Monday, September 27, 2010

The Wall

Yes, I've hit it in the past week, big-time, but to keep things in perspective, here's something I saw on our school field trip to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati:

 Above: Berlin Wall, West German side.
Below: Berlin Wall, East German side.

The East Germans kept their side stark white, all the better to see and shoot you by.

Here's to keeping things in perspective.

Above: The Berlin Wall (Wikipedia)
For more on the shooting of people trying to cross the wall, including a tribute to the last man to be shot and killed, see:,1518,605967,00.html

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Monday, Monday

What a day last Monday was!

I was greeted at school by this beautiful doe

and the rest of the buck's harem enjoying their morning meal

as this voyeur looked on.

After class I went for a drive through the corn fields to visit the Lady M.,
owner of two American Chateaux!
Chateau "O" where the Lady will celebrate the autumnal equinox

and Halloween!

And chateau "A" at which I was to meet m'Lady.

The Lady M's bloomers...

what did you think I meant?

The Lady M's Civil War era mountain howitzer...any more smart remarks?

She grew up here

in this valley Cornstalk's people once called home.

This her castle and her throne,

this the "bedrock" on which her dolls had their naps.

Her barn quilt, symbolic

of her towering family legacy.

A Dreamy Sunday with LC

Always to Dream
by Lemuel Crouse

Do you know what it's like
Always to dream?
Oh, not at night,
When mortals dream,
But always.
To dream of making a difference.
To dream of a better world.
To dream of horrors, too,
Past, present, future.
Dreams unceasing,
Sometimes overwhelming,
Always vivid, visceral, evocative.
How easy to lose myself in them.
How hard to know what's real.
How very hard to push them aside
And do what needs doing
Each day.
Without you I am lost,
Adrift on a sea of dreams,
No land in sight,
Slowly taking on water
Until I sink into the void.

Thank you, my love for keeping old emails!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Empty Sky

(Photograph of an empty sky)

Stunned, silent, listening, watching, processing?  Not yet.  Just...watching: reporters trying to make sense of the senseless; wild estimates of what the Twin Towers death toll could be; wilder speculation about the scope of the attacks...all this info flooding into our lives as we sat in the extended stay on 9/11/01, finally back to our room after the harrowing, heart-rending morning's drive.  As we sat and listened and tried to understand even the basics, we cried and wondered and worried, and a plan of action slowly emerged.  We should go home.  

We were on a research trip/vacation: seven nights at an extended stay in Maryland, with "easy" access to DC, where I needed to do research at the National Archives (the old one on Pennsylvania Avenue).  We had driven in from Cincinnati on Saturday, and we had spent a wonderful Sunday out at Rehobeth Beach.  On Monday we had made a huge breakthrough at the Archives.  While I was searching for documents pertaining to a few key players in Kentucky's civil war within the American Civil War, The Bug was reading through ledgers of letters, many of which related to the struggles of former slaves to reconstitute their families in the face of both former owners reluctant to give up their "property" and a "reign of terror" being imposed on free black communities by bands of white supremacists.  I remember at some point setting aside what I had thought important and helping mark these records so that we could begin copying them.  These stories would in time become the heart of my dissertation, but we had run out of time for this day.  Copying them would have to wait until the next day.

The next day...9/11/01.  Why wasn't I in a hurry to get up and get to the archives?  Maybe because it was a Tuesday, and the Archives stayed open late.  Maybe because we had gotten up very early on Saturday to make the long drive in from Ohio, and then we had gotten up early to drive out to Rehobeth, and then we had spent a long day at the Archives on Monday.  Whatever the reason, we slept in a bit longer than I had planned.  Still, we had our Metro passes, we had a cart of records already pulled and waiting on us, and we had some very exciting stuff to process, so we headed out.  I must say that I was very frustrated when we couldn't get parked at the Metro stop.  My initial thought was to drive on in to another stop with which I was familiar, and take the Metro from there.  Somewhere in that process, though, I began to think maybe we should just sight-see in the morning, then go to the Archives after lunch.  I honestly cannot say exactly what led us to that park on the heights overlooking the Potomac.

Fast forward: noon, 9/11, and the DC news spewed chaos.  There were so many reports: impending attacks on the Capitol, evacuations, lock-downs.  This was just too much for rusticated folks such as ourselves, even if we now lived and worked in a more urban world.  We needed somewhere familiar, ground of our choosing on which to make whatever stand the days ahead would require.  So reluctantly we headed south, like Jubal Early retreating from the outskirts of the "enemy" capital in the summer of 1864.  And like Early, we headed toward the Shenandoah Valley.  Simply put, there was no way in hell I was going to try to go I95 south around DC on that day.  There are advantages to being a Civil War historian, especially one with a fondness for maps and a very good internal sense of direction.  Yes, it would would mean more miles, but I reasoned that heading to the Valley was less likely to get us stuck in a major traffic jam, and it would put me on familiar turf (remind me to write about our Civil War camping trip).

So we checked out of our suite, paying a one-night penalty for leaving early, and we hit the road.  We had to take a very crowded interstate west for a bit, but once we got to the appropriate exit, we were on our own, following a very old road out of Maryland and into the Virginia countryside.  In time, we made our way to the lower end of the Valley, and we decided to risk I81 at that point.  It proved to be hauntingly quiet.  We made sure to keep tabs on gas, stopping as soon as we saw an open truckstop, knowing that now we could make it to NC without having to refuel.  And so while Brian Miller and so many other stranded passengers languished in airports, while people scrambled to find each other, establish phone service, and so much more, while the horror of the day's events began to sink in, while the possible death toll of the collapsed Towers continued to be debated, we drove on in our car cocoon, hour after hour after hour, with the occasional conversation, perhaps listening to music...I just don't remember.

What I do remember about our "retreat" is the empty sky...with a lone exception.  Somewhere on I81 we saw a plane very, very high in the sky.  It definitely seemed to be escorted by at least one smaller jet, and in the weeks that followed, I wondered if it had not actually been Air Force One.  The president surely had quite a day that day, but he did, in time, return to DC, and while the timing is fuzzy, it just might have been him we saw.  In any event, that was it...the lone sighting that day.  And so we went home, not to the Midwest, but HOME to the red clay soil on which we had played as children, to the rolling hills of the Carolina Piedmont, to the familiar spare room, the familiar families, the familiar comfort foods.  We went home and waited, and talked, and cried, and stared at the empty sky.

Slowly, very slowly, life began to resume.  Almost immediately the emails and comments started flying.  My friends, mentors, peers, all seemed to have an opinion that had to be shared about what this meant.  Some of them could not believe that I didn't just ride it out in DC and keep at my research.  Some of them were openly critical of US foreign policy, saying we had gotten exactly what we deserved and should just absorb the loss, the lesson, and move on.  Some of them wanted swift retribution, but most just seemed very sad about the attacks and their aftermath.  Many of my colleagues talked about what this meant for teaching American history (the fall quarter was about to start).  Friends listened to me tell our story, attentive, sympathetic, stunned that we were heading toward the Pentagon area even as the plane flew into it.  Few of them understood what I was feeling anymore than I understood their feelings.  It was too soon, too raw, too much.

On a positive note, the staff at the National Archives did not even remove our markers from the ledger books and archive boxes we had checked out on 9/10.  They simply returned them to the shelves.  When I went back many months later to follow up on that breakthrough The Bug had helped me make, I found the markers in place, still designating those eye-opening, heartbreaking letters.

People like to say that 9/11 changed everything.  It did not.  Sadly, it did not change enough things.  Forgive me, but way too much shit that went on before 9/11, even contributed to 9/11, still goes on, and as a nation we are no more united, maybe less so, than we were in 2000.  But the attacks of that day did change some things, indeed they did.  And they changed me.  I still teach American history the way I did before that day.  We study the bad with the good, the tragedies as well as the triumphs.  But I am not the same person I was on 9/10/01.  I lost something that day.  Nine years later, the sadness of it, the pain of that loss, is still with me.

Springsteen's The Rising continues to resonate powerfully with me, including the stunning "Empty Sky," but the song that haunts me is one he claims he wrote many years before and reworked to fit the theme of this album, "Nothing Man": (9/11 tribute with graphic images)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

This Sunday, LC reflects on his Christmas poem

As you who follow The Bug may know, we write a poem for Christmas each year.  Sometimes I write it, sometimes she writes it, often we lightly edit each other's poems, sometimes we even collaborate.  However, I'm pretty sure LC authored the following, all on his own (thankfully The Bug approved):

Exerpt from Our 2001 Christmas Poem

Sunday, 9-9, Rehobeth Beach.
Great earth mother lapping
At our feet, her pups
Come home for a bath.

Our souls refreshed by the sea,
We gave no care or thought
Of what hell would be
Wrought in this land come 9-11.

Bright morning sun, a drive
In the park, a stop, a search,
Anger in a Ranger’s eyes,
Hints, then finally the news.

American Babel,
Now ashes and rubble.
Divine will? How ill I become
At such a thought.

On 9-11, the God Who Is One
Surely sighed and trembled
And cried for what those
Misguided children had done.

For those of you who are familiar with the at times raunchy, often side-splitting satire of The Onion, in one of their most profound moments, they addressed the 9-11 attacks, and inspired this poet, thusly (caution: the Almighty has a bit of a potty mouth):,222/

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Of Towers and Sunflowers

The Bug and I were in Washington, DC, on 9/11/01.  Or at least trying to be.  We had a suite for the week in a Maryland extended stay near a Red Line stop.  We got up late, didn't turn on the tv as we rushed to get dressed, couldn't find parking at the Metro stop, and so decided to drive to another one or maybe just do some sight-seeing.  I have been past Arlington Cemetery in car, train, plane, and even on foot, but I have never set foot in it.  Perhaps this would be the day.  It was a beautiful day, perfectly clear, too beautiful to spend in the National Archives doing what we had done the day before: reading about the reign of terror white supremacists were inflicting on the former slaves of Kentucky.  So we headed down the Potomac on the GW toward Arlington, stopping at a small park along the way to make a pitstop.  At that park our world changed.  While The Bug rushed to the necessary, I got out to stretch.   Two rangers approached and began a conversation.  We were the only ones there, it was a weekday morning, so at first I thought they were bored.  In fact, they were on high alert.  For all they knew, our nation was already at war.  A rather sloppy search of my car revealed that I was not a terrorist (they were remembering Timothy McVeigh, no doubt, while I was laughing a bit inside, thinking they thought I was a drug dealer or something).  They asked where I was going, and when I said the Iwo Jima Memorial, then Arlington, they bristled and said that would not be possible.  Not. Possible.  Okay, I said, maybe if DC is locked down, we'll go up to Gettysburg.  Hadn't been there in years.  Gettysburg is going to be closed today, they said.  All national parks will be closed.  That's when it hit me.  The rangers had not told me why any of this was happening.  They had not told me that a plane had just crashed in the vicinity of the Pentagon.  They certainly had not told me that the Towers had fallen.  But they told me enough to shake the foundations of my world.  I am a life-long frequenter of national parks, and I well knew that the Park Service does not arbitrarily shut down the park system...something terrible must have happened.  Finally, after we had been cleared and instructed to head back to our hotel and turn on the news, they wished us well and went back inside.  Now I had to go to the necessary, and on the way, a maintenance man, to whom I will ever be thankful, told me why I needed to get in the car and go back to the hotel: "You know the World Trade Center?  Those twin towers?  They're not there anymore...and our country may already be at war."

That's all I have to say about that...

Dear friends, we can wallow in death and fear and hate, or we can wallow in life.  This weekend I'm doing the latter.  I spent several hours yesterday helping members of The Bug's church sell root beer floats at a local blues and jazz festival, and it was great!  Today I'm taking her to my university's home opener in football, then back to the festival.  On our way to and from my school, we will be greeted by this sight, and it will bring delight and renewal and hope:

In memory of those who died on 9/11, and the thousands upon thousands who have died since that day as a direct consequence of those attacks, I present these sunflowers.  May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, comfort those who mourn, soften the hearts of those who hate, and bring healing and peace to our embattled world.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Inanity from Eden

This week the Magpie of Willow Manor teased us with an apple, resting on an issue of Vanity Fair, no less.  I held out as long as I could...

Vanity.  Look at him
Kneeling beside still water,
Studying his perfect form.
What harm can come, I said
From knowing one’s true self?
And from beneath the leaf
The fruit I drew, showing him
Just where I took a nibble.
He didn’t even quibble with me.

Insanity.  I am drowning
In my mind’s sea, devoid of form,
A perfect storm raging on the surface,
No shores in place to contain my anger
And pain.  I need someone to blame
For this chaotic condition!  Her?
She could not have understood
What this would mean, but YOU!
YOU knew!  Why did you not stop me?

Humanity.  That’s the name
You chose, is it?  I knew you as Adam
And I am saddened by your sin.
Not fair you say?  You knew the rules
From the beginning.  How dare you
Presume to discern MY will,
Given how little of THIS mind
You will ever know.  Now go!
Your path lies there, beyond my garden.

Divinity.  Eternal heart
Which cannot harden, above
Beyond, apart, much more
Are you than warden of a perfect park.
Your spark is here inside,
We can no more hide from you
Than you from us.  Trust your creation
To break your heart in the beginning.
Sometimes there’s just no winning, is there?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

This is the way I go to school

This is the way I go to school (though most of these were shot on my way home, as I usually am running late and so don't take so many back roads on my way up, but often do on my way there).  On this Labor Day I am definitely celebrating the fact that I have a job...and a beautiful commute!

Okay, so I don't take the private drive to Whitehall Farm every day...

Sunflowers getting ready to strut their autumnal stuff!
You'll see more of them, I am sure...

Cows!  I drive past these and many other cows every day :-)


"And I'm driving along past the old silo,
watching the combines moving up slow,
thinking of the places we used to go,
you were on my mind."
(variation on a theme)

"If those boards could talk...
What tales they'd tell...

Of Della and the dealer and the dog as well..."

Yes, that is a buffalo!  He has a goat (not pictured) to keep him company.
And no, that fence is NOT going to stop him if he wants out.

Part of our campus herd!

Our school mascot should be the squirrel,
because...wait for it...this place is nuts!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

This Sunday LC is on the bus again, contemplating a long-ago transformation

Pure fiction is driving TFE's Poetry Bus this week (click the link to read some great poems!), and the ticket is "a moment of transformation."  In this poem, Lemuel reflects on such a moment.  The first draft of this was written over twenty years ago about events that occurred a dozen years prior to that, so please don't think I'm about to step in front of the bus...I'm simply presenting what I hope is a worthy ticket.

Hunted: A Poem from The Nadir

 By Lemuel Crouse

The sun is cold today--
cold and penetrating--
an icy arrow shot by him
who hunts the frozen winter sky.

Cold, too, are faces
that seem to look intently
but do not see within the silent man
the whimpering child.

Today I am hunted--
haunted, some would say--
but they have not seen the smiling terror
that stalks my dreams.

The sun is cold today--
cold and glowing--
an endless bright night
devoid of blessed, concealing darkness.

                                                         Cold, too, are lungs
                                                         that burn but still
                                                         are not consumed by flames
                                                         from the longed-for final fire.

Today I am running--
avoiding, some would say--
but they have not been served
a draught from the well of hell.

The sun is cold today--
cold and unredemptive--
a puppet knight crucified on the clouds,
unable to save himself, let alone me.

Cold, too, are words
which sound the hollow knell of faith
and smell of bitter ashes
blown down from hope’s cremation.

Today I am alone--
selfish, some would say--
but they have not felt this searing sting,
this thrust from a trusted sword.

(Images: stock photo of the Orion constellation; my pic of winter sun setting)