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.

Let’s End The Race To Space

As everyone in Huntsville knows, the President has decided to shut down the Constellation program.  The reviews are mixed as to the why, and really… all the tea party conservatives screaming about it are being pretty hypocritical.  I mean, they will gather together complaining about raising taxes to give people health insurance, but complain about cutting a billion dollar program?

That said, just like the paranoid who might be right about the people out to get him, these hypocrites are right to be concerned.  The plan essentially takes America out of the space game, handing it over to either private sector, if we are lucky, or the Chinese, if we are not.  We no longer will be the dominate space faring nation, instead hitching rides on space taxis that have yet to be developed.

It’s that “yet to be developed” that has me worried.  NASA went the private route once before, hoping private industry could come up with a cargo transport to end our reliance on Russia to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.  It never launched a rocket.  These were cargo ships, not manned vessels, who’s complexity increases dramatically.

Let’s face it, the private space race is a dismal failure.  Yea, you got a couple of groups firing satellites into space using old missiles, but no one but Virgin even attempting manned flights, and the Virgin concept is sub-orbital not heavy lifting to to the ISS.

I love space.  I love NASA.  When I watched Crippen and Young fly into space on Columbia for the first time, I was convinced that the Shuttle was the future.  Cheap access to earth orbit.  Building space stations and then space ships in earth orbit, heading to the Moon.  As a naive fifth grader, I was sure that the Shuttle ended the space race, and that my first job interview would be on the Moon.

Then the shuttle turned out to be a economic flop.  It wasn’t cheap to fly, not significantly cheaper than the old rockets.  It was reusable, and lifted quite a bit, but it wasn’t cheap.  And didn’t get cheaper.  We didn’t start building a space station for years later, and then with the nightmare of “international” agreements that meant we paid for it, and we repaired the shoddy work of other countries.

Follow on shuttle programs were underfunded, and even Clinton never spent his “peace dividend” money on space.  I’m not a naive fifth grader any more and today I have serious doubts that my children will get a chance to see the Moon from it’s surface.   So maybe it IS time to move from NASA to private industry.  Even if private industry will be starting from essentially the ground floor.

How much worse could they do?  We’ve already given the Moon to China, so we might as well aim for Mars…  I suppose.  I mean, why not?  Let NASA get back to research, then pimp our tax dollars out to the highest bidder in the private sector.  It’s as valid an idea as the last six years of sliding budgets and sliding time tables of Constellation.

But something about an America that buys space on taxis to get into orbit bothers me.  In my core.  Maybe I’m too much of a space geek, since I got excited to learn that the Russian’s cheated on their race to space and the first “man in space” broke the agreed upon rules.  So the idea that it may not be America that is the first to Mars, but some international corporation, is annoying.

Maybe I’m just bummed.  Maybe I’m cranky.  Maybe I can’t see past the dust cloud that was Constellation to see the glory of what is to come.  But I’ll give Obama this…  He really shook up this town.

The Tornado

When you talk about “The Tornado” in Huntsville, everyone knows which one you mean.  It’s the one in 1989, on November 15th.  The one that leveled building from the Parkway, along Airport Drive, and on through Jones Valley.  Only a lucky few in Huntsville at that time were unaffected by the tornado.

I was not in Huntsville then, but my family was.  I was sitting down for dinner at the Fraternity House in Auburn.  My mother was at home in Southeast Huntsville, about 4 miles south of the path of the Tornado.  My brother, however, was just topping the road at the top of Airport Road, where it becomes Carl T. Jones.  My father was at a doctor’s office in front of Crestwood.

My brother made it home to Mom with little trouble.  The Tornado rocked his car, but he wasn’t aware that it was a tornado at the time.  He had a brief scare and little else.  Seeing as he was only 16 at the time, and a new driver, that is a stroke of luck.

Father was less fortunate.  The nurses at the doctor’s office gathered everyone up in the two story building and moved them into a closet.  Dad was the last to enter, and the one to close the door.  Almost.  According to him, he never got the door fully closed before the tornado hit.  The wind pulled at the door and Dad held it mostly shut as it passed.  At some point, the roof of the building left, but the people in the closet didn’t realize it till after it was over and they could look up into the sky.  The top of the door jam broke and slammed into my Father’s shoulder.  He was the only one in the closet to receive an injury.

Dad’s group of 10 or so left the closet to find it the only part of the second story still standing.  The roof was gone.  All other interior walls were gone.  According to Dad, there wasn’t even much debris on the floor.  It was just wiped clean.  Dad was the only male present at the time, and being a good southern man, insisted on helping those women down from the building.

The only staircase left was full of debris, and initially they decided to wait until help arrived to get them down.  When it started to snow, Dad knew they had to get down without help.  He carefully climbed down the stairs and cleaned off the debris as best he could.  He then used a flashlight one of the women had in their purse to guide people down one at a time and get them outside.  He repeated the process for each woman until they were all out of the building.  They then walked to Crestwood Hospital where a command center of sorts had been set up.

I got the word from another Fraternity Brother that Huntsville had been hit.  I managed to get through to Mom first, and gave her a list of names and numbers to start calling.  Lines within Huntsville and into Huntsville were full, and getting through difficult.  Mom called down to the house with updates.  Fairly quickly the only member of the fraternity with family still missing was me.  Dad couldn’t get through to Mom to let her know she was okay.

Ultimately Dad never did get Mom on the phone.  Instead, on a whim, he tried me at the House.  He almost didn’t get me there.  The Brother answering the phone was trying to keep the line clear for Mom to call with news, and Dad had to quickly explain who he was.  After getting the bare details, I managed to get ahold of Mom and tell her Dad was okay.

Waiting at Crestwood, Dad ran into a friend.  The two of them were fine, Dad probably should have gotten a stitch or two in his shoulder but he didn’t want to tie doctors up from the more seriously wounded.  He bandaged himself up with the help of one of the nurses from the doctor’s office and started trying to figure out how to get home.  His truck was totaled.  The camper on the back was just gone, the truck was beat all to pieces and three tires were flat.

Dad’s friend suggested they see if it would start, so they tried and it did.  They then put the spare on the back, giving them two good tires.  They then stole two tires off another truck that had been wrapped around a tree in the parking lot.  With four good tires, they tried to drive home, only to find all the roads blocked.  The radio told them that the roads were all closed anyway.

But luckily the front windshield was still intact, and Dad had a sticker for the Army post.  He drove north, away from the damage and home, to cut through the post and come out far south of the damage.  He then drove his friend home, and then himself.  He got home around midnight.

I didn’t get back to Huntsville till that weekend.  I drove up with the other Huntsville Brothers to see if we could help, but by then everything was well under control and the damage had quickly turned into a macabre tourist attraction.

That’s my story of “The Tornado.”  What’s yours?

Flint River Splash For Trash!

Bill Found Some Trash

Bill Found Some Trash

I got back in the kayak this past weekend, but if you’ll read my Week From Hell post, you’ll see why this one is late.  The Splash for Trash was really a fun event, one worthy of a write up.  So it may be late, but here it goes.

I convinced my buddy Bill into going along with me for this altruistic excuse to paddle down my favorite river.  I don’t really need an excuse, but I had one this time and it was a good one.  The Splash for Trash is an event where a bunch of boats float down the river and collect trash they find along the way.

Bill was a trooper, and went down the river in my Old Town Guide 147 canoe without me.  A youngster named Josh joined him and they made quite the hall.  I took my yak, a Old Town Voyage 10XT, and didn’t collect as much as help out those who had bigger boats in which to toss stuff.  Which was fine by me, since I didn’t want too much junk in my boat.  Bill and Josh got lots of trash in their boat, and eveyone found a bunch of tires.  Tires in the river pisses me off.  There is no excuse for it.  Cans and bottles might be an oversight, or perhaps lazyness.  Some things, like the deck chair we found, might have washed into the river due to recent floods.  But tires?  No, that was a deliberate attempt to pollute.

Our Guide From NACK

Our Guide From NACK

We started at highway 72 and floated down to Little Cove Road.  I personally find this stretch of the river my favorite.  You start on a rocky bottom portion of the river, float past 300 foot cliffs and end at the muddy plains.  About mid way through is a cave that is fun to explore.  This time around we had a guide from North Alabama Canoe and Kayak, and I wish I remembered his name.  He was awesome and he knew that cave point better than most.  He showed me a hole in the ground that he’s put kayak’s down and explored an underground lake.  Of course, now I so want to do that as well.

But we did get to climb up into the cave, which was cool.  I’d been to the cave before, but never gone very far into it.  This time we did explore it deeper, and I’m glad for that.  It turns out that the cave is really a switchback, and you climb into it a bit, and just before it gets too dark it flips back and you climb out on top of the entrance.  We didn’t find much trash in it, but we did find a good time with some good people.  Following are a bunch of pictures from the cave exploration.  And we all swear we were looking for trash.  Really.

The tail-enders explore the cave

The tail-enders explore the cave

Bill on top of the cave

Bill on top of the cave

Me, at a cave

Me, at a cave

From the cave, the river goes on down into the plains and there is a high tension power line that crosses at a series of sharp bends.  I call it Three Wire Pass.  The river actually goes under the straight wires three times, and the water flows fairly quickly.  I got there first, and found my way into an eddy so I could turn around and take pictures as these canoes full of trash and tires tried to make the turns.  Okay, so I was hoping someone would lose it and I’d get pictures of them spilling all their trash into the river.  Sue me.  But it didn’t happen.  At least not there.

Bill and Josh shoot Three Wire Pass

Bill and Josh shoot Three Wire Pass

A little while later, just after Three Wire Pass, the river runs shallow and fast through a wooded area.  Normally there are two ways around this section, but not on this day.  The western most section was dry, and the eastern most section had a tree down.  That three caught one boat, but I wasn’t there to get the picture.  I did get pictures of other boats attempting to pass under the tree.  It was fun to watch.

The fallen tree that tossed trash back into the river.

The fallen tree that tossed trash back into the river.

I had absolutely no trouble passing under the tree in my kayak.  I just glided right under, unlike the other boats that struggled through the pass.  So I found it enjoyable.  Except for the older couple that showed up as we were unloading boats to pass under the tree.  I helped them get under the tree, and they ended up passing us heavy loaded junk canoes.

I also, for the first time, found it difficult to keep up in the kayak.  As the canoe’s got heavier, and they were all longer, they moved faster and faster in the water.  Me, staying light and short I suddenly had trouble keeping up.  Plus I was going back and forth from the front of the group to the back of the group.  So I pretty much paddled the river twice.  I was tired, but good tired, by the end of the trip.  It was a most enjoyable day on the water!

Picking Up Trash on the River

Picking Up Trash on the River

Learning About Huntsville

I’m happy to live in Huntsville.  I love my hometown with a passion, and get offended by the common phrase “nothing to do in Huntsville.”  If you can’t find something to do here, you haven’t really looked.

I occasionally find tidbits about Huntsville by doing searches in various places.  So I was pleased to find this little tidbit today:

I’m excited to announce that the gallery has sponsered a Dream panel for the upcoming Dream Rocket fiber community collaboration organized by Jennifer Marsh and the International Fiber Collaborative. Check out this website to learn more about this ambitious project and then come to the Stitch ‘n Sip meeting to add your contribution to the panel. Our work will then be installed on the Saturn V Rocket in Huntsville, Alabama!

I think it’s neat that someone so far away is working on an art project for my hometown.

So Proud Of My Family

I don’t talk about my family all that much hear because my wife doesn’t care for me putting too much personal information about us on the Internet.  I can understand that.

My FamilyBut I’ve got to report that my wife just finished a 6 week doctor supervised intensive diet plan on which she lost 27 pounds, or just shy of 5 pounds a week.  It wasn’t easy, but she did it.  Now we’re both going to hopefully start working a little harder on our health and continue to lose weight and get in shape.

We’ve had a rough year health-wise, but it seem that comes with getting older.  So we’re just gonna have to manage that.  As I posted in a long, rambling post yesterday. Not that we celebrated in the best way ever, going to the Mellow Mushroom here in Huntsville.  But hey, we got the Kosmic Karma, which has to be better than most pizza, health-wise.

While I’m talking about things I’m proud of, I have to add my kids.  They both participated, quite successfully, in the Autumn Chase Fun Run. I’m not sure what Molly, my four year old, ran the mile long track, in…  but Sean did it in 9:38.  I’m pleased as punch with that, and the fact that both of them ran an ENTIRE MILE without stopping once!

So there, a tidbit about the family.  Despite the yelling I’ll get about posting personal information on the net…

Sean (in the orange) Takes Of On the Autumn Chase Fun Run

Sean (in the orange) Takes Of On the Autumn Chase Fun Run

Molly Rounds the Corner at the Autumn Chase Fun Run

Molly Rounds the Corner at the Autumn Chase Fun Run

If you’re gonna bitch…

I’m a firm believer that if you’re gonna bitch, you gotta be willing to call people out for the good things they do too.  So since my last post got a little bitchy, I gotta make up for it now.

I don’t have ALL the details, but apparently someone successfully got the attention of the Mayor’s office and pointed out how unfair it was to have community volunteers pay, on average, over $2000 to park at the VBC to participate in community theatre.  The mayor, Tommy Battle, agreed.  A new system is being developed that will allow these volunteers to utilize a city parking lot, for free.

Unfortunately for me, this system isn’t quite ready yet, and the play I’m in next week will not have the full benifit of this new program.  Or maybe it will.  We’re not sure.

Leslie, the President of Theatre Huntsville, came by our rehearsal tonight to give us the nitty gritty.  We’re going to be the test case for the new system.  So it might… or might not… work.  I’m sure, like any system, there will be bugs to work out.  But this is a HUGE step in the right direction.

This is the first real tangible sign that City Government here in Huntsville actually respects the arts and the volunteers that give our city the culture that officials like to brag about but not support.  I hope this is a sign that the new administration (took over this past October) is going to be more friendly to the arts than the previous one.  I can’t say that the former mayor NEVER attended one of our plays, but I know she turned down MULTIPLE invitations to attend them.  When you do six plays a year, every year, plus a bonus play in an open air amphitheater, you’d think she could fit us in sometime during her 12 years as mayor.

But maybe it is changing.  Maybe the new mayor, despite the belt tightening the city is going through, recognizes that our value to the community is more than just publicity for out of town business.  That we actually serve the community.  I don’t know.  But I know that through this simple act, the Mayor has impressed me more than the previous administration ever did.

Thanks, Mayor Battle.  I appreciate you hearing our situation and responding to it.  I hope you can come to our little show.  I’ll be the idiot on stage who keeps dropping lines and looking like he’s going to puke.  Wait, probably shouldn’t have said that.  That’s not the best way to get people to come.


Thanks, Mayor Battle.  Come see the funniest play Theatre Huntsville has put on this season!


Treading the Boards

This month I’m treading the boards for Theatre Huntsville‘s new play, “You Can’t Take It With You.”  We open a week from Friday.  Time to get nervous.

I’m off book, which for you people coming over to read my canoe/kayak stuff means I know my lines.  At least, in theory I know my lines.  Standing up with my script hidden away does nasty things to my brain and lines I’ve not messed up once with the script in hand but closed come out garbled and totally wrong.

To add to my fear, the show just isn’t coming together as well as I like.  I’m a bitchy little diva, and I want things the way I like them.  As a former director myself, I can’t help but look at things through the same lens I look at my own plays.

This isn’t an attack on Nina, our wonderful director.  Most of the things that are bothering me have nothing to do with her.  She’s been nothing but supportive, helpful and, well, directorial.  But it seems the periphery of the play has me worried.  I shouldn’t be, I suppose.  I’m just supposed to smile and nod and show up at call times.  I’m an actor, not anything else.

Except I’m not an actor.  I’m also a tech director.  Not of this show, granted, having been a technical director I expect the tech on the show to be what I’d have it be if I was the technical director.  That’s not fair, it’s not right, but it is still true.

I expect other things too.  Like strong support form the organization sponsoring the play, support from the community that gladly uses your “cultural opportunity” to sell the community to outside investors and businesses, and support from the local media that is under a mandate to “serve” the community.  And yet, none of that seems to be happening.

I’m not new to community theater.  I’ve been involved in one way or another since around 1984.  I’m not suggesting that the community has bottomless pockets to provide unlimited resources to support our local theater.  And I’m not thinking that every member of the community theater group be active with every production.  But there has to be some reasonable level of support.  Take our city as a prime example.  Huntsville has time and again come to the theater community to show how culturally active and diverse the town is.  Yet there is almost no support for the local arts community at all.  Sure, there is an Arts Council, but they are more focused on their own fund raisers than helping out the various theater groups.  And the city still charges all the non-profit theater groups a ridiculous sum of money for a broken down theater with leaky roofs and substandard electrical.  And charges actors $100 via parking fees to perform in a play.  (Although this may be changing)

I should be a good little actor and not get involved in all this.  All Theatre Huntsville is expecting of me is to tread the boards with the best of a my ability and perform as wonderfully as I can manage.  But don’t I have the right to expect that Theatre Huntsville will do all the things they promised as well?  Because right now, I’m not feeling it.

Gator Hunting Winding Down

Mike on the RiverLooks like I’m going to have to give up on finding a gator is 2009. Weather is turning cooler earlier, and with the nights now normally going well below 70 degrees, gators will be hunkering down for the winter. Finding a sleeping and hiding gator isn’t going to be easy… but it isn’t going to stop my hunt. There are other reasons to hit the gator area’s this time of year.

Migratory birds are starting to arrive. That could be good for gator hunting as well as just for the pleasure of looking at the birds. Over the next month, Canadian Geese will be arriving in massive numbers as they migrate south. They stop over in Wheeler by the tens of thousands. Me and my kayak will be floating among them as often as possible, and if the day is warm and has been for a while, you better believe I’ll keep my eye open for an active gator that takes advantage of a goose dinner.

Also, I’ve taken this year as a chance to explore and figure out the Refuge. Having never explored it before, I had no idea how extensive the area was. I ended up on the Tennessee River proper more than once thinking I was in a backwater, and was on a flooded swamp thinking I was crossing the river. I’ll be investing in a kayak-worthy GPS system this year to help keep that from happening. (Ya hear me, Santa?)

I’ll keep writing up my Flint River excursions. Even my mistakes like the recent twilight trip through the most technical part of the Flint. (Bad idea, don’t suggest it to anyone!) And if I get out on the Refuge, I’ll be writing about that too.

Stay tuned for Gator Hunt 2010. It should be a fun one!