Andrew Clem blog home


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

Culture-related pages:

Travel photos

Religious blogs & sites

Local drama & music

Other Web links


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

October 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]

"Innings" and outings in October

In contrast to September, the weather this month has mostly been very nice, providing several opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. Baseball consumes a great deal of my attention this time of year (hence "innings" in the title above), but I also make a point to enrich our lives by visiting various nearby places of special interest.

On October 4, Jacqueline expressed interest in a day trip, but wasn't sure exactly what she wanted to see. The weather was perfect, and we just had to go somewhere! After doing a Google (or Yahoo?) search, I came across the White Oak Lavender Farm, which sounded interesting, and it turned out to be exactly the kind of thing that she enjoys. It is located near the village of Cross Keys in Rockingham County, a few miles east of Mount Crawford, home of the famous Green Valley Book Fair. On our way there, we stopped at Leonard's Pond, a noted local birding hot spot; it was unusually full that day, due to the recent heavy rains. Upon arriving at our destination, we were immediately enchanted by the purple buildings, the big willow tree, and the gazebo out front. You can stroll through the scent-filled gardens and see the horse stables, and sample wine at an adjacent pavilion. Inside the gift shop are an assortment of soaps, lotions, and other products made with lavender oil. Jacqueline just loved it. I hit a home run! smile

On our way back to Staunton, we bought vegetables at a farm north of Weyer's Cave, and I stopped to take a photo of the famous "Turkey Monument" at the Rockingham County line.

White Oak Lavender Farm

The main building of the White Oak Lavender Farm. (October 4, 2018)

Maury River canoe trip

On October 6 I went along on a canoe trip along the Maury River that was organized by Stan Heatwole, and it was quite an adventure! It was the first such outing in the Augusta Bird Club, but the weather forecast was uncertain, and only two other members attended: Ann Cline and Caroline [Ford]. I wasn't even sure I was up for it, since I have been having pain in my right heel since the latter part of the summer, but I was told it wouldn't be strenuous. Aware of the risks, I couldn't decide whether to bring my Canon PowerShot camera, and ended up flipping a coin, which yielded a positive choice. Ann lent me a special waterproof bag to keep my camera sealed, which turned out to be extremely lucky! As I found out, it's not easy to hold a camera steady while floating along in a canoe, and I only got a few mediocre photos [of birds] while on the river. But the weather turned out to be just fine, and I got several nice scenic shots along the way.

At about 11:25 we "put in" about six miles upstream from Lexington, where one of the vehicles had been left. I shared a canoe with Stan, while Ann and Caroline (who are more experienced) each had a kayak. I learned (or re-learned) how to navigate rapids, which for the most part were fairly mild. But about shortly after noon, at the end of a set of rapids, our canoe suddenly collided with a boulder and instantly capsized! After recovering my bearings (and getting my glasses back on straight) I had to rescue Stan's dog (a very small breed), and then retrieved the various boxes and bags that were floating away. My cell phone was inside my pants pocket, sealed with a sandwich baggie, and thank goodness, that was enough waterproofing! We were both thoroughly drenched, of course, but aside from a few scrapes there were no injuries. We gathered our things to get semi-dry for about 20 minutes, and then resumed the trip. To my immense relief, my camera, my iPhone, and my binoculars all survived without any damage. Later on I realized that I had lost my Augusta Bird Club hat, but it was kind of beat up anyway, so no big loss.

The scenery was spectacular, with steep forested banks on one or both sides for most of the trip. It reminded me of John Wesley Powell's exploration of the Colorado River in 1869, when he and his group made it through the rapids of the Grand Canyon. On the botanical side, we found some Paw Paw trees, and I retrieved one of the fruits that was floating in the river. It has a creamy color and consistency, like a mashed banana or custard. I don't think I had ever seen one before. We passed under the I-64 twin-span bridge just before 2:00 and reached the end in Lexington at about 3:15. It was exhilarating to have made the trip successfully with no damage. The club will probably have another trip like this one next year.

Maury River, I-64 north bridge

The Maury River, under the I-64 bridge north span. (October 6, 2018)

Blue Ridge day trip

For the next two weeks, there wasn't much travel activity other than a couple visits to the Swoope area, where I was focused mainly on birding. But last Sunday, October 21, it was bright and sunny, so Jacqueline and I took a leisurely drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. We were hoping for a fall foliage display, but the leaves had barely begun to turn color, so the sights weren't as spectacular as we had hoped. I was likewise disappointed that hardly any birds were to be seen; it was probably due to the windy conditions, when birds tend to hunker down in the underbrush. We came across a Box Turtle crossing the road, and did a U-turn, but never found it, so it must have gotten to the other side safely. After spending a while soaking in the beauty at Twenty Minute Cliff, we turned back north on the parkway. We stopped in the village of Love, intrigued by a sign advertising Brunswick stew, but they were closed until 3:00 and we were too hungry to wait. So, we kept going and ended up having a sumptious late lunch / early dinner at one of my favorite places: the Blue Mountain Brewery on Route 151 in Afton. I even bought a six pack of their signature IPA, "Full Nelson." Delicious! smile

Twenty Minute Cliff Oct. 21, 2018

Twenty Minute Cliff, on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (October 21, 2018)

Other recent photos can be seen on the Chronological (2018) photo gallery page.

September 25, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Day trip to West Virginia

Last week (Wednesday, September 19), Jacqueline and I went for an excursion into West Virginia, the first time we had been there together since late June 2010. (I have passed through the "Mountain State" on AMTRAK trains a couple times in recent years, and also while driving to or from the midwest.) But unlike our previous visit, which was focused on the town of Cass and the nearby Cranberry Glades, this time we headed toward the northern part of the state. At one point (while at Dolly Sods) we were actually within about 25 miles of the western tip of Maryland!

On the westbound leg of the trip, we drove along Route 250 into Highland County, making brief stops to enjoy the scenery. At one such stop just west of Monterey, we had a nice view in what I later determined to be the Bluegrass Valley, at the very source of the South Branch of the Potomac River! It is called "Hightown" because it lies along the divide between the Chesapeake Bay watershed (to the north) and the James River watershed (to the south). We also stopped briefly at Bear Mountain, which used to be a regular stop on Augusta Bird Club field trips to that area, and at the West Virginia state line just a few miles farther along the road. (See my separate wild birds blog post for more details.)

Soon after crossing into West Virginia, we turned right onto Route 28. We had planned to have lunch in that area, but at the only eating establishment we found the kitchen was closed that day, so we had to keep driving. Heading in a northeasterly direction, we mostly avoided the high mountain crossings that impede travel when going toward the northwest in the Appalachian mountains. We passed through a picturesque town called Circleville, and stopped to take photos, but not until we reached the crossroads of Route 33 did we find a place to have lunch: the Gateway family restaurant.

A few more miles to the north lay one of our main destinations: Seneca Rocks, a dramatic geoglogical formation that is part of a long chain of rock outcroppings that stretches for many miles. Our plan was to spend time there after reaching the other main destination (Dolly Sods), so we just took a few photos and continued on.

Seneca Rocks

Seneca Rocks, during our second stop there in the late afternoon.

It took another half hour to get to Dolly Sods, a wilderness area that I had been meaning to visit for many years. It was recommended to me by a former housemate and fellow UVa graduate, among others. The name "Dolly Sods" refers to a high-elevation flat pasture land once owned by a German farm family named Dahle. The side road to the top was a little rough for my car, but wouldn't be a problem for an SUV. I was shocked to see a "Road Closed Ahead" sign, but it turned out to be a false warning. I had consulted the National Forest Service website, but had only a vague idea of exactly what to expect there. In essence, it was an exploratory venture. We finally reached the road crossing at the top and soon found an overlook with dramatic views toward the east. There are many rhododendron bushes, fir trees, and other types of vegetation that are associated with northern latitudes. In fact, with an elevation over 4,000 feet, Dolly Sods is considered to be similar to Canada in terms of wildlife. We then drove about a mile south to a picnic area, and I walked for a bit along a couple trails. (I had to take it easy because of a strained Achilles tendon recently diagnosed by a podiatrist.) Finally, we drove a bit further south to the South Prong trail head, which features a boardwalk trail and plenty of birds. That will be one of our main stops the next time we visit. Time was getting late, so we had to leave.

Dolly Sods spruce trees, bog

Dolly Sods spruce trees and bog, along the South Prong trail.

On the way back south, we took some photos of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction project, which we had seen just after passing Seneca Rocks on the way north. There is a large industrial facility which I learned is the "Seneca Compressor Station," a sort of relay point in the pipeline network. I was taken aback that the construction was so close to Seneca Rocks itself, less than a mile away. Supposedly, the vegetation will eventually return to its natural state. I hope so.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline - 2018

Atlantic Coast Pipeline construction, just north of Seneca Rocks.

Finally, we spent about 45 minutes at Seneca Rocks, but just missed the closing of the visitor center. We strolled across a recently-built bridge across the river, took a bunch of photos of the rocks, and then took a look at a historic cabin and garden. It was sunny in the late afternoon, perfect for taking pictures. We wanted to stay longer, but the long trip home dictated that we leave promptly, so we did. To save time, we took a different route on the way back to Staunton, turning east at the intersection with Route 33, which passes through the picturesque town of Franklin. We then drove uphill across the mountain ridge which defines the state line and returned to the Old Dominion as the sun was sinking in the west. By the time we got home it was almost dark. It was a fun and exciting trip, and we hope to go back to that part of West Virginia in the next year or two.

More photos are on the Chronological (2018) photo gallery page.

September 15, 2018 [LINK / comment]

Utter "chaos" at Bedlam Brewing!

In preparing for my latest gig at Bedlam Brewing [a little over two weeks ago (August 31)], it dawned on me that their "embrace the chaos" theme was particularly appropriate for me, so I put an updated version of my "word cloud" on a Mandelbrot Set background. (See my Chaos page for an explanation.) That theme had added meaning, as the show came soon after the 50th anniversary of the the violence in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. Chaos in the streets!

Word cloud Mandelbrot

The "psychedelic" Mandelbrot Set, as an illustration of Chaos Theory.

Indeed, the first four songs I played had a direct connection to the social and political tumult of the late 1960s. "Revolution" and "[Chicago]" both sounded very good, I thought, especially considering I hadn't played either one in public before. "Gimme Shelter" fell short, however, partly because I really didn't practice it enough and partly because I had my songbook binder turned to the wrong page. Likewise, U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" refers in part to [the assassination of] Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968. I started that one a little bit sloppy and then got better. The next three songs were not political but rather had a common theme of loneliness and alienation stemming from the rapid social change of that era. I was really getting into the spirit of things, and they sounded fine.

I was eager to play the tenth song, Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath," which I had done very effectively at a Queen City Brewing open mic event earlier in the summer. But somehow I got started in the wrong key (C minor played as A minor with the capo on the third fret), whereas it is supposed to be F minor played as D minor. I fumbled around for almost 30 seconds before I got it right, which spoiled the building tension that the intro of that song is supposed to yield. The rest of the song was fine, but it could have been better. Next came a CCR tune I have played before and Supertramp's "The Logical Song," which I only learned recently. I closed the first half of the show with three songs by Paul McCartney or the Beatles, and I was pretty happy with how they went. The audience was appreciative and friendly, but there weren't as many folks as I had hoped.

After a ten-minute break, I shifted gears and played three relatively "recent" songs, i.e., ones that have come out since the 1990s. The song "Iris" is familiar to most people, but amazingly enough, until this year I was barely even aware of who the Goo Goo Dolls were! "Rhythm of Love" got hearty applause, as did the next two songs when I went back to the early 1970s. Then came more songs from that period, including BTO's "Let It Ride," which is not the sort of song one expects of a solo acoustic guitarist. I had fun with that one, and did pretty well on Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" as well. The intro part wasn't 100% clean, but it was close.

For the final portion of the show, I shifted gears once again, with somewhat more serious song themes. The Moody Blues' "The Voice" sounded fine, but the only Ozark Mountain Daredevils song I played ("It's How You Think") didn't elicit as much audience response as I had hoped. You never know. The late Tom Petty's "Here Comes My Girl" and Sheryl Crow's "My Favorite Mistake" went without a hitch, as did the Eagles' "Lyin' Eyes," which marked the grand finale. Was it the best choice for a last song? I'm not sure. Anyway, I felt good as I thanked the crowd for being there and being good listeners. Then I relaxed with a tasty IPA and chatted with friends for a while before unplugging, packing up, and heading home. In sum, it was a very satisfying night.

2Bob DylanThe Times They Are A-Changin'G
3Rolling StonesGimme ShelterA
4Graham NashChicago
5U 2Pride (In the Name of Love)
6Simon & GarfunkleAmerica
7Bee GeesLonely Days
8AmericaLonely PeopleD
9Jethro TullLocomotive Breath
10Creedence Clearwater RevivalI Heard It Through the GrapevineC
11SupertrampThe Logical SongBb
12Paul McCartneyUncle Albert / Admiral HalseyG
13BeatlesA Day In the Life
14BeatlesCome TogetherC
15Goo Goo DollsIrisG
16Gin BlossomsFollow You DownG
17Plain White T'sRhythm of Love
18Doobie BrothersListen To The Music
19EaglesTake It To the Limit
20KansasDust In The WindG
21Fleetwood MacBlue Letter
22Bachman Turner OverdriveLet It Ride
23Pink FloydWish You Were Here
24Moody BluesThe VoiceG
25Ozark Mountain DaredevilsIt's How You Think
26Tom PettyHere Comes My Girl
27Sheryl CrowMy Favorite Mistake
28EaglesLyin' EyesG

Some of my friends at the show complimented me on the song selection, which I appreciated. I always put a lot of effort into choosing songs and putting them together in an appropriate way. I was conscious of the need not to waste time between songs, and played for a little over two hours altogether: I started five minutes late, took a ten minute break, and finished about 20 minutes after 10:00 PM. I only left out one song from my planned set list: "Invisible Sun" by The Police. The above set list will eventually be incorporated into the recently-compiled "public repertoire" table on my Music page.

As for future shows at Bedlam Brewing, it will probably be at least three months hence because of the modest turnout that evening. I really need to promote my shows more actively if I'm going to get music gigs on a regular basis.

Recent open mic events

I couldn't even remember for sure if I had been to the open mic event on August 1, but after looking at my Facebook archives, I saw that Fritz Horisk tagged me as one of the performers that night, so I must have been [there]. smile After looking through my repertoire spreadsheet and song lyric documents (dated by when I saved them, implying that's when I learned them), I figured out with reasonable certainty what I played that night. As I recall, I did OK for the most part, but missed some of the words on the last song, which I was just learning. As usual, the hashtag symbols ( # ) refer to my use of the harmonica (along with the guitar), and the asterisks indicate songs that I played for the first time in public.

On August 8 there was a virtually full slate of performers, including John Dull, who has become a regular at the QCB open mic nights, specializing in Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, one of my favorite groups. For the first time, I heard Sissy Hutching and Travis Weaver, the new proprietors of Fretwell Bass, the music store that I frequent in downtown Staunton. They sounded great together. Of the two "new" songs I played, "It's Too Late" was the more technically challenging, and I was happy I did pretty well on it. "Daniel" could have been a little better; it's one of those songs that is hard for me to sing in the original key. As usual, the hashtag symbol ( # ) refers to my use of the harmonica, along with guitar.

After missing the next week, on August 22 I called attention to the anniversary of the solar eclipse in the first song, and also the appearance of three planets in the southern skies: Venus, Mars, and Saturn. (I'm not aware of any song about the Ringed Planet.) "Venus and Mars" led logically to two other Paul McCartney tunes, which sounded pretty darned good if I do say so myself. The encore ("Us and Them") was not quite as good as I would have liked, somewhat annoying since I have practiced it so much.

I was unable to play on August 29 because of a hospital visit, which fortunately did not impinge upon my big show on August 31. At my next open mic appearance on September 5 I played some of the same songs I had done at Bedlam on the Friday before (see above), noting the 50th anniversary of the the violence in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention. All the songs went very well, except that I switched octaves while singing "Chicago," and that probably sounded a little off. Getting the guitar riff and vocals on "The Logical Song" was a minor triumph, and it got some nice applause. For the "encore" song I picked a standard Eagles tune that I had only done there once before, and it was also very well received.

And this past Wednesday night (September 12), I followed up with more Eagles songs, since people really liked "Take It To the Limit" the week before. Percussionist Craig Austin joined me on "Witchy Woman" and "Strange Way," which helped a lot. I had a hard time singing two of my "new" songs ("Hollywood Waltz" and "Madman Across the Water") in a consistent octave, so I'll have to work on that. Attendance by musicians and regular patrons was down compared to recent weeks, so we each had more time to play songs. The first two ["encore" songs] went well, as did the third, [a first-time public song for me,] "Tin Man." If I recall correctly, it was only the second song by America that I have played in public.

The hashtag symbols ( # ) refer to my use of the harmonica (along with the guitar), and the asterisks indicate songs that I played for the first time in public.

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.