Quote for the day


Sadly, this quote seems appropriate given the events in Virginia.  I had hoped we were beyond this but apparently not.

 

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pockets.  Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”.  Lyndon Johnson, 1970.

Religion


Recently, while reading a novel about a woman in Shakespeare’s time, I came across this statement by one of the characters.  It rings so true for many eras of human history, I feel compelled to share it:

 

“Religion is not only about men’s souls.  It is about who rules us, what laws we obey, how and why we are punished, and by whom.”

ACoE Invades South Texas


No regard for precious wildlife, no regard for property rights, no regard for anything.

Jude Lieber

Photo caption: Snapshot from one of my trips to the Rio Grande — Big Bend National Park hot springs with with wild mustangs on the Mexican bank.

We knew this was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Trespassing on private soil, our own Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE) have begun clearing areas for the border wall. Rather than steal land legally through eminent domain, they have arrived without permission or notification. Instead of cutting through ranchland, they have begun where it will hurt the most — nature preserves. The first location to fall beneath the saw, machete, and blade is a strip through the National Butterfly Center. Scientists had purchased the area from farmers and restored it with plant species vital to the survival of the threatened monarch butterfly. Now, only brown stubble remains. The wall will block the migration of thousands of land-based animals, cutting their territory…

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No Offense by Esther Nelson


This blog will be of special interest to university professors and anyone who teachers in a college or public school at a higher level or those concerned about the state and future of education.

What a pleasant surprise to become acquainted with Samar Habib when she appeared on my newsfeed the other day.  According to her biography, she “is a writer, researcher and scholar” as well as “[a] tireless advocate of human rights.” She is also “an expert of international standing on Gender and Sexuality in the Arab world, with unparalleled publications on same-sex love and desire among women and the juncture of Islam and homosexuality.”  The Ted Talk I stumbled upon, titled “Let the Scholar Speak, Even if it Scares You,” explores the modern university’s difficulty navigating that murky space between academic freedom (based on scholarship and inquiry) and giving offense (based on fear of decimating a student’s belief system).

Samar is Palestinian, raised in a secular, but nominally Christian, household.  Initially, her research focused on the study of sex and gender in the Arab world and gradually incorporated the more specific…

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Silence


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Eerie.  Silence.  Fixed dinner, took it out on the patio, sat down.  Realized I could hear myself chewing–pasta, not celery or carrots, pasta.  What?!

Stopped eating.  Listened. No insects chirping, no birds calling, no wind blowing.

Nothing.

Eerie.  Quiet, cloud covered sky.  No lightning, no thunder.

Nothing.

I looked for a tornado cloud, an explanation.  None.  This never occurs here.

The sound of no sound.

 

Predetermined?


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Today at the bookstore browsing, I picked up a book nestled among the magazines.

 

This question appeared on page 41:  “If you were given a book on the story of your life,

would you read the end?”

 

I asked my grandson.  He immediately said, “No!”

 

I wonder.

 

Remain unsure.

 

If I read it, could I change it?

 

Are lives predetermined, choiceless?

 

Are we unwittingly predetermined and just victims?

 

If I read it, could I change it?

 

Eat something different,

sing a varied song,

laugh more,

spend more time with sunsets, sunrises,

read less, more,

love someone new,

say words now lost,

write a contrary story,

choose an opposing path,

challenge?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trip to Honey Island Swamp


On our third day in New Orleans, we headed to Slidell, LA, to visit the swamp.  Many swamp tours exist in the area and some in Lafayette as well.  After reading extensively online about the various tours, I decided to take Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island tour early in the morning.  Depending on traffic, it is about a 3/4 to one hour drive from downtown New Orleans.  For at least half this time, you are driving on a bridge across Lake Pontchartrain.

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This little swampy area is right next to the small cabin where they sell alligator souvenirs and you pick up your ticket.  This place requires cash.

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After boarding the boat which holds about 20 passengers, we headed down the Pearl River.  This view looks upriver.

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Many expensive houses rise above the river banks.  You can see the for sale sign.  According to the boat captain, the fancier ones cost about one million.  However, for all the elegant houses, there are more just the opposite and close by.

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Like this one which appears boarded up.  Some appeared abandoned, some in decent repair, some recently used.  When we asked how high the water rose during Katrina, we were told that it would be above the roof of a house like this.  The tours were abandoned for over a year after the hurricane except for the occasional hurricane cleanup crew who wanted a tour.

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This is one of the nice houses along the river, modern, large, well kept.

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We saw a large blue heron, wings outstretched, sunning itself on a large tree stump.  When the captain tried to get closer, it slowly lifted off and flew away before I could get a photo.

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We turned to the right off the river and began to see alligators of all sizes.  Because of harvesting for skins, meat, etc., few really large ones remain.  More common is 8-10 footers.

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Even the boat captain was astonished at the number of alligators we saw.  They seemed to be everywhere and one exceedingly large male followed us deeper into the swamp.

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Although the water flows rather rapidly on the river, once in the swamp, the water is very quiet.  Many different types of trees live here including cypress.  Most of the trees are deciduous and lose their leaves in the winter.  I was extremely surprised to learn how cold it can get here, below freezing, sometimes even down in the teens.  However, the captain said it always rises above freezing during the day.

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Most of the really large cypress have been cut down in the past for lumber.  Now this is a reserve.  The tree on the left is really large and a lot of moss hangs from it.

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Hogs, like these, are not native anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.  It seems feral hogs can live anywhere.  We also saw raccoons.  The trees and other vegetation are so dense during the summer, wildlife could be a few feet away and remain unseen.

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The swamp possesses a wild, magical beauty.

 

 

 

Whitney Plantation Visit


Whitney Plantation resides on the River Road about one hours drive from New Orleans.  A recent visit there provided much enlightening information about the slave trade, crops grown near New Orleans, and the history of this area. Tours can be scheduled all days of the week except Tuesday.  It is unique in that many different types of plantation buildings still exist there, including old slave cabins, a foundry,  and the outside kitchen.

A German immigrant started the plantation in the late 1700s.  At Habitation Haydel, its original name, he grew indigo.  After his death, his youngest son converted the main crop grown to sugar cane, which is still grown there today.  Both indigo and sugar cane required intensive labor for profitability.

Although, according to population data, only ten blacks lived in Louisiana in 1712, by the end of the century slavery was the main source of labor.  In 1795, there were 19,926 slaves in Louisiana.  Under Spanish rule the slave population steadily increased.  Although many were imported from Haiti, those from Africa came from what are now the countries of Senegal, Bissau, and Guinea.  After the initial importation of slaves, the United States imported few compared to islands in the West Indies and Latin America, e.g. Brazil.  The preferred method in the United States to obtain slaves was breeding.  Women and men were forced to breed.  Their owners specifically chose certain people to produce certain types of progeny just like in breeding livestock.  One woman complained of having 16 children by 16 different men.

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After leaving the visitor center, the first building on the tour is the church.  Inside the church are statues of various children who were the products of the breeding program at the plantation.

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The artist created these statues from specific information about the children.  The plantation owners maintained detailed inventories of all slaves and their value.  This particular plantation often owned as many as 100 slaves.

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From this inventory a memorial has been created with the names of the slaves.  Included are various statements made by the slaves themselves as recorded in slave narratives.

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The above tells the story of a child fathered by his owner and one of the slave women and how his father treated him.

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Even pregnant women could not escape beatings.

IMG_2735Because the area around New Orleans receives 60 inches of rain a year, the landscape everywhere is lush.  This is one of several pools at the plantation.

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These containers cooked the sugar cane.  Starting with the largest, the cane was boiled repeatedly until it cooked down and poured into increasingly smaller containers.  This was especially dangerous work due to the fires, the heat, and the boiling sugar cane. Sugar cane production was much more dangerous than cotton which was grown farther north in Louisiana.  The cane itself was cut with large machetes and the edges of the cane are also sharp.  Many people were severely injured.  The life expectancy of a sugar cane slave who worked in the fields or cooking the cane was approximately ten years from the time he or she went to work, often as young as ten. Although field slaves had a much harder life in terms of labor, they had less exposure to their owners and their families and therefore, in some ways, more freedom to talk and interact. House slaves were constantly watched and the women especially subject to sexual abuse.

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Slave cabins like this one contained four rooms.  Like the main plantation house, most buildings were built off the ground.  No levees existed then and the largest plantations were often built within sight of the Mississippi River and thus prone to flooding.

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This building housed the foundry.  Skilled slaves, like blacksmiths, were very valuable and received better treatment, e.g. enough food.  When the movie, “Django Unchained” was filmed, part of the movie was filmed here because the adjoining plantation did not have a blacksmith shop.  The branding portion was filmed at Whitney Plantation.

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The walkway, looking from the front of the main plantation house, is lined with giant oak trees.  Before the levees were built, the Mississippi River could be seen from the house.

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Originally, there was no first floor due to the flooding.  Later, after it will built and used for dining, an office, and a living area, whenever the floods came, the slaves were required to carry everything to the second floor until the water subsided. Then they would clean the first floor of mud and debris and return the furniture there.  Whitney Plantation possesses some unique characteristics, e.g. finely painted European style ceilings.

Cooking was not done inside the main house at any of the plantations due to the heat and fire danger. The cook, another skilled and valuable slave, was required to know how to cook various popular cuisines typical of the area, e.g. creole, European–French, Spanish.

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The various ferns and mosses growing from the limb of this large oak trees demonstrates the lushness and humidity typical of this area and why it is still used for sugar cane production.

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A short distance down the road is Evergreen Plantation where the main portion of “Django Unchained” was filmed.  It, too, still produces sugar cane and a family lives here.  Tours are available as well.

 

 

 

 

The Motherhood of God by Mary Sharratt


The first woman to write a book in English–in the 1300s.

Doing a recent talk on pioneering woman writers, I like to do the Before Jane Austen test with my audience. Who can name a single woman writer in the English language before Jane Austen? Alas, because woman have been written out of history to such a large extent, most people come up blank. Then we talk about pioneering Renaissance authors, such as Aemilia Bassano Lanier, the subject of my recent novel, THE DARK LADY’S MASK, or her mentor, Anne Locke, the first person of either sex to write a sonnet sequence in the English language.

But my next question takes us even further back into history. Who was the first woman to write a book in English?

The answer is Julian of Norwich, who wrote Revelations of Divine Love.

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