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Wild Mushrooms

I’ve acquired some shiitake mushroom spawn and now I’m looking for the right log to inoculate so I can grow my own. On my way to the mailbox today, I spotted a pretty purple mushroom and wondered if it’s edible. That brought memories of collecting mushrooms in my grandmother’s cow pasture when I was a kid.

In late summer when the common field mushrooms (Agaricus campestris) began to pop out of the ground, my sisters and brothers and I would go out in the early morning and gather all we could find. There is no better cuisine than fresh mushrooms sautéed in Grandma’s butter and served hot for breakfast.

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Common Field Mushroom

I remember the cool of the August mornings, dew on the ground, tramping through the pasture while the cows were busy being milked. The mushrooms shone white among the greens of the grass and browns of the cow patties. Often they grew right next to, or in, the cow plops. That didn’t deter us country kids. We always washed the mushrooms when we got home. Sometimes they grew in broken fairy rings, created by the mycelium, the underground part of the plant, ever reaching outward to fertile ground.

fairy ring

Fairy Ring – I don’t know what species

When we gathered more than we could use, we’d package the excess and Grandma would take them town and sell them to her butter customers. That earned us a little spending money. I accompanied her one time. An old lady, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, delighted to get fresh wild mushrooms, peered at them carefully and said, “I’m glad the children know what to look for.”

Today, I’m amazed at her faith in us. Yes, we did know what to look for, but I, the oldest, was not more than twelve. By then I’d been collecting mushrooms for years. I don’t remember when I was first taught or by whom. Probably Dad, but it could have been Grandma, or both. My siblings and I knew the difference between the field mushroom, which is almost identical to the mushrooms sold in grocery stores, and the similar looking but deadly destroying angel (Amanita bisporigara). To us, the two were completely distinct, but a less savvy observer might not see the difference.

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Destroying Angel – Can you tell the difference?

This is why I don’t go mushrooming in Florida. The field mushroom doesn’t grow in this climate. Many other kinds do, but I’ve had no one to teach me. I collect and eat all kinds of wild foods, mostly greens, but I leave the mushrooms alone. I can identify weeds. If I’m not already familiar with a plant, there are books and the internet. I have cookbooks with recipes for wild foods and the website Eat the Weeds http://www.eattheweeds.com/  has a wealth of information. While this author, Green Deane, has information on wild mushrooms, he prefaces it with “Do not eat any mushroom without checking in person with a local, live, mushroom collector.” I take him seriously. On his mushroom page I see some that I’ve found growing in my woods, but I wouldn’t try them Continue Reading »

I Was There

Sometime in our lives, we have an experience that words are inadequate to describe. I had one on 8/21/17, the day of the Total Eclipse. It was my first. I’d missed every other solar eclipse in my life by being in the wrong place or because of cloudy weather. I wasn’t going to miss this one. But summers are so busy. I traveled through eight states in three weeks. Serendipitously, a library in West Virginia had free eclipse glasses. I picked up a pair.

On my way home, I checked for available campsites at my favorite state park in South Carolina. They were booked. I returned to Florida a week before the eclipse, having made no plans, and my van needed TLC before it could make another trip. Despair was not an option.

 

Not my van, but definitely my sentiment.

 

Fate began to smile. My mechanic made the critical repairs in a timely fashion. When I told him where I was going, he said, “You must really like to drive.”

“No. I just like to go places.”

South Carolina campgrounds were full, but what about Georgia? Only about 100 miles from Orangeburg, Magnolia Springs State Park still had vacancies! Instead of a grueling six hour drive to Orangeburg, I faced a four hour trip to Magnolia Springs, followed by only two hours the next day. I made reservations.

Sunday afternoon, I headed north. With no rangers on duty when I arrived, I chose a campsite and enjoyed my evening at the park. Bright and early Monday morning, I reported to the park office, but the staff wasn’t ready to do business yet. I told them I was going to South Carolina to watch the eclipse. “You registered online?” they said. “Then just go! You can do the paperwork when you come back.”

I drove through fog, optimistic the sky would clear. There was little traffic on US 301 although the interstates were jammed. I arrived in Orangeburg at 9:45 and found a shady parking spot at Edisto Memorial Gardens. With hours to spare, I walked around the Rose Garden and decided this was where I wanted to watch the eclipse. Workers were busy mowing and weeding. I thought, what a great job they had—being paid to experience the eclipse!

When I returned to the parking lot, it was full. I’d been wise to get an early start. Half the cars, it seemed, had Florida tags. I strolled through the Sensory Garden and rang the farm bell. Then I went down to the Azalea Garden, where other folks awaited the big event. From time to time, I heard the farm bell ring. Despite growing numbers, the atmosphere was peaceful, friendly, upbeat.

I asked those I encountered, “Where are you from?” Many were from Florida. A mother and daughter from Orlando had driven all night and slept at a rest stop in their Mini Cooper. A couple of ladies came up from Georgia. One couple was from Denver but had been vacationing at Hilton Head. Family members wore matching eclipse shirts. Some had brought their dogs. All races were represented, and many nationalities. I heard accents I could only dimly place, and one group spoke German.

Every so often, I put on my eclipse glasses and looked at the sun. It looked like an orange cookie. The sky cleared and clouded again. Some expressed concern that we wouldn’t be able to see anything (Oh you of little faith!) but others were, like me, optimistic that the weather would be kind.

I walked through a sunny area where families had set up canopies. As I approached a scattering of trees, someone called my name! Who here would know me? It was fellow writer Jessica Elkins and her husband. They’d stayed in a motel in Statesboro, Georgia and were enjoying a little picnic of fruit and cheese and crackers. I joined them.

About 1:30, people wearing eclipse glasses stood pointing at the sky. The sun looked like someone had taken a bite out of the orange cookie. Over the next several minutes, the bite grew larger. Then a cloud occluded the sun and we couldn’t see anything. The cloud gave us some relief from the heat, but many were anxious we’d miss the eclipse. I kept saying, “The cloud will move on and then the sky will clear.”

Eventually, that cloud moved, but another took its place! Blue sky lay all around, but that cloud seemed happy to stay put.

The weather was kind. After a very long 20 minutes, the cloud went away and the crowd went, “Ahhh!” The sun now looked like a crescent moon. The light around us was subdued, as though clouds still shaded the Earth. The crescent grew slimmer. Around 2:20, I took leave of my friends.

On the way to the Rose Garden, I passed a group of Seminole Indians who were drumming and chanting. The light continued to dim. I sat down on the ground in the middle of the Rose Garden.

Dusk is falling.

By 2:35, the sun was only a thin sliver and the air was noticeably cooler. Dusk had fallen. Then it grew dark. The crowd cheered. We clapped with excitement. We laughed with delight. The drummers increased the volume of their chant. I took off my eclipse glasses.

In the sky was a silver white ring—the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!

Streetlights came on. At 2:45, a band of sunlight appeared on the north side of the garden. The crowd went, “Ohhh!” I glanced up to see a tiny jewel of sunlight on the edge of the silver ring. It was time to put the eclipse glasses back on.

Pictures don’t do it justice. (Photo by Jake McElveen.)

Daylight returned. People stirred, their eyes lit with wonder, exclaiming, “Wow.” “Cool.” “Incredible.” As I made my way back to my friends, I encountered a phenomenon that wasn’t visible on the lawn of the Rose Garden. The asphalt was covered with little crescents of sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees, as though the image of the crescent sun had been shattered into a thousand pieces and  projected onto the ground. A stander-by said they’d been present before the totality, facing in a different direction.

A Thousand Crescent Suns

There were no strangers. Everyone was overcome with awe. One said, “There are no words to describe it.” Another, “Words are inadequate.” A lady said she now understood why people get addicted to solar eclipses and will go anywhere in the world to see them. I’d heard that the experience was a life-changing event. It’s true.

Jessica began to talk about the next one, in 2024, and said she intended to watch it. Yes, I thought, me, too. The wonderment buoyed me all the way back to my campsite. That night, all I could think about was that beautiful silver ring that was the sun. It still remains in my mind’s eye.

The next total eclipse in Florida is August 12, 2045. I’ll be…how old by then? In the meantime, there are others in parts of the world I have yet to visit. On April 8, 2024, less than seven years from now, a total eclipse will begin in Mexico, cross Texas and Arkansas (where I have family), the Midwest, and into western New York and New England.

Arkansas, 4-8-24, here I come!

CANEBRAKE

I was elated when the 2015 Bacopa Literary Review accepted this short story for publication. Now I want to share it with you. I hope you enjoy it. For more information on Bacopa, visit: http://writersalliance.org/bacopa-literary-review. You can order a copy of the 2015 issue through Amazon. It has more short stories as well as poetry and creative non-fiction. Happy reading!

Cattle Gap

Cattle Gap

Mario stepped off the school bus into the late August heat. “Remember, no TV till I get home,” Aunt Ginny, the driver, told him. “Make a sandwich and do your homework. I’ll be home in forty-five minutes.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Aunt Ginny was his foster mother, not his aunt, but he didn’t want to call her “Mama.” He had a mother. He’d just finished the first week of sixth grade, but he felt so lost. Changing classes was a new experience, and there were so many new faces. He wore nicer clothes than he used to, but old classmates still treated him with contempt.

He should have gone to middle school last year, but he had flunked fourth grade. Not because he was stupid. He’d missed too many days. Last year, he did better. He learned to get himself up in the morning, even if his mother overslept or wasn’t home. He missed his mother.

Mario checked the mail and found a letter from his father in California. “Dear Mario,” it began. “I hope this finds you well. I am quite good, as is Cissy, and the kids. The social worker was here today to do the house check. She said she saw no problem with you coming here. It will take awhile for the paperwork to get to Florida, so we have to be patient. I’m saving money for a plane ticket to come get you.”

A joyful bark interrupted him. Aunt Ginny’s dog Skeeter bounded down the driveway and knocked the letter from his hands. Skeeter always came to greet him. Mario wondered what Skeeter would do after he left. By then, there might be new foster children to greet.

“Hey, Skeeter,” Mario stuck the letter into his backpack to read later. He paused at the cattle gap. This was a relic from the days when the old place had been a farm. The cattle gap was a grate made from railroad rails laid horizontally across a small ditch. Cows would not venture to cross, but it was no barrier for vehicles and most boys.

The ditch held a little water from yesterday’s thunderstorm. It looked like a good place for snakes to hide. Aunt Ginny had warned him to beware of snakes. What he feared even more than snakes was slipping and falling between the rails. He gripped his backpack, inhaled deeply, and balanced on the first rail.  Safely across, he let his breath out. He had never lived in the country before, and there were so many things to worry about.

Aunt Ginny’s farm now grew pine trees. Halfway up the driveway, Skeeter started barking again and dove into the palmettos that grew among the trees. Mario heard a great thrashing noise. Something big was in there. What could it be? A bobcat? A coyote? What if it was a bear?

“Skeeter! Come back!” But Skeeter was too busy to obey.  Mario set his books down and followed. A fine net settled over his face and he cringed. He brushed and sputtered to get the cobweb off. He wiped his mouth with his shirttail and brushed frantically over his head and shoulders. Could the spider be on him? It would be one of those enormous yellow ones that spun great webs between the trees. Aunt Ginny hated them and killed any she found in her yard. So they hid in the woods to ensnare unsuspecting boys.

He stepped forward. Skeeter stopped barking. Mario eyes darted around and looked down. Skeeter sniffed at a large gopher tortoise which tried to run from him. Its short legs flailed against a palmetto frond, which rattled against its neighbors, creating a noise way out of proportion to the size of the creature.

Mario let out a nervous laugh. “All this fuss over a little ole turtle!” He poked it with a stick and watched the gopher’s head and limbs draw into its shell. Maybe this would make a good pet. He carried it to the house, found an old washtub, and filled a dish with water. He’d ask Aunt Ginny what they ate. He never had a pet before.

Mario went back for his backpack and let himself into the house. He fixed a sandwich and poured a glass of iced tea before settling down at the kitchen table with his homework. Then he remembered his father’s letter. “I’m so looking forward to seeing you again. It’s been so long. You must be nearly a man by now.” His mother had called him her “little man.” He had taken care of her when she couldn’t take care of herself. After they put him in foster care, everyone treated him like a child. His first foster parents even made him go to day care. Aunt Ginny wasn’t so bad. She fussed over him, but she also gave him independence.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been more of a father to you,” the letter went on. “I didn’t know how things were with your mother.” Mario winced. He didn’t like people saying things about his mother. “You see, after we split up, every time I went to see you, we’d fight so bad, I thought it was best to just stay away. I thought sending money every month was enough.” Mario had not been aware of any money. His mother said his father was dead. He had a vague memory of a man arguing with his mother, but he was not sure if that had been his father or a stepfather.

His musings were interrupted by Skeeter’s frantic barking. Mario rushed out. There was a new noise, an intense buzzing, like that of a windup toy out of control. And there, on the ground, not two yards from Skeeter’s nose, was a coiled rattlesnake.

He dared not panic. He called Skeeter, who only kept barking and circling the snake, keeping a distance of four or five feet between them. What should he do? Call for help? But Skeeter could be dead before it arrived. His pounding heart drowned out the sounds of both snake and dog. Mario crept up behind Skeeter and grabbed his collar. He dragged him up the steps and through the front door. Skeeter was an outside dog and Aunt Ginny didn’t let him into the house, but this was an exception.

After the rattling noise ceased, Mario looked out and saw the snake crawling across the yard toward the back of the house. What if it got in the house? He ran to the shed and found a hoe. He tried to sneak up on the snake, but it turned back toward him and started to coil. Mario raised the hoe as high as he could and brought it down onto the snake’s neck with enough force to drive it into the ground. The body twisted every which way, but its neck was broken. Mario chopped with the hoe until he severed the head from the body. He trembled back to the porch and collapsed on the steps.

Then he remembered Skeeter and let him out. Skeeter immediately returned to the snake, but when it didn’t react to his barking, he began to sniff. Mario jumped to his feet. Maybe it couldn’t bite, but it still had venom on its fangs. He scooped up the head with the hoe and buried it in the garden. Only now did he examine the body. He’d never seen a real rattlesnake before and didn’t know they were so pretty. This one had diamond-shaped markings on reddish skin. He had seen belts and hat bands made from snake skins. The body was thicker than his arm and might be enough for more than one belt.

Warily, he picked it up. The skin was not slimy, but smooth and cool, like glass. Mario carried it to the back porch and got a knife from the kitchen. Although he had never skinned anything before, he’d seen it done. He cut off the rattle and put it in his pocket. Then he carefully separated the skin from the carcass, which he buried in the garden. He stretched the skin on an old board and nailed it down.

Only then did he truly appreciate his feat. The snake had been as long as he was tall. He shook the rattle in his pocket. Now he knew what a rattlesnake sounds like. The deadly creature could have killed him, but he had killed it. He marveled at how easy it was to kill. He stood up straight. Perhaps he was a man after all.

Suddenly, he heard the school bus out on the road. He put the skin and the tools in the shed and hosed off the back porch. The bus turned into the driveway. He washed the knife and put it away. He slipped into a chair and opened a book as the bus came to a stop in the yard.

A few minutes later, he heard Aunt Ginny say, “What’s this?” He had forgotten all about the turtle.

“I found him in the woods. Can I keep him for a pet? Do you know what they eat?”

She shook her head. “No, you can’t keep him. They’re an endangered species. The game warden’d throw us both in jail. You need to let him go. He’ll find food in the woods.”

Disappointed, Mario hopped off the porch. The motion jiggled the rattle in his pocket. Aunt Ginny perked up as though listening, but when she heard nothing more, she went inside. Mario carried the turtle with one arm and held his other hand over the pocket to keep the rattle quiet. After he released the gopher, he returned to the house and found Aunt Ginny brushing paw prints off the living room couch.

“What was Skeeter doin’ in the house?”

“Uh, there was a rattlesnake in the yard. I didn’t want him to get bit.”

“You left it alone, I hope.”

Mario couldn’t lie to her. His hesitation told on him.

“Empty your pockets,” she directed.

He had no choice but to show her the rattle. Her eyes bulged.

“Where’s the rest of it?”

“In the shed.” He told her the whole story.

“I don’t think it’d come into the house. It was just trying to get under the house where it’s cool.” When Aunt Ginny saw the size of the skin, she clutched her chest and hollered, “Holy Jesus! Snake that big could kill you!”

“Yes ma’am.”

“It’s a canebrake rattler. That’s why it’s so red. They don’t usually bother anybody. They usually just run away.”

“But it was trying to bite Skeeter.”

“Only because he was harassing it.  If you see another one, you and Skeeter stay in the house till I come home. Promise?”

“Yes ma’am.” He felt like a child again. He looked down at his feet.

Aunt Ginny put an arm around his shoulders. “Was you scared?”

“No ma’am. Well, maybe. I guess. I was afraid for Skeeter.”

“You were very brave to protect Skeeter. I’m proud of you for that.” Then she turned him to face her and put a hand on each shoulder. “But from now on, leave snakes alone. I can’t have a foster child bit by a poisonous snake.”

“Yes ma’am.” When he looked into her eyes, they were twinkling.

“What do you plan to do with that?” She meant the canebrake skin.

“Can I take it to California with me?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“What do you think my dad will say?”

Aunt Ginny smiled. “I think he will be very proud of you.”

Getting There

Four sisters traveling to Djibouti—just getting there was an adventure! Sue, Nita, and I and converged on Jen’s house to spend the night. We packed her son Johnny’s car with our seven suitcases and several carry-ons. By some miracle there was still room for us. No, we’re not teenagers who need that much luggage. We were taking things to Lorraine and John that can’t be bought in Djibouti.

Jen’s and Nita’s kids came by to see us off. We were flying Emirates Airlines and had reserved seats together. My nephew Teddy looked at the four of us and said he felt sorry for the flight attendants. Someone else said they’d pray for us, then Teddy said, “I’m going to pray for Africa!”

We went to bed at 9:30, got up at 2:30 am, and Johnny drove us to the Orlando Airport, arriving about 4:30. This was during the government shutdown and TSA staff were working without pay. Still, they were courteous. We went through security without a hitch and the two hour flight to JFK was unremarkable.

Airlines care about physical fitness. You fly into one terminal and have to walk to the opposite end of the airport, hauling luggage, for your connecting flight. On the way, we saw Manhattan from the windows.

Grainy picture, but taken through the window.

Security was tighter at JFK and the staff not as friendly. Since we’d already gone through security, I thought we were good for the entire trip. Not so. Apparently we’d passed through a public area and had to go through again. This time we had to take off our shoes and be x-rayed. I left my laptop in its case, as I had in Orlando, and because of that they searched my stuff, and not just the laptop case. They also searched Nita’s luggage because she had a large tube of toothpaste, which they confiscated. She was mad. She’d bought it just for the trip. (Have little old ladies been blowing up airplanes with laptops and toothpaste?)

While still tied up at security, they announced our plane was being boarded. Sue rushed to the gate, put her hands on her hips, and said, “I’m not leaving without my sisters!” They held the plane for us. (Actually, many passengers were delayed at security.)

After the ticket desk, we followed a long hallway to a boarding bridge. However, the entrance was closed off—that was the bridge for first class. It was an Airbus A380, a double-decker, the world’s largest passenger plane. We had to go downstairs for our bridge.

Our plane, with a boarding bridge.

The plane was too big for one photo.

First class bridge is at left.

I swear, every time I fly, they’ve moved the seats closer together. Once you’re tucked in, you can’t move. Men stick their legs out into the aisle because they won’t fit under the seat in front. To get to the restroom, you have to step over their legs. Whoever advises getting up and walking on long flights has never tried it. Inevitably, when you go toward the back of the plane, someone is trying to walk to the front. In order to pass each other, one of you nearly sits on an aisle passenger’s lap to make room for the other to get by.

On the positive side, everyone was polite, especially considering the crowded conditions and the variety of cultures and nationalities on the plane. Several families had children who did remarkably well on the long flight. I got a good impression of Emirates Airlines. Staff was courteous, and I like their uniforms.

Emirates staff. (From Pinterest.)

In the rear, near the bathrooms, was a flight of stairs winding up to first class. I so wanted to go up and just take a peek, but that was forbidden to us peons. Instead, I put one foot on the bottom step to do leg stretches, easier than walking and probably more beneficial. Here’s a video that shows first class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0P9a0KfONrU

Lunch was good. I chose the ethnic option: bean salad, palak paneer (curried spinach and cottage cheese), coriander rice, dal Bukhara (black lentils with tomato sauce), and custard mousse with strawberries for dessert. To my surprise, despite the UAE being a Muslim country, they serve alcohol on their planes.

We had the middle four seats in row 73. No windows, but each seat had a screen with several features. Cameras gave us views ahead, behind, and below the plane, as long as there was visibility. I watched a movie but fell asleep and missed much of it.

The map was also in English, but I like the writing.

I enjoyed the map. About 4 pm EST we were over Ireland, 4:39 Britain, 5:20 Germany, 5:53 Czech Republic, 6:45 Hungary, 7:30 Black Sea, 7:48 Turkey, 8:55 Iraq, 9:50 Kuwait, and 10 pm EST the Arabian Gulf. We arrived in Dubai about 8 am local time (midnight EST).

Dubai as seen thought the plane’s camera.

World’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa in the distance.

The Dubai airport is huge and spread out. It seemed bigger than JFK, and they’re still building. A guy with a cart picked us up and took us to Departures. He drove fast, tooting his horn when people didn’t get out of his way. It’s a wonder he didn’t run over someone. We had to go through security again, but it was a piece of cake compared to JFK. Then another long walk took us to a bus to our next terminal. I swear the bus circled the airport more than once. It took so long, fellow riders were worried they’d miss their connecting flight. When we finally got there, we had to go through security, again (4th time!). Then another long walk to our gate.

Dubai is a global crossroad: Arabs, Indians, Sikhs, Africans, and Europeans were waiting for planes. Some Muslim women were fully covered. I was impressed by the tolerance of other cultures people exhibited.

On the plane to Djibouti, Sue struck up a conversation with a blonde, blue-eyed young man from Utah, one of a group of students from NY University who were studying refugee issues. They were headed to a Yemini refugee camp in Djibouti. Here was another culturally mixed group, including a Pakistani girl who spoke perfect English and wore a hajib.

First view of Djibouti. (I don’t know where the water came from.)

We arrived in Djibouti about 3 pm local time (7 am EST). I still wore winter clothes and couldn’t wait to get out of them. Visas cost $150 (cash). The police spoke just enough English to confuse us. We waited in line, then spoke to an officer who took our pictures and directed us across the lobby to another line. The girl behind me was from Beijing. She’d come here to work as an accountant. Finally, another officer took our money, photographed us again, and issued Visas.

Then the baggage claim. A group of guys had all our luggage together and demanded to be paid. A French woman said we shouldn’t pay them up front and suggested we give them 12 Djibouti Francs for the four of us. The bags had to go through security again, and a woman opened and rifled through some of them. What did she think we were smuggling into Djibouti? I bet she just wanted to see our stuff.

Once through Immigration, we paid our porters. One accepted the money, then the others held their hands out. Lorraine to the rescue. She told them in Somali they needed to share the money.

At last, we loaded our luggage on a truck John had borrowed and went to their house where supper was awaited.

Stay tuned.

 

Djibouti

In January, three of my sisters and I traveled to Djibouti where our sister Lorraine and her husband John live. If you got past the title (What’s a Djibouti?) you know it is a place. The next question, “Where in the world is Djibouti?”

Djibouti is a tiny country of fewer than one million people in the horn of Africa. The horn is that part of East Africa that juts out into the Arabian Sea and looks like a rhinoceros horn. Djibouti is about the size of New Jersey in area and is sandwiched among Eritrea on the north, Ethiopia on the west, and Somalia on the south. To the east is the Gulf of Aden and to the northeast is the Red Sea. Across the Bal el Mandeb (Strait of Aden), Yemen, on the Arabian Peninsula, points right at Djibouti.

See the “horn” just south of Djibouti?

Why would anyone go to Djibouti? A good reason is to visit family, if you’re lucky enough to have relatives there. Another reason is that Djibouti is an amazing place. In 2004, I spent three weeks there and fell in love with the country. However, my first impression, coming from a land of green forests, was that Djibouti is drab, ugly. The landscape was predominately brown and black, very little color and almost no vegetation. After all, it’s a desert.

Not a good first impression, it it?

It didn’t take long, however, for the dust to clear from my eyes and I could see the beauty of the desert, the blue seas, the volcanoes, and the breathtaking mountains. I looked forward to another visit.

This is much better..

Back then, Lorraine had three boys in school and a baby daughter, so she didn’t work outside the home. Most days were centered around domestic life, which in Djibouti is an adventure in itself. I accompanied Lorraine to the market and we visited her friends. Somali ladies invited us to a dinner of ethnic food and an Ethiopian friend showed us how she made injera, flatbread baked on a griddle like a pancake. Days that John didn’t have to work, we went sightseeing.

This time, with the boys grown and out of the house and Sadie at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, we got out and mingled more with the populace. I learned to appreciate the people of Djibouti. Getting to know its people is the best way to explore a country. It’s not easy when you don’t understand the language and few people speak English. Fortunately, Lorraine is fluent in several languages, including two of Djibouti’s official languages, French and Somali. (The other two are Afar and Arabian.)

Modern Djibouti

Djibouti is as old as Africa, but in modern terms it’s a very young country, having gained independence in 1977. In the distant past, the area we call Djibouti was part of ancient empires and sultanates. In the 1800’s, Europeans invaded most of the Middle East and Africa and carved out colonies without regard to cultures or tribal territories. I suspect that most of the unrest in this part of the world today could have been avoided if the Europeans had respected these boundaries and not split up ethnic groups into different political entities. But they didn’t ask me.

Djibouti is fortunate to have peace among its peoples. The southern part of the country is mostly Somali and speaks that language. The northern part is Afar, and there are also many Ethiopians who call Djibouti home. Because of the troubles in the surrounding countries, Djibouti is a haven for refugees. The civil war in Yemen has driven thousands to tiny Djibouti. Many of these live in a refugee camp in the northern part of the country, but others have settled in the city.

In a country that is mostly desert, what do people do for a living? Djibouti has a port, which is the major employer. Landlocked Ethiopia depends on this port for most of its imports and exports.

The Port

The next largest source of jobs is the military. Not Djibouti’s, although they have one. France, Italy, China, Japan, and the US all have military bases. I have no pictures of these bases. We were cautioned not to try to photograph them. The Chinese have more than a military presence here. They built a railway from the Djibouti city to Addis Abba, Ethiopia. At their railway station, we asked at the gate if we could take pictures and the guard said no. I don’t understand the reason for this. Do they think that little old ladies from America are in cahoots with terrorists?

We had a little excitement when John took us around town and drove by the American Embassy. Nita took a picture of it. Why not? It’s our embassy. Before we’d circled half the block, we were surrounded by police cars! It was forbidden to photograph the embassy. One officer demanded our cameras and deleted the offending pictures from Nita’s. I hadn’t taken a picture, but I let him see my camera anyway. The last photo I’d taken was of a garbage truck. I’ll never forget the puzzled look on his face.

American Embassy in Djibouti.

We didn’t take this picture. I found it on the internet. Go Figure!

Djibouti has another, very ancient industry, probably the only natural resource—salt. Lac Assal, the salt lake, is some 500 feet below sea level, the lowest point in Africa. The lake was formed by volcanic eruptions which cut off its outlet to the sea. The salinity is ten times that of the ocean and the salt is up to 200 feet deep. For centuries, the Afar people have mined this salt and exported it by caravans.

In 2004, when we visited Lac Assal, we innocently began to harvest salt. Several Afar men approached us. We didn’t speak Afar, but they spoke enough French for Lorraine to figure out why they were upset. They had the concession on the salt and wanted us to pay for what we were taking. Their price was negligible, so to keep the peace, we paid. Today, the Chinese have an arrangement with the Djibouti government to mine and export salt. For my part, I’d rather see the profit go to the Afars.

Chinese salt works

I’ve been amazed at the number of people who live in the desert. In the middle of nowhere, you’ll come across a herd of goats, and camels have free range. What do these animals eat? Thorn trees and other desert flora. Little else grows here.

Camel eating leaves of a thorn tree,

Stay tuned. In the following weeks, I’ll chronicle our adventures and misadventures in this fascinating country.

Bah! Humbug!

Time was, the Christmas season began after Thanksgiving. Macy’s Parade signaled the beginning. The next day, Christmas decorations went up, people began to shop and send out cards, and I would start making fruitcake. We had a festive month, full of good cheer, leading to the most magical day of the year. Those were the good old days.

At some point came Christmas in July. At least it didn’t detract from the true season. Then, almost unnoticed, an insidious malady began to invade our lives. Stores started to put out Christmas items before Thanksgiving. Black Friday became a day, not just to shop, but to storm retail outlets like hordes of anarchists. (Does “Black” refer to bruises?)

In recent years, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. Is it stress—gifts to buy and wrap, plans to make, goodies to bake, the flurry of so much to do? Or is it the darkness of days growing ever shorter? But it’s always been that way. What changed?

Year after year, the commercial Christmas season inches up the calendar. Stores began to put out their tinsel in mid-November, then earlier, and earlier. Unsold Halloween candy is whisked off the shelves, to be replaced with Christmas stuff overnight.

When I give magazine subscriptions as Christmas gifts, come February, I get notices that it’s time to renew. Really? Two months after I bought them? The notices stop for a while, then pick up again in early fall, week after week, bugging me to renew NOW.

Last year before Thanksgiving, employees at Walmart were wearing Santa caps and reindeer antlers! “Bah! Humbug!” I said to one.

“I agree,” he said. “But they make us wear them.”

This year came the coup d’état. BEFORE Halloween, red and green shared store shelves with orange and black. I beat a hasty retreat, preferring to do without than be accosted by a too-early Christmas.

I spent Thanksgiving in Arkansas. That morning, my mother and I watched the Macy’s Parade on TV, the first time I’d seen it in years. Back in the day, the floats, balloons, and marching bands were the focus of the broadcast, with announcers quietly telling the audience what we were watching. This time, celebrities hogged the camera, gossiping with each other, occasionally referring to the floats and balloons in the background. What a disappointment!

I got home in time for Hanukkah and lit candles every night, which was comforting, but the Christmas spirit continued to elude me. My Christmas cards stayed in the attic. I put up no decorations, baked no fruitcake. The magazines sent threatening notices. December crept by. I was turning into Scrooge.

Was I to be visited by three spirits? As if in answer, a distant memory from elementary school crept into my conscious mind. I had been cast as Tiny Tim in our Christmas play because I was the smallest child in the class. I tucked my hair up under my cap, leaned on a crutch, and delivered my one line, “God bless us, every one!”

Well, Christmas was coming whether I wanted it to or not. I half-heartedly began to make preparations.

With the Winter Solstice, I had an epiphany. The pressure to begin the Christmas season earlier and earlier each year had the effect of shutting down my enjoyment. I resisted getting the spirit too early. Once past Thanksgiving, my suppressed enthusiasm remained bottled up. Do the retailers realize what they do to people when they try to cram Christmas down our throats in October?

I needed a visit from the Spirit of Christmas Present. It came in the form of my Christmas cactus. Eleven months of the year, this plant fades into the background. All summer, it sits quietly outside in the shade, getting water when it rains, demanding nothing. All it asks of me is to bring it indoors when frost threatens. Suddenly, it burst into bloom!

The days grew longer and brighter. I came out of my hole. I made lists and went shopping. The Christmas displays no longer offended me. I renewed magazine subscriptions. Baking fruitcake for friends and relatives and cookies for my grandchildren further bolstered my mood. I started wearing my poinsettia earrings and tacky shirts decorated with bells and holly, and listening to holiday music. I put up a tree.

What about the Spirit of Christmas Future? I’ve made an early New Year’s resolution. Next year I won’t let the humbugs spoil Christmas for me. I’ll stroll through unseasonably decorated stores with an air of detachment. The day after Thanksgiving—you won’t find me at the mall!—I’ll be in my kitchen baking fruitcake.

In the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, every one!”

(If you want my fruitcake recipe, you’ll find it here.)

Merry Christmas!

In Michael’s Wake

On my way to Arkansas for Thanksgiving, I drove through Albany, Georgia, which lay in the path Hurricane Michael had taken only a few weeks before. Although Albany is a hundred miles inland, I saw fallen trees, blue tarps on roofs, and mobile homes that had been destroyed. This is pecan country, and many orchards had lost trees, especially the more mature ones.

When I reached my brother’s home in Alabama, I told him what I’d observed. A pecan farmer himself, he was aware of the destruction. He said that some orchards were so badly damaged, they would not be replanted. Pecan trees take years to mature enough to be productive. Many of the farmers are up in age and have no heirs who are interested in farming.

I thought of the orange groves in Florida. At one time, Highway 27, which takes you through the middle of the peninsula, was a picturesque drive through mile after mile of orange groves. Then came the freeze of 1988 which brought arctic air down into tropical South Florida. Orange trees can’t take such temperatures. All that was left were hills covered with brown stumps. Most groves were not replanted. The scenic countryside was carved up into housing developments, acre after acre of concrete block, cookie cutter homes. I’m sure this brought instant wealth to the former grove owners, but the beautiful scenery had been spoiled. If the orange trees had been replanted, they would have been producing for many years by now.

Chipola River Park, November 2017

After Thanksgiving, I took a more southerly route home, following Route 20 through the forests of Florida’s panhandle. My first clue that I was approaching Michael’s wake was road crews cutting up and removing tree trunks alongside the road. Then I entered Bay County, which had been hit directly by the Category 4 storm.

I had seen pictures of Michael’s destruction: debris everywhere, houses leveled, people left homeless and destitute, but I didn’t take the coastal route to witness this for myself. For one thing, I was anxious to get home. For another, curiosity seekers only get in the way of recovery efforts. Twenty or so miles inland, there was more than enough for me to see.

Picnic area

 

 

Hurricanes being circular, their winds can come from any direction depending on where you are in relation to the eye. The west side of the storm is the worst. Winds up to 155 mph had slammed into the woodlands from the north, laying trees down in a southerly direction. Entire stands of forest were leveled, trees broken off or uprooted. I can only imagine the condition of the highway immediately after the storm. Weeks later it was still lined with piles of wood and branches, twisted pieces of metal roofing, mangled insulation, and other barely recognizable wreckage. How much time and effort went into clearing the roadway so help could come to survivors?

It was like this everywhere.

Some houses were damaged beyond hope. Many were roofed with blue tarps. A few homeowners had brought in sheds to use as temporary residences. Too many people had been displaced. They had nowhere else to go.

New home for Hurricane Michael victims.

As I approached the Chipola River, the destruction became personal. On the bank is a wayside park with a boat ramp. Whenever I travel this route, I stop to use the restroom and stretch my legs. I’ve walked along the river bank, taking pictures of flowers. In the wetland between the river and the picnic grounds, were ancient trees that I’ve photographed. The park is a friendly place where other travelers stop to rest and fishermen launch their boats. The last time I was there, a family with young children parked next to me after they pulled their boat out of the water.

Chipola River, November 2017

This time I hardly recognized the place. The formerly shady picnic grounds were buried beneath a tangle of ruined trees. The driveway and parking lot had been cleared enough for me to drive in, with caution, but I was the only visitor. The river was high, several feet above the boat ramp, and fishermen couldn’t put in, if indeed they had time to spare from repairing their homes. I couldn’t stroll along the river bank. Instead, I picked my way through the park, mourning the lost trees.

Boat ramp November 2018.

Millions of acres of forest in the Florida Panhandle were seriously damaged by Michael. The economic loss in timber alone is estimated at over a billion dollars. This doesn’t include the loss of jobs, property, and other considerations. Some stands were owned by individuals who were counting on the sale of their timber for retirement. What will they do now?

 

My Garden Club collects loose change at every meeting which we donate to Penny Pines, a project of National Garden Clubs and other organizations. Every $68 we collect is used to replant an area of National Forest that has been destroyed by fire, disease, or other catastrophe. It looks like we have our work cut out for us.

Several miles down the road, I crossed the Apalachicola River into Bristol. Along the way I’d seen signs telling survivors where they could obtain hurricane relief. When I saw crowds in the town’s parking lots, I thought at first that was what they were doing, but as I drove along, it became apparent something else was happening. Families lined the street as though waiting for a parade. A Christmas parade?

Two thoughts crossed my mind. I was glad to get through town before the street was closed. More important, I was touched to see these folks celebrating despite all they had suffered in the past two months. The human spirit is indomitable. Maybe I should have stayed to watch the parade.

Resurrection Fern survives–a sign of hope?

Many years ago, when my oldest son moved to Raleigh, I began making frequent trips north to visit his family. On my first sojourn, somewhere in South Carolina, I noticed an expanse of roses to my left. It must be a plant nursery, I thought.

Then he relocated to West Virginia and my daughter moved to Virginia. Although I vary my itinerary, I often travel on US 301, which takes me to Orangeburg, SC, where the roses bloom. From there I can take 601 north to Virginia, or branch off onto another highway to other destinations.

I passed by those roses few times before I realized it was not a nursery but a garden, so I stopped to check it out. To my surprise, it was open to the public, with no gates and no admission fee. I pulled into the parking lot and crossed the street to smell the roses.

But there was much more. Wandering about, I found more parkland with ponds, shady acres with azaleas, and a boardwalk through wetlands by the Edisto River.

I had discovered Edisto Memorial Gardens in Orangeburg, SC.

My research tells me that this beautiful garden was once a dump. In the 1920’s, it was converted to a park, with azaleas, and later, roses.

When traveling, I’m always on the lookout for good, safe places to stop and stretch my legs. This has become one of my favorites. I rarely travel through South Carolina without stopping to smell the roses. Last year, this is where I went to watch my first Solar Eclipse, from the Rose Garden, of course.

As you turn off 301, at the entrance is the Veterans Memorial Park, honoring local veterans from every war since the American Revolution. Then you pass a beautiful fountain, also dedicated to veterans.

Veteran’s Fountain

I usually park in the shaded parking lot up on the hill and visit the Sensory Garden first. Then I walk through the log cabin which was the original park office. A few years ago I was dismayed to see the rustic building being replaced by a new one. I later learned that the original had caught fire and burned. I’m sure the people of Orangeburg were as devastated by this loss as I was, so they rebuilt it.

Restoration of Original Park Office

From there I descend to the shaded area with banks of azaleas. I haven’t visited when they’re in bloom. Beautiful in any season, they must put on quite a show in early spring.

The Rose Garden is the largest and most impressive I’ve ever seen. The city hosts a Festival of Roses in early May. The roses are at their best in spring and early summer, but something is blooming throughout the year. I can’t resist going from bed to bed, enjoying the scents, and taking more pictures than I can ever use.

Sculpture by Zan Wells

In the Rose Garden, a bronze child hands a flower to a lady. By one of the ponds, three bronze children fish and feed the ducks.

A half mile long boardwalk follows the Edisto River through the Horne Wetlands Park. Shady and peaceful, I’ve never encountered a mosquito problem there. The river is swift and dark. I’ve read that it’s the longest blackwater river in the world. Blackwater rivers flow through forested swamps or wetlands. The water is clear, but the color of tea, stained with tannins from decaying vegetation. These rivers have a certain charm and can be quite lovely.

Edisto River

Nearby is a butterfly garden and open lawns with ponds, one of which sports a fountain. There always seem to be ducks and other bird species which change with the seasons. You’ll find turtles in the waters.

Making Memories by Zan Wells

Depending on how much time I have, I may not walk the entire park, which is about 175 acres. Near the Original Park Office, there is a small Meditation Garden and the Angel Garden, a shrine to deceased children. Beyond that is a sunny area with a fountain, the Centennial Park.

Angel Garden

Although I seldom leave the Sunshine State in winter, I visited Raleigh one December, stopping by the Gardens, of course. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, the city offers an impressive display of Christmas lights, the Children’s Garden Christmas. I managed to be in Orangeburg after dark on that trip to enjoy the sight. Thousands of lights line the street through the park, with Santa and his elves, a train, a Nativity Scene, and many other things to delight children. The child in me was enchanted.

I stopped again this summer, as usual. This time, I walked by a date palm I hadn’t noticed before. What caught my eye was the ripe dates, so ripe they were falling from the tree. Apparently other people don’t know they’re edible. They’re delicious. I picked a bowlful to take with me.

Date Palm

Unfortunately, the boardwalk was closed and parts of lower areas were flooded. Mother Nature, usually kind to the Gardens, does not always spare them. Floods, frosts, and hurricanes have taken their toll in recent years. As a gardener, I also see signs of neglect. The Sensory Garden, designed for the blind, has a farm bell and water features for sound. Unfortunately, many of the scented plants have died and not been replaced. I have resisted the urge to pull weeds, as this is not my garden. Or is it? Would anyone object if I claimed temporary ownership when I stop to visit?

When Hurricane Florence threatened the Carolinas in September, I prayed that the Gardens would be protected. I watched the storm track veer a little farther north, where Florence spent most of her fury on other communities. And, I fear, on other gardens.

Then in October, Michael threw a left hook to the same battered states. He spawned three tornadoes in Orangeburg County, but they seem to have spared the Gardens. I can’t wait to get back to see for myself how well the Gardens weathered the storms.

My garden club is planning a city park on not quite so grand a scale. I’m taking lessons on the prospects and pitfalls of a public garden and Edisto has taught me much. Someday our local park may be a haven for weary travelers. I doubt we’ll have roses, at least not as many as Edisto has, but we’ll offer other pleasures to delight the senses.

Three times within one week I heard this phrase, or a version of it. That was over a year ago. Since then, this message keeps parting the clouds of gloom and doom that hang over us these days. I can no longer ignore it.

The first time I heard it was in an interview with Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of Charles Lindbergh, who made the first solo airplane flight from New York to Paris in 1927. A day or two after this interview, scientists announced the discovery of seven earth-like planets around a star only 40 light years away. Then at a solar energy meeting, the sentiment was repeated: this is a good time to be alive.

My father was a baby at the time of Lindbergh’s flight, but he didn’t escape the hero worship given to “Lucky Lindy.” To hear Dad talk, you’d think he personally witnessed the historic flight. His grandfather, my Grandad, was so inspired that when he sold a few building lots on the edge of his farm, he named the lane that led to them Lindberg Street.

Lindbergh’s plane

Charles Lindbergh’s flight was an attempt to claim the Orteig Prize. In 1919, Raymond Orteig offered a prize of $25,000 to the first person to make a successful solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Several aviators died in the attempt and Charles’ struggle to get financial backing was almost as difficult as the flight itself. In a world on the edge of economic collapse, teetering between two destructive world wars, Lindbergh’s flight was a bright spot in people’s lives.

Seventy five years later, Erik Lindbergh retraced his grandfather’s route, but in a modern plane with all the bells and whistles the Spirit of St. Louis lacked. He was also involved with the Ansari X Prize that awarded $10 million to the first non-governmental outfit to develop a manned, reusable spacecraft. In his interview, Erik discussed breakthrough technology in aviation, including electric and ecologically sustainable airplanes. He said it’s a good time to be alive. I was inspired.

The scientists discussing new exoplanets weren’t talking about manned flights to them, not anytime soon, but about the advances in telescopes and other technology that will lead to more exciting discoveries in the near future. They said it’s a good time to be alive.

I like to say I was born in the horse and buggy age and grew up in the space age. When I was a small child, my grandfather worked the farm with draft horses and I attended a one room schoolhouse. I remember when Grandpa bought his first tractor, a Massey Harris.

Massey Harris

I also remember when Sputnik was launched. Sputnik was Earth’s first artificial satellite, launched by the USSR in 1957. The reason I recall this historic event is because the adults in my life talked about it. They didn’t know what it meant. Was it a spy satellite? Could it drop bombs on us? I sensed their anxiety. It was a blow to the American ego that the Russians beat us into space. Sputnik launched the Space Race, and that shaped my childhood. The importance of science education was recognized and the US poured money into public schools.

Sputnik

The Russians also sent the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961. Then a few weeks later, on May 5th, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. The Mercury Astronauts were my heroes. I followed their feats on radio and collected newspaper clippings.

I took a small transistor radio to school one day when a launch was scheduled. It was during social studies class. I tried to hide the radio and turned it on at low volume, but when the teacher noticed, instead of reprimanding me, he asked me to turn it up so everyone could hear.

In 1961, President Kennedy proposed landing a man on the moon by 1970, a tall order for a country just a few years from the horse and buggy age. If you go to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, look at those early space capsules. They are little more than oversize tin cans.

Can you imagine flying to the moon in this?

 

Then on July 20, 1969, I was glued to the TV to watch Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Months later, I shared the anxiety of our entire country when the Apollo 13 crew was not expected to make it back to Earth alive, but they did. Space Shuttle Columbia was launched the day I went into labor with my daughter. The midwife said I should name her Columbia, but I had another name picked out.

Last summer I had a conversation with a music student who was entering graduate school. His dream was to become a composer. I asked if he could make a living at that. Yes, and he told me about all the opportunities open to him, including writing for the movies. “For a composer,” he said, “it’s the best time to be alive.”

On my “To Read” list is Peter Brannen’s The Ends of the World. I heard him interviewed on the radio. The book is about the five major extinction events Earth has weathered in the past and how we may be facing a sixth. Who can find optimism in such gloom and doom? One statement he made stuck with me: “It’s an interesting time to be alive.” While Science may not have all the answers, new discoveries help us better understand our word and ourselves. He was optimistic that the more we learn, the more opportunity we’ll have to do the right thing.

When I heard a version of the message again within the past week, I failed to note the source, but it pops up so often, I can’t ignore it. If you listen to the news, it seems like we’re on the eve of destruction, but this is not necessarily so.

Trying to improve my health, I watch self-improvement webinars. These gurus acknowledge the ills that beset us: disease, poverty, hate, injustice, yet a common theme keeps coming through: we hold the keys to our own destiny. The darkness that threatens to overwhelm us is only the death throes of the old order. The seeds of a better future are quietly sprouting. We are nearing the dawn of a new age of compassion, cooperation, and love.

It’s a great time to be alive.

 

You’d be surprised what interesting bits of history you stumble across when you’re trying to avoid the interstates. On one of my trips to Arkansas, traveling on US 84 in rural southwestern Alabama, I crested a hill and encountered a picturesque group of white clapboard buildings.

Masonic Lodge 3

The largest had a historical marker in front. I’d been driving for a while and it was time to stretch my legs, so I slowed down and looked for a good place to pull over. A couple of cars were parked across the road from the building and a small group of people were checking it out—fellow tourists. I parked beside them.

Masonic Lodge 2

I had come across the little town of Purdue Hill. The two story building that caught my eye was the Masonic Lodge, the “oldest building in Monroe County.” It was built in 1824 in nearby Claiborne and moved here sixty years later. Like many buildings in small communities at the time, it served more than one purpose. It was once the Monroe County Courthouse and also used as a town hall, school, and a Baptist Church. The Masons met on the second floor until 1919. Famous people connected with the building were William Barret Travis and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Masonic Lodge sign

Purdue Hill is located at the junction of US 84 and County Road 1. It boasts of a gas station and a post office, but it seems to have always been a modest community. According to the 1880 Census, it had a population of 110. Ten years later the number had risen to 282. That was the last census recorded. It probably has fewer people now.

The Masonic Lodge is listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. I walked around the building and peeked in the windows, but it wasn’t open, so I couldn’t go inside.

This website has pictures of the interior as well as additional information on the Lodge and Purdue Hill:

https://www.ruralswalabama.org/attraction/masonic-lodge-3-at-perdue-hill-al-built-1824/

William B. Travis is famous for dying at the Alamo with Davy Crockett. He was born in South Carolina in 1809 and his family moved to Alabama when he was eight. As a young man, he “read law” under a Claiborne attorney and practiced law in the courtroom of the Lodge. He was also a Mason. He taught in a local school and married one of his students in 1828.

Wm Travis Home

Next to the Lodge is a tidy little cottage in which the young couple lived. The house was originally built in Claiborne in the early 1820’s and moved to Purdue Hill in the 1980’s. In 1831, for reasons lost to history, William Travis left his wife and children and moved to Texas. There he practiced law and became involved in politics and, ultimately, the rebellion against Mexico, which cost him his life.

Travis home

You can read more about William Travis and his house at:

http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/travishome.html

Travis home sign

Lafayette was the French hero of the Revolutionary War, who convinced France to ally with the United States against England. In the 1820’s, he returned to the US on a tour of all the states. On April 6, 1825, among much fanfare, he gave a speech to the people of Claiborne at the Lodge.

Old school 4

I wandered around the grounds and looked at the other buildings. One appeared to have once been a schoolhouse with two classrooms, but I have been unable to find any information about it. Down the road is a charming little church, Purdue Hill Union Church which was built before the 1880’s. I don’t have any photos of it, but the church and the old store sit in their original locations.

Old store 6

The. W. S. Moore Store was built around 1875 as a doctor’s office, and presumably his home. In the 1920’s, it was enlarged and became a general store.

Outhouse

Behind the store is this outhouse.

Inside outhouse

After spending a pleasant time photographing the buildings and reading the information on them, I got back on the road and headed west.

Just down the hill I spied another historical sign and stopped. This was the site of the Purdue Hill Industrial School, which educated African American children from 1918 until it was closed in 1964. All that remains is an open field and the sign, which says the school grew from a one room schoolhouse with 11 students to a 12 room institution with 250. students and 10 teachers. It probably served all the black children in the area before integration.

Site of African Am school

I continued my journey and crossed the Alabama River. I must have passed through Claiborne, which is on the map, but I don’t remember seeing a town. I wondered why the Lodge and the Travis house, two historically significant buildings, had been moved to Purdue Hill. And what about Claiborne itself? After researching it, I learned that Claiborne is a ghost town.

Ghost town? My kind of place! Ft. Claiborne was established in 1816 during the Creek War. Afterward, it grew into a bustling frontier community. It was situated on the Federal Road and was served by steamboats and a ferry on the Alabama River. When General Lafayette visited and gave his speech at the courthouse, the town had 2500 inhabitants. Later it doubled in size and became the first county seat of Monroe County. The county seat was moved to Monroeville in 1832. Later, outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera began the town’s demise. During the Civil War, it was occupied by Federal troops and looted. By 1872, population dwindled to 350. When bypassed by the railroad, its fate was sealed. The historical buildings were moved to Purdue Hill to preserve them.

According to my research, all that remains of Claiborne is one antebellum home built in 1835, three historical cemeteries, and historical markers. This summer, I plan to visit Purdue Hill again and locate Claiborne. Ghost towns can be fun.

 

 

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