Buffalo Soldier Monument

This is another entry about a place in the documentary I’m working on entitled Secret Alabama.

A little known fact about Huntsville, Alabama is that for several months it played host to the famous African American Cavalry regiment known as “The Buffalo Soldiers.”  The soldier’s of Cavalry Regiments 9 and 10 along with their brethren in Infantry Regiments 24 and 25 earned their nickname of “Buffalo Soldiers” while fighting in the western frontier.  The natives called them Buffalo Soldier’s because their hair reminded them of the main on a bison.  All four regiments were recalled from the west and sent to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War.  After the War, most of the Buffalo Soldier’s remained in Cuba as part of the occupying force, but  Regiment 10 was sent back to the states.  They arrived in Huntsville on October 18, 1898.  The location of their encampment became known as Cavalry Hill.  Today Cavalry Hill School sits on the site, and in front of the school stands the Buffalo Soldier Monument, a testament to the bravery and dedication of the men who served our country with honor and pride.  Huntsville is the only city east of the Mississippi to erect a monument to the Buffalo Soldiers.

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Tinglewood!

This is another post about a spot included in the documentary I’m working on entitled Secret Alabama, Places everyone should know about!  

Tinglewood is a hidden fairyland.  Found in Orr Park near Downtown Montevallo, Alabama, Tinglewood is a place where fantasy breaks through into reality.

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If you didn’t know about Tinglewood, you’d be hard pressed to find it.  Orr Park is a typical city park, with soccer fields, softball fields, stands, a pool and other recreational places.  But along a creek running through a part of the park stands Tinglewood.  Storms and age had killed off or was killing off the old cedar trees in this part of the park.  Most where about to find a chain saw through their trunks.  But a local artist, Tim Tingle, saw something better.  And he convinced the town that he was right.

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Tingle did take a chainsaw to the trees.  Just not to cut them down.  Instead, Tingle filled the creekside park with amazing carvings of fantastical creatures.

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Tingle started carving Tinglewood in the late 90s.  He’s still adding to the fanciful woods.

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Tingle’s studio is not far from the park.  Hanging in the front window is the official Guinness Book Of World Records longest single carving wood chain.  It’s quite impressive, but no where near as impressive as Tingle’s fanciful artwork in Tinglewood.

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High Falls Park

As has come up on a thread over at Hogewash!, I’ve been working on a documentary about various “secret” places around the state of Alabama.  By secret, I mean places only the locals know.  One of my favorite secret places is High Falls Park, near Geraldine, Alabama.  I like it for a couple of reasons, but mainly just because of it’s breathtaking beauty.

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I also like it because in the summer it is the home of the redneck daredevils.  I’ve seen young kids, not much older than 6 or 7, leap from the falls.  I think in the area it is a right of passage.

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Finding the park isn’t easy.  The signs leading to it are misleading at best.  But the place is fairly well maintained.  I recommend it to anyone looking for an off the beaten path place to visit in Alabama.

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The Right to remain silent…

As I discussed yesterday, one of the great constitutional rights we wall share is the right to remain silent.  It is not a passive right, but a right that must be actively engaged.  There is another aspect of the right that we should consider.

He has the right to remain silent. He lacks the wisdom to do so.

WJJ Hoge in a comment on his blog.

If I were a serial twitter from Maryland who just claimed I was going to file harassment charges against a blogger in Alabama in which the blogger in Alabama has accused me of the production of porn, and has further specified that the term producer in his blog post is being used as the meaning used in Part 2257 of the federal code, then I would probably remain silent about if I had actually done such a thing.  As long as I remain silent, the burden of truth remains entirely on that Alabama blogger.

Of course, if I lack the wisdom to do so, then I may turn to Twitter and issue a serious of twits whereby I claim to have done exactly what the blogger from Alabama claims that I had done in his blog post.  That should make my time on the stand in the Harassment criminal charge against the Alabama Blogger a very interesting time for me.  Gosh, I’d be forced to admit on the stand that what he said is true, and therefore not harassment.  At that point, I wonder how many Prosecutors in Alabama would be willing to move forward with the case and actually bring it to trial?  Over a Class C Misdemeanor, in which the primary witness admits to doing what the primary witness called harassing communication claims that the witness did?  Of course there is the additional hurdle that the Alabama Blogger was communicating about the me, and not to me, but let’s not quibble over unimportant things like the black letter of the law.

It is an interesting thought experiment, but I don’t suggest that it be put to the legal test, since it opens all sorts of nasty doors that have blowback on the serial twitter from Maryland.

The Forgotten Cross

The Forgotten Cross

This is the cross that is still standing over Huntsville atop Monte Sano Mountain. It’s been around 50 years now. It still has lights to light it up at night, but due to a court ruling, the city can no longer pay for the electricity to light it. And no church or church group has stepped forward to pay the bill. And a Governor got in trouble for allowing private citizens to cut trees to make it visible from the parkway again. All valid, all proper, and a crying shame.

To my State Representatives….

Honorable Mike Ball
Honorable Phil Williams

Dear Sirs,

I write this open letter to you today to ask for your help with a very troubling statistic in our great state.  Motorcycle deaths on Alabama highways is at an all time high.  And I think it’s time the legislature of our state took a stand against it.

Since 2008, the nation has been blessed with a continuous decline in motor vehicle deaths in all categories but one; Motorcycles.  According to the CDC, the best thing a state can do to reduce deaths is to pass a universal helmet law.  Alabama has done this, and I hope the two of you will continue to fight against attempts to weaken the universal helmet law.

Have I ridden my motorcycle without a helmet?  Yes, I am afraid I have.  I can fully understand the desire by riders to do away with the helmet law.  The joy and freedom of riding without a helmet is far better than riding with one.  But I’m also glad to say I’ve never ridden my bike on a major or busy road without a helmet, and I’ve never allowed a passenger to ride without one.  Helmets do save lives.  Please keep Alabama’s helmet law universal.

But Alabama had the universal helmet law prior to 2008, and we are still seeing an increase in motorcycle deaths. It is time to do more.  I strongly suggest a two prong approach to reducing deaths on two wheels in Alabama.

The first part I call “Look twice, Save a life” is to cover what is far too common cause of motorcycle accidents and deaths.  According to the American Motorcycle Association 80% of motorcycle and vehicle accidents are the fault of the car and not the rider.  A quick perusal of recent motorcycle deaths in North Alabama show a common thread.  The driver of the car claims “I never saw the motorcycle.” I find this excuse unacceptable.

Motorcycles may be smaller and less common than cars, but the excuse of not seeing one is not valid.  It is a drivers responsibility to be aware of the traffic around him, and allowing drivers to edit out motorcycles as not important is risking lives on our roadways.  I propose a bill that will significantly increase the punishment of motorists who hit motorcycles.  Clearly part of this needs to be an investigation showing the driver is at fault, but ultimately any time a motorcycle is hit at the very least a ticket should be issued and a fine levied.  Not seeing a motorcycle is not an excuse, and law enforcement in this state need to stop treating it like it is not a crime.  If drivers will face fines and possible jail time, drivers will look twice.

And as a motorcycle rider, I can assure you that far to many Alabama drivers aren’t looking twice.  We have an amazingly unobstructed view into the vehicles around us, and I can tell you drivers in Alabama are doing a lot of things in their cars besides looking twice.  I’d easily estimate that a good 50% of the time I have to avoid a car that pulls out in front of me the driver is talking on their cell phone.  Another 25% of the time, the driver is texting… which is already illegal.  The other 25% is drivers pulling into traffic or drifting out of their lane while messing with something else in the car; things like radios, newspapers, makeup or something similar.

The other prong I’d suggest in reducing motorcycle deaths is a statewide crackdown on riders who ride unsafe.  I’m now talking about my brothers and sisters who ride like maniacs and pass improperly and speed excessively.  It’s no fair to ask drivers to treat riders with respect if our fellow riders won’t treat drivers with the same respect.  The rules of the road are the same for everyone, motorcycles included.  I’d love to see fewer bikes weaving through traffic like idiots, although if I’m honest there are times when this would snag me as well.  Sometimes you just can’t resist twisting the throttle a bit.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Michael Malone
Rider and motorcycle enthusiast

Gator Hunting In North Alabama

The Big Foot Hoaxers at the nationally televised press conference

The Big Foot Hoaxers at the nationally televised press conference

It’s a little embarassing to admit this in public places, but since the big flap over Big Foot last August, I’ve been somewhat interested in the idea of cryptozoology.  For those of you who missed the flap, a couple of goobers from Georgia got swirled up in hoaxing the finding of a big foot body.  Their press conference announcing the find ran on most of the cable news networks and was quickly proven to be a hoax.

I’ve always been facinated by mystery animals, and in 2001 when I took a trip to Europe with friends I insisted, to the point of giving up the “right” to pick any other destination or activity, that we go to Inverness just so I could take a ride on Loch Ness and look for Nessie.  I got that trip, and spending time in Inverness is still one of my favorite memories, right up there with my wedding, the arrival of my son and the birth of my daughter.

Scotlands famous Loch Ness

Scotland's famous Loch Ness

Other than that fruitless cruise on Loch Ness, I’ve never done any “searching” for any type of weird animal.  In 1994 I did do a search for, and eventual found, a nesting pair of Bald Eagles near Winchester Tennessee.  That was more an accident than a mission, I saw a bald eagle land on a telephone on my way to work at the newspaper in that small community.  I was told I must be mistaken, since there were no bald eagles in that area.  I saw it again the next day, and managed a fuzzy picture of it.  Next thing I knew biologists from the University of Tennessee wanted to know more and they found the nest.

Since then, my interest in animals has been as an observer.  I’m not the field research type of guy, prefering to watch animals from the comfort of my sofa.  But if you’ve read my blog, you know I like to paddle about in a canoe so I’ve recently been up close to wildlife more than ever before in my life.

A snake sunning on a log I found on one of my trips.

A snake sunning on a log I found on one of my trips.

I’ve seen some weird things, such as muskrats diving in deep pools and blue herons skimming the water in front of my boat.  I’ve tipped over in snake infested waters and have been scared out of my wits by large fish jumping next to the canoe.  I’ve developed a healthy respect for wildlife and the world we share with it.

In the 4 years I’ve been paddling, I’ve never gone looking for anything.  Well, occasionally a snake or two, but I’ve been focused entirely on the trip and not the sights.  But something has been brewing in the back of my mind and I finally acted on it.

There have been rumors of alligators living successfully in North Alabama for a while.  Most biologists will tell you that it isn’t possible for Alligators to survive our occassionally harsh winters and lack of suitable habitat.  Yet sightings continue, including a recently captured gator in DeKalb County this year and a gator found in a pond in Morgan County last year.

Ultimately it was a post to Loren Coleman’s blog, Cryptomundo, that prompted me to action.  Coleman is one of the premier cryptozoologists, and he writes on all things weird and wonderful.  He posted about out of place gators found around North America, and it included the following:

On Friday, June 5, 2009, The DeKalb County Animal Adoption Center in Alabama got quite a surprise when someone dropped off an alligator (above). Director Leslie Johnson told the local paper it’s the first exotic animal the center has received.

“A man brought it in the back of his truck,” Johnson said. “He said he found it on U.S. 11, and that’s all we know.”

Johnson said she is unsure where the 2-foot gator came from. Little River Superintendent John Bundy said it is unlikely the gator is from the area. State Lake Supervisor Jack Turner said there are gators native to central and South Alabama but not North Alabama.

“It’s a bit too far north and a bit too high in altitude for alligators in North Alabama,” Turner said. Turner said the reports of alligators in North Alabama are sporadic and there is no reason for him to believe there is a population of the reptiles in the area. Lt. Michael Casalini with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said if alligators were breeding in DeKalb County, there would be more sightings.

–Loren Coleman, Cryptomundo

Is State Lake Supervisor Jack Turner correct?  Perhaps, but there are plenty of sightings in Madison and Morgan county indicating that there may be a breeding population there.  And there is at least one KNOWN alligator living wild in North Alabama in Madison County.

“Stumpy” lives on Redstone Arsenal, the area’s primary employer.  Stumpy crawls out onto one of the test ranges at the army base and gets his picture taken now and again.  He’s a big fellow, and missing part of his tail, hence the name.  If you work on post, you’ll see his picture in the Redstone Rocket now and again.

So if Stumpy is real, why can’t these other sightings be real?  Where would a breeding population of Alligators live in North Alabama?

If the rumors are true, the perfect place exists between Huntsville and Decatur, in the Wheeler Federal Wildlife Refuge.  If you visit there page, you won’t find alligators listed among the regular inhabitants, but buried on the FAQ’s page is this little tidbit:

Although seldom seen, American alligators do inhabit the Refuge. In the 1970’s, the alligator population had been reduced drastically, so 50 alligators were released here in an effort to help restore the species which at that time was federally listed as threatened. An estimated 40-50 alligators currently inhabit Wheeler NWR and at least one active nest was located during the summer of 2001.

—Wheeler Federal Wildlife Refuge website

My First Trip Gator Hunting in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

My First Trip Gator Hunting in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

An active nest in 2001?  Now since 1980, we’ve had several harsh winters.  And yet the population has stayed stable?  I’m not sure I buy this.  In fact, I believe, with nothing to back me up, that the population is larger than this and that they are breeding successfully.  Our summers are warm enough, our winters are typically mild enough and the American Alligator can survive up to two years without food, and can go dormant for long periods of time without moving, a sort of hibernation.

If you see this rig running around North Alabama, it isn't a clown car.  That's me looking for gators!

If you see this rig running around North Alabama, it isn't a clown car. That's me looking for gators!

Now I’m not suggesting that the refuge is teeming with alligators, but I do think the population is growing and spreading.  And besides, no one around here believes the alligator stories.  Everyone looks at me like I’m nuts when I mention the possibility of seeing a alligator from my canoe in North Alabama.

Well this is my birth month, and the presents came a little early.  I got a new paddle and a waterproof digital camera.  I’ve got a GPS system, thanks to my nifty iPhone, and it all seems to have come together.  I could go look for these gators on my own, take a picture, record the GPS data and possibly find a nest.  Or two.  Or three.  Prove that the Gators are growing.

So this past Sunday I started the project.  I went out to Arrowhead Landing, put my canoe in the water, grabbed my new paddle, and headed out in search of alligator.  But I made a lot of mistakes, most of them before I ever put the canoe in the water.  So while I had a wonderful paddle, I didn’t turn up any alligators at all.  Well, one possibility but that’s another story.

Stay tuned for an update on the first trip out and about on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.