life With Spirit and Xitle

where I get a chance to meander beside the curvy gallery walls, as I contemplate Mark Bradford’s updated Civil War cyclorama detailing Pickett’s Charge

Pickett's Charge panels (2)

or introspect on a retrospective of the 80’s, where everything is rele-vent again…

ON VEND DU VENT
Haim Steinbach–ON VEND DU VENT
SILENCE=DEATH (2).jpg
Gran Fury–SILENCE=DEATH
stripes
Jenny Holzer–Inflammatory Essays

or think deeply in the basement, where I’m reminded by Barbara Kruger’s BELIEF+DOUBT installation that words matter…

Belief

Bad Day

FORGET

Men's Room1

Women's Room

…and can make a difference…something I’d rather be doing.

First Flight

In the distance,

Kill Devil Hill

on a grassy sloped hill,

Looking down Kill Devil Hill

there stands a monument,

Wrights Monument

built of grit,

Brothers (3)

and will.

Brothers1 (2)

On a wing…

wing assembly

and a prayer…

Pea Island

The brothers moved

to Outer Banks

to dance

on open air.

Cape Hattaras

With gusting winds

kites on dunes

and dunes so tall,

dune patterns

the rail in place

to guide her,

following the rail

Orville readied

at the stick,

Orville at the stick

while Wilbur ran

beside her.

Sculpture1

Propellers spun,

the engine roared–

Original photo

the plane was

swept aloft.

The rescue crew

would cheer them on…

Rescuing Service

no matter

what the cost.

The Brothers Wright

achieved success–

Commemoration

a boulder

marks the sight.

granite and plaque

They passed the test,

and lit the way,

Bodie Island Light House

for they were

first in flight.

Monument and Family

*filed under picture story

Fortuitous

The Spanish crown was ambitious in its exploration of the New World, establishing the first permanent European settlement at St. Augustine in 1565, and equally as keen on protecting its investment from marauding pirates, subversive Native American neighbors, and the French and British Empires by establishing a trio of forts along New Florida’s northern Atlantic coastline.

Spanish Defensive Network

Aside Fort Mose to the north and Fort Matanzas to the south, Castillo de San Marcos was the first and largest of the three, standing 33 feet high, with 14 feet thick walls of coquina blocks–

outside the walls (3)

–a bonded composite of crushed seashells quarried from nearby Anastasia Island–and able to withstand a cannon shot from an enemy vessel.

Lions Bridge passage

Completed 323 years ago, Castillo de San Marcos still stands as the oldest masonry and best preserved fortress in the continental United States, and a symbol of the colonial struggles that shaped the history of a nation.

cannon casting (3)

Protecting St. Augustine was an interwoven fabric of fort design,

moat

view from above

soldier readiness,

reenactor

and black powder weaponry.

interior (2)

The Castillo’s advanced architecture showcases the bastion system, named for the diamond-shaped spears jutting from the four corners of the fort walls–

fort exterior

each point armed with an array of cross-firing guns intended to sweep across a wide swath of defensible coverage.

guns and turret

Additionally, the coquina stone offered fortunate benefits to fortress defenses if fired upon, as soldiers quickly realized that the porous properties of its shell walls could absorb the impact of cannon balls, rather than the walls shattering into shards if built with brick or granite.

A soldier’s life of active duty at the fortress usually consisted of drills, repair, and sentry watch,

sentry turret

with little time ever devoted to battles. Otherwise, their time was spent protecting the larder…

provisions locker

practicing their faith, which guided all aspects of colonial life…

First mass

and working second jobs as carpenters, cobblers, and coopers to support their families when away from the barracks.

soldier bunk

Officer barricks

But when confronted by the enemy, cannon crews were so effective at discharging projectiles from a variety of guns when repelling an attack or seige,

Artillery and Amusettes

cannon defenses

cannon crest

Shot Locker loaded

that Castillo de San Marcos was never breached in its history.

ramparts (3)

The fort has been the centerpiece of a historic city that has changed flags six times, but always by treaty–never surrender or defeat.

Spanish flag.jpg

Legions of soldiers through the ages have passed through its chambers leaving behind their marks…

ship grafitti (2)

grafitti1

graffiti (2)

But the treachery of Renaissance politics that sparked an amazing race of New World discovery, launched a new nation forged in conflict, and a new world order that defies all labels.

 

 

 

Pictures of Home

For the past eleven months, I have suffered from an acute case of Restless Body Syndrome (RBS)–unable to stay in one place for more than an average of three to four days. And to my knowledge, there is no known antidote for this kind of wanderlust.

While there is much to be said for having a home with all the trappings of comfort and familiarity (for which I am grateful), I nevertheless feel a natural compulsion to feed my travel addiction–at times surrendering to the physical and psychological cravings of visiting someplace new on a regular basis.

Fortunately, there are hundreds of support groups around the country–known as RV parks and resorts–that are very accepting of those among us who are afflicted with RBS, and assuage us with electric, water and sewer, and occasionally, high-speed internet.

A ten-step program has been developed by self-help travel gurus to combat the irritation associated with RBS:

  1. Subscribe to Travel and Leisure, and National Geographic.
  2. Watch Amazing Race on CBS.
  3. Log on to Kayak, Trivago, or Travelocity.
  4. Smell a pine tree.
  5. Build a fire…outdoors.
  6. Eat a s’more.
  7. Lay in a hammock.
  8. Open and close a stadium chair.
  9. Take a brief cold-water shower.
  10. Follow Streaming thru America

Leading pharmaceutical firms have been quietly conducting cutting-edge research to advance a cure for RBS. And there is widespread speculation that a vaccine is being developed for the travel bug.

Additionally, Congress is contemplating passage of the Rio Grande Act, whereby an extremely narrow Wal-Mart will be built along the entire Texas-Mexico border for RBS out-patients to shop, duty-free.

Until then, I offer my services as your tour guide for a random retrospective of my many homes from March 2017 to present.

Towaco, NJ
Towaco, NJ
Ligoneer, PA
Ligonier, PA
Walmart, WV
Lewisburg, WV
New Orleans, LA
New Orleans, LA
San Antonio, TX
San Antonio, TX
Big Bend State Park, TX
Big Bend NP, TX
Grand Canyon, NP
Grand Canyon NP, AZ
Zion NP, UT
Zion NP, UT
Estes Park, CO
Estes Park, CO
West Yellowstone, MT
West Yellowstone, MT
Banff, Ca
Banff NP, Alberta, CAN
Corvallis, OR
Corvallis, OR
Klamath, CA
Klamath, CA
Hat Creek, CA
Hat Creek, CA
Quincy, CA
Quincy, CA
Las Vegas, NV massacre
Las Vegas Massacre, NV
Valley of Fire, NV
Valley of Fire, NV
Joshua Tree NP, CA
Joshua Tree, CA
Mt. Pleasant, SC
Mt. Pleasant, SC
Delray Beach, FL
Delray Beach, FL
Melborne, FL
Melbourne, FL
Bradenton, FL
Bradenton, FL

To be continued…