Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 29, 2007 - Two Kids in Amsterdam

I spent four days in Amsterdam in April 1978 - was totally taken by the place - I walked everywhere it seemed - saw these two guys in an alley and they were kind to let me take their picture. I wonder where they are now - what they're doing - I guess they would be late 30's or so! I miss my Fujica 801 - left it on the plane on the way back from this trip!

You can see other pictures of my 1978 Europe trip here.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 24, 2007 - Boots

Yesterday, featuring a picture of our cat Socks, I wrote about how we got Socks and his little sister Boots. This is Boots. She is tiny, but seems to enjoy beating up on poor Socks! How they tear around the house, usually right about midnight!

For some other pictures of Boots, not all flattering poses, look here, and here, and here.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 23 2007 - Socks

Don't let those beady eyes fool you. Socks is a wimp. And a sweetheart. He is a great cat. We didn't intend to end up with four cats (you've seen Corduroy; Mohawk and Boots are coming). Our oldest cat Mohawk is 15 years old. She is a grump, but a nice old grump. A few years back we decided to get our youngest daughter Madeline a cat, and we ended up getting two, whom we named Corduroy and Oxford. They came from different litters, but were the same age, and grew up as brothers. They were inside/outside cats. Corduroy became a real cat of the night, a hunter, and was more aloof. Oxford remained closer to home, in body and heart. He was a first rate cat pet. During the day he followed Madeline around and sat with her wherever she went, doing school work (we home school Madeline), reading, sitting at the computer, whatever. He loved to sleep on the back of the couch right behind wherever you were sitting. At night he usually slept in the bed with Anna, my fourth daughter. One day a lady from the neighborhood came up to tell us there was a dead cat in her yard, and she thought it might be ours. I went down to see, and yes, it was Oxford. Only Madeline was home with me. It was really really sad, and terrible to see her suffer so. (We still expect foul play - at the time there were a group of teenage guys vandalizing the neighborhood, and we had turned them in for something to the police, and they had done various things to us in retaliation. Oxford seems to have taken a blow to the top of the head. Yes, it could have been a car, but one of the boys was seen in the vicinity about the time our neighbor told us about the cat.)

I believe in the reality and significance of relationships with animals, and thus the very real grief we experience when they leave us. I've never taken this lightly, for myself, or for others, nor as a pastor. Anyway, I wrapped Oxford in plastic bags, and when Anna came home I broke the news to her, and let her pet Oxford and say goodbye. We brought Corduroy over and let him sniff and look at Oxford's body too. He was obviously very depressed for a week or two. We then had a ceremony and buried Oxford in the back yard. Well, the grief was so bad that three to four days into it we decided we just had to get Madeline another kitten to try to get her mind off it. So, we went to the Cat Clinic, and wouldn't you know it, someone had just found an abandoned litter of kittens and given the whole litter to the Cat Clinic to give away. So, we ended up getting two new kittens - Boots the small gray female, and Socks the larger black male. We decided they would be inside cats. They are about three years old now and they still run around the house wrestling and playing, especially late at night. They are mischievous and fun, just as cats are supposed to be. When they wrestle, it's always Socks who cries uncle, even though he is twice the size of Boots. He is a wimp. But he is so affectionate; he loves to have his coat brushed; he begs for attention; he is very sweet. Boots is sweet too, and follows Madeline around kind of like Oxford did. I love this picture of Socks, taken with a cheap digital camera. It just exudes his "Socks-ness."

For more pictures of our felines along the way, look here.


PS On the way to work today I stopped for a foot long snapper crossing Regents Park Lane. I got out and moved him. It's hard to know where turtles are wanting to go, and you hate to disorient them, but I put him close to a nearby creek. Well, as a reward I got doused with turtle pee. I say turtle pee. I wonder if turtles "store" water within the spaces under their shell to keep them moist when they are on land. Does anybody know?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 22, 2007 - The Vatican Easter 1978

It was mostly by happenstance that I ended up at the Vatican on Easter Sunday 1978. We had been in Florence, and realized "tomorrow is Easter," and we said "well let's go to Rome." So we took an overnight train, got in quite early, and were able to find ourselves right near the front of what turned out to be quite a crowd. Pope Paul VI gave greetings that Easter, Marcfh 26, 1978. This would be his last Easter. He would die that year, to be succeeded by Pope John Paul I, who lived only avery short time after election, to be succeeded by the famous and popular Pope John Paul II. The Vatican was so packed that day, you could almost lift up your legs and not fall. People were fainting. The estimate was that there were over 200,000 people, which would be largest group of people I had or have ever been in. We were right at the front ropes because we got there about 5:00am. Had a great view of the Swiss Guard, and of the Pope. It was a neat day. His message that day can be found here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 21, 2007 - Zermatt

I'm kind of hot sitting where I am right now, and this picture brought a wave of refreshment to me as I perused alternatives for today's photo. So I thought I'd share it with you. I had always wanted to see the Matterhorn, near Zermatt, ever since my girlfriend in high school told me that my nose reminded her of it! :) Plus I had seen incredible pictures of that great peak. I wanted to go alpine! So, in our travels around Europe in March/April 1978 my friends and I took a long detour to Zermatt. I remember an old creaky train ride almost straight up a mountain. That was cool. Anyway, it was late when we got to Zermatt, and after a night in the youth hostel we awoke to almost white out conditions the next morning. This is what it looked like after the snow had calmed down a bit. Needless to say, I never saw the Matterhorn. But it was beautiful in Zermatt that day.

You are invited to explore my Flickr photostream here.


Friday, May 18, 2007

The Immigration Bill Stinketh, I Thinketh

Well, I am trying to decide something. If both Nancy Pelosi AND the Heritage Foundation oppose a bill, does that mean it is likely good or bad? Hmmm.

Personally from what I can tell I am disappointed in the Immigration Reform Bill, and maybe finding myself agreeing with both Pelosi and the Heritage Foundation in limited areas.

So, what’s the big deal about amnesty? Good grief, if we didn’t give amnesty to one another every once in a while we’d all be dead. Sometimes, when you’ve done something so bad for so long, you just have to accept the consequences. I know a person who did a very bad thing. It is long done now. That person’s life is a wreck. Now that person needs help. I think I need some amnesty in my heart.

We’ve had terrible immigration enforcement laws for a long time. We let this state of affairs get to what it is. What, we blame Mexicans for wanting to come here. It is a compliment.

New laws should first strive to restore families, and only then shift toward bringing in talented and gifted people? So, we’re going to send a family member home and break up the family? Unless the person is a criminal that is just not right.

And are talented, gifted, educated people the ones we really most need? I mean, as one Mexican said, how many degrees do you need to make $9 an hour picking beets? Seems to me Mexico needs to keep their doctors and engineers and we could really use their labor.

I am for amnesty for the illegal aliens that are here now. We have screwed it up for so long we have to accept our responsibility in that. Not for the ones with criminal records or felonies. But or the ones who have been decent members of our communities. We need to send Mexico’s criminals back to Mexico. For the rest, we need to fast track them to citizenship and to full immediate family restoration without making the “illegal” go back to Mexico or wherever first. This whole splitting up families thing gives me a very bad vibe, makes me think of another very dark and terrible part of our national history. I don’t like it one little bit.

I am also for strict crimes that we will enforce against employers who willingly hire illegal aliens, or who make no effort to find out their status, or who look the other way.

Then, I do think we need to crack down on the border. I do not trust Pelosi and gang to do that no matter what the bill says. Fences, walls, barbed wire, electric wire, I don’t care. Whatever it takes and no matter how much it costs – we’ve got to get a handle on our border. Good grief, people could be walking in with suitcase nukes as far as we know.

And then we need a good guest worker program like we have now with temporary visa’s. But we have to be able to track these people. Civil libertarians won’t like it, but we may just need to get those national ID cards. We can’t let people in on guest worker visas only to let them melt into the population and never go back.

So, personally, I think the bill is too hard as regards the “A” word. Let’s just accept reality, call amnesty “amnesty,” and then extend it.

I think the bill is too soft regarding the borders. It seems to me, as far as I can tell, just to be words. I want to see the money, the backbone, the resolve in a real funded plan with teeth, and fences, for how we are going to do this. I don’t see that yet.

So, in summary, I think we need to get tough and get gentle at the same time. And we need to keep families in mind before our own need for Ph.D.’s.


Just Say "No" To Hate Crime Legislation

Looks like we’re in for another veto and House and Senate battle over recent hate crime legislation. I offer a few thoughts here, confessing that I am finding it hard to find the actual wording of the current bills. So I speak of hate crime laws more generally.

I ain’t for ‘em. That is because I am a Christian, or a conservative, and I am hateful, right? Wrong. I hate hate, as a matter of fact. I think hatred towards other human beings made in the image of God is morally wrong. I think it is reprehensible. And I think such hatred is the legal right of every person who lives under the protection of our constitution.

I find hate crime laws to be wrong headed on the face of it, unfairly applied, legally confusing, and an affront eventually to a precious right of free and open speech.

As to the wrong headedness I just flat out disagree that a crime is made worse because of how the criminal thought or felt about the victim. It is important to get into the heads of criminals to establish motive. Hate may be a motive which helps establish a case and which helps lead to conviction. But you know, as regards serious crimes like murder something like hatred is almost always involved. Whether that hatred is produced by racism, sexism, envy, jealousy, or embarrassment is really not relevant except to establish motive, and thus reach a conviction. Is a murder victim more or less dead whether the source of hatred was racism or envy? Is a criminal more or less dead when they get the needle because they killed out of hatred? Is it more wrong for a group of red necks to kill a gay guy than it is for a group of gang members to kill a member of another gang? Is it more wrong to kill a person because he is black than it is to kill a person because he got a promotion and you didn’t? Is it more wrong to kill a person because he is handicapped than it is to kill a person because he stole your girl friend? I don’t think so. Is the murderer more guilty of murder because he murdered out of hatred? No. I see hate crime laws, especially on the federal level, as a way of succumbing to the pressure of special interests to be treated as an especially protected and hence a favored sub group of the population. I think hate crime laws are about power. Grabbing it that is. Using it that is. Frankly I think they are, well, hateful. I say that due to the vehement angry speech of the proponents of hate crime legislation.

And let me ask you, do we want a world where people kill others not out of hate? I mean, what is worse, a person with no reason for killing, no conscience, no feelings, who just goes around killing, or a person who kills out of hate? “Shit,” some guy says, “I just like killing people.” What hate crime is that lunatic guilty of?

There is no way to apply hate crimes fairly unless we make a protected special minority out of everybody. Shall we make the rich into a specially protected group because they are killed for being rich? Shall we make child molesters into a specially protected group because they are killed out for being child molesters? Shall we make the promoted into a specially protected group because they are killed out of envy? Do we protect the Bloods because they tend to be killed by the Crips and vice versa? I mean, by the time we protect all the possible kinds of people who get killed due to hate, we have just about protected everybody, and thus the legislation means nothing.

And what a mess we make of the actual criminal proceedings. Now we not only get into the head of people to discern motive, but to discern whether they hated uniquely a special group of specially protected people. How do we really do that? We do that by making broad generalizations based on prior speech. Or by reading diaries. Or maybe we develop a "hate detector test." Maybe we can invent a hate screening machine to use at airports. Maybe we anoint a very special group of psychoanalysts gifted in discerning hate to decide this for us? Shall they be appointed by the President? With advice and consent of the Senate?

And then, how do we really define hate? Can we really tell the difference between dislike and hate? Can we really tell the difference between hate for one person and hate for a group of persons? My goodness what a mess.

I remember one day in high school I was walking out of the auditorium. There was a guy, a black guy, that I didn't like and didn't get along with. I liked almost every other person in the school, white or black. So I was walking out of the auditorium and he shouts across the whole room, "Hey Gillespie, you don't like me because I'm black," And I shouted back, "No, David, I don't like you because you're a smart ass." That shut him up. But are we really so good at telling the difference?

Which gets me to the most chilling apart of this whole deal, the assault on free speech. I agree that there is a kind of speech that very purposefully and specifically incites to violence and I agree that such speech must be dealt with. However, hate crime legislation tends to morph into hate speech legislation. Because I oppose gay marriage I have been called hateful, my position has been vilified as a position rooted in hate. Well, I’m not and it isn’t. So, if I speak out against gay marriage, there will be a time when my speech will fall under hate crime laws, and my speech will be silenced, and I may go to jail. Look, if some moron wants to get up and call Christians Nazis, scumbags, morons, then let them. If some guy wants to stand up and call white people crackers" or "honkies" or "Klansmen" they are free to do that. If some moron wants to stand up and call gay people faggots then that is his right. He is an idiot, he is wrong, and the court of public opinion will side against him. If some skinhead brute wants to get up and call black people “niggers" then let his stupid self do that. He is only making a total bigoted moronic idiot out of himself. But if he calls people to "kill niggers," then we arrest him and lock him up for a very long time.

People everyday say the most terrible things about Christians such that if they said the same sort of things about these specially protected groups they would be vilified or put in the slammer or kicked out of school or given an “F” for hate speech. As far as I am concerned, if people want to call Christians morons, bigots, fools, blasphemers, or worse, that is their business. If they incite and encourage people to kill Christians then that becomes my business.

We already have statues against murder, rape, threats to violence, conspiracies to inflict harm, etc. Hate crime legislation adds nothing substantive to those laws. But it does create a chilling ripple effect as regards free speech. And for that reason mostly I oppose it.


Photo of the Day - May 18, 2007 - Edward Waters

Here is a picture of my friend Edward Waters at Hanging Rock, taken last summer. Just another take on a beautiful place close by. The pic kind of makes me think about Jeremiah Johnson! Edward has the best doggon' hiking stick around - made of tulip poplar. I just like this picture. Edward is a very very talented poet, song writer, and singer. You can find his work at his main Edward Waters web site, and on his two blogs, Rambles of One Windborn(e) and When the Sky Draws Close

Hey, if you get the chance take a drive up to Hanging Rock State Park and support our State Park System. Tell 'em what a great job they are doing. And while you're there take a hike and get that heart pumping!


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 17, 2007 - English Bay at Sunset

I was very fortunate to have spent three years of my life in Vancouver BC. It is a beautiful city, and highly photogenic. It is also crowded and smoggy and struggling with all the same issues with which major urban centers struggle. I learned a lot there about what makes for a successful urban environment. We in Greensboro could learn a lot from Vancouver on many issues.

One of the ever present delights of Vancouver wase the array of huge ships from all over the world that came to port there. The passageway into Burrard's inlet into the main ship docking area was rather small, and so ships would line up in English Bay much likeplanes on a runway, waiting there turn. It was fun to try to read the writing on the ships, look at their flags, and try to tell where they were from.

I hope this picture gives you a sense of peace. You can see more of my Flickr pictures here.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 16, 2007 - Coneflowers Reaching for the Sun

Just daydreaming about the sumer ahead - how the birds and butteflies love my coneflowers!


PS - Check out my other Flickr images here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 15, 2007 - Sun and Clouds

Taken from a plane of course - not sure I remember where exactly. I love the light and the softness of the clouds.

Please feel free to explore my photostream here.


Monday, May 14, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 14, 2007 - Dwontown Stairwell

I took this on Elm Street in January - at Elm and Bellemeade I think. I thought it would make a cool urban image. I'm not sure I took the picture at the ideal time of day - maybe early morning would have been better. The light on the staircase is actually reflected light - reflected off other buildings north across Bellemeade. The sun was behind and to the left of this corner of the building.

You're invited to check out my Flickr photosteam here.


Cone on Guilford Metro

I read with interest Ed Cone's editorial in the Sunday News and Record contrasting "Triadism" and" Guilfordism." Though I am not a native North Carolinian and may not have credibility to speak to this subject, I think Ed is dead on. By all appearances the real population/metro entity is one that has the airport at the center, and spreads east to Alamance County, and southeast into Davidson or even Lexington County, and including northern Randolf County. I think "metro-Guilford" is a good name for it since the fact is that Guilford has the bulk of the population and the predominance of transportation hubs.

Now, I like Winston Salem. They have a very cool downtown. I love Old Salem, and I dig Wake Forrest. But in going to Winston from here one definitely leaves one center of population and development and enters another. And Winston Salem has a whole different flavor and feel. Our college systems are quite separated from each other. And Forsyth County has it's own growing metro region.

The government definitions of metropolitan regions (and the names for them) change, and as Ed pointed out, that whole "metro area" thing is a mental construct anyway, and I think especially is rather arbitrary in our case. It would seem to me that it would be fruitful and efficient to focus economic incentives and economic planning in a way that complement the actual on ground reality. Work with what's there, not what isn't there. And it seems to me as well that the real progress that needs to made now regards the partnership between Greensboro and High Point. It is unusual anywhere in the country outside of the super metro regions to have two towns of this size in the same county, and as Ed points out they are now pretty much blending together as one while yet remaining distinct entities.

As a note, I was on top of Moore's Knob at Hanging Rock State Park last Sunday - that very windy day - and it was the first time I was able to see clearly Winston Salem, High Point, and Greensboro with fairly low power binoculars. Often when Greensboro is visible from atop Moore's knob it is very late in the day when the sun is setting with the light bouncing off the glass buildings. Anyway, the point of this is that the difference and distance geographically between "Greensboro/High Point" on the one hand and "Winston Salem" on the other is quite marked looking from afar.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 12, 2007 - Mom

Well, tomorrow is Mother's Day, and since I usually do not post on Sundays, I thought I would remember my mom today. Maurine Sanders was born March 27, 1932, and died February 27, 2001. It's been six years now since she left us, and her four children miss her so. Mom was a quiet person. She made no fuss about herself and her needs, and was always involved in projects for her children or grandchildren - cross stitching, smocking, or cooking - and was always reading a book (usually with the TV on). She was unbeatable in any game that required general knowledge.

Mom inherited from her family a dark and slightly wicked sense of humor. She passed that on to me I am afraid, along with her migraines. Mom was one of those people easy to take for granted, always pressing on, not messing with your business, doing kind things. She wasn't totally kind. She held grudges, didn't look toward all kinds people with equal kindness, and was stobborn. She had a great laugh, well, before her stroke in 1984, and which she regained in the last weeks of her life oddly enough. She would get tickled and start laughing until she cried. I remember more tears from laughing than crying, and I am afraid she had plenty to cry about. She had peculiarities. We still joke - at her expense - about how, with her very very active boys, she became almost immune to our various injuries. The heating pad was the cure for everything. Unless bone was protruding, or the mercury shooting through the top of the thermometer, you were not going to the doctor! I spent a lot of time on the heating pad!

Mom was a good and faithful daughter and sister. She called her mother every week, and after her mother died, her sister Carolyn. She was faithful and steady like that.

My mom died from a series of doctor mishaps that led to an overly lengthy surgery to replace a mitril valve blown out by a blotched pacemaker insertion. Her last six weeks were a roller coaster ride. But I personally reconnected with her in a new way during that time, rediscovering her in a new and deeper sense. And then she was gone. But I am ever thankful for the words of gratitude and regret that I was able to express to her. You know, no mother is perfect, and my mom was not. I hope, if you have the chance - if your mom is still living - that you can let your mom know that you love her, and mean it, and if you can't mean it, pray to God to be able to mean it. You were probably no walk in the park for your mom or dad, well, if you were anything at all like me!

I have a whole set of pictures devoted to my mom. You are invited to explore them here. I picked a picture of mom for this post taken well before I was born. It has those eyes, that hint of mischief, and that beauty that caused one Columbia boy newly in the Air Force, and stationed outside her town of Sherman Texas, to fall head over heels for her.

I miss my mom. I dream about her every week. Sometimes I wake up very sad because I realize she is not there anymore. Often I reach for the phone to call her whenever the weather changes or there is some report out of South Carolina that has trickled up my way.

A week or so after her death God gave me a wonderul gift. It was a dream. It was the most amazing dream of my life. There before me was my mom, in intense and full living color. She was not a still portrait, but a living model. I was able to gaze at her for some time, notice the lines on her face, the details of her eyes, and her soft kindess and selflessness of her persona. It was so intense, so richly colorful, and took I believe so much brain power to form, that I woke up utterly erxhasuted, but knowing I had been given a great gift. I still remember her that way.

So Mom, Happy Mother's Day. You were a great mom, and we miss you.


Friday, May 11, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 11, 2007 - A Carolina Pond in Spring

This small pond near my house was on the normal walk route I took with my Irish Setter Clancey. He usually went for a swim of course. I would almost always stop on the earthen dam and enjoy the view. I would occasionally nap there, or read a book. It was a favorite spot of mine. The picture yesterday of the gum leaves on the water was taken on the same pond - different season. I was very fortunate to grow up in such a beautiful place.


Feel free to explore by photostream here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 10, 2007 - Sweet Gum Leaves

I took this while on a walk with my dog Clancey at a pond near my home in Columbia, SC. I am partial to pictures that have colors/textures spread over the whole, and sort of like this shot. And I love Sweet Gum trees, the gum balls notwithstanding.

Sweet Gum

When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11 years old, a friend of mine from school lived in a house with a huge backyard – several acres, including a great field for playing baseball. He also had some of the best climbing trees anywhere. My favorite, due to the ease of getting very very high, was a tree with these pointy little balls all over the ground and hanging from the ends of the limbs. I really didn’t know what it was then, but we could climb so high – this tree was higher than the surrounding old loblolly pines, that it was just a great feeling. Of course, being kids, we’d go to the very top and sway back and forth. If poor mom had ever known…

I am of course talking about the venerable old Sweet Gum tree, Liquidambar styraciflua. Seems these days this is one of those trees people most love to hate, mainly because the gum balls are a pain to clean up year after year. Oh the things we come to hate for our perfectly trimmed and chemically produced lawns. “But it hurts to step on them!” Come on, a few weeks running barefooted and you won’t even feel it. Oh I forgot, running barefooted is out. What did Hopkin’s say (from God’s Grandeur):

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod

No matter the season, it’s easy to know when you’re standing underneath a Sweet Gum tree. Scattered all around you on the ground are those round prickly balls, about an inch and half in diameter. With little holes between the prickly parts, these balls house the seeds of the Sweet Gum tree, and are referred to as “gum balls.” If it’s winter and you find yourself stepping on gum balls in a parking lot or in someone’s yard, look up, and you’ll usually see many gum balls still hanging onto the tree by their three inch long stems.

These fruit balls provide food to many species of bird and mammal. (Author’s note: on the day of this writing I sat in my car and watched a gray squirrel sitting on a fence in front of me systematically nibble off all the spines of a Sweet Gum ball to get at the enclosed seeds.) So the next time you feel like griping or cursing over all those prickly gum balls, remember, to a lot of animals they are food for the winter. You can learn to love them, you can!

Notice the tree trunk, fairly dark, mildly furrowed, and heavy looking, with somewhat of an “alligator” skin appearance. The limbs tend to come somewhat horizontally off the trunk and are somewhat evenly spaced up and down, to make Sweet Gums, even very large ones, some of the best trees for climbing, as many brave children will attest.

Sweet Gums grow up to 80 to 120 feet, and even taller ones can be found deep in southern bottomland forests, though 60-80 feet may be more normal in GuilfordCounty. There is a great old Sweet Gum right out in front of the clubhouse of Bur-MilPark, worth a look on a beautiful day. In fact, it holds the present county record under the Guilford County Treasure Tree Program, being supposedly 115 feet tall, 49.5 inches in diameter, and having a crown spread of almost 70 feet! I don't think it's that tall, but it is a grand old tree!

The leaves of the Sweet Gum are very distinctive, usually five pointed, six or so inches across, with a star or perhaps starfish shape and appearance. The top of the leaf is glossy or shiny, which, given its star like shape, adds to its beauty. In the fall the Sweet Gum leaves tend to turn a deep crimson red, adding splash to the yellow dominated palate of the piedmont autumn.

If crushed in the hand the leaf has a particular odor called “resinous” by the tree books. That may be the best way to describe the sappy, tart odor.

Often the small branches and twigs of the Sweet Gum have little ridges growing out on each side. These corky ridges called “wings” also show up on "winged elm" trees.

Walk through any field in Guilford County recently abandoned and you will probably find many young Sweet Gums mixed with the usual opportunistic pine trees. Though slower growing than the pines which usually first to take over a field, and thus left in their shade for a time, the Sweet Gum is one of the first hardwoods to rise above the pines and begin the transition from pine to mixed hardwood forest.

So, why is this tree called a “gum” tree anyway. The Sweet Gum tree produces a sap or resin (that flows more freely the farther south you go, giving it the name "liquidambar") that when hardened can be chewed as a gum. This resin of the Sweet Gum tree was long reputed to have medicinal qualities, used for the treatment of skin sores. It was widely used for treatment of dysentery during the Civil War.

The Sweet Gum tree provides one our most important furniture woods, used mainly for veneers, but also for cabinets and boxes and toys, and even as pulpwood.

It’s just a great tree all around.

You can look at more of my pictures on my Flickr site here.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

My Thoughts on Iraq

I have been listening and reading to conservative and liberal pundits, following the news, watching interviews, and trying to get a handle on what I think about the current mess we find ourselves in in Iraq.

I just wanted to share several personal reflections.

First, I do believe that we entered into the war in good faith, and that the intelligence pointed both to WMD in Iraq, and to a certain level of “cooperation,” for want of a better term, between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. In fact it is my personal belief that there were indeed WMD’s, and that they were whisked away before we arrived, probably to Syria. I cannot prove that; that is my best hunch as I try to put the pieces together.

Second, it is my belief that we entered the war woefully unprepared for the task ahead. There was great and profound hubris, especially on the part of Donald Rumsfeld and the other neo-cons, and an utter failure to think ahead and realize the challenges of transitioning into dealing with an insurgency, or dealing with the almost certain outbreak of sectarian violence. I think Bush received very poor advice, and was ill served by many in whom he trusted. But, since President Bush was and is the Commander in Chief, the buck ultimately stops with him. I wish he would own up more specifically to the blunders that were made in pre war planning and in post invasion decisions.

Third, given time and reflection, and the wisdom of hindsight, I cannot say that I would now say that the invasion of Iraq was a wise course of action. There does not seem to have been the imminent threat to our security as there was in Afghanistan, and there does not seem to have been a clear strategy for post invasion realities. Perhaps we could have waited a year if it was a must do, in order to get our act together first. I think, ultimately, that we invaded the wrong county.

Fourth, though I think that the concept of spreading democracy is noble, I do not believe that it is very practical in the Muslim world. Islam is in many ways, unlike Christianity, inherently theocratic. The unique kind of integration of belief and practice in Islam simply does not encourage what we might call secular forms of government. Secularism is the great enemy of Islam, at least in its present manifestation. So I don’t see a growing impulse towards representative or parliamentary democracy. Frankly, I just don’t think we understand Islam very well.

Fifth, I do think that we have done much that is good, and that there is a gross underreporting of the good things happening on the ground. The media focuses on body count. But so many of our men and women have done and are doing good things in communities all across Iraq.

Sixth, I do not think that we can up and leave. The consequences of our leaving, now that we are there, now that we have deposed Saddam Hussein and unleashed the sectarian forces bubbling under the surface in the region, would be a nightmare. In the end I believe many more Americans would be killed, tens of thousands more Iraqis would be killed, and possibly general war in the region would break out in the vacuum we would leave behind. I think that the mostly Democratic calls for leaving amount to sheer madness. Whatever threats or concerns caused us to enter Iraq in the first place would pale in comparison to what will happen when we leave, if we do not figure out a way toward stability beforehand. We cannot betray the Iraqis who have helped us as we did those in Vietnam. We cannot leave those people to the ravages of the hell that will descend upon them. It’s bad now. It will be worse than terrible then. The global war of radical Islam against the west is real and will not abate because we leave Iraq, and Iraq will become the next safe haven for Al-Qaeda cells. Shoot, after Al-Qaeda wipes out their fellow Sunnis in battle for control of Sunni held territory, they might even invite Osama himself to come stay a while.

Seventh, I don’t see any easy pathway toward stability at present. Though it may be true on some level that a majority of the people in Iraq just want to live quiet lives in peace, the majority will not determine the future. There are so many different levels of conflict, and such deep hatred amongst Sunnis and Shiites, and such a warlord mentality amongst their clerics that I despair of seeing the way forward.

Eighth, it is going to require some sort of regional cooperation, and there just may be enough self interest in the leadership of surrounding countries to work towards something that is reasonably stable and does not provide a haven for terrorist training. We got into this mess going solo more or less; we’re not going to get out of it that way. But try as I may I do not yet see an answer – partitioning may be the inevitable solution but it is a solution that scares me to death.

Ninth, Iran now poses the greatest threat. Perhaps one virtue of our being in Iraq now is that we may be in a better position to do what I think is inevitable – and that is bomb Iran’s nuclear program into the dark ages. We cannot and must not allow Iran to go nuclear. Do we really believe that Iran would be restrained by some doctrine of MAD, and would not wipe Israel off the map, or take out her Sunni enemies across the Gulf? There is a madness to radical Islam, and we cannot expect a nuclear Iran to play by the unspoken rules of national self interest that has otherwise kept the world safe from nuclear holocaust.

Tenth, I think we have gotten ourselves into a true and bona fide mess with no easy out. Ultimately the people of Iraq will have to rise to the occasion, despite the crazed and power hungry clerics, despite Al Qaeda, despite the meddling of Iran, despite the Sunni-Shiite sectarianism. Right now I am not hopeful. I am left thinking that the only way out of this mess is a miracle – one that is not foreseen. We cannot make hope for miracle a basis of policy; neither should we put too much stock in our own wisdom. Praying people need to start praying if they have not started already. For it will take a wisdom and power not of this world to get us out of this one.

That’s where I am today. Not rosy I admit.

Photo of the Day - May 9, 2007 - Me and Aunt Evelyn

Yesterday I received some very sad news. My cousin Susan from LaGrange Georgia called to tell me that her mom, my Great-Aunt Evelyn, had died. The picture above was taken of me and Aunt Evelyn last summer, when my daughter Laurel and I visited Evelyn and her daughters and grandchildren in LaGrange Georgia on the way to Texas. Evelyn was the youngest sister of my grandmother "Nanny" (my dad's mother). I have many many pictures of Nanny on my Flickr site, and quite a few of Evelyn. Indeed, Evelyn was the last of Nanny's siblings. She hung in a long time. I had all but forgotten Aunt Evelyn until a few years ago. In fact, I had no idea she was still alive. But my siblings and I inherited a huge footlocker full of pictures from Nanny, which started me on a quest to figure out who was whom. In the process, using the internet and people search, I have managed to track down almost all of my extended family members who are still living. I took the footlocker of pictures down to LaGrange two years ago after I first found out Evelyn was still living. She helped me identify many of the people in the pictures - mostly on the "Andrews side." Aunt Evelyn was one of the sweetest and kind-spirited people I have known. It brought me great joy to rediscover her after all these years. Last time I saw her, when I left, I gave her a big hug and said "I love my Aunt Evelyn." And she said "I love my Joel." That trip last summer was the last time I was to see two dear family members - my Aunt Carolyn on my mother's side in Texas, and my Aunt Evelyn on my father's side in LaGrange. I am so glad I took the time and made the trip. I have one remaining blood aunt/uncle on either side left - my Uncle Karl in Sherman, Texas. I hope to see him this summer. Evelyn, I will miss you. Thanks for brightening my life with your sweet letters and kindness toward me these last two years.

Please feel free to explore my photostream here.


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 8, 2007 - Silhouette

This was one of those lucky "at the right place at the right time" sort of pictures. It captures my daughter Shannon's childhood personality in a way that a normal shot would not. Taken In Vancouver, 1987 or 1988, scanned from a print.

You are welcome to peruse my other photos here.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 5, 2007 - Vancouver Beach in Snow

I took this on a hike during my first tour of duty at Regent College Vancouver, 1980-81. This is a color picture! In Vancouver from November to April it is almost always raining or overcast, and everything seems and feels grey - just as in this picture. Sometimes it snows at sea level, though it is almost always snowing in the mountains north of the city, say from about 300 feet and up. You can tell that for example from this picture - a rare sunny winter day in Vancouver. But the summer and fall are worth the misery of the long, wet, and drab winter! I miss Vancouver! Oh, that structure in the background? That is a concrete observation tower and gunhouse left over from WW II. There are several along Wreck Beach. They are pretty cool. Oh, and another thing. This beach in the summer is a nudist beach - or it was back then. Didn't see many nudes the day I took this picture!

Feel free to explore my set of pictures called "Vancouver Days" here.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 4, 2007 - New England Flowers

I spoke yesterday about two New England trips I took while in college. I was so fortunate to be able to go to some very special places - the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the interior forests of Maine, and the beautiful coast of Maine, especially Acadia National Park, one of my favorite places in the world. I took a lot of pictures (slides) on those trips, though many on the first trip were ruined before they were developed. This is one picture I took somewhere in New Hampshire on the first trip in August 1976 that I took with a friend from Columbia, Theodore DuBose. This scene was near a trail head I think. I don't know why, but I always loved this shot. The flowers just seem so joyful to me. And that black beetle gives the photo an amost antique feel. Maybe one day I'll make it back there.

You can check out my photostream, including some newly posted pictures of our time in Vancouver, here.


PS - After church on Sunday several folks from our church are driving up to Hanging Rock State Park to hike the Moore's Knob Trail. I wrote about that trail the other day. Anybody interested in joining us? We'll be leaving Bur-Mil about 1:30 and will park our cars in the uppermost parking lot at Hanging Rock, near the lake and bathhouse.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 3, 2007 - At the Base of Mount Washington

When I was in college, like almost everybody else, when Spring term was over I went right home and started working. One year I drove a truck, another year I worked construction, another year I did landscaping. So I was able to put away some money for the next school year and ease the burden of student loans. But, I always rewarded myself with a trip. After my freshman year a friend and I did a two week camping, hiking, and driving New England tour. After my second year, four of us did a seven day bicycle tour through SC before our jobs started, and then, at the end of that summer five of us went on another New England tour, including New York City and Quebec. Here is a picture of the five of us just before we climbed Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Don't you just dig the hats - and the socks! Get out of town! Here's the caption I have written under the picture itself on the Flickr site:

Joel, Calvin, Skip, Matt, and Bill. In the summer of 1977 we took a two week escursion to New England in two cars barely able to make the trip. We were all from Columbia but mostly attending different colleges. I have not seen Skip, the guy in the middle, since then. Matt, the very handsome figure sitting highest, died a few years ago of a stroke. He was a great guy, and father, and husband, and really funny. We miss him. Calvin and Bill are brothers. Calvin was my best friend in high school and Bill and I roomed for one year at Clemson. The highlight of the trip was one night driving through the night from Quebec to Bar Harbor and having to stop for an enormous moose in the road who just stood and stared at us for the longest time before he moved. He was HUGE. And yes, we did climb Mount Washington, and I have the tee shirt to prove it! Took this with my Fujica on auto shutter - I am the one on the left.

Please feel to explore my photostream here.


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 2, 2007 - Moore's Wall Gorilla

This picture was taken later in the day from Hanging Rock proper, looking out across the park to Moore's Knob and Moore's Wall. I've focused this picture on the ape liek face on the east side of Moore's Wall.

The view from Hanging Rock is pretty awesome. But the view from Moore's knob is breathtaking. We're planning to hike up there Sunday after church if anyone is interested in joining us. I do recommend the Moore's Knob trail. It's the best trail, and best view, within an hour drive of Greensboro.

Moore’s Knob Trail at Hanging Rock State Park; A Review

Imagine sitting on a nice level rock on a sunny day on top of a small mountain, late in the afternoon (early fall or late Spring, take your pick) a cool breeze blowing against a body somewhat tired and sweaty from the climb up. So you pull the sweatshirt out of your pack, grab your water and high energy snack, and settle in. What a day!

You look downward to the north. The mountain falls off steeply into a rolling plain several hundred feet below. There are farms, fields, woods, including ribbon like stretches of dense woods winding from left to right, hiding, it seems, rivers or streams. There are some roads, and off and on the sounds of cars and trucks in the distance. Its fun to try to match sound with sight, to find the car or truck making the sound that you hear. Yes, way down there, off to the right, a little tiny car moves, so slowly it seems, down a narrow band of road. The view is beautiful, and interesting. Then your eye turns upward and beyond, past mile after mile of rolling field and forest to a steep wall of mountain set against the horizon, running southeast to northwest – the blue ridge escarpment! Somewhere up there is the blue ridge parkway, beckoning.

Then you turn your gaze to your left, westward. Below you, your eyes follow along a lovely rocky ridge of mountain, falling very sharply to the north, more gently to the south. Here and there you can get a glimpse of the trail you followed up to where you now sit. You look beyond, a little to the right, and there you see another mountain, Sauratown Mountain, and eastward again beyond that you see the very distinctive outline of Pilot Mountain. And looking even beyond Pilot Mountain, there is again that wall in the distance, the east wall of the Blue Ridge!

You turn your body, and your gaze, southward. Below you the forested parkland drops off into a wooded valley, and rises again quickly to Cooks Wall to the right and Wolf Rock to the left, and to trails to take on another day. You are just high enough above the ridge across the way to see beyond it, beyond to more rolling countryside with farm and field, and beyond more still – yes, there they are, the glistening buildings of Winston Salem, reflecting brightly off the descending sun. You you get out your binoculars, and you look beyond and little to the left of Winston Salem, and there they are, far in the distance, the Uwharrie Mountains!

Looking below into the wooded park valley, you can follow the creek line from right to left, down to its entrance into the lake. The creek is covered and surrounded by dark green rhododendron. You can see between the trees bits of the parking lot below where you parked your car. Then a little more to your left, and upward, you see the a craggy triangle of rock jutting out over the ridge below it – that is Hanging Rock, from which the park gets its name. It is further below you in altitude than you would have thought, and further away, and you follow the mountain behind it as it moves off to the south. You wonder who is sitting over there looking back at you!

Your eyes move to the horizon to left, to the southeast past Hanging Rock. Maybe, just maybe….You squint. Your eyes follow the horizon. Yes! There it is! Greensboro, way off into the distance, way past the huge smokestack of the Belews Creek Power Plant, and an hour’s drive away.

Your eye looks eastward through the tops of the trees ringing the peak where you sit, to more rolling countryside to your east. Somewhere down there is Danbury, and the Dan River.

Finally, your gaze turns to the east northeast – some more big hills and small mountains popping up. Is that Smith Mountain, Roanoke Mountain? Where is that map?

You have just taken in the panorama of perhaps the best single view from any peak in the Piedmont of the United States. You are on Moore’s Knob, at Hanging Rock State Park, North Carolina, part of the ancient Saura Mountains, about 2580 feet above sea level, and about 1700 feet above the forest below to your north!

You can leave Greensboro and get to Hanging Rock State Park within an hour (see directions below). Once at Hanging Rock, park in the lot nearest the lake bathhouse (the park road ends in this parking lot). The best way up to Moore’s Knob is the longest way up, the westward part of the Moore’s Knob loop. Parking at the beautiful bath house, you follow along behind the Bath House, paying attention to the signs for Moore’s Knob. Soon you are following the creek up the valley between the peaks of Hanging Rock State Park. The trail is narrow, and there is much undergrowth. Between Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and a few terrible freezing rain storms over the last decade, the trees have been decimated along the creek. And yet, with sunlight pouring down young saplings reach up everywhere. There are now taller than most people. The forest is being reclaimed, and it’s cool to see it changing year after year. A few good pines and oaks survived to your right on the south facing slope, but there are also many dead tree trunks, broken off at varying levels, providing homes, and food, for woodpeckers and other birds. On the trail the leaves brush against your legs. It feels remote, like a little used trail somewhere way up in the mountains of NC.

Soon the trail turns to the right, to the north, and grows steeper. After a short uphill it levels off again at the pass, where, if you took the Tory Den Trail to your left you would pass through the saddle to the west. But you head right, and upward, through a mixed pine and hardwood forest. After a good slog which really gets your heart pumping, you come to the top, to the ridge, where you turn right. It’s still a ways to Moore’s Knob, but what a treat, walking the ridge line, views to your left and right as the mountain falls sharply off on both sides. Little trail spurs take you to special spots with great views through the trees to the countryside or forest below. Now on the ridge line the wind has picked up as well. Trees seem stunted; there is an alpine feel. After another 30 minutes you wind your way to Moore’s Knob. And old forest service fire tower has been rebuilt as a viewing platform, and what a view it is – a true 360 degree panorama of the beautiful NC piedmont!

But you’re tired, so you come down off the platform, and find a nice rocky spot in the sun. You feel the sun on your face, and listen to the sounds.

Your eye catches a turkey vulture riding the wind, sailing along with what seems like great ease, hardly ever flapping his wings. Up close they’re nothing to write home about as far as looks go, but from a distance riding the currents they are beautiful to watch. Then you hear what you think at first is a crow, but it sounds different, deeper, harder. The you see it, a huge crow, no, too big for a crow, it’s a raven, a rare sight in the south, but not a rare sight at Moore’s Knob.

You feel energetic and decide to scramble around a bit. There is a nice rock jutting out just to the north, so you head over there. You explore. It’s a cool place.

Before the sun sets it’s time to head down. Staying on the loop you go down the steep trail that passes from the park campground to the top of Moore’s Knob. It’s very eroded, very rocky, quite steep, and hard on the knees, but in no time you’re down, crossing a creek, passing through the campground, and then down, down, down to the lake and, soon enough, to your car.

You’ve hiked over four miles, though it feels like more, with en elevation change of some 1700 feet. It’s been a great workout, and its time to drive home. A day well spent in piedmont North Carolina!

From Greensboro head north on Battleground Avenue (Highway 220), exiting off onto Highway 158 west to Stokesdale. Pass through both Stokesdale traffic lights. At the second light (there is a grocery store on your right) Highway 158 actually turns to the left, but just keep going straight through the light, which puts you onto Highway 65. Follow Highway 65 , crossing one arm of Belews Lake, and then another. Shortly after you pass Belews Creek Methodist Church on your left, turn right following the signs for Highway 65 which you will take all the way into Walnut Cove. Entering Walnut Cove, and just after the Hedgecock building supply on your right, cross the railroad tracks and then turn right onto Highway 311, which takes you due north through downtown Walnut Cove. Be careful not to speed. On the north end of Walnut Cove, Highway 311 turns off to your right, but don’t follow it. Stay on the road you’re on which becomes Highway 89 North, and which after a few miles joins with Highway 8 in the little community of Meadow, NC. Follow 89/8 into and through Danbury, county seat of Stokes County. You will pass the new county courthouse building and library on your right, and then see a hospital. The entrance to Hanging Rock State Park is to your left across the street from the hospital. Turn left, and just stay on this road, through the park gates and upwards into the park all the way to the end of this road which ends at the place you need to park to hike the Moore’s Knob loop.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Photo of the Day - May 1, 2007 - Red Clay Soil

When many folks think of the Piedmont region they think of the red clay soil. That which we know so well as “red clay soil” is generally what would have been the subsoil two hundred years ago, with much of the true top soil sadly having even eroded away by centuries of poor agricultural practices and top-soil stripping development.

The red clay soil gets its red color from iron oxide. Generally speaking this red clay soil is not laid down by sedimentation but rather built up gradually by break down of the rocks below, this broken down rock then by biological and physical forces getting incorporated into the soil above.

The reputation of the red clay sub soil as being either rock hard when dry or sticky and mucky when wet is well deserved. But the pain of working the red clay soil is somewhat rewarded by the fact that its small clay particles hold water and nutrients well, making the growth of plants easier than what might be expected. And thankfully, by adding lots of the right kinds of organic matter, a clayey loam can be built up over time that is quite manageable and good for gardening.

Some advice: don’t even think of enjoying gardening in this red clay brick/muck unless you have a good tiller.

For years I would get advertisements for those little baby tillers or “cultivators” made by Troy-Bilt or Honda or Mantis or whomever. I would look at them, think of our soil here, and laugh. Right, that little thing would break in five minutes faced with this red brick.

I was wrong. I needed a small tiller for a few small spaces. So one day I bought the Honda version. I am sure they all work just fine. Granted I first used it in soil that had been worked in the past, but it blitzed through it like a hot knife through butter. And though I would not advise doing this often, it will even cut through "virgin” untilled sod. I’ve done that in a couple of places too awkward for my big tiller.

Another thing: these small tillers are great when planting shrubs and perennials and bulbs as well as the yearly annual planting blitz in the spring. Even if you use a shovel or a bigger tiller for ground breaking, these little guys are perfect for mixing compost, manure, and our red soil all together. Just wait for a dry day. Truly, these little guys are regular blenders.

Another tiller tip: front tine tillers will beat you to a pulp here. I used one for several years. It was good exercise. But after a while it got old, and front tine they are always breaking, the belts coming off particularly. Put your money into a rear tine tiller, even if a smaller narrower one. The spaces they can’t get to, well, then you have the “cultivator” tiller for that.

In summary, this is not the coastal plain or the mountains. Good stuff grows out of this red clay, but it’s a royal pain without the right tools. Get the tools. You’ll enjoy years of fun gardening, and with all that gardening the money you put into the tillers will pay for itself in better health and fewer visits to the doctor.
Good gardening to you, mate!