Category Archives: Are We There Yet? Travel Meanderings

All things about travel from great locations, humorous and unforgettable people to bizarre events along the way.

Gettysburg’s 150th Celebration: How to Survive and Maybe Learn a Lesson in Civility Along the Way

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Gettysburg re-enactment 2012

Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary celebration kicks off June 27 and lasts through July 7th. For all the official information concerning reenactments, concerts and other events go to: http://www.nps.gov/gett/planyourvisit/150th-anniversay-faq.htm  Or  http://www.bluegraygettysburg.com/ Or http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org/.  For everything unofficial, stay here.

I am a self proclaimed history buff, paranormal enthusiast with extensive history studying trauma. What would be more natural then for me to gravitate to Gettysburg, especially on such an epic occasion?   These days, I am in Gettysburg at least once a month. Usually, you will find me wandering around areas of the battlefield with a camera. I try to capture in photos the moods of July 1863 and now for me as I walk across the once blood soaked fields.

These fields speak; the trees wail with woe, the buildings are still scarred from cannon fire.  The battlefield is so vividly re-conditioned to its original state that I can literally walk where great and courageous men made split second decisions that saved many, killed thousands and helped bring a turning point to the Civil War.  The history of the town, the people and the soldiers have been so painstakingly researched, preserved and presented for the next generation to remember.

Why do we still harbor strong feelings toward a war that ended over a hundred years ago? Because it is the one time where our own people turned and divided. Brothers fault and killed brothers. Neighbors killed neighbors. I come from Maryland, a state divided in the war. We were neither Yankee nor Confederate and yet we were both.  So, there are many stories of families being ripped apart over the issues and ultimately burying their dead.

I used to find it hard to believe that people could turn on each other the way they did before and during the war. That is until recently when I started to hear rhetoric about taking up arms, parts of states wanting to succeed from the country over this issue or that. At times the vocal violence was so lethal, I found it frightening.

I don’t think most people have it within themselves to kill a family member or neighbor over politic differences of opinion. I’d like to think not. I know for sure, most people have never taken another person’s life and have no clue not only if they could, but what that would be like.

I’ve worked with enough veterans and police officers who do know. It’s not pretty. It’s easy to spout at the mouth about wanting internal war. I don’t think people realize if there was an internal war, we, all of us, would be the ones fighting. Not just enlisted people or trained militants. It would be our children, elderly and disabled injured and potentially slaughtered. Our food not able to be harvested from destroyed fields. Food that is harvested, not able to reach its destinations. It is our socio-economic system completely collapsing. There would be no, forgetting we are at war because it does not affect me unless I catch a glimpse on what we currently call the news.

We all need a dose of calming down and a reality check. Gettysburg, while now a thriving tourist destination, being home to one of the most explored, if not the most explored battlefield in the world, is one powerful reality check.  For 150 years she’s been screaming at us. Don’t forget!

So, if you come to Gettysburg this year, especially during this celebration of remembrance, don’t’ forget. But at the same time, don’t’ let it swallow you whole. Depending on your own experiences and empathetic abilities, it can do that. Have some fun. There is a lot to take in.

I’ve decided to give you the, if I was a Gettysburg tour guide this is where I would take you, agenda. If your favorite haunt is not listed, well I couldn’t list them all. This is just my list compiled over forty years of visits to town.

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Walking Along Cemetery Ridge

Must Haves When Coming to Gettysburg:

  1. Patience! Crowds will be intense this summer and especially during the 150th anniversary. Remember, this is a walking town; pedestrians have the right-a-way. In the traffic circle, the cars inside the circle have the right-a-way. You can only go in one direction. When you get to your street, veer off to the right. Watching for traffic around you.
  2. Sunscreen, lots of sunscreen, hats and or parasols. If you are going to the re-enactments, there are few to no trees. The sun gets intense. Remember to shield the kids!
  3. Water! Bright sun and intense July heat equals dehydration. There are venders selling drinks all over town and at the reenactments. Lines can be long and many venders do not sell water. You can’t drink enough water.
  4. Bring cash. Most places accept credit cards, but some venders, again, especially if you are going to a reenactment, may only accept cash.
  5. Time. Give yourself plenty of time to get from point A to point B. Traffic will be difficult. The main historic district of town is located on two cross streets meeting at the traffic circle. Parking is limited.
  6. A map of town and the battlefield. The re-enactments are not on the battlefield. The battlefield is not one large land mass. It surrounds the town and if you are looking for a particular battle location or monument, a map and or GPS is a must.
  7. Sense of humor. Everyone is in town to have a good time, learn new things and experience a piece of history. There will be short tempers, babies crying, people walking into traffic, lines for restaurants and port-a-potties. Accept it and go with the flow. The park service is expecting over 20,000 re-enactors and half a million visitors this summer. Smile!
  8. A place to stay! Don’t come to town expecting to find a place, even if it’s camping. Be smart; get your lodging ahead of time. I’ve heard people are staying in York, Hanover, Chambersburg and Harrisburg for the re-enactment weekends.
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Pennsylvania Infantry Memorial

Must Dos (According to me):

  1. Get in town early and have breakfast at one of the many restaurants. I’ve eaten several times at The Avenue Restaurant on Steinwehr Ave. across from O’Rorke’s Irish Eatery and Spirits.  The cost is family friendly, food good and lines not too bad.  OR
  2. Go to the National Park Service Visitor’s Center and Museum. They have a 19th century eating establishment on site. See the film, cyclorama and the museum. The museum displays give a wonderful, easy to understand presentation of pre, during and post Civil War information and life.  Visually stimulating, occasionally interactive displays allow for even the most museum skittish to benefit.
  3. Buy the two hour Battlefield Auto Tour CD from the National Park Service bookstore before touring the battlefield. Stops on the CD correspond to the tour signs on the battlefield. The CD not only gives logistics about sections of the battle but re-enacts stories from the perspective of soldiers, town’s people and generals.
  4. When on the battlefield tour, get out of your car and walk around! Check out the vantage points, variety of monuments and the stories they convey. There is a book you can purchase at the National Park bookstore called, So You Think You Know Gettysburg, by James and Suzanne Gindlesperger. It is an easy to use book giving GPS locations and stories behind some of the parks most memorable statues and monuments.
  5. Rent a horse, Segway or book a bus to tour the battlefield. There are over 6,000 acres of battlefield with out-of-the-way roads and trails.
  6. Have lunch.
  7. Take a walk down Steinwehr Ave. Watch fudge being made in the Chocolate, Fudge and Ice Cream shop on Steinwehr Ave. Dress up in Victorian clothing and have your picture taken. Have a home-made ice cream cone, take in multiple gift shops, art galleries, book shops and souvenir venders.
  8. Veer to the right at the corner of Baltimore Street and Steinwehr Ave. There are several bed and breakfasts, private historic collections and museums with minimal admission fees, candy shops, period clothing shops, restaurants and ghost tours.
  9. Have dinner at either the Farnsworth House or Dobbins House Tavern. There are many great places to eat in town but for me, these historic locations with their ambience, period menus and service can’t be beat. Farnsworth House is located on Baltimore Street. Dobbins Inn is located on Steinwehr Ave.
  10. Take in a ghost tour. Warning, there are several to choose from and one is not the same as another. Some take you directly in front of the building or location where the story takes place. Others only walk you around a circle, stopping here and there to tell a story.  Some claim to promise seeing a ghost via orbs on your photos (orbs most likely to be dust, bugs, dew or other weather related element). Some tell stories with minimal to no factual back story. While others give factual, historical information behind the stories and town’s people’s antidotes of unexplained events. You can have a great tour but a minimally effective tour guide and visa-versa.  Guides expect a tip after the tour.

My favorite ghost tour is Ghosts of Gettysburg on Baltimore Street. The author, Nesbit wrote the series Ghosts of Gettysburg and runs this operation. Reservations are recommended. I prefer the longer tour as they take you down to the train station and college as well as around town.

  1. End the night head down to the Lincoln Diner at 32 Carlisle Street for a great piece of pie. Located across from the Railroad Station, this college diner is known for its large, scrumptious deserts.
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Sach’s Bridge

If you have a second day in town, check out the Jenny Wade house on Baltimore Street. Take a carriage ride. Check out the Lincoln Train Museum on Steinwehr Ave., Soldier’s National Museum on Baltimore Street, and Hall of Presidents also on Baltimore Street.  Talk to some re-enactors stationed in encampments about life as a soldier. Pay your respects at the National Cemetery and location of President Lincoln’s famous address.

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Little Round looking down on Devil’s Den

At the end of the day, find a large rock on the battlefield at Little Round Top and watch the sunset over Devil’s Den. This location, where thousands lost their lives in the Valley of Death is oddly serene and quiet in the rays of the setting sun.  While you are there, don’t’ forget the message these hollowed fields deliver. Find peaceful resolutions. War is not the answer and it’s never what we expect. Once started, it’s hard to turn back.

Enjoy your time in Gettysburg!

Two Blondes Walk Into A Rental Car Agency

two blonds rental car agencyI have spent a good portion of my life trying to off-set the dumb blonde jokes and stereotypes. Only to finally arrive at a point where I think either it’s me or there is something different about being blonde. I’d like to think it’s just me. Otherwise, I’ll have every other blonde in the world writing me hate mail or telling me I’ve leaped into the dark side – um, make that the brunette side.

Anyway, here is my most recent blonde escapade. I can say two blondes because I’m with hubby who also happens to be blonde (Someone explain to me why blonde jokes and stereotypes only apply to females).  In this case…

Two blondes walk into a rental car agency. The male of the species gets a red (according to the tag) Chevy Cruze. I call it terra-cotta. On the Chevy website, it’s called Autumn Metallic. Why is this important?  It’s not, but calling the car red bothers the hell out of me and I can’t let it drop.  I mean, think about this. You are in a strange place in a rental car and you can’t find it. Someone asks, “well, what color is it?”  And you say RED. Look at the picture of the car! Would you go get me THAT CAR?

After sensing hubby’s frustration at my figuring out just the right-color adjective to describe our car (In his defense, I can be a bit obsessive at times and it was about midnight after a long flight), I decided to plug my phone into the car jack to recharge.

This car has a combination computer system in the dashboard that does a number of things. None of which is clear and there are no instructions.

Hubby says, “Find something on the radio. Looks like, it’s got one of those satellite radio features. You might find some station you really like. ” Hubby gets out of the car to pump gas and get a couple drinks from the local Kangaroo store (it’s a mini-mart gas station, in no-way selling kangas or roos).

I turned on the radio. There is no way in hell I’m getting any music. It wants to do something. I don’t know what. It asks my permission to do something else. What the hell? Okay, little whatever-you-are-in-the-dashboard-computer-thinky, go for it.

Hubby returns to the car with two sodas and a couple candy bars. “Did you find something?”

“No.”

“Oh well. I guess we’ll just have to figure it out tomorrow when we are less tired.”

All of the sudden the whatever-you-are-in-the-dashboard-computer-thinky comes to life and starts playing the song from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. You know the one that goes, Yo, ho, Yo, ho, a pirate’s life for me….  Now we both think that is pretty awesome. Here we are in Disney country and the radio somehow picked up some Disney song.

I’m listening and thinking this is really remarkable.  I’ve never heard the Yo Ho song on the radio and Johnny Depp is doing the singing!  Oh my g-d! Johnny Depp released his version of the Yo Ho song! How did I, a member of just about every Disney blog and web site out there and fan of Johnny Depp miss that? Sh-t! Well, I now know it exists.

Hubby and I laugh about that and sing a bar or two.  Tomorrow we are going to make a pit stop at Disney and we always ride Pirates and Haunted mansion – we have season tickets.  The song ends.

The next song is, This is Halloween, from the movie Nightmare Before Christmas by Disney and Tim Burton and the music by Danny Elfman. I’ve never heard this song on the radio either!  I love Nightmare Before Christmas! I love Disney! I think Tim Burton is a creative genius! I love the movie soundtracks of Danny Elfman! I can’t believe this!

I turn to hubby and say, “I can’t believe this! It’s almost like they know I’m coming!”

And he says, “I know. It’s really odd. Did you program the songs you wanted?”

“No!”

“Are you sure, because I’ve never heard that song on the radio.”

“Absolutely sure! This is fantastic! I feel like we entered the Twilight Zone!”

We start singing along. Yes, we know the words to, This is Halloween. Please don’t judge us. I’m sure if you dig deep enough you will find something YOU do that others might find … odd.

The song ends and I eagerly await the next song. What could the geniuses at Disney know I want to hear next?

The next is some ditty with a rumba-kindda sound to it. I don’t like it, neither does hubby. It does not last long so that’s okay. In fact, it’s the shortest song I’ve ever heard.

The next song is just as odd. It’s the sound of beeps and whirls and nothing else. It’s also extremely short. The one after that is … the sound of a telephone ringing.

Hubby says, “Those are your ring tones! The radio is playing all your ring tones! How does it know your ringtones? Why is it playing your ringtones? Where did you plug your phone?”

Okay, so the little whatever-you-are-in-the-dashboard-computer-thinky had synced with my phone.  There was no Disney fairy at some radio station reading my mind and sending me songs of my fancy.  Johnny Depp was not singing the Yo Ho song. It was an impersonator on some ring-tone site I paid  ninety-nine cents to download a while back.  In fact, it’s my main ring-tone. I thought it sounded really familiar.  The, This is Halloween, song is my ring-tone for when Hubby calls. He loves making up new words to the song to make me laugh. So, it’s his song.

This concludes the hap-hazard tale of two blondes walking into a rental car agency.

10 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Moving To West-Central Florida

ImageI’ve been visiting Florida for the past couple weeks. I do this on a regular basis. So it’s no surprise when people ask me if I ever plan to move to Florida, especially the west-central Florida area. My answer is, when pigs fly. Here are the my top 10 reasons why:

  1. I’ve seen a car accident every day I’ve been here
  2. Scorpions hanging around the swimming pool
  3. The Walmart old-people scooter-chair super-highwayImage
  4. Brown recluse spiders and really big insects
  5. Culture shock, VERY slow way of life
  6. How many years do you have left to live competitions
  7. Grass that hurts my barefeet
  8. Daily rain and high humidity
  9. Most of the houses look the sameImage
  10. WHAT DID YOU SAY? I CAN’T HEAR YOU BECAUSE THE (TV, radio, loud speaker announcements) IS SO LOUD!… I call this no-hearing-loss syndrome. The response from those with good hearing  to the inundation of loud stimulation causing headaches and agitation. … Or maybe it’s just me.

Monument Rocks, Kansas: Molly and Bobo Take a Vacation

Kansas is the flattest place I have ever seen. Pancake flat. I-70 is one long stretch of flat, mile after mile of farmland speckled with occasional bouts of religious billboards. If you want to find your fate in the afterlife based on a billboard, I-70 in Kansas is the place to be.

It was just me and hubby. The kids and grand-kids weren’t going so we brought the next best thing, a stuffed family. In the video you will see part of the zoo-crew (as hubby calls them). The monkey is BoBo and the pig is Molly be Golly. You might be surprised how many grandparent type couples we saw with stuffed kids or perhaps grand-kids along on their trip. So, I didn’t feel too awkward dragging stuffed animals around to have their pictures taken.  Back to talking about Kansas.

Nestled deep in all this flatitute is a natural site that took my breath away. I called it the Monument Valley of the Mid-west. They call it Monument Rocks and Castle Rocks. We found it only because of a small sign on the side of the road and a reference in the Welcome to Kansas booklet.

It is located down a very long, meandering, dirt road through private ranches. There are no fences and cattle do have the right-of-way.  The monoliths are considered a National Monument by the Department of the Interior and one of Kansas’ wonders.

I was positive, despite the sign saying public monument; we were going to get shot for driving across someone’s ranch. There was no hiding. There were no trees or buildings for most of the twenty-some miles of dirt road to the monuments.

They seemed to erupt out of the flatland before our eyes.  Buttresses of chilling, lonely, death-white stone at least two stories high. We slowed the van down to a crawl and said nothing. There were no words to describe the awe in this eighty-million-year-old byproduct of the Niobrara Sea that once traversed from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada though this site.

I got out of the van and just stood. The only sound I heard was wind singing around and through the stone arches. The milky buttresses hungrily sucked in the rays of the bright sun leaving nothing behind. They were not quartz as I expected, but made of white chalk with streaks of grey lines.

I walked around the monoliths and arches trying to wrap my brain around my feelings. It was more than mere awe. It was spiritual. I was walking in the footsteps of countless others before me and walking over countless fossils of marine animals long ago extinct. I pulled out my camera, a video recorder and a digital voice recorder. I walked around for about an hour taking over a hundred pictures, a video, and recorded my thoughts and the environment.  I left knowing I had not succeeded in capturing the experience. Some places refuse to be captured.

As we pulled away, I felt remorse and watched the site disappear in the dusty trail of our van’s wheels. I often tease that I am a restless wanderer but in this place, I felt grounded. If you get a chance, go see it. I understand the land where it sits was sold late last year but I am under the impression, visitors are still welcomed. ** Beware of rattle snakes!  There are no bathroom facilities! *****

Directions: (derived from Kathy Weiser’s site, Legends of America)

Monument Rocks is located about 28 miles southeast of Oakley Kansas. Take U.S. 83 south, then 4 miles east on Jayhawk Road, 3 miles south, and 1 mile east (dry weather road only). From Scott City, travel 18 miles north on U.S. 83, east 2 miles on Dakota Road, 1 mile north, 3½ miles east, and 2½ miles north.

Castle Rock can be reached by taking the Quinter Exit #107 off I-70, traveling 15 miles south on Castle Rock Road to the intersection of GO-80 and GO-K, then 4 miles east to Castle Rock sign, and north across a cattle guard (dry weather road only).

Disney World vs South of the Border

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Disney World vs South of the Border

     We decide to take the family on a trip to Disney World. This is the five-year-old and seven-year-olds first time. It is approximately an 18 hour drive. We leave the house at about 5:30 am. No problems.

     The seven-year-old is learning about states in school. So, as we pass each state we call out its name and everyone yells or claps. That’s one state down and so many more to go.

Passing our third state the five-year-old says, “I’m tired of all these little states. Just tell me when we get to the state of Japan!” No problem.

     The day goes extremely well and the kids nap while watching Cinderella for the thousand’s time. Before we know it, the big, gaudy South of the Border sign is on the horizon. SOB is a tourist trap/rest area that has been in existence since the 1950’s. It is covered in bright, multi-colored lights, brightly painted buildings and life-size, cement, animal statues also painted bright colors. It is located on the North/South Carolina border and is almost a mandatory stop as we travel to Florida and back.  We pull into one of their parking lots.

     “Everybody up!” I call out to the family. “Time to stretch.”

     The five-year-old jumps up, looks outside the van window and yells. “We made it. Oh my Gosh, we’re really at Disney World! I can’t believe it!”

     Hubby, without missing a beat says, “Yes, we made it to Disney World! I think I just saw a princess go around the corner!”  I give him a dirty look.  He lowers his voice and says. “Just think about all the money and time we can save if they think this is Disney.” He‘s smiling, I’m not.

     The seven-year-old jumps in front of five-year-old who is now outside the van and twirling in delight. 

“This is not DISNEY!” The seven-year-old yells. Her voice gets louder at the end of each sentence.  “Do you see any CASTLES? Do you see any PRINCESSES? Do you see MICKEY MOUSE?”

     The five-year-old stops twirling and looks dejected. “Rats. I thought this was Disney.”  She crosses her arms over her chest and adds. “Well, at least tell me we’re as far as Japan.”

     Hubby and I just look at one another.  I say. “Well, I suppose we could take her to Epcot. They have a Japan.”

     “No, no,” he says. “All we need to do is tell her the Georgia Welcome Center is the entrance to Japan. She’ll never know the difference.”

      It’s going to be a long trip.

 

“Slow down,” said the Turtle. Over and Over Again..

    Image    “Have you ever watched a turtle?” An Oneida woman asked me from behind the counter of the at Shako:wi Cultural Center, Oneida, New York.

     “Not really,” I tell her. The subject of turtles has been a recurring theme lately. I tell her this.

     She smiles and nods. “Turtles are slow, steady and strong.” She gives me a tour of the center, showing me wonderful pieces of Oneida history and craft work. My gracious host tells me she is Turtle Clan. “Is there something you were looking for?”

     “I am looking for a book on the teachings of Deganawidah and Hiawatha” (a Haudenosaunee prophet and his companion I admired from a book called, Travels in a Stone Canoe by Harvey Arden and Steve Wall). The center has what I am looking for.

     I’m interested and I pick up a book on this and one on the Oneida creation story.

     “It’s the turtle that grows and becomes the island of North America,” she says.

       I tell her I have been reading and rereading a book by the humanitarian, wisdom-keeper Oren Lyons called, The Art of Being Human.

      She smiles and we talk about the Onondaga man (he is also Turtle Clan) and his influences before I say my goodbyes.                                              

Image   Stained glass window in Shako:wi Cultural Center

     Several months later, I am a guest at a Lenape Inter-tribal Winter Solstice gathering at the Eicher Indian Museum in Ephrata, Pennsylvania. We are in a large stone and log cabin that sits next to a meandering stream. It’s three in the morning, half way through singing the nearly six hour Walam Olum ( the Lenape creation story, which takes about six hours to sing in alternating verses of Lenape and English).

     I am sitting against a wall surrounded by a sea of sleeping bags, pillows and people. The drum has been loud and consistent for the past three hours, reverberating off the walls drowning everything but the loud singing. I am told that the drum unifies us, brings all our heart beats together as one. As I look around the lake of people I believe this. We all move the same.

       A paper is handed to me with the English translation to the story. I read and stop when a see the words, and the turtle became the foundation of the earth.

      Turtles again! I stop singing and get up. I need to go outside and get some fresh air.

      I work my way to the door and outside to the roaring fire used earlier for part of a blessing/forgiveness ceremony. It’s freezing; there is frost on the grass. I am not wearing a coat and my tee-shirt is wet with sweat from the heat of the building and excitement of the night. I’m standing next to the three foot flames shivering violently. I can’t go back inside yet. I really need to think about why turtles are prominent in my current life.

     A tall, dark skinned man wrapped in a wool blanket walks over to my side. He unwraps his blanket and without asking throws it around me. “My name is Walking Bear.” He tells me and pauses a moment watching me.  “You looked a little cold. Drum too loud?”

     “I just needed a break,” I tell him. “Thank you for the blanket.” He nods.

     “What do you know about turtles?” He asks me.

     I turn and look into the flames, listening to it crackle and spit almost in rhythm of the drum inside.  “Not a lot, why?”

     “I saw you inside. Sometimes you reminded me of a turtle. Other times, this evening, you seem to have forgotten how to be a turtle.”

     Remembering my conversation with the Oneida woman at the cultural center, I reply. “Turtles are slow, steady and strong.”

     “Ah,” he responds. Turtles are very important in many native cultures for their ties to the creator and for being the foundations of mankind. If it weren’t for the courage of the turtle, you could say, we wouldn’t exist. What is your name?”

     This all feels like an odd dream. “Deborah.” I keep looking into the flames.

     “Ah,” he says again. “That’s Hebrew for the Busy Bee. You know a person can be too busy?”

     I don’t agree. Since my near death experience I have spent almost every waking hour trying to show my return from the brink was worthy. I was given a second chance at life and I wasn’t going to waste a moment. I was told during my near death experience that once I was healed I would be engaged in a mission to help others.

     For the past decade, I have been working extremely hard to force that healing. Terrified, I’d die again, only to find out it was all a mistake. They should have sent back someone else. This man does not know any of this. I keep quiet.

      “I think you should seriously consider turtles.” He continues. “They can carry the horrors of the world on their backs and remain strong, attached to the creator who made them. You appear to have the turtle shell.  As we stand here by the fire I can see it. I saw it off and on inside the gathering.” He pauses and I turn to look at him. I still don’t know what to say, so I say nothing.

     “ You’ve seen the creator, haven’t you?” He doesn’t know me, my near death experience, my work with trauma victims and my own hellish nightmares.

       Someone calls him. He nods again at me and walks back toward the building.   

      I don’t see him the remainder of the event. I leave the blanket on a table inside the cabin when I leave after breakfast.

     I start looking up turtle totems, turtle animal behaviors, turtle legends and drive my friends crazy. They keep telling me I have to slow down. I can’t, I think too much is at stake.

     I don’t learn anything new. If anything I am the anti-turtle. I find the idea of becoming a turtle a waste of precious time. I thought there was some secret message from God in these events but I don’t see it.

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                                          Eicher Indian Museum, Ephrata, PA

      I’m in Oriskany, New York on vacation with hubby in our RV. A large turtle walks onto the street in front of us and stops, looking up at us. It’s a turtle – RV standoff.

        “That turtle has something to tell me!” I excitedly tell hubby. I grab my camera and jump out of the RV.  I immediately lay out on the road in front of the RV eye to eye with the turtle. I don’t know if it’s a terrapin or a turtle and I don’t think it matters (I find out later, terrapin is an Indian word for little turtle).

     I beg in a whisper. “Turtle, please help me. Everywhere I go people talk to me about turtles. I’m seeing turtles everywhere. My college mascot was a turtle!  What’s going on?”

      Of course he didn’t answer. I shot a couple pictures. I watch and wait for a long time (in my opinion) while he watches me. I don’t know what I think will happen.

     The turtle finally, turns around and walks off, continuing his journey across the street each step deliberately placed and slow. I keep watching to make sure he was safe. It was a bit anti-climatic.

 

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      It’s now the end of the summer and I’m in Corning, New York to give a presentation on the choices we make in our daily lives. I have a dear friend, another presenter with me sharing a room at the hotel.

     This is the first time I’ve been in front of an audience in over twenty five years. I used to be a performer. For nearly fifteen years my life revolved around countless hours of practices, rehearsals and performances. Trying to be perfect on a consistent basis was paramount for my performances, keeping haunted memories at bay and the illusion that everything was grand.

     This presentation has no rehearsals. I have minimal ideas how to say what I need to say. I’m freaking in the hotel room. I’m talking fast and non-stop, moving quickly, bumping into furniture, waving my arms around like a fool and feel like I’m going to die of a panic attack.

     My friend turns to me and demands. “Holy crap! Go run a warm wash cloth over your face to calm down. You’re driving me crazy!”

     I’m mortified and crushed. Obediently, I go into the bathroom and pick up a wash cloth from the sink counter. A little turtle charm falls out.

     I stare in awe at this silver charm with tears in my eyes. It’s a miracle. It’s exactly the reminder I need. Slow down!

     I rush back to the bedroom waving the charm by the little ringlet at the turtle’s nose. “Do you see this?” I ask. “How in the world did the cleaning staff know I needed a turtle? How did the turtle find its way into the wash cloth? I know what I have to do, I have to slow down!” I exclaim and throw myself on the bed. “I can’t believe the creator sent me a turtle!”

     My friend comes over, picks up a pillow and smacks me upside the head. “Did it ever occur to you that I put the turtle in the wash cloth?” I look up at her.  No, it hadn’t  “Did it ever occur to you that I knew what you needed and I was the one performing the miracle? No, you didn’t   No, you think it’s the cleaning lady, it’s the creator, its Tony the Tiger! Who would better know your needs then me and I have news for you, I’m not wearing gossamer wings.”  She moves around the room flapping her arms as wings but still looking exasperated.

     She’s angry, I’m calm, the turtle went in my pocket and the presentation went off without a hitch. After I’m finished, I look over at her and smile, pleased with myself. She looks back, flaps her arms and sticks her neck out like a chicken pecking. I blush.

    Had I been moving too quickly, I would have missed that. What a disaster that would have been.

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                                “Slow down and pay attention,” says the turtle.  Yes sir.

      Months later, I’m at work and long ago forgotten about my turtles. I’m exhausted, can’t sleep, drinking multiple, massive cups of coffee and chasing them down with energy drinks to keep going. I’m taking on more projects and responsibilities and attempting to do all of it to the max humanly possible. I’m forgetting important dates and how to scramble eggs. I’m sick all the time and my nerves are shot.  I no longer think there is a God. 

     It hits me; I can’t do this work anymore. I start interviewing people for my replacement. An ex-Roman Catholic priest who came out of the closet, left the priesthood to help others is my replacement. He doesn’t need the money. He saw the ad in the paper and was called to be here.

        The last two weeks of my employment I’m supposed to train him. Instead he trains me. He gives me a crash course on spirituality, self-care, and making positive changes.  He taught me volumes and I taught him pages.

     On my last day, he shows up with two gifts. One is a self-made cross stitch picture, which says; To help another person is to touch the heart of God. The other is an Oneida creation story print of….. the turtle as the backbone of the earth.

      We’ve never talked about turtles to my recollection.

     “You have a turtle shell, kiddo,” he says. “ You’ve heard the rest. You need to make it yours. Find your inner turtle. You really don’t have a choice. I can’t stress that enough.”

     We say our goodbyes. I leave. He leaves about two weeks later saying he no longer needs to be there.

 

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      It takes me four more years to understand that I am the anti-turtle, always speeding about, taking on the world.

     I’m an over-achiever, dedicated, altruistic and determined. I’ve been this way my whole life.  What’s the problem?

     The problem is the human body is not designed to handle all the adrenaline it takes to do those things. The ex-priest was right. Despite all the turtle coaxing from the universe, I kept going until there was no choice. Forced to slow down from chronic exhaustion and an immunological disorder, I wait like a turtle in doctor’s offices, hospitals and pharmacy lines.

     I often wonder, had I listened to the message of the turtle years ago, where would I be? I can’t go backward. Slowing down has allowed me to hear the natural rhythms of life and spirit. There is so much of the human experience I was missing in my hurried behaviors.

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             “Slow down and be like a turtle,” the man said.  Something we all should do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The is a must see for any Lord of the Rings, Hobbit fans! I can’t believe I just sat through a safety video! If only I lived in the Shire… (minus the threat of invasions, rogue wizards and motley trolls). Okay, maybe I’d rather live in Rivendell. Enjoy the video and remember to put your tray in the upright position. March 19th is the release date for The Hobbit DVD!

Monkeys in New Jersey Attack Tourists, News at Eleven

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No monkeys were harmed in the actual events or reproduction of this photograph.

It was a two door, 1971, lime green Datsun B-210 with a black vinyl roof. Custom detailed with dual, on-the-floor, port holes for your road viewing pleasure. An additional emergency pull-rope release added onto the driver-side door for times when it’s not cool to use a handle. And a specially designed hood bent into the majestic shape of a steep mountain.  Perfect for quick engine checks and radiator ventilation without having to fool with antiquated, interior, hood releases. The five pound Massachusetts’ granite, air-filter and cover-attachment-system fit perfectly under the shape of the hood.

Roach clips, never used, with hot pink feathers are swinging to the riffs of Keith Richards’ bass guitar and Mick Jagger’s edgy vocals. It’s Sue’s car. To the world, I am a Lennon/McCartney girl. Behind closed doors, I’m a Richards/Jagger mistress. I have a Sweet Pollyanna Purebred reputation to uphold.

We’re in New Jersey on a sweltering hot, July morning after a heavy rain. The smell of evaporating water on asphalt whiffs through my passenger side, floor porthole. I watch the macadam and occasional puddle fly by my feet straddling the hole.

“Let’s go see the monkeys at the drive-thru safari,” I suggest.  I’d seen a sign just outside of New York City.  “We’re only twenty miles away.”

“Sure, why not.” Sue replies. Susan is a tomboy. Something she readily embraces. This is evidenced by her grungy rock band tee-shirts, faded jeans, cowboy boots and hat, slightly greasy dirty blonde hair and automotive grease under her fingernails. She was always tinkering with the car.

I used to be a tomboy but exchanged it for grace, poise and the showmanship my performance persona demanded.  I envy Susan’s grunge while I sit here in a crisp white pair of shorts, turquoise and white spaghetti strap tank top, with appropriately and pain staking matched jewelry. My white Jack Purcells are as spotless as my fingernails which have never touched motor oil.

The car wheel hits a puddle, splashing muddy water into my floor porthole. My crisp, clean whiteness is now a muddy, drenched mess. Water is running off the end of my pampered, Maybelline, light beige covered nose.  It took me fifteen minutes trying to find my reflection in a campground mirror this morning to get this nose well blended!

Susan looks over at me and asks. “What the hell? How did you get all wet and muddy?”

“Oh I don’t know. Something about a hole in the floor that needs fixed.” At least my Nikon camera and accessories didn’t get wet. I look around for something to use as a towel but only find our mildewed tent, sleeping bags, duffle bags, firewood, a half empty bag of potato chips and an unopened box of Twinkies.

“Serve’s you right for wearing white!” She laughs, pulls the 8 track tape out of the dashboard, shakes it and puts it back in.  I have no idea what this ritual does but this will be the sixth time I’ll hear the song, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, in the past two days.

A kid with pimples greets us at the safari gate.  He announces to no one, “Twenty dollars, stay in your car, the windows can be down except in the monkey enclosure, don’t feed the animals, the animals have the right a way, don’t stop in the monkey enclosure, take all the pictures you want, have a nice day.”  He takes a breath. We drive on to join a long line of slow moving vehicles.

Our windows are down so I can take pictures without a glare. I tend to see everything through a camera lens.  I go almost everywhere with my gear ready for that opportune moment.  Several cars ahead, I see two mammoth gray ostriches weaving between them.  Occasionally they case a car, seemingly looking for trouble.  This could be that moment.

“Hey look.” Susan says as she points to the birds. “They’re getting really close. You might actually get a good picture.”

The birds are now several car lengths away. I look at my camera and realize I don’t need the telephoto lens so I bend down to get the 50 mm.

“Um,” Sue says. Her voice sounds a bit distressed but not enough for me to sit up.  “Um, don’t, okay, just don’t get, um, I think we might have a problem.” I cock my head toward her to figure out why she suddenly forgot how to formulate sentences. Her face is oddly drained of color.  “Right now,” she continues in a near whisper.  “Don’t move, Debbie. We have a serious problem happening.”

I slowly turn my head to face the largest beak I’ve ever seen followed by two, large, black eyes on a face covered by prickly hairs. I definitely remember the animals have the right of way.

The beak, eyes and prickly hairs jolt past me heading for the back seat. It’s followed by an incredibly powerful, prickly haired, neck and a body of varying shades of musky smelling, gray plumage that completely covers my window opening. I’m pretty sure the 50 mm lens is the wrong one. What I really need is an extreme wide angle lens.  But that‘s okay because I don’t think the ostrich is in the mood.

The gray plumage and powerful, prickly haired neck whip back out my window with the half-eaten bag of potato chips covering its eyes and beak. It’s really very stunning. The red and white of the family size, chip bag, against the increasingly frantic varying shades of musky smelling, gray plumage now in full regalia is so avant-garde.  I can’t decide what strength and angle of flash to use on all this gray plumage with the very overcast, gray sky in the background. This would be a great shot in subtle shades of grays, blacks and white in the style of Ansel Adams.

“Put the window up!” Susan yells. “You’re gonna get in so much trouble for feeding the animals!” I really didn’t need to get into anymore trouble. I nervously try to push strands of my honey blonde hair behind my ear without success. It’s cut too short.

I look over at Sue’s white knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel. Her breathing is labored but is curiously in rhythm with her head shaking left to right and back again. It’s not my fault the damn bird likes chips. Not that it matters. I glance around the back seat for damages.  Except for a few remaining terrified chips scattered hither and dither, all seems normal.  The chips were destined for consumption anyway.  What’s the problem?

“Well,” I tell her, “at least they didn’t get the Twinkies.” I can see from Sue’s expression there are no words to express her feelings on the topic. We start moving forward again.

The monkey enclosure looms ahead with its two-story cement walls topped in high voltage wire. Cars are only allowed through the massive wood and steal double doors at select intervals. Two armed animal control wardens monitor the opening diligently.

“They did say this is a monkey enclosure, right?” I ask. Sue nods yes and pulls the car up to the stop line before the immense, fortified doors. I recheck the settings on my camera.

A warden steps up to Sue’s window and says, “Door’s locked, windows up, don’t stop, no exceptions – got it?”

The massive doors open wide enough to swallow us and no wider. We pull through and they close quickly behind us. I look around expecting to see a cross between Godzilla and King Kong. I see nothing but the road we’re on and a well manicured lawn with lots of low shrubby trees. There is a red car about three hundred feet ahead of us moving slowly..

A large, gray-brown male macaque steps out from behind a tree onto the road ahead of us and sits down. Sue stops the car. His steal, green eyes watch us, the animals in the cage. He’s in no hurry to move.  Peripherally, I see movement and turn to my right to see macaque mother’s with their babies.

“Check it out!” I tell Sue. “ Aren’t they cute?” I want to shoot a picture but my window has animal slobber all over the exterior.  “What does it look like out your window?”  She doesn’t answer and I turn to find out why.

On her side of the car, the one with the convenient, emergency, pull-rope door release, a line of fidgety, gray-brown fury bodies with green eyes watch us.

“This can’t be good,” Sue says. She turns the tape player off and we wait in silence.

The large, gray-brown, male macaque responsible for stopping the car jumps onto our mountain shaped car hood. He yawns, shakes his head and urinates all over the window.

“That’s something you don’t see every day,” I say and take a picture.

“This isn’t gonna to be good. I think we might have a problem,” Sue whispers.

Urine-monkey stands, flaps his arms, and opens his mouth displaying sharp incisors and screeches like a banshee.   Suddenly, al I see out any window is a gray-brown, fury, moving carpet. The car shakes and bounces reminding me of an amusement park ride. I struggle to turn and look out the back window and see black ash rain.

“Sue, is that your black vinyl roof?” I ask.  Thousands of pieces of black vinyl roof slide down the back window.  I brace the camera against the rocking car seat and shoot a couple shots of the storm.

“Oh hell! No!” Sue yells. I spin around, jostled off balance as I go. “ They’ve got the rope!”

I lean over to assess the situation. Five monkeys are in a line pulling on the convenient, emergency, pull-rope release. It’s the exterior part with the knot we untie to release the door. Sue has the other shorter, interior end in hand. It’s obvious they have more leverage then we do.  I can’t grab the rope.  Sue is in the way. So, I move back to my side of the car. Counter balance, I figure.

My side of the window is now void of fur and I have a clear, abet smudged shot of the baby monkeys with their mothers. What the hell? I shoot a couple shots at different focal lengths and apertures, trying to adjust for the rocking motion of the tug of war occurring on the driver side of the car.

“What the hell are you doing?” Sue yells at me. I spin and look at her.

“I’m taking pictures.” I say and notice her eyes. Their size and her panic enhance their green and brown color making them look wickedly, earthy in this light. I shoot a picture.

“They’re going to kill us, you know.”  She struggles to wrap the small section of rope around her arm like she was wrapping a garden hose.

“I suppose this is not a good time to tell you I think disassembling and reassembling the car door last night was a bad idea on your part?”

A blue mini-van filled with kids passes. My window is once again covered in fur but I see camera flashes.  I realize the mini-van has a better point-of-view then I do. What good is expensive camera equipment if your point of view is wrong?

I’m distracted by the sensation that my shoe is moving on its own accord. I look down. Little hominid fingers have hold of my muddy, Jack Purcell shoe laces.  Crap, I forgot the porthole.  I yank my foot up but quickly halt. There is an arm and a shoulder attached to the hand and I’m pulling them inside the porthole. This would make one hell of a short video if I had a camcorder with me.

“Do something!” Susan yells. “Now! Put the damn camera down and kick that beast back to hell!  I listen and obey.

The car stops rocking and the windows are fur free. The porthole is empty and the rope release on the door is limp. It’s no longer raining black ash.   I take a picture of the empty, now larger porthole between my feet. I look up to see a warden in a bright yellow jeep beside us. He looks perturbed. The monkeys act aloof and I don’t know what I look like, but Susan looks like hell.  He motions for us to follow him and we do.

“Go to the clerk,” he says. “She’ll take care of the damages.”

We park the car; examine all the thin, side, metal trim now jutting out at odd angles, the driver’s side door no longer sitting flush with the frame and the hole in the black vinyl roof.

“My poor car,” Susan says.

I look at the misshaped hood, the remains of the rope hanging off the broken door and my muddy Jack Purcells, complimentary of the floor porthole.  “Yeah, it’s a shame.”

“There is no way the clerk is going to believe this,” Susan says. “Well, we might as well find out.”

We walk over to an office and I proceed to gingerly, almost embarrassingly explain our situation. I know they are going to look at Sue’s car and think we’re idiots.

“Damn monkeys,” the clerk says. “I bet your car is green. There is something about green cars. Take your car over to the park police. They have to make a report and photograph the evidence.”

We drive the car over to the police station. A pudgy, black officer steps out with an antiquated Polaroid camera in hand.  “The monkeys did all this?” He asks while circling the car, stopping to look at the Massachusetts’ granite under the bent hood and the missing car floor from my open window. He looks directly at me.

I’m horrible at lying. Ever since I can remember people have told me, don’t play poker! “No.” I tell him.

“So, what damage did they do?” He’s still looking at me. I shoot a look over at Susan who’s shuffling her feet nervously.

“The roof and the metal, jutting out thingies,” I say.

“Thought so,” he says. He takes a couple Polaroid shots and waits for them to develop. “Are you two far from home?”

“Five hours, maybe,” I reply. Not sure why this is important.

“This car is a death trap. You know that?” He’s still looking at me. It’s not my car. I keep quiet.

He comes over to my side and shows me a very tiny, poorly exposed picture of Sue’s car. “This doesn’t quite do the car justice, does it? I bet if you used your camera, we could really see the damage.”  He pauses, looks at me, Sue and then the car. He sighs, pulls out a pocket knife and slashes the monkey made hole in the roof and pulls it back exposing the metal. He snaps another picture and looks at me. “I think this might get the point across.”  What am I supposed to say?

He takes Susan into the station to fill out paperwork while I stand guard over the car. I’m not sure how we’re going to get the car home with all that metal hanging off the sides. Sue comes out with a smile on her face. They paid her twice the amount of money she originally paid for the car – six hundred dollars.

“Ready to go home?” She asks.

I look over at the metal protrusions. “What about these?”

“That’s not a problem.” She pulls the metal completely off each side of the car and shoves them in the back seat with the moldy tent and Twinkies.

We drive back to Maryland in silence. I know my pictures will all be blurry and I’m bummed.  We pull into the driveway and as we unload the car it hits me and I stop moving.

“What?” Sue asks.

I turn and look at her. “I should have put the camera on automatic instead of manual.”  I can see from her expression there are no words to express her feelings on the topic.

Listen to the Sounds of Nothing to Hear Everything

Monument Valley     What does it mean to be alive? Obviously, I’m not referring to the status of a person’s brain and cardiac functioning.  Every so many months I find myself saying, I need to do something so I know I’m alive.

This particular time I was face up in a cemetery under some unknown person’s headstone with an associate in dire straits when she announced. “I don’t feel alive anymore. I have to find out why.”

And so it begins. Another restless zombie looking for answers. I nodded in understanding and set out on my own quest. I took a road trip across the country.

Monument Valley National Park is actually part of the Navajo Indian Reservation (as well as Hopi, Ute and Zuni) and encompasses the corner of four states, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado.  I had never been there but was compelled to go. There is a dirt drive where you are allowed to take your vehicle. It takes you to a small portion of the park. I wasn’t interested in that.  I needed something more for reasons I can’t explain.

I hire a Navajo (Dine’) guide, got in his jeep and headed out to explore lesser traveled areas.  We are about two thirds of the way through the tour, almost axle deep in rich, orange sand when he stops the jeep and turns off the engine.

“What do you hear?” He asks me.

“Nothing,” I replied. There are no noises. No birds, humans, or sounds of any civilization what so ever.

“Exactly,” he said. Smiling, he turns the jeep engine back on and we continue swerving through the sand until we get to a massively tall, orange, rock alcove.  Stopping again, he hops out of the jeep and says, “Come on.”

We head into the alcove and he instructs me to lie against the slopping, rock wall next to him and I do so.  There has to be a twenty degree difference between the air inside and in the sun. The rock is so smooth and cool I close my eyes and desire to become one with the rock against my skin.

“What do you hear?” He asks me again.

I hear him breathing. I hear me breathing and realize the alcove walls are magnifying sound. He starts to sing in words I’ve never heard before and a rhythm that soothes my soul.  The sound of his voice reverberates beautify around the alcove and I hope he never stops singing. But he does.

“ Isn’t that something?” He asks.

I’m too busy finding my voice. My heart and soul still flooding from the experience and I can’t find my voice to answer. I don’t have to. He knows.

“We have to get back,” he said. Sadly, I know this but don’t want to leave.

We return to the Park Visitor’s Center and I’m still in awe. He just smiles and shakes his head in approval.

Heading out of the park, I turn down a road leading to an over-hang. It’s supposed to be a great place to see the remains of cliff dwellings. I stop and park the car.

As I’m walking down a path to the cliff edge an elderly Indian women with a teenager in tow stop me. She is holding a glass bead and juniper berry necklace with a wire dream catcher as a pendent. She says something in a language I do not know. The teenager smiles at me. The old woman is her grandmother and she has a gift for me.

I think she is trying to sell me the necklace. I wouldn’t mind owning it, but I’m suspicious and wonder if somehow this is a tourist trap of some kind.  I must look suspicious because the woman is more insistent and the girl more adamant I have to take the necklace. I take it saying thank you and they both smile.

I continue down to the cliff edge and shoot a bunch of pictures. The view is magnificent. I know there is no way any of my shots will express what I am experiencing.  Despite this, I shoot a couple more before returning up the path to my car.

The two women are no longer around. I do find a tin can with various dollars and a few coins sitting on a blanket. I toss a twenty dollar bill in the can and head to my car feeling like I just committed a mortal sin.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I was so alive. It took me days to realize lessons that were basic instructions for living.  To feel alive, listen to the sounds of nothing and hear everything. The gift from a stranger is more powerful than a gift from someone you know. The necklace hangs on the wall in my house.