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Solar Eclipse Experience

Have you written notes about the solar eclipse? Where you were. What was most impressive? What happened you didn’t expect? What do you never want to forget? Other peoples’ experiences. Memories to share with children, grandchildren, and anyone who will listen.

If I were still teaching 6th grade Language Arts, we’d write on this topic for weeks. It’s never too late unless it’s so late that you forget. Because the deadline to submit this column is noon Monday, I’m following up on the eclipse now.

As August 21st loomed, I wanted to be in several places. Across town with my Grands in their front yard. At TTU, with thousands, to hear expert explanations. But months ago, I’d made plans to be on a pontoon boat in the middle of Center Hill Lake and that’s where I was, with Husband and friends. The experience was remarkable.

From the moment of first contact when the sun looked as it had been nibbled, I was awed. A feeling of respect and wonder. The Sun, almost 98 million miles away, and the moon, 238,000 miles from Earth, appearing to be in the same place. Nature’s beauty and miracles strike me spiritually. I wanted to hold my feeling of amazement.

When the moon blocked the sun, I expected gradual darkness. But brightness turned to a glow, almost yellowish-green. Was that because of the surroundings, water and trees? And when totality hit, it wasn’t completely dark. How powerful the sun is!

My favorite time of the day is sunset and the 360-degree sunset during the more than two-minute totality was spectacular. A multi-colored ribbon lay on the horizon. Tangerine orange, golden yellow, pale pink, lavender. Green hills cut the bands and the colors faded breaking the sunset’s path intermittently. Maybe a 360-degree camera could have captured it, but certainly not my camera. I didn’t even try to take a picture. I turned slowly in a circle, breathed deeply, and concentrated on the colors, the magnitude. Too quickly, the sunset was gone.

“It’s almost time to be over,” someone on the boat said. I put on my $1.99 eclipse glasses. The moon covered the sun and then a light so intense, like the strongest flashlight, glared on the sun’s circumference. The diamond ring sparkled brighter than I expected. I saw flashes of bright lights just before the ring appeared. Was that Bailey’s beads? I expected the beads to last longer.

My Grands were most impressed with the snakes, or shadow bands, which were everywhere and moved fast. And they saw crescent shapes, on a white sheet, through a colander and sieve, and they punched tiny holes in paper. The coolest view was through a vegetable grater.

As soon as the moon completely uncovered the sun, a friend who’d travelled from Ohio and took in the eclipse with me said, “This happens again April 8, 2024, and totality is only about thirty miles from where I live. Want to come?”

It’s on my calendar. Now, I understand eclipse chasers.

 

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Put Litter in Its Place

 

            If there is a six letter bad word, it’s litter. Litter. Trash in a public place. Paper, cans, and bottles that belong in a landfill or recycling bin. I hate litter anywhere and everywhere and especially along the right of way. Always have.

When I was a kid, before protecting our natural environment were social and political issues, Mom and Dad made it a family issue. Part of our weekly yard care, in addition to pushing a lawn mower and clipping grass around shrubs with hand clippers, was picking up trash along the road near our house. And Mom and Dad taught me that nothing could be thrown out car windows. We had a car trash bag.

I carried on the trash bag practice with my children and their friends knew when I was the carpool driver all trash went in the bag. Except once when a carload of kids was riding in my Ford station wagon with flip-up back seats and in the rearview mirror, I saw a child toss a candy wrapper out the back window. We were on a neighborhood street, not a major highway.

I stopped the car on the wide shoulder and everyone, the litter culprit and those innocent, got out of the car and we picked up every scrap of trash we could find. My two school-age children were embarrassed and I should’ve handled the situation without using my teacher voice, but I was angry.

Now I walk from my house to the YMCA on Raider Drive a couple of times a week and I’m shocked at the amount of litter along a heavily traveled street that leads to a public school and a place to exercise.

Recently, while my three oldest Grands, ages 11, 10, and 8, visited, I told them we were going to do a service project. We’d pick up litter along the road close to the Y. Their responses were typical. How much will we get paid? (No money. Just the satisfaction of doing something good for our environment.) Do we have to? (Yes.) I’m not touching somebody else’s trash. (We’ll wear plastic gloves.) How long do we have to do it? (Until the job is done.) Can we have a treat afterwards? (Maybe.)

Reluctantly, my Grands pulled on gloves, took the trash bags, and decided we should work in pairs. One person, to hold the bag open and the other, pick up. A chore that would’ve taken me all morning was completed in twenty-two minutes. One Grand set her stopwatch.

After we finished, I liked what I heard. That wasn’t near as bad as I thought it’d be. It was almost fun. We found at least 25 apple drink aluminum cans. Why would somebody throw out aluminum cans they can recycle? Don’t they know plastic bottles can be recycled, too? They must not have a car trash bag.

And the last question: Gran, we don’t have to do this next week, do we? I certainly hope not.

 

 

Stranded in the Everglades

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 8.32.42 AM“It’s not a big problem. It’s okay. The starter just went out,” said Johnny, the tour guide. Because the airboat’s starter went out, the tour boat I was on was stranded in the Everglades National Park on a cool January morning.

Johnny picked up his two-way radio. “I’ll call the office. They’ll send another boat to get you and bring a starter so I can fix this one. It’s a five-minute repair.” The other three paying passengers and I assured Johnny that we weren’t on tight schedules and in no hurry to get back to dock.

“Johnny to headquarters,” Johnny repeated over and over into his radio. We heard conversations between other employees, but obviously no one heard Johnny. Using my cell phone, I snapped pictures of the mangrove trees. “Looks like my radio is out, too, and my phone is charging at the office. Can I use yours?” our tour guide asked.

Johnny punched numbers. No answer. “Ah, gees. They aren’t answering. This is the employees’ line – not the public one. I bet they see your number and think it’s a wrong number. I don’t know any other numbers. I’ll keep trying. Surely, they’ll answer. ”

We passengers chuckled. “So do you have paddles?” I asked. Johnny shook his head. “How far are we from the office dock?” About three miles by water.

Finally, on the fifth call, someone answered. “They’re sending a new starter,” Johnny said. “I’ll switch it out and take you back.”

Johnny had guided the airboat slowly through the Everglades canals, and later he explained why he sped up and did a couple of 360s in pond-size water. “When I went faster, one of you gave a thumbs up and nobody grabbed the seat bars. When it’s too cold for wildlife, going fast makes this tour more interesting.” The airboat swerved quickly through narrow canals shaded by mangrove canopies, until we came into open water and Johnny turned off the motor.

“This is called the Honey Hole,” Johnny had said. “It’s a good place to stop and talk about the Everglades. You’re in the middle of a mangrove forest. Mangroves lose their leaves a few at a time. Those yellow leaves are called sacrificial leaves. You can see the bottom here – it’s only about six inches deep – the water is clear because not many leaves fall in the middle of the pond.” Acid from decomposed leaves turns the water dark.

Sacrificial mangrove leaves drop and decay in the swamp to provide food for insects that are part of the food chain leading to alligators. The leaves are thick and waxy, like those of mountain laurels in the Smokey Mountains, and only about two inches long and the branches are thin and crooked, like a huge shrub. Native Americans called a mangrove a walking tree. Like curved legs, the tangled roots, some above water, anchor the trees in the swampy peat soil.

Stranded in the Everglades when the sun is shining and the temperature is 60 – a great way to spend an hour on a winter morning. No mosquitoes or alligators. Too cold for both. No danger of drowning. Silence in the middle of a mangrove swamp. The smell of unspoiled nature and the rich aroma of peat. One lone white ibis egret flew overhead. A fish, probably a gar, splashed.

Johnny was right. He changed out the starter and drove back to dock. Speeding and swerving all the way. And, if anyone needs it, I have the employees’ number for Captain Jack’s Airboats in Everglade City, Florida.

A Refreshing Walk with My Grand

imgres “Wots dat?” Neil asked and pointed toward white, feathery puffs of cotton that floated above his head.

“It’s seeds from cottonwood trees,” I said. He reached his hands high to catch the seeds, but they floated around him and onto the ground. He picked up a delicate seed and closed it inside his fist. When he spread his fingers wide, the seed seemed to have disappeared. He wrinkled his forehead, cocked his head, and picked up another seed.

Neil, my almost two-year-old Grand, seemed perplexed. He gathered several cottonseeds -one at a time- closed his hand, and when he opened it, he didn’t see the same white cotton puff. “Gone!” he announced and then began walking.

Neil and I were taking a morning walk. In his neighborhood, on the sidewalk, to a nearby park. “Wots dat?” Neil pointed to a white spot on the sidewalk. “Bird poo. Don’t touch it,” I told him and held his hand tightly. “POO!” he shouted and wiggled his hand free from mine. We had reached the park and Neil ran to and climbed upon a green metal bench. “POO!” he said and patted white spots on the bench.

A robin hopped on the grass, pecked at the ground, and raised its head. I held Neil in my lap and told him that the robin was searching for worms to eat. The robin flew low to the ground and Neil’s feet hit the ground running. Arms stretched in front of him, legs churning, Neil ran toward the bird. Mr. Robin stopped, pecked the ground again, and when Neil was only a few feet away, the bird flew. All around the open grassy field, the two played chase.

But, of course, Neil never came close to Mr. Robin. Finally, the robin perched in a pine tree. Neil ran to the tree and looked up. I pointed to the bird and suggested that he was full and ready for a rest. “Gone!” Neil announced.

Holding hands Neil and I walked along the sidewalk to the duck pond. “Wot dey doing?” Neil asked when we saw several ducks with their heads tucked along their backs. I said, “Probably sleeping.” Neil asked, “Why?” I explained that ducks get tired just like we do and, knowing that why questions never end, I veered our walk toward Neil’s home.

My Grand gathered short sticks that he gave me to hold and we talked about things we saw. Airplane contrails that crisscrossed the sky. White puffy clouds. A man who was power washing his driveway. A brown rabbit that hopped from shrub to shrub. A red pickup truck. Yellow tulips that Neil couldn’t pick.

“Wots dat?” Neil suddenly stopped walking. “It sounds like a fire truck,” I said. A fire truck that didn’t come within our sight, but kept Neil still long enough that he spotted ants, tiny brown ones, on the concrete walk. He squatted so low that his knees touched his chin and he watched the ants scurry to their anthill in the grass and then back onto the sidewalk. One ant hurried away from the others and Neil, still in a tight squat, shuffled his feet and followed it until it crawled into the grass.

“We’re home,” I told Neil. He rushed into his house and gave his older brother a treasure – one of his sticks.

There’s nothing quite so refreshing as taking a walk with a toddler. Everything is fascinating. Even seeds and ants and sticks.

 

 

Winter Weather – What’s to Like?

imgresI hate winter weather. I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. I hate bitterly cold temperatures and rainy 40-degree days.

I don’t like wearing a coat, a hat, a scarf, gloves, and boots. Not only do I feel like an overstuffed teddy bear, I look like one, and putting on all that garb takes time. Everybody’s time. Last night our five Grands who live across town and their parents ate supper at our house. Our oldest Grand, who is 9, called on the phone when I was ready to put the food on the table, and he said, “Gran, we’re running a little late because it takes so long to get everybody bundled up.” Spending time bundling up and being bundled up. What’s to like?

I remind myself that middle Tennessee is where I choose to live and I don’t plan to move and life is really good here so I do my best to appreciate this season.

Now is the time to watch birds. As I write this, I’m distracted because outside my window, a Downy Woodpecker evidently found a feast in an oak tree where a limb fell off recently. She pecked at that same place for several minutes, flew away, came back, and immediately a male Downy Woodpecker took her place. Did she get full and then invite him to her table?

And I really like seeing branches and twigs on deciduous trees. Springtime’s green leaves that turn brilliant colors in the fall hide the trees’ amazing structures. From the huge trunks to the toothpick twigs – each tree is unique. Have you seen a sunrise or sunset through the outline of trees? As beautiful as the colors of winter mornings and evenings are, the silhouettes of trees create even more incredible pictures.

Then there are comfort foods, like soup. Vegetable soup, made from all the leftover tidbits that I couldn’t throw away and stored in a freezer container and labeled For Soup. Or white chili. Brunswick stew. Turkey noodle soup.  Soup and cornbread on a cold winter day – divine.

Basketball is my sport – spectator sport, that is. I follow our home and state college teams: Tennessee Tech, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. But I’m happy watching any televised college game – women’s and men’s. I’m entertained through the first week of April, when the NCAA championships are played. Sometimes I scream, “Great pass!” and then realize that players on the opposing team made the pass. I love the play of a good game.

Back to cold weather attire – there are advantages. Long sleeves hide my sagging upper arms. Turtlenecks cover that area that it’s said no matter how many facelifts I have, my neck will tell my age. My spider veins and age spots are hidden. Give me a pair of old jeans and a soft sweatshirt and I’m dressed for the day until I run to the mailbox.

By the time I find and put on my coat and scarf and gloves and hat, it’s almost dark – 4:55 p.m. I grab the mail, run inside my warm house, heat up yesterday’s soup for supper, find a good ball game on TV, and settle in for the evening.

So maybe I’ve convinced myself that I like these winter days. But I still hate feeling like an overstuffed teddy bear.

 

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Huddleston Knob

searchIf I had the money, I’d buy a small mountain. For purely sentimental reasons. The ad in Sunday’s newspaper states, “The Huddleston Knob. Absolute Auction. December 6. 2:00 p.m.” I grew up seeing that knob everyday.

Huddleston Knob is advertised “as possibly the most nostalgic tract of land in Pickett County. 138.05 acres of woodland providing a backdrop for many of the homes in Byrdstown, TN. It is undoubtedly the most recognizable parcel of land in the community. Sightseers, hikers, and neighbors have all gone up to the summit for the 360-degree breathtaking views.”

I never climbed to the top of The Knob, but I drove Dad’s tractor on our family’s farm at its foothills. Dad taught me to drive the tractor when I was 10 years old so that others who were bigger and stronger could do the heavy work. Like setting plants while riding the tobacco setting machine in the spring. And at harvest time, loading sticks of cut tobacco and throwing hay bales on the wagon behind the tractor. Our family’s farm was passed down to Dad from his mother who was raised there and my great-grandmother was a Huddleston. (Now I wonder if her family ever owned The Knob. Too bad I didn’t ask that question years ago when Dad or Granny could have told me. It may be time for a little research.)

My parents’ home was six miles from the farm, and from the back porch and a picture window, I watched the seasons change on Huddleston Knob. Our family called it The Mountain. It gave an excuse to sit in the back porch rocking chairs and provided calm for conversation. Mom would say, “Let’s get something to drink and watch The Mountain for a bit.” Or Dad would say, “Come on out to the porch. Let’s look at The Mountain and figure out what to do.” Joys and problems were shared as we stared across the miles.

After my children and niece were born, The Mountain took on a new name: Granny’s Mountain. Mom’s rocking chair was beside the picture window where she held her grandchildren and read aloud and told Purple Cow stories and rocked the children to sleep. I’m not sure who first called it Granny’s Mountain, but she made it hers when she talked about how it was turning green in the spring and orange and yellow in the fall and gray in the winter. Among Mom’s treasures was a wooden tray that Son made for her when he was 8 years old. It’s painted yellow and decorated with a child’s simple drawing of a tall green mountain and the words Granny’s Mountain. Mom kept it propped up on her kitchen counter.

As I read the words “The Huddleston Knob” in the newspaper ad, I smell the freshly turned and plowed dirt in the tobacco field and feel the itch from hay on a hot summer day. I see the serene green mountain, taste the lemonade, and feel the contentment of sitting beside Mom and Dad. I hear Mom say to Son, “Oh, I love it! Now no matter what season it is, I’ll always have my green mountain.”

And no matter who owns that 138 acres, Huddleston Knob belongs to all of us who have such memories. Some things can’t be bought.

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Cave Walk

 

 

 

search “Wear supportive shoes, no flip-flops.  The temperature is a cool 55 degrees.  It’s about a mile and a half walk.  Nothing strenuous.  Just uneven ground and some steps.  You have to watch where you walk.”  That’s what Tucker told me about a cave tour when I called Cumberland Caverns.  He said all the right things to encourage Husband and me to take our nine-year-old Grand to the cave.

 

The tour starts with a 600-yard walk along a narrow gravel road.  “Does this count as part of the 1 ½ mile walk?”  Husband asks Tucker, who is now our tour guide.  It does.  We walk into the first cave huge room and David is mildly impressed.  We are all impressed by the waterfalls and the pond with albino crayfish.

 

Tucker points out stalagmites, stalactites, and columns, and he assures us that the huge cracks in the ceiling prevent it from falling.  We walk along a rough pathway that’s wide enough for a jeep.  Then Tucker says, “This next section is 350 steps, up 175 and back down.  If you don’t want to go, you can sit on that bench and wait.  We’ll be back in a few minutes.”  Steps up – rock steps, some tall, some short, all uneven, and narrow.  That wooden bench  is inviting.

 

Tucker looks toward three people: Husband, me, and a man who is carrying his toddler son in a large, metal frame backpack. “It’s a bit slippery in some places.  You can hold on to the railing.  Anybody want to wait?”  The railing is a one-inch metal pipeIs it stable?  Backpacking Daddy takes a deep breath and says, “I think I’ll wait.”  Tucker tells him that the lights may go off, but some emergency lights will turn on.   Husband and I both nod our heads – we’re going.  Backpacking Daddy takes another deep breath and says, “I guess I’ll go, too.”  Did he change his mind because if someone like me, at least 30 years older than he, thinks she can walk up and down all those steps, he figures he can?

 

David and two other young boys fall in right behind Tucker.  Ten steps up and a ninety-degree turn.  All three boys grab the handrail. Tucker says, “Feel how wet that railing is?  That’s bat pee.”  The boys immediately wipe their hands on their pant legs.  “Just kidding.  Do you know what condensation is?”  I cling to the railing, wet or not.

 

With a few huffs and puffs and gripping the railing, everyone makes it up and back down.  And those young boys practically step on Tucker’s heels as he leads.  We see the bare cave, so named because it’s empty and the meat grinder tunnel, named for what an early spelunker looked like he’d been through when he came out.   Finally, we toured the concert hall for Bluegrass Underground.  A perfect tour, I think.

 

“What’d you think of your first cave tour, David?” I ask.

 

“It would’ve been a lot better if we’d been able to climb the rocks and not have to walk on a road somebody made.  You know, really see the cave, without electricity.”  he says.

 

Yes, I know.  There’s such a cave tour.  David can crawl through tight squeezes and along a muddy bottom.  I’ll tell his daddy about it.