Sunday, December 22, 2013

Nobody asked for MY opinion

     I've written and discarded several thousand words you will never read on the opinions expressed by Phil Robertson.
     Writing always helps me sort out my thoughts.
     Deleting my creations helps keep me humble.
     Besides ...
nobody asked for my opinion. 
     That's different than Phil Robertson. The magazine formerly known as Gentleman's Quarterly sent Drew Magary all the way to West Monroe, Louisiana, to ask for Robertson's opinion.
     Specifically, the self-described milquetoast suburban WASP  reporter asked the duck-calling bristle-bearded church elder: "What, in your mind, is sinful?"
     Robertson answered in a way that was crude and awkward at first, but more thoughtful and compassionate if you followed him past the sound bite that has America fixated. (Read it for yourselfbut be forewarned: the writer's language is much more vulgar than anything you've heard from Robertson himself.) Ahove all, he was honest, uncamouflaged, and unfiltered. Instead of a script, he tried to follow scripture.
     Answering an opinion question is not a hate crime. It should not be a firing offense.

     I wish that Robertson had not started with with the predictably explosive example of homosexuality. Among all of humanity's shortcomings, I don't think that's the one that tips God's scales.
     But how would you have expected Phil Robertson to answer that question?
     How would you have answered it?
     What, in your mind, is sinful?
     Before any of us casts the first stone, we need to wrestle with that bristly question ourselves.
     When Robertson tried to explain sin, he shot from the hip and misfired at first. He waded into a moral bayou and a scatological briar-patch where I wasn’t comfortable, either.
     But his last words on sin were as profound and on-target as the question itself: “Don’t deceive yourself.”
     Deception—whether from self or Satan—is the root of sin.
     If Robertson had answered the question any other way, he would have been deceiving us.
     And if we think Phil Robertson is the problem, we are deceiving ourselves.

     Nobody needs to be offended by redneck honesty or genuine Christian testimony. If you don't want to hear what Phil Robertson has to say, don't ask. Tune him out. Change channels. Ruin his ratings.
     But whenever we have the urge to silence someone, we might be wise to listen instead.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A few of my favorite peaks

      I’ve hiked up hundreds of mountains, and people sometimes ask for my favorites. The glib answer is, “This one,” wherever I am at the moment.
      But if you really want to know, here are the ones I've enjoyed most:
      12. Rabun Bald, GA (4,696 feet): The first real mountain I climbed is still a good place to start. The stone lookout tower has a commanding view of upstate South Carolina, where I grew up. The semester I spent at Clemson, getting my transcript in shape for Mizzou, I rhapsodized about the view from Rabun Bald in a little essay for a Spanish class. I’ve forgotten most of my Spanish but I remember reloj because of the clock tower at Tillman Hall, which you can see from way up there and realize that you have dos horas to get back to escuela. Rabun Bald also appears as a blue-ridge backdrop to Tillman Hall in a commercial shown during Clemson football telecasts. This was also the first summit for my son Hall (we were chased off by lightning so close that we could smell it) and the last climb for my dear wife, Mary. Whenever she thinks I have underestimated a challenge, she will gently remind me of what I promised her on the Rabun trail: “Just a hundred more yards.”
      11. Big Bald, NC/TN (5,516 feet): You can see almost the entire breadth of the southern Appalachians—from Table Rock east of Linville Gorge across Tennessee and through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky—as well as most of the 6,000-foot peaks in the Southeast.

Big Bald basking in a late-autumn sunset.
      10. Table Rock: Take your pick of these fraternal twins—Table Rock NC (3,920 feet) towering over Linville Gorge or Table Rock SC (3,124) jutting out of the Blue Ridge. These are two of the steepest mountains in the Southeast. Forest fires recently ravaged the NC peak, so I’m anxious to see how it looks. Where I grew up, climbing Table Rock was a rite of passage.
      9. Beartown Mountain, VA (4,689 feet): It’s not bears that make this one so daunting, but rather the lack of trails. The first time I tried, we got within 200 vertical feet of the summit but were thwarted by cliffs and rhododendrons. Once you find a way through those cliffs (thanks, Rick Shortt), you discover that the cliff-tops make great balconies to admire western Virginia. Beartown was my last stop on the list of 13 Virginia peaks over 4500 feet.
      8. Black Balsam, NC (6,214 feet): Balsam is the mountain name for fir trees, but there are none up here to block your 360-degree panorama. If you visit Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway, follow the nearby Black Balsam Road up to an easy half-mile walk to the top. This is also the start of a 10-mile round-trip ridgetop hike to the spectacular quartz outcropping called Shining Rock.
      7. Mount Washington, NH (6,288 feet): Between the road, the cog railway, the weather stations, and the gift shop, you won’t find much solitude on top. But look the other way, and wow! Consider taking the train—tickets are not much more than the brake job you’ll need after you drive down.
      6. Three Top Mountain, NC (5,000 feet): This one is so intimidating that I’ve only climbed one of the three major tops so far. A steep old jeep road through hunting land makes it simple enough to reach Huckleberry Rock, which is a worthy peak on its own. But I wouldn’t go solo to the other two tops—Big Rock requires rock-scrambling and bushwhacking, and the unnamed third peak is out across a knife-edge ridge. Let me know if you want to go with me, or if you know the way.
The five frosted tops of Three Tops, as seen from my living room. On the left is Black Mountain, adjoining the forbidden Long Hope Valley. On the right is Bluff Mountain.
      5. Mount Washburn, WY (10,243 feet): I don’t get out West much, but for a day hike it would be hard to top Washburn. Mike Hembree and I walked up the old road from Dunraven Pass, a 7-mile round-trip that was breathtaking both in terms of altitude as well as views of Yellowstone National Park. We were warned to be on the lookout for grizzlies, and on the way down we saw one in a meadow a half-mile away.
      4. Mount Le Conte, TN (6,593 feet): Several people have climbed Le Conte over a thousand times. I’ve done it four times and there are still three routes I have not explored. If you want to climb a vertical mile, you can start near Gatlinburg. Le Conte Lodge was established near the summit in 1925 to muster support for a national park in the Great Smoky Mountains. You’re welcome to stay overnight, but it’s best to plan your trip a year in advance.
Tom Layton, Rick Shortt, Ralph Phillips, Larry Trivette, Mike Hembree

      3. Wilburn Ridge, VA (5,520 feet): This is the little brother to Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia. When it comes to views, though, Rogers hides its head in spruce and fir, while Wilburn exudes colossal outcroppings above miles of meadows.  Along your hike, you’re almost certain to meet some of the wild Wilburn Ridge ponies.
      2. Grandfather Mountain, NC (5,964 feet): Hugh Morton loved this mountain like a doting grandfather and essentially gave it to the people of North Carolina. The crest trail across MacRae Peak to Calloway Peak is the most spectacular landscape I’ve ever walked. If not for the ladders and cables, you couldn’t get to the top without technical mountain-climbing skills. Even with these, it takes nerve—the first time I climbed Grandfather, I stopped a few feet short of MacRae Peak, because I was scared to step off the last ladder.
      1. Elk Knob, NC (5,550 feet): It’s not the highest nor the hardest, but Elk Knob is my favorite—and not just because I spent so many Saturdays working on the family-friendly 2-mile trail to the summit. The views are unparalleled. On the clearest of days, you can see the highest points in North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky, plus the second highest point in Tennessee*, plus a bit of South Carolina, plus the skyscrapers of Charlotte and Winston-Salem, plus my house near Boone. (*Mount Guyot in the Smokies is 98 hazy miles away—I’ve been able to see it only twice in over 30 summit hikes.) And I know a few people who will appreciate that you can see up to 41 county high points from Elk Knob. As far as I know, no mountain in America can top that.

      This list is limited to mountains that I have climbed. There are two peaks visible from my home that I omitted simply because they are off limits to climbingOld Field Bald and Pilot Mountain. 
      Determined to hold this list to 10 (and then to a baker's dozen) I am asking myself: How did I leave out:
      Buck Mountain/High Rock, VA (4,670): Wilburn Ridge without the ponies or public access.
      Roan Highlands/Grassy Ridge, NC/TN (6,285): If you go just to see the rhododendrons, you’re missing most of the show.
      Chimney Rock, NC (2,280): Best time to visit is the Easter sunrise service. Last time I did that, admission was free and you could stay in the park all day. Otherwise, tickets are $15. 
      Snake Mountain, NC/TN (5,560): The one place I got dangerously lost.
      The Peak, NC (5,160): A hike to be proud of, with views and solitude to match.   
      Big Tom, NC (6,560): Of course. 
Big Tom

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Confession is good for the soul

     I remember way back a week or two ago when Facebook friends challenged each other to tell things that nobody else might know.
     Confession is good for the soul, and I had so much fun with my first seven secrets on Facebook that I decided to divulge more here as my memory is prodded, my soul is convicted, or the statute of limitations runs out.
     Not that anyone else should care. Eavesdropping on my confession could be bad for your soul. But spies, gossips, and biographers may be interested to know:
  • I took the sunrise photo at the top of this blog—took it without permission but with gratitude from Peter Larkins' now-extinct Amphibolite website. That's the dawn of Sept. 25, 2004, viewed past Elk Knob from Snake Mountain. Sometimes it's just better to ask forgiveness.
  • I had the same banjo teacher as two of the world’s best pickers, Charles Wood and Kristin Scott Benson. RIP, Al Osteen.
  • I forgot to get a haircut for my wedding. Mary kept me anyway. She's my good'n.
  • Awards include the coveted Jabba trophy as a lifetime non-winner of the Greenville News alumni golf tournament (thanks, Mike Hembree), a game ball from Byrnes’ 1986 state champion team (thanks, Bo Corne), and my picture on the wall at Skin’s Hot Dogs (thanks, Matt Thrasher).
  • Most influential words I’ve heard: “It’s Easter Sunday, for goodness’ sake—what kind of Christian are you?” –Rick Barnes, when I knocked on his front door in Clemson in 1998 and interrupted a phone call from Texas. It was a good question, even if he didn't mean it that way. I mulled that for a while and decided I would no longer be the kind of Christian who chased coaches and recruits for a living. By next Easter, I was in Boone and safely out of the newspaper business.
  • Speaking of bad career moves, I met the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, on the same day he was indicted for war crimes.
  • My cars: 1968 Mustang, 1970 Mustang, 1979 Triumph Spitfire, 1986 Hyundai Excel, 1995 Saturn, and now a 1998 Honda Accord. Still waiting for my odometer to roll over to the 21st century.
  • Never had a headache.
  • Never had a heartache, not even in 2003 on the day of my heart attack. 
  • Unable to wink.
  • I don't eat anything that looks like the animal it came from.
  • My greatest athletic moment? Getting called for goaltending in a pickup basketball game at Mizzou about 1978. Oh yeah, I almost forgot the Flying Pig half-marathon in 2010 (thanks, Mark Speir).
  • My worst athletic moment? Getting fired as the official scorekeeper for an American Legion baseball tournament in Anderson in the mid-1970s. I was a know-it-all after keeping the scorebook for Jim Rice's senior season at T.L. Hanna High.
  • My first and maybe last autograph: Coach Frank Howard.
  • Blessed Assurance, No. 269, and Just As I Am, No. 240, were the songs sung from the Baptist Hymnal on November 15, 1972—the night that I walked the aisle of Concord Church, confessed my teenage sins, and began my walk with Christ. Come walk with me. Confession is good for the soul.
  • I've held the throttle for a locomotive in Pelzer, the yoke of a plane over Darfur, and the reins of a camel in Timbuktu.
  • I like to hide puns in my prose. Sometimes, I intentionally leave them unhidden.

Darfur has no laws against scribes at the yoke of a Gooneybird.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Welcome to the Garden of Eden

The Green Park Inn's green horse stands southbound on the Eastern Continental Divide,
as if he might sip from the Pee Dee and piddle-dee-dee into the Mississippee.

     Four of America's more poetic rivers descend from the mountains where I live: the Mississippi, Pee Dee, Santee, and Tennessee. The first two can be traced to springs under the stately Green Park Inn, which straddles the Eastern Continental Divide in Blowing Rock. Headwaters for the other two are within walking distance.
     As far as I know, the only other place that stands at the head of four great rivers is the Garden of Eden, as described in the second chapter of Genesis.
     A beloved local banker named Alfred Adams (1911-2002) wrote a little essay about this, harking back to the simpler days before Boone had a Five Guys, four-lane highways, or a three-time national champion football team. 
     I couldn't find this anywhere else on the web, so I put it here just for you:

Boone, the Second Garden of Eden

by Alfred Adams 
    There’s been a certain amount of research done to locate the ancient Garden of Eden. It’s been discovered to have been forty miles east of the city of Damascus; the Damascus where Saul had his vision. From the Garden there rose four rivers. One flowed north, one south, one east, and one west.
    Boone, North Carolina, is located forty miles east of the city of Damascus, Virginia, and from the base of Grandfather Mountain rise four rivers, flowing one to each of the cardinal points of the compass—-which gives you all the physical evidence necessary to convince you that it is indeed the second Garden.
    Now with it being 3,333 feet up here to the courthouse yard, depending upon where in the courthouse yard you measure, because it ain’t level either, we have no air and water pollution problems here. The air you breathe here is just as pure as any breeze that ever chortled down a country lane before the advent of the combustion engine on civilization.
    The water that bursts out of the breasts of these majestic mountains and cascades down over the rocks, over the logs and on out into the rivers of the valley below has been tested to be 100.00001 percent pure, which makes it a good place to live.
    But eventually, the shadows lengthen and twilight falls and you can no longer ignore the clear call of the tolling bell. You’re now 3,333 feet closer to the abode of the righteous. You’ve got a running go on heaven from up here.
    And look at the other side of the coin. Suppose you fail to walk circumspectly before the world, and the keeper of the Golden City frowns upon your application and supplication. Heaven forbid! But in that event, you are 3,333 feet farther from the kingdom of the Satanic majesty. You can delay your entrance into that unwanted and unholy land by that much travel time.
    And the way traffic gets in Boone, it’s worth considering.

  • Raindrops that fall in Blowing Rock actually have five ways to go to the beach. The New River heads north to the Ohio, the Watauga winds west to the Tennessee, and a thousand miles downstream they merge and feed the mighty Mississippi on the way to New Orleans. Meanwhile, the Yadkin flows east to the Pee Dee, and the Johns River goes south via the Catawba and Wateree to the Santee. Separated at birth, these two rivers eventually run parallel and are nearly reunited in the end—emptying into the Atlantic on opposite sides of Georgetown SC. In addition to these three natural outlets, there are also canals that divert waters from the Santee to Charleston and from the Tennessee through Alabama to Mobile.
  • A patch of rhododendron across the road from the Green Park Inn in Blowing Rock is one of 53 "triple divide points" in the United States—where three major rivers begin. Technically, the Santee, Pee Dee, and Mississippi define this triple divide, while the Tennessee starts three miles west in the Moses Cone Park. The nearest triple divides along the Blue Ridge are on Sassafras Mountain SC (head of the Santee, Savannah, and Mississippi) and in Carroll County VA (the Pee Dee, Roanoke, and Mississippi). Click here for the list.
  • The Blowing Rock News published a story about the head spring of the Pee Dee, which is now hidden in a manhole at the Green Park Inn and clouded by construction on US321. See the postcard below. 
  • You'll occasionally read that the New and the Nile are about the only rivers in the world that flow north. I've also heard Asheville's counter-culture ascribed to the fact that the French Broad runs north—as if there is something strange about that. Let's dispense with this nonsense forever: Five of the 13 longest rivers in the world flow north. So do many of our more famous rivers, including the Rhine, Niagara, Monongahela, Shenandoah, Snake, and St. Johns. Just because they go toward the top of the map does not mean they defy gravity or social norms.
  • On the other hand, why do we say that rivers "rise"? They only rise when dammed. 

Antique postcard shows the springhouse that once guarded the head of the Pee Dee.
The house in the background still stands on Green Hill Road just off U.S. 321.
A thousand captured Confederates drank here the evening of April 17, 1865.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Late Unpleasantness

Charlie Zerphey pays his respects to North Carolinians who died fighting for the Union.

     Nothing puts our recent political squabbles in perspective quite like a visit to a Civil War grave. It's a sobering reminder that while today is not America's finest hour, neither is it our worst.
     I found some particularly interesting graves last week while "hiking the Appalachian Trail." Go ahead and snicker at Governor Sanford's infamous and lame euphemism, but I swear it was just an innocent trip with an 83-year-old retired printer from Pennsylvania, and all we were doing was climbing the highest mountain in Greene County, Tennessee.
     Euphemisms abound when we're talking about the American Civil War. Depending on your perspective, it may have been the War Between the States, the Southern Rebellion, the War of Northern Aggression, the Freedom War, or my favorite understatementthe Late Unpleasantness.
     I wonder what David and William Shelton called it. They are the soldiers who are buried—along with their 13-year-old lookout, Millard Fillmore Haire—in a meadow atop Coldspring Mountain along the Tennessee-North Carolina line.
     Tombstones erected by the government in 1915 are undated and identify them only by name and regiment. David Shelton served in the 3rd N.C. Mounted Infantry, and his nephew William was in the 2nd N.C. Infantry. 
     If you didn't know better, you might assume they were rebels.  But the stones don't say which side they fought on (perhaps to avoid desecration). The only indications are the little American flags placed each summer when the graves are faithfully redecorated by their descendants. 
     These are not Confederate graves. Like many men from the mountains, the Sheltons enlisted with the Yankees.
     That's one aspect of the Civil War that is not widely understood or acknowledged. The South was divided against itself. Descendants of the Overmountain Men were more invested in the preservation of the Union than they were in the defense of slavery. When North Carolina seceded, families had to choose sides. Often, this turned neighbors into mortal enemiesespecially in cases where men may have sold their souls to the Union for a $100 enlistment bonus. The ensuing malice might be described as the War Within the States.     
To explore other nuances of the war, I wrote a daily newspaper in 2015 to relive the 150th anniversary of Stoneman's Raid. The end of the Civil War was only a backdrop to some unforgettable stories. Read all about it in The Stoneman Gazette
     As far as I can tell, the Sheltons never went North. Their regiments were involved in recruiting home guards in Union-friendly parts of eastern Tennessee. One day when they crossed the mountain to visit family in the Shelton Laurel community of northern Madison County, N.C., they were ambushed and shot by Confederates who were probably their neighbors.
     There are differing accounts of the ambush, and there is some reason to doubt the date on Haire's tombstone, which was placed by his family just a few years ago and says he died on July 1, 1863.   (See notes below.) 
     If that date is correct, it's terribly ironic. July 1, 1863, was also the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
     North Carolina shed more blood at Gettysburg than did any other state.
     If the Sheltons had enlisted with the Confederacy rather than the Union, there is a good chance they would have been on the front lines at Gettysburg.
     Ultimately, they might have died on the same day, either way.

  • Were there two "Shelton Massacres"? On January 19, 1863, a Confederate regiment executed 13 Union sympathizers and buried them in a mass grave. They were later reburied in a family cemetery in the Shelton Laurel community south of Coldspring Mountain. Two David Sheltons and one William Shelton are among the 13 names on the gravestones--but no Millard Haire. Were these the same men who lie under the undated stones on Coldspring Mountain? It is possible that the Sheltons were re-reburied up there, and that Haire died separately on July 1, 1863. However, from what I read, it seems more likely that there were two separate incidents involving separate victims with the same names. Besides, it makes a better story. 
  • It is interesting that Haire was named for Millard Fillmore, a New Yorker who became the 13th president when Zachary Taylor died in 1850. Fillmore was a complicated character: pro-Union yet pro-slavery, and anti-Confederacy yet anti-Lincoln.
  • The highest point on Coldspring Mountain is called Gravel Knob. Via the Appalachian Trail, it requires a 12-mile roundtrip hike, and the top offers no views, only thorns. There's no good reason to go there unless you are involved in the hiking subculture of county high-pointers and want to claim Greene County TN. 
  • Gravel Knob was the 10th county high point that Charlie Zerphey and I have climbed together. Charlie was in his 60s before he started climbing seriously. At 83, he has reached not only the highest mountain or hill in 49 states (lacking only Alaska) but also the highest point in every county in 13 states from Maine to Virginia. Click on this list of his accomplishments.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Save or sorry?

     Once upon a time, people all over town were willing to pay a few dollars a month to read the local newspaper at breakfast. They wanted insight, credibility, and box scores, so they put up with our lousy delivery and vain attempts at humor. For over 25 years, my paychecks depended on it.
     Back when I had a corner of the sports pages in Greenville, I contemplated a series of columns on the theme "Sunday School Lessons from Friday Night Football." If you know the characters and watch closely, you can find biblical examples on any given week on any high school football field—underdog David, self-destructive Sampson, stubborn Pharaoh, wrong-way Jonah, trash-talking Hamann, Daniel in the lions den, Chaldeans running up the score, and the weekly prodigal son. Cover a playoff game starring Isaiah Moses "I.M." Hipp, and you too may get religion.
     Of course, these storylines are not just limited to high school football. Big-league baseball games are just as ripe with material for morality plays, laments, proverbs, and parables.
     It might have gone something like this: 

     Mariano Rivera and Craig Kimbrel owe their fame to a Chicago sportswriter named Jerome Holtzman. In 1969, the same year that Rivera was born, Holtzman invented a statistic—the save—that exalted the relief pitcher and changed the way baseball is played.
Don Zimmer with Jerome Holtzman:
 Changing the face of the game,

not necessarily for the better.
     Rivera, my son-in-law's favorite player, has "saved" more victories than anyone in baseball history, and he has done it with great dignity—the last player to wear Jackie Robinson's now-retired number 42.
     Kimbrel will eventually break Rivera's records if he doesn't flame out, as relief pitchers often do. No one in baseball history (on a per-inning basis) has struck out more batters or allowed fewer hits or runs than this Alabama whippersnapper.
     Rivera didn't get his first of his 652 saves until he was 26 years old. Kimbrel already has 138 saves at age 25.
     But this is not a debate between game-savers—"saviors," if you will.
     For the moment, forget about Rivera. He had his day Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
     Instead, go back to Saturday at Wrigley Field, step into the shoes of Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, and make a do-or-die decision that brings to mind a lesson from the book of Hebrews: How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?

     Your team is on the verge of clinching first place in the National League East standings. Your pitcher, Kris Medlin, takes a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning. Then the Cubs scratch out a hit, putting the tying run on base.
     Pitchers used to be revered for completing games. If the starter took a shutout into the eighth inning, he deserved a chance to finish it. But you decide Medlin is out of gas. Nowadays, the pitch-count is on the TV screen, and tweeting yokels everywhere are ready to lynch you for leaving your pitcher in the game too long.
     You could bring in Kimbrel right now to save the game. But it's the eighth inning, which is reserved for the unfortunately labeled "setup man." It's an unwritten rule—a corollary to Holtzman's definition of a save—that Kimbrel only pitches the ninth.
     The trouble is, if your pitcher blows the lead in the bottom of the eighth, there will be no bottom of the ninth.

     Earlier this summer in Rivera's final all-star game, manager Jim Leyland faced a similar predicament, protecting a lead in the bottom of the eighth inning. Everyone, including Leyland, wanted to see the great "Sandman" in a save situation in the bottom of the ninth. But Leyland knew that if Rivera didn't pitch in the eighth, there was a chance he would not get to pitch at all. To Leyland's credit, he did not dawdle. Instead, Rivera pitched the eighth. So what if somebody else "got the save"? Leyland wasn't beholden to a statistic. It might have been anticlimactic, but it was sound baseball.

     Back to the Braves' dugout at Wrigley. You have the opportunity to call on one of history's greatest game-savers. And in the very moment your team needs salvation, you don't turn to your savior. Instead, you  bring in a journeyman (an ex-Angel, no less) who gives up a couple of hits and loses the game. The Braves fail to rally in the top of the ninth inning, and the bottom of the ninth never happens.
     In this case, it didn't matter much. The Braves had a safe lead in the standings, and they clinched the pennant the next day—with Kimbrel getting an easy "save" by not blowing a 5-2 lead.
     But next time?
     The moral of the story should be clear. Don't wait to call on your savior. You may not get another inning.

     Sorry to be the prophet of doom, but "next time" came two weeks after I wrote this. On October 7, the Braves had a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth of their playoff elimination game against the Dodgers. This time, there was no margin for error. Yet once again, they neglected their salvation. Gonzalez left Kimbrel idling in the bullpen and instead brought in a converted catcher who gave up a two-run homer, losing the game and ending their season.
    They never got to the bottom of the ninth.

  • During the course of this season, the Braves will pitch about 1,450 innings. Kimbel will account for less than 70 of those. Other pitchers will get 98 percent of the outs the Braves need. I've been a Braves fan since the 1960s and greatly appreciate Kimbrel, but I don't think that carrying two percent of the workload qualifies him for an award named after Cy Young, who had more complete games (749) than Rivera has saves (652).
  • Other than the closer, is there any other sports hero who never plays when his team is behind? And when he comes in at start of the ninth inning, the slate is always clean, so he never has to pitch out of a jam. I'm more thankful for the guys who completed their eight-inning shift and earned us the lead. 
  • What does Craig Kimbrel have in common with Moonlight Graham? Neither has ever  batted in a big-league game. Graham famously played only two innings in one game in 1905. Kimbrel has played 231 games without ever batting. Keep that record perfect for another 10 or 15 years—imagine a thousand games without a single at-bat—and maybe Kimbrel will earn a cool nickname of his own. Wink!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Where butterflies come from

My 2014 monarch perched on my ring finger for five hours before finally leaving
for Mexico. The black pouches along the lines on his hind wings indicate he's a guy.
    Each year about this time, a friend brings me a monarch chrysalis attached to a wooden stem. Unless I mess it up, I get to witness a biological miracle.
Adios to my 2012 monarch. An hour
from departure to Mexico, she is about
to become an instant expert in the
intricacies of flight and navigation.
     Leading entomologist Dr. Lincoln Brower uses that very term—"biological miracle"—to describe where butterflies come from. Whether you profess evolution or creation, either way it takes lot of faith to explain it.
     If this is evolution, I nominate the monarch butterfly as the most highly evolved species on the planet.
     If this is creation, God is giving us a glimpse of his majesty and his imagination—not to mention a profound illustration of the new birth that Jesus promises.
     Forgive me if I'm acting like a starstruck kid in the presence of royalty, but here are a few things a monarch butterfly can do better than you:

Fountain of Youth
     There are usually four generations of monarch butterflies each year. The first three live about 6-8 weeks from the time they hatch as caterpillars. Those born this time of the year live 6-8 months—four times longer than their parents and four times longer than their children. 
     If you’re looking for the fountain of youth, follow a September monarch—and be sure to drink your milkweed!

Parading to Mexico
     Like so many of my Boone neighbors, my monarch is a snowbird who will soon be heading south. He (or she—we’ll know by the dots on the hind wings) will return to the very same pine grove in Mexico where great-great-granddaddy spent last winter. My monarch has never met his parents or grandparents, who never had the urge to fly south anyway, but he inherently knows the way. Next spring, he might make it as far north as Texas before becoming a daddy and finally dying off. Succeeding generations will complete the migration. 
     One of the best places to watch the southbound migration is on the Blue Ridge Parkway where U.S. 276 crosses between Brevard and Waynesville, NC. The higher mountains funnel thousands of monarchs through Wagon Road Gap and Tunnel Gap in the last two weeks of September.
Open fields near the Blue Ridge are great for monarch-watching in mid-September.
I met these in 2017 in the meadow at Moses Cone Memorial Park near Blowing Rock, N.C.

Defying Gravity
     Sam Snead once described a perfect golf shot landing so softly that it was “like a butterfly with sore feet.” In reality, gravity barely has a hold on these creatures. A typical monarch weighs about half a gram. A thousand monarchs weigh about one pound. Yet those born this September have the stamina to fly up to 3,000 miles on their migration to Mexico. That’s 3 million miles per pound.
     A pound-for-pound comparison may be absurd, but for a 125-pound runner to match a monarch butterfly, she’d have to jog 375 million miles, migrating to the outer limits of the solar system—and then give birth to babies whose grandchildren could find their way back on their own. 

Turning a Ford into a Learjet
 Awaiting the royal baby
     None of the aforementioned wonders compare to the metamorphosis happening right now inside the golden-beaded green chrysalis. A monarch caterpillar doesn’t just crawl inside a homespun shell and grow wings. It quickly dissolves into a green soup that Dr. Brower describes as a “rich fluid media” and then reconstitutes itself as an entirely different creature.
     I’ll let Dr. Brower explain: “Nothing like this happens in vertebrates—ever. It's a phenomenon of insects and it truly is a miraculous biological process of transformation
… Literally the entire internal contents of the caterpillar—the muscles, the entire digestive system, even the heart, even the nervous system—is totally rebuilt. It's like you took a Ford into the shop and left it there for a week and it came out as a Cadillac.”
     I thought he was going to say it came out as a Learjet—which happens to have about the same flight range as a monarch butterfly. 
     Dr. Brower also notes how the monarch “changes its ecological niche entirely when it transforms from a caterpillar to an adult butterfly. They are two ecologically different organisms, as distinct as a field mouse and a hummingbird."
     All hail the king of the butterflies!

Birthday morning! Unfortunately, missed the blessed event, so this is the last photo I have of my 2013 monarch.