Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Flood Deja Vu

Columbia, South Carolina.

I was there with my spouse in March.

Now, on TV, we watch the horror of the Columbia flooding, roads we had driven on under water or washed out. Houses we had passed now uninhabitable. Some areas of the state got 27 inches of rain in two days.

That brown water everywhere.  I know the look of flood.  I know the smell of flood.  I know what it is like to witness schools relocated.  I witnessed houses and businesses abandoned. I saw sights I never have blogged about. (If I ever write a memoir, I may put some of those scenes in there.)

It sounds too familiar.  "Our neighborhood isn't flood prone."  We said that, too, disbelieving.  We weren't even in a flood zone. 

They never thought they would be facing a flood, either.

It's (to quote the late Yogi Berra) like deja vu all over again.  Historic weather, but this time not a 500 year flood like we had, but a 1000 year flood.  Some residents say the flood was of biblical proportions.  So many floods, it seems, all over the world.  The random finger of fate, this time, landed on the Carolinas.

I want to show you a little bit of Columbia, so it isn't just a place on a weather report to you.

Columbia calls itself the Soda City.  They may be drinking a lot of soda there, and bottled water, in the coming days.  Some of it will be handed out by the Red Cross and other similar organizations.  The drinking water is contaminated.  The hospitals struggled to stay open because of lack of clean water.  As I write this, tens of thousands of people in South Carolina are without drinking water.

This historic building, making flour for over 100 years, is located on what is called the Congaree Vista.  Now, the Congaree River occupies Columbia.  I hope the flour mill survived.
Now a supermarket, once a Confederate printing plant
Downtown, the Soda City has a wonderful farmer's market.

Columbia is the capital of South Carolina.  It has a beautiful state house on whose grounds, until recently, the Confederate flag flew.  South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union, in 1860. and the state where the United States Civil War started.

Columbia, as a state capital, has some fine museums.  One is a Confederate museum.  My spouse and I, both interested in Civil War history, visited.

We were looking at a display devoted to the 150th anniversary of the burning of Columbia.  Some of the burning was done by Union troops, but Confederates were responsible for other parts of the burning.   At any event, part of the city burned. 

But Columbia rebuilt.  It was a long process, painful, but they recovered.

So, 150 years later, Columbia faces another disaster.

It makes me wonder how many of the people I interacted with lost their homes.  If they did, I've seen a little of what they, and their families, will go through.  I didn't go through most of it myself - I was a fortunate one in a neighborhood not as fortunate.  But I saw some of my neighbors having to rely on the Salvation Army and the Red Cross and other help.  Many citizens of Columbia may well have to apply to FEMA, a government agency, for help. I do know something of what that is like, too.

But I am confident that, based on what I saw in March, Columbia will rebuild.

Have you been affected in recent years by the weather?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Music Mondays - October 5, 1965

For those of us who love nostalgia, I found an interesting website - takemeback.to.

Takemeback.to allows us to pick a date.  We can see the top five pop songs (both for the U.S. and the U.K.), the top movies, the top books, and more.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to go back to October 5, 1965.  I was just 12 years old then, on the cusp of becoming a teenager. I realize that many of my readers weren't yet born, but you may still recognize some of the music of my generation.
The #1 song in the United States was Yesterday, by the Beatles.  That song became an expression of teenage uncertainly - I listened to it over and over.

The #2 song - Hang on Sloopy, by the McCoys.  Upbeat, it dispelled some of the gloom starting to descend on my life.
And the #3 song - a perfect song for a soon-to-be-teenager - Eve of Destruction.

In a way, some things never change.  If this song was introduced today, some would call it fresh and new if they didn't know the song was 50 years old.

What is it about nostalgia that attracts us to it so much?  Memories of the past aren't always good memories.  Yet, nostalgia, the "good old days", beckon.

I am thinking of having a music Monday feature for at least the month of October, a month that many rock stations call "Rocktober".  We'll see what the rest of the month brings.

What are songs that bring back memories of being on the edge of becoming a teenager for you?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Civil War Sunday - A Well Educated Citizenry

The Civil War Trust (an organization devoted to preserving Civil War battlefields and other items of heritage) has produced a 27 minute long video summarizing the United States Civil War.  This video includes never before seen footage, some recreations, and a lot of historical photos and cartoons.

I started out writing this post a few days ago wanting to blog about a wonderful introduction for anyone interested in history, even if you don't follow war.  The photos alone are worth the watching.  Gaze into the eyes of those who lived this story, and you will be humbled.

It is well worth your time to watch.

(If you are a resident of another country, which many of my blog readers are, feel free to watch anyway.  Some of the lessons of this video are universal.)

What I loved was the animated maps. They show how the war spread to every corner of our country (smaller then than it is now), even to parts of our country that most people don't realize were involved. In ways small or large, this war affected everyone in our country.

In my Civil War studies, I've learned so much that I never learned in school.  Once we are adults, it is up to us to continue to educate ourselves.

But this 27 minutes of history reminded me of something which is as current as the latest tragic headlines in our country.

People can debate the "why" of the Civil War even today but one thing is clear:  back in the first half of the 19th century, our nation faced problems that seemed to have no solution.  Whatever we tried as a "solution" didn't seem to work. We talked and talked and talked, and never faced these problems head on in the way that they had to be faced.  Finally, our ancestors' half actions almost tore our nation apart.  We fought a war between ourselves from 1861 to 1865, a war that I, and others, maintain has never quite ended.  We ended the shooting part of that war with a death toll in the hundreds of thousands. 

Now, our country faces other internal crises.  We wonder if we have lost our national will, if we can come to resolutions, or if the damage we are doing to ourselves will continue.

But, discouragingly, so many of us look to rumors, to statistics (which can be easily manipulated), to cute Facebook pictures with simplistic slogans, to form our opinions and shape how we think.

Perhaps, in a way, it is good to look back and reflect on the fact that we have survived much worse. There have been other times in history when we felt we lost our way.  This isn't our first crisis, and there will be more in the future.  That can be said for any country - it's a universal message.

(That is one reason why battlefields and other relics of history must be preserved, a topic I have blogged about before.  We must learn from history, and certain terrorists and despots destroy history, knowing this well.)

We should also reflect on the fact that we do need to solve the problems we face now instead of trying half measures.  They aren't easy problems, but progress does not come easily or without pain. And part of this pain is to educate ourselves - truly educate ourselves - and, perhaps, preparing to change some of our opinions.  Ouch.  The solutions will be painful, if they are true solutions.

But I am so tired of seeing, on my Facebook wall, simplistic slogans and rumors in response to a national tragedy.  I check these out the vast majority of times.  If the search shows the information is only on websites with a certain bias, I discard the information.  Anyone can do the same searches.

It's too bad that our Constitution does not have a clause requiring a well educated citizenry.  I strive towards that ideal.  I don't always succeed.  But I do know one thing.

History has a way of solving problems for us that we do not solve ourselves, and watching this video will help remind us of that fact.  We must be educated in order to start the solving process.

And, just like the Civil War, we will not like the solution history chooses for us if we don't choose good solutions as a people while we still have the power.  And soon, before we inflict any more damage on ourselves, or lose that ability as we are swept into the whirlpool born by inaction.

Our survival as a nation of the free depends on it.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Local Saturday - Heroism

I did not start out to blog about a shooting tragedy, but it is ironic, in a way, that I planned this post before the news of the shooting tragedy earlier this week at Oregon's Umpqua Community College.

We in Binghamton, NY, a small city of about 47,000. in upstate New York near the Pennsylvania border, suffered our own adult classroom shooting tragedy on April 3, 2009:  13 dead, plus the shooter.  Sadly, there have been a good number of mass shootings since that day.

A hero of the Umpqua shooting was a 30 year old military veteran, Chris Mintz, who had a chance to escape. But, instead, he ran towards the gunman and barricaded a door trying to deny entry to the gunman.  Mintz was shot many times by the shooter (whose name I refuse to mention). 

Both of Mintz's legs were broken, and rods had to be inserted.  He was shot in the hands and abdomen.  He was hit in the back and he will carry a bullet in his hip for the rest of his life.  He will have to learn to walk again.

Mintz was attending classes at the college to become a physical therapist, to help others.

The day of the shooting was his son's sixth birthday.  His son is developmentally disabled with autism and is non verbal.  By all accounts, Mintz is a loving, hands on father.  As the paramedics attended to Mintz, he kept telling them it was his son's birthday.

It will be a long road to recovery for Mintz, and, at the same time we all mourn the nine innocent who died. 

We had acts of heroism in our shooting, too.

One of the dead in the Binghamton shooting was a 72 year old teacher, Bobbie King.  Besides her work at the American Civic Association, where the shooting took place, she put in countless hours of volunteer work at Hanukkah House, the Binghamton museum I have been blogging about the past few days.

Every year, portions of her collections of dolls and dollhouses would go on display at Hanukkah House for the enjoyment of the community. There is nothing said in the descriptive material about Mrs. King, but her doll collection was a legend in this community.

Since Ms. King's untimely death, her family has graciously continued the tradition of displaying some of her dolls and dollhouses.  When I view these dolls each year, I can almost imagine them crying over the tragedy that took their owner's life.  We like to say that good comes from bad, though, and I like to think that these dolls are celebrating Bobbie King's life and all the people whose lives she touched in her 72 years on Earth.

Looking into Mrs. King's dollhouse, you see a world in miniature.  If you didn't know better, you might think this was a room in a mansion taken from above.  The detail is incredible.

Here, you see a set table with a miniature tea service.
And here, a bedroom complete with crocheted coverlet.
Sadly, once again, we have a situation where innocent lives were again taken by....who?  why?  The purpose of this blog is not for me to have a platform for my personal opinion. But, once again, I ask, will we in the United States have the will to find a way out of this?

Friday, October 2, 2015

Falling Friday - The Walk

It's been a dream of mine, these last few months, to improve my balance so that I will never fall again.

I do exercises - four every day of the week to increase balance, and four more three times a week, to increase strength.  This is part of a program started years ago in Australia called Stepping On.

One of the daily exercises is to walk an imaginary tightrope. 

This has gotten me fascinated by actual tightrope walkers - the people who risk their lives, and sometimes lose them - such as Karl Wallenda of the famous Wallenda family, who fell to his death at age 73.

And then there is the true story of Philippe Petit, who (illegally) walked a wire between the two towers of the World Trade Center, the same towers that so tragically were destroyed by terrorists on September 11, 2001.  I warn anyone who is still disturbed by images of the towers not to watch the following video.

Our world is so different now, in those 41 years since this walk happened.

Since I started the exercise program in May, I've walked that imaginary tightrope daily.  In my kitchen.  At work, during lunch.  At my mother in law's house.  Outside.  I can walk that imaginery tightrope now without holding onto something - but not for long.

I was warned, it would be a long road.

Now I read Philippe Petit's story, and marvel - he is older than I am.

Where did I go wrong?  Will I ever be able to walk a straight line? (I don't think I would ever dare a true tightrope.)

In the meantime, every day, I dream of better balance.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Throwback Thursday - Food Forests Revisited

Food Forests.  A concept out of an urban fairy tale?

Come with me, this first day of October,  to my neighborhood near Johnson City, New York, and revisit a post from 2012.

But first, an update.

The building I blogged about below is finally going to be demolished over the next year or so.  It was ruined in a flood that occurred a little more than four years ago.  The preliminary work to start the demolishing process has already started.

In a way, it's nice to see people at the site, officially called Air Force Plant 59, again.  At the time of the flood, on September 8, 2011, some 1300 people worked there. The demolishing will be a long process, taking almost a year. I will blog more about that eventually.

I still haven't heard about the final outcome for the property.  Several ideas have been considered.

What a shame the food forest was not considered.   A food forest by my home would have been something special. I still think this is a great idea but it won't be the fate of this property.

In a way, it makes me sad.

And now, the post:
  * * *

The people of Seattle may have thought they were living a fairy tale when the Food Forest idea was first proposed.  It is no fairy tale, and is taking shape even now.  And it may be the answer to some of the devastation our area of upstate NY, and other areas hit by massive flooding in the last couple of years, have been looking for.

What is a food forest?  Quoting from Take Part, an urban project new to our country is unfolding in Seattle:

"A seven-acre plot of land in the city’s Beacon Hill neighborhood will be planted with hundreds of different kinds of edibles: walnut and chestnut trees; blueberry and raspberry bushes; fruit trees, including apples and pears; exotics like pineapple, yuzu citrus, guava, persimmons, honeyberries, and lingonberries; herbs; and more. All will be available for public plucking to anyone who wanders into the city’s first food forest."

Now let's cut to one of the casualties of our flood here in Westover, an area just to the west of Binghamton, NY.  A flood-ruined 600,000 square foot building lies waiting for the wrecking ball.  11 months ago today, the flood came and almost swept 1300 jobs away from Westover.  (The jobs, belonging to a manufacturer called BAE,  relocated in a nearby village.  This relocation may only be temporary.)

The best our local officials can come up with is to use the land, once the building (one of the largest wood framed structures in the United States) is demolished, as a park.

Well, let's take this a step further.  What about a food forest?  True, the soil may be polluted from one of the parting gifts of the flood - a spill of oil and we-don't-want-to-know what other chemicals.  But you wouldn't want that soil in a park where our children would be playing either, would we? 

A city bus stops directly in front of the building.  There is already a parking lot.  The land and building consists of approximately 30 acres.

What if we had apples, blueberries, raspberries, herbs and other edibles growing on that land?  What if it was free for the picking?  What if we also had lovely blooming plants in the spring?  True, we don't have Seattle's climate, but this is a major apple growing area.  Many herbs thrive here, too.

We already have a local botanical garden in Binghamton in a flood prone area. When it floods, volunteers put it back together. That area is much more flood prone than the BAE property.  So we should not be afraid of the "What if" question.

We would have to find volunteers but I think it would be possible.

So how would we campaign for something like this?  A fellow blogger, Food That Sings, wrote me from Australia:

" And that's where it starts...perhaps you could write a letter about your idea; send copies to the council, the local newspaper;  radio station, even post a copy on the school bulletin board, community shopping centre etc. etc. You could plant the seed; start the growth (ha ha pardon the pun)...how awesome is that"

We in the Triple Cities need to be on the map for some other reason than a mass killing of 13 in 2009 and this 2011 flood - wouldn't it be great if we could turn this flood into an opportunity for renewal.

Does your area have a food forest?  Have you ever visited one?  Do they work?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Fall - Flowers, Fear and Floods

It's the season for mums, pumpkins, corn stalks and turning leaves here in upstate New York.  But, on this last day of September, what we are getting instead is rain.

And, perhaps, more rain.

For me, living in a neighborhood damaged by a flood four years ago this September, it causes anxiety. (Interested? Read my posts from around September 10, 2011, forward.) I've blogged before about how the sound of rain, once a source of pleasure, no longer is.

We are under a flood watch, as is much of the East Coast of the United States, not from this storm, but from Tropical Storm Joaquin, still way off shore. But, despite that, fall marches on.

My yard, this year, has a lot of fall interest. Fall is such a beautiful time of year here - too bad it also makes me realize what is coming next.

Let's not think of that (the "s" word), shall we?  Instead lets think of these, on this last day of September, using photos taken several days ago.
My cultivated Northeast Asters (Michaelmas Daisies) glow towards sunset.
Hardy mums (not mums purchased at the store just for the season.
More hardy mums.

And one more sunset view, this time from last week - Japanese anemones.

All we on the East Coast can do now is wait for whatever is in store for us.  In the meantime, I'd like to thank everyone who commented on my post yesterday.  I haven't responded to all the comments, but I will.

What is fall like, where you live?  Do you live in a four season climate?  Or, is it spring where you live?