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Singing in the Monkey Quartet

Some thoughts about life in the monkey barrel and whatever else comes along.


Abby's Incredible Journey

Abby Sunderland , a 16-year-old, California blonde, does her high school homework in an unlikely location – the cabin of a 40-ft. sailboat named Wild Eyes. And it will be a few months before Abby can turn in that homework. That’s how long it will take her to sail around the world – alone.

That’s right, alone. Abby set out from California in January determined to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe non-stop solo. She and Wild Eyes will make the entire voyage without stopping at any port along the way. The next time she sets foot on land she’ll be home.

At first glance, this adventure seems impossible. After all, a 16-year-old is still just a kid. But look a little deeper. Abby has been sailing literally all of her life, and sailing alone since she became a teen. By the time Abby set sail in January, she had accumulated thousands of miles of coastal cruising through a number of hazardous weather conditions.

The trip began as a dream, but she prepared for it by learning all she could about her boat and everything aboard. It carries state-of-the-art navigational equipment, a water desalinization system, safety features and more. She also has a support team, and sponsors to help defray the costs. When the big day finally came Abby was ready to live her dream.

You can follow Abby’s journey at www.abbysunderland.com. There you’ll find an upbeat, positive young woman happily facing challenges most of us can only imagine. She’s confident, she’s prepared and she’s following her dream.

If a 16-year-old can sail alone around the world, what excuse can any of us have for not setting lofty goals and achieving them? Go, Abby, and thank you for your example.


A tip 'o the Irish hat

Last night I watched one of those PBS fundraisers featuring a concert by Celtic Woman. It was set on the lawn of a magnificent 18th Century castle/estate and was complete with the five young Irish women who make up the group, plus full orchestra and chorus and a contingent of bagpipes. In the orchestra were several percussionists on a variety of traditional drums that created the distinctive Celtic sound.

In a program of songs celebrating their national heritage, I was surprised by two of the selections. The first was the lament of a young girl leaving her homeland forever, on her way to America. She is both sad and hopeful. She recounts the beauty of Ireland, her family, her memories. Then she looks ahead to the great unknown America and the liberty offered there. Liberty, her word; one much used by the thousands upon thousands of early Irish immigrants who came here in the 19th Century to escape poverty, famine and iron British rule. It was a beautiful, melancholy song.

How unusual, I thought as I listened, that Irish singers and musicians performing in a thoroughly Irish setting for an Irish audience would pay homage to another nation, no matter how closely tied by a common history.

The second number, “Oh, America”, was an even more unabashed tribute to this country. I can’t recall the words, but the lyrics were in the same vein as our unofficial national anthem, “God Bless America”. It was a contemporary song, and I don’t know that there are many like it being written on this side of the Atlantic these days.

Listening, I thought about my own German and Swiss grandparents, and the other side of the family from England and Scotland. Like the Irish, and everyone else from everywhere else, they came from often untenable conditions to America, where many remained in poverty or the lower classes. But their children did better than would ever have been possible in the homelands. Their grandchildren did even better, as they had hoped.

The young German fought in the Spanish-American War as an American, not a hyphenated ancestor. When Adolph Hitler issued a call for all good Germans to return to fight for the Fatherland, he sent his only son, an American, to fight against the Fatherland.

Those who came here in those days scrimped and saved, not so they could go home and live in style, but so more family members could join them in America. They cut their ties to “the old country” and remained here – at home. Yes, their descendants still eat corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day or enjoy bratwurst and sauerkraut during Oktoberfest and so on through lasagna, tacos, pad Thai and the litany of ethnic foods that now are part of the daily American diet. But they do it as Americans, not expatriates longing to return to the homeland. This is their home. It’s my home.

So I appreciate Celtic Woman’s acknowledgement of America as the place where their own people could find opportunity and liberty that could not be found at home.


The Battle of the Rooster

I don’t like chickens. Eggs, yes. Fried chicken, yep. Grilled chicken breast with pasta, very good. But live chickens? No.

My dislike for live chickens probably dates back to my early boyhood when our chickens ran loose around the farmstead, mostly between the house and barn. I can’t recall why they were allowed outside when they had a perfectly good, if very old, coop with a straw covered floor. But they did.

I remember one particularly large white Leghorn rooster that scared me out of my bib overalls every time I came too close to him or entered “his” territory (which was apparently the entire out-of-doors). In addition to his icy stare, strong yellow beak, and fearsome yellow claws, he had a long sharp spur on the back of each ankle. I knew he could kill me with those – and wanted to.

If I saw him before he saw me I could always outrun him. But I lived in fear of the ambush I knew would come one day.

It did. One evening when I was about five years old I walked out to the barn where my dad was milking the cows. I was too young to help, but I liked to feed hay to the cows as they were being milked and just hang around in the barn.

I was about mid-way between house and barn, just across from the chicken coop. The side nearest me was hidden by very tall and very thick weeds. They were also hiding one very large rooster.

Almost past the coop I thought I heard the weeds rustle. Just as I turned to look, the beast exploded out of the weeds, wings flapping like the angel of death, head down in the fighting stance and a terrible “brraaaawwwwwk!” tearing the quiet country air. I let out a screech of my own and headed for the barn – I had about a 15-yard head start on the rooster.

I had been too busy watching for the rooster to notice that my father was already in the barn doorway carrying a full bucket of milk to the house. He must have seen the rooster situation developing before I did, because he was already coming to my rescue at full speed. I ran past him and he ran toward the rooster, swinging the bucket up and around in a circle for full effect.

The rooster shifted into reverse at about the same time the bucket struck him squarely in the chest with whatever force five gallons of milk can exert. The old bird flew backward, up and halfway over the coop, landing on the far side of the sloped roof. He rolled down and dropped off the edge into the weeds below. Dad and I ran around to see if he was dead, but by that time he was trying to stand up on wobbly drumsticks. A couple of minutes later he staggered away around the corner of the coop.

For a long time after that I was still afraid of the rooster, but he never again chased me. By the way, despite the fact that Dad had swung the milk bucket in a full circle to increase the force of the blow, his follow-through was as smooth as any golfer’s and he didn’t spill a drop.

But I still don’t like chickens. Or milk.