Monthly Archives: December 2015

“Here’s to Plough Monday!”

January 6 – last of the 12 Days of Christmas – leads to “Plough Monday…”


Christmas Day has come and gone.  But that doesn’t mean the Christmas season is over.  As noted last year here, the Twelve Days of Christmas are “both a festive Christmas season” and the title of a “host of songs and spin-offs (including one on a Mustang GT):”

The Twelve Days of Christmas [begin] on Christmas Day (25 December)[, they celebrate] the birth of Jesus [and are] also known as Christmastide…   The Feast of the Epiphany is on 6 January [and] celebrates the visit of the Wise Men (Magi) and their bringing of gifts to the child Jesus.  In some traditions, the feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Day overlap.

The post also said that technically this holiday season really started back on Halloween.

The thing is, winters back in the really old days – when life was nasty, brutish and short – were really long and really boring.  So folks back then looked for any good reason to throw a party and get sloshed.  (Which explains why the “party season” started on Halloween.)

So in one sense you could say the end of that extended holiday season comes on January 6.

But in another sense you could say the season extends to the Monday following January.  That’s the Monday known as Plough Monday.  (Which is another way of saying some of the post-Christmas holidays and/or Feast Days can be extremely confusing.)  So the end of that extended holiday season – this year, on January 11 – was also known as Plough Monday.

Getting back to January 6, another name for it was Twelfth Night.  That in turn was the name of famous play by William Shakespeare.  The play “expanded on the musical interludes and riotous disorder expected of the occasion,” to wit: the “occasion of the ‘drunken revelry’ of 12th Night.”

And finally, January 6th has yet another name.  It is perhaps best known as the Epiphany.

But getting back to Plough Monday:  In England it marks the start of the new Agricultural Year.  The Church of England had a long church service to mark the occasion, with prayers for a bountiful harvest.  And that service included both a blessing of the seed to be planted and a “blessing of the plough” – as illustrated at right:

Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation:  for in your abundant care you have given us fertile land, rich soil, the seasons in their courses…  By your blessing, let this plough be a sign of all that you promise to us.  Prosper the work of our hands, and provide abundant crops for your people to share.

In turn, Plough Monday was preceded by Plough Sunday.  Plough Sunday was seen as a way of celebrating farming and the work of farmers, in church.  But since you weren’t supposed to work on Sundays – back in the good old days – the new agricultural year didn’t really start until the next work day:  “work in the fields did not begin until the day after Plough Sunday.”

Put another way:  Since Epiphany always came on January 6, Plough Sunday came on the Sunday after the Epiphany.  (The Sunday between January 7 and January 13.)  Thus Plough Monday is usually the first Monday after Twelfth Day (Epiphany), 6 January.

The point of all this – January 6, Plough Monday, etc. – was to have one more big blast before getting back to work.  (Resuming farm-work after the extended Christmas holiday season.)  As such it was one more occasion for general tomfoolery, as shown in the top picture:

In some areas, particularly in northern England and East England, a plough was hauled from house to house in a procession, collecting money.  They were often accompanied by musicians, an old woman or a boy dressed as an old woman, called the “Bessy,” and a man in the role of the “fool.”

In turn it may  help to remember that one big reason for all this general tomfoolery was that – otherwise – life back then was indeed “nasty, brutish and short.”

And finally, people usually celebrated Plough Monday by eating Plough Pudding, as seen at left:  A “boiled suet pudding, containing meat and onions.  It is from Norfolk and is eaten on Plough Monday.”

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All of which brings up the topic of Ringing In The New YearThat web article noted that bells – as in the ringing of bells – are “a deeply spiritual part of ushering in both life and death for ancient cultures.  (In a practice that serves as an “apt metaphor for the changing of the New Year.”

Or see New Year – Wikipedia, which noted that New Year’s Day wasn’t always January 1:

During the Middle Ages in western Europe … authorities moved New Year’s Day variously, depending upon locale, to one of several other days, among them: March 1, March 25, Easter, September 1, and December 25.  These New Year’s Day changes generally reverted to using January 1 [with] local adoptions of the Gregorian calendar, beginning in 1582…

Note also that the ancient Hebrews celebrated a type of New Year with Rosh Hashanah.  (Hebrew for “head of the year.”)  Rosh Hashanah is a two day holiday “commemorating the culmination of the seven days of Creation, and marking God’s yearly renewal of His world.”

As for January 1, that started in Rome:  “During the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire years began on the date on which each consul first entered office.”  But then in 45 BC – and the new “Julian calendar” – the Roman Senate fixed January 1 as the first day of the year.

At that time, this was the date on which those who were to hold civil office assumed their official position, and it was also the traditional annual date for the convening of the Roman Senate. This civil new year remained in effect throughout the Roman Empire, east and west, during its lifetime and well after, wherever the Julian calendar continued in use.

So here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2016 in advance!


Baby New Year 1905 chases old 1904 into the history books…”

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Note that this post was modeled on a similar one at DOR Scribe, my other blog.

Re: Mustang GT.  See also Jeff Foxworthy – Redneck 12 Days Of Christmas lyrics.

Re: “Nasty, brutish and short.”  That’s a quote from the book Leviathan, written by Thomas Hobbes and published in 1651.  Hobbes described the natural state of mankind as a “warre of every man against every man,” a life which was in turn “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. See Wikipedia, and also Nasty, brutish and short – meaning and origin.

The lower image is courtesy of New Year – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The full caption:  “Baby New Year 1905 chases old 1904 into the history books in this cartoon by John T. McCutcheon.”  See also ‘Ringing’ Or ‘Bringing In The New Year:’ A History.


“In the Heart of the Sea”

image: Sperm Whaling:  The Chase

“Sperm Whales – The Chase…”


 I first read about the Essex 54 years ago.  (I was 10 or so.)

My aunt gave me a set of American Heritage Junior Books.  The one I liked best was The Story of Yankee Whaling.  (Published in 1959.)

But that book didn’t just include the story of the Wreck of the Essex. (With a POW – loosely translated as “angry whale” – ramming and sinking a ship, as shown in Ron Howard’s new In the Heart of the Sea.)

 Yankee Whaling also included the gory tale of Samuel Comstock, star of the “bloodiest mutiny in the history of American whaling,” on the whale-ship Globe:

The mutineers [in 1815] killed Captain Worth and three other officers.  Soon after William Humphries, one of the mutineers, was accused of plotting to take the ship; a kangaroo court of the mutineers tried him and, finding him guilty, hanged him.

Yankee Whaling had vivid descriptions of the mutineers hacking up some victims – mostly officers – and throwing others to the sharks.  (Just the stuff 10-year-old boys love to read.)

Which could mean the Globe mutiny will soon be “coming to a theater near you.”  In the meantime we have Heart of the Sea.  That movie shows a whale sinking a ship, then “stalking” the survivors 2,000 miles across the vast Pacific.  (In a bit of Hollywood hyperbole.)

In the Heart of the Sea poster.jpgOn the other hand – in 90 days at sea, in small leaky boats and without enough food or water – the eight survivors of the Essex did things that the Globe mutineers would likely have found revolting.  (See the classic joke, re:  “the peasants are revolting.”)

There’s more on that later, but first note Garry Wills‘ version of the Lord’s prayer.  His version reads, “and bring us not to the Breaking Point.”  (Instead of the usual “lead us not into temptation.”)

Briefly, Heart of the Sea tells the story of eight men – survivors of the original crew of 21 – who got forcibly taken to their breaking point, then well beyond that.

Which is another way of saying the original – true – story was bad enough.

The problem?  The true story of eight men surviving 90 days of living hell – on the vast Pacific – is both incredibly long and incredibly boring.  (On film anyway.)  Which is another way of saying that amount of living hell doesn’t translate well to film.  So in making the movie, Howard had to take liberties with some facts and make up others out of whole cloth.

Despite all that, the film earned my highest compliment.  I paid three times more than usual – to see the IMAX version – and still felt like I got my money’s worth.

Getting back to the Essex:  I read the American Heritage version 50 years ago.  Then five or six years ago I came across the book version of Heart of the Sea, by Daniel Philbrick.

The heart of the story – what made Philbrick’s book different – was that tale of eight men in small boats, undergoing 90 days of heat, hunger and thirst.  And the book version gave that long, boring ordeal its full scope.  But a film is like a shark.  It has to move – visibly – or it will “die.”  (Lose its audience.  Or to paraphrase McLuhan, “the format shapes the message.”)

Accordingly, in making a film of Heart of the Sea, Ron Howard came up with a workable yet eminently appealing mix of fact and fiction.  For starters, he used the classic seafaring style, focusing on “two quarrelling men in charge of a big ship, like Mutiny on the Bounty” – as shown at left – “or Jaws.”  (See “scurvy and beards.”)

Another twist was the flashback:  One remaining survivor – Thomas Nickerson – interviewed by Herman Melville (“Moby Dick“) some 30 years after Nickerson served as cabin boy on the Essex.

And “young cabin boys” raise an historical anomaly:

In 1822 … New England mothers sent their sons to kill whales in the Pacific Ocean at an age when modern parents would think twice about letting them have the car for a weekend.

Which brings up an early departure of fact in the film.  Melville actually interviewed Pollard, long after he’d lost his “captaincy.”  Some three years after the Essex sank, Pollard commanded the whale-ship Two Brothers when it sank.  (Off the Frigate Shoals.)  So by the time he got interviewed by Melville, Pollard had been demoted to “night-watchman” on Nantucket Island.  (And as such considered a “nobody” to the islanders.)

And speaking of anomalies:  The film showed First Mate Owen Chase as the real hero.  It also showed Pollard as both a man who owed his captaincy to nepotism – connections – and a lesser sailor than Chase.  But once the ramming happened, Pollard recommended a shorter course to a closer set of islands.  (A course that would take advantage of prevailing “tail winds.”)

But unlike the cliche “Captain Bligh,” Pollard let himself be persuaded by Chase.  So the three small boats set sail for South America – 2,000 miles away – against the prevailing winds.  But as Wikipedia noted:  “Herman Melville later speculated that all would have survived had they followed Captain Pollard’s recommendation and sailed west.”

(It seems Chase and the crew feared the closer islands – the Marquesas – were inhabited by cannibals.  Which seems highly ironic, given what actually happened later...)

In yet another departure from fact, the real whale didn’t stalk the boats 2,000 miles across the Pacific.  Nor did the whale “have a moment” with Chase, near the end of 90 days adrift.  (When Chase refused to harpoon the whale-stalker, despite Pollard’s goading to do so.)

The film did feature an accurate translation of a “Nantucket sleighride“,” as seen at right.   It also showed a “flurry:”  The dying whale spraying his tormentors with a mixture of blood from his pierced lungs, along with mucus and seawater.  (In some manner of Freudian anointing.)

Then there were the “chockpins” worn by experienced whalers.  What the film didn’t show: They were apparently worn to “get babes.”

Then there was the matter of the boats landing on Henderson Island.  (Not Ducie Island, as in the film.)  Years after the wreck three skeletons were found on Ducie Island.  They were believed to be from the lost third-of-three boats “never to be seen again,” but that was never confirmed.

And finally, the film ended with two popular tropes.   One was that of corrupt businessmen, in the form of a “board of inquiry.”  The money-grubbing businessmen on the Nantucket board were shown arm-twisting Chase and Pollard to say the Essex ran aground, and that the missing crew-members drowned.  (They were afraid of higher insurance rates.)

A “board of inquiry” that apparently never took place, or at least not in that way.

The other was the look into the future trope.  The film ended with Nickerson and Melville parting ways after the all-night session of drinking, recalling and writing.  Nickerson told Melville – with faint disbelief – of a “new” discovery of oil, in the ground, somewhere in Pennsylvania…

Which led to the cartoon “whale celebration” below..

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All in all, Heart of the Sea is a film well worth seeing.  For those who’d love to get a feel for the pure adventure, “such as befell early and heroic voyagers…”  And especially for those who’d love to get a feel for being “alone, alone, all all alone, alone on the wide, wide sea…”

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Whales “celebrating the discovery” of oil in Pennsylvania…

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The upper image is courtesy of Artifact Article: Sperm Whaling: The Chase:

Three whale ships can be seen in the background, while two whaleboats are in the foreground.  In the whaleboats, boatsteerers are seen with their harpoons raised.  As they chase the whale, one can image that the call “thar She blows!” was sounded, as several whales can be seen spouting as they surface.

The illustration was by Benjamin Russell, born into a family of whaling merchants.  He started work in the office of a whaling agent in New Bedford, MA, but “showed more aptitude for drawing than business, often to the displeasure of his superiors.”  He later spent four years on the whale ship Kutusoff.  There his “acute observational sensitivity” resulted in sketches with “impeccable detail…  Russell’s images were rendered with mastered accuracy rather than artistic intention.” 

See also Benjamin Russell: Whaleman-Artist, Entrepreneur | New Bedford.

For more on the sources used in this post, see the notes below.

The “Story of Yankee Whaling” image is courtesy of American Heritage Junior Library | Series | LibraryThing.  See also American Heritage Junior Library | eBaywhere the book is available individually for $1.95, or as part of a set of seven, for $21.00.  For more on the author, see below.

Re: Samuel Comstock.  See also Globe (1815 whaleship) – Wikipedia, and Helter-Skelter on the High Seas –  The latter was a review of two books said to “unravel the saga of the bloodiest mutiny in the history of American whaling.”  Comstock was said to be “a keen ladies’ man,” to wit:  He possessed a “superabundance of something which the fair sex seemed to consider a very agreeable substitute.”  (For affection.)  Also this note, as previously noted:

In 1822 … New England mothers sent their sons to kill whales in the Pacific Ocean at an age when modern parents would think twice about letting them have the car for a weekend.

Re: “coming to a theater near you.”  See also In a World – TV Tropes.

Re: “Your majesty, the peasants are revolting!”  “They certainly are!”  See also Count de Money / “The People Are Revolting” – YouTube, and/or Ambiguity – Simple English Wikipedia, which noted the “British comedian Ronnie Barker said that he loved the English language because there are so many jokes you can make using ambiguity.”

Re: “breaking point.”  See Garry Wills’  What the Gospels Meant, Viking Press (2008), at page 87; found in Part II, “Matthew,” Chapter 5, “Sermon on the Mount:”

Our Father of the heavens, your title be honored … and bring us not to the Breaking Point, but wrest us from the Evil One.    

The usual translation in the Lord’s Prayer is – as noted – “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  See Wikipedia.  My life experience tells me the term “breaking point” is more accurate and appropriate.  See also The True Test of Faith, in my other blog.

The “whale’s eye” image is courtesy of In the Heart of the Sea (film) – Wikipedia.  See also In the Heart of the Sea (book) – Wikipedia, which included this on the author’s sources:

Philbrick utilizes an account written by Thomas Nickerson, who was a teenage cabin boy on board the Essex and wrote about the experience in his old age;  his account was lost until 1960 but was not authenticated until 1980 before being published, abridged, in 1984.  The book also utilizes the better known account of Owen Chase, the ship’s first mate, which was published soon after the ordeal.

Re: Marshall McLuhan andthe format shapes the message.”  The Rotten Tomatoes review said the “admirably old-fashioned” film-story boasted “thoughtful storytelling to match its visual panache, even if it can’t claim the depth or epic sweep to which it so clearly aspires.”  My theory is that neither the depth nor epic sweep of the true story could have been adequately translated to film. 

The “Bounty” image is courtesy of Mutiny on the Bounty – Wikipedia.  The caption: “Fletcher Christian and the mutineers seize HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789. Engraving by Hablot Knight Browne, 1841.”

Re: The “whale-stalking.”  Wikipedia said that after ramming the Essex – twice – the whale “finally disengaged its head from the shattered timbers and swam off, never to be seen again.”  

Re: “have a moment.”  An allusion to the 1984 film, Moscow on the Hudson (1984)

Vladimir Ivanoff: [confronting a stranger following him down the street]  FBI?   Gay Man on Street:  FBI?  No.   Vladimir Ivanoff:  KGB?   Gay Man on Street:  No.  G-A-Y.   Vladimir Ivanoff: Gay?  Oh, no, no.   Gay Man on Street:  Sorry.  You have a nice face.  I thought we had a “moment” back there.

The “Nantucket sleigh ride” image is courtesy of

Re: the number of survivors and their length of time at sea.  It took 90 days for the Owen Chase boat to be rescued, with three survivors.  It took 95 days for the Pollard boat to be rescued, at a different location, with two survivors.  The three original boats were separated in a storm, and the boat headed by Obed Hendricks – “boatsteerer” – was never seen again.  Wikipedia: “A whaleboat was later found washed up on Ducie Island, just east of Henderson Island, with the skeletons of three people inside…  [S]uspected to be Obed Hendricks’ missing boat, the remains were never positively identified.”  Thus the eight survivors, including the three who stayed on Henderson Island.

Re:  “Look into the future” trope.  It’s actually known as Externally Validated Prophecy:  “When a character makes a prediction about the future which is not fulfilled in the work, yet an audience aware of history knows will be fulfilled.”

Re: “pure dispassionate adventure.”   The quote is from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.  See also Donkey travel – and sluts and “Pity the fool” from my other blog.

The lower image is courtesy of Sperm whaling – Wikipedia, including the caption: “An 1861 cartoon showing sperm whales celebrating the discovery of new petroleum wells in Pennsylvania.  The proliferation of mineral oils reduced demand for their species’ oil.”   The caption in the cartoon itself:  “Grand ball given by the whales in honor of the discovery of the oil wells in Pennsylvania.”

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Sources used for this post – or worth more reading:  Heart of the Sea (film) – WikipediaEssex (whaleship) – WikipediaHistory of whaling – WikipediaGirl on a Whaleship – ImagesEssex explainedand a review:  “Heart of the Sea” – Apollo 13 with scurvy and beards:

There was rumored to exist a secret society of young women on the island whose members vowed to wed only men who had already killed a whale.  To help these young women identify them as hunters, boatsteerers wore chockpins (small oak pins used to secure the harpoon line in the bow groove of a whaleboat) on their lapels.

See The Real Story Behind “In the Heart of the Sea,” which also included this:

The harpoon did not kill the whale. It was the equivalent of a fishhook.  After letting the whale exhaust itself, the men began to haul themselves, inch by inch, to within stabbing distance of the whale.  Taking up the 12-foot-long killing lance, the man at the bow probed for a group of coiled arteries near the whale’s lungs with a violent churning motion.  When the lance finally plunged into its target, the whale would begin to choke on its own blood, its spout transformed into a 15-foot geyser of gore that prompted the men to shout, “Chimney’s afire!” As the blood rained down on them, they took up the oars and backed furiously away, then paused to observe as the whale went into what was known as its “flurry.”

The site also noted that Melville interviewed Captain Pollard for his later book, Moby Dick, not Nickerson.  After a second failed whaling voyage, Pollard became the town’s night watchman; “To the islanders he was a nobody…”  For a lengthy account and history see the New York Times review.

A final note:  The American Heritage Yankee Whaling was written by Irwin Shapiro (1911–1981), an “American writer and translator of over 40 books, mostly for children and about Americana:”

After an initial foray into writing radical literature that encompassed his last year as a communist, Shapiro turned to children’s books…  He published many titles for Golden Books[, including one thought to be] a coded message about the imprisonment of American spy Isaiah Oggins in the GULAG…  The Library of Congress holds 44 titles in his name.

See Wikipedia, and also Irony … Literary Devices.

A late-fall mountain trek…

Wayah Bald Lookout Tower

The Wayah Bald Tower, a highlight from my recent trek on the Appalachian Trail


I’ve now officially hung it up for the winter.  “Which is being interpreted:”

“No more outdoor adventures … at least not ’til next spring.”  Which means the two adventures I had this (late) fall pretty does it for this year.

SwampWaterPoster.jpgTo explain:  Last October I fulfilled a life-long dream.  A two-day overnight kayak into the Okefenokee.  (As told in Operation Pogo.)

Then last November – 20 and 21 – I fulfilled another life-long dream: At least one overnight trek on the Appalachian Trail.

I touched on this dream in “A Walk in the Woods.”  (Parts I and II.)

Back in 1967 – when I was 16 – my next-older brother and I hatched the idea of hiking the Trail from Springer Mountain to Gettysburg, where our aunt and uncle lived.  (Some 623 miles…)  But for some reason my parents didn’t bust out laughing [or] slap their knees while wiping away tears of laughter…

Needless to say we didn’t make it.  Ever since then it’s bugged me that we didn’t make it.  And that’s why hiking the A.T. has been on my bucket list.  (Long before the term was coined.)

Among the highlights:  The temp dropped to 31 degrees that Friday night. (11/20.)  Another thing:  Hiking in the late fall – when the leaves have fallen – means the Trail is really slippery.

A related note:  Even now – three weeks later – my left big toenail is still purple-bruised.  (From the Saturday-afternoon slip-and-slide down toward Tellico Gap.)

I’ll get to the details later, but first a word about those “balds.”  There’s a lot of ’em on the A.T., but they’re not meant as an insult to the “follicly challenged.”

The term Bald in the Appalachians means a summit or crest, covered mostly by thick vegetation; “native grasses or shrubs occurring in areas where heavy forest growth would be expected.”

Grassy-bald-roan-mountain.jpgThus the towers at Wayah Bald and Wesser Bald.  (Of which more below.)  Then of course there’s Roan Mountain, seen from Grassy Ridge Bald, at right.

Getting back to the hike itself:  I originally planned to go from Winding Stair Gap to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, near Bryson City.

That’s a hike of about 27 miles.

Fortunately, I found an old high-school friend who lives in Franklin, North Carolina. (Right on the Trail.)  So in September I arranged to drive up to his place on Thursday afternoon, the 24th. From there he agreed to drop me off Friday morning, the 25th.  (And hopefully pick me up on Saturday afternoon, the 26th.)

Under that original plan I might have made 27 miles.  (If I’d been able to hike before the time change.  See Spring Forward – Fall Back.)  Unfortunately, that September try got rained out. Which meant by late November, I had an hour or two less hiking time per day.

Be that as it may…  I made new arrangements.  (Before the weather got too cold.)  My friend dropped me off at 8:35, Friday morning, November 20.  (At the parking lot at Winding Stair Gap, where the Trail crosses U.S. 64, known locally as Murphy Road.)

And now a word about hiking speed.  A good ambling-speed on level ground is a mile every 20 minutes.  (Three miles an hour.)  But a friend at church hikes the Trail regularly, and she says on a good day she and her husband can cover eight miles.  Other sources indicate a good speed – with full pack and up and down mountain trails – is about two miles an hour.

AT 022That’s what threw me off.  Like my paddling in the Okefenokee, I overestimated my ability to trek. (With less daylight, and slipping and sliding on fallen leaves.  Not to mention the recent rains that put much of the Trail under water, as seen at left…)

So anyway, that Friday afternoon I reached Wayah Bald about 4:40.  See also Wayah Bald Tower.

My slightly used handbook – published in 1994 – said there was a camping area a mile and a half further on.  But the sun was setting, it was getting cold and the ground was flat and grassy there.  So I pitched my tent.  (Expecting a ranger to come by and say “You can’t camp there!”) 

But then three young folk came by.  (A young man and two young ladies, all college age.)  We’d been passing each other all afternoon, and after stopping for a bit, they started to head off to the farther-up camping place.  But then they came back and camped on the other side of the tower.  (Which was some comfort.  You never know about those “Dueling banjos…”)

So anyway, I pitched my “Eureka” one-person tent just to the left of where the stone wall at the bottom of the picture turns down.  (As seen in the photo below right.)

Wayah Bald Lookout TowerI’d packed five layers of sweaters and down vests, plus Gore-tex gloves.  (Not to mention a small mouthwash bottle filled with rum.)  And like I said, that night it got down to 31 degrees or so.

I shivered some during the night, and could have used some extra padding for my side hip-bones.  Still, I got a fairly good night’s sleep.  (And there was a nice view of the lights of Franklin, shimmering in the distance, when I got up to answer nature’s call.)

Next morning it took a while to pack up.  It was so cold I had to keep warming my fingers to untie things, then tie them in or to the pack, etc.  But I eventually hit the trail at 8:21.

Like I said, my original plan was to reach the “NOC,” some 27 miles away.  But as I hiked along Saturday afternoon, I formulated a secondary objective: The Wesser Bald Lookout Tower.

But finally – as the sun got lower and lower on Saturday afternoon – I found a rare place with cell-phone reception.  (And they are pretty rare.)  I called my buddy and negotiated a pick-up at Tellico Gap.  (See Wayah Bald to Tellico Gap.)

Over the phone I read the directions – from the 1994 guidebook – to my friend.  They told of an 8-mile drive (for him), west from Highway 28.  Then a 4-mile gravel road up to Tellico Gap.

By some miracle he actually found the place, on the Trail, and with a place to park.  And he got there about 10 minutes before I did.  (Slipping and sliding downhill.)

Boy was I glad to finally sit down in his pickup truck!  

One lesson I learned was that hiking in the Trail in late fall means most of the leaves have fallen. That means much of the Trail is  covered by leaves.  The leaves in turn cover up many if not most of the rocks and tree roots that can trip you up.  (As shown below left.)

AT 037Then there’d been the recent rains, making parts of the trail more like streams than trail, as noted above.

Aside from all that, I deliberately chose to go slow, knowing one wrong move could mean a twisted knee or ankle.  (Which speaks to the wisdom of not traveling alone.)  And finally, my main objective was to see how fast I could travel comfortably.

As I alluded in “Okefenokee – Part II:”  Not only did my Utah brother propose a 16-day, 500-mile, “primitive-camping canoe trip down the Yukon River.”  Also for the Summer of 2016, he’s proposed a four-day hike along the Chilkoot Trail.  (In Alaska.)  So this overnight A.T. hike served as a kind of “shakedown cruise.”

Which leads to the specifics:  It was 5.9 miles from Winding Stair Gap to Wayah Gap.  (Before Wayah Bald.)  It was another 13.5 miles from Wayah Gap to Tellico Gap.  That made a grand total of 19.4 miles.  I covered that 19.4 miles in some 11 hours, 29 minutes of actual hiking.

That averaged out to 9.7 miles a day.  (Or 1.68 miles per hour, over rough ground.  It was actually 1.689895 miles per hour, but who’s counting?)  Still, despite my doing better than the eight-mile-a-day average noted above, it was a learning experience…

And a pretty humbling one at that.  But I’m glad I did it.  For one thing, that first beer and that nice soft bed Saturday night felt really, really good!

And incidentally, the word “trek” – as used in the headline and text – comes from Trekboer.  (A term later shortened to just “Boer.”  See also “kommando,” from Afrikaans as well.)

The point being:  The image below gives an accurate feel for some of the conditions on the A.T. – in late fall, this past November 2015.  (Though without the oxen, whips and wagons.)


The original Trekboers, “Passing Cradock Pass…”


Re: The Appalachian “balds.”  See Bald Mountains – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The Bald Mountains are a mountain range [bordering] Tennessee and North Carolina in the southeastern United States.  They are part of the Blue Ridge Mountain Province of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.  The range gets its name from the relatively frequent occurrence of grassy balds atop the more prominent summits.

See also Appalachian balds – Wikipedia.

Re: Hiking the whole Trail.  At 64, I realize I’ll probably never do that.  (Or want to, for that matter.) But my bucket list does include hiking at least one portion of the Trail in every state that it passes through.  (So far I’ve done Georgia and North Carolina.)

Re: “Dueling banjos.”  As the link noted, “If you ever see the film [Deliverance,]  you will never be able to enjoy banjos again.  Or go canoeing.  Or visit rural Georgia.  Or, you know, sleep.”  And I must admit to a certain trepidation even kayaking in the remote Okefenokee. Still, there is a certain dark humor in the trope illustrated at right…

The lower image is courtesy of the Boer link in the article, Trekboer – Wikipedia. The caption:  “Passing Cradock Pass, Outeniqua Mountains, by Charles Collier Michell.”  Note that “Boer is a Dutch and Afrikaans word for ‘farmer.'”

Re: “Kommando.”  Another word of Dutch/Afrikaans origin, later spelling-changed to Commando: “The word stems from the Afrikaans word kommando, which translates roughly to ‘mobile infantry regiment.’  This term originally referred to mounted infantry regiments, who fought against the British Army in the first and second Boer Wars.”


“If you’re here from the art show…”

“If you’re from the art show,” you’ll probably want to find out if Ashley Wilkes was really a British spy, working with the likes of Conchita Montenegro? (She’s the one at left…) 

*   *  *

Welcome to the “Georgia Wasp…”

If you’re from the art show, you’ll probably want to check out The mysterious death of Ashley Wilkes.

There’s more on that post below, but first note that I modeled this blog on the Carolina Israelite.

That was a personal newspaper, done up by Harry Golden back in the 1940s and ’50s.  Harry was a “cigar-smoking, bourbon-loving raconteur.”  (That’s another way of saying he told good stories.)

Which means if Harry was around today, “the Carolina Israelite would be done as a blog.”

For more on the blog-name connection, see “Wasp” and/or The blog.  But what made Harry special was his positive outlook on life.  He got older but didn’t turn sour, as so many seem to do these days.  He still got a kick out of life.

For that and more, he was considered a “voice of sanity amid the braying of jackals…”

Which is now my goal as well.

In the meantime:

Like I said, “if you’re here from the art show,” you’ll probably want to check out The mysterious death of Ashley Wilkes.  Which is being interpreted:

I just published a collection of posts from this blog.  The title comes from the [post] I did on September 1, The mysterious death of Ashley Wilkes … but first an explanation.  I’m an artist as well as a blogger, and there’s a big art show coming up in December.  But aside from showing off my works of art – mostly oil paintings – the show also presents a chance for me to get the word out on my two blogs, including this one.

See Introduction to “Ashley Wilkes.”  That’s another way of saying December 5 has come and gone.  (Or will have come and gone by the time most readers see this.)  That means my church’s December 5 Combination Art Show and Christmas Bazaar has come and gone as well.

art show 110This annual “Christmasy” event gave me a chance strut my stuff.  (In more than one sense of the word.)  Not only did it let me show some progress in my oil paintings – like the one at right – it also gave me the chance to “let the public know” about my blogs.

But getting back to Leslie Howard.  He played Ashley Wilkes in 1939’s Gone with the Wind.  Less than four years later his commercial airliner got shot down by eight Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88C6 fighters.

Under suspicious circumstances.  And 500 miles west of Bordeaux, over the Bay of Biscay, on a flight over supposedly-neutral waters from Lisbon to London.

Some said it was an accident of war.  Others said it was deliberate.  That German spies in Lisbon mistook Howard’s companion for Winston Churchill.  Or that Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels personally ordered the shoot-down.  (He called Howard “Britain’s most dangerous propagandist.”)  Yet another theory was that Howard was a British spy.

I wrote over 3,000 words on the mysterious death, many of them in footnotes and/or end-notes.  So for the full set of answers your best bet is to check the post yourself.

But note also that that post is just one of the “collection of posts from this blog.”

Others include “Johnny YUMA was a rebel,” and “When adultery was proof of loyalty.”  The first was about Nick Adams – who played Johhny Yuma – and how he too died mysteriously.  (At age 36, a mere seven years after the show ended.)  The other one led off with a painting of “Nell Gwynn, ‘the Protestant Whore,’ a favorite mistress of Charles II…”

art show 112So anyway, the main text of mysterious death ended with this:  “And some people think those were better and simpler times…”

That was pretty much the theme of Alice’s Restaurant – Revisited.  (That people “who ‘wax poetic’ on the Good Old Days usually forget what it was like actually living then.”)  But that post too ended on a positive note, “in the spirit of Harry Golden.”

The positive note was that: “Maybe these days today aren’t so bad after all…” 

So in that spirit of “accentuating the positive,” I’ll close this post by noting the oil painting above left, showing my “favorite grand-niece.”  (Or one of them anyway.)

And of course Ashley Wilkes, as shown below:


Leslie Howard as Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind trailer cropped.jpg

(“Ashley Wilkes,” anti-Nazi agitator?)

The upper image is courtesy of  Wikipedia added this:

Following a rare interview with [Conchita] Montenegro shortly before her death, Spanish author José Rey-Ximena claims that British actor Leslie Howard used her to get close to Spanish dictator Franco after being given the special mission by Winston Churchill.  She claimed that she used her husband’s influence to secure [the meeting with Franco]. “Thanks to him … Spain was persuaded to stay out of the war.”  (E.A.)

Re: “two blogs.”  My other blog is DOR Scribe – Expand your horizons – Read the Bible with an open mind.  Among other things, that blog explores the “mystical side of Bible reading.”

Re: positive outlook on life and/or “accentuating the positive.”  Referring to “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” the 1944 song written by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Johnny Mercer.

See also curveball, defined in part as a “particularly difficult issue, obstacle, or problem.”  The point being that life seems to have a habit of “throwing us curveballs.”  See also the alternate definition of dinosaur, assomeone who resists change or is old-fashioned.”

Re: “favorite great-niece.”  As with my seven grandchildren, the usual phrase in such circumstances would be “my favorite grandson named Joe,” to fully cover my bases and avoid showing partiality. Most of those grandchildren heard only the “favorite” part, and didn’t catch on to the “Joe” part until their teens.  (And keeping in mind of course that the “names were changed to protect the innocent.”) Accordingly, the “other favorite great-niece” shouldn’t take offense… 

The lower image is courtesy of sites including but not limited to

Alice’s Restaurant – Revisited

faux “Alice’s Restaurant” – which may be some kind of object lesson for today’s world.. 

 *   *   *   *

 And speaking of Thanksgiving!

Alice's Restaurant.jpg

Every year around this time I do my best to listen to Alice’s Restaurant.  (The “musical monologue by singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie,” released in 1967.)  When it first came out – in 1967 – the war in Vietnam was at its height.  Then there was The Draft.

There’s more on all that later, but first a lighter note.

In 1993 I started a tradition of listening to Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving.  It has nothing to do with eating turkey or getting together with family.  Instead it has everything to do with my favorite college football team playing its hated arch-rival.

Back in 1993 that favorite college football team won its first national title.  And it just so happened that for that Thanksgiving weekend I had to drive up to Jacksonville.  (My late wife was working as a traveling sales lady.  For a church directory company.)  It also just so happened that was when my team played the hated arch-rival that stood as a final obstacle to the title game.

And that’s when I heard the full rendition – on the radio, of Alice’s Restaurant – for the first time in years.  And as it happened, 1988 was also when I met the woman who became my first wife.  It also turned out that 1988 was when I started getting serious on making a ritual sacrifice for my team.  (Doing things to help them win.  See also sublimation – referring to my former hobby.)

So anyway, at the end of 1988 I drove home from a Christmas vacation in Yankee-land.  Coming through Gainesville, I heard the full rendition of Alice’s Restaurant for the first time since the 1960s.  (When I also saw the singularly-depressing movie of the same name.)

There followed five years of close, but no cigar for my favorite team, from 1988 to 1992.

But it was different in 1993.  For Thanksgiving that year I drove north – not south – when I heard the song.  For another thing, in 1993 my radio played the song not once, but twice.  The result was that my team won its first national title.  And the last big test before the title game itself was playing and beating my team’s hated arch-rival, on that Thanksgiving weekend of 1993.

So again – ever since then, since 1993 – I’ve done my best to listen to Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving weekend.   And if that all seems weird, see Was Moses the first to say “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work?  But getting back to those “Good Old Days of Yesteryear…”

Segregated Super Bowl 1955For one thing, Alice’s Restaurant reminds us that – for many folks – those good old days weren’t so good.  (An example:  The image at right: “segregated seating at the Super Bowl in 1955.”   Note also the Latin “sic.”)

For another thing, the song itself was “notable as a satirical, first-person account of 1960s counterculture.”

I’m not sure if we have that kind of counterculture today.  (Unless you count “liberals,” as Fox News does.)  But back in 1967 we sure had one.   In Arlo’s case – and to many young men of the time – the “opposition” was to the Vietnam war.  And as Wikipedia also noted:

The ironic punch line of the story is that, in the words of Guthrie, “I’m sittin’ here on the Group W bench ’cause you want to know if I’m moral enough to join the Army – burn women, kids, houses and villages – after bein’ a litterbug.”  The final part of the song is an encouragement for the listeners to sing along, to resist the draft, and to end war.

Unfortunately we haven’t ended war yet.  (We still have plenty of those to go around.)

On the other hand, today’s young men no longer have to worry about the Draft.  (Which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your viewpoint.)  All of which reminds me of a conversation I overheard on a flight out to Salt Lake City a summer or two ago.

Bigmouth.jpgThere was an old bigmouth – about my age actually – sitting in the seat behind me.  He proceeded to “pontificate” to the young man next to him about the 1960s, and how much better they were than today.

I forgot exactly how he put it – and there’s more in the notes below – but his words literally blew my mind(To borrow an old idiom from the 1960s.)

Or to put it in the words of Alice’s Restaurant, his recollection of the ’60s fit in precisely with the definition of massacree.   (The term Arlo used in the full, original title of the song.)  The term itself -as used in the song and/or title – refers to “an event so wildly and improbably and baroquely messed up that the results are almost impossible to believe.”)

Which is how I reacted to this particular bigmouth.  It was only later – after the drive home from the airport, and while enjoying one of Utah’s famed 3.2 beers – that I started to remember some of the things that were going on back in the ’60’s.  Race riots.  Assassinations.  The war in Vietnam.  Draft dodging.  Draft resistance.  The upshot being that while some great music came from the era – including Alice’s Restaurant – the decade itself was not fun to live through.

And in a big way, the Sixties are still with us.  (As shown in the image at right.)  On the other hand, there’s an old saying:  “If you stand on the bank of the river long enough, you’ll see the bodies of your enemies floating by.”

Which is another way of saying that Arlo did a reprise of the song.  But I’d never heard the reprise, until this last Thanksgiving weekend.  (For the first time.  See e.g., Arlo Guthrie Returns to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ 50 Years Later.)

And this was after routinely listening to the original twice – on CD – on Thanksgiving weekends.

On the reprise, Arlo’s voice was deeper and more mellow.  On the other hand, at times he seemed to “overplay his hand.”  (To add some drama that seemed a bit forced, which sometimes afflicts us older folk.  On the other hand, the original had the spontaneity of youth.)

But the big news was his account of visiting the Jimmy Carter White House.

In 1977, Guthrie got invited to the Carter Inauguration.  (Which he figured would be pretty much the only time he’d get such an invitation.)  Here’s what happened next.

Chip Carter (the president’s son) advised Guthrie that they had found a copy of the ALICE’S RESTAURANT album in Richard Nixon’s record library.  Guthrie … found that interesting [but] didn’t think much about it until years later, when Nixon died and there was all this talk about the 18.5-minute gap in the former president’s tape collection.  At which point, it occurred to Arlo that “Alice’s Restaurant” also clocked in at 18.5 minutes!

See “Alice’s Restaurant” and Watergate.  (See also the note below on Carter pardoning the Vietnam era “draft dodgers.”)  So one point of all this rambling is that Arlo Guthrie turned a patently absurd situation into a timeless classic.  (And a Thanksgiving tradition to many.)

But there’s another point.  People who “wax poetic” on the Good Old Days usually forget what it was like actually living then.  See for example On American History, “patched and piebald.”

Nothing was clear, inevitable, or even comprehensible…   The real drama of the American Revolution … was its inherent messiness.

And that’s not to mention the “fractious disputes and hysterical rhetoric of [those] contentious nation-builders.”  The upshot?  Fractious disputes and hysterical rhetoric seem to have been with us in the past, and remain with us “even to this day.”  Or as John Adams put it, “as it is now, ever was, and ever will be, world without end.”

On the other hand – in the spirit of Harry Golden – here’s a more positive spin:

Maybe these days today aren’t so bad after all…. 

 *   *   *   *

New York’s Lower East Side “in the early 20th Century…”

 *   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Alice’s Restaurant | You Can Get Anything You Want…  This particular version is located at 17288 Skyline Boulevard, Woodside, CA.  (Not Stockbridge Mass:  “Stockbridge was the location of Alice’s Restaurant in the song of the same name by Arlo Guthrie which describes the town as having ‘three stop signs, two police officers and one police car.'”

For details about what happened to the original “Alice’s Restaurant,” see Wikipedia, and/or The original Alice’s Restaurant – Review of Theresa’s Stockbridge Cafe.

The original lead-in photo – seen at left – was courtesy of Draft evasion – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The original lead caption: “Potential “draft dodgers” – before the Draft lottery of 1969.”  The full Wikipedia caption, “U.S. anti-Vietnam War protesters at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.  A placard to the right reads ‘Use your head – not your draft card.'”

Re: church directories.  Aside from the link given, other directory companies today include Church Directories & Family Portraits – Lifetouch and Barksdale Church Directories.  In 1993, the company provided one “free” full-color photograph to each family.  The sales staff – who came to the church a week or two after the photographers – earned their commission by selling extra copies and/or photographs. 

Re: “the segregated seating at the Super Bowl in 1955.”  The image is courtesy of the blog ivman’s blague, “one French professor’s humorous and serious perspectives on life.”  (Listed above as  Good Old Days of Yesteryear.”)  Unfortunately, the first Super Bowl was not played until 1967 – not 1955.  (The Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.)  See Super Bowl – Wikipedia.  But notwithstanding that “typo,” such segregation unquestionably existed in the 1950s… 

Re: “Counterculture.”  That’s a “subculture whose values and norms of behavior differ substantially from those of mainstream society, often in opposition to mainstream cultural mores.”

The Ethan Bronner quotes – listed below – are from his 1989 book, Battle for Justice  How the Bork Nomination Shook America.  (Anchor Books, published by Doubleday, at pages 249-50.)  

The “‘Patriotic’ Americans” image is courtesy of Liberal group claims Mitt Romney, Dick Cheney, Donald Trump, others are draft dodgers.  Regardless of its liberal bent, the article does provide a short-and-pithy summary of the ways to get a draft deferment in the Vietnam era.

The lower image is courtesy of Lower East Side – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “‘Cliff Dwellers‘ by Bellows, depicting the Lower East Side as its in the early 20th Century” (sic):

In Cliff Dwellers, George Bellows captures the colorful crowd on New York City’s Lower East Side.  It appears to be a hot summer day.  People spill out of tenement buildings onto the streets, stoops, and fire escapes.  Laundry flaps overhead and a street vendor hawks his goods from his pushcart in the midst of all the traffic.  In the background, a trolley car heads toward Vesey Street.    

The point being:  That’s how many used to live – in the ‘good old days’ – including Harry Golden.  Another positive note: My college team beat its hated arch-rival the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2015, possibly by virtue of my hearing Alice’s Restaurant “thrice,” including the reprise. 

 *   *   *   *

For more on Alice’s Restaurant, see The Story Behind ‘Alice’s Restaurant‘: the 50-Year-Old Song that Is Forever YoungArlo Guthrie Looks Back on 50 Years of ‘Alice’s Restaurant,’ 50 things about Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Alice’s Restaurant,’ and Arlo Guthrie Returns to ‘Alice’s Restaurant‘ 50 Years Later.

 *   *   *   *

Re: the draft.  See Vietnam War DraftDraft lottery (1969) – Wikipedia, and… article/0,28804,186225, regarding President Jimmy Carter’s pardoning the “Vietnam war draft dodgers” in 1977.  Other articles of interest include Was Trump a ‘draft dodger’? | PunditFact – PolitiFact, and How I Got Out of the Vietnam Draft – And Why That Still Matters.

 *   *   *   *

And finally, here’s a portion of the post where I started going off on a tangent

(Beginning with the sentence, “Unfortunately we haven’t ended war yet…”)

Unfortunately we haven’t ended war yet.  On the other hand, today’s young people no longer have to worry about the Draft.  (Which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your viewpoint.)  That “phasing out” started in 1969 with the Draft Lottery:

In the late 1960s, President Nixon established a commission to recommend the best ways to raise military manpower, to keep the draft or to institute a volunteer army.  After much debate … it was decided that an all-volunteer force was affordable, feasible, and would enhance the nation’s security…

And that’s what we’ve had ever since.  But Wikipedia also noted that the 1970s “were a time of turmoil in the United States, beginning with the Civil Rights Movement.”  Further, the draft lottery “only encouraged resentment of the Vietnam war” – and the draft – and “strengthened the anti-war movement.”  Which brings up a conversation I heard a summer or two ago.

I was flying out to Salt Lake City.  In the row right behind me, the older guy in the window seat was pontificating.  (Actually he was about my age.  The subject of his pontification – to the young man “captive audience” in the next seat – was how great things used to be – in the 1960s.

Bigmouth.jpgI forget exactly how this bigmouth put it, in his unchallenged opinion.

But what he said fit in precisely with the definition of massacree Arlo used in the full, original title of Alice’s Restaurant.  (Meaning “an event so wildly and improbably and baroquely messed up that the results are almost impossible to believe.”)  Or respond to in a timely manner.

It was only later – after the drive from the airport and the comfort of one Utah’s famed 3.2 beers – that I fully started to remember why the ’60s and ’70s weren’t so great.  Or more precisely, what exactly happened during those years of turmoil.

As Ethan Bronner noted, “In the 1960s much changed,” beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court. Court rulings began protecting the private possession of obscene materials (for example).  The Court did so under the theory that the right to receive information and ideas – “regardless of their social worth” – is fundamental to a free society.

But to many others, “the sixties were where America went wrong.”  To them, the government existed to make value choices.  To them, allowing such “free speech” as the 1978 March on Skokie (Ill.) led to feelings of “powerlessness and alienation of many Americans:”

Citizens’ efforts to take control of their lives and environments were further undercut by the growing power of courts and bureaucracies.  No wonder so many Americans dropped out of the political process…

Which could bring up the term Kafkaesque.  Illustrated by “Kafkaesque bureaucracies,” the term means something marked “by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity,” and/or “by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger…”

Like I said, that’s where I started going off on a tangent, last night, as I tried to finish this post in time to be relevant to Thanksgiving weekend, 2015.

Black-and-white photograph of Kafka as a young man with dark hair in a formal suitAnd one final note, Franz Kafka – who’s name gave rise to the term “Kafkaesque” – died in 1924, at the age of 41.  He was noted for writings that explored “themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.”   (Perhaps in his way not unlike Arlo Guthrie.)  See Wikipedia.

The point being that alienation, anxiety, guilt and absurdity seem to have been with us – as Adams noted – now and forever, “world without end.”