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Earlier this evening, Bishop David Foley, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Birmingham (Third bishop of the diocese, as well as former auxiliary of Richmond), passed away after final bout of cancer. He was 88, tiny (under five feet tall) but astonishingly energetic up until the end. Last weekend, parishes in the diocese published this handwritten letter from him in their bulletins.

Bishop Foley

Bishop Foley remained very active in the diocese after his retirement. He said Mass everywhere, whenever needed, including in the Extraordinary Form. I last heard him preach perhaps a year ago or so, and his preaching was focused, on point and deeply well-prepared. One of the most striking elements of the way he celebrated Mass was perhaps related to his celebration of the Extraordinary Form – he prayed the Consecration almost sotto voce.  This might surprise some of you whose knowledge of Bishop Foley derives primarily from his interactions with EWTN leadership – including Mother Angelica – back in the day. But there it was.

One more note: My 17-year old works at a local grocery store, and just last fall, Bishop Foley came in. He recognized my son – we are assuming because my son has served at Casa Maria Convent and Retreat Center, where the Bishop would sometimes celebrate Mass – but their paths did not cross that often – perhaps two or three times over the course of three years – but Bishop Foley recognized him – if not by name, but definitely by sight – and chatted with him.

Requiescat in Pace. 

Bishop Foley’s obituary.

 

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This will be quick. Mostly photos. And notes. That will be quick.

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Started pipe organ lessons this week. Toe in the water kind of thing. Seeing what we think about it all.

 

 — 2 —

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Bald eagles come down this way during the winter. They flock to Lake Guntersville (a dammed segment of the Tennessee River). The state park up there hosts Eagle Awareness Weekends during January and February. Because of basketball – and when there isn’t basketball, serving Mass, and when Scouts were a part of life, because of Scouts – we’d never made it up to check it out. But last Saturday, a stretch of free time made itself available, so we went up. To look at eagles.

Well, we got there too late for the presentation by the Auburn raptor center – the room was full and they were not doing any sort of lurk at the back nonsense, no sir. So we headed out to where they told us we’d have a good chance of seeing eagles. There were quite a few people out there, and we did see a couple flying around from a distance – but…nothing arresting.

So we moved on to other parts of the park and had an encounter of a little closer kind.

— 3 —

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Completely nonplussed and obviously used to furless creatures on two legs.

 

 

–4–

Earlier on Saturday morning, I had opened up some praise eggs from Aldi.

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–5 —

 

We have another kind of wildlife living in the house at the moment.

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We look at them under the microscope and have attempted to cut them up so they regenerate. About half of the cut-up pieces are still with us, so we’ll wait a couple of days and look and see what has, er, developed.

— 6 —

Thursday evening, we did some quick culture hits: first at the brewery down the road, which was hosting a pop-up “Opera Shots” from the local opera company. (To see a clip with sound, go to my Instagram Stories – if you read this before about 8 pm Friday, since they’re only live for 24 hours.)

And then to the Birmingham Museum of Art, which was hosting a free annual piano concert, this year from 20-year old Daniel Hsu, who played spectacularly and sensitively, and yes, you can do both.

Overheard behind me before the concert:

“Well, you must have had a lot of worried phone calls today.”

“Oh, yes. It’s the most anticipated and expected correction ever, but it’s still a correction, so people are concerned.”

 

— 7 —

Well, let’s turn our hearts away from the material, shall we?

In case you didn’t read it, do check out Thursday’s post on St. Josephine Bakhita. What Pope Emeritus Benedict wrote about her in Spe Salvi and her own account of her struggle to stay in Italy and keep her worldly freedom, even as she had already found freedom in Christ – are well worth a few minutes of your time. So moving.

And…Lent! 

 

 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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You know, people ask me all the time:

Amy? How do you maintain your sanity in these crazy political and ecclesiastical times? How?

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Honestly, people. Just get it together.

Okay, there are a few parts to the actual answer to that question, but one of the most important is:

Instead of engaging fevered discussions on social media, I prefer to spend my free time reading about 18th century Vietnamese priests traveling to Portugal.

You should try it!

More on that at the end. So for now, some super quick takes on watching and reading:

 

 

 — 2 —

 

First, Happy Candlemas:

 Roseanne T. Sullivan in Dappled Things. 

On Candlemas, the prayers said by the priest as he blesses the candles with holy water and incense include the symbols of fire and light as metaphors for our faith and for Christ Himself. The choir sings the Nunc Dimittis or Canticle of Simeon with the antiphon “Lumen ad revelationem gentium et gloriam plebis tuæ Israel” (“Light to the revelation of the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel”) after each verse. A solemn procession may be made into the church building by the clergy and the faithful carrying the newly blessed candles to reenact the entry of Christ, the Light of the World, into the Temple.

From a sermon by Saint Sophronius, bishop in today’s Office of Readings.

In honour of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.

  Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.

— 3 —

From a 1951 book of family faith formation:

Finally on the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple, we put the light of Christ into our children’s hands for them to carry still further into the world. The Church has never been reluctant to place her destiny in the hands of the rising generations. It was once the custom at Candlemas for her to give each of her members a blessed candle to hold high and bear forth to his home. It was a beautiful sign of our lay priesthood and its apostolate in action. Now the blessed candles seldom get beyond the altar boys who are wondering whether to turn right or left before they blow them out.

Because the ceremony has died of disuse in many places, because we want our family to appreciate the great gift of light as a sign of God’s presence, because we all must have continual encouragement to carry Christ’s light of revelation to the Gentiles on the feast of Hypapante (Candlemas), we meet God first at Mass and then we meet Him again in our home in the soft glow of candles relighted and carried far.

 

–4–

On a somber note, I recommend this New Yorker article on brain death, centered on the tragic story of Jahi McMath – the whole thing is sad, but the chain of events in the hospital that led to her current condition are horrifying.

The point of the article, though, is not the potential malpractice, but, indeed, the question of brain death – how it came to be widely accepted as a standard, but is now being questioned:

Jahi’s family believes that she is capable of a fuller range of thought than she is able to express, an idea that Shewmon has also considered. “Given the evidence of intermittent responsiveness,” he wrote in a declaration to the court, “we should be all the more willing to remain agnostic regarding her inner state of mind during periods of unresponsivity, rather than automatically equate it with unconsciousness.” Recent advances in neuroimaging have led some clinicians to consider the possibility that a significant portion of patients thought to be in a vegetative state—those who demonstrate no overt awareness of their environment and do not make purposeful movements—have been misdiagnosed; they may be periodically conscious and capable of some degree of communication.

Nailah said that nearly every day she asks Jahi, “Are you O.K. with what I’m doing? Do you want to live? Are you suffering?” She said, “I know that things change—people change. If Jahi has given up and doesn’t want to be here anymore, I’m just going to go with what she wants.” She said that Jahi answers her questions by either squeezing her hand or pressing her own index finger toward her thumb, a signal for “yes” that Nailah taught her. “When I see that,” she said, “I think, Who am I to not want to live? Because many days I do want to die. But then I see her every day, trying her best.”

–5 —

Is your child’s school glued to its seat on the Tech Train full of tablets, apps and Chromebooks?

Try this, from the news release from the College of William and Mary (one of my older kids’ alma mater) about a recipient of one of its teaching awards:

A stickler for his total ban on electronic distractions in his classroom, Glasser almost completely eschews the use of PowerPoint to keep the focus on material to be discussed.

“The biggest thing for me in teaching is that it’s a dialogue, teaching students how to carry on that dialogue with one another and with me,” he said.

Education is fraught and complex – always has been, and is even more so today for thousands of reasons. But guess what? None of those reasons are, “We don’t have enough technology in our classrooms.”  Not one. 

 

— 6 —

Perhaps you heard this:

A bishop, seven Trappist monks and 11 other religious men and women killed by extremists in Algeria between 1994 and 1996 have been recognized as martyrs by Pope Francis on Saturday.

The decree signed by the pontiff was released on Saturday morning Rome time, confirming that the Servant of God, Pierre Lucien Claverie, bishop of Oran, together with 18 companions have been acknowledged as dying in odium fidei, meaning in “hatred of the faith.”

The monks of Tibhirine knew that they were in danger and would likely be killed if they remained in Algeria, at the time divided by a war between extremist rebels and the Algerian government forces. Their story was depicted in a 2010 French drama “Of Gods and Men,” recipient of the Grand Prix, the second most prestigious award of the Cannes Film Festival.

Here’s what I wrote about the film in 2011. 

— 7 —

Ah, and about the 18th century Vietnamese priest…

Yes, I read history to relax. More importantly, I read history to understand. I am driven to try to understand life and the ways of God and men. My primary lens for doing so is history. I find even the bad news of the past – perhaps especially the bad news – comforting. Surrounded by craziness and worse, we are tempted to despair. Regularly reading some history – really, any history – is an effective antidote. Human beings have always been short-sighted, stupid and cruel – but they’ve also been noble and loved sacrificially. In the present and in the past. Nothing changes except scale and speed.

Some of you, particularly if you are involved in academics, are aware of JSTOR, the online academic journal and book resource. I don’t have easy access to an academic library Super Secret Code, and I don’t want to pay, so I’m limited in what I can read on the JSTOR site – they have a convoluted system in which you can borrow three academic articles at a time for your “shelf” – each article has to remain on the shelf for two weeks before you can trade it out. This generally satisfies my random wanderings, the digital version of long afternoons spent in the stacks.

JSTOR has recently (I think) put a slew of material on “open access,” though, including books. I’ve not looked through the list – it’s here – but one that just popped up on a search for me was a book published last year on one Fr. Philiphe Binh. A summary:

A Vietnamese Moses is the story of Philiphê Binh, a Vietnamese Catholic priest who in 1796 traveled from Tonkin to the Portuguese court in Lisbon to persuade its ruler to appoint a bishop for his community of ex-Jesuits. Based on Binh’s surviving writings from his thirty-seven-year exile in Portugal, this book examines how the intersections amy_welborn7of global and local Roman Catholic geographies shaped the lives of Vietnamese Christians in the early modern era. The book also argues that Binh’s mission to Portugal and his intense lobbying on behalf of his community reflected the agency of Vietnamese Catholics, who vigorously engaged with church politics in defense of their distinctive Portuguese-Catholic heritage. George E. Dutton demonstrates the ways in which Catholic beliefs, histories, and genealogies transformed how Vietnamese thought about themselves and their place in the world. This sophisticated exploration of Vietnamese engagement with both the Catholic Church and Napoleonic Europe provides a unique perspective on the complex history of early Vietnamese Christianity.

It’s quite interesting. I’ve learned quite a bit. Before reading the book, when I would think “Vietnam” and “Catholic,” I would next think, “French.” That’s a relatively late association – for, if you think about it, Catholicism came to southeast Asia via the Portuguese and Spanish – and so it came to Vietnam.

So what was the conflict alluded to in the description about? It’s pretty complicated, but it all comes down to disputes about ecclesiastical control of the region, especially after the Jesuits were dissolved. This dispute was played out in ways that seem unfathomably petty today. So, for example, the Jesuits had permitted the Vietnamese Catholics under their care to pronounce the word for grace (transliterated from Portuguese into Vietnamese), not as grasa – which would be transliteration – but as garasa – because they found that the Vietnamese just could not manage that “gr” sound – they needed the vowel in between.

Well, here comes a new bishop who happens to be Spanish. In Spanish, garasa means “grease of a fat pig.” No way!

The bishop announced that failure to pronounce the proper way would prevent Vietnamese Christians from participating in the sacraments of the Church….Binh regarded the bishop’s order as a scheme to depopulate the Padroado community: “The Dominicans wish to take all of the sheep of the Jesuit order, and were preventing the Christians from reading the word garasa, [stating] that anyone who did not give in could not have their confessions heard, nor could they have their children baptized….” (54)

This, and other conflicts led Fr. Binh to decide to travel to Lisbon, and, if needed, to Rome, to request a different administrative arrangement for his people. This effort is going to take years…including years just trying to travel from Vietnam itself, as these unsympathetic bishops keep sabotaging Binh and his companions’ efforts to get on ships, find safe passage and so on. It’s pretty incredible so far.

So do you see? Do you feel the need for a dose of perspective?

Read history. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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That was a pleasant break. In looking over the calendar for the next two months, I’m doubly glad I made the decision to take off next weekend. Until mid-March, we’ll have basketball almost every weekend, and when there isn’t basketball, there’ll be piano competitions..not to mention the other son’s work and school obligations.

So, yes, it was good that my 13-year old and I were able to take a couple of days down in Pensacola. More details about why we went in that direction here.

Friday morning, we rose and headed north, to the campus of the University of West IMG_20180119_103225Florida, which has well-regarded departments of archaeology and anthropology. The institute building stands right at the entrance to campus, and features a good-sized exhibit space. As I mentioned in that previous post, there’s a lot of history down there in Pensacola, beginning with the native peoples, of course, and then bringing in the Spanish, as well as the British, French, United States and Confederates.

We’re not talking Roman concrete structures here, so what is left from these settlements is underground or underwater and even in neighborhoods – as is the case with the recently-discovered site of the first Spanish settlement, the ill-fated group associated with de Luna – ill-fated because of a hurricane that swept through and sunk all the ships on which their supplies were still contained. The institute’s museum has good artifacts and explorations of some of the major archaeological sites in the area.

M then requested that we headed to Milton to one of those sites featured in the exhibit – Arcadia Mill:

Between 1817 and 1855, Arcadia developed into a multi-faceted operation that included a sawmill, a lumber mill with planing and lathing machines, the Arcadia Pail Factory, a shingle mill, textile mill, an experimental silk operation, and one of the first railroads chartered in territorial Florida. Arcadia also included a thriving industrial village of mixed ethnicity including enslaved African Americans, Anglo-American laborers, and high-status Anglo-American managers. The site’s historical significance extends beyond its antebellum roots including a few small Civil War skirmishes, the Arcadia Farm period during the late 19th to early 20th century, and the historic preservation movement that protected the site during the 1960s.

As you can imagine, there is not much left to actually see – some lumber from a structure in the creek, the remains of the dam, and some sluiceways – but the site is very well developed, with a fine little museum staffed by friendly young people, whom I’m assuming were students, and a decent walking trail.

On the way, we’d seen a sign for “Rhonda’s Aviary,”  which featured, not only a picture of an exotic bird, but also of a reptile, so of course on the way back, we stopped in.

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So no zoo this trip, but this was almost as satisfying.

Then back to downtown Pensacola, where we saw a bit of their historic area – a decent little Living History area, which even had – on this chilly January weekday – a few people Living their History – carving, cooking and being genial in their 18th century garb.

There are two museums – both essentially a series of exhibits in large warehouse spaces across the street from each other.

The Museum of Commerce features shops that you would have seen in downtown Pensacola in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were all closed up, but what I gathered from the signage was that most of them were intended to replicate actual shops that operated. I’m assuming these shops – which are museum/exhibit shops, not actual commercial enterprises – are open for exploring during high season and for school groups. The only exhibit space open when we were there was a substantial collection of printing presses and linotype machines.

Across the street is the MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY!  Again, not huge, but informative enough – we learned about the importance of brickmaking in the early economy of the area, as well as (of course) fishing, railroads and timber, which includes not only wood products, but turpentine.

(Whenever I think of the Deep South and turpentine, I always think of Tim Gautreux’s novel The Clearing. The looking up of which led me to discover that Gautreaux, a favorite, has a new short story collection, just published in December.)

By that time, it was close to two, and the effects of the hotel breakfast had worn off, so we poked around for a lunch place, and landed at ….where M had what he claimed was one of the best burgers ever. It certainly looked substantial.

Then, with the temperatures rising to the mid-50’s – a heat wave – we headed to the beach. Not to swim, but to see more history and simply be outdoors.

We ended up at the Gulf Shores National Seashore, out towards Fort Perkins. The drive was slow and leisurely (speed limit 25 mph), the breeze gentle, and the sand so white it looked as if we were still in the midst of snowdrifts.

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We poked around the fort and around the batteries that are scattered on that end of the beach, learned about the history, followed a heron for a while, and then, as the sun set, headed back.

 

 

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Well, hello from a place where it’s warmer than twenty degrees.

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Not much warmer – the high today in Pensacola was in the mid-40’s, but compared to what we’ve had in the far northern reaches of Birmingham, it felt balmy.

And tomorrow! 50’s!

So…what’s up?

 — 2 —

The older of the two boys has had and is having a busy week. He went with scouts last weekend to Sugar Mountain, NC, to ski – they left Saturday, skied all day Sunday, then returned Monday…which was to be followed up by a Wednesday departure for the March for Life in DC.

It was all fine, but I was just a little concerned about the proximity of two marathons of sleeping-in-buses and sleeping-on-the-floor-of-church multipurpose rooms  and the flu germs and who knows what else, along with having to get up early for school Tuesday and Wednesday. I’ve been making him bulk up on Echinacea and vitamin C since the beginning of January in preparation. I’ve been reading lots of articles over the past few years declaring that herbal remedies in pill form and vitamins-in-pills are essentially useless, but I have to tell you that years ago I had a rather dramatic experience of quick recovery from something (don’t remember what) after starting on Echinacea, and since chewable vitamin C actually tastes like it might be getting to work in your body – I’m sticking with those two at least.

I was greatly assisted in my proactive doctoring by the fact that around these parts, Snowmaggedon threatened this week, everyone got really scared, and so school was cancelled Tuesday, which was great, and then Wednesday, which was even better.

(Not for the teachers – I feel for them. These AP teachers in particular, looking at that calendar…those tests aren’t budging from early May, and must be prepared for….)

But it was good for him – he could sleep, sleep, sleep. He’s up in DC today (they drove all night Wednesday night, arrived Thursday morning, did museums and the JP2 Center, then will march tomorrow) and so…..

 

— 3 —

M and I had some time. I wanted to go somewhere warm, but wouldn’t you know it, everywhere in the south within driving range is nothing but cold. Pensacola was as good as we could do…and maybe it will be fine? As I said, it’s supposed to be in the 50’s on Friday.

I’d never been here before. I’ve been to various spots on the Gulf shore, both in Alabama and Florida, but never Pensacola. What do I associate it with? Traffic, I guess. And weird evangelical movements. And towering condos.

But it turns out, there’s some interesting history here, and so I decided that some history studies would be just the thing for the rest of the week. It’s off season, so it would give me a chance to check out the area without the aggravation of endless lines of traffic.

What’s the interesting history? Well you can read about it here but in short – Pensacola (not St. Augustine) was the first attempt at European settlement in non-Mexico North America – and it was a disaster. The fellow in charge of bringing hundreds of people and livestock up here from Mexico parked the ships in the bay while he sent a party inland for a few weeks to reconnoitre. And guess what happened? A hurricane happened, sunk all the boats, and wiped out any chances for a well-founded settlement. They stuck it out for two years, but ended up being rescued and returned to Mexico. In subsequent decades and centuries, Pensacola bounced between Spain, France, Great Britain and of course the U.S. of A, with time in the C.S. of A as well – although not long, since the Union grabbed it in 1862 and it was a key point in the blockade.

–4–

We left home around 10 – later than I’d intended, but last night, I read that roads around Montgomery were still iffy – and in fact, schools were closed there again today – so I decided to let the sun warm things up a bit before we headed out.

(I had originally thought we might drive down Wednesday night, but I’m glad we didn’t do that – there were indeed icy patches under underpasses and on bridges which would have been far more hazardous in the dark of night than they were mid-morning.)

First stop was a very brief one: in Georgiana, Alabama, to the house where Hank Williams lived from age 7 to 11, and where he was first given a guitar and learned to play it.

In preparation, I blasted Hank Williams for a good 45 minutes on the car CD player as we drove and told Michael the Hank’s story, included his death (which has always intrigued me, not just because it’s intriguing, but also because of the Knoxville connection.)

We’ve been to the Hank Williams gravesite in Montgomery, but it was years ago – I didn’t think he’d remember it, but he claims he did (“Was his wife buried there too? And it was big? Yes, I remember.” I guess he did.)

There’s a museum in the home, and the sign said, “Open,” but I really didn’t want to spend a lot of time, so we just stopped, took in the sign and the location, and moved on south…

 

–5 —

We reached Pensacola about 2, ate a Jaco’s on the water (Cuban for him, crabcake salad for me), then walked up to the downtown area – there are several small museums in the historic area, and we started with the largest one – the T.T. Wentworth Museum, which is housed in the former City Hall, a lovely Mediterranean Revival structure. The origins of the museum lies in the huge, eclectic collection of local Famous Person T.T. Wentworth, a fraction of which is exhibited in one room – the rest of the museum is dedicated to a history of the Pensacola area and changing exhibits.

I do love what the collectors of old gathered and left us. It’s usually so much more interesting than the carefully-curated, ideologically shaped contemporary museum. Both have their place, but given that I am a person who delights in finding meaning in the purportedly random, you know which kind of experience appeals to me more.

The ticket gets you into other smaller museums in the historic district – but everything closes at 4, and since we arrived on the scene at 3, we were out of luck – we can use the tickets on Friday, so we’ll probably do that for part of the day.

 

 

— 6 —

We made our way back to the car, engaging with way-too-tame squirrels along the way, and looking at various bits of archaeological finds along the way (mostly foundations and bits of walls from the British period – they were the ones whose plan forms the shape of the downtown even today).

Across one bridge to Gulf Breeze, with a short drive down to one of the entrances of the Gulf Shores National Seashore just to check out the layout, and then to our hotel. There are several heated pools, but I’m thinking the 40-ish degree weather is going to deter this one from making an attempt.

Dinner at local mediocre tourist staple Peg Leg Pete’s, just because – mostly because it’s slow season and there’s no waiting.

And…I’m already aggravated because there’s so much we want to do tomorrow, and so little time. We just can’t do the Commerce Museum, Business and Industry Museum, Naval Air Museum, Archaeology centers and do any walking In Nature….Well, we can come back, next time with the other son joining us.

 

— 7 —

 

Last night, M and I watched Chaplin’s The Kid. I had never seen it. It was lovely – Jackie Coogan was natural and charming. The linked article relates some of the real turmoil that are in the background to the film: the recent death of Chaplin’s infant son and his own removal from his home at the age of seven. I was struck, not only by the charm and humor of the movie, but also by:

  • The relatively honest treatment of an unwed mother and the implicit condemnation of the condemnation of unwed motherhood – if that makes sense. “Her sin was motherhood” reads the card accompanying “The Woman’s” discharge from the charity hospital, babe in arms.
  • The pervasiveness of prayer in the film. There is just a lot of praying. The Woman prays for her baby to be found, Chaplin and The Kid pray before they eat and before they go to sleep in the flophouse, and The Kid prays desperately when he’s being taken away – such a wrenching sequence!
  • The look of the film – maybe it’s just now with our monster television, I can actually see detail – but the textures of the walls, the furniture, the clothing – everything in The Kid – are almost palpable. Chaplin grew up in poverty, of course, and the set quiet consciously and powerfully evokes that life.

Chaplin, Hank Williams…it’s all education. Every bit.

 

 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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It’s early January, yes, but temperatures today were supposed to get into the 60’s. And since the next few days promise rain followed by a precipitous drop in temperature, it seemed like a good day to get out of town.

Where to go?

I have a slew of daytrip ideas stacked up, but here’s what’s bugging me: I’d really like to take my 16-year old with us on most of them, too. For example:

  • M and I went to Memphis two summers ago and had a great time – and when the older boy (who’d been at camp, I think) heard about what we’d done, he said, “I want to go next time…”
  • During World War II, there was a huge POW camp in Aliceville,Alabama. Not a scrap of it remains, but there is a museum – that’s supposed to be rather good.
  • We’ve not yet made it to the important sights in Selma or Tuskegee – again – those are trips I’d like the older boy to be on, too.

So cross those off the list (well, and Memphis is too far for a day-trip anyway). Since it was going to be pleasant, we’d want to be outdoors. But somewhere different…where to go?

How about…here?

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It didn’t take long. We left well after the older son went to school and beat him back home, but it was just enough, and it was amazing.

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is a large area that embraces the banks of the Tennessee River and tributaries around Decatur and Huntsville, Alabama. If you’ve driven on I-65 across the Tennessee, you’ve touched the Wheeler Refuge.

Here’s the story:

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge was established July 7, 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. It was the first refuge ever superimposed on a hydro-electric impoundment and in the early stages, considered an experiment to determine the possibility of attracting migratory waterfowl onto a multipurpose impoundment. 

 Although designated as a waterfowl refuge, Wheeler provides for a wide spectrum of wildlife. Its great diversity of habitat includes deep river channels, tributary creeks, tupelo swamps, open backwater embayments, bottomland hardwoods, pine uplands, and agricultural fields. This rich mix of habitats provide places for over 295 bird species to rest, nest and winter, including over 30 species of waterfowl (ducks and geese) and an increasing population of Sandhill cranes and a small number of Whooping cranes. 

 

I’m glad I honed in on it this week – the cranes will start migrating again soon. It had been on the edges of my radar for a while, but crept closer to the center this week because I saw a notice about a “Crane Festival” up there this weekend – I’d considered doing that, but then thought – why attack the place with thousands of others when we can just run up there during the week? I’m very glad we went.

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It was an astonishing sight that our cameras couldn’t capture – perhaps with a better telephoto lens, we could have. Also – a lot of the photos were taken through the glass of the observation building, which is, incidentally, apparently suffering from the same infestation of ladybug type beetles that we are down here.

Just know that to see, even from a bit of a distance, thousands of Sandhill Cranes hanging out, occasionally taking flight and making a lot of noise, is fascinating. There were apparently some whooping cranes in the crew as well, but I didn’t see them.

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Again – not a great photo, but just know – that mass of gray? Sandhill Cranes. Thousands. 

(If you want to hear them – or at least what I was able to capture – go check out Instagram.)

Here we are, toting our gear, poking around in the grasses, and there they are en masse, finding whatever it is they find, always together, never alone.

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There were, of course, a lot of waterfowl as well, and high up in a tree we spotted bees swarming around a cavity in the trunk.

There’s a decent little visitor’s center with exhibits to get you going. There were many other visitors, mostly older (ahem) folks as well as two school groups. It seems to be a well-used facility.

We drove north, along 565 (which takes you to Huntsville), and pulled off to walk a couple of other trails – we were told there were a lot of some type of waterfowl on a particular branch – which we saw, but from such a distance, even with binoculars, they were impossible to make out. The Beaverdam trail didn’t, unfortunately, have any beavers, or dams, but during our twenty minutes or so there, we walked through something different – a swamp populated, not by cypresses, as we usually see, but Tupelo trees.

And then back home, reading and being told about the Mayans, once again, as well as his latest read, Dune in which – he reported  – “Something happened. Finally.”

Next stop – eagles!

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— 1 —

Well, this is…unusual.

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It’s not the mere fact of snow. We’re not Texas, which got hit Thursday night. We do get snow here in Alabama and throughout the Southeast, just…not usually in early December. Our snow (and more treacherously, ice) comes in January and February.

But here it is:

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When my son brought home Rumors of Snow on Friday earlier in the week, we both scoffed. Even the forecast called for no more than 10% chance of precipitation today. Well, I guess we hit that 10%.

Early yesterday evening, the schools announced a two-hour delay, and across the land, prayers were sent up that this was only a warning shot, a placeholder for something bigger and greater to come.

And they got it.

Now, here’s my ritual warning to hardy Midwesterners and New Englanders: Don’t mock us. It may seem silly to cancel school for, um, an inch (maybe) of snow, but listen: we don’t have masses of snow-clearing equipment around here ready to send out and blanket the county. It’s hilly – mountainous even. An inch of snow in the early morning falling on Alabama hills and mountains, with only minimal salt or ploughs at the ready is not the same as an inch falling in on the flat, fully prepared land of northeastern Indiana.

Although I will say, there’s no ice with this – the roads are just wet. They could easily be driven. But it is supposed to snow much of the day so eh, why bother? It’s Friday….

Update:

 — 2 —

And it’s the Immaculate Conception! Time for this annual gift from me – and the Monkees – to you.

I toss the same general post up every year. I don’t care. No need to search my brain for heartfelt spiritual metaphors from Daily Life™. When we have the Monkees!

Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.

El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.

Riu, riu chiu…

Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca de carne vestido;
Hemos redemido con se hazer chiquito,
Aunqu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.

Translation:

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.

Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.

River, roaring river…

He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.

River, roaring river…

And the Kingston Trio:

More from Fr. Steve Grunow on the song and the feast.

— 3 —

It’s a good day to buy a .99 book on the Blessed Virgin, don’t you think?

— 4

You might recall that my 7th grade homeschooler and I are reading The Yearling. He’s got a couple of chapters to go, but I finished it last night and was just about as wrecked as I was when I read it in 7th grade and solemnly declared:

I repeat what I said a few weeks ago: if you’ve never read The Yearling – do. In a way it’s a young people’s book, but it did win the Pulitzer Prize. The writing is lush and some of the most powerful, evocative descriptive language you’ll find – and I’m a reader who normally – I admit – skips through landscape descriptions. I didn’t want to do that with Rawlings’. It’s a powerful, painful and true coming-of-age story.

As he reads his “school novel” – along with his leisure reading he’s always got going, I toss in some short stories and poetry a couple of times a week. This week he read “The Reticence of Lady Anne” by Saki and “The Death of a Government Clerk” by Chekov. He declared that he saw the twist of the first one coming well before the end, but was quite surprised by the second. The Chekov indeed gave us more to talk about. It’s short, amusing and ironic. The theme we dug into is: Okay, you’re worried and stressed out. But in your anxiety about that thing, are you missing the real thing that you should be worried about?

–5 —

Earlier this week, we took an afternoon at the Birmingham Museum of Art. You might have heard me rave about our local treasure before, but bear with me. It’s a very fine museum, with a solid collection that changes it up just often enough to stay fresh. There’s no admission charge, so if you’re a local you have no excuse not to visit regularly.

My son has been reading a lot about Japanese history, so we took time to revisit the very good Asian collection.

Take a look at this. Read the placard and enjoy the little rats fashioning the mallet. It’s a charming piece.

I’d seen this painting of St. Bernardino of Siena before, but never really stopped to study it. This time I did, and discovered that this was not simplistic hagiography. It’s something else – I’m not sure what – a commentary on the varied attitudes we bring to these moments? An observation of a scene? I don’t know if you can see it, but see what you can of the individuals gathered – they’re not all listening, in fact…most of them aren’t. I’m particularly taken with the boy hanging on the platform, and the friar slouched behind the preacher….taking a nap.

— 6 —

Watching: Tonight we finish Lost, and I am of two minds about it. I’m sorry that we’ll be done – this has really been one of the best things the three of us have done together, apart from traveling. I’ll be sorry to leave this Lost crew behind, once again. But…it will be just a bit of a relief to free up some brain space and not have 75% of the conversations around here start with…”So what is that other reality all about???”

Maybe I’ll read a book?

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I did watch all of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last week and I wouldn’t recommend it. I had watched the pilot in the spring, found it annoying and disappointing and predictable, but decided to give the series another chance.  Well, that was aggravating. Not quite at a hate-watch level, but more at the: I really want this to be better, so I’ll keep watching hoping that happens. It didn’t. Very pretty to look at with rich period detail, but generally superficial both in human terms and in relation to the culture it purported to present. I’ve never watched Image result for amazing mrs. maisela nanosecond of The Gilmore Girls, so I didn’t come to it as a fan of that show, but I was very open to the concept – upper-class 50’s Jewish housewife discovers a flair for stand-up comedy – but what emerges is not recognizably authentic in any way. I wasn’t watching people, I was watching a script being recited and cultural caricatures being embodied. Mad Men had its weaknesses, but the one thing it did right was the character of Peggy Olson, who began the series as a mousy, naive secretary, and ended it as a confident copy-writer, a transformation that was earned and authentic every step of the way. I wasn’t expecting that level of work here, but I was hoping for something a little closer than I got.

— 7 —

Bambinelli Sunday!

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I just noticed that The Loyola Kids Book of Saints is priced at $7.25 on Amazon at the moment. I don’t know how long that will be the case – but there it is, if you’re interested.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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