Culture Places

Dixie Land

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I wrote last week about visiting the Johnson Shut-Ins, trying to get some photos of unusual rock formations. This was my first visit to this part of the state, heading southwest rather than my usual northwest.

It was a great day with cool weather but clear skies. As I drove South from St. Louis on I-55, I marveled at all the parks I passed along the way – fresh adventures, and I hadn’t exhausted all of the parks in my usual hiking territory. I tried to make note of them as I passed, but there were too many.

From I-55 I took US Hwy 67 to Framingham, and from there I needed to take Route W. Missouri has all of these back country routes that they’ve named after the letters of the alphabet, and it makes it hard not to miss them – they all look alike. Why couldn’t the state use something like “Missouri Arcadia Highway” or “Iron Road”, for Iron Mountain through which it traverses.

Route W was a beautiful 2-lane road in excellent condition, with hardly any other cars on it that day. As expected in the Ozarks it was hilly, and curvy, and green – even in the late fall, there was still green along side the road. I went through one small town, can’t remember the name, and a road crew was working on an old iron bridge that looked like it had been around forever. The men all wore uniform outfits of white t-shirts and baggy blue jeans, brown leatherwork boots and bright orange work crew vests and hats. One of the lanes was closed and as the sheriff waved me through, I couldn’t help staring at the men because to a person they all had brown hair, mustaches, and mirror sunglasses. The only difference between the men was height and build.

Several of the men saw me staring and tipped their hats. This is the backcountry of Missouri and these men’s mamas raised them to be polite. I tried to reciprocate the politeness by nodding back with slight, dignified smile, reminding myself that these men were not a raree show and to stop staring.

Not long after the workmen, I topped a hill and started passing what looked like some kind of farm supply company. Nothing unusual, except for a tall flagpole flying an old confederate flag. I was surprised, but I shouldn’t have been. When you live in St. Louis, you sometimes forget Missouri’s civil war roots. Why, an estimated 1500 confederate soldiers had died in the battle of Pilot Knob, not but a few miles from my final destination.

I didn’t think much of the flag, or more of the flag then to think about its historic significance, until I passed another home in the woods and this one also had a confederate flag, but a much newer, more vividly colored one. And then I passed another house flying the flag, and then another, and then another.

I once wrote how disturbed I was by the homes flying the huge American flags with yellow ribbons in Kentucky. I think of them as examples of unthinking patriotism. Well, none of this exists in the iron country of the Ozarks, but I don’t believe what takes its place is an improvement.

From Route W, I had to take Highway 21 to reach the Shut-Ins. When I got to the park there were some people there, including other photographers. Normally I’d say hello and smile at folks, maybe chat about the view or the rocks or our cameras. That day, though, I kept my head down and found I couldn’t make eye contact with any of the other people. In fact, I found myself getting irritated with the people, the rocks, the water, and finally just left.

Of course, all of this surfaced this week with the uproar surrounding Howard Dean’s remarks about wanting to be “…the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.” Oh my.

I know where Dean is coming from, though he sure can stick his foot in his mouth at times. It wasn’t that long ago that I and others criticized Dean for surrounding himself with east coast college educated liberals. Can’t get more uncoast and unliberal than trucks with confederate flags. But what is a white man from the North going to know of the confederate flag? Kerry and Lieberman, for all of their outrage, they don’t know about it either – except as some symbol of backwoods inbred hicks that pollute this great nation of ours.

(I think I’ll get that put on a shirt. “Hi, I’m a backwoods inbred hick from Missouri and I sleep with my gun.”)

Gephardt is from Missouri, so he’s probably seen a truck, maybe even one with a confederate flag. But what’s his response to this issue?

“I don’t want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks,” Gephardt said in a statement. “I will win the Democratic nomination because I will be the candidate for guys with American flags in their pickup trucks.”

So then we’re back to Kentucky, and home after home covered in American Flags and yellow ribbons. Or we’re back to a White House lawn, with Gephardt standing behind the President, promising his support for this war on terror in Iraq.

As for Clark, another man who might have seen a flag draped truck or two with his Arkansas background – cookie cutter responses with “NRA.” “Racially Divisive.” Basically it boils down to “Bad Mans. Pick me.”

I’m voting Democrat, but it’s damn hard at times. These men, they don’t have a clue what this is all about.

Along I-55 on the way home from my trip to the Shut-Ins, I passed a sign identifying that section of the highway as the Rosa Parks Highway, named for the black woman who refused to give up her seat to a white person during the civil rights movement. The reason for the highway being named after her is an interesting story.

Back in 1994, the Ku Klux Klan wanted to adopt that stretch of I-55 as part of the adopt-a-highway program. If allowed, a sign with the Ku Klux Klan on it would have to be displayed along the side of the road. The Missouri Department of Transportation denied the request, and the KKK filed a freedom of speech suit. Eventually the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the Ku Klux Klan, and its right to free speech. Once the Supreme Court refused to hear Missouri’s case, the KKK was free to become part of the program.

But you know, the folks of Missouri never were the type to just take defeat. The Highway Department, with much fanfare, renamed the section of the Highway that the KKK claimed, as “Rosa Parks Highway”. If the KKK persisted with their insistence on being part of the program, they would be cleaning The Rosa Parks Highway.

Missouri. God, you have got to love the folks here at times.

Back to the trip and the flags, those symbolic flags. Last week, the worst part of the trip and traveling past those confederate flagged homes wasn’t that the flags were some kind of symbol of the NRA or racial hatred, whicheveryoneisagainst. The worst part of the day, for me, personally, was when I saw all those confederate flags and thought about walking in those woods all by myself, and remembered those men and their mirror sunglasses – and I felt relieved that I was white and not black. The year is 2003 and it was the middle of the day in the middle of the United States and I’m driving in my car thinking to myself that I’m glad I’m white and not black. No wonder I couldn’t look anyone in the eyes at the park.

After all the shouting and finger pointing, that’s really the issue. And I bet if Dean, or Gephardt, or Lieberman, or Kerry, or Clark, or even President Bush for that matter, had been in the car with me, they would have been relieved they were white, too. At least, this is my hope. I’d hate to think I was the only moral coward around.

The solution could be to just make flying the confederate flag illegal. But then there’s that free speech thing, and I’m not sure what’s scarier: the flags flying or the flags not flying because the government steps in. Open the door to that sort of thing and all sorts of bad stuff will start crawling out – like our current Attorney General, Ashcroft. You know, he’s from Missouri, too.

(The ACLU doesn’t have a problem knowing which is the better – they were the ones that filed suit for the KKK.)

The KKK dropped their claim on the Rosa Parks Highway, but then in 2001 applied to adopt another section of road. They’ve again been denied because the Highway department has instituted new rules that won’t allow groups to participate if they discriminate. When the KKK member applied and was asked whether his group discriminates, he answered, “Yes”. The issue is again heading back to the courts. Good thing there’s lots of civil rights worker names to call upon if need be.

As for the road the KKK wants to adopt, it’s in the Ozarks, in a place called Iron Mountain. A stretch of asphalt on Highway 21, near to some famous landmarks known as the Johnson Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks.


Burningbird’s Diet for Life

Usually our minds turn to dieting when Spring is here and our thoughts are on bathing suits and shorts for the summer. However, a couple of webloggers I know have been talking about dieting lately, and this is something also on my mind.

Frank Paynter is on a diet that has him eating plenty of vegetables, but little fruit and he’s counting scallops. I can’t eat scallops – shellfish allergy reactions – but I wouldn’t be amenable to anything that cuts into my fruit. I love fruit. I love veggies, too, but the grocery stores are all on strike here and it’s hard to find anything fresh.

Norm Jenson recounts a very funny tale of coffee and donuts, with some problems with number and other forms of perception. Personally, its hard for me to bypass a Krispie Kreme, but luckily the only time I go past the nearest store is on my way back from some of my favorite hikes.

(Then there’s Jonathon Delacour’s Ozu DVD boxed set diet. When I first read the story I thought Jonathon had written I’ve stopped eating, I’ve given up drinking…, until he had all of the Ozu DVD box sets. I was reminded of that man in London who didn’t eat for 40 days and how awful he looked, and was getting ready to put together an emergency Paypal account labeled “Feed Jonathon”, when I re-read the story and saw that Jonathon was not eating out until he gets all these movies. Oh. I really must learn to be more careful with my reading in the future.)

Now that I’m feeling pretty damn good myself, I’m also focused on getting back into shape. I not only need to lose weight, I also need to re-establish the muscle system that would allow me, among other things, hike some of the better trails without killing myself or having some nice young woman come along and say, “Oh you poor thing! Are you okay? Do you need help back to your car?”

I’m not one for diets though. The Atkins leaves me cold with its focus on returning us to primal man, when we hunted and killed mastadons, barely searing the butchered carcass over open fires before wolfing down huge chunks of greasy meat. Frank’s diet, though sounding more balanced, also turns me off with the limitations on fruit and having to count scallops.

I have been giving serious consideration to turning vegetarian, not the least because I am a strong animal rights advocate. However, I am also an omnivore, as are all humans, and I don’t think I can quite hack cutting out all meat from my diet. I can cut down, and go with leaner meats and range fed critters and push for more humane practices – but I’m not ready to go the grains and legume route. Not just yet.

(Yes, I have had tofu, thank you. I’d rather chew the foam I’m using to pack my rocks.)

I remember when I was very young my mother gave me a diet sheet that someone had given her. It was a joke diet and included items like “eat five banana seeds for breakfast”, and “for a snack, cut open an orange and inhale the fumes”. What was funny about this is that my mother, tiny woman that she is, never had a problem with her weight – she’s always worked too hard. Even now at 70 she’s in phenomenal shape, and when she was younger, she was a drop dead green-eyed beauty. I inherited her eyes, but I inherited my Dad’s build and the Powers have always been big. Not just tall – big. Come to a family party with this clan and you’re going to get scared to death about being tromped on by accident.

“Oh, I’m sorry little man. I didn’t see you.”

A great doctor I had years ago who helped me quit smoking said that my family doesn’t have a weight problem – our metabolism is great in fact. We need little food to maintain our bulk, while people who are naturally skinny are folks that have a bad metabolism. They need more food just to maintain their size, which means their metabolism is inefficient. What she said made sense, but I used to wistfully think that I would have liked to be a tad less efficient.

To compensate for the fact that I can live on the calories of a person several inches shorter than me is the fact that when I do put my mind to getting in shape, it happens quickly. From previous years work in Karate and being a relatively active person, I have a musculature that seems to snap back into existence with only little effort – once I exercise the discipline I need to bring that baby out of hiding. Luckily, I am more active in cold weather rather than warm, so now is the time for me to drop the excuses of not feeling well, and get well. However, rather than diet, I’m looking at making lifestyle changes, some easier than others. The changes may not make me into a svelte figure of a woman, but I’ll feel good.

First is exercise. I haven’t been hiking or walking as much as I should in the last couple of months and this is going to change. I’m returning to my walks every day, and whenever I can, several times a week I hope, hitting the hiking trails. This time of year there are no ticks and chiggers and I can walk the hikes I have to avoid in the summer.

Hauling twenty pounds of camera equipment around helps, but I also need to start working out with weights again. I believe and strongly too, that the reason women have so much trouble with menopause and other aspects of aging is that they no longer indulge in stenuous exercise when they get older. By this I don’t mean the treadmill – I mean lifting heavy things and really pushing our bodies to the limit. To me the best estrogen therapy is a good work out with the weights. This not only helps to balance estrogen in your body, it also triggers your muscles to burn fat more efficiently, as well as increasing your absorption of calcium.

Swimming doesn’t cut it. You need to have gravity to get the best effects. Swimming is great for the joints and great therapy if you’ve had joint problems – but you need weight training, too. Even if it’s working with a set of barbells when you watch TV at night.

Weight training and walking will hurt rather than help if you don’t add in the final leg of this fitness triangle – stretching. I have a new Pilates video that I’m going to try but I find that sometimes the best stretches are the ones we’ve used for years. Newer isn’t always better.

Working the body is a good thing but that’s only part of the battle – I also need to establish a new regime for my mind, and that’s going to be the harder task.

To start, I am going to stop putting my ego into the hands of others. When we’re young we bring things we make to our parents to get their praise, but somewhere along the way, we get stuck into needing that praise when we become adults. Appreciating praise is one thing – needing it and becoming dejected when we don’t get it, that’s another and it isn’t healthy.

Weblogging tends to enforce this, with our every increasing need for link fixes and rank, as if our pages have become the new druggie flophouses of choice. I challenge you to not to check your referrers or your ranks for the next week, and see when you start sweating. I did this, cold turkey, this week and the only thing I check now is Technorati because it gives me information about who is linking to a specific post of mine, and I like to read what people say; to join in other conversations.

(Or, is that an excuse, similar to saying I need the speed to lose weight and the barbituates to calm down; the cigs to keep from getting angry, and the booze to keep on smiling.)

Part of this effort to take back our egos also means that, at times, we have to cut people out of our lives who are quick to judge us, and even quicker to express that judgement. Life is too short to be surrounded by people who are quick to point out our faults, but strangely silent when it comes to our strengths. When faced with the weight of their disapproval, we can become dejected, eat more, walk less and feel less good about ourselves – it becomes a pretty nasty cycle of disapproval and living to that expectation of disapproval.

People who provide praise and support in equal measure to advice or constructive criticism, these are our friends. These are healthy, confident people and the type of person we should seek to become. The others aren’t worth our effort, and they’re certainly not worth our time or tears.

I’ve read entries in weblogs about people having to come to grips with friends or family members who disapprove of them, who condemn them, or who constantly demean or tear down the person. Usually the weblogger has had to get professional help in dealing with this situation, and that’s not a bad thing; I believe in doing what you need to do to get healthy. However, I can’t help thinking that the person causing the problem is the one that needs help and perhaps the best thing for the weblogger is to tell them so, and then say good-bye until they get their own problems fixed. Yes, even with family – being born in to a family is not the same thing as entering a covenant of disapprobation.

As for food, the traditional focus of a ‘diet’ and really that aspect of getting into shape that’s the least important component: I am practicing moderation, and I’ve had to eliminate or severely curtail some types of foods, but I’m not counting, weighing, or otherwise fixating on it.

Well, except for my box of Godiva on my birthday, of course.


O si yo

I hadn’t been to a powwow in years and decided to drive down to the Trail of Tears Pow Wow outside of Hopinksville, Kentucky yesterday.


The powwow stage was circular with hay bundles surrounding the area for the dancers, and behind them Singer tents and bleachers for non-participants. Tents selling foods and other goods were placed around the performance area, backs to the bleachers. When the slight breeze was just right, smoke from some of the cooking fires would fill the space left for the dancers and story tellers, like as not re-creating fairly authentic conditions. It was blazingly hot and I felt for the dancers in their regalia as they performed in set after set of Intertribal dances (dances open to all competitors and members of the audience, those who find themselves moved by the sounds of the drums and the singers.)

Powwows are descended from times when tribal members would gather for some reason such as a shaman conducting a ceremony for healing. The word powwow is from Powwaw, meaning shaman. Today, powwows bring together tribal members in dance and celebration, and is a way of interesting young tribal members in their heritage and history. In addition to dance competitions, most will feature discussions about tribal language and customs, as well as story tellers and musicians as well as demonstration of crafts.

The Trail of Tears Pow Wow is primarily a Cherokee event, and was originally held to celebrate the opening of the Trail of Tears Park in Kentucky. This park commemorates the forced march of Cherokees from their homeland in Georgia to a reservation in Oklahoma.

Contrary to the myth of Indian as nomadic hunter/gatherer, Cherokees were farmers and ranchers who lived in Georgia and who had assimilated many of the white ways, including women wearing gowns and the development of their own written vocabulary. They lived in peace with the newcomers to the land, but when rumors of gold arose about the Cherokee held lands, the US Government attempted to coerce the People out of their homes.

Rather than don war paint and ride horses in defiance, the Cherokee donned suits, hired lawyers, and sued – petitioning to be considered a sovereign nation and thus out of jurisdictional control of the federal government. They won the suit and the government was momentarily blocked. To be removed from their lands, the Cherokee would have to vote to agree to the proposed treaty, something most had no interest in.


Also contrary to myth, Indian tribes were not all small villages with a strong tribal leader who held sway over all the people. The Cherokee nation was large and there was disagreement among the various tribal leaders as to control of the People as a whole. Principal Chief John Ross fought the removal of the Cherokee people from their lands, but another leader (Major Ridge) of a small, dissident band of Cherokee agreed to the Treaty and that was enough for the Federal Government. The treaty was quickly ratified and the People were forced from their homes, many with little more than the clothes they were wearing.

An estimated 17,000 Cherokee were forced to traverse four separate trails (one by water) to a new home in Oklahoma. Over 4000 died along the way leading the Cherokee to name the event Nunna daul Tsuny or “The Trail Where They Cried”.

A passerby who witnessed the exodus of the Cherokee wrote:

When I past the last detachment of those suffering exiles and thought that my native countrymen had thus expelled them from their native soil and their much loved homes, and that too in this inclement season of the year in all their suffering, I turned from the sight with feelings which language cannot express and wept like childhood then.

I originally heard about the Trail of Tears from my first husband, who is part Cherokee. When I met him, at the age of 16, he’d just returned from a tour of duty in South Korea, adrift in his newfound freedom from military life. He was black haired but blue eyed, lighter skinned but with the strong bone structure that characterizes so many artistic interpretations of how an Indian is supposed to look. If most of us think of Jesus with long, wavy golden/brown curly locks and white skin due to the early artwork from Germany, the same could be said of our mental image of the “noble savage”, based on early artwork from the 1800’s.


Steve was not brought up with awareness of his Cherokee ancestry as he and his older brother were adopted at an early age by a childless white couple. The two, along with a younger sister, were offered up for adoption when his blood father died and his mother could not afford to raise all of her children.

The story was that Steve’s father had left for the Seattle area for work and his mother followed in a car with all the children, towing a trailer with their household goods. Along the way, she received word that her husband died and she suddenly found herself stranded, far from her people and with little money. To ensure that her children had the best opportunity to survive, she gave half up for adoption – three stayed, three left.

It wasn’t until he was in the military that Steve began to explore his roots, a popular past time in those days. His interest only increased when, not long after he and I were married, his oldest sister contacted us as part of an effort to find the missing members of the family. It was then we heard about Steve’s family, his father and his early death; and his mother, Rose, who had died years before.


I always wondered if Steve’s mother was named Rose because it was a common name at the time, or if she was named after the Cherokee Rose, the state flower of Georgia. It was said that during the Trail of Tears march that the tears of mothers crying for their dying children were so great, that the chiefs prayed for a sign to lift their spirits up, to help them survive. The Cherokee Rose was taken for this sign.

Most mothers would grieve for the death of a child, but the Cherokee, along with most Native American people, have an unusually high regard for their young. This was demonstrated, again and again, at the Pow Wow on Saturday. One dance I’d never seen before was a birthday dance given by a grandfather celebrating his grandson’s first birthday. He held the baby in his arms and the baby’s immediate family surrounded them as they began a sideways, slow dance around the performance area. Preceding them was a man holding a hat in which to collect tokens or small amounts of money, given in celebration of the child.

As people would drop tokens in, they would traverse the growing line following the family, shaking hands of each member of the line as they passed before attaching themselves to the end. By the time the dance was finished, the line formed almost a full circle around the area.


As much as I love the dancing, I love the storytelling more, especially when the storyteller intersperses bits of native language and culture with the tale. Saturday’s Storyteller was very good and told the tale of Spider and Beaver’s Daughter, as well as the story of Raven. He also had a sacred Pipe with him, and spent some time describing each component of the pipe and telling how it was originally a gift from the Creator.

Not all Storytellers are given the responsibility of being Pipe Bearers for their people, so it was a bonus to hear from someone who was both, though the surroundings were not conducive to storytelling. It was unbearably hot in the bleachers, and the predominately white crowd was restless and tended to chat among themselves when the dancing stopped.