Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Getting In Touch With Your Inner Wolf

Location: Holly, MI (mail your holiday cards here!)

Everyone, meet Bob The Dog.

Bob is one-half of the Bob and Milo Show, Bob being the large, German Shepherd/Huskie mix and Milo being the small, black, wiry terrier mix. Collectively they own two humans, Peachie and Jim, with whom I have stayed during the past week.

Milo is the smart, clever one, and Bob is the laid back, rub-my-tummy one. Milo energetically barks at pretty much anything that moves; Bob ponders. Milo shreds his chew toy just because he can; Bob waits patiently for the milk bone "cookie". Bob even eats lying down, the bowl between his front paws. When Milo escapes through an open door he proceeds to explore for miles; when Bob escapes through a hole under the fence, he immediately reverses course and crawls back to the safety of the back yard. Milo is old and feisty; Bob is young and thinks he is small enough to fit on your lap during petting time. He isn't.

One afternoon Jim and I took "The Boys" on a hike in the woods. Because of his propensity to wander (and not stop), Milo had to stay on the leash, but Bob could be trusted to explore a bit and come back, which he did with a grinning, doggy joy. He ran down the path and ran back. He ran into the brush, barked at a stump, and ran back. He marked a tree here and there, and followed the scent of some squirrel or skunk that had come that way earlier in the day. He ran and jumped and cavorted. It was a beautiful summer day -- the sun was hot, but the woods were shady and cool. Bob was in his element. Milo trotted along attached to Jim, marking trees here and there, and being a "good dog."

Then we heard ferocious noises coming from the brush to the left! Through the branches, Bob could be seen barking and circling something close to the ground. The first thought was that he had cornered a squirrel or chipmunk, but the smaller animal was putting up a fight instead of escaping up a tree. As we got closer, we saw Bob furiously shaking a gray furry mass. As we looked more closely, we saw it was a groundhog. The fight was on.

Bob dropped the groundhog, who reared up, teeth bared, and fought back. Bob would lunge, the groundhog would snap. Bob would get him around the torso and shake over and over. The groundhog never gave up. Bob didn't either. Bob's attention was fixated on his foe -- we called his name repeatedly to get him to back off, but he wasn't hearing or seeing anything but that groundhog. The undergrowth prevented us from getting close to the battle, which was good -- I'm sure one or both of us would have been injured if we had tried to intervene. Periodically the two combatants would take a break, both panting and almost totally worn out. They stood there warily, breathing quickly and heavily. Then they began slowly circling, and the battle began again with much biting, snarling, and snapping.

I would like to be able to report the fate of the groundhog, but the brush prevented us from seeing the end of the conflict. Bob finally emerged from the thicket, blood on his fur and almost totally exhausted. As he lay there panting, we checked him for wounds and found none. I'm guessing that the groundhog was not so lucky.

Bob soon abandoned his surprising role as The Great Groundhog Fighter and returned to being Bob the Dog. He picked up his previous hiking routine as if nothing had happened: trotting here and there down the path, watering trees and bushes that caught his eye, and generally enjoying the sun, the woods, and an occasional mud bath in a dried up pond. But late that night, as he lay sprawled out fast asleep on the bed, he was barking and yipping enthusiastically as he chased down those Demon Groundhogs From Hell -- dreaming of the day's combat and his Excellent Wolf Adventure.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Take Me Out to the Ballgame and Pick Me Up WHEN?

Location: Holly, MI

Do you remember the old "Moral Dilemma" joke?

Here's a moral question for you. This is an imaginary situation, but I think you will find it beneficial to think through this exercise.

The scenario: You are in the Middle East, and there is a huge flood in progress. Many homes have been lost, water supplies compromised and structures destroyed. You're a freelance photographer for a news service, you're traveling alone, looking for particularly poignant scenes that you can shoot. You come across Osama Bin Laden who has been swept away by the floodwaters. He is barely hanging on to a tree limb and is about to go under. You have to make a choice. You can either put down your camera and save him, or take a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of him as he loses his grip on the limb.

So, here's the question... and think carefully before you answer it:

Which lens and shutter speed would you use?

I was reminded of this joke yesterday when the HUGE line of severe thunderstorms was covering Central Michigan from the south-west to the north-east. We were watching the storm coverage on TV, and now, instead of just thunderstorms, there were several circles starting to appear that meant tornadoes were forming. They were not yet in our county, but the storm was moving this way. A couple minutes later, the announcer said there were two potential tornadoes that were headed right for Holly, Mi. That is exactly where I am (but not in the RV, I am staying with my friend Peachie and her husband, Jim).

So, before heading to the basement, I had to decide what was important and what was not. I grabbed my camera (of course!) and realized I was going to be in trouble if the tornado hit -- I totally had the wrong lens for snapping tornadic activity! A quick run to my truck parked in the driveway and I was all set, lens-wise. I grabbed the essentials -- fresh camera batteries, extra memory cards, and a bottle of pinot noir, and down to the basement we went! Guess I'd know what to do if faced with the moral dilemma of the joke!

Lights Out In Fenton, MIThe worst it got here was "white out" rain and moderate wind. Two tornadoes did touch down nearby -- one did a lot of damage in Fenton, about 5 miles away. The other touched down about half a mile away (a bit to close for comfort!), and damaged one house and some trees. We drove through Fenton shortly after the storm hit, and found traffic lights out and the streets blocked by police and firemen. In one picture, you can see one of the two town's Christmas Trees has been pulled out by the roots. The other Christmas Tree shared a similar fate.

Fentons Christmas Tree FelledAfter leaving this area, the storm continued south-east to Detroit where the 7:05 Tigers/Yankees game was postponed due to the incoming weather. They actually did play the game starting at 11:05 P.M. The game was 11 innings (of course this one would go into overtime!) and ended at 3:45 A.M.!! You have to be a real baseball fan to make it through that game! The Tigers won, by the way. Sorry, Val!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Finding Carl

Location: Bay City, MI

There was a lot to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day -- Thursday, November 26, 1936. The Great Depression had, at least in the United States, just ended although the unemployment rate would take a bit longer to come down. In August, the world had been enthralled by the first live sports television broadcast -- the Berlin Summer Olympics. Earlier that month, FDR won a second term as President, defeating Alf Landon by a landslide. And an exciting new magazine, called "Life," had just published their first edition four days earlier.

So how did Carl and his daughter, Adele, wind up riding around with Frank Van Ooschop in the wee hours of the morning on Friday? Had they had a Thanksgiving dinner and extended the festivities? Was Frank giving them a ride home? Were they going to a new party, or a bar, or out for a really late dinner? Frank was probably drinking, and didn't see the little car being driven by 18 year old Marilyn Shanks. It wasn't Marilyn's fault that she hit Frank -- Frank had been making a u-turn and stopped. She thought he saw her and that was why he stopped; he obviously didn't as he began to finish the turn just as she was RIGHT THERE and she didn't have time to avoid the collision.

Carl died instantly, his back broken and his chest crushed. He was probably in the passenger seat where the front of Marilyn's car hit Frank's car. Adele, safer in the back seat, was treated and released. Frank was seriously injured, as were Marilyn and her passenger.

Carl was 50 years old. He was buried in an unmarked grave, and lost to the world.

71 years later, his granddaughter found him.

* * * * * * * * * *
Of course, that granddaughter is me. I have been trying to fill in my grandfather Carl's genealogical information, and have consistently hit a wall. I have no family documentation for him; there were no results returned on searches including cemetery listings; there are no relatives now who could provide more information; I only found one other researcher online who had him in their family tree, and the date of death they showed for him was "before 1963". He did not have a Social Security Number, so the Social Security Death Index was useless. To complicate matters, he lived in Michigan but was born in Ohio, so it was possible he had been buried there. The location of his wife's grave was known, and he was not buried there with her. He was not buried with any of his children. When did he die, and where did he go?

The Big Clue came when I was reviewing some information on Carl's father, John. In a hand-written family memoir, it was mentioned that John had bought 6 lots at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Bay City for about $83 in 1893. I didn't have a place of burial for John or his wife, Victoria, so I decided to find out who wound up in those 6 plots.

I had no idea where the plots were in the cemetery, so I checked at the office. To my surprise, I found out that there was only one person buried in any of those plots -- Carl! I got the lot number, and the "next door neighbors" from the office, and went to visit the site. Because I knew which graves were on either side, I was able to locate the plots that John and Victoria had purchased -- and there was nothing there but an a grassy plot with a tree growing on one corner! The man in the office confirmed that Carl was indeed buried there, and told me it was not uncommon to bury someone without a marker. He gave me the date of interment as 12/1/1936.

Armed with the interment date, I visited the Bay City Library and checked their newspaper microfilm for week before. I started with the Bay City Times on Thanksgiving Day, and only learned that Santa was now on his way! In the Friday, November 27th edition, I found a front page article about the accident that took my grandfather's life.

I still don't know what eventually happened to John and Victoria, or why their plots were unused except as a final resting place for Carl. But I did find out that the plots were more of a bargain than previously thought -- instead of $83 they were only $28.80.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Location: Mt. Pleasant, MI

I lived in Mt. Pleasant from 1970 until 1976, so it has been, give or take, 30 years since I walked along Mission and Broadway. A lot happens in 30 years.

When I was a little girl, I used to pretend my dolls were students and my bedroom was the classroom, and "taught" my furry students "Beatles 101" or "Applying Blue Cream Eyeshadow and Black Eye Liner For the Beginner." Everyone got the former, but the latter was a total failure among many of my students-- Betsy McCall being the exception, who always got an A plus in anything related to fashion or makeup. My predilection was obvious -- teaching was in my soul, and was to be my occupation without a doubt. When I was graduated from Bridgeport High School (Go Bearcats!) I moved to Mt. Pleasant to attend Central Michigan University, formerly Normal Teacher's College, to pursue a career as a French teacher. The desire to be a teacher fled immediately upon attending my first education class (did you know they are supposed to teach you how to teach, but oddly do it so badly that you no longer want to?). And yet, it never left me -- I taught four Claims Representative classes, and other assorted classes in Central Office, and was always happiest in that role.

So this morning I set my GPS for my last Mt. Pleasant address, for no reason other than I knew it (1313 E. Pickard -- who could forget living at 1313 Anything?) and it was on the road I would be on as I traveled from the campground to Mt. Pleasant.

It was gone. Not just the house, mind you, but the entire neighborhood. The house used to be one of a series of houses on the outskirts of town, but definitely in a residential district. Now there are no houses, replaced instead by a series of "strip" merchants. There were restaurants, Meijers, Target, gas stations -- you know the slice of Americana I'm talking about: the "strip," the place we all go to find the familiar. I think my ex-front-door is now a tire and muffler place, although I will admit that if my GPS hadn't told me when I was "Arriving At Destination" I would not have known I was anywhere near my old address.

I moved a lot during college, as roommates and circumstances would come and go. I changed my address at least each school year and summer. So I have lived in a lot of places in and around Mt. Pleasant. I visited most of them, and found that some were almost unchanged, some were unrecognizable, and some were just -- gone.

I got a bit lucky -- today was "move in" day for those Fall Semester co-eds headed for the dorms, so a 55-year old lady on campus didn't seem odd with all the parents lugging suitcases and crates for their frightened-looking kids. I got to peek into my old freshman dorm room: Room 211 in Trout Hall. Oddly, it looked exactly the same as the day I moved out. I then wandered through the student bookstore, and decided I was glad I wouldn't have to read some of the required textbooks -- they looked more boring than enlightening. I visited the Student Union, where I previously spent many an hour "hanging out," and found it is now a fern-bar-sans-alcohol and not at all inviting. On campus, the ROTC building has been torn down. The Library, where I used to meet Pat, my freshman Love, under the guise of studying, was closed for the day so I couldn't go in. The chapel is now an Art Gallery. It was closed, too.

The Bird

The Bird was my hangout. It originally was named "The Flamingo," but for reasons that should be obvious, it started to be called The Bird, and eventually the name was changed, too. When I hung out there, a flamingo still adorned the door, but it is now gone, replaced by an eagle. Personally, I liked the flamingo better, but no one asked me!

I couldn't resist going into The Bird for a draft. I was the only patron there at 1 in the afternoon, so I sat at a what was a familiar table, next to the pool tables about half way to the back. At some point in the past, The Bird had expanded into the next-door space and now had a kitchen and a menu (the most we had was popcorn and nuts). But the original space was true to my memory, with the exception of the plasma TVs now showing CNN or sports. It had pool tables, darts, and pinball at the back. It had wood tables running down the center, forever imprinted with the names and initials of the patrons carved deeply in the wood. It had booths on the side. It looked and felt "right."

The ghosts showed up almost immediately. Kathy O'Connor, her waist-length wavy hair falling across her face and a cigarette dangling from her mouth, is concentrating on a bank shot. Barb Brown, beer bottle in hand, is flirting with a poor guy who doesn't know what he is about to get into. Cliff, normally a bouncer, is sitting at a booth playing cards, his leg braces not visible, but his upper body muscles very apparent. And I'm there, waiting for my turn at the eight ball, nothing on the line but pride and maybe a beer.

At the pool table, I was usually good enough to hold my own, but I was inconsistent. Kathy and Barb were really good, and they stayed really good when it counted. We'd play for drinks, and usually only spent 25 cents to challenge the table and then play off the winnings for the rest of the night. When we didn't play pool, we'd sit in a booth and play Euchre or Double Deck Pinochle all night, or hit the pinball machine. If we were playing Euchre against arrogant, patronizing guys (you know who you are), we'd stack the deck -- it wasn't that hard to put the Jacks, and maybe a couple Aces, where you wanted them. The popcorn used to be free, but the machine is now gone.

It was good to be a regular at the Bird.

In my visit to Mt.Pleasant I also saw:

  • The place where Stevie almost killed us all when he couldn't stop on the icy road in winter. We were saved by a dry spot of pavement that appeared right before the road dropped off.
  • The place where Barb was stopped for running a red light, with 7 drunk people in a small Fiat (I was in the back, sitting on the lap of Someone). Barb talked her way out of a ticket, while everyone else pretended nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
  • The place where the "sparkly sidewalk," a Special Place during certain states of being, used to be, but sadly is no longer.
  • The place where we saw Blazing Saddles in all its windowpane glory, and David drove. The theater has now been converted to a Christian Community outreach location.
  • The new location of the Listening Ear, where I used to be a crisis intervention counselor.
  • The pizza joint where my roommate's boyfriend would sneak us free pizzas if the order wasn't picked up on time.
  • The route we used to climb up to the top of the dome at the Student Union, a forbidden and probably illegal activity, that consisted of climbing up a fire escape and walking across several roofs. I can only attest to two climbs, although I'm sure many have done so since. The view was nice.
  • My old job sites: Cascarelli's Bar, which is now "Marty's" and JoAnn Fabrics, which is now seedy. The Blackstone, where I worked one night to help out, has moved, and I didn't eat there to see if they still have the best pizza in the midwest, thanks to Ken.

On my way out of town, I stopped in a the Indian "Soaring Eagle Casino" that used to be farmland when I was there. I spend $2 and won $10.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Where Were You When Elvis Died?

Location: Breckenridge, MI

30 Years Ago Today: I remember it vividly. I was vacationing in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP), and was having lunch in a wharfside bar just north of the Mackinaw Bridge when the news came across the radio. We were playing some pool and drinking some beers before setting off for Kitch-iti-kipi, a forty foot deep spring with a self-propelled glass bottomed raft, and Tahquamenon Falls. I had one full year, exactly, under my belt with Social Security. Retirement was so far off the radar that it was essentially non-existent.

Did you know that people from the UP are sometimes called "Yoopers"? And that Michigan people weekend or vacation "Up North," which is not a specific place so much as a state of mind -- anywhere from the middle of the lower peninsula on up can be "Up North." It often involves a cabin and some fishing or ATV/snow-mobiling. Going "Up North" is sort of like going "Down the Ocean" but it covers more acreage, there is no boardwalk on which to buy fries and starving-artist paintings, and you don't have to wear a bathing suit.

30 years later, I am back in Michigan, about 8 miles north of a small town named Breckenridge in the Lower Peninsula. This is the land where people talk just like me, and most of them won't be able to pronounce "Hon" in Baltimorion either. They don't ask me if I'm from Canada. They say "pop," not "soda," and I feel oddly like a traitor because I switched to the Soda Side. This is where the phrase "anterless deer" is a normal thing to hear, as is "smelt dipping." Where trucks filled with logs or sugar beets are a common sight and where Canadian coins hold the same value as American when given or received in change. Where the rivers have sandy bottoms instead of rocks, and the hills are man-made, usually for skiing, but the lakes are natural (in direct contrast to Maryland, where there are no natural lakes but the hills are abundant). And where the television call letters are oddly familiar to me, like an alphabetic ghost floating in from my past. Imagine how you would feel if you turned on the radio in a motel room in Somewhere, USA, and heard the call letters WKRP? It feels sort of like that.

Next week I am visiting some friends from my Claims Representative days, but this week I am going back even further. I got the genealogy bug after buying some software and getting 3 months free on The more I learn about my ancestors and relatives, the more they become real people who once had ambitions, failures, successes, and, in some cases, a ridiculous number of children. There are still many questions whose answers will probably never be known, but some of the answers may be out there if I just go looking.

I have discovered several cemetery locations in this area that are home to some of the Gregg line, so I'm going on a grave site hunt. I'm also going to visit my Alma Mater, Central Michigan University. It was there that, in addition to learning enough to obtain a B.S. in Psychology and Sociology, I learned how to flirt, play pool and pinball, smoke cigarettes, sit on a rooftop and just watch the world go by, be a good "freak" (and all that that entails), and to tap a keg. I used to be a regular at a bar called "The Bird," and I just might drop in for a drink.

I think I'm in for an emotional time. I know "you can't go home," and that the Michigan I knew then is not the Michigan of today. The kids who are in The Bird now will look at me as "that old lady" and I can't -- and won't -- tell them how fast times goes by and how closely we are tied in reality. They wouldn't believe me, just like I wouldn't have believed an old lady who wandered in The Bird back in 1974.

You can't go home, but sometimes you have to see the remains for yourself.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Small Things, Big Energy

Location: Edinburg, VA

The Perseid Meteor Shower was last night, so I jumped in the truck and went to visit Ed and Kathy at Mt. Meadows -- a dark site at the top of a mountain near Lost River. From where I am in Edinburg, Mt. Meadows is only about 28 miles away, but that only applies if you are a crow and in flight. Driving is a bit longer, and takes a little over an hour because there is no road from here to there. North-south, yes. East-west, no, not even twisy-turny-uppy-downy mountain roads.

Dark mountain tops are ideal for watching meteor showers, because the darker the sky, the more meteors you will see. Watching a meteor show is about as low-tech as it gets. You get a reclining chair, sit in it, look up. Repeat as necessary. Bathroom and snack breaks ARE allowed, but you will be sure to miss the best ones if you dawdle.

Smaller meteors look like streaking points of light that can span a few degrees or cover half the sky (your fist held at arms length will cover about ten degrees in the sky). Sometimes they are blue, sometimes yellow or red, but most are white. Sometimes you can even see fireballs. The date and even the time of the meteor shower can be predicted because the meteors are actually left over comet particles just sitting there in space, and we know when the earth will travel through them. When the particles collide with the atmosphere, we see a meteor trail. Here is the amazing part: most of the particles are smaller than a grain of sand! The meteor trail we see is created because an enormous amount of heat and energy is released when the particle strikes the atmosphere. And, FYI, if the piece of debris is large enough to survive entry without vaporizing (most aren't) it is then called a meteorite.

Last night's "shower" was a bit disappointing because the number of meteors was fairly low compared to other years. But the ones I saw were quite nice, and many streaked halfway across the sky. I was not able to capture any photos of meteors, but the one above is at Mountain Meadows, with Jupiter, the Constellation Scorpius, and the Milky Way. Jupiter is the brightest object in the photo, a little less than half way down, and to the right of the vertical center line. To find Scorpius, start at Jupiter. You should see five stars that form an arc going from Jupiter to the right. This is the Scorpion's head. Midway through the arc, follow the line of stars that curves gently to the left, then down, then back up into a circular curve near the tree line. This is the scorpion's stinger. The Milky Way is the "clouds" running up the left side of the photo. In sky legend, Scorpius is the killer of Orion, so the gods placed the two constellations exactly opposite in the sky so they could never again meet (or even be seen at the same time by Earthly observers).

While waiting for sunset, we watched several Ruby Throated Hummingbirds visit a hummingbird feeder on the porch. Talk about small things with big energy! You hear them before you see them -- a low, droning, buzz is first -- this is the sound of their wings beating around 50 times a second as they zip through the air. They dart into the feeder, hover in the air, grab a sip of sugar-water, and flit off for the safety of a nearby tree. An ant, also attracted to the sugar water, got caught inside the feeder and wound up swimming, literally in circles, for at least 18 hours. When finally released, he seemed none worse for the workout. AntBuns of Steel now, I'm sure.

Monday morning I walked out to the balcony, and was "checked out" by one of the hummingbirds who hovered right in front of my face for several seconds. Why? I had a red shirt on! But he left quickly for the feeder -- guess I didn't pass the "sweetness" test!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Nancy Drew and The Secret of the Edinburg Water Tower

It is bigger than Edinburg. No, I don't mean the Edinburg water tower, although that structure is higher than Edinburg, but, as small as Edinburg is, it is still magnitudes larger than its water tower. But I digress. What is bigger than Edinburg is ... there are three decorated towers along I-81!

Coming from the north, the first is Woodstock, the second Edinburg, and the last Mt. Jackson.

While there really is no place to get a photo of the Edinburg water tower without the trees obsuring the base (and I really searched), I did manage to get close enough to capture the spirit of the thing. Actually, it's probably better that the base is below the treeline -- it makes the tower appear to float as a real hot air balloon would.

Woodstock has a nicely painted tower, but no particular picture. Mt. Jackson, however, has decorated their tower with very realistic apples.

I did don my Nancy Drew Girl Detective Hat and found out that Edinburg's Mayor was the first to paint the town water tower.

Congratulations, Edinburg, on a fine water tower, and I now know why they are so proud of it. Now if I could just find the "new school"!

Friday, August 10, 2007

One Edinburg Answer, More Edinburg Questions

Location: Edinburg, VA

As with many places on the eastern seaboard, the weather here has been hot and humid, resulting in late afternoon thunderstorms -- some severe. I have learned that, in unfamiliar locations, having the weather radio on is not enough -- you must also know what COUNTY you are currently sitting in, or listening to the weather reports becomes frustrating and useless. So one of my first duties when I get into a new city is to put the county name on a sticky note along with the zip code (useful for finding things on the Internet) and stick it next to the desk.

Yesterday, a fairly violent storm rolled through in the late afternoon, with lots of thunder, lightening and rain. The weather forecast said we might several
waves of storms during the day, so I made sure the weather radio was on in case something Really Bad was happening. Sure enough, a little later my weather radio alarm went off showing a tornado warning, but it was not for this county (Shenandoah). Still, worth staying alert. About five minutes later, I heard some rolling thunder and then sirens started going off all around us! I remember tornado sirens from growing up in Michigan, and this sounded pretty similar. Plus, they didn't stop right away.

So I ran outside, but there was no menacing dark cloud anywhere near, just normal rain clouds and a very light drizzle. The campground owner
was walking by, so I asked him if those were warning sirens and he said ... (insert drum roll here).... it was THE PARADE beginning! The kickoff for the Fireman's Carnival that would be at the "new school"! If you remember from an earlier post, there were no-parking-parade-route signs up, but no evidence of a parade.

I rushed to the street and found the evidence moving down Main Street. There were loads of firetrucks, all whoop-whooping, woo-eeeing, and beep-beeping. There were ambulances, trucks and tractors. There were slowly moving cars with local dignitaries diligently waving at the onlookers, and Little-Miss-Something-Or-Others looking girly and cute. There were happy throngs of Edinburgians (see photo), eagerly watching the firetrucks, tractors, dignitaries, and their young 'uns stuffed into cheerleadery outfits, twirling and dropping batons while trying, and sometimes succeeding, to all be on the same foot. It was a hell of a show.

Edinburg Watertower Update: I searched up and down Highway 81 for the infamous Edinburg Watertower to no avail. As one of Edinburg's main attractions, you'd think it would be easy to find (the other attraction, the library, was a snap)! Finally on my way home yesterday, I topped a hill... and there it was. Or at least there the very top of it was. I drove in and around Edinburg for what seemed like an eternity trying to find a location to get a picture of it, and I haven't been able to do that yet. The roads are twisty, and you can only see it from certain vantage points. But I'm narrowing it down! I may also be getting a deeper understanding of what drives the locals to put their water tower on a pedestal, so to speak -- more later.

While I was driving around looking for the water tower, I thought I'd find the "new school" and check out the carnival. Now Edinburg has two main streets, and a few assorted side streets, but it really isn't big enough to hide both a water tower AND a school, but yet there we are. I can't find it. Edinburg is a town of many secrets.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Small Town Life in the Shenandoah Valley

Location: Edinburg, VA

Edinburg, VA, lies at the foot of Skyline drive, and must play a pivotal role when the dictionary definition of "quaint" ("oddly picturesque") needs a bit more clarification ("Look, Mom, they're talking about Edinburg!")

It has a traditional Main Street, complete with flower pots and olde-timey street signs. It has boutiquey shops that are hoping that they will be smack dab in the middle of a "revival" in, oh, five or ten years. It has a parade route (i.e., Main Street) and I know that because there are signs that say one cannot park on Main Street Thursday 5 PM to 10 PM because it is a parade route. I have not been able to find any evidence of an actual parade, however. They do have an "Ole Time Festival" during the third week in September -- but it seems a bit excessive to put the signs up this early. Do they have a non-publicized festival now that is only for residents? Are the signs just left over from last year? Or are Edinburgians diligently practicing their parade skills each Thursday so they will truly march-as-one come September? I will try to find out, but the weather forecast for Thursday evening is pretty grim, parade-wise, so it may remain a mystery.

Edinburg does have a watertower. Really. A neat one, I'm sure, but I haven't seen it yet. I know it's special because they feel it merits a place of honor at their website. You have to admire the chutzpah of a town that still creates a web entry even though the high points of the town are the water tower, the library, and the fact that someday there will be a Cultural Center.

And the campground where I am parked has a very nice cardboardy flyer that lists, as an amenity, "Impeccably clean, modern rest rooms" and, inserted among the obligatory photos of the campground office, pretty flowers, and RVs happily parked next to a creek, is a photo of the inside of the restroom -- just in case you needed proof (FYI -- the restrooms really are the cleanest I have ever seen).

The campground is peaceful, with Great Blue Herons and waterfowl populating the creek. The town is small, neat, and the yards are often decorated with concrete bunnies, lawn gnomes guarding flower beds, mailboxes that look like barns or pigs, and artsy wind-powered ornaments. One resident found a unique way to display those ceramic houses that seem like such a good idea when we see them in the store but quickly loose their charm when we have to dust them -- on the house, of course!

But this is the Shenandoah Valley, famous for Skyline Drive and numerous caves and caverns. It's been around for a long, long time, and a little quaintness fits right in.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Look Up On Sunday!

I haven't forgotten you!

I will be heading out again on Wednesday, August 8th, and my first stop will be near Skyline Drive in Edinburg, VA. I should be there for a week.

So what's going on there? In addition to the Skyline Drive/Luray attractions, mother nature will be adding to the fun on Sunday night/Monday morning (August 12-13) when the annual Perseid meteor shower happens -- and the Edinburg area should be nice and dark. This is expected to be a good year for the shower because there will be no moon to wash out the display. Even though the peak is Sunday night/Monday morning, a lot of meteors are often seen a few days on either side. If you are so inclined, grab a lawn chair and sit outside -- the darker the site the better, but you should be able to see some almost anywhere. Telescopes not required! But you will need to sacrifice a bit of sleep -- the real showers happen after midnight, when our section of the earth has rotated into the leading edge of our orbit.

The meteors will all appear to emanate from the constellation Perseus, but this can be difficult to find without a chart. Instead, just look for the big "W" in the sky. This is the constellation Cassiopeia, traditionally the Queen of Ethiopia or Andromeda's Mother. It is close enough to Perseus to serve as a guide, but is much more easily recognized.

The photo on this blog is a damselfly from Rickett's Glen. The eyes are on either side of the stalk of grass, and the white blur is the damselfly's body.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Aunt Bee Isn't Always Right (and Other Lessons Learned)

It's been two months since I moved out of my "stick" house and began full timing in the RV. Some of the things I've learned:
  • The GPS B*tch, or "Aunt Bee" as I've come to call her, will lie like a bad rug on a slanty floor. You ask her for a laundromat and she takes you down a narrow, twisty road to an Amish farmhouse. You think she told you to take the upcoming expressway ramp, but as soon as you are committed to the turn and can't go back, she says in her reproachful, I-Told-You-So voice, "Re-CAL-cu-lating" and you know you are going in the wrong direction and will need to turn around at the next exit.
    Then, as if to rub it in, she says, "Continue 25 miles to the next exit." In this case, all I want to know is, "how likely is it REALLY that I'll get a ticket if I use those 'Authorized Vehicles Only' turn arounds?"

  • Even if you tell the GPS you are a bus, it will take you down a road that is so narrow that two Mini Coopers could not pass each other.
  • On the flip side, the GPS is one of the most useful and valuable things in the truck. She has made navigation back to my temporary homes a snap. She keeps me on the right road more that she takes me down the wrong road. I totally forgive her for the trip to the Amish farm while my dirty underwear sat patiently in the truck.
  • I can grease moving parts on mechanical devices, figure out the difference between volts, watts, and amps, and learn why the load range of a tire is important.

  • Less "stuff" = more happiness.
  • Satellite radio is a wonderful invention.
  • RV people are the most friendly and helpful folks in the world. They will loan you lengths of hose if you can't quite reach the faucet, and will help you navigate through a mine field of parked vehicles when you need to leave in the morning and are towing 23 feet of RV. If the RVers are a man and a woman, odds are the man does all the driving. Odds are the woman will offer you food, such as cookies or watermelon. Odds are any kids or grand kids will be off happily playing in the great outdoors, not watching TV or playing video games.

  • I can haul an RV down a 9% grade and not panic when the transmission in a lower gear starts to sound like a jet plane taking off. I can also
    haul the RV up an 18% grade and have the sense to go down a by a different road.
  • Hose connections don't leak if you put Vaseline on the threads.

  • I can back an RV into a relatively tight spot, but it isn't pretty. There is no shame in getting out of the truck to see where you are, and where you will end up if you continue to moving in the same direction. There is no shame in pulling forward and starting over.
  • You need to start turning earlier than you think.

  • Life on the road is a fabulous adventure.