Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Lonely Canons – Of PTSD, the Unknown and an Unusual Interaction at Gettysburg

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Cannon on Little Round Top Over Looking Devil’s Den

We hadn’t seen each other all summer. For the past two years we’d taken a writing workshop at a place called Write from the Heart run by Melissa Green. It’s designed to encourage writers to put behind the critics of the past and learn to listen to their inner, creative voices.

On a whim, I asked my friend to check out an Irish Pub in Lancaster and she agreed. We got lost, driving literally in circles for over an hour saying things like, “Didn’t we pass that pizza place before?” Yes, we have.

Out of the blue, my friend says, “You know, there is some reason we’re supposed to be going in this circle. There is something or someone in the center of this circle that’s going to become very important to us. Isn’t that exciting? I wonder what it will be.”

A day later, both of us have talked to and signed up with Melissa Green’s Write from the Heart. Her place is located smack center of the circle we forged the night before. This event is not surprising to my friend and intriguing to me.

Melissa’s studio is an hour from us and I quickly find that the conversations to and from are not only affirming but spiritually awakening. My friend and I have had near death experiences and are on the same wave-length.  Together what blossoms are beyond what either of us could ever accomplish alone.

Life happened and each of us had to stop attending the workshop for various reasons. That was the beginning of the summer. Although both of us stated we felt spirit was taking us in new directions, to build on the journey we started with Write from the Heart’s wonderful experience, it was saddening.

The summer for me was plagued with death, multiple surgeries for my daughter, trying to run a new business and learning to live minus one income.  Every week when time came for our normal rendezvous for class, I could feel my heart and soul ache. Yes I missed the class, my writing buddies and Melissa. But what I really missed were the conversations on the drive to and fro.

It hit me, this was ridiculous. Call the woman and get together. We don’t need to drive to Lancaster to have spiritual conversations and enlightenment. We can go someplace else and talk. Gettysburg pops into my mind but I dismiss it. I want someplace spiritual, not historical. I think The Grotto.

The Grotto is a Catholic shrine to Saint Elizabeth Seton. It’s a fabulous place to relax, pray, meditate or just enjoy the mosaic art works and mountain environment. I’ve been going there since I was a little girl. This is one of the places I normally hit in times when I need to clear my head.

I gave her a call and find out she’d been experiencing the same longing. So we eagerly set a date, her house for dinner with her family then a drive to The Grotto.

Just as I’m getting in my car, a horrendous storm hits but I keep going.  The main road leading from my house to my friends surges with rising flood water. Cars stall, truck-made waves wash over entire vehicles. I pull into a parking lot, pull out my cell phone and call her. There is no way I am continuing. It’s too dangerous.

She tells me she is only a couple miles ahead of me on her own way home. She is looking at blue sky. I look out into the distance and see a small patch of blue. Okay, I’ll keep coming but I tell her The Grotto is no longer an option. She says, “Let’s wait and see which way spirit takes us.” I agree and head out into the flooding street.

By the time I get to her house, the sky is blue, the rain gone and the roads just wet.  We have a great chicken potpie dinner with her family and she says, “Well, what do you want to do?”

“I want to go to The Grotto,” I tell her. I’m looking out her kitchen window at the soggy ground. I don’t even know if The Grotto is open at seven o’clock on a Thursday evening. What the hell? “Let’s do it.”

We get in the car and drive the half hour to The Grotto while catching up on our summers. It’s a quick drive to the Catoctain Mountains. We climb the narrow road up the mountain and stop short. There is a gate across the road. The Grotto, situated at the top of the mountain, is closed.

“Now what do you want to do?” She asks me. “Where do you think spirit is leading us?”

Gettysburg pops back in my head. I am reluctant to say anything because I feel like I’m obsessed with Gettysburg Battlefield. But the feeling is strong enough to speak. “I keep thinking Gettysburg.”

“Oh my gosh! I’ve been thinking about Gettysburg all day! When you called I thought, Gettysburg! We need to go to Gettysburg. That is why The Grotto is closed!” This, in an odd kind of way, makes sense to me. I turn the car around and head to Gettysburg.

There are several exits into the borough and town of Gettysburg from US 15. She didn’t care which one we took. She says, “Clear your mind and head in the direction you think we are supposed to go.”  I took the Taneytown exit and wound up on the battlefield.

It’s now 6:45 pm. As we enter a main thoroughfare of the National Park grounds my friend says, “Whenever I come out here, I get this feeling that says stop. There is something about that location that I’m supposed to experience.”

“Okay, well, if you get that feeling, tell me and I’ll stop.”

“Stop.”  She immediately states so I pull over. We are about one hundred feet from the old Cyclorama overlooking the high water mark of Picket’s Charge.  “Did you see him?” She asks me.

The park is surprisingly busy for a Thursday night in September. The series of bad storms rolling across the county would have fettered any daytime visit. It looks like a lot of out-of-town guests are taking advantage of the evening’s clear weather. Among all the cars and people wondering in and around canons sits an older man with a very large, Irish Wolfhound.  Yes, I’d seen him. He and the dog were hard to miss.

We get out of the car and wander over and say hello. The dog’s name is Tanner. He stands seven foot four inches on his hind legs and weights two hundred and forty pounds. He is without a leash and his owner informs us it’s not necessary.

The name of Tanner’s owner is not reveled to us. This is okay because we are also nameless.  We spend a short amount of time exchanging niceties. He lives in Gettysburg and routinely walks his dog around the battlefield looking to meet interesting people and soak in the spiritual nature of the location. Normally, he states, he sits on Little Round Top but tonight he was called to sit where we found him.

The conversation takes a turn. The man has had a near death experience that changed his life. We haven’t told him we share this trait and my friend shoots me a look of, see I knew there was a reason we were supposed to stop here.  For about an hour we talk about crossing over, God, the universe, life as we know it and this place called Gettysburg.  The whole time we are talking, I keep looking over at several cannons and ammunition wagons positioned where original cannonades resonated across the field.

Tanner’s owner has not experienced anything he would call paranormal on the battlefield but definitely has at his home. He sees the battlefield as alive, as spiritual and it calls him here. My friend shoots me another affirming look.

I have experienced things on the battlefield and I tell him so. This prompts him to talk about a friend of his who writes books on ghosts in Gettysburg. He’s questioning some of the stories his friend has written which I think is funny considering he just told us several personal, paranormal stories.  I start telling him about my experiences with unexpected things in photos, voices and sounds I’ve heard, odd smells and apparent apparitions on or around the battlefield.

It’s nearly, completely dark. Tanner’s owner looks over at the cannons I’ve been eyeing off and on and says, “Don’t they look lonely? I often think of them as animated. They spend all day being touched, having their pictures taken with people, telling their story. But by night, they are lonely sentinels on this sacred ground.”

This hits me, really hits me and I take a photograph of with my cell phone and send myself a message that reads, lonely cannons. It’s profound in my mind, but I don’t know why.

The conversation comes to a natural conclusion and we get in my car. Tanner and his owner get in theirs. We beep goodbyes and go our separate ways never having exchanged names. We are just three people drawn to a place in time for an unexpected conversation.

My friend has never been on the battlefield after dark. It’s a profoundly sobering time to visit. There is a minimal amount of visitors. The place is quiet, shadows deep and the mind can better attempt to sink in what happened on those three horrific days in history. It’s incomprehensible. No matter how many times I visit in an attempt to understand it won’t sink in.

I deviate from the Auto-tour route to show her several of my favorite monuments and end up beside the area known as The Wheatfield. Our car windows are down. The air is different here. I’ve been here many times and I’ve never experienced this feeling. It’s a tingling on our skin like static electricity, our throats feel tight making it hard to swallow and my friend feels a bit queasy.

I have no intention of stopping the car.  We round the bend and the feelings stop – for both of us.  I pull the car over and we try to process what happened. It was damn odd and not pleasant. Both of us have experienced heightened energy before. Times when the air is charged where there are high magnetic fields, standing near large electrical towers or during lightening storms.  That’s what this felt like.

I pull the car back onto the road and we drive through the woods and end up at Devil’s Den. To my surprise there is only one other car here. Usually, at night, I find this is the most popular place to find other visitors.

I stop the car and we get out. Using the light from my phone as a flashlight, we wander past the granite megaliths known as Devil’s Den and walk up the road around to the back of the rocks.  In the not-to-far distance we hear the sound of a rumbling explosion and stop.

“Thunder?” She asks.

“Too low,” I reply and we stand quiet waiting to hear it again. We don’t and I tease, “Its cannon fire.”  Then add, “Maybe there is a reenactment nearby.”  We shrug it off and return to walking up the darkened hill.

At the top of the hill, directly behind Devil’s Den is a very tall, lone tree. It stands very close to the location where my hubby captured a white form of what looks like an apparition of a soldier. My friend identifies the tree as a place where she and a cousin spent several hours sitting and soaking in warm, positive energy.

Devils Den is made of granite. This entire area is granite and quartz heavy. I know both stones hold and radiate energy. That’s why we use them in computers, watches and why they don’t want you to use granite as a counter top. It emits radon.  I’m not surprised she feels energy here.

I get several feet from the tree and get a sensation of disorientation. I can barely keep my balance. Before I can say anything, my friend tells me she feels odd, her stomach is turning over and she smells something metallic. I don’t smell it but I immediately think of blood. I unfortunately know very intimately the smell and taste of large amounts of spilled blood.  It’s metallic.  I don’t tell her this. I don’t think she’d understand but I could be wrong.

She reaches over and places her hands on the tree. I don’t want to go near the tree. Every time I get too close the equilibrium problem hits again. She says, “Take a picture here, how about here?” I do this and nothing shows up but darkness, a shot of her with the tree and one that has some fog.

I really feel like the world is spinning one way and me in another. “We need to leave,” I tell her.

We start heading down the hill and she grabs me. Both of us are having a hard time keeping balanced.  I think this is nuts and tell her I want to do an experiment.

I walk away from the tree until I feel normal again. Then I turn around and walk till I start to feel ill. I do it several times. I have her do it. It makes no sense. I wish there was some meter or devise we could use to measure any static electricity or high magnetic current. Prove one way or another that what we are feeling is nothing more than being in near-darkness on uneven ground with over-active imaginations and low blood sugar.  We don’t have anything like that so we head back to the car with more questions than answers.

We get in the car and head up to Little Round Top.  Normally, I love to look out over LRT. The view is stunning and it‘s a favorite place for many people to lay on the large granite rocks and sunbath. Sunsets from this point are beautiful no matter what the season. This time, I slowed down but decided not to stop. Something didn’t feel right and besides, it’s dark, what was there to see?

My friend sighs and says, “I’m glad we didn’t stop, I don’t feel well.” Another oddity? I think one of us really has an over-active imagination, ESP or something. We stop at the stop sign and continue across the road.

Almost immediately, I feel like I’m going to vomit. My chest hurts like its being crushed (I actually know what this feels like) and it’s hard to breath.  I get a sharp pain in my eye and a vicious headache making my eye water.  If I didn’t know better, I’d swear I was having a physical flashback of the car accident where I was partially crushed in my car, medevaced and endured medical torture before I died of shock.   The flashbacks come on that fast and are horrifically painful. Only I never damaged my eye and I have not experienced anything in the past couple minutes to suddenly throw me into a flashback.

I drive the van forward several hundred feet and slowly, the feelings subside leaving me with a mild headache, a watering eye and some mild agitation. My friend tells me her stomach is very upset and wants to leave. So do I.

The road ends up across from the old Cyclorama where we had met Tanner and his owner.  I look over one more time at the lonely cannons and am glad they are not as animated as Tanner’s owner imagined. They look tragic, lost, shocked and filled with pain, fear and disbelief.  They remind me of the me no one sees during the day and only a select few have seen at night. They remind me of my PTSD and my seaming lifetime of struggle to survive and thrive.

Those cannons are sentinels to the souls of thousands of men never identified, buried and forgotten, witnesses of horrific screams of agony and death. They are the watchers of a history we should never forget but continue to repeat. They are the lonely watchers of the ghosts of Gettysburg surviving through time, telling their story.

As we leave the battlefield I am reminded, there are some things that can’t be explained. Other things even if I could explain very few people would understand. But I’m not alone. Like my friend, like Tanner’s owner, we are a regiment of people having experienced something on the fringe and yearn for understanding. For this reason, we come to Gettysburg.

This is Halloween – Almost

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Turning a cheep mask into a life-sized pirate head

It’s almost Halloween time! You may not realize this because it’s only September 12th but that is beside the point. I saw my first woolly caterpillar and a yellow leaf, the county fair is in town and all this means it’s almost Halloween.

 Since moving to my current home (which is located on a main road) Halloween has become an amazing event. Reminiscent of my childhood where entire neighborhoods joined in the fun and everyone had a good time. So, we are one of the only houses around me that decorates the way we do, but that’s okay. It will catch on.

The first year (this will be our fourth Halloween here) we had no idea what to expect. I bought a couple bags of candy, we all sat on the front porch and an hour into the night; we ran out of candy. We ran out of the individual serving size bags of chips and cookies I’d bought for school lunches. We ran out of cup-a-soup and little bags of oatmeal. I sent my hubby to the local convenience store for more candy. By the time he got back we were out of pens, pencils, complimentary hotel shampoos and soaps and those little soap pellets you put in dish washers.

The second year I thought, you know, I may not be Walt Disney, nor do I have the money the Disney Company owns, but this is a golden opportunity to entertain the masses, get in touch with my inner child, blossom in creative absurdity. I decided to make our Halloween theme, Pirates of the Caribbean bohemian chic style. This meant all my supplies had to be re-purposed from something else.

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Pirate Body In the Making

I worked my arse off, sewing, stuffing, sawing, gluing, painting, dyeing, designing and redesigning. The neighbors would gather around as each piece was tacked up outside wondering what the h-ll I was up to. Then the hurricane hit and everything was in shambles. Crap, not a problem. I can fix this. I can make it better!  And I set out to do a miracle.

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Ripping apart the old to make new things

Halloween night, everything was great. We had the sound effects and lighting set up, family members dressed as pirates to mingle with the fake, life-sized ones. And then it snowed! I looked at hubby and said, “Well, I guess we left the Caribbean and are now the Pirates of the Aleutian Islands. “

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An unexpected snowfall

He didn’t think anyone would show up. Actually, I think since we bought twice the amount of bags of candy that year, the good stuff, he was hoping not many would show. Based on the candy count on the bags, we greeted about 500 children Halloween night!

People were lined down the street, came in cars, blocked the road, and got their pictures taken with the set and with us.  Parents came to me and said, they could never afford to take their kids to see anything like Disney World and this was probably the closest thing they would ever get to it. I was humbled – it really wasn’t that great of a display. I didn’t want the night to end.

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Pirate first mate close up with canon

Last year I was doubly psyched. We had a reputation and with the basic set elements already built, I could focus on a story-line, learn how to make more complex elements and how to make my life size pirates move! Before we got any of the set out on the front lawn and porch, another hurricane came through. It did enough damage that Halloween was cancelled.

Despite all the damage, I couldn’t let Halloween just die. Kids had costumes! We had candy! So, I put out just a few things, we got dressed in our pirate best and waited in the dark, cold, wet night. We saw about 20 kids and happy parents welcoming anyone who was still able to make normalcy on a weather worn week. I was totally bummed but psyched for the next year – this year.

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Post Hurricane Pirates Scaled Down

It’s almost Halloween time! This year I’m combining my two favorite Disney rides, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. And, well, depending on how things go, maybe throw in a couple odd things here and there to beef up the humor aspect.  SO…..

This is what I have done so far.

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Sheets, truck liner rubber spray and a great hat

This picture is of my grim reaper. It’s made of sheets I got from the Good Will, a coat rack, a plastic wrapped and tapped mold of my daughter’s head filled with crack filler, and four cans of cheap, truck liner, rubberizing, paint. Total cost = $15.00.

Next I realized I needed large tombstones but they needed to have a pirate-like theme to them. So, here are my tombstones so far. They are made from warped, plastic shelving left over from our flooded basement (compliments of the hurricane), dilapidated ceiling tiles from same basement, accessories from old Halloween costumes I found and from the Dollar Store, caulking, and my favorite item in the world –duct tape. They still need to be painted and made to look like stone. But I think they are coming along nicely.

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Building Tombstones from Flood Damaged Items

I’ve also made new hands for my pirates. In past years I just stuffed winter gloves but I couldn’t do anything with the hands. So, this year I gave them a skeleton of wire so I can manipulate the fingers. They have a long way to go before completion.

If people are interested in this, I thought I would continue to keep everyone updated on the drama of my un-Disney, Pirates of the Caribbean meets The Haunted Mansion Halloween display as we count down the days.

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Treasure chest made from discarded tub, found fabric and dollar store accessories.

Has anyone seen the weather forecast for October 31st? Hurricane? Yes or no?

Sex and Pancakes

ImageI like to watch reruns of Comedy Central’s episodes of Colbert and Jon Stewart. Last night, like every night, I ate dinner and curled up on the couch to watch an episode of what I call the Colbert/Stewart hour. No matter what kind of day I’ve had, they make it better.

In this Colbert episode they spoofed the theft and black market of Canadian maple syrup comparing it to a Mexican drug smuggling cartel.  The reporter, a staunch maple syrup virgin, continued refusing offers to taste the luscious, feel good Canadian maple syrup. He knew if he had just one sip, it would be his demise into a life of addiction, seedy living, underworld crime sprees and the loss of all he claimed as good.

Finally, temptation was too much and as suspected, he couldn’t stop at just one taste. The result, pancakes, lots of pancakes rolled just right in order to deliver the sweet, dripping, tantalizing, golden liquid into his mouth. Life as he knew it ceased and was replaced by the horrific decline one can only find in syrup addiction.

It happened all at once. The cravings, forgetting to go to work, forgetting to bath, secret meetings in dark streets to get more syrup, brushes with police, arrests and attempts at all cost to get more syrup.  As Star Trek actor George Takei would say in a way only he can say it, “Oh my!” That is what I felt and wondered if I too had a syrup addiction. Nonsense, whoever heard of such malarkey? But what was that feeling I just couldn’t shake?

I turned to my hubby who was seated on the opposite couch and said, “Damn, I wouldn’t mind having some pancakes with syrup. Do we have anymore King Syrup?”

King Syrup is rich, thick and teases you as it emerges from the bottle. It is almost tantalizing to watch. Taste buds go into overdrive.

You can’t buy King Syrup in Florida where my retired parents now live. When I go visit, my father’s first request is always – make sure you smuggle some of that King Syrup. My dad knows and so do I.

I didn’t give into the desire for pancakes and syrup. I had a piece of toast with peanut butter and a blue Solo cup of milk. I spent some time writing and then went to bed. Only sleep would not come. I got up. Keeping the house lights low, I fired up my Kindle and played a couple rounds of Bubble Mania, a game where the object is to free little kittens from bubbles and hear them yell, “Wee!”  It’s usually very gratifying.

The bubbles weren’t popping in the right order because my brain was not thinking about kittens stuck in bubbles. It was thinking about the two-third empty bottle of King Syrup sitting in the kitchen, waiting, longing to be consumed. I start to sweat. Mark and change that to perspire. I think it sounds more feminine.  Anyway, I tell myself, I don’t have to give into a syrup temptation. I’m above that.

I’m out of kitty-freeing bubbles so I returned to the bedroom and listened to my hubby snore and the rumble of the air conditioner. Sleep is slow in coming and very fitful.

At 8:00 am, I awakened violently and the first thing slinking around in my brain is the thought, PANCAKES!

I yanked my sorry arse out of bed and grabbed the Aunt Jemima box. You just add water. Instant pancakes! There they sat, three golden brown, almost perfectly round discs, dabbled with just the right amount of butter. I set the plate on the table pushing aside the work flow for the day and all their distractions.

Pancakes had my full attention. With a smile on my face I picked up the ¾ full of King Syrup and wondered if it was the good stuff from Canada. The label said it’s from Fredonia, NY. Is that close to Canada?

I watched the syrup slowly leave the safety of the bottle to flow onto the golden discs in patterns of my design. I let it soak into the pancakes a little bit, but not too much. It cheapens it when the pancakes are soggy and all that remains of the original syrup is horribly mutated.

I consumed my pancakes slowly, rolling my eyes and trying to convince my mind I was experiencing what the reporter in Colbert experienced last night. It didn’t work.

I had consumed 1,000 empty calories with no real payback. I had to think, where did I go wrong? Oh, now I get it. What I really wanted was not syrup, not pancakes, but the feeling of being filled with joy to the point of forgetting the world. It was a need to feel abundantly loved, treasured, needed and fulfilled.

I could be talking about sex. I could be talking about anything that would fill that need for love and belonging. A part of me knew from the beginning that pancakes and syrup were not the answer. So why did I go through this?

Because I had a need unfulfilled and as I watched Colbert a seed was planted in my brain. A seed that although logically I knew was ridiculous, my needs great enough, other ways failed enough, that syrup made sense.

Is it any wonder sometimes that our behavior can become so wacky? Our thinking so out of touch with the reality around us that we gravitate toward someone, something, to get a need met. Thinking, this is in my best interest but knowing it is not.  Thinking, these are my choices, what the hell?

If only we can get our brains to flag us and yell STOP before continuing. Especially when we know what we are about to say or do is not in our best interest. We would all feel healthier.

Sometimes, our situation is one where all our choices will be negative and we have to choose the least negative. Colbert/Stewart, pancakes/syrup, needs/wants was not one of them. My brain for whatever reason did not yell stop! Now I need to figure out why?

Are you self-aware enough to know when to yell STOP? Can you tell before you think, feel, say or do something whether it is in your best interest to do so? If you find yourself gorging on a plate of pancakes dripping with syrup and it’s just not cutting it, re-evaluate why not.  You’ll feel healthier in the end.

Bon Appétit!