Colorful Cozumel

A display of vivid Christmas colors continues to shine brightly throughout Isla Cozumel during its holiday aftermath. But wait a Mexican minute! 

centro ornaments (2)

The holdover decorations from Christmas past are not an exception to the rule, 

holly decoration (3)

because Cozumel’s sun-drenched colors are omnipresent and everlasting, no matter what time of year,

centro square

or time of day.

carousel and clock tower

Consider the remnants of Mexico’s sacred Day of the Dead celebration that still prevail around town,

coca-cola calaca

with calacas (skeletons)…

floral bug

engaging tourists and shoppers at every turn along Avenue Rafael E. Melgar (named after one-time appointed governor of Quintana Roo)…

i scream

…with whimsical retail marketing, 

snorkel calaca

and characteristic Mayan flourishes.

tattoo calaca

Holidays aside, Cozumel colors are as transparent as the azure waters that lure destination divers,

diver' fountain (2)

or apparent as the tropical breezes that sweep through lush palms,

tropic seas (2)

and adamant as cruise ship passengers,

carnival cruiser

who return religiously…

san miguel stained glass (2)

san miguel parish

chabad

ark.jpg

to experience the culture,

villa dolores

coral mural

mayan culture mural

the hospitality,

dive shop

and the cuisine:

casa denis exterior

Culinary cognoscenti have been enjoying authentic Yucatan fare at Casa Denis since 1945.

casa denis placemat

Three generations of the Angulo family have been serving locals and international travellers alike…

casa denis kitchen

with a mi casa es tu casa sensibility,

casa denis interior

using fresh ingredients at reasonable prices.

casa denis dinner

Yet for all the expected colors surrounding this island gem…

seaweed, sand and chaises at sunset

some things are best expressed in black and white!

overfishing mural
Overfishing by Jack Fox (South Africa)

Palatka Pride

On the surface, Palatka, FL appears to be an antiquated town that time has left behind. As the county seat of Putnam County, there is legal commerce aplenty,

Putnam County Courthouse1 (2)

but Main Street bears the battle scars of a once-vibrant retail scene.

Offices for Rent

Far too many vacant store and empty sidewalks along St. Johns Avenue suggest that downtown Palatka’s panache has been replaced by big-box retailers like Wal-Mart (only three miles away)–jokingly confirmed by a hand-painted directional crossroads sign beside an empty storefront.

In fact, it would seem that much of Palatka is FOR RENT…

Kiddie Kampus

or simply un-rentable…

Texaco Service Station

Palatka sits on the west bank of St. Johns River offering strategic access into Central Florida, which is what made Palatka a once-thriving pre-Civil War trading post after land-hungry American settlers eliminated the Seminoles, driving them west of the Mississippi.

Bird's-eye_View_of_Palatka,_FL (2)

Equally important to Palatka’s economy at the time was its mild sub-tropical winters–extending farmers’ growing season and making the area a popular tourist destination for the hoi polloi, whose wealthier counterparts enjoyed a luxury haven in nearby, coastal St. Augustine (read The Poshest Campus in America, and Otto’s Collections).

Unfortunately, a historic fire in 1884 and deep-freeze in 1894 sealed Palatka’s fate as a favored destination, as most tourists migrated South. The city rebuilt, and eventually re-emerged as a manufacturing hub, with Georgia Pacific currently holding title to the largest private sector employer.

But what of downtown today for its nearly 11,000 residents, and how can they possibly compete with St. Augustine to the North, Orlando to the West, and Daytona Beach to the South?

The city, when considering its redevelopment needed a gimmick–something to breath new life into it.

Dragon on a roof

It needed a serious makeover, or maybe some divine intervention.

St. Mary's Church

Driving traffic back to the beat of the city was important. The Bingo Palace added some well-deserved blue-collar cache and shabby chic to the area, and preserving Angels Diner for future fans of Guy Fieri has also become a go-to venue.

One look around the interior of Angel Diner, and it defies the gravity of its standing as Florida’s oldest diner.

Angels Diner exterior

By any law of nature, it shouldn’t be standing, but this tin-skin dive is a testament to the wire and glue that seemingly holds its walls from caving. Stepping through its Hobbit-like entrance is like being transported back to a time when shiny greasy spoons offered up Happy Day burgers and shakes, while we listened to the jukebox soundtrack of our Growing Pains.

Angels Diner interior

Leah and I shared a hefty order of Fish and Chips. The check came to eight bucks, and it was tasty! 

fish and chips.jpg

A walk around downtown after our meal left the impression that Palatka is much like a collection of rusty charm pieces; although it boasts a historic district with a melange of classic architectural styles, it’s still fighting to remain relevant.

While there is ample nostalgia here, and a story to tell of old Florida, perhaps all that’s really needed is a broom and a fresh coat of paint.

Enter the Conlee-Snyder Mural Committee in 1998, which has opted to:

…accurately depict the historical, cultural, and natural riches of Palatka and Putnam County in larger-than-life murals.  In sharing these pictorial renderings with visitors and citizens, appreciation of the heritage of the community will be enhanced and developed.

The city’s plan of commissioning a plethora of tribute murals over the past twenty years has given rise to a tourism rebirth, notwithstanding the city’s longstanding and dedicated art scene and attention to local culture.

Arts Center

Self-described as the City of Murals,

City of Murals legend (2)

Palatka now boasts a swath of bright colors depicting lively time capsule markers, and always helping to defib drab building back to life.

What follows is a photo essay of just a few of them in no particular order:

William Bartram
William Bartram, c. 1774
on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue

Wildlife
Putnam Treasures 
on South Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

Tightrope Walker
High Time in Palatka, c. 1872 
on South Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

Those Who Have Served
War Veterans Memorial
on North Eighth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Palatka Station
Old J T & K Railway Station, c. 1886
on City Hall, Reid Street at North Second Street

Native Flowers
Putnam County Wildflowers
on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue

Mary Lawson Hospital
Mary Lawson Hospital
on Ninth and St. Johns Avenue

Hiawatha
Night Passage, c. 1884
on North Fourth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Harlem Nights
Harlem Nights in Palatka
on North Seventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

French Balcony
Bygone Days, c. 1880
on South Fifth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Cowboys on the River
Cattle Drive to Paynes Prairie, c. 1930

on North Tenth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Columbine
Battle at Horse Landing, May 23, 1864
on South Third Street at St. Johns Avenue

Billy Graham
To God Be the Glory, 1937-38
on South Fourth Street at St. Johns Avenue

Bill Pearce Highway
Senator B.C. Pearce
 on St. Johns Avenue between North Tenth and Eleventh Streets

Annie Oakley
Annie Oakley
on South Eleventh Street at St. Johns Avenue

All Hotels Depots
The Putnam House, c. 1891
 on North Second Street at St. Johns Avenue

Other merchants have joined in, beautifying the exteriors of their retail establishments…

Peace mosaic

with mixed messages.

Pizza Boyz

After canvassing the town with my camera for the afternoon, I dropped my work façade,

3-D Saloon.jpg

knowing it was definitely time for a drink!

 

Otto’s Collections

The former Alcazar Hotel in St. Augustine, FL was originally built by Henry Flagler in 1888…

The Alcazar from the Ponce (2)

as an adjunct to the Hotel Ponce de Leon (see The Poshest Campus in America) to accommodate overflow patronage and provide recreational facilities to his guests. Built in the style of Spanish Renaissance Revival with Moorish overtones, the Alcazar was patterned after its famed royal palace namesake in Seville, Spain.

tower

The Alcazar enjoyed a storied history, hosting society’s gentry throughout the winter months, and at one time housing the world’s largest indoor swimming pool…

bathing-pool-casino_0 (3)

until the Great Depression forced the hotel to shutter its doors in 1930. The Alcazar remained uninhabited for the next seventeen years, and sunk into ruin.

Enter Otto C. Lightner, a Chicago editor and publisher who purchased the property in 1947 for $150,000…

portrait

and began an extensive restoration campaign in anticipation of moving his massive Victorian era arts collection from Chicago into a proper facility worthy of its size and stature.

formal portrait

Today, this National Register Historic Landmark features an elaborate courtyard with a stone arch bridge…

gardens

over a koi pond.

koi

koi frontal

The first floor of the museum simulates a Victorian street emporium showcasing shop front window displays of assorted paraphernalia,

eggs

pocket watches

porcelin-heads.jpg

shave-mugs-3.jpg

spectacles

spoons

toys

beer steins1

Industrial Arts inventions,

toasters

mechanized music machines,

Victrola speaker

and curiosities, like an Egyptian mummy and an aboriginal shrunken head.

shrunken head (2)

The second floor features the remnants of Alcazar’s Turkish and Russian baths…

bath plumbing

offering vaulted views across the courtyard.

circle window

Access doors to the baths stand at opposing sides the gallery vesibule.

2nd floor

Continuing on, the gallery boasts a prodigious collection of Victorian cut glass beneath a Tiffany chandelier,

glassware

The third floor exhibits fine furniture,

chairs and horn table (2)

relevant fine art oil paintings from the Renaissance,

Cimon and Pero.jpg

and additional collections, from match boxes…

matchboxes

to cigar bands.

cigar bands1

The Lightner Museum represents Otto C. Lightner’s legacy of collecting.

He endowed his collection to the city of St. Augustine upon his death in 1950, and continues to keep a close eye on his Chicago treasures from the courtyard, where his remains are buried.

Becoming My Parents

Hiking along New Jersey State and County Park trails the day after Thanksgiving made a lot of sense to Leah, who orchestrated our first return to New Jersey since moving to St. Augustine five months ago. She promised a whirlwind week and a-half of personal appointments and commitments packed with a variety of doctors, friends and family members, all laced with an emphasis on over-eating.

And so, during the course of our visit, as advertised, our food-centric itinerary always included a meal punctuated by scintillating table conversation on family history and folklore–touching on recipes, obituaries, and kin outcasts, with politics and religion occasionally creeping into the dialogue.

But mostly, everybody seemed to be preoccupied with their health. And God help the person who would innocently ask, “So, how are you feeling?” Because this question would open the floodgates for respondents to freely reassign their HIPAA proxy on the spot so they could casually discuss their current condition down to the last agonizing ache and pain, notwithstanding the severity surrounding their prognosis and course(s) of treatments, always followed by a couple of random doctor-horror stories.

It seemed like everyone had a health-related story to tell–whether it was about themselves or someone they knew–not unlike my parents and their friends, who would gather at holiday occasions to compare notes about their medication intake. It was uncanny that the of crux of nearly all of our relationships was now firmly rooted in our faded glory and eventual demise.

Any outsider, after eavesdropping on any of our sessions of non-stop kvetching might be surprised to learn that we are still breathing and have more than one day to live.

And so, it was predictably refreshing to carve out some time to clear our ears of prescription patter, and find an activity that combined friendship and calorie burning. Of course, our opportunity to hike was completely weather-dependent, considering the prior Nor’easter and the Arctic chill that had settled on the Atlantic states.

Like many Northern transplants to Florida, Leah and I had become preoccupied with weather-watching, so we might bask in the warm glow of knowing that we had finally escaped the unfriendly winters by relocating to St. Augustine. But now that we were back in Jersey, it was time to face the hard cold facts of winter; Ramapo Valley Reservation (NYNJTC_RamapoValleyCountyReservationMap-2017) was 18°F at the Reservation trailhead, and expecting to peak at 23°F by the afternoon.

MacMillan Reservoir was partially frozen and dreary…

lake (2)

with the exception of distant water reflections.

frozen reflection

Trails were camouflaged… 

blue trail (2)

by crispy fallen leaves–densely packed and slippery–despite the assortment of Skittles-colored trail blazes nailed to forest saplings.

cut logs

Brooks were running fast and high…

brook flow1 (3)

making each water-crossing challenging and hazardous.

We continued our four-hour excursion with the winds picking up across Campgaw Mountain.

panorama looking east

And it became clear to me that marching through the New Jersey woodlands was not the best birthday present I could have given myself. The cold had already taken its toll on Arlene’s arthritic fingers. Leah, who had recently succumbed to lower back pain and acute Achilles tendonitis was now complaining about her knees.

My knees were also aching from sliding down one too many slippery slopes. Even Doug, the youngest of all of us by at least eleven years had to admit that his right knee was locking up occasionally. The ladies cut their hike short, taking a quick detour to the parking lot, but Doug and I wore our intrepid hats. We continued to the feature waterfall along the Brookside Trail with few delays or complaints…

waterfall

giving us bragging rights to a 7.5 mile accomplishment,

frosty rocks

and leaving me more than ready for my true birthday present to myself: a one-hour Swedish massage at a local day spa, if only to rub my aches and pains away for another day.

 

 

 

 

Philadelphia Freeze Out

The Frontier flight was 15 minutes early, arriving from Jacksonville to Philadelphia in under 1½ hours–

Welcome to Philadelphia

just ahead of the Nor’easter that would ultimately drop 6 inches of snow and ice on the region, creating a classic commuting catastrophe.

airport

Yet despite the nail-biting adventure of driving through icy lanes of traffic moving sideways, and the total disregard of STOP sign awareness, there was a calmness to the city that I had never noticed before, giving the illusion of Walking Dead abandonment.

First order of business was food. Move over Pat’s and Geno’s, because there is a rival cheesesteak to adore at John’s Roast Pork in South Philly. Fortunately, the lousy weather short-circuited the out-the-door line that is almost always guaranteed during lunchtime.

John's Roast Pork1.jpg

My son, Noah ordered two 12-inch sandwiches with mushrooms and onions that could easily feed a family of four, but proved worthy of two consecutive lunches for each of us.

Then, we were off to his apartment in Fishtown, an up-and-coming gentrification project that is locked between empty lots boasting scattered mattresses, and hastily-erected, fresh-bricked row buildings that contradict the broken sidewalks–all within viewing distance of Ben Franklin bridge…

Franklin Bridge1

and walking distance to Reading Market.

Iovine Produce.jpg

After an overnight stay in Germantown, a walk around the neighborhood revealed only remnants of the shot of winter that overwhelmed the area during the past 48 hours.

alley

In fact, the signs of fairer weather…

single rose

unexpectedly eclipsed the season’s first storm…

moving leaves (2)

and reminded Mother Nature…

nesting vine

that while the first snow may have melted…

oak boughs

the signs of autumn…

pumpkin arch (2)

were slowly fading…

autumn door

to green and blue.

arch room.

 

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

The Poshest Campus in America

In 1888, Henry Flagler of Standard Oil fame opened the Hotel Ponce de Leon (a.k.a the Ponce) in downtown St. Augustine to the delight of many fortunate Northerners, who eagerly took up tropical residency in one of 450 rooms during the winter season.

Ponce de Leon Hotel panorama

The elaborate Spanish Renaissance design was designed by the renown firm of Carrère and Hastings, with terra-cotta flourishes provided by Emmanuel Louis Masqueray.

exterior detail

Construction consisted of poured concrete over a coquina base–a new-fangled technique that laid the groundwork for future prominent buildings throughout the country.

Hotel explanation

Louis Comfort Tiffany and Company was responsible for the interior design, using the ballroom ceiling as an inspired palette for his signature “Tiffany blue”,

Mantle (2)

and an anchor for a complement of Austrian crystal chandeliers.

Parlor Chandelier

For three and one-half months and the princely sum of $4,000 ($100K by today’s count), Flagler’s pampered guests enjoyed uncommon luxury for their time, which included private bathrooms, building-wide electricity supplied by Edison’s on-site DC dynamos (another first for a hotel), gourmet meals, and nightly entertainment.

Upon entry through the Beaux-Arts gateway,

entry and statue

guests would cross the courtyard gardens past the playful sundial fountain

sundial fountain.jpg

adorned by twelve spitting terra-cotta frogs.

spitting frog fountain (3)

Guests would continue through the hotel doors…

entrance (2)

to gaze at the legendary rotunda:

The grand entranceway of the historic Ponce de Leon has been called the most elegant room in St. Augustine. The ornate Rotunda has captivated guests and visitors since the debut of the hotel on January 10, 1888. Richly decorated, the three-and-half story dome displays spectacular murals by George Willoughby Maynard and brilliant gilding that warms dimly lit spaces.

The Rotunda is the pivotal point of the Hotel Ponce de Leon’s floor plan, the crossing of the main north-south and east-west axes. In this central location hotel guests arrived, departed, socialized, waited for their carriages, or strolled to other areas of the hotel complex. The Rotunda linked the private guest room wings…to the public spaces of the hotel.

Rotunda

At the first floor level, eight caryatids (robed figures of women) carved in oak support the 80-foot dome and shape the octagonal plan of the Rotunda. Around the ornate wooden pillars, mosaic tile floors, marble and dark oak baseboards, large fireplaces, and gilded walls create the exotic atmosphere of this room. Hidden from view is a structural dome piercing the rooftop that shields a solarium. Originally balconies accessed from the solarium hosted tropical roof gardens and a breathtaking view of St. Augustine. In 1893, lion heads with electric lights were added at the mezzanine level.

carved column

On the plaster walls of the dome at the second floor level, noted muralist George Maynard painted eight elaborate female figures representing the four elements – Fire, Earth, Air and Water – and the four stages of Spanish exploration – Adventure, Discovery, Conquest and Civilization. Around these principal figures are many layers of symbolism, rendered by Maynard in meticulous detail. In 1897, ten years after their completion, Maynard reproduced these murals in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

Rotunda explanation

Presently, the ballroom at the west end serves as an orientation facility for guided historic tours and a ceremonial setting for faculty,

parlor left

but also houses a selection of relics from a bygone era in an adjoining parlor,

Parlor right

with an emphasis on fine art,

mural

and family life.

Flagler family

At the north wing of the hotel, the cavernous dining hall commands attention for its opulence and splendor.

Dining room panorama

Ten barreled bay windows are panelled in Tiffany stained-glass,

Dining Hall explanation

and believed to be part of the world’s largest private collection–making it worthy of safeguarding by forming a sandwich of bullet-proof glass on the outside,

Tiffany window

and unbreakable acrylic on the inside.

[Diners sat beneath a quad of]…graceful angels that represent the four seasons, and a majestic Spanish galleon under full sail–an artistic rendition of the ship that brought Ponce de Leon to Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth.

Dining room ceiling

[Again], the majestic ceilings were the work of George Willoughby Maynard, the nation’s foremost muralist of the time. Full-length female figures were the focal point of this room. The ceilings hold Spanish crests and coats of arms intermingled with colorful proverbs.

DR ceiling detail

The hotel was commandeered by the federal government during World War II, and used as a Coast Guard training facility. When the building was decommissioned by the Coast Guard after the war, hotel operations resumed, but sales and travelers were never as robust as before.

The Ponce made history again on March 31, 1964, when the dining room was chosen by black students from Richard J. Murry Middle School as the site for a mass sit-in, which ended in police violence and arrests, ultimately resulting in Senate passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Ponce closed its doors in 1967, only to reopen the following year as the centerpiece of the newly endowed Flagler College, where the newly restored Ponce continued its service to historic St. Augustine as a residence hall and campus cafeteria for freshman girls.  

Flagler College (2)

Presently, tuition, room and board totals $30,000, which in the scheme of things, seems like an unlikely bargain at today’s prices for yesterday’s glamor. 

(The building was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and was awarded National Historic Landmark status on February 21, 2006.)

 

Old School

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It’s my understanding that there’s an outstanding stand-alone wooden schoolhouse still standing in the middle of St. Augustine’s historic district, that by today’s standards, stands to be the oldest wooden schoolhouse in America, notwithstanding the claims of contenders with similar standing, which stands to reason.

panoramic exterior

For instance, the Voorlezer House is an ancient clapboard-framed structure located in Staten Island’s historic Richmond Town. It was built in 1695 by Dutch settlers as a church, school and residence for the voorlezer (one whose semi-official duties included local law, education and religion). By virtue of its vintage, it gets high marks as the nation’s “oldest school house”.

Voorlezer's House (2).jpg
Voorlezer’s House, December 1938 (credit: Museum of the City of New York)

However, naysayers may say its multi-purposefulness disqualifies its “oldest school house” credential, while other “arcaneologists” would point to percentages of original materials retained as the gold standard for proper certification.
Nevertheless, St. Augustine, by virtue of its “first city” status, arguably possesses a legitimate rite for rating rotting relics, and maintains that the honor of “oldest wooden school house” resides at 14 St. George Street.

Certificate

At the very least, this much I know to be mostly true with questionable certainty:

Welcome

Upon close inspection, the main building has been wrapped in a rusted iron chain since 1937 to keep it from blowing away in case of a hurricane. An anchor was added in 1939 for added insurance.

The one-room classroom was originally accessed from street level,

classroom

where stairs led to the School Master’s private residence one floor above.

parabolic upstairs

Primitive behavior modification techniques took place under the stairs, in what became know as the school Dungeon,

i am inocint

where recalcitrant children found themselves quarantined for an assortment of offenses.

no smoking

Yet despite the occasional unruly student, the clapboard walls around the room offered strong evidence of learning…

lesson plans (2)

math lesson

achievement…

Class of 1864a (2)

discipline…

Rules for Teachers (2)

and dedication.

Teacher's Prayer

Located around the back,

school garden

the detached kitchen offered healthy school lunches…

kitchen

…cultivated by kids…

kids rock

…from garden to table.

monumental tykes

Also in the schoolyard stands the rebuilt potty house–perfect for serious homework.

potty

And when the last bell tolls and class is finally dismissed,

school bell

it’s reassuring to know that when kids learn their ABCs, regardless of schoolhouse pedigree, it can ultimately result in a lifetime love of learning.

reading bench

Tied Pools

Henry Flagler’s Hotel Alcazar opened its doors in 1888 to fête the upper crust who rode his rails to St. Augustine to escape the harsh northeastern winters.

Designed in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style, the hotel was an elegant getaway that boasted every convenience and amenity for its guests, including the world’s largest swimming pool at 120 feet long by 50 feet wide, and depths ranging from 3 feet to 12 feet.

pool history

The pool was constructed as the centerpiece of the hotel casino annex that also featured a workout room, therapeutic baths, a steamroom, and bowling lanes. An artesian well fed a constant flow of fresh sulphur water to the pool to sustain moderate temperatures and assure clarity. The roof featured louvered glass panes that opened for ventilation.

bathing-pool-casino_0 (3)

The hotel was shuttered in 1932, and laid dormant until Otto C. Lightner purchased the building in 1947 to showcase his extensive Victorian Era arts collection.

Today, the Lightner Museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the pool is home to Café Alcazar, a subterranean eatery serving lunch off the deep end.

deep poolside (2).jpg

The moment I entered the room, I felt I was in the middle of a Downton Abbey episode. It was easy to imagine a tony troop of aristocrats parading in their top hats and arm length evening gloves.

After surveying the room, I had a notion to create an Escheresque puzzle that could tease the viewer into questioning whether the following composition is a mirror image of itself, or a pool reflection, or both.

Or is it just a deception?

There are subtle clues in plain sight that may aid in deciphering the composition. The proof is in the putting.

fool pool1a (2)

Happy hunting!

Nighttime Sun Worshippers

Taking nothing away from Comic Con, the assembly of tailgaters along Florida Route-401 at Port Canaveral was probably one of the largest collection of early morning geeks ever recorded. It was a carnival atmosphere, with fellow space cadets gathered from around the world to witness one of science’s greatest guilty pleasures–a space launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

But this was to be no ordinary launch. This time around, the payload carried atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket has been 60 years in the making, named for Eugene N. Parker, a pioneer astrophysicist who predicted the existence of solar winds in a 1958 paper presented to an editorial panel who flatly rejected his claim.

Dr. Parker--Joshua Lott for The New York Times
Photo credit: Joshua Lott for the New York TImes

Four years later, NASA’s Venus probe (Mariner 2) measured interplanetary energy particles that eventually vindicated Dr. Parker’s belief.

The Parker project was conceived for NASA by engineers at John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in 2005, later amounting to costs running $1.5 billion in order to investigate the nature of our star, and gain an up-close understanding of solar winds.

Originally, Leah and I were on the fence about whether we should make the 2-hour trek from St. Augustine for the launch last night. After all, we’d been burned earlier in the year when we attempted to catch a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lift-off (T Minus 3 Days and Holding) during January’s Florida freeze-out.

But this time around, it was personal. Leah’s family had traveled to Florida’s Space Coast from Albuquerque last week (Tourist Attractions) with the intention of watching the Parker Solar Probe launch, only to be disappointed when the on-again-off-again mission was scrubbed for the third time on August 4, when a loose piece of foam was discovered inside the fairing. Daniel’s family was to be NASA’s guests to acknowledge SolAero’s design and fabrication of the probe’s photovoltaic assembly. Leah and I were to be tag-alongs.

Although we had no official invitation for this morning’s event, Leah and I were still determined to bear witness as a tribute to Daniel’s work. We departed at 11:30 pm, and made easy time on I-95S, cruising down the interstate to an uncertain destination. NASA had delivered a 65-minute window for the 3:33 a.m. launch, so we would pad our arrival time in anticipation of getting situated.

We knew we had arrived when we discovered a cluttered roadside collection of vehicles illegally parked along a shoreline clearing with an ersatz view of the gantry in the far distance.

Google map.png

The eight miles separating us from the rocket would be as close as we could get, since access to the base was restricted and blockaded by a fleet of sheriff cars.

sheriff patrol (2)

After a couple of runs up and down the strip, I wedged the F-150 into a narrow gap of parked cars, barely touching the inside road line, but nevertheless legitimate enough to get a pass from the deputy.

I found a vacancy among the scores of tripods already populating the tall grass beside the rocky beach, and staked my claim–although I felt totally inadequate and out-classed–while surrounded by all the super-duper telephoto lenses, and suffering from an acute case of optics envy.

In preparation of the big moment, amateurs and pros alike fussed and fawned over their equipment, changing batteries, polishing lenses, accessorizing camera bodies with autodrives and cable releases, and participating in riveting discussions on ISO vs. aperture vs. shutter speed.

Yet nothing could compare to the mobile telescope for astrophotography that occupied the largest footprint of our makeshift parking lot.

electronic camera

Even its imaging display seemed more complicated than it had to be.

monitors

While it was impossible to compete with all the big boys and their toys, I took a practice shot after setting up, although I knew the lighting would never compare to the day for night exposure once the rocket thrusters lit up the sky.

Zoomed to the max at 600mm, the ISO set at 200, the aperture set at ƒ/8, and a 1 second exposure, my Lumix FZ300 captured this shot of the gantry 8 miles away.

Parker Probe

I reckon that if the atmospheric conditions had been less humid, the image would have been crisper-looking.

There was nothing more to do except wait…

The 3:48 am goal had come and passed without results.

The revised launch time was pushed to 3:53 a.m. The countdown resumed at T-minus-four, and again–for some unknown reason–the launch was suspended while engineers determined the fate of the rocket.

When NASA calculated to green-light the launch at 4:28 a.m., the buzz around us was that this would finally be the moment. Nobody would dare admit aloud or to themselves that this was just another dress rehearsal.

We mostly waited in silence for the next half-hour. The sound of jumping fish in the darkness was a pleasant distraction from the drone of distant internet reporting from a fan’s elaborate sound system.

And then the moment all of us dreaded…with under one minute before the serious countdown:

“Hold, hold, hold!” announced an engineer from Launch 37 Command Center.

The rocket’s helium pressure system had tripped an alarm, taking the launch back to T-minus-four. The 65-minute launch window was quickly closing with ten minutes left, leaving insufficient time to troubleshoot the red flag and light this candle.

The mission was aborted and a collective sigh crossed the highway.

Leah and I drove back home with the sun rising over Matanzas River as we approached St. Augustine. My sole consolation was knowing that besides driving roundtrip for a still picture of a rocket strapped to a gantry in the distance, all I had to do was unmount my camera and fold up my tripod, while somebody else had to wrap up and tow away that enormous mobile telescope.

We slept until noon.

Flight officials determined that in 24 hours they would try all over again.

And when that happens, it will be without us. Instead, I’ll be watching NASA’s live stream of the launch at 3:31 a.m. from my armchair:

…maybe…

…if I can keep my eyes open.

Zzzzz…

P.S. The Parker Solar probe successfully launched on time:

https://amp-space-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/amp.space.com/41454-nasa-parker-solar-probe-launches-to-sun.html?amp_js_v=a2&amp_gsa=1&usqp=mq331AQCCAE%3D&jwsource=em

…and I got to see it…

…from my TV monitor!

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

Catch of the Day

Leah and I travelled with fishing rods strapped to the Airstream’s interior for one-year, cross-country. The constant sight of them was a nagging reminder of the possibility of learning a new sport together, and the unrequited taste of something “fresh” to grill, for we never found an opportunity to cast a line. However, now that we’ve become middle-aged Floridians, we felt the timing was right to immerse ourselves–hook, line and sinker.

After closing on our St. Augustine house in February, our realtor presented us with a gift certificate for a half-day charter with Captain Robert, his son, but our date on the water would have to wait four additional months to fulfill until we returned as full-time residents, and eventually settled in.

Leah had two immediate concerns with being out on the water: what to do for her new-founded sea sickness, and what kind of potty provisions would be provided. I, on the other hand just wanted reassurance that there would be space for my son Nate, who was temporarily residing with us in Florida after his apartment lease and job contract in suburban Albany, New York expired at the end of May.

A phone call to Captain Robert two weeks ago reserved our place, and addressed Leah’s anxieties: taking one tablet of Dramamine the night before and the day of the boat ride should allay her nausea; and a toilet seat placed atop a five-gallon Western Marine bucket should provide maximum comfort and embarrassment. And yes, bringing Nate along would be fine.

On the day of our trip, a newish Pathfinder 2500, a true fishing machine was waiting for us dockside…

our ride1 (2)

at the Conch House Marina…

Conch House Marina

at daybreak.

daubreak

We headed out on a picture-perfect morning…

Yamaha 300

with sea swells gently lullaby-rocking us in our search for bait a couple of miles from shore. Robert pulled up near a flock of diving birds in search of breakfast, and cast a net.

casting for bait

Moments later, he emptied a bulging swarm of pogies…

bait for the day

a delicious snack for lurking king mackerel.

bait on deck

We cruised about nine miles out from shore to an area already brimming with half a dozen fishing boats.

neighbors

I wondered about the wisdom of competing with the other boats, but Robert had a hunch. He set up three lines–two shallow, one deep, and we waited…

setting the lines

but not very long. In an hour’s time, we each took turns reeling in our target. First, Leah and me,

our catch

and then Nate,

Nate reels in a king

bringing his trophy home.

Nate with his fish

We pushed out another three miles in hopes of landing a sailfish, or wrangling a redfish, but after a couple of fights, we came up short–minus the bait and hook. Robert postulated that it was probably a shark or a barracuda making a meal of what was already on the line, but we’ll never know.

We trolled around for another hour looking for activity, but the sonar was quiet,

sonar

and Leah was pensive…

Leah on the Atlantic

perhaps wondering how awkward it might be if she needed to use the bucket.

“Do you need to go?” I wondered.

“I can hold it in,” she asserted.

It was decided that we should start back, but stop mid-way and resume our search. Again, the kings were biting, one for me,

reeling in (2)

and one for Leah,

Leah and her 2nd king

but we had already agreed that we had enough meat for the day, so both were released. Nate was determined to even the score by catching his second fish of the day, but his time had run out, and we headed for shore.

safe harbor (2)

Yet there was no need for disappointment, since Nate had reeled in the biggest catch of the day.

Catch of the Day

Robert was equally adept with a knife, making short time of filleting our king mackerels…

making fillets

which generated about 20 pounds of steaks.

Egrets of all sizes were standing by, ready to take advantage of all scraps that might come their way.

waiting for scraps

On Robert’s advice, we ate grilled mackerel that night.

I prepared a marinade made of: ¼ cup orange juice, ¼ cup soy sauce, 2 tbsp. canola oil, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, 1 tbsp. ketchup, 1 clove of garlic, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper and soaked our fillets for 2 hours, which rendered a rich and smoky taste when cooked.

Kudos to our Skipper, and thanks for a meal fit for a king mackerel.

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.

Mount Airy, NC

When I was eight, it was thrilling to be able to watch television. It was 1960, and as America’s new favorite past-time, television had quickly taken over as the modern recipe for family togetherness.

Early television programming came from only three channels (NBC, CBS, ABC), so the networks’ scheduling had to appeal to as many home viewers as possible to attract sponsors’ advertising  dollars needed to fund the show.  Usually that meant finding a personality with versatility and broad appeal, and crafting a show around their persona.

Aside from notable comedians (Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, George Burns, Jack Benny, Groucho Marks), variety stars (Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey), and singers (Perry Como, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland), movie actors were also drawn to television with an opportunity to increase their audience. Yet few would cross over with the success enjoyed by Andy Griffith.

entrance window

Already a star of stage…

destry Rides Again.jpg

and screen…

No Time for Sargeants swag

A Face in the Crowd poster

Andy Griffith easily transitioned to sitcom television as a guest star on an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, playing a country bumpkin sheriff who arrests Danny Thomas for running a stop sign in Mayberry.

Mayberry Courthouse

jail keys

The Andy Griffith Show pilot ran on CBS later in the same year, where Andy reprised his role of sheriff,

Sheriff shirt

often playing straight man to a host of characters…

Mayberry cast (2)

Goober hat

who worked and lived in a fictionalized town patterned after Andy’s beloved hometown, Mount Airy, North Carolina, where today, the Andy Griffith Museum shares space with the Andy Griffith Playhouse,

museum and playhouse

bringing fans from across the nation…

the odd couple

to follow the career of Mt. Airy’s favorite son, and enjoy a collection of memorabilia,

Take a Stroll with Andy

The Taylor House

Matlock

dedicated to a cultural icon.

Andy at sculpture dedication

Whenever I watched The Andy Griffith Show, I’d pretend being Opie Taylor (Ron Howard), Andy’s son,

The Taylors

walking hand in hand with Pa, down to the Fishin’ Hole,

Andy and Opie going fishing sculpture

while whistling the show’s familiar theme song:

sheet music

There would be lunch at Snappy’s…

Snappy Lunch

and a haircut at Floyd’s…

Floyd's Barber Shop

before heading back home, where Aunt Bee would be frying up the catch of the day for dinner.

comic book cover

Without sounding too utopian, life seemed simpler in 1960. Looking back, our role models were wholesome, our families were intact, and civility was practiced in earnest.

How many of us Baby Boomers yearn for the nostalgia we remember from classic TV, before the innocence was shattered by the assassination of JFK, and television brought us closer to the horror and tragedy that’s so commonplace today?

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.

Chihuly’s Twisted Garden of Glass

What’s to see when in Seattle?

Seattle skyline.jpg

There’s no need to wheedle,

concentric zigzags

When tourists flock to the very top

blue vines

of the steeple called Space Needle.

World Fair Needle

But in the shadows down below,

orbs and wands

there stands a garden made of glass–

garden sprouts

where colors reign and forms arrange

shell bowls

to entertain en masse.

amoeba glass

Sophisticated patterns blown

Chillully ceiling detail

from molten globs of flexible fire

lotus detail

Illuminating worlds unknown

canoes

to ponder and admire.

garden

Details reveal a melting pot,

bowl detail

a tints and hues collision

rim bend

explodes to form a twisted star,

twisted cones flower

and match Chihuly’s vision.