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Clockwise, from top left: Blackfriar's Theater in Staunton, VA, home of the American Shakespeare Center; National Cathedral in Guatemala City; church near Volin, SD; engraved stellae at ruins of Copan, Honduras; folk musicians in La Paz, Bolivia.

Culture and Travel montage shadow

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My favorite movies

  1. Casablanca
  2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  3. Raising Arizona
  4. Fargo
  5. Shawshank Redemption
  6. Field of Dreams
  7. Bull Durham
  8. Fiddler on the Roof
  9. Patton
  10. Bananas
  11. Fort Apache: The Bronx
  12. Broadcast News

September 8, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Ozark Mountain Daredevils in concert!

(Another woefully-late blog post...) As part of my big trip to the Midwest five weeks ago, my brother Dan and I went to the first annual Mid-America Music Festival for the sole purpose seeing one of my favorite groups: the Ozark Mountain Daredevils! As recounted in my travelog blog post (August 31), my brother Dan and I drove up from Kansas City to the small town of Trenton, Missouri on Saturday July 29. It is located in the north-central part of the state, and is rather isolated. The countryside is much like South Dakota, but greener and hillier. We took a quick look at downtown, and then drove about a mile east to the Black Silo winery, where we were directed to park in an open field along with a hundred or more other vehicles.

Mid America Music Festival sign

This sign was in front of the Black Silo Winery, where the festival was held, just east of Trenton, Missouri.

The festival had already begun the day before, but I was not familiar with the other performers, and with not much time to spare, I preferred to see the sights in Kansas City. Soon after we arrived, a group called Whiskey Jim and the Outlaw Benders was playing. They were pretty good, a mixture of electrified country and blues. Dan and I strolled around the vineyard, chose some good barbecue from some several food vendors, visited the gift shop, and walked up to where they were giving some hot air balloon rides. It was just tethered up-and-down deal, and Jacqueline and I had already done a "real" balloon ride in 2008, so we passed on that amusement.

Mid America Music Festival sign

The crowd wasn't very big, maybe a thousand total, but that's to be expected since it was the very first year this festival has been held.

As the sun sank toward the horizon, another group started playing, I forget which one. About that time, a guy with long gray hair in a pony tail walked from the stage area past where we were sitting toward the main winery building, and he looked familiar to me. I showed the photo I took to the people who were selling Ozark Mountain Daredevils at one of the tent-covered tables, and they confirmed to me that it was indeed Michael "Supe" Granda, the bass player! I ended up buying the group's latest "Alive and Wild" CD, and Dan bought two of their "classic" CDs and a T-shirt.

Finally, at about 9:30, the main event got underway, and I was thrilled that they started with one of my favorites, "Standing On the Rock." It's an acoustic, bluegrass-sounding song with a fun harmonica part. Unfortunately, we learned that the group's harmonica player, Steve Cash, was able to be there due to ill health. In his place, one of the extra guitar players (Nick Sibley) handled that task, and he did just fine. Just two of the original six members were there: John Dillon (guitar, fiddle) and Michael Granda (bass, guitar). For the most part, the musicians all played very well, with great enthusiasm, and I loved it. There were problems with the microphones, causing some exasperation a couple times, but it was fixed eventually.

Ozark Mountain Daredevils 2017

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils (L to R): Ruell Chappell, Nick Sibley, Kelly Brown, John Dillon, Michael Granda, Ron Gremp, Dave Painter, Bill Jones. Absent that evening: Steve Cash, the harmonica player. Click on the image to see a closeup of Dillon, Granda, and Gremp. For more photos, see the Chronological (2017) photo gallery page.

I took notes of all the songs they played, and while I was very happy that they did just about all of my favorites, there were two with which I was not familiar. In the set list below, I included phrases from the refrain in parentheses, as a possible identifier. Not surprisingly, they finished the regular part of the show with "If You Wanna Get to Heaven," and for an encore they covered a classic tune "Route 66" that was geographically appropriate. (That highway passed through southern Missouri where they have lived their lives.) The final songs, "It'll Shine When It Shines," was the title track of the second album, and in many ways is the most spiritual and most definitive song that they do. It was a perfect ending to a great show. It was a very special and memorable experience for me.

  1. Standing On the Rock
  2. Chicken Train
  3. Country Girl
  4. Fly Away Home
  5. UNKNOWN (Fine, Fine, Fine???)
  6. Noah
  7. Homemade Wine
  8. UNKNOWN (Gone, Long Gone???)
  9. Jackie Blue
  10. Ooh, Boys, It's Hot
  11. It Probably Always Will
  12. You Made It Right
  13. Walkin' Down the Road
  14. Gonna Buy Me a Car
  15. If You Wanna Get to Heaven
  16. Route 66
  17. It'll Shine When It Shines
Ozark Mountain Daredevils T-shirt, CDs

My official Ozark Mountain Daredevils T-shirt. The reverse side has a list of over 60 of their songs, about a dozen of which I don't even know! Also shown are the two CDs I just bought: "Men From Earth," their fourth studio album (1977), and "13," which was released in 1998.

Who are the Ozark Mountain Daredevils?

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils were founded in the early 1970s by a group of college guys in Springfield, Missouri. Their first big hit came out in early 1974: "If You Wanna Get to Heaven," which was still very popular when I saw them in concert in Slagle Hall at the University of South Dakota in the fall of 1974, when I was a freshman. Their second hit single was "Jackie Blue," which is a nice, mellow pop-rock song, but is not typical of the group's strong country flavor. There were originally six members, but keyboardist Buddy Brayfield quit in order to pursue a medical degree in 1977 or so. (He is now an M.D., possibly retired.) After another year or two, guitarist Randle Chowning quit, and apparently there are still some hard feelings, unfortunately.

I learned from the show in Missouri (and from looking at the notes in the CDs that I have) that Ruell Chappell is the lead singer for songs (such as "Jackie Blue") that were formerly sung by drummer Larry Lee, who left the group in the 1980s, and later returned on a part-time basis for a while. Chappell, who used to have long hair but is now 100% bald/shaven, was the replacement keyboard player after Buddy Brayfield left the group. Like John Dillon, he is good-natured with a perpetual grin. Bass player "Supe" Granda (known for wearing a Superman costume back in the good old days) is lot like bassist Mick Fleetwood with Fleetwood Mac: very talented and just a little eccentric, in a nice way. Until recently I didn't know that Steve Cash (the harmonica player) is the one who sings in a very low voice; "E.E. Lawson" and "Black Sky" are two great examples of his work.

By the early 1980s, the group had gone through some turmoil, and their album released at that time (also titled "Ozark Mountain Daredevils," the same as their original album!) showed the four core members with very sober faces. Were they burned out from touring? They faded away over the next few years, with occasional regroupings that never lasted too long. Then in the late 1990s there was another surge of interest and energy, which is when they produced their final (?) studio CD, "13." (That's the number of songs on it.) From that point on, they were basically semi-retired, and they have been doing a few shows a year at various places in and around Missouri, but that's about it. After realizing that my hopes that they might do a national tour one of these years were unrealistic, I decided to see them while I still had a chance. After all, as we have learned over the past couple years, the number of classic-era rock stars who have passed away keeps climbing...

In an effort to summarize the complicated changes that have taken place over the years, I came up with this table, which is greatly simplified and possibly prone to error:

1973-1976 1977-1979 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s
guitar John Dillon (+ fiddle)
harmonica Steve Cash
bass Michael "Supe" Granda
drums Larry Lee (+ guitar) Ron Gremp
guitar Randle Chowning Rune Walle (+) Bill Brown Dave Painter
keyboards Buddy Brayfield Kelly Brown
Ruell Chappell (keyboards, percussion)
Jerry Mills (mandolin) Bill Jones (saxophone)
Steve Canaday Nick Sibley (guitar, harmonica)

The Daredevils' albums

Here are all the studio-recorded albums released by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils over the years. In addition, there are two "live" albums ("It's Alive," 1979) and "Alive & Wild" (2011), as well as many different greatest hits albums.

In the near future, I plan to update the Music page with the above information, but with greater detail.

Music mural in K.C.

It's fitting to note that, while in Kansas City, my brother Dan took me to a famous venue for blues, rock, and country music ("Knuckleheads"), and that across the street there is a large mural on the side of the building with the likenesses of many great musicians from years past. I can identify most of the faces, but not all of them.

KC rock, blues mural

Mural honoring music legends of the past, northeast of downtown Kansas City.

August 31, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Trains, plains, and a new automobile!

(Here goes yet another woefully-late blog post...) Just over a month ago, I embarked on a long-distance trip to the Midwest to see my brothers, and do some incidental sightseeing, birding, music appreciation, and baseballing. It was the first time I had been out there since I flew home for what turned out to be my father's funeral in April 2016. I already wrote a blog post about the baseball aspects of my trip, and will do so shortly for birding and musical events as well. This post will focus on the sightseeing.

After a few false starts trying to coordinate potential activities with my brothers, I finally made concrete plans in early July, geared toward seeing the Ozark Mountain Daredevils play on July 29 at the Mid-america Music Festival in Trenton, Missouri. That's only about an hour and a half from Kansas City, where my brother Dan lives, and he agreed it would be a fun thing to do. So, I bought a one-way AMTRAK ticket from Staunton to Kansas City, and got ready to go. My brother Chris offered to sell me his car, so I took the risk that it would be acceptable and thus serve as my mode of transportation for the return trip to Virginia.

All aboard AMTRAK!

On the afternoon of July 26, Jacqueline I arrived at the station here in Staunton -- almost an hour early due to my own error! The "Cardinal" train (#51) left right on time, and I settled in for the long ride, reading books and newspapers, and occasionally checking my iPhone for news, etc. The train passes through familiar territory in western Augusta County where I often go birding, and makes stops at Clifton Forge and then White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Unfortunately, I couldn't get any good scenic photos of the mountains or the small mountain towns. I had an adequate meal (hot sandwich plus a beer), and prepared to sleep. I learned from the last time I had travelled on AMTRAK (December 2015 - January 2016) that sleeping is extremely difficult, even with a reclining chair. So, I bought myself a travel pillow that cushions bumps and keeps your head supported so that you can relax. It worked pretty well, but I still only got about four hours of sleep that night.

The next morning our train arrived in Chicago, where rail freight traffic is so heavy that it causes delays in passenger trains. I had about a four-hour layover before my connecting train departed, so I had a big breakfast at McDonald's and then walked outside. I took a few photos of downtown, and circled the block where the Willis Tower is located. The clouds were low that day, and you couldn't even see the top of the building!

Andrew, Chicago River, boat

Yours truly at the Chicago River, right next to Union Station.

Just before 3:00 PM we boarded the "Southwest Chief" train (#3), and soon were on our way. The skies cleared as we headed west, past corn fields, soybean fields, giant wind turbines, and small towns. There were a couple delays as we approached the Mississippi River, and we finally crossed the bridge and stopped in Fort Madison, Iowa. I had been through Burlington, Iowa on AMTRAK a couple times (en route to Omaha), but I had never been to the far southeast corner of the state. The rail line from Chicago to Kansas City passes through some very out-of-the-way parts of northern Missouri, but it quickly grew dark and I didn't see much of it. The train rolled into Kansas City at about 10:40, about a half hour late, which isn't too bad for a long trip. My brother Dan drove me home, and we had fun with his guitars.

Kansas City, Missouri

The next day (Friday) Dan took me on a wide-ranging tour of Kansas City, parking at Union Station (where I had arrived the night before), and then taking a streetcar (free!!!) all the way to the north part of downtown. From there we walked to a park on the Missouri River. Dan has devoted a huge amount of effort to studying the history of that city, and explained to me that the riverside park was once the main port area where riverboats steamed up and down "The Big Muddy." Later on, we visited the district of Westport, which is kind of like Georgetown as far as being old and funky, with a vibrant night life. Dan explained to me the historical signs referring to the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails, which all started in Kansas City! While in Westport, we noticed the police arresting a black person, and we were later yelled at by a group of black youths in a car. Clearly there are racial tensions.

On Saturday, we had two big objectives: visit the National World War I Museum, and then drive up to Trenton, Missouri to see the Ozark Mountain Daredevils in concert. It was yet another beautiful day with blue skies perfect for taking pictures. The World War I Museum is at the base of a huge stone pillar, the top of which provides an ideal vantage point for scanning the urban area and photographing it. The museum itself is quite impressive, filled with original uniforms, army equipment, artillery pieces, machine guns, and tanks. The weak spot is the lack of maps, and one of the maps I did see conveyed rather misleading information. After that, we drove over to the site of the old Municipal Stadium, where the Kansas City Athletics (MLB), Royals (MLB), and Chiefs (NFL) used to play. (There were also minor league and negro league teams that once played there.) I had visited the historical marker there once before, and I noticed that it is in need of maintenance. Then we drove northeast through the city, and arrive in Trenton late in the afternoon. (That music festival will be discussed in a separate blog post.)

Kansas City downtown skyline

Kansas City downtown skyline, as seen from the top of the World War I Museum Tower.

On Sunday we visited the Shawnee Indian Mission historical site, located just west of the Missouri-Kansas state line. Dan explained how various church groups gained a foothold in the area during the mid-19th Century by bringing European civilization to the indigenous people. Then we went to the Turkey Creek Diversion Tunnel, a flood control project built in 1919, cutting right through a big hill near the Kansas River, which empties into the Missouri River at the state line. Then we drove through the West Bottoms area, filled with old warehouses that lay abandoned for many years but which are now being restored. Kemper Arena (home of the NBA Kansas City Kings from 1972 to 1985) is in that area, but it is aging and doesn't get much use anymore, since a new arena (the Sprint Center) was built a few years ago. Then we went to Terrace Park, on the northwest edge of downtown, perched on a bluff that provides a great view toward the west. We saw several homeless people while there, another sign of social problems in Kansas City. There are several historical monuments and prominent churches nearby, as well as a quaint old bar called Quaffs. (I kept the plastic cup as a souvenir.) Next we went to world-famous Arthur Bryant's barbecue place, and savored heaping platters of ribs. Finally, we toured the historic 18th & Vine (African-American) neighborhood, a sprawling outside patio bar called Knuckleheads (which features live rock and blues music), as well as the Little Italy on the northeast side of downtown. There are many signs of public investment in improving living conditions, but it seems to be an uphill battle.

South Dakota

On Monday (July 31) Dan and I drove north, and paid a visit to our parents' grave site in Vermillion, South Dakota, where we placed a Chicago Cubs World Series champion flag that I had bought while in Chicago. We only stayed a few minutes there (our home town growing up), and then drove the rest of the way north to Sioux Falls, where Chris lives. Soon we were joined by John, making it the first time since Dad's funeral that the four Clem brothers had been together.

On the first day of August, I took Chris's Hyundai Sonata on a lengthy "test drive" to the northeast part of the state. Back when I was planning this trip in the spring, I had hoped to do at least an overnight trip across the state into the Black Hills, but without a person familiar with the territory, that just wasn't practical. So I drove up I-29 and had lunch in the town of Waubay, and then drove toward the nearby Waubay National Wildlife Refuge to do some birding. (I'll discuss that in a separate blog post.) Later on, I drove south via Webster and Watertown, returning to Sioux Falls at dusk. The car worked fine!

On Wednesday Chris and I went to Madison, about an hour west of Sioux Falls, where his son Justin is getting established as a medical doctor. I hadn't been to that town since the 1970s (if at all), and exploring the local college and seeing all the lakeside residences was fascinating. On Thursday, I did another solo trip in the Sonata, but my birding activities were cut short by a rain shower. Chris took me on a drive through some interesting parts of Sioux Falls that I had not seen before, and we stopped at the scenic falls themselves just as dusk fell.

Dakota State University Beadle Hall

Dakota State University Beadle Hall. (Aug. 2).

The return trip

On August 4, I loaded my stuff into my "brand-new" car (!), said good-bye, and left Sioux Falls heading east on I-90. The skies had turned mostly clear again, and the only notable event as I drove through southern Minnesota was when a crop-dusting airplane swooped up within 100 feet or so of the highway right ahead of me! I stopped in the town of Albert Lea, where the rock group Kansas was scheduled to perform a show that night at the Freeborn County Fair. It was quite a coincidence that another of my favorite groups from the 1970s was playing during my trip, but I decided that staying to see them would have added almost an entire extra day to my trip, and I was eager to get back home. So, I kept going and crossed into Wisconsin during the afternoon. Just after 5:00 I arrived at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, and did some birding there. (Separate blog post pending...) I thought I could get a motel room in the town of Mauston, but struck out there, so I had to keep going southeast on I-90. Around 9:00 I arrived in Madison, the capital of Wisconsin -- the first time I had ever been there. I navigated the busy Friday night downtown traffic, found a place to park, and took some photos of the state capitol building. I remembered the bitter political struggle over the state budget that took place a couple years ago, when opponents of Governor Scott Walker occupied the capitol for several hours. Finally, I found a nice place to spend the night in the city of Beloit, just north of the Illinois state line.

Welcome state signs - 2017

Welcome state signs: SD, WI, OH, KY, IN (Aug. 1 - 6).

The next day, I hit the road early so as to get good parking in Chicago for the Cubs-Nationals game, which started at 1:20. (That was discussed in my baseball blog post of August 16.) The traffic was pretty heavy approaching the city on the I-90 toll expressway ($$$), and likewise after the game as I drove south past downtown, but it wasn't as bad as I had feared. I went straight south on I-90 rather than take the I-94 toll expressway southeast toward Gary, Indiana, probably saving at least six bucks. Eventually I got onto I-65 south and spent the night in Lafayette, Indiana.

On Sunday, August 6, I resumed my southward course and stopped in Indianapolis for a couple hours, taking photos of the Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the NFL Colts), the minor league baseball stadium (Victory Field), and the downtown area. For some reason, getting through Indiana always takes longer than I expect. I took I-74 southeast to Cincinnati, stopping to take photos of Great American Ballpark (where the Reds were playing the Cardinals), among other things of interest. I had considering attending that game, but the scarcity of time dictated otherwise. I had to get back on the road! From Covington, Kentucky (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati), I took the "AA Highway" (which I believe stands from Alexandria-Ashland, the two cities that it connects) toward the east, eventually getting onto I-64 not far from the West Virginia border. It was just steady driving from then on as the sun went down. I got home some time after 10:00, all safe and sound -- and exhausted from all that driving!

I updated the Chronological (2017) photo gallery page with dozens of new photos from my trip, and I'll probably add a few more in the days to come.

August 30, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Another BIG show at Bedlam Brewing

(Here goes yet another woefully-late blog post...) On July 23, I had another musical gig at Bedlam Brewing, following up on the HUGE (?) success of my first gig there on June 4. (See my June 30 blog post.) This time it was in the nice, cool indoors, and it went from 6:00 until 8:00 rather than 4:00 to 6:00. (Actually, I lost track of time and kept playing for about ten minutes past 8:00.) Once again, I was very grateful that so many of my friends from the Augusta Bird Club showed up. There were a few from Emmanuel Episcopal Church as well, but there was a schedule conflict with a church event taking place at almost the same time.

Andrew at Bedlam Brewing 23 Jul 2017

Yours truly at Bedlam Brewing; photo courtesy of Jacqueline.

Whereas last month, I only managed to play 24 out the planned 32 songs, this time, I planned on 28, and that's how many I played. I had a fairly realistic estimate of how many songs I could within the allotted two hours. There was a problem with the sound volumen, however, even though I had done a sound check before I got started. I had already finished one-third of my set list before someone sitting in the back came up and told me that they couldn't hear much of what I was playing. Argh-h-h-h!!! Next time, I will make darned sure the volume is loud enough to reach the back! So, on request, I played Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold" for a second time so that everyone could hear it. I changed the order of songs slightly, however, and substituted one Eagles song ("The Long Run") for another ("Witchy Woman"). What follows is the actual set list:

  1. Country Girl -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
  2. Train Leaves Here This Morning -- Eagles
  3. Love Me Do -- Beatles
  4. And I Love Her -- Beatles
  5. Helplessly Hoping -- Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  6. Harvest Moon -- Neil Young
  7. Heart Of Gold -- Neil Young
  8. Green River -- Creedence Clearwater Revival
  9. The Old Man Down the Road -- John Fogerty
  10. Breathe In the Air -- Pink Floyd
  11. Time -- Pink Floyd
  12. Us and Them -- Pink Floyd
  13. Heart Of Gold -- Neil Young (repeat; higher volume!)
  14. Luckenbach, Texas -- Waylon Jennings
  15. If I Fell -- Beatles
  16. ( BREAK )
  17. The Long Run -- Eagles
  18. Better Left Unsaid -- Andrew Clem
  19. Sweet Virginia -- Rolling Stones
  20. If You Could Read My Mind -- Gordon Lightfoot
  21. Cat's In the Cradle -- Harry Chapin
  22. Tears In Heaven -- Eric Clapton
  23. If You Wanna Get To Heaven -- Ozark Mountain Daredevils
  24. In God's Country -- U 2
  25. Pink Houses * -- John Cougar Mellencamp
  26. The Time of Your Life -- Green Day
  27. Crazy Love -- Poco
  28. Wicked Game -- Chris Isaacs
  29. Found Out About You -- Gin Blossoms
  30. Love Will Keep Us Alive -- Eagles

People really seemed to enjoy it, and one guy even told me I played the song "Found Out About You" even better than when he heard the original group (the Gin Blossoms) play it in concert! So, I was asked to come back and have scheduled future shows for Sunday, September 24 and Friday, November 17. I make a point to avoid repeating songs that I have played before, but I will probably do some of the Pink Floyd songs again, since the volume was too low this time.

On a separate note, I should congratulate the owner of Bedlam Brewing Mike McCrackin for a successful first eight months in business. They serve great food and a wide variety of tasty malt beverages. The Augusta Bird Club has held its monthly "Birds 'n Brews" social hour there more than once, and it has become an active part of the community here in Staunton. I even bought a Bedlam Brewing T-shirt!

More open mic events

Since my last blog post about music, two months have elapsed, so here's a quick review of what I played in public. At the Queen City Brewing Open Mic Night on Wednesday, July 5, I paid tribute to the 241st birthday of the U.S.A. with an unusual song about the country.

The next week, on July 12, I shifted toward country music, with a song I recently learned ("Luckenbach, Texas") and two others that I have known for a while but never quite had it right until recently.

On July 19, I played two more Eagles tunes, the first of which alluded to my impending train voyage out west. (More about that soon...) In years past, I was never able to make "Witchy Woman" sound right, until I used the harmonica with it a couple months ago. I didn't quite reach the level of excellence I was aiming for on that one, however, as it's a little tricky.

After returning from my big trip, I played three songs at the August 9 Open Mic event that I had seen one of my favorite groups perform in concert on July 29: the Ozark Mountain Daredevils! (Much more on that later!) The first and last songs I played were the first and last songs played by the actual group in their show, and the middle one was one of their only two hit singles (1974). Surprisingly, I only learned to play "Jackie Blue" all the way through this summer.

On August 17 I played at a different open mic venue for the first time: Barrenridge Vineyards, located a few miles northeast of Staunton. This first song was a tribute to Elvis Presley, who died on August 16, 1977 -- 40 years ago. Then I played a song about my growing up ("Small Town") and a song aimed at countering the hatred in the Charlottesville protests earlier this month ("Get Together"). (More on that soon!)

A week ago on Wednesday (August 23) the weather was perfect, the crowd size wasn't very big, unfortunately. My first three songs were inspired by Monday's solar eclipse.

And tonight, finally (August 30), my musical theme was torrential rain and hurricanes, although the second one ("Bad Moon Risin'") could be interpreted as about eclipses and hurricanes. I played:

August 27, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Our eclipse trip to Tennessee

As described in my blog post of last Wednesday, exactly one week ago Jacqueline and I began a trip to see the total eclipse of the sun in Tennessee. (As explained then, our precise destination was literally "up in the air," depending on where the skies were forecast to be clearest.) We drove southwest along I-81, encountering heavy traffic outside the population centers along the way (Staunton, Roanoke, and Christiansburg), but it wasn't as bad as I had feared. We stopped at the Tennessee welcome center on the outskirts of Bristol as soon as we crossed the state line, and I soon noticed an odd building shaped like a guitar across the highway. So, I used Google and learned all about the "Grand Guitar" from It was built in 1983 and for a while housed a music emporium of sorts, but later fell into disuse. According to one of the brochures I picked up at the welcome center, Bristol, Tennessee considers itself the "Birthplace of Country Music."

Andrew, giant roadside guitar

Yours truly, and a giant roadside "guitar" across I-81 from the Tennessee welcome center near Bristol. (Aug. 20)

From there we took a detour to the west in order to visit old friends of ours in the town of Rogersville. Then we resumed our journey toward the southwest, and arrived in Knoxville just as the sun was about to set. We dined at a decent barbecue restaurant (Buddy's BBQ) and after a few false starts, found a motel for the night. With hundreds of thousands of "eclipse tourists" swarming into the region, [the choices were limited and] we couldn't afford to be too picky.

The skies were bright blue at daybreak, just as had been forecast, a big reassurance. Since the eclipse would not start until about 1:00 in the afternoon, and we were within a stone's throw of the zone of totality, there was no big rush. I had only been in Knoxville once before, and didn't even stop, so I wanted to do a bit of exploration while we were there. So the first thing to do was take advantage of the morning sun and get a nice backlit photo of the city center. The photo below shows the "Sunsphere" from the 1982 Worlds Fair, as well as two churches which I later photographed from a closer vantage point:

Knoxville skyline, Gay Street Bridge

Knoxville skyline, and the Gay Street Bridge, seen from the east side of the Tennessee River. (Aug. 21) {Click on the photo to expand.}

After crossing the river into downtown, I drove to see the Tennessee, which I had discovered on a city map during the night. Why would a state's Supreme Court be seated in a city other than the capital? I wondered, Is Tennessee like Bolivia, where the Supreme Court is located in Sucre rather than La Paz? Not quite. It turns out that their Supreme Court has a distinctly regional composition (at least one of the five members must be from each of the state's three regions), and the court periodically rotates between Nashville (center), Knoxville (east), and Jackson (west). Apparently Memphis wasn't very big in the early days. I discovered that the Supreme Court shares a building with the Post Office, which seems unusual.

One thing we noticed driving through Tennessee was the predominance of Baptist churches across the countryside. We even saw two Baptist churches right across the road from each other! They were probably of different sectarian origins. So it was no surprise that the First Baptist Church occupies a prominent position across the street from the Supreme Court. A couple blocks to the south is the Church Street United Methodist Church (also visible in the photo above), and a couple blocks to the west are St. John's Cathedral (Episcopalian) and a Catholic church.

Then we headed to the World's Fair Park, which occupies a filled-in ravine along the south edge of downtown. I remember the 1982 World's Fair (in part thanks to postage stamps, which I collect), but according the Wikipedia, it was only a "specialized" exposition. The "genuine" World's Fairs of the modern era have been:

Worlds Fair Park, Sunsphere

The Worlds Fair Park, site of the 1982 Knoxville Worlds Fair, featuring the Sunsphere. Today it serves as a convention center and venue for outdoor public events. (Aug. 21) {Click on the photo to expand.}

Next, we headed south on Cumberland Avenue past the sprawling University of Tennessee campus, looking in vain for a Starbucks to have breakfast. It was while we were at McDonald's that I got a text message from fellow birder Peter Van Acker, who was already in the town of Sweetwater, so that became our destination. I had one more sight to see in Knoxville, and that was Neyland Stadium, home of the Tennessee Volunteers. Why??? Because with a capacity of 102,455 (according to Wikipedia), it happens to be the fifth-biggest football stadium in the country, that's why! For a brief period after the upper deck was totally enclosed in 1996, it was the biggest stadium in the country. I also visited the (now) #1-ranked Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor (capacity 107,601 according to Wikipedia) in 2015 (delayed blog post). But to get in a good position for a photograph, we had to backtrack and re-cross the Tennessee River. That took an extra 20 minutes or so, but also gave me a good look at the UT Law School building.

Neyland Stadium from east

Neyland Stadium from the east. (Aug. 21) {Click on the photo to expand.}

Finally, we got onto I-40 southbound, and immediately encountered extremely heavy traffic. It was so slow that we took over an hour just to get out of the Knoxville metropolitan area. For a while, I wasn't sure if we would make it to Sweetwater, which is ideally positioned along the center of the zone of totality, thus giving viewers more time to see the total eclipse. I was amused by the "No parking during eclipse" signs displayed above the interstate highways. Once we arrived in Sweetwater, it was clear that parking was scarce. The going rate was $20, with some places charging $30 or even $40, but a nice guy at the entrance to one of the temporary "campgrounds" ($40!) told us that the nearby Flea Market charged only $5, so that's where we went.

The total eclipse was over at about 2:35, and not long afterwards we departed Sweetwater amidst a swarm of traffic the likes of which I'm sure that town had never seen. I tried to outsmart the masses who were congregating along I-40 by heading east, intending to take the back roads and bypass Knoxville. It was a good plan, but the local law enforcement people didn't seem to know what they were doing, as we encountered lengthy, needless delays in each town along the way: Madisonville, Vonore, Maryville, and Newell Station. (At one point we were only about ten miles from Smoky Mountain National Park and the town of Gatlinburg, which suffered catastrophic forest fires a few months ago.) We got back onto I-40 as the sun was getting low in the sky (about 7:00), and even after I-81 split off from I-40, we were just creeping along at about 10-20 MPH for most of the way through northeast Tennessee. Even after we made it into Virginia the pace remained miserably slow, aside from a few occasional stretches. Not until 3:30 AM did we make it home -- over 12 1/2 hours driving time covering 380 miles. That's an average of only about 30 MPH! Nevertheless, it was undoubtedly still worth the effort, and we made the most of our travel time by visiting interesting places in Knoxville.

Many more photos, including ones of the solar eclipse, can be seen on the Chronological (2017) Photo Gallery page. The exclamation marks next to the camera icons on that page show double-sized versions of those photos (1200 x 800 pixels rather than 600 x 400), which you can also see by clicking on the latter three photos above. In addition I added one more total eclipse photo since my Wednesday blog post, a freeze frame image from a video clip that I took. It is more natural looking that the other total eclipse photos, even though I used the same camera for still photos and videos. I hope you enjoy those photos and this travelog!

July 1, 2017 [LINK / comment]

North of the border: trip to Canada & the Midwest

CATCHING UP: In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Dominion of Canada (1867), it's an appropriate occasion to finally write a description of my trip up to Canada -- and from thence out to South Dakota -- two summers ago. (I will soon do likewise, even more belatedly, for my grand summer vacation into the desert southwest, in June 2014.) It was an ambitious adventure that included (of course) baseball, birding, and family affairs. I already posted separate blog accounts related to baseball in August 14, 2015 and will do one about wild birds in the next day or two.

Toronto, Detroit, Chicago

TOP: Toronto; MIDDLE: Detroit; BOTTOM: Chicago.
Roll your mouse over the image to compare those skylines to the ones for Boston, Providence, Manhattan, and Philadelphia, which I visited in early September last year.

My trip began on July 18, heading in a northerly direction along I-81 into The Keystone State, then west briefly on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and then north again on the Bud Shuster Highway (I-99). That reminded me of all the corruption and pork-barrel scandals in which the former congressman was involved; see From there I continued into western New York state, and spent the night in Buffalo, where I stopped to take photos of Coca-Cola Field (formerly Pilots Field), where the minor league Buffalo Bisons play.

Before the sun came up on July 19, I arrived at the American side of Niagara Falls, took a few photos there, and then crossed the bridge into Canada. I had been on that side once before, in the 1980s, and Canada's Horseshoe Falls are much bigger and dramatic in appearance. In the morning light, the skyline of the city of Niagara Falls was truly spectacular. The gardens and buildings are very well maintained.

Niagara Falls Horseshoe

Niagara Falls (Horseshoe), at the crack of dawn. (July 19, 2015)

After Niagara Falls, I drove west along the coast of Lake Ontario. I passed by two historical sites of note: McFarland House and the Battle of Fort George, in which the U.S. Army invaded and briefly occupied part of Canada during the War of 1812. How many Americans know anything about that conflict? (See It is a very prosperous area, with nice homes and many fruit orchards. Passing quickly through the city of Hamilton, I arrived in downtown Toronto shortly after noon, found a place to park and walked toward Rogers Centre, where I saw the Blue Jays defeat the Tampa Bay Rays. I marvelled at the immense CN Tower next to the Rogers Centre, but was disappointed that there is a long wait to take the elevator trip to the top, so I'll have to do that some other time.

CN Tower

CN Tower, next the Rogers Centre in Toronto. (July 19, 2015)

I spent the night at a motel near London, Ontario, and briefly explored the city the next day. Not surprisingly, there is a Thames River, and I stopped at a park adjacent to it. I bought some premium beer at a Labatt's brewery store downtown, to share with my brothers. Then I left and headed west toward Michigan. I thought I might save time by avoiding heavy traffic in Detroit by crossing at Port Huron. I had a satisfying meal in Sarnia at Harvey's, a Canadian hamburger chain restaurant. I had poutine, a Canadian specialty consisting of French fries with cheese curds and gravy. That'll stick to your ribs!

London - Westminister Ponds

London - Westminister Ponds. (July 20, 2015)

Then I crossed the bridge back into the good old U.S. of A., but was annoyed by the long delay at the immigration / customs inspection station. My gas tank was almost empty, making me even more anxious. About an hour later, I entered Detroit but took the wrong exit and wasted another 15 minutes finding Comerica Park, where the Tigers were playing the Seattle Mariners. After the game, I stopped briefly at the site of Tiger Stadium, which was demolished in 2009.

The next day (July 21), I paid a visit to the University of Michigan in the city of Ann Arbor. I wanted to see Michigan Stadium, the biggest college football stadium, with a capacity of over 100,000. I tried but failed to get inside for a look. I then drove through southern Michigan, which was unremarkable, and stopped at Indiana Dunes, from whence I had a view of Chicago, located about 30 miles to the west. It's an amazing place, great for observing nature or just for enjoying the sun at the beach. After a couple hours there, I drove into Chicago, cursing at all the traffic and toll booths, and arrived at U.S. Cellular Field well over an hour before the White Sox began playing the St. Louis Cardinals, in an interleague game. Afterwards, I left the city via a "shortcut" that was a little trickier than I expected. The south side of Chicago is reputed to be tough (as Jim Croce noted in his song, "Bad, Bad LeRoy Brown"), but it really wasn't so bad. I spent the night near Joliet, which reminded me of the Blues Brothers movie.

Indiana Dunes visitor center, Chicago skyline

Indiana Dunes visitor center, Lake Michigan, and distant Chicago skyline. (July 21, 2015)

July 22 was strictly devoted to driving westward, and my only stop of significance was in the town of Van Meter, Iowa. I learned that the Bob Feller Museum now shares the building with the City Hall, presumably for reasons of economy. [He was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.] I had visited there once before, but it wasn't open that day. Late in the day I arrived in Vermillion, warmly greeted at the door by my Dad. (About nine months later, he passed away.)

On July 25, Dad and I drove south into Nebraska, his beloved native state. (He actually grew up in Kansas, but that's another story.) We stopped at a few scenic spots along the way, but missed the turn which led to the town of Malmo, where his mother grew up. In Lincoln, we saw Memorial Stadium, home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and then visited his fraternity house (ATΩ), the State Capitol (famed for its tall tower), and finally the house where two of his aunts once lived. I remember visiting them, but the neighborhood seemed much more crowded than I thought. On the way back home, we stopped in the town of Oakland, which hosts the Swedish Heritage Center. (For some reason, Dad became obsessed with his Swedish heritage late in life.)

Nebraska State Capitol tower

Nebraska State Capitol tower. (July 25, 2015)

On August 1, we took a day trip to Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, where we watched birds for a while. We stopped at a few towns along the way, including Lesterville, home of a famous strip club. The next day we played a round of golf, and I shot a 38, the under-40 first round for me in over a decade! Dad shot a 42, which is probably even more impressive, given that he was 86 at the time.

On August 6, Dad and I drove up to Sioux Falls, stopping at a couple wetland areas on the way there to look for birds. In Sioux Falls, we joined up with my brother Chris to see the falls on the Big Sioux River. Then we continued north to the picturesque town of Dell Rapids, and to the nearby natural wonder known as the Palisades. It's South Dakota's version of the Grand Canyon, you might say.

Palisades, Big Sioux River

Palisades, on the Big Sioux River. (August 6, 2015)

Just before leaving Vermillion, I finally did something I had postponed for many years: visit the National Music Museum. It was created by former USD music professor Arne B. Larson, and was originally called the "Shrine to Music." It has exhibits with exotic instruments from around the world, as well as classical music instruments. There is even a guitar formerly owned by the renowned singer Shawn Colvin, who was a friend of mine in grade school! (Last year my brother Dan bought me a CD recorded by her and Steve Earle, which she autographed and inscribed for me.)

National Music Museum

National Music Museum, in Vermillion, South Dakota. (August 8, 2015)

On my return trip to Virginia, I took the southerly route, visiting my brother Dan in the Kansas City area. We had a great barbecue dinner, and Dan delighted in showing me all of the home renovation and landscaping projects he is working on. On the way out of town, I stopped briefly to take photos of Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Chiefs) and Kauffman Stadium (home of the Royals, who had won the American League pennant the year before, and were on their way to winning the World Series later that year)! About ten miles east of Kansas City, I stopped at Burr Oak Woods natural area, hoping to see birds. To my surprise, there were many interesting butterflies there. About five hours later I arrived in St. Louis, and spent some time taking photos in downtown. I even went to the top of the Gateway Arch, for the first time since 1987. As you can see, the weather was ideal for picture-taking:

Gateway Arch

Gateway Arch, in St. Louis. (August 10, 2015)

St. Louis downtown from Gateway Arch

St. Louis downtown from Gateway Arch. (August 10, 2015)

Just before leaving St. Louis, I took some quick photos of Busch Stadium, which I had toured four years earlier. From there it was pretty much a non-stop drive east along Interstate 64, through Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, and back into Virginia. To see a comprehensive set of photos from that trip, please take a look at the Chronological (2015) photo gallery page.

Major world languages

Language 2002
Chinese * 874 # 1,213
Spanish * 322 329
English * 341 328
Arabic ? 221
Hindi 366 # 182
Bengali 207 181
Portuguese 176 178
Russian * 167 144
Japanese 125 122
German 100 90

# : 2004 data for Chinese pertained only to Mandarin speakers, whereas data for Hindi speakers were defined more broadly.
Asterisks (*) denote the official languages of the United Nations, which also includes French (68 million speakers).

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I speak Spanish, some Portuguese, and have dabbled in German, French, Italian, Russian, Catalan, and Quechua.

Major world religions

Religion 2002
Christians 2,038 2,281
Muslims 1,226 1,553
Hindus 828 943
Chinese folk 389 454
Buddhists 364 463
Sikhs 24 24
Jews 14 15
Local, other 32 379
Non-religious 925 798

The obvious discontinuities in the last two lines of data are of uncertain origin.

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I belong to the Episcopal Church and am annoyed at the recent polarization. According to a Theology quiz, I scored as a "Classical Liberal."

Ten Commandments

  1. Worship ONE God only
  2. No graven images
  3. No taking God's name in vain
  4. Keep Sabbath day holy
  5. Honor parents
  6. No stealing
  7. No murder
  8. No adultery
  9. No bearing false witness
  10. No coveting what others have

Seven deadly sins

  1. Pride
  2. Covetousness
  3. Lust
  4. Anger
  5. Gluttony
  6. Envy
  7. Sloth

Proverbs 6: 16-19

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies,
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Romans 12: 17, 21

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

Serenity Prayer

Reinhold Niebuhr was a leading theologian of the mid-20th Century, and often wrote about foreign policy from a "Christian realist" perspective. From

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.