Thursday, January 16, 2014

La vida buena, la vida dulce

Today I left Key West after five beautiful days there. It was on my bucket list and I'm happy that I could cross it off the list with no complaints. For the last couple of weeks I kept an eye on the weather and it wasn't promising - cold by Florida standards, windy, and rainy. I found out toward the end of my stay that the weekend before my arrival had seen four inches of rain in 24 hours, even though January is supposed to be in the dry season. But last Saturday, the day I pulled in, was gorgeous; the gods had saved up all their smiles for me. I got the rig plugged in, water line connected, and repaired to the deck with a gin and tonic in hand.

This RV resort's sites are privately owned and can be rented when the owner is gone (obviously). Each of the waterfront lots has its own dock. Some are fancier than others depending on how much money was sunk into it by the owner. Mine was plain, not even a ladder into the water.

Other lots have boat moorage, like this one next door.

The water was like crystal and I was told it remained fairly shallow a long way out, crocodile- and shark-free, so I could easily snorkel from the dock. I elected to sign on with a couple of boats instead, one to Dry Tortugas National Park, and one to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, a coral reef about 40 minutes out. They were two great trips, well, actually three because the Looe Key morning trip was so good I signed up for the afternoon one as well. After all, I was already wet.

Each of the sites also has a tiki hut. Mine, like the dock, was plain, but the space on the opposite side of me from the one with the boat was completely tricked out with a full kitchen: cherry cabinets, huge stainless side-by-side refrigerator-freezer, and granite countertops. They had a jet ski. Even so, how could I complain with a setup like this?

I'm now near Fort Myers, Florida, where it could get to freezing temperature tonight. I know it's not as bad as "up north," but it also isn't the Keys. I'm counting my blessings that it's still sunny.

Thought of the day:

Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination. (Oscar Wilde)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Not dead, not quitting

It's been pointed out to me that I've not posted in a long time. I know! I've made my way down Florida and have been in Key West since Saturday, on the hop every day.

On my way I stopped on a whim at The Ringling, a huge complex in Sarasota that is home to the John and Mable Ringling mansion, the circus museum, and the Ringling Art Museum. After that there were two nights at Flamingo campground in the southernmost part of the Everglades, where I had no Internet, water, or electricity but plenty of mosquitoes. One night I killed two dozen before going to bed and the survivors have retaliated by giving me at least as many bites. I don't think I ever have been so mosquito-bitten. Flamingo campground is 34 miles from the closest city which fortunately has the most amazing produce market, Robert Is Here, with the best milkshakes, so I was fortified coming and going.

I'll be back soon with photos of fun things I've seen along the way, promise.

P.S. I found the sun and warm.

Thought of the day:
Mosquitoes remind us we are not as high on the food chain as we think. (Tom Wilson)

Monday, January 6, 2014

Where's the sun? Where's the warm?

I'm now in Florida, admittedly not very far into Florida, but I'm already asking, Where's the sun? Where's the warm? It's chilly and cloudy with a low of about 20 tonight. I'll keep heading south and west until I can't go any further on land and it had better be warm and sunny. I don't know what I'll do if it's not, but it had better be.

Yesterday was my last day working at Andersonville. The two months flew like the wind but in that brief time I learned more about the Civil War than in all my time in school. This morning I finished a book called Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy by Peter Carlson, a nonfiction account of two New York reporters who were captured by the Confederacy and held for 19 months in Southern prisons, most notably Salisbury Prison, North Carolina. Salisbury was brutal even by Andersonville standards. It's an easy read, mostly reconstructed from their correspondence, but what I liked best about it was how it brought the war down from the Generals, big battles, death rates, and chronicles of disease to the people who lived in it and through it: those who participated in the Underground Railroad not only to help slaves escape north but also to protect Unionists, Confederate deserters, Union soldiers who came home to the south on furlough, and New York reporters who wanted to go home. 

But I digress.

While at Andersonville I found myself collecting tombstones. I've been accused of having "all these hobbies" and he was probably right, but I've enjoyed them all, including my fascination with cemeteries. While wandering the rows in the cemetery I started noting the different faiths represented at the top of most markers, birth and death dates, wars participated in, and what I call tombstone sayings. Families apparently have a designated number of spaces and lines in which to record something about their loved one. Lots and lots say things like BELOVED WIFE MOTHER AND NANA (punctuation not allowed). I don't plan to be planted but rather scattered so there won't be anything said about me that won't be carried on the wind, but I'd still like to think my kids or I could come up with something more original and on the far end of the sassy spectrum. One note, before I show a sample of the tombstones I've "collected," and I don't mean disrespect, but in the thousands of grave markers I walked among, not one said, HE WAS AN SOB.

So here are some that struck my heart or piqued my interest, leaving me with questions that likely will never be answered. I will apologize in advance for the funky spacing of the photos. It took me more time to try to place these in some kind of order than it did to take the photos and process them. Thanks, Blogger, for making it hard.

Gone fishing with the Lord.
I'm as free as a bird now.

A bag of tools by R.L. Sharpe.
All good Navy men rest in peace.


Beloved son and brother. God bless you, shining star.
He ain't heavy, he's my brother.

I wonder what significance the lion and the lamb, with a child between them, has to the family.

Atomic veteran.
The symbol for atheism.

Eagle, globe, and anchor - Shanghai.

I love you until the 12th of never.
The same on his. Note they died within weeks of each other.

A Civil War era marker, I think a reinterment from another cemetery, but almost none of them have the date of death noted.

Two feathers.

May your garden grow in heaven.
Purple Heart. POW. Say goodbye, Ed.

I'm coming.
You're one of a kind.

Beloved father, pilot, & golfer. Bit of a rascal.
The giant is home.

I am with you at each new dawn.
A Southern lady of style & grace.




We love you. PS, God loves you.

The sunshine lady.

Don't worry, be happy.
Forever a song in my heart.
Her life touched many.

Volunteer American field service. Killed in action. Ambulance driver in Burma.

The first man to die at Andersonville. Subsequent graves were numbered.
Thought of the day:

Isn't it strange how princes and kings,
and clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
and common people, like you and me,
are builders for eternity?

Each is given a list of rules;
a shapeless mass; a bag of tools.
And each must fashion, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block, or a Stepping-Stone.

(R.L. Sharpe)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

And good riddance

I, for one, am happy 2013 is over and done. A steady diet of lies and cruelties large and small, loss, betrayal, fear, and a multitude of other negative and destructive emotions has met an arbitrary end. I've thought that 2013, with its ending digits of 13, might have been worse only if the year was 666. I'm glad it's done. There are still connections with the ex-husband but the contacts are getting to be fewer and fewer, and that's a very good thing for my mental and physical health.

I'm looking into 2014 with a fresh and renewed mind and spirit. I've resumed daily meditation. After abandoning my yoga practice last February, I'm ready to begin again. I also stopped writing in my journal when the worst of the pain abated, but will once more pursue it daily, even if only to record the many things I am grateful for. Won't you join me in noting one thing you count as a blessing, something you can at least grudgingly cut a notch for on the positive side of your life's balance? Even on my darkest days I could find a pinpoint of light to guide me. Your own beacon is flickering and beckoning to you.

Thought of the day:

Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road, healthy, free, the world before me. (Walt Whitman)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A look inside the stockade

The street into the town of Andersonville is directly across the road from Andersonville National Historic Site's exit. It's confusing to visitors because there are signs out on the highway that direct people to the Andersonville museum and visitor center, but it's the one in town, not the Historic Site, and they're left scratching their heads as to where the prison site and national cemetery are. 

The town is very small, with a tiny cafe or two, a post office that's open four hours a day, and a monument to Captain Henry Wirz, the prison commander during the war.
Henry Wirz photo.jpg
Thank you, Wikipedia.


Depending on what side you're on, he's either the Martyr of the South or the Butcher of Andersonville. After 150 years he's still a divisive character and the only person hanged for war crimes despite 1000 trials, which ended only when President Andrew Johnson called a halt to them in the interest of healing the country.

You have to understand that Andersonville is in the South. Not south; South, and here they still see him as a scapegoat, as he probably was in a way, and hold a memorial to him every year. For the rest of the year, residents and visitors remember him in a more mundane way.

I walked over to Andersonville a couple of weeks ago and visited the Drummer Boy Museum, a tiny place that has an astonishingly good diorama of the Andersonville stockade that made the $5 admission price worth every penny.

Here's an overview of the stockade, showing the creek running through what was more or less the middle of the original 16.5 acres. The creek was intended as the clean water source for the entire camp but proved overwhelmingly inadequate as the prison population surged. The prison opened in February 1864 and was seen as a solution to overcrowding, food and materials shortages, and an encroaching Union threat to Richmond, where most prisoners were held. Hundreds of prisoners arrived daily; by mid-summer 1864 the population had swelled to 33,000 men and the prison was increased to 26.5 acres.
Andersonville, officially known as Camp Sumter (not to be confused with Fort Sumter), was chosen for the site because it had lots of trees with which to build the 15-foot stockade walls, what was thought to be an adequate supply of clean water, was near a rail line, and was in the middle of nowhere. Prisoners were brought in to the train depot at Andersonville and walked about 1/4 mile to the stockade.

Not to scale, but a good representation according to what I've read.

The water supply was doomed from the start. The Confederate guards' camp and the bakehouse were upriver from the stockade and the water was fouled before it ever reached the prisoners. The prisoners used the same source of water for drinking, cooking, and washing. As the prisoner exchange system broke down and the prison population soared, the water became unspeakably filthy. 

The sinks, or latrines, were located at the extreme down river end of the supply, and I don't need to describe what happened to the water as the water flow became totally inadequate to flush away waste. More prisoners arrived, more became ill, rain washed filth into the stream, which all led to more men becoming, literally, deathly ill. What the diorama doesn't show is the disgusting condition of the water.

Prisoners erected whatever kind of shelter they could. They were often stripped of their belongings when they arrived at the prison, either by guards or other, tougher, prisoners, who called new arrivals "fresh fish." This diorama shows, I believe, much more organization to the camp and better health of the men compared to what I've read. The ultimate size of the prison was 26.5 acres but consider this: the stream and adjoining boggy land took away about 4 acres; the deadline, a board fence located anywhere from six to twelve feet inside the stockade walls, cost them another two acres. Imagine 33,000 men, at the peak of Andersonville's population, living on 20 acres. By the summer of 1864, Andersonville was the fifth largest city in the Confederacy.

Many had nothing left with which to build shelters and resorted to digging holes in the ground to act as some kind of protection. Many prisoners' diaries noted that it was common to see men with missing articles of clothing, or no clothing at all. Malnutrition lead to one of the three leading causes of death: dysentery, diarrhea, and scurvy. The death rate increased until August 1864, when the population was at its peak, and numbered an average of 100 a day.
Guards also contributed to prisoner deaths. As the battles wore on, trained soldiers were needed to fight, not guard the stockade. Boys as young as 10 or 11 and old men not fit to fight were brought in to climb into the pigeon roosts. Undisciplined, and mocked by prisoners, many became trigger-happy and shot without provocation. The deadline was a warning line and prisoners knew if they breached it they would be shot, but prisoners' diaries noted how many men died for being close to the deadline or for stumbling into it in their sickness.

It was reported that a prisoner was given permission from a guard to cross the line to retrieve something, only to be shot dead by another guard.
A gang of thugs called the Raiders took control of the prison, beating and robbing others for food, shelter, or whatever they wanted. There were so many of them and they were so vicious that their victims didn't dare to fight back, but finally some prisoners went to Captain Wirz and said they had to be stopped. The worst of the bunch, six of them, were judged by fellow prisoners to be guilty, and were hanged.

They, too, are buried in the cemetery, but separately, and are not counted among the nearly 13,000 who died here in the sixteen months Andersonville was open.

Quote of the day:

[The prisoners] still keep killing each other thay hung six yesterday thay fight all most every night in the stockade. (Joseph Williams, Confederate guard at Andersonville.)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ghosts in the cemetery

Last week I talked to a visitor from Texas for a very long time. For one, we weren't very busy, and two, he said I had pretty eyes. There you have it; that's all it takes. When you're more than sixty and a half.... well, you can guess how rare those kinds of comments are.

He told me about his ghost-hunting exploits all over the world. Ancient ruins, cemeteries, old houses, battlefields - anywhere spirits might be hanging around, he's there with his camera and other recording equipment, documenting what he says is evidence of their presence. He showed me lots of them on his cell phone and they all seemed to manifest themselves as orbs. Circles of varying sizes and colors, and all totally or nearly opaque. I'm not smart enough to know if these things exist, so until there's some proof to the contrary I'm keeping an open mind.

Fast forward a couple of nights to a full moon and clear skies, when I had the idea of walking over to the cemetery to see what moonlight could do to the atmosphere of the place. My little camera doesn't let me keep the shutter open more than four seconds. This is one of those times I've really missed my Nikon, which let me keep the shutter open (and therefore let more light in) until the battery ran out, but it's gone and I make do with what I have.

What I got was a lot of meh photos, not nearly as impressive as I'd hoped. This one made me think I'd picked up the Milky Way behind the statue but I really doubt that's what it is.

Because I was limited to just four seconds' exposure, I was using a flashlight to add some light to the area  and all it did was make everything look fake. Too bright, too hard a light.

Now this one maybe had some potential, with the arc of light across the bottom... I fiddled around with it and moved the moon to center over the highlighted area of graves, which was pretty good until I realized that the moon, shining behind the tombstones, wouldn't be casting light on their fronts. Duh.

I was about to delete the entire mess of them when I noticed a circle on the left side of one of the photos, almost covering two tombstones. I enlarged the image and there it was, looking like a penny. I moved the image around the screen, thinking it could be a reflection from outside. Maybe it was lens flare. Maybe it was this, maybe it was that. Maybe it was a ghost. But you're now saying, I don't see anything and you're right! I continued to process the rest of the pictures from that night and when I went back to the only interesting one, I could not find it. I looked in the recycle bin, in other folders, I re-imported every picture on the card, and the one with the ghost was nowhere to be found. I have a witness, someone who was sitting in the same room and saw the same thing; someone much more skeptical than I.

I guess you'll just have to take my word for it. All I know is I went back to the cemetery for a walk the other night and dark was seriously settling; I was hoping to see a copper disc shining over the tombstones. Then an owl hooted in the trees and I almost jumped out of my skin. Maybe it was an owl.

Thought of the day:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. (Albert Einstein)