Holiday Greetings from Tin Can Gulch

I’ve spent a lot of time this holiday season listening to old Christmas CDs on an even older RCA boom box. Feel free to judge me. I warrant each rebuke! Not being an audiophile, I failed to upgrade to an MP3 player, much less an iPod or one of the myriad of musical apps now available for smartphones.

Regardless of what audio technology you’re using, there’s something special about Bing Crosby singing White Christmas or Burl Ives doing A Holly Jolly Christmas. It’s hard to beat Brenda Lee belting out Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree or Nat King Cole crooning The Christmas Song, although Johnny Mathis certainly comes close with his version of “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”

I’ve listened to so many Christmas songs over the years that it occurred to me, as I sat listening again this holiday season, that a Christmas song title (with my favorite artist’s rendition in parentheses) could probably be used to describe the highlights of my past year. So here goes…

Let’s start with Last Christmas (Wham!). I had a really Blue Christmas (Elvis) as I spent Christmas night in the ER suffering, not from an eggnog overdose, but The World’s Hardest Kidney Stone. When It Came Upon the Midnight Clear (Mormon Tabernacle Choir), I felt like grandma must have when Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer (Elmo & Patsy).

The medical fun continued through April, with multiple outpatient visits to pummel my kidney with shock waves, costing plenty of Silver and Gold (Burl Ives), interspersed with a couple more ER visits due to an allergic reaction to an antibiotic that had my head ringing like Carol of the Bells (Pentatonix) and the rest of my body feeling like I Farted on Santa’s Lap (The Little Stinkers).

Not to be deterred, I, along with John, Shannon, Megan and a couple of Megan’s friends, joined a million others in January for the Women’s March on Washington. It was amazing and humbling to see what democracy looks like up close and personal.

Do You Hear What I Hear? (Andy Williams). I hear women all over the country demanding some R-E-S-P-E-C-T (Aretha Franklin). Oops, wrong genre! But you get the point – as did those who joined me live or later on Facebook for a nine-part series, “Being a Woman in Today’s World,” that I facilitated for Seniors Enriched Living in Roswell. I’ll be continuing the discussion in January/February 2018.

After marching in D.C., John, accompanied by John Jr., hiked in a Winter Wonderland (Frank Sinatra) along the Appalachian Trail until his knees cried “Uncle!” on mile 362. In May, I journeyed to Virginia to join him in providing moral support, and the occasional hot meal and warm, dry bed, for James and Tiana who braved the trail for a few weeks after graduating college. Both have now joined the rank and file of the fully employed. Joy to the World! (Doug Hammer)

Speaking of new jobs, sons #2 and #3 have taken career turns. Trevor moved his family (including our one-and-only grandchild, William – the sweetest and The Littlest Angel (Bing Crosby) ever!) to Montreal last year where he now frequently tells his wife, Eleanor, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Montreal, it seems, is even more frigid than their former abode in Krakow.

Meanwhile, Rollin pursued his dream and transitioned from IT manager to flight instructor and private pilot this year. Thus far, he hasn’t had to share air space with Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Gene Autry), but it’s early in his flight career.

Shannon and I headed to Florida in May for a little Breath of Heaven (Amy Grant). I used the late spring and summer to recover my strength and to try to pick up my writing pace, even though my illness and the death of my father in early June combined to form a long Silent Night (Sinead O’Connor) that stole my energy and stuffed my creativity Away in a Manger (John Denver). Consequently, I’m not as far along on novel deux as I had planned.

Yet, just like The Holly and the Ivy (Mediaeval Baebes) spring eternal, so does my capacity to persist. Life can be like a bumpy Sleigh Ride (Leroy Anderson), but it’s the jolts along the way that give us perspective, enabling us to more fully embrace life’s joy when a smooth ride spurs us to sing like Angels We Have Heard on High (Third Day).

John and Tiana journeyed to Dublin, London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Ibiza and Hamburg in late summer, while Megan, Shannon and I made like We Three Kings (The Roches) and trekked to The Netherlands in August to get Megan settled in for graduate school at the University of Amsterdam. During my absence, John grabbed John Jr. to Deck the Hall (Nat King Cole) in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the Ukraine.

My bestie, Margo, joined us in Amsterdam. After a week sightseeing and getting Megan situated, we left my girls to their own devices and peeled off to check out Northern Europe. We toured Norway – the ancestral home of Leroy the Redneck Reindeer (Joe Diffie) — by train, bus and boat; then hopped a plane to Copenhagen. You might think Good King Wencelas (The Irish Rovers) was a Dane, but actually he was a Czech. To make things even more confusing, the carol’s music originated in Finland. Suffice it to say, it’s a Northern Europe thang and that part of the world is lovely!

The fall found John and I traveling to the west coast with our British pals, Robert and Pat. RVing with friends is almost as fun as the night Santa Claus Got Stuck in My Chimney (Ella Fitzgerald). We traversed close to 10,000 miles of this grand country, visiting many of our fabulous national parks and lots of sites in between.

It was already A Marshmallow World (Dean Martin) in Yellowstone by late September and Sequoia gave new meaning to O Tannebaum (Vince Guaraldi Trio). All the parks are true treasures, but O Come All Ye Faithful (Anne Murray) to Zion, one of the big three in Utah. It’s simply spectacular.

Given that Christmas starts right after Halloween these days, we timed the end of our camping excursion to see us Home for the Holidays (Perry Como). Traveling is wonderful, but The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Andy Williams) is time spent with family. Whether you’re celebrating Christmas in Dixie (Alabama) or Christmas in Killarney (Bing Crosby) with those you hold dear, here’s hoping you Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Judy Garland).

Feliz Navidad (Jose Feliciano)!

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The Long Arm of History

The last stop on our camping trip was a moving history lesson at the Whitney Plantation located on the east bank of the Mississippi River some 45 miles west of New Orleans.

History can be defined in three ways : a) what actually happened; b) what we are told happened; and c) what we come (or want) to believe happened.

The Whitney Plantation is a museum with a mission to accurately portray what life was like for a slave on a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana. It is the only museum that I know of in the country devoted to educating visitors about slavery from the perspective of the enslaved.

Using actual data from the plantation’s records, first-hand accounts obtained from former slaves as part of a WPA project during the Great Depression and other historical facts, the Whitney presents the heart-wrenching reality of slavery in the “land of the free.”

But why, in 2017, should we care about the history of slavery in the United States? What’s past is past, right? It can’t be changed. Besides, we’ve overcome it. We elected a black man to the highest office in our land — twice. Even our Supreme Court stated we live in a post-racial society.

I would argue that the long arm of history touches us today. One day has built upon another to bring us to this day — and this day finds us divided as a nation.

Consequently, I am inclined to agree with journalist Matt Taibbi who wrote: “So much of the Trump phenomenon is about history. Fueling the divide between pro- and anti-Trump camps is exactly the fact that we’ve never had a real reckoning with our terrible past or our similarly bloody present.”

A visit to the Whitney will clear your mind. Those wanting to cling to the history they were told and have come/want to believe of a noble people fighting for a lost cause will find it difficult to see anything noble about enslaved children starving to death, enslaved women serving as sex slaves forced to bear children to ensure a continuous supply of new slaves, and the enslaved men who dared to fight back being shot to death then beheaded — their heads jammed on pikes to serve as a gruesome warning to others contemplating rebellion.

In short, the Whitney lays bare the ugly truth of the slave trade, the world’s complicity in it and how slave labor helped build our nation. It negates any portrayal of the Confederacy as anything other than what it was — a union of state governments and citizens dedicated to preserving the legal right to enslave other human beings even if it meant destroying that nation.

But what the Whitney does most effectively is put faces and names to the now abstract concept of slavery.

Every visitor to the museum receives a badge which has a photo of the clay sculpture of a child slave. On the back is a brief bio of that child.

The life-sized sculptures reside in the Antioch Church which was relocated to the plantation museum from another Louisiana town. Your first stop on the Whitney tour is at the church to seek out the child on your badge.

That was how I was introduced to Peter Barber, a slave from Charlottesville, VA who, as an old man, told his story to the Federal Writer’s Project during the Great Depression.

The church is dotted with statues, a moving memorial to all the faceless, nameless children once enslaved in our country.

Peter Barber was a person. He survived slavery only to live out his life under Jim Crow laws. His descendants may still reside in Charlottesville where, in August, they witnessed white nationalists and supremacists march in violent protest of the removal of Confederate statues.

The long arm of history grabbed Peter’s descendants as surely as it holds each of us, daring us to view the truth about our past so that we accurately view present circumstances in the context of our shared history.

For me, that means no sorrow or remorse for the removal of monuments to men who tore our country apart to keep Peter Barber in chains in order to enrich themselves. I feel no pride in my southern heritage. My only regret is that the monuments to such brutality didn’t come down sooner.

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Go Where the Trail Takes You

Hiketo walk for a long distance, especially across country or in the woods.

My first memory of traipsing through the woods was with my dad as a very young child. The youngest son of a tobacco sharecropper, my dad grew up hunting with his father to put meat on the table. Needless to say, my dad was very comfortable in the woods.

Growing up, I helped him skin the small game — birds, rabbits and squirrels — he shot on his trips to the woods. He stopped hunting when I was a young adult because he no longer desired to kill. Yet, he liked the time spent in the woods because, as he said, he felt close to his Maker there.

A long walk in the woods is definitely soothing. Science says hiking is a great stress reducer. That’s probably why my younger self, a working, single mom, enjoyed it so much and spent so much of her precious free time roaming the north Georgia mountains.

Like my father before me, I feel closest to the Creator when I am immersed in the Creation. As an older woman with minimal stressors in my life, hiking still brings me joy, a great sense of accomplishment, and spiritual connection — all of which contributes to my peaceful well-being.

Besides, it’s a fun way to exercise!

My travels across the USA have afforded me ample hiking opportunities. I find that trails, no matter how easy or strenuous, rarely disappoint and always seem to reveal something.

Sometimes it’s exquisite beauty. Sometimes it’s an interesting aspect of nature you never noticed before. Sometimes it’s the simple pleasure of quiet solitude or the camaraderie of sharing the experience with others. Sometimes it’s something about yourself — your limitations, your aspirations, your sense of being.

Sometimes it’s just plain fun!

If you’ve never tried hiking, I encourage you to do it. It’s a physical activity that accommodates all fitness levels and capabilities. You’ll be surprised to discover that even if you take a loop trail — you’re not walking in circles; and a straight in-and-out along the same path is seldom boring.

Hiking is a great metaphor for life — sometimes you stay on the beaten path and sometimes you blaze a new one. Either way, keep putting one foot in front of the other to see where the trail leads you.

Happy trails!

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An Eye for Hot Springs

Ojo caliente literally means “hot eye” in Spanish, but the common translation has come to mean “hot springs.”

I have acquired an eye for hot springs, having specifically sought them out in my travels. I developed my liking for a good soak at Eco Termales in Fortuna, Costa Rica several years ago and it remains one of my favorites.

Since that first soak, I have bathed in springs from Banff to Budapest. My all-time favorite was the ancient Roman bath at Pammukale, Turkey.

If you want a good soak in the United States, head to New Mexico. This afternoon, I visited one of my favorites — Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa.

There’s not a more relaxing environment to be had. Multiple pools of varying heat and mineral content, a mud bath, a no-talking- except-to-whisper policy and my favorite — hammocks to nap in — puts Ojo Caliente in my top three.

I prefaced my much-anticipated return to Ojo Caliente with a visit to another hot springs some 45 miles away this morning.

John and I journeyed to Jemez Springs yesterday and camped in Jemez Falls Campground in the Sante Fe National Forest, a mountainous area covered in luscious ponderous pine.

After a chilly, early morning hike, we headed to Spence, the first hot springs we ever had to hike in to reach.

We pulled into a trailhead parking area off Highway 4 and confirmed with a park ranger who happened to be there that we were in the right place. Then we set off on the trail, eventually scrambling up and around some rocks to arrive at the small pools.

There was a grotto off the largest pool and it contained the warmest water. We happily stripped and carefully entered the small opening to the grotto to enjoy a morning soak in the warm mineral water. (Those are John’s legs as he entered first!)

It was lovely! We had the pools and grotto all to ourselves and unlike all the other hot springs I have visited, the only fee was the hike to and from the pools.

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The Voodoo Behind Hoodoos

Who knew about hoodoos?

Not me. Not until this trip to Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah where there are hoodoos galore.

Hoodoos are the crazy rock formations that comprise this beautiful canyon.

While weathering and erosion contribute to these fascinating formations, they’re only part of the story. Hoodoo got their own special voodoo.

As snow and ice melt, water seeps into the fractures. It expands as it re-freezes and cracks the rock around it. Pieces fall off and melting snow or rain washes the debris away.

Temperatures swing widely between freezing nights and warm afternoons here about 180 days a year. So the voodoo of temperature shifts of 40 degrees over a few hours helps create a plethora of hoodoos.

We hiked the Navajo Loop Trail this morning, which goes down into the canyon and up and out again. It afforded a different view of the hoodoos.

Hard to believe that 40 or 50 million years ago, this magnificent canyon was full of water in a system of large lakes. Today, it’s a sea of hoodoos; or as the Park’s visitor guide so aptly puts it — poetry in stone.

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The Hebrew word zion has several meanings, but two that apply to Zion National Park are “raised up” and “monument.”

This incredible national park is a monument to the creative power of Mother Nature. Roughly 250 million years in the making, this scenic wonderland was forged in large part by the Virgin River. The river cut colorful canyons as deep as 3000 feet leaving buttes and mesas to rise heavenward from a valley.

The Paiute Indians lived here long before the first homesteaders appeared in 1861. Isaac Behunin, the first pioneer to call Zion home, appreciated the majesty surrounding him, observing: “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made church — this is Zion.”

The name resonated and in 1919 the name of the national park was changed from Mukuntaweap to Zion.

You can tour Zion partially from your vehicle and from a park shuttle bus, but there’s no doubt that the best way to discover Zion’s unique beauty is by hiking its trails. Luckily, there’s trails for novices to the most hardened hikers.

What a blessing it’s been for me to join the 4.3 million visitors who come to Zion each year to revel in the majesty of the Creation.

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Where the Red Trees Grow

Big trees make beautiful photos.

A visit to King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks fed my current obsession — big, red trees.

The more I learn about them…the more I learn from them. For example, these magnificent giants only need three feet of soil in which to grow. Their roots spread out and intertwine with the roots of their fellow giants, and their combined strength help hold them erect. There’s a life lesson in that for humans.

General Sherman — the oldest tree in the forest at 3,200 years — still lives despite the fact that his top is long gone. His trunk just keeps getting bigger…

In fact, the giant sequoias don’t really die from old age. A trauma typically takes them out once they’ve gained a foothold in the forest. A mighty wind or a lightening strike are about the only things that fell them — besides humans, of course.

To humbly stand in their presence is to gaze back in time while simultaneously looking ahead. You can see the scars of the past in their resilient bark and know that they are mighty. They have and will withstand the test of time.

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