Monday, December 10, 2012

Fort Fisher


Fort Fisher, c. 2012 Susan E. Hance
In the film, Lincoln, the President and his men focus on the attack on Fort Fisher in an effort to defeat the Confederacy in one last blow. I thought of all the times we've been to Fort Fisher, how its mounds are haunting, how you can feel the souls of those who fought there, imagining how they must have felt knowing this was the one last stronghold and that they would certainly be attacked.


West toward the Cape Fear River, c 2012 Susan E. Hance

The Confederate soldiers must have stared into the sunset on those December nights,  shivering with cold and fright while Union soldiers planned their move. If the Union ended the war too soon, the President would not get the 13th amendment passed. The country would still face the need for abolition, yet Lincoln knew it would be more difficult to pass such an amendment if peace came first. What a weight on his shoulders.

Trees Bent Inland, c. 2012, Susan E. Hance

The live oak trees at Fort Fisher are bent inland from years of ocean breezes pushing against their hardy frames. If only they could talk. What sights have they seen, what conversations have they heard, what prayers from the soon-to-be departed have they lifted up? 

In the book, The Butterfly Effect, Andy Andrews uses examples from the Civil War to talk about why each of our lives matters. The Butterfly Effect is based on a thesis that if a butterfly flaps its wings, it moves the air around it, that moves the air next to it, and the chain reaction can literally change the weather around the world. Andrews describes the role of school teacher, Joshua Chamberlain, officer in the Union army, who in the face of almost certain defeat when his unit had massive human losses and no ammunition, gave the order to charge with bayonets fixed. To the astonishment of all involved, they won the battle. He goes on to say that if the South had won the Civil War, there would have been more than two countries, North and South; there would have been multiple sovereign states, as there are in Europe. Interesting thought.  
Further, he says if that were the case, if the USA were divided, it would not have been strong enough to prevail in WWII. Chilling thought.
While in battle, Joshua Chamberlain was hit by a bullet. In the belt buckle. He did not die. That's when he rose to lead the charge that changed history.
Andrews' point is that we each have a purpose; each of us has a life that matters. And everything we do matters. We can change the course of history,just by doing what we were put here to do. Ours may not be the battle that changes the country's history, but it may change the history of those around us. As a result, they will change the history of those around them. Awesome thought, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Camellia: The Rose of Winter

Camellia with Bee, © 2012, Susan E. Hance
Thanksgiving Day dawned beautiful and there were so many things to be grateful for, the list would wrap around the house. Even though we couldn't get together with all the family we longed for, we were able to Skype--and that's amazing in itself. For an 88 year-old to interact with an 8 year-old, miles apart, started me thinking of all the developments of the last hundred years.

Since 1912, we've been through two World Wars and numerous regional ones. We've experienced the rise and fall of the Berlin wall, the development of penicillin, the advent of televisions in every home, computers, near eradication of smallpox, awesome advances in medical treatments, telephones have morphed from wall bound instruments to portable computers, email, text messages, and automobiles that talk to us.

And I-40 was completed all the way from Wilmington, NC to Barstow, CA. We are a connected country, shore to shore, Atlantic to Pacific.

What would Alexander Graham Bell or Henry Ford think of the world today? The story goes that the first time my great-grandfather, James Daniel Dean, saw a "moving picture show," he walked out, deeming it "a bunch of foolishness." My guess is he'd have no interest in tweeting.

I'm grateful for all the advances in my lifetime, but I'm learning to appreciate the small things in each moment. Maybe it's my age, but I hope everyone can find small pleasures in each day.

On Thanksgiving, I noticed from the kitchen window that the bees were happily visiting every blossom on the camellia bush. I've always liked the label, "Rose of Winter" that I'd heard given to that flower. I'm not sure mine is that variety, but it blooms in November and December here on the southern coast. It's my rose of winter, regardless of it's variety. In the next moment I was outside, knowing my food preparation would wait until I returned. I was as drawn to the bush as the bees, admiring its delicate petals, verdant leaves, and numerous buds; offering the promise of more to come.

In winter, when it can be bleak, there is simple beauty to be found. We sometimes feel down about what we lack, yet there is abundance all around us.  Let's look for the promise of things to come and grasp our opportunities.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricanes at High Tide Under a Full Moon

Full moon on high tide, c. 2012 Susan E. Hance
Coastal dwellers know. High winds, high tide, full moon, bad news. Sadly the Northeast has experienced just that. The good news is: disaster can bring out the best in people.

I was asked how many hurricanes I've experienced. Not counting tropical storms, there are 18, best I can figure.

We drove the coast from Pensacola, FL to Mobile, AL one month after hurricane Camille and were astounded to see ships in the highway median and grand old homes that once faced the ocean reduced to toothpick size rubble. In 1996, Fran ripped the 197 foot steeple off our 126 year old church and left it lying in the street like the tip snapped off a string bean. And last year we came home to find a pine tree resting on the roof of our house over the piano. But in the end it's all just stuff, and we are alive and well.

One thing I've learned through all these storms is that people step up to the occasion. And not just because it's their job. The people who go into helping professions (hospital workers, emergency personnel, law enforcement, firefighters, meteorologists, etc.) go into those professions because they are nurturing people. Thank goodness. The image of the nurse holding and bagging a neonate, while they were placed in the ambulance, is an iconic example.

During the 16 years I worked in the hospital setting, I learned how they decide who will stay on duty and who will go home to tend to their own families. There was a list of two sets of staff: Team A and Team B and people volunteer. If the hurricane lasts a long time-which it did when Dennis went up the coast, turned and came back-Team A takes care of patients while Team B rests. Then they reverse. The teams are "locked down" in the hospital when the winds reach sufficient strength. It isn't safe to drive or go in and out of the hospital. Until then, people can slip away to prepare their own families, then return. Meanwhile the hospital rooms must be prepared, food that doesn't need cooking stocked up and bottled water brought in. Staff members get sleeping bags or cots and choose a spot on the floor in an office or conference room. There isn't a room for all of them to sleep in a bed. Patients who can be discharged are. The rest hunker down.

Once there is lock down, staff is isolated from their own spouses, elderly parents, children and pets. Their focus becomes keeping patients safe and as comfortable as possible.

When the  power goes out, the generators run only the red emergency outlets, used for breath support and other critical instruments. In hot weather, the temperature rises, while the humidity races to wilt everything. The windows are made to bow in high winds so they don't shatter. At the height of the storm they begin to pulse in and out. Patient beds are moved into the hallways, away from the windows and closer to available light in the evening. Patients are miserable: afraid for themselves and their families, uncomfortable in the heat, tired of sandwiches and fruit, and anxious about the storm's outcome.

Staff members meet the physical needs of the patients, while also trying to distract them: tell some stories, sing songs, offer a smile and a listening ear.

When the storm passes, those who are on duty just hope replacements can make it into the hospital. After endless hours of nurturing others, they want to go home to their families. During Hurricane Floyd, those who left the area could not get back in. Flood waters kept rising for days, as the flooded rivers drained toward the ocean.

Fortunately, the power company works on restoring power to the hospital first. That means power company employees have been on call all through the storm, ready to move at the first opportunity. They even come in from other states to assist; long caravans of power company trucks are seen moving into the storm area as residents evacuate.. All over town, people who serve others are in the same situation; standing ready.

Let's give thanks today for those who help others. Thank a medical worker, law enforcement member, firefighter, power company employee, military personnel, public official, or anyone else who has devoted his/her life to helping others every day. It's more than a job to them.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Lessons From The Coast: Walking on Water

The Rocks, © 2012 Susan E. Hance
Near Fort Fisher off the end of Federal Point, there's a wall known as "The Rocks". Built by the Corps of Engineers from the tip of the peninsula to Zeke's Island, it creates The Basin. Constructed between 1870 and 1891, the rock jetty was designed by Henry Bacon to prevent silt from filling in Wilmington's route to the sea. Later his son, also named Henry, would use that knowledge in construction of the Lincoln Memorial.

Locals know that you can walk the wall all the way to Zeke's Island, but you'd better know the tides. It covers with water at high tide. Now days the rock is crumbling and treacherous in places, so walking out at low tide is tedious, and walking back at high tide can be tricky.

One local woman took her young son to the tip of Federal Point one day. He pointed to the area between the point and the island and said, "Mommy, is that Jesus?"

"No, son. Why do you ask?"

"He's walking on water."

The man was making his way back as the water covered the wall, but things were not as they seemed.

Knowing the path I'm walking and where I'm going helps in life. Even when I'm up to my ankles in water, knowing where I came from can lead me back to a solid foundation.
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Friday, October 26, 2012

Lessons From The Coast: Low Tide

Low tide brings great discoveries, like an array of shells, many broken, but some that have survived the tumultuous trip in tact; a feather, the shell in which an animal once made its home, part of a claw and some man-made debris.

When we find ourselves at low tide, just when things seem depleted, we might feel broken and beat about by the surf, and that's when we find what we're really made of. We find grit and treasures within us that we didn't even know were there, or had forgotten.

Then we find we are whole at the core. Just like a perfect pair of angel wings.

Lessons From The Coast: Butterflies at the Beach

Butterflies at Fort Fisher, © 2012 Susan E. Hance

Have you found beauty in the most unexpected places? The beach holds beauty for me, even when the ocean crashes with all its strength against the shore and tosses white caps across its surface. Most often it is serene when we walk on the beach, with soothing air, the cawing of laughing gulls, and sandpipers and terns running little marathons to catch their dinner under a mango colored sunset.

When I saw butterflies at Carolina Beach and Fort Fisher,  I wondered what they could possibly want from the sand and surf. Surely not salty water for their little bodies and there are no blossoms growing on the beach.

Butterflies near Battery Buchanan, © 2012 Susan E. Hance
But that's where I was wrong. Along the boardwalk Lantana bushes and flowers grew by human design. And in the dunes wild flowers and patches of weeds thrived, with butterflies greeting them like old friends. The butterflies busied themselves flittng from one plant to another, finding life and beauty in a place where it would seem they might not frequent.
Occasionally they took a cruise down the beach, then returned to their livelihood. That's how I like it too. A visit to the beach and back to life as we know it. And I think to myself, "Aren't we so LUCKY to live on the coast?" The lesson is to find beauty in unexpected places, wherever we are.

Lessons From The Coast: Ruffled Feathers

Fussy Grackle © 2012, Susan E. Hance
Maybe it's a beautiful day, a productive work session, a family gathering, or just a trip to do errands. You go along in a good mood; then there she is. The one with the ruffled feathers. Many of us automatically think, "What did I do wrong." The answer, "Nothing."
It has taken me a long time to realize that there are some people who just have to look on the bad side. More than a cup half full, more than a worst case scenario-type person. A person who LOOKS for the bad. As my mother says, "If you walked on water, she'd say 'Look at her, she can't even swim.'"
I tried for many years to 'fix' the situation, but now I know, ruffled-feather types don't want a fix. That would take all the fun out of it for them.That realization makes me much happier too. I can walk on and enjoy life.
There are different types of difficult people in different settings and this article gives good suggestions for dealing with each of them.
The grackle in this photo had her(I think it's a her) hackles raised as I walked on the beach one day. I walked on and I'm sure she went on with her day, without any assistance from me. We were both better off.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Lessons from the Coast: Walking Into the Wind

Beach walking. Photo © 2012, Susan E. Hance

Walking on the beach is soothing. It lets me get my thoughts together, and frankly after Labor Day is my favorite time. Visitors return home to settle into bustling lives, school, work, and everyday challenges.

There are lessons to be learned at the beach. It's a microcosm of life in some ways. Here is one lesson. I'll post others in the days to come. You may have others to share.

Start out walking into the wind. You'll be tired on the return trip and the wind at your back will help you along. The Irish prayer says, "May the wind be always at your back."  Of course we wish we could sail along without resistance. But in life, the initial struggle to achieve your goal makes the other side easier going (but not without gusts). 
Memory plays out my struggles to finish college, graduate school, the first job, marriage and parenthood. Experience and confidence make things easier in some respects, though marriage and parenthood are filled with swells and gusts continuously, no matter how many years we have at the helm.
I watch the pelicans glide into the wind, soaring just above the water, using the wind to stay aloft and to control their bodies as they search for dinner. Hopefully I can learn to use resistance to stay aloft and steer a clear course too.
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

May God be with you and bless you:
May you see your children's children.
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings.
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home
And may the hand of a friend always be near.

May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
May true be the hearts that love you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Low Country

Charleston's Cooper River Bridge, photo © 2012 Susan E. Hance

There is something timeless and aluring about the low country of South Carolina. As soon as we travel over the bridge in Georgetown, I can imagine people in the 1800s working the rice fields, boating down the river, or riding a horse under low hanging Spanish moss that drapes the ancient live oaks. If only they could talk.

It makes me wonder what generations to come will remember of us.

I visit family near Charleston where we make memories. Who knows, maybe the oaks, water, and sand absorb those memories so that they seep into the fabric of the place. And the fabric changes over time, ever so slightly, like the tides. People who once loved and lived a culture leave us remnants, and as they change, so does our inheritance. Oftentimes for the better.

Charleston's charming old buildings and new construction live in harmony. We can too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Stormy Days

Gull on a cloudy day.
Photo© 2012 , Susan E. Hance

The coast has its moods, just like the rest of us. On stormy days the ocean churns and birds fly into the wind and rain, braving the elements until the sky clears and bright sunlight breaks through. Sound like an analogy for life? Maybe it is.

Recently, a friend from long ago found me through Facebook. We caught up via email; how's the family, where do you live now, how's life? She is remarried after finding a person who brings contentment to life, a soul mate for the next leg of the journey. I want things to be good for her. She was good to me on a hot August day long ago.

My water broke during the 11 o'clock news and we drove to New Bern, like night shift workers cutting a path through muggy black air toward the hospital.  Our son's two a.m. arrival came quietly, as his blue lips spurted small sounds and the nurses communicated with looks, not words. Not to say his birth was without fanfare. In the next 48 hours there was a flurry of activity while doctors assessed his large body and weak breathing. By the time he was transported to Duke University Hospital, leaving me on the maternity floor without a baby, I was in desperate need of a friend--and she came through.

She worked as a nurse anesthetist, but on this her day off, she donned her badge so she could skirt visiting hours and keep me company. The doctors came to tell me the sad news: your baby might have a heart or lung defect. Having no idea what that meant for him or what his outcome would be, we had to set our faces into the wind and press on. My friend made the trip more bearable by being there.

Two weeks ago, the love of her life went to the doctor because of a persistent cough. He is fit in every other way and just needed something for the cough. The doctors told them the bad news: lung cancer in a person who has never smoked. Stage IV, spread to brain and bone. Just like that. I cried as if he were my own relative, though I've never met him. If you need someone to talk to or a shoulder to cry on, call me, I said. I'll come see you on your New England coast, I said; we'll have coffee or a glass of wine. I can't do much, but sometimes it's just about being there until you can see sunlight again.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Coastal Living

Snow's Cut on a Winter Evening,
Photo © 2012, Susan E. Hance
Coastal living has a flavor that's different from inland places. A different pace. As the bumper sticker says, "Slow down, this is not the mainland." 

I like the pace and others do too. They visit, go home and pack, move here and take up the lifestyle.

In the coastal towns I've visited all over the US and in other countries, people living on saltwater share some similarities.

We have sand in our shoes (and hair and houses), a wide assortment of beach equipment, coolers and sunscreen, and an easy-going spirit.

We know going kayaking at high tide is good and a hurricane coming in on high tide and a full moon is bad.  We know summer's the time to hear laughing gulls go crazy and winter can be the best time to catch a mango-colored sunset.