Friday, June 28, 2019

Going Down Deep

Thought for the day: I was in the first submarine. Instead of a periscope, they had a kaleidoscope. 'We're surrounded!' [Steven Wright]
Yep. A submarine. That's what I'm sitting inside of in that photo. (Way to go, Ian!) Not the FIRST submarine, mind you, which was built way back in 1620 by a Dutch engineer named Cornelius Jacobszoon Dribbel, but it IS an accurately-sized cross section of a mock-up of the first submarine that successfully sunk a ship. And that occurred during the Civil War.

Kind of a tight squeeze, huh?  That crank in my hand? Believe it or  not, that's how the crew members propelled the sub.

Have you ever been inside of a submarine? A modern one, I mean. The quarters are tight enough to drive a claustrophobic person insane. The very idea of being sealed up in a vessel while UNDER the water has always given me the creeps. (I can't hold my breath very long, for one thing...)  Even so, the history of submarines is a fascinating topic. If you have any interest in the role of subs during the Cold War, I highly recommend the book Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew. It contains a lot of declassified information about submarine espionage, and some of the stories about things submariners endured while UNDER the water more than justifies my trepidation.

Okay! Back on topic... back to the Civil War submarine. The size of that tiny vessel takes tight squeeze to a whole new level. It's forty feet long, and as illustrated in this pic, only four feet tall and 42" wide. And in that small area were eight hunched-over hand-cranking crew members! Wait... that's not entirely true. Only seven were actually cranking. The commander, Lt. George Dickens, who was over six feet tall, was situated in the front of the sub... the eyes of the mission, so to speak.

A picture showing a size comparison. The Housatonic, part of the embargo preventing goods from getting into Charleston, was selected as a target primarily because its hull was constructed of wood. In spite of the odds against the little sub, the mission was a success, and the much larger ship sunk in approximately five minutes.

But the Hunley... never returned to shore.

Its location remained a mystery until 1995, when a team of divers found it. Five years later, it was oh-so carefully raised from its watery grave, and it's been undergoing a meticulous restoration ever since. Smarticus and I have seen a number of documentaries about the sub's recovery and restoration progress, so it was an absolute thrill to visit the Hunley Lab and see this piece of history in person.

A visual of how the Hunley's hull has been revealed during restoration. When the vessel was first brought up, it was filled with silt and sediment, and the exterior was entirely crusted over. The tools the scientists are using for this work are about the size of dental instruments, so as you can imagine, the work is very slow and tedious.

Many personal effects were removed from the interior, and the restoration process on them has been phenomenal. Items buried in muck and silt for nearly 150 years have been restored to almost like-new stature.

Just look at these things! That pocket knife is beautiful, isn't it? There's a very cool story about the gold coin. It belonged to Lt. Dixon, and was given to him by his sweetheart as a good luck charm. See how bent it is? It was in his pocket during the Battle of Shiloh, and was struck by a mini-ball... likely saving his life. It was recovered with his remains. A candle was also recovered... along with the match that was probably used to light it.

 Forensic scientists built models of each crew member's face, and they were able to determine each man's approximate height.  Through DNA testing, the remains regained their rightful names, and they were all laid to rest at the Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston in 2004.

Today, the Hunley rests in a huge tank of water mixed with NaOH. Sorry I couldn't get a very good pic of it for you, but I'll share a short video that can tell... and show... you a lot more about this sub's story and recovery.

Of all the branches of men in the forces, there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariners. [Winston Churchill]

                 And that's as true now as it was one hundred and fifty years ago.

                        Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, June 21, 2019

History... and Herstory, Too

Thought for the day:  A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. [John A. Shedd]

The U.S.S. Yorktown has an illustrious history. Commissioned in 1943, she initially saw service in World War II, and was later modified to handle jet planes, and then was converted to be an antisubmarine carrier.

Now? Alas, now her active days are behind her, and she remains in dock as a mighty museum ship. Not what she was built for, but she fills her retirement role quite admirably.

Like ships, WE weren't built to stay in the safety of the harbor all the time, either. I must confess, the older I get, the more content I am to simply hunker down in the comfort of our own home with Smarticus. Yeah, I know. We're getting to be old poops. But that doesn't mean we don't still love adventure... it's just more difficult to pry us out of the house nowadays. Which made our 50th anniversary trip to Charleston all that more enjoyable.

This is a 1969 honeymoon pic of me at Appomattox Courthouse, where General Robert E. Lee signed the papers of surrender, which effectively ended the Civil War.

That wasn't the only Civil War... or other historical site... we visited on our honeymoon, and we've gone to many many more over the past fifty years. Not because we romanticize war or long for the past, but because there's something sacred about stepping on old battlefields, and in general, there's something humbling and edifying about studying the past, whether by visiting actual sites or by haunting museums. Both activities stoke our imaginations and instill a grateful appreciation for and better understanding of those who have come before us.

You could say that learning about history is like crossing an invisible bridge into the past, and when we make that crossing, it gives us a better perspective on the events happening in the world today.

The bridge in this picture? If it has a name, I don't know what it is, but it's strikingly beautiful, and believe it or not, a guide on the tour boat said it was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. (That it itself is worthy of an historical plaque!)

This is the tour boat, which we boarded at Patriot's Point, where the U.S.S. Yorktown is berthed. From there, we took a warm and breezy ride to the remains of Ft. Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Kinda cool, isn't it? On our honeymoon, we visited the place where the war ended, and this time around, we saw where it all began.

Approaching Fort Sumter, which lies about a mile offshore from Charleston. It was one of many forts built by the federal government to protect the eastern coastline after the War of 1812.

Once docked, we crossed this long pier to get to the fort, where we had a full hour to explore as we saw fit. That might seem like a long time, but it wasn't nearly enough. There's a terrific museum housed within the fort, and that alone was worthy of a longer visit.

There was no smoking on the boat or in the fort, so Smarticus stopped to grab a quick nicotine fix before we strolled across the pier. That meant we had the pier pretty much to ourselves. What a view! And the weather was absolutely marvelous, too. Lots of sunshine, and a brisk breeze, as you can tell by the flag in the background.

Now part of the National Park System, Ft. Sumter is but a remnant of its former self. Originally three stories tall, much of it was destroyed during the war, and very little of the upper levels are still intact. When Major Robert Anderson moved his 85-man garrison into the fort on the day after Christmas in 1860, the fort wasn't even completed yet. Just six days earlier, a special South Carolina convention had voted to secede from the union, so the arrival of federal troops wasn't met with joy. One of Anderson's former students at West Point, Brig. General Pierre Beauregard, was in command of the Confederate forces in Charleston. As little stomach as he had for firing on his former mentor and friend, it was his mission to evict the federal forces from the fort. Alas, mere talk and saber rattling didn't work, so in the early hours of April 12, the first shots were fired on Fr. Sumter. Two days later, the Union forces retreated and the Confederates took over the fort.

Some of the crumbling ruins. (But at least she's still wearing a smile...)

We chose not to tour the Yorktown. We already knew, benefit of our earlier tour of the U.S.S. Alabama, just how many narrow ladder-like STEPS are involved in that kind of tour, and our knees weren't feeling up to the task. Too bad. There are lots of old planes on deck, and each of the hangars houses a unique museum... one for Medal of Honor winners, one for the Apollo 8 mission, and one for cold war submarines. Maybe next time. (Seeing's as how we're getting younger and all...) We did, however, walk through the Vietnam Experience. It was supposed to be included in the tour package for the Yorktown, another ship and a submarine, but when we asked if we could just buy a ticket for the Vietnam exhibit, the gal noticed the Vietnam Veteran hat Smarticus was wearing and told us we could go in for free. I thought the exhibit was pretty good, but Smarticus wasn't impressed, because there was absolutely nothing about the ground-pounding grunts who spent their time in the bush. Personally, I think that was for the best. I don't think most of us are prepared to get immersed in the kind of experiences he had. Just thinking about them is bad enough.

Just for fun, anybody have any idea what  the heck I'm sitting inside in this picture? Any guesses?

Don't worry. I'll tell you all about it... next week.

                               Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Birds and the Trees

Thought for the day:  ♪♫Let me tell ya 'bout the birds and the bees, and the flowers and the trees, and the moon up above, and a thing called lo-o-o-o-ove...♫♪ [from the song The Birds and the Bees by Jewel Akens]

There's one thing I can tell you most authoritatively about birds. They poop. A lot.

We'll get back to poop in a minute. (I bet you can hardly wait!) In the meantime, it's time to tell you about our awesome 50th anniversary trip. I wanted to go to the water... any water, but preferably, the ocean, somewhere we'd never been before, and someplace with lots of things we'd like to see. Oh, and not too terribly far away.

So we went to... (ta-DA)... Charleston, South Carolina. We actually stayed on Folley Island, and our room looked out over the ocean. It was absolutely perfect!

Except for those... birds.

Now, I love birds. They're beautiful, but as I mentioned before, they poop. A lot.

Some years ago, I wrote a post about how birds had mysteriously selected my poor little red car as their facility of choice for an entire summer. It was ridiculous.

I mean, we had the audacity to drive their potty away for a couple days, and when we got back home, there was a whole bunch of ticked-off birds waiting for us... lined up all across the yard with tiny bird newspapers tucked under their wings, while glaring at us and shifting their weight from foot to foot. Then, as always, they took turns sitting atop the passenger side mirror and bombing away to their heart's content.

But it was just that one summer. I dunno why, but I was very grateful when the birds moved on to some other hapless target. We don't have that little red car anymore, but I thought maybe its bright fire engine red color was the attraction.

But maybe not.

The car we took to Charleston was Smarticus' spiffy silver Challenger. It's definitely not red, but it was most definitely a target. I mean, a targeted target.

The morning after we checked into the hotel, when we went to the parking lot, there were cars, lots of cars, parked out there. But OURS was the only one speckled with copious circles of poop. All over it, like an abstract painting comprised of polka dots. The cars to the left of us? Nothing. To the right of us? Nothing. Just ours.

So either the birds love us... or they hate us. Funny thing was, we did see one another car targeted while we were there. It also happened to be a silver Dodge, and it was parked right next to us. Out of the entire parking lot, as far as we could see, just our TWO cars were bombed. Go figure. (Maybe our feathered friends are Chevy fans...?)
It's kinda hard to tell in this picture, but these are four of the brown pelicans that were pulling security duty for our hotel. Around and around the perimeter they'd fly, ever vigilant, as though checking out the grounds. Their approach would be forewarned by their ominous shadows, and then there they'd be, floating overhead.

To me, they look like distant cousins of the pterodactyls. Very cool. And they reeeeally look cool when they swoop down into the ocean to snatch a fish from the water.

Here's a better picture of them, courtesy of unsplash. Don't they look cool?

One verrrry peculiar thing about shore birds, though. They squawk. All the time, as though they're complaining non-stop. Not a single sweet song to be heard from the bunch. I ask you, living in such a gorgeous area, what in the world are they complaining about???

Enough about the birds. Now I wanta tell you about a tree. An absolutely fantastically gorgeous tree. Before we even went to our hotel to check in, Smarticus indulged me by making a small detour so we could see the Angel Oak, the largest tree east of the Mississippi. It's a live oak, and even though it's only 66.5 feet tall, it spreads out in every direction like no tree I've ever seen. Oh, I'd seen pictures of it, but they're nothing compared to seeing the real thing. Nonetheless, I'm gonna show you... what else?...some pictures of it.



There are lots of live oaks in and around the Charleston area, but the Angel Oak is the granddaddy of 'em all. The oldest... nearly 500 years old... and the biggest. Its trunk is 28 feet in circumference, its shade covers 17,200 square feet, and its longest branch is an astonishing 187 feet long. We did lots of fun things while we were in Charleston, but visiting this amazing tree was one of my favorite things. (And not a single bird pooped on our heads while we were there!)

I've got nothing to say about the flowers, but let me tell ya about the moon up above. 

This was the view from our balcony. (One of these days, maybe I'll figure out how to make the darned zoom function on my camera work...) The moon was full or near-full the entire time we were there. On this particular night, it was bright orange. (sigh) Just beautiful. (That string of lights is on the fishing pier.)

And finally...  a thing called love. Well, it was our fiftieth anniversary trip. (duh!) As strange as it may sound, it kinda felt like a honeymoon. So yeah, lots of warm fuzzy feelings. Life is good.

Next time, I'll tell you about some of the places we visited. The Charleston area has lots of stuff for history nerds.

By the way, in case you aren't familiar with the old song The Birds and the Bees, just for you...

                                    Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Putting Thoughts into Words

Thought for the day:    It takes an awful lot of time to not write a book. [Douglas Adams]

As you can probably tell by that nifty badge on the left, it's that time again.Time for our monthly IWSG posts. As always, thanks to our fearless leader, Alex Cavanaugh, for founding this fine group, and
 thanks to all the other nurturing guys and gals who've helped turn it into the thriving community it is today. To join this super supportive group of writers and to see links to other participating blogs, please go HERE

Okay, I'm back home and it looks like I'm gonna be sticking around for a while, so theoretically, I should be settling down to do some writing... any second now...


Maybe not.

I'm not experiencing a writer's block.

Nope. I just don't particularly feel like writing.

So sue me. I'll get back to it... any day now.

Yes sirree...

Lately, I've just been having too darned much fun. No apologies for that. We only go around once.

Since I don't have much to report on the progress of my WIP, let's just move along and consider this month's question, shall we?

Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

Good question. Although I know the term turns some people off, the pigeonhole that takes the least amount of hammering to fit my writing into is Literary Fiction. Yeah, I know, that sounds pretentious as all get-out, doesn't it? Like I'm insinuating the stuff I write is somehow more meaningful or has more merit than Genre Fiction. Far from it! It's simply the closest fit, as described by the industry.

[image courtesy of unsplash]
In a nutshell, literary fiction places a higher priority on characters over plot. Kinda like the TV show Seinfeld. (Which, ironically, I never much liked...)

People, and what makes them tick, is absolutely fascinating to me.To begin with shadowy images of characters, and then slowly develop them until they are clearly defined in my mind... and in readers' minds... gives me great pleasure.

Unlike Charles Schultz' Linus in this old 1959 Peanuts cartoon, I genuinely like people and honestly believe that even those who aren't particularly admirable deserve to be fleshed out and presented in such a way that instills some level of empathy. Readers may hate Archie, the main character in Explosive Beginnings, but at least, they (hopefully) come to understand why he is the way he is.

Stories not only give us a much needed practice on figuring out what makes people tick, they give us insight into how we tick. [Lisa Cron]

Which, of course, doesn't mean that writers of Genre Fiction don't create awesome characters. It just isn't their main focus.

Being classified as Literary Fiction doesn't necessarily mean a book is snooty, high-brow and full of la-di-dah words and phrases... like some of the books forced upon us when we were in school... but some admittedly are. Not MY stuff, mind you, but some. However, I think it's fair to say that most literary writers have an inordinate love for the sound and rhythm of words. Not just what they say... but how they sound.

The best thing about writing literary fiction? No template. There are no expectations of a certain kind of story arc, character type, resolution, or a guaranteed happily-ever-after ending. Anything goes. There are no road maps, which suits me perfectly. (Those things are a real pain in the patootie to fold...)

The best explanation I've seen regarding the difference between Genre Fiction and Literary Fiction came from freelance writer Steven Petite in a 2014 Huffpost article: In essence, the best Genre Fiction contains great writing, with the goal of telling a 'captivating story' to escape from reality. Literary Fiction is comprised of the heart and soul of a writer's being, and is experienced as an 'emotional journey' thru the symphony of words, leading to a stronger grasp of the universe and of ourselves.

Yeah... well, that still sounds a little lofty, and I doubt if I've ever risen to those levels.  Bottom line?  I write stories that I'd like to read. Period. Not my fault the industry gurus categorize my hybrid stuff as literary. After all, in the end, what we all write is... words.

                          Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.