Friday, October 20, 2017

October: When An Early Autumn Walks The Land...



When an early autumn walks the land and chills the breeze
and touches with her hand the summer trees,
perhaps you'll understand what memories I own.
There's a dance pavilion in the rain all shuttered down,
a winding country lane all russet brown,
a frosty window pane shows me a town grown lonely.



In October 2008 I wrote the first of many revised editions of the story of the annual October closing of my family's "summer place" in the West Virginia mountains near Cumberland, Maryland. Those who follow this blog likely know more about the Burlington campground than most current residents of that village. Still, it's an important story in the Old Tybee Ranger's formative years and it's worth repeating. There is one significant change in the story this year. The magnificent two-story cedar pavilion that stood for nearly a century as the focal point of the property had become unsafe and was demolished. For much of the last forty years it served more as a landscape feature than a facility and had been abandoned to the elements and, now reduced to a memory. And speaking of memories, from 2008...




Every October 15, my mind floods with wonderful memories. From birth through my 27th year, the date marked an important event in my life. The story descends out of my dad's membership in the Uniform Rank of the Knights of Pythias. The URKP was an elite military-style company within a fraternal organization born out of the search for national reconciliation following the Civil War. Every good military organization needed a campground, with lodging, mess hall, recreation pavilion, and parade. The URKP had theirs in the small village of Burlington, West Virginia. It also served as a regional park, complete with playground, and was often rented for the day for family reunions, company picnics, church functions, and other large gatherings.

"Camp" at Burlington was paradise for a young boy. A creek bordering the camp offered hours of fun. You could explore the woods and fields forever. The frequent social events made the playground a great place to meet new friends. But "camping" at Burlington was, by no means, a wilderness experience. We were lucky to use a cottage that had every comfort of home. And there was a drive-in theater next door where I enjoyed the snack bar as much as the movies. Across the road was a small airfield with several Taylorcrafts and Piper Cubs, and a hangar that gave birth to many "homebuilts" over the years. I can say with confidence that Burlington was never boring.



Through the summer of 1974, I spent many weeks at "camp" every year, including several weekends of "cold camping" in the off-season. Opening the cottage and grounds for the summer, though exciting, was not especially memorable. Freezing temperatures lingered into May, so the campground usually opened on Memorial Day weekend. On the other hand, winterizing the place was like saying "Goodbye" to an old friend. Thoughts of family, friends, the big fish, fireworks, that scary movie, the old biplane, all those memories accumulated over the past six months filled your mind. Amid the blazing gold sycamores, brilliant fire oaks and maples, the smell of wood smoke, and a harvest of black walnuts, we went through the years-old closing procedure until the last item - pouring anti-freeze into sink traps - was checked. At that point, it was time to load the car, proceed with all those repetitive tasks one does "just to be sure," then close and lock the big red door until Spring.

As American society changed, the URKP fell out of fashion. Lodge members grew old and passed away. In 1974, the lodge itself and all its assets dissolved. I haven't locked that big red door for 34 years now, but I still have the key and a remarkably detailed mental picture of the cottage and landscape that I loved.



In many ways, Burlington is with me every day, for my experiences there helped shape my values, and define my career, hobbies, and general interests. The impact has been so profound that I have asked my children to do their best to provide the same opportunity for their own families.

In weaving all of the memories about this weekend, I ask you, my readers, to do the same: Find a nearby paradise and escape to it often while your children are young. There will be no sorrow there.



Sources

Illustrations and Photos:
all photos from OTR family archive

Text:
opening quote, Early Autumn, lyrics, by Johnny Mercer, The Complete Lyrics of Johnny Mercer, Johnny Mercer, edited by Kimball, Day, Kreuger, and Davis; Knopf 2009


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Chuck Yeager Goes Supersonic


Seventy years ago today, October 14, 1947:

... Bob Cardenas, the B-29 driver, asked if I was ready.
"Hell, yes," I said. "Let's get it over with.
"He dropped the X-1 at 20,000 feet, but his dive speed was once again too slow and the X-1 started to stall. I fought it with the control wheel for about five hundred feet, and finally got her nose down. The moment we picked up speed I fired all four rocket chambers in rapid sequence. We climbed at .88 Mach and began to buffet, so I flipped the stabilizer switch and changed the setting two degrees. We smoothed right out, and at 36,000 feet, I turned off two rocket chambers. At 40,000 feet, we were still climbing at a speed of .92 Mach. Leveling off at 42,000 feet, I had thirty percent of my fuel, so I turned on rocket chamber three and immediately reached .96 Mach. I noticed the faster I got, the smoother the ride. Suddenly the Mach needle began to fluctuate. It went up to .965 Mach - then tipped right off the scale. I thought I was seeing things! We were flying supersonic! And it was as smooth as a baby's bottom: Grandma could be sitting up there sipping lemonade. I kept the speed off the scale for about twenty seconds, and raised the nose to slow down. I was thunderstruck. After all the anxiety, breaking the sound barrier turned out to be a perfectly paved speedway.
I radioed Jack in the B-29,
"Hey, Ridley, that Machmeter is acting screwy. It just went off the scale on me."
"Fluctuated off?""Yeah, at point nine-six-five."
"Son, you is imagining things."
"Must be. I'm still wearing my ears and nothing else fell off, neither."
                                                                      . . .

And so I was a hero this day. As usual, the fire trucks raced out to where the ship had rolled to a stop on the lakebed. As usual, I hitched a ride back to the hangar with the fire chief. That warm desert sun really felt wonderful. My ribs ached.

Yeager posing with his Bell X-1, "Glorious Glennis," 1947

The flight didn't hurt his ribs. He cracked two of them in a horseback riding accident a day and a half earlier but he wasn't about to let the issue keep him from an important mission. 

Chuck Yeager rode into the history books on the shoulders of scores of aerospace pioneers who helped him reach that speedway in the sky. Today, Yeager is 94 years old. He lives in Penn Valley, California, and continues to lead a very active life flying, fishing, and managing the General Chuck Yeager Foundation. 




Interested readers can learn more about the man and the early years of the nation's aviation and aerospace history in Yeager: An Autobiography, an outstanding read originally published in 1985. A valuable companion book providing context and additional history on the nation's early manned space program is Tom Wolfe's 1979 classic, The Right Stuff.



Sources

Photos and Illustrations:
Yeager with Bell X-1, U.S. Air Force, www.af.mil
Cover photo, Yeager: An Autobiography, General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janus, Bantam, 1985.

Text:
quotation, Yeager: An Autobiography, General Chuck Yeager and Leo Janus, Bantam, 1985.
www.wikipedia.com
www.chuckyeager.com

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Thoughts On A Father's Birthday


It has been 110 years since the birth of my father on this day in 1907. That's a long time and one indication of why my value programming is different from that of my peers.  In short, I was raised by parents from the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age while most of my classmates, friends, and colleagues had parents come of age during the Great Depression. Attitudes, opinions and beliefs borne out of such a blend bring both opportunity and challenge in the real world.




This is my dad at seventeen, a high school honor graduate and holder of his class medals in English and debate. The year was 1925. He was a mill town boy with high ambitions tempered by the security of a good-paying full-time job straight out of high school and into the midst of the Roaring Twenties. He never got the college degree he wanted but he was successful, building on his strong faith, a solid marriage, and a remarkable work ethic.

When I look at this picture I am reminded that he only had four "good" years before the Great Depression and World War II brought him and the country he loved into sixteen years of hard times. Through it all he survived as a member of the "Greatest Generation" and saw his nation prosper.

My children never knew him - he's been gone for over 35 years - but I think they know him well. I've done my best to teach them who he was and honor him by carrying on his many traditions. How fortunate I was to have him as a beacon in my life. He was a great and careful teacher and a constant and trusted friend. Most of all he was my loving dad. I thank him every day and will love him forever.

Happy birthday, Dad!




Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Harvest Moon 2017



The full Harvest Moon casts its shadow across the planet tonight. As the moon emerges from the sea, coastal residents can experience the sublime event precisely as it has been viewed by humans for thousands of years. It is no wonder a star-filled dome over land's end and the timeless sound of surf capture and command our consciousness so easily. Add a moon rise and all reason flees.


Lowcountry moonrise over McQueens Island east of Savannah, ca. 1950




The moon, like a flower in heaven's bower, with silent delight sits and smiles on the night.
                                                                                  William Blake







It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes 
  And roofs of villages, on woodland crests 
  And their aerial neighborhoods of nests 
  Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes 
  And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
  Gone are the birds that were our summer guests, 
  With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows 
  Of Nature have their image in the mind, 
  As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer’s close, 
  Only the empty nests are left behind, 
  And pipings of the quail among the sheaves.

                                                           Henry Wadsworth Longfellow








If on her cheeks you see the maiden's blush, The ruddy moon foreshows that winds will rush.
                                                                                    Virgil, 70 B.C.E. - 19 B.C.E.


Sources

Photos and Illustrations:
Lowcountry moonrise, Fort Pulaski National Monument Handbook, 1954

Text:
William Blake quotation, from Songs of Innocence and Experience, 1789
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Harvest Moon, public domain, www.poets.org

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