Friday, September 4, 2015



by Colleen Fliedner
            The poor crow is the most misunderstood and under-rated of all our feathered friends.  He’s not noble, like the Eagle. Nor is he equated with love or peace, like the venerable dove.  He certainly doesn’t have the beautiful plumage of a Cardinal or multi-colored parrot.  And no one has ever considered attaching a message to a crow’s leg like the dependable homing pigeon.
            In fact, most people consider the crow to be nothing more than a pesky chatterbox; or even worse, a mysterious, malevolent creature associated with witches and wizards.  Most experts believe that crows are the most intelligent, highly evolved of all birds.  Crows are monogamous creatures, staying with a mate until death. Couples are usually seen sitting together, affectionately caressing and preening one another.  And when one of the pair dies, the other usually dies of grief within a short time.
              With an average wing span of between two and four feet, the crow is the most powerful of the perching birds.  Generally dining on berries, insects, seeds and grains, a crow will eat just about anything – from the Big Mac smashed in the road, to the new lawn seeds you’ve just planted.  For obvious reasons, these scavengers are hated by farmers.  But large farm animals will actually solicit the crows’ attention.  As the insect-covered beast relaxes, the accommodating crows pick the juicy bugs from the animal’s body; a symbiotic, win-win situation for both creatures, to be sure.
            Crows are intensely playful, often teasing other animals and even imitating various sounds, including barking dogs and other birds.  Oftentimes, the black-feathered avians dance around on the ground just for the fun of it.  Young crows can make great pets, rolling on their backs to juggle an object with their feet or playing tug-of-war.  Able to mimic sounds, they can be taught to say a few words. 
           Most surprising is that, technically speaking, the crow is a songbird.  However, the sounds that emanate from the throats of the big black birds are anything but pleasing to the human ear.  Still, the next time you’re annoyed by the incessant caw of a crow, remember that beneath that layer of iridescent black feathers lies the heart of a clown.



Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pawnee, Oklahoma


Two years ago, I visited Pawnee, Oklahoma, on a press trip. The town isn’t much, though there are a few small shops and places to eat along the main drag. But it was the stop at Pawnee Bill’s former ranch that was particularly memorable. It was one of those places that called to me, and I was anxious to see it again. So when Rick said we would be staying in an RV park located about 45 minutes from Pawnee.

In case you’ve never heard of Pawnee Bill (I never had), he was a famous western showman who got his start as one of the starring acts in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show in the late 1800s. His real name was Gordon Lillie, but he actually lived with the Pawnee Indians in this part of Oklahoma. The story goes that a member of the tribe sold Gordon an enormous chunk of land located about 20 minutes from the town of Pawnee, where he built a series of structures to house everything from a blacksmith shop, to his beautiful home. Pawnee Bill’s heyday was at the time the Old West was dying, and people all over the world were eager to see the Wild West Shows in an attempt to recapture to romance of the old west. Both Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill became very wealthy providing old west hungry audiences with mock Calvary/Indian battles, rodeo-type acts, trick horseback riders, and sharpshooters.

Eventually, Pawnee Bill spun off his own version of the Wild West Show, incorporating an Asian group of performers after spending time in the Far East. It was Gordon’s wife, May, who was the real star of the show. May was raised as a Quaker and married Gordon Lillie when she was only 15. She had never shot a gun; nor had she ever ridden a horse. That changed immediately after her marriage, when her groom surprised her with a shiny new rifle and a horse. Much to everyone’s surprise, May became one of the best women shooters in the world, rivaling the famous Annie Oakley. Actually, I think May was better than Oakley, as May did her sharp shooting while riding a galloping horse!

Gordon Lillie and Buffalo Bill Cody remained friends throughout their lives and even teamed up in later years to join their shows in world tours. Both Buffalo Bill and Will Rogers were frequent visitors at the ranch, and the mansion has preserved a few articles that had belonged to them.

May Lillie’s story would make a terrific book. Hum…. I may be heading back to Pawnee in the near future to do research! I also recommend that any of you who are interested in the old west, or who would like to see what remains of Pawnee Bill’s own herd, visit the ranch.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Heart of the Ozarks


One of the highlights of the trip was having a chance to visit with our son, Dane, his wife, Sapna, and our two grand daughters. They drove to the Ozarks from Texas and rented a cabin. We stayed in one of the few RV parks in the area, located about 30 minutes from the kids’ cabin. Day One entailed a hike. A very grueling hike, to be more precise. Dane thought it was 2.8 miles total. But because there was so much climbing involved, including what seemed like endless stone staircases that the Dept. of Forestry had built up some of the steepest paths, the hike seemed to go on forever.

We packed a lunch and carried it with us, stopping to picnic on some rocks beside a slow moving stream. Like so many areas in the Mid-West, Arkansas is in the midst of a draught, so rivers and streams are the lowest they’ve been in years. Without enough water, the trees turned quickly from green to gold to, well, dead and brittle leaves. A few hillsides near water sources were splashed with colorful leaf changes: orange, crimson, gold.

But I digress. Back to the hiking trail. The reward at the end of your effort is a cave containing a small waterfall. Portions of the cavern have ceilings so low that you have to crawl on hands and knees to get through. Here and there, water drips from the rock ceiling to the earth floor, making the crawl space a muddy mess. Still, it’s worth the trek. Even in this bone-dry season, the cascading waterfall, called the “Hidden Falls,” was a fascinating sight.

Anyone who knows our Dane will recall his love of the out-of-doors. Now a doctor with a family and little time to enjoy nature, he revels in things that involve outside activities. So, on Day 2, Dane wanted for all of us to canoe on the Buffalo ??? River. Never mind that all but one of the canoe rental places were closed for the season. And never mind that the river was so low, we could see sandbars from the bridges. Off we went in search of canoes, paddles, and life vests.

We were taken by van to a launch site, an area underwater in a normally wet year, and set off for a three-hour journey that involved scraping the bottom of our canoes over rocks and sandbars. In spite of the fact that it was more work than any of us had anticipated, it was a great day of fresh air, family fun, and exercising muscles that Rick and I hadn’t used in years.

To my surprise, I enjoyed canoeing, something I had never done. My first love has always been sailing, but now, canoeing is a close second.

We spent a great deal of time with our son and his lovely family. Sapna did a bunch of cooking at the cabin, and we had a great time playing with the girls. It was over too soon, but we hope to repeat the experience somewhere else next year. Hopefully, there will be more water in Oregon, where we plan to meet in the summer of 2011.

Now, it’s time to turn back towards home in So. Calif. We’ll go back the same way we came, though we’ll avoid the noisiest campgrounds when possible. We’ll eat at Cracker Barrel Restaurants until there aren’t more along the highways. California and Nevada don’t have CBs, so we’re trying to get our fill of their homemade biscuits, fried apples, chicken salad, and (for Rick) the chicken and dumplings.

So, it’s good-bye for now. We’ll be taking another big trip in the spring, so stay tuned…. And thanks for joining us on our first big adventure with Shamu. (One of my friends suggested that I call the blog “Stories from Inside the Whale’s Belly.” What do you think?

Rick & Colleen at the start of the hike up to the waterfall / cave.
We didn't look so spry after the hike !

Inside the cave where the waterfall lands.
Pitch black inside, so you just point
 and  shoot and hope to get something.


Roof of the cavern with a watefall inside... had to spelunk to reach it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I almost forgot this place !

Springfield, Missouri ... most memorable for it's forgetableness...
Main thing we did there was fix the TV antenna that had gotten
bent up in the ferocious winds the day before on the road from
Hannibal.  Had to remove it, bend it back, add reinforcing plates,
paint it, and re-install it.  Added a dryer vent cover as a
streamlining device in front of it to prevent the winds from
picking it up and bending it again.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Brief rest after a grueling day.  Got there late, set up "camp", ate dinner and flopped.  Got up
the next morning and pushed on toward Jasper, Arkansas and meeting up with our Son, Dane
and the grandkids.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Tom Sawyer's and Huck Finn's genesis

Mark Twain's home and the birthplace of many of his stories.

You’ve all heard of Hannibal, Missouri, right? No? Well, in case you haven’t, it’s where Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) was born and spent his childhood. Hannibal is situated on the Mississippi River, about 110 miles north of St. Louis. Because it was built in a valley between bluffs to the north and south, and at a narrow point in the river, it became a favorite stop for steamboats picking up loads of crops and wood from local areas back in the mid 1800s.

This was the setting for Mark Twain’s fictional books, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Although he changed the names of people and places, Clemens eventually named names, and places like Becky Thatcher’s house are clearly identified.

Hannibal has fallen on hard times in this recession, and in spite of the 100th anniversary commemorating Clemens death in 1910, tourism is down. Blocks of historic buildings where businesses once thrived have been deserted. There are still a few places to eat and several motels, but the once-grand Mark Twain Hotel has been converted into apartments.

If you go, do visit Mark Twain’s house and the museum. There’s a touristy steamboat that will take you on a ride along the Mississippi, narrating Hannibal’s history and places along the river where Sam Clemens played as a child, then used the places and events in his stories.

We stayed in the Mark Twain Cave campground of Tom Sawyer fame, which is about 10 minutes south of town. That’s 10 minutes by car through hilly roads, but when Clemens and his friends hiked over to the caverns that he made famous in his Tom Sawyer story, it would have taken an hour or two for the kids to get there.

Okay, here’s what happened. It had been windy on our trip to reach Hannibal. Rick wrestled the beast all day to keep it steady on the road. We toured a little the first afternoon and had a so-so dinner in town. That night, the winds picked up considerably. Shaking the coach, it howled and whistled through the trees. The TV. shows were continuously interrupted with high wind warnings. Then tornado warnings were announced for our area! There were very few people in the campground (mostly full-time residents in their trailers), and the office, which was a considerable distance from us, was closed.

Many of the campgrounds where we had stayed actually had tornado shelters on the grounds. They were marked on the maps you are given when you check in. But not at this campground! We had absolutely no idea where to go, and the other RVs weren’t anywhere near us, so we didn’t know if the other people had evacuated. But where would they have gone? Rick decided that a nearby concrete block bathroom and laundry room would be stronger than anything else in the RV park. By now, the winds were gusting at over 60 mph! Leaves were flying and swirling, making it difficult to see outside.

At about 2 a.m., the tornado sirens still hadn’t gone off, and we were exhausted. We laid on the bed, fully dressed, the rest of the night. We dozed off and on, not knowing what to expect next. Boy, was that a long night.

Well, the tornados touched down about 20 miles away, then swept over to Indianapolis and up to Chicago. This weather front created a lot of destruction, breaking all of the records for wind speeds. Give me earthquakes, thank you very much!

The next morning, trees were down, branches had been snapped, and our TV. antenna, which was actually down, was considerably bent. It was still windy, and the weather was uncertain. We thought about simply leaving, but the winds were too high to be on the road.

The first thing we did was head for the campground office. We were advised that if the winds kicked up again, and tornados were in the area, we should run for the Tom Sawyer caverns. That was the tornado shelter! Wish they had told us the day before….

Anyway, we had planned to take the steamboat ride the next day, but it was so windy, the trip was cancelled. Instead, we visited some of the shops, the museum, and the cemetery where Clemens family is buried. Lunch was at the Rustic Oak Riverview CafĂ© in the touristy Sawyer’s Creek village across from our campgrounds. What a surprise! The food was fabulous! In fact, it was so good, we had to go back for dinner. As the sun set and the sky turned shades of pink, the muddy river actually looked beautiful.

The wind blew throughout the night, but the bulk of the storm had moved on, so the wind speeds weren’t nearly as bad. We were both pooped and let the shaking of the RV rock us to sleep.

Statue of Mark Twain ovelooking the Mississippi in Hannibal, MO

Statue in Mark Twain's boyhood home in Hannibal.

Entry on gangway in Hannibal

Mark Twain's boyhood home and the famous fence.

Becky Thatcher's house ... across the street from Twain's.

View of Hannibal from Lover's Leap.

Old Town Hannibal ... some of which Mark Twain would have seen.

Tom Sawyer's village on the river ... kid's park and good cafe.

Entrance to the Cave of Tom Sawyer fame and our RV campground.

Shamu and friend in the Cave campgroundl
Mark Twain's boyhood home in Hannibal.
Mark Twain statue on the banks of the Missl

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lincoln's Home

Lincoln's home from 1850 ish to his death.

If you have even the slightest interest in President Lincoln, you absolutely have to head to Springfield, Illinois. Springfield is a good-sized city (actually, it’s the capitol of the state), and there are a lot of restaurants, hotels, etc. There are lots of beautiful neighborhoods, containing large traditional homes, sprawling lawns, and perfectly manicured gardens.

But THE neighborhood that is a must-see is the one where Abraham and Mary Lincoln lived. The Lincolns lived in this home for a little over a decade before moving to the White House when Lincoln took office in 1861. The thing that surprised me was that it wasn’t huge, nor was it grandiose. In fact, to the contrary, it was far more modest than you would expect, especially since Lincoln was a lawyer, a Illinois Representative many times, and then a U. S. Representative prior to his election to the presidency.

Here’s the thing that puzzles me. Mary Todd married Abraham, who wasn’t exactly a good-looking man, right? When she was growing up in Lexington, Kentucky, before they were married, she was considered a really attractive young lady and a real social butterfly. Plus, her father was wealthy, and the house in Lexington was large and lovely (please see the earlier entry from Lexington for photos). So, she marries this homely guy with very little money, and moves into a not-so-wonderful house for years before he becomes president. Hum…. I’ve been trying to figure out why she would do that! There was no way she could know he would become President of the United States. What do you think?

Anyway, the Lincoln’s neighborhood is a historic district containing about a dozen restored houses on streets that aren’t open to traffic. Walk from house to house, tour them, and learn their history. It’s a great way to spend an hour or two. There’s also a Visitor’s Center with gift items and a few displays.

In addition, there’s a Lincoln Museum/Library downtown if you want to see more of the Lincolns’ personal affects. We skipped it, as we were running out of time, and we wanted to get up the hill to the Lincoln Memorial at the Springfield Cemetery.

The huge memorial wasn’t built for quite a few years after Lincoln’s assassination. After it was completed in 1874, Lincoln’s body was removed from the temporary crypt that had been built on a nearby hill. His casket was placed in the room beneath the memorial, where it sat for a number of years. In fact, there was a plot to steal Lincoln’s body, though the robbers were caught before they completed their grisly deed.

Eventually, Abraham, Mary, and three of their four sons were entombed within the memorial. It’s magnificent and well worth a visit.

Meanwhile, back at the RV park, there weren’t many other people there, except for a few permanent residents (who live in their trailers). But the motorhome parked across from us had the prettiest paint job I’ve ever seen. Take a look at the photos I took and notice that the swirl patterns change color, depending on the direction from which I’m taking the shot. Purple, then green, then brilliant turquoise, then nearly tan/gold. Rick said this is one of the most expensive paints ever made, and I can see why. It seems crazy to spend that kind of money on RV paint, since RVs are constantly getting dinged by rocks and debris on roadways, scraped by trees and bushes, get filthy dirty in dusty and/or muddy campgrounds, etc., etc. And yet, that paint was mesmerizing!

Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois. 

Lincoln's desk in his bedroom in his home.

Info about the desk  /  bedroom.

Even the Pres. had to use the outhouse.

View of the back of Lincoln's home.

Street view of the Lincoln "village" .

Side of Lincoln's home.

Lincoln's mausoleum memorial.  Impressive !

Lincoln mausoleum.

Colleen in the doorway of Lincoln's mausoleum.

Motorhome with ridiculously expensive ChromaLusion paint.

Another view showing how the paint changes color.

Another view.

And finally, another view.