The Mountains Are Calling . . .

One of the most magnificent places I have ever visited is Yosemite National Park in California.  Ancient glacier activity in this region of the High Sierra left behind enormous rock formations that created a natural cathedral unsurpassed by anything ever designed by human minds or hands.  One of the early Europeans to explore the valley described it in these same terms.  John Muir visited Yosemite several times in the 19th and early 20th centuries, spending several years there in spite of the fact that he had a wife and children in San Francisco.  His appreciation for the beauty and wildness of Yosemite drove him to fight for its long-term preservation.  Some battles he lost, but by and large, his petitions to government officials are responsible for the establishment of the national park there.

Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

Lately I have been reading Muir’s descriptions of the land forms, his detailed identification of the flora and fauna, and his natural history of Yosemite in selections from the e-book, The Collected Works of John Muir.  I am amazed at how much ground he was able to cover and the extent to which he cataloged so many of the species in the area.  Without the aid of modern equipment or the assistance of the infrastructure later installed for hikers, Muir explored parts of the valley and surrounding region that only the most experienced hikers and climbers would attempt today. He craved the wilderness almost like a lover.  In the mountains and forests he found adventure, inspiration, stimulation, and peace.  For those who have visited Yosemite and were left speechless by its wonders, I highly recommend John Muir’s works — he manages to articulate what I could not put into words when I first saw this marvelous spectacle.

Southern Word of the Day

For the last couple of years, I have been entertaining myself (not difficult) and my Facebook Friends with posts that I have coined “The Southern Word of the Day.”  Obviously, this gig is a direct rip-off of the comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s redneck words, and there is certainly some overlap.  However, I have imposed some rules on myself that Foxworthy didn’t always follow. For instance, I only use legitimate English-language words, which includes the occasional place name but mostly just regular words.  So I would never use Foxworthy’s “widgedidga” because it isn’t a legitimate word, even though it clearly is a phonetically-correct Southern word that translates to “with you did you.”  So Foxworthy’s word “mayonnaise” as a substitute for “man there is” serves as a good example of my method.  I also try to stay away from the simple two-syllable rip-offs like aster = asked her, or cider = beside her, or otter = ought to, or stark = it’s dark.

I have decided to put together a list of my favorite Southern words that I have posted, and perhaps Jeff Foxworthy has used these too.  No plagiarism is intended here; I can only plead ignorance, which for me is not a stretch at all.

Fornication.  Usage: “Charlene’s dress is perfect fornication like tonight.”

Covetous.  Usage: “It was so cold that Momma pulled out a blanket and covetous up with it.”

Quesadilla.  Usage: “You need to have your brights on in quesadilla runs out in front of us.”

Spectators.  Usage: “Broccoli is fine, but I spectators would taste a whole lot better with that steak.”

Anemone.  Usage: “I was running just fine anemone started hurting, and I had to stop.”

Ammonia.  Usage: “Would you come open the door?  Ammonia front porch!”

Motif.  Usage: “Billy Bob would smile more if he just had motif.”

Enema.  Usage: “My mother-in-law is always sticking her nose enema business.”

Pasteurize.  Usage: “I walked right pasteurize, and you didn’t even see me!”

September.  Usage: “We have grown everything on that 40 acres you can imagine September.”

Annuity.  Usage: “He was having trouble getting it out, but annuity was trying to say.”

Annihilator.  Usage: “We got stuck in traffic and ended up getting there annihilator than we thought we would.”

Opportunity of a Lifetime

As I have indicated before, I began my career as a librarian in a medium-sized public library in a small county of around 42,000 people.  As is typical in small communities, there were plenty of personal interconnections.  When I graduated with an MA in History in 1985 from a state college in this same county, I started work shelving and cataloging books in the public library.  With the encouragement, patience, and generous assistance from the library director, I and another worker in the library commuted to Emory University twice a week for two years to complete our Masters degrees in Librarianship (MLn).  I served as a reference librarian for most of my fifteen years there, but when the director left during my twelfth year, I was offered the position.  I served as the library’s director for three years.

One morning, during the spring of my last year, the husband of our children’s librarian walked into my office to say he had a proposition for me.  His wife was serving in this position at the library before I began there.  Her husband was a local attorney.  I knew them both very well — we attended social events and my first wife and I had even house-sat for them and had taken care of their two children for a weekend.  As it happened, he was the lawyer for the estate of a major American writer, who also was (and still is) one of my favorite authors: Flannery O’Connor.  She had lived a good portion of her life in this town where her family had deep roots going back to the early 19th century.  She spent the last thirteen years of her life at the family’s farm, called Andalusia, located on the north end of town.

Flannery O’Connor
His clients were two sisters who were also first cousins of O’Connor.  Flannery O’Connor died in 1964, but her mother, Regina, lived until 1995.  As executors of Regina O’Connor’s estate, these two women were also in charge of Flannery O’Connor’s literary estate, which was primarily administered through a trust that had been established by Regina O’Connor’s will.  As co-executors and co-trustees, one of their responsibilities was to establish a non-profit foundation to maintain Andalusia as a proper memorial to O’Connor and also to perpetuate her legacy as a writer.  They needed someone to help establish this organization.  They also needed someone to work with a sizable archive of personal papers, correspondence, writings, photographs, memorabilia, and artifacts belonging to Flannery O’Connor.  The archive needed to be organized, cataloged, and properly stored for preservation purposes.  The co-executors asked the lawyer to find someone who might be interested and capable of doing both of these tasks.  He came to my office in the library that spring day, explained the proposition from the estate, and asked me if I would consider taking the job as an independent consultant working for the co-executors.  I accepted, which changed almost everything for me.

I will no doubt dedicate several future posts recounting my experiences as a consultant and then later the director of the Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation that I assisted in establishing.  I was there for thirteen years — as long as Flannery O’Connor lived there.  That was long enough, or arguably, a bit too long.  While I can look back and think about plenty of mistakes I made and how I should have made different decisions, I don’t have any real regrets.  With a BA in English, an MA in History, and an MLn, I don’t think I could have been any better suited for the job with regard to my education and training.  I had the help of some talented and dedicated mentors, board members, volunteers, colleagues, and for a few years, a trusted co-worker and friend.  What I can state with absolute certainty is that this path that departed from my expected trajectory led me to some of the richest experiences I have ever had and offered me opportunities that other people with my education and training will, sadly, never enjoy.  I am humbly grateful, and hope that Flannery O’Connor would be pleased with the work we accomplished at Andalusia.

A Little Less Anonymity

When I started this blog back in April, I had some misguided notion that I should keep my identity hidden, primarily because I thought that some of the future content would be personal or sensitive, and I feared offending my family, friends, and associates.  What I have come to discover is just how difficult it is to write about my own experiences and opinions while remaining completely anonymous.  There are significant stories and memories that I have had to avoid to stay in hiding.  No more I tell you!

I still prefer not posting my personal information in my profile; however, the stories I tell will definitely reveal my identity to people whom I have encountered over the last few decades.  In so doing, I am accepting a few restrictions: some stories will be better left untold, and I will have to be a bit sensitive and careful in the memories I do elect to share.  Yes, I admit that all of this sounds a tad melodramatic and narcissistic — my arrogance in thinking that this blog will reach such a wide audience that even friends and acquaintances will someday be following my posts.   Even so, getting a little more personal with the details will make for a better journal and, I hope, more engaging narratives.

Right of Way

Before my wife, younger son, and I made our trip to Yellowstone this summer, we did like so many other families do before major trips and spent some time reading about the park, its unique features and characteristics, places of particular interest, and potential hazards to avoid.  I even watched a few videos about Yellowstone, both professionally-produced and amateur.  Of course, one of the major elements that brings millions to this park every year is the wildlife, and for most visitors, the principle of “the bigger the better” holds true.  Most of us want to see a bear, at least from a safe distance, but they tend to stay away from the roadways — we were lucky enough to see a mother and her cub the last day we were there.  The elk and moose are quite impressive in the size category too.  We saw several elk but not a moose.

The largest creature in the park, at least by weight, is one that is not very shy at all.  According to the National Park Service website about Yellowstone, this park “is the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. Yellowstone bison are exceptional because they comprise the nation’s largest bison population on public land and are among the few bison herds that have not been hybridized through interbreeding with cattle. Unlike most other herds, this population has thousands of individuals that are allowed to roam relatively freely over the expansive landscape of Yellowstone National Park and some nearby areas of Montana. They also exhibit wild behavior like their ancient ancestors, congregating during the breeding season to compete for mates, as well as migration and exploration that result in the use of new habitat areas. These behaviors have enabled the successful restoration of a population that was on the brink of extinction just over a century ago.”

We knew that bison often made their way to the major roadways in the park and that traffic could be stopped for significant periods of time for herds of the animals to pass.  What we didn’t expect was that sometimes the bison actually use the roads as a path, slowly ambling their way along the pavement, almost as if they are curious about the visitors and have arrived for an inspection.  There are close to 5,000 bison in the park, so sightings of large herds are frequent.  Professional and amateur photographers come out before daybreak to claim their favorite spots on small hills in the bison hotspots, such as Hayden Valley, to get the best shots of the beasts in their natural environment.  However, as we discovered on our first day at Yellowstone, you can get a pretty good close-up photograph of a bison from the window of your car, as so many visitors have been doing for years.  I took this one from my window as we waited for a group of the animals to clear the road.

Yellowstone bison

Notice that these hooved creatures are following the center yellow line, almost as if it were a trail marker.  They were walking along slowly, seemingly with no fear or even regard for the nearby vehicles and their occupants.  The dangerous assumption by some park visitors is that these are harmless animals, but as calm as they seem to be, they can become extremely aggressive and dangerous if approached or if they feel threatened.  Park literature and signs are abundant warning people to stay a very safe distance from all wild animals in the park , especially bears and bison.  Several visitors are seriously injured each year from foolish encounters with bison.

As these massive animals passed our car, I was taken with how they brought everything to a standstill, commanding the right of way.  They marched through like royalty participating in a parade — the trooping of the colors as it were.  In many ways, the park is theirs, along with the other multitude of species that call Yellowstone home, as it should be.  I wish people would always keep in mind that we are only visitors, and as such, we should be on our best behavior to ensure that places like Yellowstone are preserved and treasured.