Monday, June 30, 2008

Sunday Concert: Adlai & Ike

A day late with my Sunday Concert, again.

Times have changed, friends. Here are some songs to enjoy this political year. In the spirit of bipartisanship I present both the pachyderm candidate's song and one for the fellow with the worn-out shoes.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Call for Submissions #14

The 14th edition of Learning in the Great Outdoors is coming soon. If you have a recent nature post of any sort, please send it to me ASAP -- especially if the post involves children and nature. Send submissions to terrellshaw [at] mac [dot] com or use the handy submission form in the sidebar.

Here is an excerpt from our very first call for submissions:
If you are an educator, a parent, a science buff, a naturalist -- anyone interested in sharing nature with children, I hope you will join our monthly conversation. Maybe you have a memory of a great outdoor learning experience that you participated in as a child. Maybe your children had a teacher who provided wonderful experiences in the natural world. Maybe you just visited a great nature center and saw a program that we all could profit from. Maybe you chanced upon a website that provides some great insight into the environment. Whatever your contribution, please share.
If you would like to host later in the year, please let me know!!! We need editors for August, October, and December.

If you have a favorite children's site that has an environmenal focus why don't you nominate it as our Childrens' "Virtual Outdoors" website of the month?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Very Personal Questionaire

One of my sisters sent a thought-provoking questionaire out to the family to spur some discussion. As usual I've used this meme as a jumping off place for musings that go beyond single answers to the questions asked. So why not make a post of it:

1. Who influenced you the most when you were growing up?

I have written two posts about non-family influences on my life that you can read here and here. But like most everyone, the biggest influences on my life have come from my family. I see in my behavior and in the mirror some of the genetic influences of my parents every day. Growing up in a pastor's family means I grew up confronting big (even eternal) issues very early. I remember distinctly, at about six-years-old, trying to force my mind to comprehend the enormity of the universe as I pressed my cheek against the back window of the car, staring into the milky way on a cold clear night drive to Kentucky. When I could stand the terror of such thoughts no longer, I looked around the warm Chevy's interior at my calm parents, and my sleeping siblings, and realized that there are things beyond my imaginings and, for me, love is enough. (See "Beyond Stars" here.)

I practically worshipped my two older sisters and have always had great admiration for them, their husbands, and for their strong marriages. I wanted something like that for myself.

And I am still growing. Truth be told, Sheila has probably been my greatest influence. And both my daughters have, just by coming into our lives, opened up experience to me that I treasure. They have also influenced my life through their independent interests and experiences.

2. Tell about your favorite childhood memory.

There are many. The earliest is foggy, but I walked hand-in-hand as a toddler with Jan and Joan to take Daddy his lunch when he worked at Callaway Mills in Milstead GA. I hope that is a real memory. I was three when we moved from there. Vacation Bible School at Antioch Methodist near Mackville KY and at Midway and Sunnyside churches near Griffin GA. Walking to school that first day hand in hand with my Mama in Mackville KY. Swinging on a huge swing in a tree at a little house we rented near Milstead one summer and drying peaches and apples in the sun there for fried pies. People-watching and listening to stories in my grandfather's barber shop. Going to drive-in movies with Uncle James -- I remember he went to sleep during one! Listening to stories at my Daddy's feet in his little outbuilding study in Griffin GA. Listening to Bible stories at bedtime from my mother. Listening to family stories as my grandmother and her sisters crocheted on a porch in Porterdale GA.

3. What was the saddest time in your life?

My father's death. My grandfather's death. The death of our dear friend, Carolyn Burton. Like everyone else, I suppose, our family has suffered several very sad premature deaths. My cousin Jack in a hotel fire. My uncle Jack from a heart attack. My cousin Ray in a plane crash. Sheila's cousin Leland in a bicycle wreck. Just a few week's ago a teenage cousin was killed in an auto accident.
The failure of our first business in 1977 was a time of sadness.
The 1968, 1980, 2000, and 2004 presidential election results were very sad events for me.
I have had two other periods of self-pity and depression that were tough times -- mostly of my own making.

4. What was the happiest time in your life?

- that week at Cape San Blas in 1971,
- giving first baths to two little girls in 1983 and 1988,
- making up stories for my two daughters in the late eighties and early nineties.
- of course, those heady moments on stage as Charlie Anderson or Tevye or Archibald Craven.
- I was ecstatic that November night in 1976 when we celebrated with Jimmy Carter in Atlanta and when the next January I watched from home as he, Rosalynn, and Amy walked hand in hand down Pennsylvania Avenue. (And the Wyche Fowler and Bill Clinton victories)
- curtain calls

But I've had some blissfully happy days very recently, for that matter.

5. What was the best advice someone gave you?

I have received a lot of advice from family members that I value.
I have had the privilege of hearing an awful lot of very inspiring sermons from my father, my mother, my brothers-in-law, and pastors at our church and my college.
The Bible stories my mother read and lessons/discussions at VBS, Sunday School, and Camp Glisson.
My mother passed along advice from her mother that I try to follow:
Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Don't borrow trouble, with yesterday’s strife.
Take time, smell the flowers.
It makes life worth while
Then pick up each new day.
With love and a smile!

- Ruth Baird Shaw
from "A Ballad for My Mother"

The advice I read in Erick Fromm's book, The Art of Loving, about the nature of love rang true with me and empowered me to answer the next question very definitely.

6. If you are married, how did you know your spouse was "the one"?

I knew Sheila was "the one" when I decided she was "the one" and she agreed to make me her "one". As I have waxed eloquently in the past, I believe that love is a conscious deliberate decision. It is a choice. It is a commitment. Anything less is ... well , a lot less. Pheromones or fate are cheap, available to boars, bats, and butterflys, and not at all romantic. As humans, we get to choose to love. To me that is the only love worthy of the name.

7. Tell about your favorite vacation - or a trip you've taken.

Our rail trip across the country and back in 1979. Our Greater Shaw Family vacations at Mexico Beach, Sunset Beach, and Topsail Beach, and our Roman Holidays were wonderful, especially for our children.

8. If you could relive any part of your life, which part would it be?

That rail trip would be fun to repeat. A few moments with a toddler Brannon or Lillian would be great. Another week at San Blas as a 24-year-old would be great. To listen to Daddy Shaw, or Mama Baird, or Daddy again.

9. Tell about a childhood friend, pet, and/or experience.

My best friend, as a toddler, was Galen Foster. My mother declares that Galen and I invented our own language.
Terry & Galen and Galen & Terry

In elementary school my best friend was Marty Teem and yet I do not remember a single picture of Marty except for those in yearbooks. He and I were working on our bikes at his uncle's "filling station". Oiling the moving parts was part of the procedure, and in the process one or the other of us started squirting the other with oil. Tempers flared and we angrily agreed to meet at the football field at such-and-such time to settle the issue with our fists. I wanted very badly out of the predicament when such-and-such time arrived, but pride forced me onto my bike and on my way to the rendevous. I had hardly started my reluctant journey when I spied Marty coming on his bike toward me with a sheepish grin on his face and an offer to let bygones go. I was very happy to agree. I believe it took more courage for Marty to make peace than it did for me to climb stubbornly onto my bike and head for an unnecessary fight.

10. How did you choose your vocation?

Since I have been so vocal about "choosing love" it is incongruous that I did not choose my profession until 1999. Until then I was searching for a calling.

In 1969, a few days before graduating from college with majors in English and History, I was quarrentined in the Asbury College clinic with the mumps and NO idea what I would do the next year. My friend (and fellow blogger on the Limb) Mike Bock showed up at the clinic door and announced that he had picked up an extra Teacher Corps application in Lexington, in case I was interested. Taking a couple of years to serve my country by helping poor Appalachian kids sounded much better than trying to get into a standard graduate program or, even worse, going off to Vietnam to fight to save one dictator from another, so I filled out the forms and sent them in. Having no direction in my life at that point, and feeling really very unprepared for adulthood, I chose to do something useful while I looked for my calling.

I came out of the Teacher Corps with a Master's Degree, a fiance and, after a one-minute (or less) "interview" by phone with Judson Frost, a teaching job in Rome Georgia. Two years later at 26, Judson asked me to be his assistant principal.
"What would that entail," I asked.
"Well, you'd have to watch the late bus every afternoon, and lead the prayer at PTO meetings."
For a $400 a year supplement to my salary I accepted Judson's offer, though he failed to mention a few other responsibilities - toting children with busted or dislocated bones to a doctor's office or hospital, administering paddlings, filling in as the acting principal when Judson took off that week for a conference every year or when he was out for some other reason, and finally filling in for him for a bit longer when he died of a heart attack at 45. The superintendent asked if I'd be interested in filling in permanently. I responded that I had never considered going into fulltime administration. I've frequently wondered how things might have changed in our lives if I had responded differently. Today I would answer the question differently, but I can't wish I had done differently then. (See #14)

After 19 years of teaching and one failed business sideline, I decided that publishing would be my calling - I quit my teaching job to try to make my sideline my career. Eleven years later, my second business venture having failed, I took another look at teaching, and at fifty, decided this teaching thing is something I'm good at, that is rewarding intellectually and emotionally, and that pays the bills.

As a career teacher for nine years now, I am happy. I am so involved in several teaching projects close to my heart, that even if retirement were possible right now, I might not choose it. On the other hand, I could audition for lots of theater roles!

11. Of what event/accomplishment in your life are you most proud?

Brannon and Lillian, of course.

I was very pleased with my performances in Shenandoah and Fiddler on the Roof.
I am glad that I was able to lead the effort to construct a Braille Trail at Marshall Forest (I was the first recipient of the Marshall Forest Stewardship Award in 1981.)
I am pleased to have led, in the seventies, a very wide-ranging survey of Floyd County teachers, crunched the results ad infinitum (without a computer), and presented recommendations based on the results to the Board of Ed. I suspect I put as much work into that project as some have their doctoral dissertations. And that meeting with the superintendent and board may have been as stressful as a dissertation defense!
I am proud of my race for State Representative in 1984 -- even though I lost that race it helped me grow and become more confident, especially in public speaking and debate.
I am glad of having the fortitude to take the risks involved in our two business efforts.
I am pleased that I have been able to play a role in some of our school's environmental efforts.
I have tried very hard to stand up for what I believe is right even when it elicited namecalling from classmates in high school, or lost me votes in my one political race, or put me at odds with some of my loved ones and, a few times, spurred hurtful words.

12. How have you changed as you've grown older?
I am the same guy. As my mother reminds us, as we grow older we keep our earlier selves and just add new ages to them. A couple of my siblings may be surprised to read that I think I have grown more conservative with age. I suppose my most important growth has been in self-confidence. I have definitely grown fatter and achier.

13. What was your most difficult accomplishment? Three come to mind that were all failures, in a way.
The 1984 campaign-- I had to speak publically many times - my worst phobia. I participated in debates. I was interviewed by the Rome News and radio newsmen. I was wined and dined by assorted fat cats, and had to tell one well-heeled group that I opposed their primary cause. My opponent accused me of dealing unethically with some of his political enemies. (I listened to their charges against him but I did not repeat them.)
Business venture #1 and #2 were both very challenging and I am very proud of some of our accomplishments.
Our newspaper (#1) was the first in Rome to send a reporter to cover the state legislature for the whole session. The Rome News followed suit and has continued to cover the legislature more fully since that time. We published several investigative reports that were important for their time. Our most controversial one foreshadowed a major scandal that did not fully break into the public eye until after we stopped publishing.
Our magazine (#2) filled a real need in the community. When the big publishing company in town noticed they appoached the Chamber of Commerce and managed to persuade the Chamber, with no notice before the fact to us, to drop their sponsorship of our magazine and sponsor instead a big publishing company/CC collaborative magazine with, in my opinion, a nearly identical format. That magazine is still going strong. So our idea worked, but others reaped the benefit.

14. Tell about any regrets you've had.
I wish I had stuck with piano, even though I was very uncomfortable under the wing of Miss Mable Henslee.
I wish I could have overcome my teen angst sooner.
I wish I had taken voice lessons in my adolescence.
I wish I had gotten back into acting twenty years sooner.

I wish I had given up on my business venture a few years sooner.
I wish I were less of a pack rat.
I wish I had taken my girls on a big vacation out west while they were 8 and 13 or so.
I wish, I wish, I wish...but ...
I am almost obsessed with the ways in which all things work together.
I could have taken a voice scholarship at Berry, according to the judges at the Region voice competition in 1965 .. .but Sheila did not attend Berry. I cannot imagine. Philosophically, I know I could have found another love, but would I have read Fromm? Would I have learned that lesson? And more importantly, I know the love I've experienced with Sheila and the two little girls that resulted from our union. I cannot wish the tiniest change that might have affected those relationships! So I'll just take all 61 years, the good, the bad, and even the boring.

15. How do you approach death? It makes me angry that life is so brief. I have barely discovered my voice and I am already losing it. Youth is wasted on the young. My legs and feet and arms ache. The world is peopled so differently now when I am so much better equipped to tell my heart to those absent. And I swear I'll do better with those that remain, and another year passes and Don is gone, and young Tyler, and I still miss the mark. Whether it be this year or twenty years hence, soon it will be my turn. I want to have said and done the things I should.
I suppose it is an odd thought, but I have often sorrowed that, while I hope they will live long and therefore outlive me, I will not be present to support and comfort my younger loved ones in their final battles. I want them to hold on to my love in that hour.
I am not frightened by death, but I certainly want to live.
Life is too short. But how grand it is... hear Grady Shaw's stories, see the pride in Ieula Baird's eyes as she greets me, feel Brannon or Lillian's tiny fingers clasping one of mine, taste Sheila's lips on mine,
...or to smell the mingled joys of turkey and yeast rolls on the counter, and vegetables still simmering on the stove as my big extended family join hands and Mother offers a thanksgiving for all the blessings of this too short life.

16. What do you want the family to know about you (and/or how do you want to be remembered)?
When I step through those pearly gates, it would please me if St. Peter were to holler "Y'all look coming yonder! He may be a champion sinner, and sometimes an unmitigated ol' fool, but how 'bout that heart! Ain't that a load of love the ol' boy is carrying for his family, his friends, his students, his country, and that whole beautiful blue marble down there."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Civil & Reasonable Debate

It is such a shame that some are not satisfied to discuss the very real differences in the two major candidates for President. We already see in this young general election race the beginnings of the old Atwater-Rove politics of stirring up hatred and fear of the opponent.

As reasonable people know and as each has verified about the other, John McCain and Barack Obama love their country, want the best for it, and are articulate and reasonable advocates for their points of view.

Some differences are obvious to me and reasonably debatable. McCain at 72 has a longer resume. Obama has a keener intellect and a more visionary leadership style. McCain favors the war that he once predicted would be "easy". Obama opposed it from the beginning and predicted the difficult time we have had. McCain supporters can point to his opposition to the incompetent procecution of the war under Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. They can also reasonably claim a somewhat improved position of our troops since Rumsfeld was sacked and the "surge" was instituted. Obama opposed the "surge" and favors a careful redeployment of American forces out of Iraq. Both have opposed the use of torture, though I believe Barack Obama has been more consistent and definite on that issue. McCain now opposes all abortions, Obama supports a woman's right to choose an abortion if she and her doctors deem it necessary. McCain, by and large, supports the economic policies of the current administration, though he has shown some independence from those policies in the past. Obama believes, as I do that it is unethical to saddle our children with the expenses of a war while we cut taxes on the present generation.

We could go on. I strongly support the positions of Obama, but recognise that honorable people can support McCain, as do several in my family.

Like Abraham Lincoln (two years as a Congressman) and Jimmy Carter (four years as a governor), not to mention Dwight Eisenhower, Zachary Taylor, and others who had no electoral experience, if Obama is elected he will have a thinner elected office resume than average. Some will consider that an important negative. Fine. Argue that.

Some will find his position on abortion a deal-breaker. Fine. Argue that.

Some will find his progressive economic policies anathema. Fine. Argue that.

And I will argue my side. But let's keep it civil.

To those who are so blinded by their own fear, and by distrust of the utility of basic American freedoms, that they cannot tell the difference in disagreement and disloyalty: your views are not credible to me nor worthy, in my opinion, of consideration. John McCain and Barack Obama have each been endorsed by well-known military and governmental leaders, by heroes of our country, by former Presidents, by Democrats and Republicans, by foreign policy leaders respected on both sides of the aisle, etc., etc., etc. If you choose to accuse McCain or Obama of treason, racism, or terrorism, don't try to sell your wares here. I will have no truck with you.

Monday, June 23, 2008

PTSW : Pelican

I found this naughty little limerick at Granny J.'s Walking Prescott blog. In early 2007 Sheila and I participated in the Enviroinmental Educators' Alliance conference at Jekyll Island GA.

One of the field trips was an afternnon cruise along the coast on the DNR's Research Vessel Anna. The Anna is a shrimper that the DNR uses to sample marine life along the coast to keep track of marine populations. The pelicans chased us the entire voyage. The photos on this post are three of the dozen or so pelican pics I took that day. Wonderful birds indeed.

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Enough food for a week
But I'm darned if I know how the helican!
-Dixon L. Merritt

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Sunday Concert: The More I See You

The sheet music for "The More I See You" is one from the stack of pieces, some going back to the late 1800s, that we found in this old house when we bought it. The song is a jazz standard. Check iTunes and you will find it recorded by scores of artists from Ella and Duke to Carly Simon and Bobby Darin. When I took the stack over to Angela Flanagan McRee, she picked this one out as one of her favorites for me to work on. So here's Terrell Shaw's version (with Angela on the keyboard.)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Speeding Tickets

My mother suggested I submit this e-mail as a post on Alone On a Limb. I do what my Mama says -- except in politics.

For many years I was able to brag that I had never gotten a speeding ticket. Alas, I lost my chance to beat (my sister) Joan's record. It was only after I was a daddy that I started getting speeding tickets. I think I have had a total of three at this point.

The first was here in Rome late in 1985. It was certainly deserved. I was hurrying, late to school, and was stopped for going 45 in a 30 MPH zone. The only thing memorable about that is that I goofed up and, in the midst of Christmas and New Year celebrations, let the deadline pass without paying the fine and so had to go to court, even though I was not contesting it. I remember the court date well because it happened to have been the day (my uncle) Jack Shaw died. Sheila was at work. I had to pick up Brannon from Kids' Stop (day care) and then with my young child go sit in the big county courtroom on the second floor of the 1890 Floyd County Courthouse with its scary gargoyles on every corner, and wait my turn to plead guilty while I dealt with the shock of my uncle's sudden and very premature death.

The courtroom was crowded with an assortment of seedy looking folk. Two-year-old Brannon sat in my lap on the second bench from the back as the court officers called one case after another. Public drunkenness. Driving under the influence. Brawling. My mind had wandered far from the courtroom when I was jolted by the calling of my name. "Guilty!" I said, much too loud, and leaving no doubt in the minds of any listener of the sincerity of my plea. The unshaven wizened old coot on the row behind leaned in at that point to ask what it was I was accused of.

I earned my second speeding ticket in North Carolina on an Interstate, on the way home from Sunset Beach or Topsail maybe. I was just going with the flow (75 or 80 probably) when a NC State trooper picked me out of a bevy of candidates. I knew I was speeding - like virtually all the cars ahead and behind me. I was ready to pay my debt to society. I held no ill will toward the officer: but I was curious. So while he was filling out the forms and my wife sat quietly at my side and my two angelic daughters observed the interrogation of their criminal father, I asked the question on my mind. I asked it pleasantly and in a tone of genuine curiosity and motivated solely by a wish to be educated on the topic: "How did you happen to choose to stop my car out of all the speeding cars today?"

My bride gasped in exasperation and uttered my name in a stage whisper. The policeman did not really answer my question, but my question was a topic of discussion in our automobile for a while. My wife should have known by that point that I have conducted more interviews than Larry King - I just don't get paid for them. Anytime I am thrown in with another human being, I ask questions. I have discovered that virtually everyone has an interesting story. I always want to know it. This is a trait that has resulted in unexpected friendships and entertaining information and interesting experiences. Unfortunately, I occasionally run into someone who interprets curiosity and friendliness as impertinence.

I was truly just curious to know how he happened to pick me. Would he stop the very next speeder he would see after ticketing me? Does he stop each tenth speeder? Did my out-of-state tag influence him?

The third time I was ticketed for speeding it was late one evening on Highway 27 somewhere in southwest Georgia. We were on our way home from Tallahassee. Brannon, Lillian, and Sheila were in the car. I was obviously guilty as sin. I asked no questions of the officer. I paid the 85 dollars, if not happily, at least without complaint, on time by mail. Even I am capable of learning from my mistakes.

Though I had not been given a speeding ticket till 1985, I had been stopped and given warnings several times, the most notable being the first time in about 1963.

I was coming home one night, I think alone, from Atlanta to Rome on Georgia 101 between Rockmart and Rome, when I saw the flashing light - I think they were red back then - behind me. The fervent prayer that immediately beamed heavenward from my brain was: "Please Lord, don't let that be Uncle Tom!"

I pulled to the shoulder, put the car in park, retrieved my license, and watched as my worst fears were realized in the rear-view mirror. I stepped from the car to face the music. Uncle Tom, who on my sixteenth birthday in March had presented me my driver's license, was writing a different presentation on a pad as he approached. As he lifted his eyes to the miscreant before him, I saw recognition enlarge those eyes and he exclaimed : "Terry Shaw!"

He let me go with a very effective warning. Any time for the next few years that I was tempted to speed in Northwest Georgia, I was convinced God would put Uncle Tom behind the next underpass.

I have been stopped a number of times, but have usually been sent on with a warning.

[6-21-08 -- The following paragraph has been edited slightly after talking with David Jones about his memories of this event.]

One evening my senior year in high school I turned onto Broad Street in the old Chevy coppertone nine passenger station wagon that we had bought new in 1960. It was five years old, frumpy, and should have been driven by a suburban Mama, not a cool high school senior. My friend, David Jones, was in the passenger seat. We had just been to an MYF event. David is a great guy who could do amazing things despite a significant handicap. He had been left dependent on heavy leg braces and crutches by a childhood attack of polio.

As we pulled up to the red light at Fourth Avenue another teen driven vehicle, a much sportier one ['56 Ford], pulled up beside us on the inside lane. The driver revved his engine in an obvious challenge to the yokel driving his Mama's station wagon. I grinned at David and said something to the effect that that jerk didn't know the old wagon had a mean V-8 under the hood. It was Sunday night. There were no other vehicles on Broad that I could see. Why not show this jerk a little something.

I revved the V-8. The light changed. Two accelerator petals were floored. I pulled past him, then slowed for the red light at Second Avenue. The 56 Ford turned left and I followed. And just behind us were flashing lights on the only other vehicle on Broad - one that I had somehow overlooked -- a motorcycle cop.

I richly deserved a ticket for my irresponsible behavior. The officer signaled us to stay put as he walked past to handle the other guy. David says he remembers the officer saying something like: "So it's you again, Wes." When he walked back to our car the officer informed me that he was going to take my license and the young man seated next to me would have to drive me home. David, bless his heart, showed off his leg braces and informed the officer that, though he could drive, the stodgy old station wagon was not suitably equipped.

At some point the officer, from embarrassment or mercy or divine intervention, decided I looked like maybe I'd learned my lesson, and if I'd promise to behave he'd let me off with a warning and not tell Charles Shaw or Raymond Jones -- both of whom he knew!

And there's more than you likely want to know about Terrell's criminal career.

Thoughts Occasioned By the Death of Tim Russert

Tim Russert seemed to me a young man, but, in fact, he lived two years longer than Abraham Lincoln and, no doubt, to a teenager, he appeared ancient. It seems a tragedy that a vigorous man with much to live for clocks out at age 58, but in many ways, age is a poor measurement of a person, a poor measurement of a life. The shortness of a life as measured in years is not what makes life a tragedy and the elongation of a life to many additional years is not what makes life blessed.

I like the analogy given in the psalm that says a blessed person is like a tree standing by still waters. Trees can be magnificent and awesomely beautiful and every tree starts as a seed that contains and directs all of its potential. How this growth occurs and what nurtures and encourages this growth are important questions not just for arborists but for teachers and parents as well. A blessed person grows into who he or she is.

I like the latest theory of the universe -- at least as I heard it halfway listening to the PBS program -- that even now as the universe, the macrocosm, expands and its elements separate from each other at dizzying speeds, eventually, at its demise, all the stars and planets themselves will also become infinitely divided and even at the microcosmic scale, the atoms themselves will disintegrate. We are dust in the wind and as it turns out, according to this theory, eventually we will be not even that, not dust, not even the atoms that make dust. There will be no cold planets and burned out stars floating about; there will be perfect obliteration, down to the subatomic level. There is something strangely comforting about that idea.

The question asked by Sunday’s sermon at the Methodist Church was, “What Will You Be Remembered For?” Thought provoking. But probably the wrong question. If the point is to generate positive memories of one's self, then having a good publicist and destroying incriminating evidence might be a good strategy. Building an enormous monument to oneself, promoting your name and promulgating your greatness, a strategy used throughout history, might seem a good idea also. Every two-bit dictator shamelessly promotes a cult glorifying his personality and seeks to see the adulation of his image repeated through the ages. If the “Dear Leader” is remembered with affection or adoration for a few years, it only proves his propaganda machine worked. To ask, “What Will You Be Remembered For?”, to me seems the wrong question because purpose or value in life is not indicated reliably by memory. Memory, in fact, is likely wrong, and memory, like the universe, fades and eventually disappears.

In “Back to Methuselah,” G.B. Shaw suggests that a person needs 1000 years to accomplish a completed life. This seems reasonable since mankind, in fact, is much more wondrous than trees and a tree may take 200 years to achieve its most beautiful form. And, it makes you wonder: How many billions of years does the universe need? I turn around and another ten years have passed. On the cosmic scale, I imagine ten or twelve billion years can get by before you know it, and what has been accomplished?

I knew a child from birth who suffered from cystic fibrosis and who died at age 21, a beautiful girl with a beautiful spirit and a delight to everyone who met her. We knew her life would be short, but grieved that she could not be the rare case and live to be 30 or 40. Yet, in her 21 years, she accomplished a lot.

My parents both lived to be 85 years old, a long life anyone might say, but I found how brief 85 years actually is, how much too soon they were taken, and how it was, in their soul and spirit, they were blessed, so young, so vibrant, so alive -- strong and beautiful trees. I imagine that the children of Methuselah might have felt the same.

Humans don’t need 1000 years, because the life of the soul is not measured in hours or eons, but by a different reality altogether. So, 1000 years is meaningless, as is 85 years, or 21 years, or, 58 years -- because the growth of the soul into its potential is not a function of time, and not predicted by age. And so it is, some children in their spirit are much more developed than some adults. Much is riding on the fruition of humanity. The universe itself, hurtling to its own demise, finds its purpose in the flowering of the potential found in humans. My mom, when I was a child, used to show me a flower and say, “If you listen, you can hear it talking to you.” I heard her repeat that theme to her grandchildren many times. I believe it is true. Everything is alive and with a consciousness that is beyond our understanding. The hills clap their hands and the universe itself rejoices when magnificent trees extend their branches.

I will miss you, Tim. Thank you for being you.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Give me home where the cone-flowers bloom...

(Note: First posted June 8. Reposted today to include a few additional pictures taken by Teresa Ware. All other photos by Terrell Shaw. I am especially glad to have Teresa's photo of Marshallia mohrii or Coosa Barbara's Buttons. The search for this unusual plant resulted in the "discovery"of the Coosa Prairies in Floyd County. Thanks also to Richard and Teresa Ware and Jim Drake for helping to identify all the plants.)

Hard against the Alabama border in western Floyd County Georgia are a group of meadows interspersed with stands of pine. The soil is shallow and lies atop limestone. Parts of it are very dry. As you walk across other parts water squishes from the thin layer of vegetative matter and soil underfoot. These areas represent natural environments not expected in Georgia - prairies.

Jim Allison, a botanist for Georgia's Department of Natural Resourses, was curious to know if there might be a population of Mohr's Barbara's Buttons in Georgia across the line from spots in Alabama where these rare flowers are found. He got out a National Geologic Survey map of the border area. Forested areas are colored green on the map. He noticed irregular spotches of white in the area north of Cave Sporing and west of Highway 100. Checking out those openings in the woods, this is what Allison found:

Echinacea simulata - Purple Coneflower

Allison (and Richard Ware) came back to the fascinating prairies time and again - searching, discovering, keying, collecting, cataloguing. They discovered forty-one rare species, many of which grow nowhere else in Georgia. Some that are rare anywhere.

There are probably only one or two percent of the people in Floyd County who have any knowledge of the existence of the Coosa Prairies. But I heard about them through my good friends, Richard and Teresa Ware. Finally on Saturday I got my chance to see them first hand. The Georgia Botanical Society had organized a field trip and Richard was the leader. I called him up and invited myself along.

I showed up at Richard's house in West Rome at about nine. He was anxious to show off his Canada Lilies, in full bloom in the back yard, and other native pants he has coaxed to thrive in his suburban yard.

Lilium canadense ssp. editorum - Canada Lily
Dr. Max Medley of Dalton, another well-known botanist in Georgia, was there as well. Richard, Teresa, Max and I threw our backpacks into the back of the Ware's jeep and headed to Rolater Park in Cave Spring.

Rhododendron maximum
While we waited for the Botsoccers to gather, Teresa and I took a photo stroll around the park. The Oakleaf Hydrangea and a Rhododendron were in bloom...

The ducks floated by on a rippled mirror...

The trout waited in the cold water for food available in small cups at the cave entrance...

The cold stream from the cave to the swimming pool has been re-channelized and the banks left bare, waiting to be washed to Alabama during the next strong rain. Does the stream buffer law not apply to the city of Cave Spring?! How many salamanders, crayfish, minnows, snails, and other animals and plants have been lost to this little project?

What a mess.

Soon we gathered to get the lowdown on the schedule for the day from Richard. We carpooled in eight cars to he little dirt road into the prairies.

Matelea obliqua - Climbing Milkvine

Richard made two stops along the dirt road to point out the flora of the roadsides. This interesting rare vine bloomed as it climbed high into a small pine.

Richard pointed out two unusual dogwoods growing side by side. He taught us about the upturned leaflets on Green ash and the down-turned leaflets of white ash. He pointed out the shingle oak and the swamp tupelo.

Mimosa microphylla - Sensitive Briar

Mimosa microphylla - Sensitive Briar

Aletris farinosa - Colic Root

Ratibida pinnata - Gray-Headed Coneflower

Lythrum alatum - Winged Loosestrife

Anemone virginiana - Thimbleweed

Clematis viorna - Leather Flower

Coreopsis major - Whorled Coreopsis

Rosa setigera - Prairie Rose

Cornus amomum - Silky Dogwood

Ratibida pinnata - Gray-Headed Coneflower

Echinacea simulata - Purple Coneflower

Rosa carolina - Carolina Rose

Silphium terebinthinaceum - Prairie Dock
Asclepias tuberosa - Butterfly Weed

Echinacea simulata - Purple Coneflower
Ceanothus americanus - New Jersey Tea

Toxicodendron pubescens - Atlantic Poison Oak
Photo by Teresa Ware

The prairies even contain an unusual species close kin to that omnipresent aggravation Toxicodendron radicans (Poison Ivy). This is a low growing forb or shrub, not a vine, that some like to call Atlantic Poison Oak -- though I think most folks use Poison Oak and Poison Ivy interchangably. If it looks bushy they call it "oak", if it looks viney they call it "ivy". Atlantic Poison Oak actually never grows "viney". Here's what Wikipedia says about it:
Atlantic Poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens or Rhus toxicarium) grows mostly in sandy soils in eastern parts of the United States. Growing as a shrub, its leaves are in groups of three. Leaves are typically rounded or lobed, and are densely haired. Although it is often confused with the more common poison ivy, even in the scientific literature[4], Atlantic Poison oak has small clumps of hair on the veins on the underside of the leaves, while Poison ivy does not.
If you look carefully you can see the "hairiness" in this picture.

Onosmodium virginianum - Marbleseed

Asclepias tuberosa - Butterfly Weed

Echinacea simulata - Purple Coneflower

Eryngium yuccifolium - Rattlesnake Master
Photo by Teresa Ware

According to Wikipedia Rattlesnake Master "...gets its name because some Native Americans used its root as an antidote for rattlesnake venom." And it is called Eryngium yuccifolium because "... its leaves resemble those of yuccas." It is native to the tallgrass prairies of America from Minnesota to Ohio to Texas to Florida.

Marshallia mohrii or Coosa Barbara's Buttons
Photo by Teresa Ware

This plant is what started it all. Marshallia mohrii or Coosa Barbara's Buttons, is the wildflower for which Jim Allison was searching when he "discovered" the Coosa Praries of Floyd County. It was in full bloom on the day of our walk in the smaller wetter prairie area near the Grand Prairie. This area is called the Marshallia Prairie.

All-in-all the Nature Conservancy has obtained an easement on over 900 acres of these prairies sites to protect the fragile ecosystems there. Thanks are due to folks like Jim Allison and Richard Ware for their dedication to exploring, recording , and protecting these unique pockets of natural beauty.

Echinacea simulata - Purple Coneflower
The Grand Prairie

A few dedicated folks withstood the heat to the extent that they followed Richard on to two other nearby botanical curiosities: A stone outcrop at Flat Rock Baptist Church and the Black Bluff Nature Preserve.

Asclepias viridis - Spider Milkweed

A milkweed at Flat Rock.

Sideroxylon lycioides - Buckthorn Bumelia

Dalea gattingeri - Gattinger's Prairie Clover

Opuntia humifusa - Eastern Prickly-pear Cactus

A blooming cactus at Flat Rock.

Triosteum perfoliatum - Wild Coffee (or Feverwort)
The flower bracts are still visible on this plant found along the Black's Bluff road near the preserve.

Scutellaria montana - Large-flowered Scullcap

This plant, Scutellaria montana or Large-flowered Scullcap, was once listed as endangered. There are several colonies in Floyd County. This one was the best specimen we found along the Black Bluff trail.

Podophyllum peltatum - Mayapple
At the top of the trail is a rocked in spring where we found this Mayapple in fruit.

Liriodendron tulipifera - Tulip Tree (or Yellow Poplar or Tulip Poplar)
At least three insects were rafting across the spring on a Tulip Tree leaf.

Botsoccers examining the Grand Prairie.
Photo by Teresa Ware.

What a grand day on the Grand Prairie!