Over this year of disruption and isolation and sorrow, I have heard many people say they intended to dedicate some of the time they were stuck at home to sorting through family photos. While I seem to have frittered away all those months with nothing to show for it, some of you apparently followed through.
A week ago I was delighted to receive an unexpected text from a former classmate and old friend, Anne Moffett Simmons, who I hadn’t heard from in decades. Attached were photos that she and her sister had discovered while going through family albums.
One photo shows my mother, around age six, with her arm around the younger David Caddell, Anne's uncle, as he sneaks a kiss.
In another photo, there's my mother sitting next to her friend Dot (Dorothy) Caddell, Anne’s mother and David's twin sister. David stands to the left, looking a little sheepish, and my mother’s cousin, George McWilliams Jr., is on the right, seemingly disinterested in all the commotion.
I cannot explain the sheer joy that photo elicited. There was my mother, surrounded by her pals and playmates when she was a very young girl, holding what appears to be a bouquet of flowers. She’s smiling at the person taking the picture, whom she seems to completely trust to capture her pleasure in the moment. Dot looks like she can barely tolerate sitting still for these ridiculous shenanigans and is already plotting her next move. The boys stand as unwilling sentinels on either side.
It’s only since I began working on Next Train Out that I have become more fully cognizant of the depth of sadness my mother endured in her lifetime. The loss of her husband in mid-life was just the final blow. There had been the loss of two children and her mother while she was hundreds of miles away from family. The permanent absence of her father who had never bothered to contact her after disappearing shortly after she was born. And, after returning to her hometown to raise her two daughters, the eventual recognition that her old friends had largely moved on with their lives.
While I can recall moments when my mother laughed or acted a little silly, those were few. By the time I was old enough to pay attention, she seemed more commonly somber and somewhat melancholy. It has taken me a lifetime to reflect on why that was.
But in this photo she radiates happiness. Happiness to be seated beside her friend Dot. Happiness that she's the focus of someone's attention. Happiness that someone wants to take her picture. I wish I could ask that little girl what she’s thinking.
As you come across family photos while sorting through the detritus of your rich and complicated lives, I encourage you to consider who else might relish a glimpse into the moments captured by the camera. Because our connections with others have been so restricted over the past year, many of us are aching for a little time with those we love. You might be surprised how healing it can be to have your emotions stirred, even by a black-and-white photo from a time long ago.
Ed Lawrence, of Frankfort, Ky., shares his response to the images of January 6, 2021. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
In the wake of last Wednesday’s events, my preferred media outlets have been spewing a lot of powerful words (also words related to power) like tyranny, sedition, rebellion, revolution, coup, conspiracy, and insurrection. I felt like insurrection might be the right word to describe the mob effect of that day in our history. I asked my Google Home device for a definition. “Violent uprising against a government or authority” seemed to me to best fit the bill for my perception of what happened.
As I watched the video clips of the insurrection over and over again, I started focusing on the flags waving in the air. In 2020 I took a class in visual rhetoric and so I began doing an amateur rhetorical analysis on the flags carried by the insurrectionists.
Of course, there were many Trump flags, which would be natural given the person who incited the insurrection. I feel like those carrying those flags were self-appointed members of the Trump militia.
Those carrying the American flag clearly felt it was their patriotic duty to bring back an America that only exists in their imaginations. A country that is solely white, Christian, and English speaking.
I noticed a couple of state flags: Florida and New Mexico to be precise. Were there Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania flags? I can only suppose the carriers were making a case for states’ rights.
Media personalities kept saying the insurrection was surreal. My response to that was that they had never dropped acid. The insurrection was real, not surreal. Then I saw the huge flag bearing the name JESUS in bold letters. Is Jesus really prepared to run our government? I mean no disrespect to Jesus or to Christians of any stripe, but why was Jesus represented at the insurrection? The Jesus flag did seem surreal.
And then there was the Confederate flag in the Capitol. I understand why most people in this country were incensed by the sight. But for me, I travel the backroads of Kentucky making landscape photographs and come across Confederate flags so often, I’m numbed to outrage.
The flag that has me outraged is the flag of the Thin Blue Line. Why did I spot several policemen’s flags at the insurrection? Were police really in attendance trying to overthrow our government? I thought police take an oath to serve and protect, not riot and insurrect.
Today, the breaking news is that many Capitol police aided and abetted in the insurrection. Troubling indeed, but I still think about local police who were there. And with that thought, how many of them were complicit in the murder of Black citizens of our country? I’m generally not one for retribution, but I hope those carrying the flag of the Thin Blue Line are found and banished from policing forever.
I already didn’t much like 2021. My dog had been mysteriously ill for days, not eating, never moving off the sofa. A buck mistook the side of my moving car for a toreador’s cape. I longed to talk to friends who were struggling with impossible family situations, but understood that they didn’t need my meddling.
I was stressed.
And that was before the insurrection that has roiled our U.S. Capitol building since early afternoon. Today, our president incited mob violence that spilled into our halls of governance, where Republican members of Congress were arguing that an election certified by all 50 states was fraudulent. A woman who was shot has died. Our elected officials were whisked to bunkers or barricaded in offices. As evening falls, some of the mob has dispersed, but officers of the law are still working to secure the area.
Our nation is even more broken than most of us can grasp. It will not be fixed in 2021. It will take patient, united efforts from government officials and citizens alike over a very long time.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus rages on. Yesterday we once again recorded the highest number of deaths and hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic. Over the holidays, friends and relatives across the country avoided family members rather than gathering in quiet celebration. Some couldn’t hold the hand of an aged parent. Couldn’t race to the emergency room with a spouse. Had to initiate difficult conversations via phone.
Here in Kentucky the damp gloom seems to have settled permanently over our lives. 35 degrees. Drizzling. Without end. I have found myself sapped of all purpose, feeling helpless amid the continuing horror.
Then, as the drama unfolded at the U.S. Capitol, we learned that Georgia voters had successfully finished the job that we voters in Kentucky couldn’t: breaking Mitch McConnell’s grip on the U.S. Senate.
Glory be, they did it.
They did it despite ongoing voter suppression in Georgia. They did it thanks to an enormous commitment by a dedicated few to register new voters and trumpet the importance of these elections.
In November 1872, Samuel [George] Hawkins, a Black Kentuckian working to register voters in Fayette and Jessamine counties, was accosted by a mob of white men associated with the Ku Klux Klan. Hawkins, his wife, and his daughter were all taken from their home and murdered by the mob, leaving behind six younger children.* Newspaper accounts vary as to whether their executions were by hanging or by drowning. Whatever the grisly tactics, white Democrats weren’t going to allow Black Republicans to “steal” the election from their candidate, New York newspaper publisher Horace Greely. Despite their efforts, incumbent Republican President Ulysses S. Grant won.
In November 1900, three men in Bourbon County, Ky., carried out a scheme on behalf of the local Democratic party that lured Black men into games of craps. Over 60 Black participants were then arrested and jailed long enough to prevent them from voting in the November 6 presidential election.** The Republican won anyway, when incumbent President William McKinley defeated his Democratic challenger, William Jennings Bryan.
And in 2021, despite newly creative efforts at voter suppression—including, perhaps, allowing a pandemic to race unchecked through minority communities—the voices again could not be extinguished. They could not be hidden under a bushel. The people have spoken.
Amid the shocking images we have watched today, perhaps there are still glimmers of the hope that we are all searching for in 2021. The sun is still hiding, but if our nation can navigate the next 14 days, perhaps we can finally shift course. We can try something different. Perhaps this year we can try compassion, humility, and respect while serving others.
Earlier today, I foolishly imagined that might be enough. Tonight, I’m clinging to the idea that this change in leadership may at least present a first step toward gluing together the shattered pieces this administration will leave behind.
*George C. Wright, Racial Violence in Kentucky, 1865-1940: Lynchings, Mob Rule, and “Legal Lynchings,” Louisiana State University Press, 1990, p. 51.
**“Conspiracy to Oppress and Injure the Negroes,” Morning Herald (Lexington, Ky.), November 2, 1900.
Joe Ford, of Louisville, Ky., responds to my recent posts, offering paths to hope and joy during this holiday season. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
My family occasionally hosts an activist who lives in Nicaragua. I think of her now, and her adopted country, and her regional neighbors in El Salvador. They have lived through what we imagined in horror would be Trump unleashed: a government that does not serve its people, but rather suppresses and murders them. How is it she and her circle survive? How is it they remain activists, remain the opposition, after decades of repression? They do not give up hope. I do not know how. But perhaps that is the mantle that we need to take on.
It appears that we in the U.S. have faced down that threat…for now, although there is a formidable group of elected officials who still support those authoritarian impulses. But where is our collective hope? Our shared, spontaneous joy? The bonfires and front-yard dances that erupted in my neighborhood the day the election was called?
Perhaps that jubilation has been muted as we continue to confront a second, physical menace. Each day COVID-19 steals thousands of Americans from their families, each one a cruel separation amid devastating national loss. Nonetheless there is hope even there, borne of the vaccines, if we can remain cautious and disciplined for another half a year or so.
At my workplace, a few of us were asked to gather some best practices for dealing with the stress of being an employee, parent, nurse, cook, spouse, and caretaker for elderly parents all at the same time, all from our home office at the kitchen table—while also striving to remain stable, confident and supportive to all (when we really have no idea what is going to happen, when the pandemic will end, when our kids can go back to school, when we can go back to work—or if we will have work). The most common advice:
My plea to you is to not lose joy, to continue to find pleasure where we found it before. Things may seem hopeless and dark, but as my wife, the anthroposophist, reminds me, the shortest day of light has already passed. The light—and hope—will gradually return.
Many of us who read this blog are confessed bibliophiles. So pick up a book. I’d suggest The Secret Life of Trees if you want to be reminded that the rule of nature is not survival of the fittest, is not red in tooth and claw, but is rather the way of mutual cooperation.
Next, perfect a recipe for a drink. A Hot Toddy, or a Manhattan. Something that promotes reflection. Not beer. Maybe port.
Then set aside an hour or two each night to read and sip your drink. Post a comment to this blog with your choices. Let us in on your secrets.
I’m going to choose To Kill a Mockingbird, because it’s been a few years. And I’ll continue my ongoing experiment with the classic Manhattan.
If you cannot do both, do the reading. Do not just drink. :)
Merry Christmas to you all.
2 shots Rye whiskey
1 shot sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 twist orange peel, or a dash of orange liqueur or orange bitters
Mix liquid ingredients together in a glass with a single ice cube. Stir 30 times.
Twist the orange peel over the glass and drop in.
Garnish with a cherry and add a few drops of the cherry juice.
In cold weather, remove the ice cube.
I’ve used up all my words. Whatever I was allotted in 2020 has already spilled on the page. It seems I’ve ranted and wondered and proclaimed all year, and now I have nothing left. Language fails me. My usually active mind is dull. I feel defeated. Lifeless.
While others finally see a glimmer of hope, I remain shrouded in despair. Is it the incessant darkness of winter in Kentucky? The cumulative exhaustion of the last four years? The overwhelming sense of grief engulfing so many across our country?
Having lost the ability to express myself, I, too, feel bereft.
For a few moments this past week, however, I felt the sap gurgle in my veins. A classmate from long ago invited a few of us to walk the paths he had cut through his pastureland and wander the woods along Sharp’s Branch. The sky was still gray, the leaves under our feet damp. But we were instantly silenced by the talkative stream, seemingly full of joy and purpose, and by the slender trees shielding us defiantly from the atrocities of the man-made world nearby.
Quietude settled lightly on our shoulders.
As I try to recapture the serenity of that place, the words still do not come. But I feel a wan smile creep across my face. Perhaps there is hope in me yet.
This past week the pain of the pandemic finally took me down.
No, none of my family members or close friends has contracted COVID. Since the death of one former colleague in early spring, I haven’t lost anyone dear to me to the disease. I remain healthy. But everyone around me seems to be suffering.
They are suffering because they have been around others who have learned they were carrying the coronavirus, and now they don’t know whom they can safely see or whom they may have already infected, pending more testing. They’re suffering because they have family members in extended care facilities and the lockdowns are expanding once again. They’re suffering because they have family members who have recently been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, and they know the road ahead will be further complicated by the demands of growing numbers of COVID patients and overburdened health care workers. They’re suffering because family members have recently died from other causes, but during those illnesses they had limited access to those who were ailing and now they are mourning without the physical tenderness others could offer.
They’re suffering from the prolonged isolation that has finally overcome them.
Throughout this year I’ve made a point to follow the news about the danger of the pandemic and its toll and to read the tributes to those who have lost their lives to this insidious disease. I wanted it to be real for me as I continue to hunker down in the safety of my home. I railed about our collective lack of action combatting the disease. I fretted that more Americans couldn’t do the simplest things to keep everyone safe. More recently, I privately admitted that I wasn’t feeling the fatigue as keenly as others, because I was so comfortable in my own protected space.
But this week it finally overpowered me. I broke down when I read about the untimely death of Fayette County Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk. I never met Mr. Caulk. I have, of course, read about his efforts to address the inequities of education in Lexington’s schools. I knew a little about his background. I knew he had survived a serious battle with cancer when he first arrived in Kentucky. Today we only know that he succumbed after a brief illness. But that he should lose his life at 49 after displaying a lifetime of courage and after having done so much good, necessary work just seems unbearable. I send my sincere condolences to his family.
So, it appears I too have been broken. I pride myself on my toughness. I want to be a bulwark for others. All my life I’ve told myself that my early losses made me more empathetic, more sympathetic of the suffering of others. But now I feel there is nothing I can offer to all my friends who are reeling.
All I can do is share these words.
Did you feel that lurch? That was the earth shifting on its axis Monday night when GSA Administrator Emily Murphy finally acceded to a peaceful transfer of power. I can’t say that she officially recognized Joe Biden as the president-elect, because she didn’t. She never mentioned his name or his new role in her letter of ascertainment. But that doesn’t matter.
Those pleasurable frissons that followed on Tuesday? Those were the aftershocks we experienced as President-elect Biden’s new security team introduced itself to the country. Oh “the coherence, the humanity, and the sincere humility,” as my cousin Charley said. “So adult. So refreshing. So encouraging,” said cousin Sandy. Charley again: “I had to stop and sit down and listen to what normalcy and rationality and world leadership actually sounds like.” Ever reflective, cousin Vince added: “What a restorative influence he will impart to our allies… My spirit was buoyed by the quality and experience of the new team as a whole.” In short, as cousin Barbara said, “The adults have returned to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” Cousin Myra summed up our feelings: “WE ARE FINALLY BACK TO THE GOOD OLE USA !!!!”
I realize you may not fully share my family’s enthusiasm for this week’s turn of events. You may be fearful of the policies this team will support. You may feel it’s reactionary to celebrate a return to a state of decorum that emphasizes civility and diplomacy and compassion. You may agree with Sen. Marco Rubio that these individuals, if the Senate confirms them, “will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline." You may have been uncomfortable seeing that diverse group of vastly experienced leaders on the stage with President-elect Biden. It may feel to you that the earth shifted in a more dastardly direction.
But I hope, on this Thanksgiving eve, we can all exhale and count our blessings. Our democracy is intact. Record numbers of Americans were able to vote in the middle of a pandemic in a variety of sometimes novel ways, despite widespread and creative efforts at voter suppression. Amid fears of malign intrusion, the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council said the election was “the most secure in American history.”
For 20 days after the election we held our collective breath, wondering if we could indeed come to a peaceful settling of the score. It appears the proverbial guard rails, though strained, have held.
Nonetheless, nearly half the nation stands to be unhappy with this outcome. Although President-elect Biden received over six million more votes that President Trump, the election revealed a deep and lasting bifurcation in our philosophies of how government should work and how leaders should behave. It will take remarkable effort on the part of our elected officials and every American citizen to pull together and address the harrowing list of challenges we face, starting with an out-of-control global pandemic and an economy that has abandoned a wide swath of the electorate.
So let’s all take that deep breath. Let’s see if we can reset our expectations, our hopes, and our vision of what this country can be. Let’s look to our right and our left and see who most needs our help. And then let’s get back to work.
A few years ago, as I was piecing together my father’s youth from his writings and photos, it seemed clear that three of his favorite Anderson County haunts were the camp he built with Bobby Cole on Salt River, Lovers Leap, and Panther Rock.
Perhaps the latter two were preserved in words or pictures largely because they were notable local landmarks, scenic hideaways from what passed for civilization in the small town of Lawrenceburg. The fact that all three feature rocky outcrops overlooking moving water may reveal my father’s affinity for those natural features. Or perhaps it’s simply a testament to the magnetic beauty of the limestone palisades that dot the eastern Anderson County landscape.
In 2015, retired biologist and Lawrenceburg native Bill Bryant took me to Camp Last Resort for the first time. My own love for the woods and water made me wonder, somewhat peevishly, why no one had ever thought before that I might like to see the place that was so special for my dad. The photo on the cover of The Last Resort shows my father perched on a bluff above the small waterfall near his camp on Salt River. When I saw that photo, it seemed clear where I got my penchant for sitting with my feet dangling over a rocky cliff. (See photos below.)
I still have not been to Lovers Leap, the Kentucky River overlook near where I used to bike as a teenager, on rural roads I imagine my father also pedaled. But last weekend I finally made it to Panther Rock—unfortunately, too late for Dr. Bryant, the expert on Panther Rock, to accompany me.
I’m not sure what I expected. I had seen one photo of my dad seated below the rock face, but it had been hard to make out the full magnitude of what the picture relayed. When our small hiking party caught our first glimpse of the rock from the narrow approach path, however, I was dumbstruck by its immensity. We scrambled down the steep path and poked our noses into the cave at the bottom of the wall. We negotiated the fallen rocks and boulders until we reached the small stream dropping sharply away from Panther Rock.
The whole area felt mystical, magical, remote. I could not believe this gem lay hidden, at least for me—majestic and unexplored—as I grew up roaming the domesticated woods and creek behind my Lawrenceburg subdivision, just a short distance away.
In local mythology, Panther Rock got its name in 1773 when Elijah Scearce, a hunter and trapper from nearby Fort Harrod, was captured by a Native American chief. That first night a panther supposedly sneaked into their camp under the rock face and killed Scearce’s captor. Scearce then memorialized the area by naming it after the animal that had purportedly saved his life.
The area seems to have preserved its magic ever since. I am grateful to the property owners who permitted us to absorb its wonder for a short time on a bewitchingly perfect fall day. I can only hope that generations of future explorers who stumble into this sacred place will experience the same awe as their forebears. I know I could almost hear Pud and Bobby speaking in hushed tones as they pulled bacon sandwiches from their knapsack.
Bobby Cole at Lovers Leap in 1941. Photo taken by Pud Goodlett. On May 13, 1942, Goodlett wrote in his journal, "Rinky, Bobby, and I went to Lover’s Leap this afternoon. We saw the unusual red sticky flower, and lots of pinks, but outside of these, the day was very dull. Lover’s Leap seems to have lost its attraction."
More photos of Panther rock, november 2020
Last week, as COVID-19 cases surged all across the country and the nation remained mired in a contentious election cycle, we in the Ohio Valley and the Midwest enjoyed unseasonable fall weather, with abundant sunshine and temperatures regularly reaching into the mid- and upper-70s. Each day I found myself setting my work aside and spending more time outdoors—walking the dog, bicycling tree-lined country lanes, kayaking on my small lake…and trying to stay upright in the rowing scull recently bequeathed to me by a friend and neighbor who had decided to rejoin civilization in Lexington.
That neighbor, David Bettez, was a day away from closing on his house here on the lake. I discovered messages on my phone asking if I would be willing to store his single scull on my property until he could find someone—possibly from one of the rowing clubs in Cincinnati or Louisville—who might be interested in it. I’ve known David and his wife, Roi-Ann, for over 20 years. I knew they were avid sailors. I knew they occasionally paddled their canoe on the lake. I had no idea David owned a scull.
As I read his message, I’m sure my pupils grew to the size of saucers and my heart started racing. I had always wanted to try rowing but had never had an opportunity. My cousins Martha and Becky are accomplished rowers who have regularly competed at the Head Of the Charles, the elite competition held each October on the Charles River in Boston. Once when I was visiting Martha in Seattle years ago, I went out to Lake Washington early one morning to watch rowing practice. They put me in the motorboat with the coach. It was a fascinating introduction to a grueling sport. I wanted to try it.
So I asked David if he would consider selling the scull to me.
Turned out that watching me wrestle with those big oars in the narrow inlet near my house was all the payment he wanted. I’m sure it was akin to attending comedy night at the local pub (back when those things were possible). The amazingly generous deal he offered included a day of instruction and several books on rowing technique and personal rowing adventures. The books will taunt me until I find a few days to immerse myself in them. The beginner’s instructional course took place November 9.
To calm any jitters before my introduction to the sport, I tried to assess what useful skills I might have accrued over my many decades of outdoor activity. I was accustomed to getting in and out of somewhat narrow, somewhat tippy boats. And I used to row our old metal johnboat, before we acquired lighter weight kayaks. This past summer, lazily backstroking was about all the swimming I did, so traveling backwards across the water would not be a novel sensation. In fact, my general comfort in the water made me less fearful of being tossed in by an unruly oar, even in early November.
So I hoped I could transfer some of those experiences into a successful turn in the scull. David was a gem—organized, patient, encouraging. I flailed. He talked me through it. Roi-Ann filmed. I nearly clipped the elaborate Christmas tree erected on a nearby dock. My neighbor Marc, standing on the shore watching, offered me a trolling motor.
I can’t say I ever really got the hang of it. But I think I understand, for the most part, what I need to do. Mostly I know I need practice. Miles, as Martha told me. I headed out on my own the next day, but the wind was whipping a bit and I decided I’d better not wander too far out on the open lake. So I still need many, many hours under my belt.
But more than anything, I relished having yet another excuse to be out on the water, far from all the daily horror that seemed to be smothering us. I relished a new physical challenge, at an age when bending over to tie a shoe or reaching for a clothes hanger can result in weeks of debilitation. I relished that I have friends who are willing to part with a piece of their own history so I can create a little history of my own.
Sometimes the best tonic is taking a risk. Putting oneself in a situation where humiliation is nearly guaranteed. Opening oneself to a new joy. Life can become routine, even a little dull when opportunities for new experiences have been sorely limited by necessary precautions during a pandemic. I was fortunate to have a new challenge drop in my lap. How could I let it pass without giving it a whirl?
Vince Fallis, of Rabbit Hash, Ky., gets this week's last word.
To all those who portrayed the Black Lives Matter protesters as looters and arsonists, I point your attention to the crowds gathering in the streets of New York and Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., as well as other cities, this weekend. This is what a peaceful demonstration looks like when people are delivered from the threat of autocracy and the evil that it, by necessity, brings. It is a spontaneous outbreak of shared joy and brotherhood, and a vision of opportunity and equitable treatment for those with the most to those with the least.
It will not magically cure all the ills that have accrued, but will breathe hope into those so desperately in need of it. Who knows, maybe some of the least likely will eventually come over and join the party.
Hope springs eternal.