Summer in the high country (something more)

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Moon over Mt. Kendal, Silverton Colorado. © Jon B. Carroll

SUMMER IS WHEN people should go on an adventure.
Not just of the body but mind. In modern times we have forgotten this.
But for generations, American took to their automobiles and campers and ventured out across America. Some stayed in fancy hotels and spas, elegant retreats, many camped and could be seen socializing in hotel parking lots cooking on small grills. Sharing a beer and hot dogs.
This America is no more.
In Europe, the tradition remains and Australia and New Zealand as well, it is called HOLIDAY. Families for up to a month get away and relax.
Somehow our culture of money and materialism no longer can imagine this; the mere idea is reserved for the haves and not the lowly have-nots.

Many years ago in graduate school, I went on an expedition to Canada with professor Jack Williams at Auburn.
The reading list he required was long, among it though was Thoreau’s Walden, or “life in the woods.”
I spent over a month that summer canoeing from camp to camp spending 49 days in the wild without resupply or human contact.
I emerged as fall was upon us with long hair a scraggly beard and 35 pounds lighter. I did not want to leave the woods. Several shared that feeling and it was odd and new to me. We had become accustomed to the things cities and suburbs cannot offer. The call of the loon, a star-filled night sky and the crackling warmth of a campfire could not be compared to the sitting on a couch watching TV, nor dining at a restaurant. This was suddenly less than a greater reality we had shared.

Thoreau was sustenance more than food or water. All day we looked for wolf tracks, at night we listened for wolves. Algonquin provincial park offers one of the highest concentrations of timber wolves in North America. We saw few wolves. Fleeting glimpses, and once deep into the park when we would walk back over a trail to get our canoe there would be large tracks in our tracks.
We could not see them, but they were watching us.

After a few weeks, they grew comfortable as we would hear their late night serenades, this combined with the haunting calls of the loon is one of my most memorable adventures.
There is something out there. Something more.
I am about to embark on an another summer like this. I invite my friends to follow along as I will keep this journal.
There will be discoveries as I think about America, how it changed and I will be reading Thoreau again, but this time camera in hand.
It is time to head back to the high country.

(below are a few shots from last summer from Silverton)

Happy Birthday Cheryl !

I took this photo of my friend Cheryl Money on her birthday a few days ago. In my hometown of Abbeville she, and her husband Carl, own a restaurant where they have been serving delicious hand cut steaks since the early 1980’s.
Cheryl and Carl both as well as the late Rupert Money (Carl’s father) were always a face of home for me after long travels.
Money’s Grill is iconic, a symbol of something more than just good food that is fast going away in this country. Money literally cannot buy what Money’s has.

Cheryl has this undying quality of optimism that in part comes from her faith. Owning a restaurant is just an opportunity for her to put that out into the world.

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Cheryl has this look, she will ask you a question like she just did before I took this shot, and then give you this look. Of course, she already knows the answer she’s just waiting for you to say it, so she can say, “see, told ya”.

 

 

Sam the Man

TRUE STORY, all of the following started when Sam Tew sent former police chief John White a chocolate cake.

Two years ago I met Sam Tew and watched him present an argument to the City Council of Dothan. According to Mr. Tew, he witnessed illegal weapons sales out of the Dothan fire department and was fired after speaking up about it. He then interestingly had his family’s life allegedly threatened by former police chief John White of which he claims he recorded. The mayor did not want to hear any of this but gave him five minutes.Sam had his Bible and said that is the only weapon he needed.

Mayor Mike Schmitz subsequently banned Sam, and his Bible, from attending city council meetings.

Since then he has been arrested dozens of times trying to return to speak at the City Commission. He, along with attorney Julian McPhillips, believes his constitutional rights are being violated and believes the community of Dothan has a right to know where those guns came from and where they went. The police refuse to investigate their former chief, the FBI was not interested. Sam believes the illegal guns made their way to gangs and violence in cities of Montgomery and Birmingham.

For the record… Chief Steve Parrish denies Sam Tew’s allegations and specifically that he is being targeted by the police. His arrests have been video taped according to Parrish and city employees have complained about feeling threatened by him. Parrish’s wife in a recent incident at a dental clinic where she works in Headland accused Tew of stalking her, Sam denies this.

In all of this no one it seems is willing to ask the question ( if Tew is being truthful) of where all these guns came from, and more importantly where did they go?

Tew and McPhillips spend a lot of time speaking about “drug planting” which as best I understand it has absolutely nothing to do with the two of them, even if true. Im certainly no fan of Dothan but in all fairness Mr. McPhillips, in all of his talk about drug planting and comparing Dothan to apartheid South Africa, is the not so small problem that he has no evidence to support such claims. In this case part of the documents he is quoting… I gave to Sam Tew.

But Sam Tew is preparing to sue the city of Dothan and run for mayor, to quote Mr. Tew, “I’m not backing down this time”.

He vows he will see the former police chief John White, now a lawyer and criminal justice professor at Troy University put in prison. Sam Tew plans to send him lots of cake.

John White does not like cake and I predict more arrests are imminent.

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Sam arrived for the press conference in a chauffer driven limousine
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“Democracy Man”. Sam Tew at the Dothan City Council. 2015. © Jon B. Carroll

“Growing old sucks, don’t do it”

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My father getting tests at a local hospital. Troy Al. 2017. © Jon B. Carroll

MY FATHER SAYS, “growing old sucks, don’t do it.”  (as he hobbles painfully into a hospital)

He did not illuminate the alternative which presumably would be death.

It’s hard to watch parents age. I’m an only child, so there is no support network of siblings, no cousins nearby. The nearest hospital that can provide any cardiac or stroke-related care is over an hour away. At best his brother lives nearby which helps. Outside of that, we have a caregiver from a family we have long known that has become the big sister I never had – Trish.

My parents made a decision in 1979 to retire early and return to my family’s ranch/farm in South Alabama. That did not last long, my mother started teaching school and pursued a second career which ended in her late seventies with a leg injury. My father…has hunted and fished since 1979, served on a local water board for a brief spell, and mostly watched television.

They choose to live in this isolated environment, the nearest town with coffee, or food twenty miles away.

I’m not sure this is a good idea for two older people, he is 84 she 82. She is bedridden after a stroke, he slowly dying of leukemia. Yesterday he told me he is almost at the point where he cannot walk. It is hard to come up with an encouraging response but I said…”golf cart”, he handed me a order form and said “wheelchair”.

Watching your parents cling to each other and suffer old age is not easy. Mine are fiercely independent; my father resembles an ornery longhorn bull at times, my mother the counterweight of peace and optimism. This leaves their days filled with watching tv and seeing no one for weeks.

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My mother and father at his 84th birthday

My Dad’s a guy you can forgive if you know his history, which in brief he was thrown into the jungles of southeast Asia in countries we were not offically present or at war with. Poisioned with agent orange, bombed and shot at, he was crippled for life, returned home and never complained once. In his room is a dust covered box of medals, their significance measured by the fact they are exactly where he threw them in 1979.

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My mother and the mighty Wren

In a sad chapter of American history, it took Congresswoman Martha Roby and an act of Congress 40 years later to get the benefits he deserved, most of his squad long dead.

“They waited until we died off so they would’nt have to pay us” he told her.

I never heard my father talk about Vietnam until I helped him prepare his testimony and statement for a congressional aide doing research last year. Before he finished the aide was crying. What I heard I will never forget, nor repeat, and wish I didn’t know.

I listened one afternoon while drinking moonshine with my cousin Morris Carroll ( he worked in the same place in Laos) as he told me he would crawl into dark tunnels with two knives and silently kill Viet Cong. I asked once why two, he said, at times I encountered deadly snakes and had to throw the knife. Tears streamed down his face,

“I did’nt like killing God’s creatures….sometimes there were two snakes, they aint done nothing.”

Cousin Morris was controversial, when he saw a darker complected person reminding him of the Vietnamese he would pull out two knives and stare at them. At times juggling the knives while wickedly grinning, black and hispanic people would run out of the stores and speed away. He had bible verses painted upside down and backwards on the interior roof of his car.

I miss Morris, he could play a mean guitar and taught me scriptures reading them upside down and backwards in his rearview mirror as we drove down the highway drinking homemade whiskey.

Men like this deserve peace. Rural communities offer that.

But here is this uncomfortable reality I am witnessing about growing old in a remote and isolated place. No friends visit because there are not any willing to drive far. My parents do not attend church and in this part of the country that usually fills that void of social interaction. There is no community involvement, i.e. my father was not a Mason or member of any Kiwanis civic-type club that meets on a regular basis.
His only social engagement is a 70 something mile trek per day to a restaurant in Ozark Alabama where he eats lunch. With an imminent loss of mobility that will likely end.

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The big sister I never had

What I have noticed about all this … suffering – let’s call it what it is, I see my parents still best friends and in love.
That’s quite an accomplishment these days.
I know one thing about my father’s advice, I have no desire to grow old…unless my best friend is right there beside me co-suffering and I am staring out my front door at mountains I love. Like them, I want to be a very long way from town so I can’t see what I’m missing.

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” Life is what it is, then we just die“, my mother on her 82th birthday in a rehab facility