Vicksburg: Victory Or Defeat?

“It was, after the conflict, literally the hill of death; men, horses, cannon, and the debris of an army lay scattered in wild confusion.” (Union General Alvin C. Hovey describing the Battle of Vicksburg)

To many historians, it’s common knowledge that the Battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1863 represented a turning point victory for the Northern Union Army in the Civil War. In this winner take-all situation, it’s been further agreed upon that General Ulysses S. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg over his Southern Confederate counterparts solidified his reputation as the commanding general who could  most capably lead his troops to end this long war. For those experts who studied the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, it’s been further reasoned that this triumph at Vicksburg provided a timely boost to Lincoln’s chances of being re- elected to a second term as President in 1864. At least these opinions prevailed when I conveyed such patriotic dogma from the textbook to my 7th and 8th grade  students as an American History teacher in South Florida back then.

But as I measured my emotions during our morning visit to the Vicksburg National Battlefield on our road trip last week, these hallowed grounds adjacent to this historic town along the Mississippi River felt so much more tragic than celebratory to me in various ways. Consider my first impression there of a landscape still scarred by unsightly craters and trenches from this bloody battle that turned pristine forest groves and fertile farm fields into  environmental wastelands. Upon turning my attention as well to so many monuments erected along our drive along the sixteen mile battlefield road, I became sorrowfully reminded by each of these heroic dedications that over thirty thousand soldiers combined on both sides tragically lost their lives at Vicksburg. Furthermore, as I stood along Vicksburg’s cliffs overlooking the peacefully flowing Mississippi River basin to conclude our tour, disturbing images arose in my mind of that nightmarish scene of river passing gunboats like the USS Cairo shown below being sunk unmercifully by underwater torpedos and cliffside bombs during the course of the battle.

Thus it seems fitting that I recall feeling negative vibes by the distinct chill existing in the air accompanied by some unaccustomed dead silence at Vicksburg that morning of our visit. For such heightened sensations seemed to set an ominous tone to feel the mass lonelinesses, desperation and despair that once took place at this famous Civil War battle scene. So allow me to set the stage in the following photos from our road trip visit that history should record Vicksburg as more accurately a “Pyrrhic victory” toward inhumanity’s creation.

Texas Rose Enchantment

“The gentle rose offers a powerful joy known only to the heart.” (Andrew Pacholyk)

During our past road trip travels, I’ve often noticed how the state of Texas often goes boldly big in showcasing its prominent history and distinctive cultural ways. That list would of course include: (1) the “Wild West” allure of its vast open prairie, (2) its fervent gun toting ways, (3) those densely populated  urban giants of Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and El Paso, (4) a strong legacy of winning football teams and (5) the seemingly endless construction of underground mining shafts devoted to oil and other kinds of petroleum products throughout the desolate expanses of  America’s second largest state.

So it’s no surprise that during our latest road trip, I must add the sweet sights and scents of a rose to my Texas obsession with “bigger than others” attention. For during our recent visit to the Rose Garden Center in Tyler, Texas, Ruth and I discovered in early afternoon Friday the reputedly largest public collection of roses in the United States, occupying over 2,000 bushes of 500 different varieties along its 14 acre site. Know then that we faced a relatively tight time schedule to reach our upcoming Dallas vicinity destination, so we decided it best for this latest excursion to avoid as much as possible the stifling Texas afternoon heat. Thus, we would spend the bulk of our time there along a shaded “Camellia Garden” and nearby densely arranged array of colorful rose blooms innovatively titled “The Idea Garden.”

After a short  rest overlooking a rock lined pond area called the “Meditation Garden”, we would allot limited time to then sample the more sunny interior portions of the Tyler Rose Garden.This vicinity fittingly known as “The Maze” would require us to zig-zag somewhat haphazardly amid several rows of modern rose plantings of various sizes, shapes, and colors. So I invite you to open your heart by feeling the Texas joy of bigness in this awesome display of roses in the following photo collection.

Road Trip Hurricane Challenge

“ In reality, you don’t ever change the hurricane. You just learn to stay out of its path.” ( Jody Picoult)

I’ve lived in South Florida for over fifty years and thus have faced plenty of stress-filled moments as the annual onset of hurricane season occurs. I might say in oddly casual fashion that I’ve often faced such rain and wind filled disasters as restful retreats from life’s normality of work day stress before, during, and after they occur. But let’s face facts. For as many hurricanes become stronger and larger these days and as I grow older, I seem less tolerant of likely electrical power outages, gas and food shortages, as well as flooded city streets accompanying each close by landfall.

So let’s consider my most current logic of road tripping as the best solution to deal with the likely catastrophic result of monster sized Hurricane Ian as it tracks toward the southwest coast of Florida in the next two days. For an opportunity now presented itself for Ruth and I to escape northward from Fort Lauderdale on our Colorado bound adventures two days earlier than intended to hopefully veer away from this impending storm.

Thus, I envisioned myself thinking critically in chess game fashion so to speak with Ian as I strategized our first day route based on “Weather Channel” forecasts about when and where the hurricane’s landfall near Tampa would likely occur. Know then we slowly made our way up heavily congested Florida Turnpike and Interstate 75 followed by a more leisurely westerly jog along U.S. 27 to reach our first destination of Tallahassee today.

My most immediate reaction to our ten hour driving day would be how heartbreaking it felt to witness the horror of mandatory evacuations requiring so many to flee northward from their homes along the same roads we took today. My emotions further heightened in seeing an endless caravan of utility vehicles heading in the opposite direction. For it would no doubt be a very demanding task for them to restore power and clear widespread landscape damage to these affected communities.
 

Perhaps then you might gain a greater sense in the following photo set from our recent travels about how “Killer” Hurricane Ian packing winds of over 150 miles per hour will likely come ashore along the Florida coast in such destructive fashion Thankfully, we’re away from such chaos as we head tomorrow for Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Caravan of Utility Repair Vehicles , Florida Turnpike – 9/27/22
Line of Evacuee Gridlock Traffic , I-75 – 9/27/22
Pas -a Grille, St. Petersburg, Fl. – 2019
Dania Beach, Florida – 2022
Dania Beach, Florida – 2022
Sunshine State Skyway , St. Petersburg, Fl. – 2019

“Killing Time” In Road Trip Style

“ I deny the fact that when I kill time, time is actually killing me.” (Eric Gamalinda )

I often find that “killing time” productively combined with some timely, “small talk” effort provides a nice combination for experiencing new places in road trip travel. For while I tend to stoically dawdle and thus prefer to slowly feel my way around, my wife Ruth normally takes up the slack by becoming the bold social conversationalist with strangers during these uncertain location times. But in spite of our contradictory styles of travel behavior, we both seem to live our lives in the present in doing what we do best for our travels.

Let’s imagine, for example, how we might typically allot our time during a brief morning walk along a lesser visited hiking route we’ve chosen to explore along the Grand Canyon of Arizona. For as we trek perilously close to the South Rim chasm, I might be stopping frequently to study my trail map or take photos of these unfolding cliffs. However, my wife might be finding it more satisfying at the same time to embrace friendly chats with a passing hiker to lessen current tensions about any uncertain conditions on the trail we might face ahead. To further illustrate, while I need to allot hours at night to write my blog in privacy when we stay with out- of – state friends, Ruth’s friendly chit chats with our hosts after dinner usually reduces the pressure for me to make an appearance to socially perform.

Am I totally satisfied then with my existing ways of “killing time” slowly in travel? Probably not I would say from an emotional health perspective. For I might give a greater effort to “lighten up” and embrace the value of certain social situations. “Shoot the breeze” with strangers more around common interests and I might take some some pressure off myself to obsess on my perfectionist ways. Spend more quality time in addition with our travel hosts during those daily rituals of social eating situations, and I might further reduce my self imposed stress of slow paced road trip travel.

So let’s consider the travel photo set below that showcase some of our latest American settings for killing time” slowly in travel. What subjects might I bring up in idle chatter in each of these situations to experiment with “opening up” more with people? Furthermore, in doing so, will I be able to retain that high level of “now” sensory awareness that I so desire? Perhaps I will experience ample time to change my self- dawdling ways on our next road trip as we head out to Colorado on a one month journey soon. I invite you to take a look at our upcoming itinerary in the title photo of this blog.

Charleston, Carolina – 2022
Boca Raton, Florida – 2022
San Rafael, California – 2022
Laurel Canyon in L.A., California – 2022
Beaufort, South Carolina – 2022
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 2022
Indiana, Pennsylvania – 2022
Davenport, Iowa – 2022
East Ellijay, Georgia – 2022
St. Mary’s Georgia – 2022
Oxford, Ohio – 2022

Queen’s Kindness In Travel Perspective

“Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves — from our recklessness or our greed.” (Queen Elizabeth II)

I am deeply saddened by the sudden death of Queen Elizabeth II last week, marking the end of her seventy year realm as the most recent monarch leader of the United Kingdom. Know that as with most tragic deaths of “larger than life heroes” that have happened during my lifetime, the queen’s death marks for me again an occasion of deep personal reflection. So I’ve often read that public opinions of the long lived British royal system is often framed with lies, gossip and scandal. Yet might I best counteract such negativism about the “Crown” in recent years by understanding how Elizabeth’s quietly benevolent presence for so long provided a stable beacon of hope to spread kind goodwill toward all she met amid so many world crises. So in fact, she’d made time during her reign to engage in friendly, face to face conversation with thirteen out of the last fourteen sitting U.S. presidents. Maintaining her dutiful commitment to promote such peace and shared value understanding with America during troublesome political times, Queen Elizabeth graciously hosted President Biden in the last year for informal tea chats as well. 

Thus in the spirit of spreading nice news today, you might observe that I’ve become inspired in the following travel photo set, taken on our adventures around the world, to feel a heavy dose of kindness myself. I notice then how these images of unselfish giving rather than self centered taking set a positive tone for how to engage with friends, family, strangers and “Mother Nature” in my life again. So as I hopefully exit from COVID’s long isolation period from others, I’m more conscious now of the need to flash a warm smile or say a hearty hello in greeting others as Elizabeth often did when spreading her iconic legacy of hospitable kindness.

New Delhi, India -2017
Kings Canyon National Park, California – 2017
Miami, Florida – 2017
Miami, Florida – 2017
London, England – 2017
Peoria, Arizona -2018
Jeffersonville, New York – 2018
London, England – 2017
Southampton, England – 2018
Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada -2018

Virginia Beach, Virginia – 2019
Tiruchirappalli, India – 2020
Thanjavur, India, 2020
Beaufort, South Carolina – 2022
Santa Cruz, California 2022

Dreams Awaken Travel

“ The best dreams happen when you are awake.” (Cherie Gilderbloom)

Do you ever wonder how one’s dreams in deep sleep feel wondrously real at pivotal moments in life? For if such a subconscious mindset persists over time, doesn’t one need to take some kind of logical followup action? Thus, it’s been been no surprise that I’ve been spending much of my idle leisure time in August going through my more than 19,000 travel photos, looking for what I’ve missed the most in travel during these severely COVID impacted years. Surely, I’m proud that we’ve spent the bulk of our vacation time healthily completing long distance road trips on at least six occasions across the United States from 2020 -2022. Yet it seems significant as well that I’ve been dreaming each night that those accustomed cruise adventures and independent jaunts from country to country appear notably absent during that same COVID period.

So in the photo set below, I’m displaying a series of our past travel images that put some action ideas in my head to follow my dreamscape. For we anticipate that soon we will no longer be limited by this strictly domestic travel agenda. In this regard, our strong desire persists to re-discover that slower pace of self guided touring out of our country unburdened by long distance drives and tight scheduled road trip movements. Spend aimless “quality time”with old friends. Wait patiently for a “Eurail” train to arrive. Take a pleasant walk to nowhere. Engage in curious conversation with a local stranger. Take a window shop stroll to observe unusual artwork. Watch falling leaves on a park bench. Amble along a cobblestone street. Lounge lazily by the open water on a sunny cruise deck. All of these spontaneous travel activities I recognize as pleasing restorative change for us in these hopefully post COVID times.

North Atlantic Ocean Cruise – 2017
Jaipur, India – 2017
Paris, France – 2017
Mediterranean Cruise – 2017
Rome, Italy – 2018
Alsace Lorraine Region, France – 2018
Montreux, Switzerland – 2018
Paris, France , 2018
St. John’s, Newfoundland – 2018
Cozumel, Mexico – 2018
Cozumel, Mexico – 2018
Saint Johns, New Brunswick Canada – 2019
Quebec City, Canada -2019
Martha Brae River, Jamaica – 2019
Milan, Italy – 2018

Miami University’s Coaching Legends

A new generation of college sports enthusiasts often recognizes Miami as that famous football team from South Florida fondly known as the “U”. But there’s another esteemed Miami Center of “Higher Education” in the tiny town of Oxford, Ohio that deserves equal if not more attention in the sports world. For the “RedHawks” of Miami University hold the honorable distinction of producing an impressive number of student alumni who went on to become highly successful coaches in college and professional sports from 1959 to the present. Know then that during our recent road trip tour to the the main Miami campus next to Yager Football Stadium I took particular interest in the “Cradle of Coaches Memorial.” For these hallowed grounds contained an impressive line of life size statues of nine, former football legends with alumni roots to Miami U.

So what exactly did I learn about these iconic football heroes honored in solid bronze who have passed through Miami University over the years that morning? Each of them went on to produce champions wherever they went whether it happened to be a powerhouse high school or college football team, an N.F.L. Super Bowl winner, or a dynamic teacher producing excellence in the classroom. While thus striving to motivate individuals to perform at their maximum level of achievement, I also concluded that each of them never lost sight of a “team first” perspective whether they were winning or losing the battle. I noted with fascination as well that that the depth of Miami University’s leadership influence on today’s game of football still remains strong when considering that Sean McVay, last year’s winning Super Bowl coach and a past Miami University graduate will soon be honored at Miami University as the tenth recipient of the Cradle of Coaches” statue honor. In likewise manner, know that Ohio’s Miami U. holds the amazing distinction of exhibiting three Super Bowl-winning head coaches among its alumni.

As a former professor, I’m naturally curious to know more about the quality of teaching and learning that exists on college campuses. So perhaps on future visits to Oxford, I can examine more fully how the Miami University classroom experience inspired each of these men to excel in athletic coaching. In the meantime, I’m fortunate to discover that each of them seemed openly candid in actual quotes about their deep seated philosophies that drove them to success in their subsequent coaching experiences. I thus end this blog with some random thoughts expressed by six of them in the captioned photographs below for your critical attention.

Yager “RedHawk” Stadium
Paul Dietzel


“There are no office hours for champions.”
Bo Schembechler


“No coach is more important than the team.”
Weeb Eubank


“There’s always a place for people who can play.”
John Harbaugh


“A man can be destroyed, but he can’t be defeated.”

Ara Parseghian


“A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.”

Paul Brown


“The only thing that counts is your dedication to the game. You run on your own fuel; it comes from within you.”

Beyond Old Oxford’s Scholarly Order

“ Miami University – The most beautiful campus that ever there was.” (Robert Frost)

In traveling through Ohio, a casual tourist might make the assumption of this state as backcountry farmland interspersed with a few industrial cities in between. Keep in mind, however, that the “Buckeye State” contains an impressive array of fourteen public universities and over fifty private college institutions offering higher education services in 2022. In this regard, I recall growing up in Greater Akron reading news snippets about small schools such as Wittenberg, Mount Union, Denison, and Oberlin, primarily during basketball season. Meanwhile, Ohio State University elevated my imagination at all times in those formative years as the almighty “Land Of Oz.” Over fifty years later living freely as a road tripper, I now relish the chance to actually visit many of them in person.

So you might understand how happy I felt when my Zoom yoga teacher in Ohio invited Ruth and me to show us around historic Miami University in her hometown of Oxford last Wednesday. For besides getting the chance to finally see her kind soul presence in person, I also looked forward to some nostalgic observance of the “buzz” excitement with undergraduate students welcomed back to campus before late August classes began. Looking back then to that morning of our Oxford visit, it seems that our gracious host seemed quite knowledgeable about the Oxford College experience and thus personalized our walking tour to make it freshly real.

Certainly, I enjoyed the opportunity to photograph the many stately stone and brick buildings of learning at Oxford, some of which dated back to the early 19th century. But such iconic images of academia could be deceiving as I learned how the current trend of student self entitlement on campus might conflict with such strict adherence to such high academic standards seemingly projected here. I wondered then to what extent I once felt such pressure to indulge in self centered pursuit of fun rather than prioritizing course study time matters. Nostalgic memories of college further surfaced for me when our walk continued through open “greens” , some floral gardens and to a covered bridge. For I observed myself  daydreaming again as that ambitious student desperately needing to take time to find a similar campus oasis to get away from academic pressures and relax.

It also seemed important to me that our host did not shy away from showing us some controversy on campus. For as my own college days once resonated with strong anti- war sentiment during the Vietnam War, I could similarly feel why the prominent statue presence of George Washington at Oxford raised issues of slavery and human rights protest fever now. Our campus tour would then delightfully end with a bit of sports entertainment as our guide intuitively sensed my need to roam around the Miami University Football stadium, better known as the “Cradle of Coaches” Thank you my yoga friend for spending time with us today.

Dayton’s Dignified Duo

“ For some years I have been afflicted with the belief that flight is possible to man. My disease has increased in severity and I feel that it will soon cost me an increased amount of money if not my life.” (Orville and Wilber Wright)

Ohio does not usually function as a tourist friendly place as one travels from town to town. However, with a sufficient amount of research at hand, plenty of interesting sites can be discovered at unanticipated times as you look around the the state on your own. In our case, we’ve reached the home stretch of our current summer adventure and will be making daily headway back to South Florida from Cleveland this week. Yet as we shifted more to the west as we began our latest route down to home, one particular site of historic interest traveling immediately caught my eye. Thus we decided to make a first time, side trip off off of Interstate 75 to Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park. For I became curious to obtain firsthand knowledge of Orville and Wilbur’s aviation heroics in their hometown that inspired them to pioneer  the first powered airplane flight.

Taking a quick look at the National Park brochure, I noticed at least six different sites of possible interest around Dayton concerning Wright Brothers aeronautical interest that morning. Based on our travel schedule, however, we would limit our visits to only two of them as briefly described below.

1) Wright- Dunbar Visitor Center – This exhibition documented the various phases of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s life with particular focus on their aviation work in the Dayton area. A separate area not included in this blog showcased the life and works of Dayton resident Paul Lawrence Dunbar, renowned poet of his times.

2) Huffman Prairie Flying Field -We walked around the actual grounds of a Dayton farm field used by the Wright Brothers to construct and flight test  their prototype flying vehicles. It’s considered by many as the first flight airstrip ever used for airborne travel. A reconstructed storage shed and catapult launching stand to assist plane takeoff mark the spot of this runway. 

Now I invite you to read further below what I’ve learned about that the genius of Wilbur and Orville Wright with respect to mastering the technical science of airborne flight in a most readable fashion.

When you soar over the earth below in an airplane, imagine how a bird in your neighborhood similarly masters the element of flight. First it needs a sufficient thrust of air power to lift itself airborne from its flapping wings causing moving air to flow above and below their angle of ascent. Being airborne now, a bird’s wings as well as it’s tail now critically adjust to the wind to steer a path smoothly for them forward in the air. At other times, a bird can quickly alter its wing angle to change their directional movement of up, down, sideways, and reverse. At times, a birds can even glide effortlessly if the air flow currents striking their motionless wings are right.

Such fundamental principles of thrust, lift, control, and power presented a formidable challenge for those who wished to build flying machines at the turn of the 20th century. But Wilber and Orville Wright , two young bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio dared to fly like a bird as they tinkered around their shop with new airborne designs. When the brothers first sketched and then built simple gliders, they discovered how altering specific wing angles showed promise to rise and fall smoothly in the air. But from a practical perspective, they realized that true attainment of flight needed more than short, fleeting ascent from the ground So they built a small bi- plane, then added propellers and a small motor to further enhance their flying machine.

Although many people thought they were crazy to think that humans could fly in the air, they nevertheless began to test run their first airplane in a farm field near Dayton. Facing the uncertain prospect of flight crash failures and resultant pilot death, they stubbornly went back to the drawing board on many occasions to perfect a better airplane design. Moving their aeronautic operations to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilber and Orville on December 17,1903 they finally showed the world that their daring experiment of this mechanical bird could work. For although this first Wright Flyer lifted off the ground, lasting merely twelve seconds, a revolution in air flight travel now began. This event marked the first time in history that a motorized airplane heavier than air had flown successfully.

Galena’s Gallant Hero

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” (Ruth Bader Ginsburg)

When we first entered the steep hillside town of Galena, Illinois for a two day stay, I immediately sensed along Main Street an “All American” tribute to their past resident hero, Ulysses S. Grant. Know that Galena’s “town fathers” presented Ulysses with free ownership of his previously rented, brick house on top of a hill overlooking town to honor his victorious Civil War leadership and later successful run at the U.S. Presidency. This modestly built abode, would serve as the official residence for the Grant family from the Civil War start to his Presidency and throughout the bulk of his retirement years. Aside from the vehicles parked along this street, my first glance on our mid-morning walk through downtown, revealed an authentic historic preservation effort here with rows of antique shops, friendly taverns, as well as a large hotel still standing from the 19th century era. At various points along this “Old Town” tour, I also took time to admire the impressive display of flags and banners revealing red, white, and blue patriotism in remembrance of Grant’s legacy as their local homegrown hero. .

Among the most prominent discoveries during our Galena visit took place at the DeSoto, the state of Illinois’ oldest operating hotel operating from 1885 to now. Most impressively, our brief look at it’s guest lobby and front desk area yielded fascinating, old photographs of American heroes who once stayed in the “grand” rooms of the De Soto when it functioned as a major hub of social and political life in the town one time. In this regard, Abraham Lincoln made passionate anti- slavery speeches from the DeSoto balcony during his pre-election campaign while Mr. Grant similarly chose the De Soto as his political party headquarters during his successful run for the U.S. Presidency. After a period of physical decline to the building, the city of Galena took the initiative to successfully restore the “grand” DeSoto to its original appearance on a more modest scale. A short drive to the residential side of Old Town ended our first day in Galena with some stunning views of Victorian period residences abutting Galena’s steep interior hills.

Our final stop on our Galena tour took place the next morning as we traveled a mile or so outside of town to the original Grant residence. We then took a twenty minute, guided tour of the house interior followed by a brief walk outside along these hillside grounds. For such an idolized figure in American History, I thus recognized Ulysses, for all his fame, as one who chose to lead a modestly simple life amid the privacy of his home with Julia, his wife, and his children. When we exited onto the grassy hill beyond the Grant home, my thoughts about Mr. Grant somehow intuitively deepened. For I pictured the ghost of Ulysses now slowly walking outside of his home, enjoying some fresh, cool air and a satisfying smoke of his famous cigar. A smile now appeared on his bearded face as he then gestured downhill while he overlooked that spectacular vista of the town. For he recognized then that he not only won the war and the Presidency, but he’d also captured the hearts of the townspeople in this place he loved so deeply.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑