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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Monday, July 30, 2012

Civil War: Events of August 1862


On August 1st, Brazil formally recognized the Confederate States of America.

Looking to fund the war effort, the U.S. Congress on August 2, passed the first federal income tax.  There was only one rate, 3% on earnings greater than $800.

On August 3rd, a federal fleet bombarded Galveston, TX.

On August 4th, the Confederates launched an attack aimed at recapturing Baton Rouge, LA.  Rebels under John C. Breckinridge approached the city under the cover of darkness, but lost the element of surprise when his troops were detected by Union sentries.  However, the main body of defending troops had been out of training camp less than two weeks and the Rebels pushed the Union line back all the way through town.  The Union commander, Thomas Williams, was killed and his relief, Col Thomas Cahill led a retreat back to prepared defensive positions south of town under the protection of the Yankee fleet.  The Confederate ironclad CSS Arkansas suffered engine failure north of the city, so her guns were not available to support Breckinridge, so he withdrew.  Union troops, concerned for the safety of New Orleans, evacuated Baton Rouge, but returned in the autumn.

On August 5th, Union troops under Hooker retook Malvern Hill, but withdrew then next day.  Also on the 5th, USS Vincennes in a naval engagement at Fernandina, FL ended the Rebel blockade of that area.

On August 8th, one of the ugliest battles of the war was fought in Kirksville, MO.  Union cavalry troops under John McNeill had been pursuing a Confederate force under Joseph Porter, who had been recruiting in the area.  He had put together a brigade-size force, but the troops were raw and ill-equipped.  McNeill attacked the town, where the enemy soldiers were hiding in various buildings and within the crop-laden fields.  A detachment of cavalry courageously rode around the square trying to draw fire and thus reveal the Rebel positions, which cost the lives of two Union troopers.  Having sited the positions, McNeill deployed his artillery and began a march in line of battle through the town.  The cannon fire demoralized the southerners.  Despite returning heavy and accurate fire, the Rebels were forced to retreat.  Union troops secured the town.  Then things turned ugly.  A 60-yo farmer with two sons fighting for the north was shot down in cold blood.  15 captured Rebel soldiers were discovered to have violated their parole and were court-martialed and executed.  A rebel officer, Frisby McCullogh, despite wearing a regular uniform and carrying papers authorizing him to recruit for the south, was nonetheless convicted of being a “bushwacker,” or renegade, and was executed.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer Nights and Memories


Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey 

I have always enjoyed, nay, reveled in the changing seasons.  The progressions of nature are very much the rhythms that move inside of us.  My favorites are the temperate weeks of spring and autumn.  Spring is a time of rebirth, when the trees and grass rebound from winter’s sleep in an explosion of life.  Trees bud, then leaf out as their limbs dance in unison to the warm breezes.  This is a time when grass grows green again, and flowers dazzle the landscape.  Birds, silent and absent for so long, fill the air with their joyous songs.  After huddling indoors from winter’s cold and storms, it is exhilarating to go outdoors and feel the warm sun on faces and arms that have for too long been covered in coats.

Autumn is my favorite time of year.  The heat and humidity of summer has finally released its grip.  The air is cool, dry, comfortable.  The sky has shed its milky summer haze for a blue that is vivid beyond words.  And as time glides through the season, the trees withdraw chlorophyll from their leaves, leaving their natural tones, bright yellows, vibrant reds and oranges.  In those areas fortunate to still have forest land, the landscape fluoresces especially when lit by that butter-colored sun as its light beams among the trees.  Life has become more intense.  The kids are back in school, and the clock-driven tension of football moves to center stage.  The days are ever shorter, but that only pushes us to higher activity levels in the knowledge that we have less daylight to finish what we started.  Fall has an aroma, a musty scent all its own as the leaves begin to fall and cover the ground.  You can smell it in the forest, and even walking through the neighborhood.  Kick up a pile of leaves, and there you have it:  Eau de October.

Winter has its own form of excitement as we witness the first flakes of snow, and the beauty that a heavy snowfall gives to the land.  But the romance is short, and soon, the damp cold, the continual shoveling, and what snowfall does to traffic around here, combine to make life miserable.  One of the biggest reasons that spring is so gloriously welcomed is the reprieve from the assault of Old Man Winter.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Aurora and the Unknown of Tomorrow

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey 

It was a festive occasion, the first showing of a long-awaited motion picture.  People had gathered, some waiting in line for several hours.  Part of the crowd had donned costumes in honor of the event.  When the doors opened, they filed into the theater, probably talking and laughing in that giddy atmosphere of friendship and anticipation of good times shared.  But within minutes, everything changed.  In an act of unspeakable and unimaginable violence, lives were ended; others changed forever.

The impact of that event spread well beyond the walls of that particular theater auditorium.  The hell that sprung into being for the victims was shared within minutes by their families.  

The evening didn’t start that way.  I’m certain there were many who were swept up in the routine of life that evening, having no idea that their parting would turn out to be their final goodbye.

To lose a loved one to an act of violence has to be one of the most painful experiences a human can endure.  There never seems to be a satisfactory answer to the question: “why?”  There is only the overwhelming feeling of loss. 

We share their heartache. But I don’t think any one of us can fully comprehend the depth of their loss.  Grief is a journey; a difficult, yet cathartic path strewn with rocks and potholes.  But it is a journey that must be taken.  There are no shortcuts or bypasses on the route to healing.  Sadly, there is nothing we can do to assuage their sorrow; nothing except accompany them on their walk, and help them to know that they do not walk alone.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ticking

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey

Information for this column came from various media reports,
including the Denver Post, the London Telegraph, AP, Reuters, and others.

A little time has passed since we all heard about the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado.  The initial numbing shock has started to fade, and the question on everyone’s mind has begun to shift from “what happened?” to “why?”

Unfortunately, this question is much harder to answer.

Details about the life of James Eagan Holmes have begun to emerge, but it is hard to detect the trigger that drove him to kill. 

By all accounts, his life until recently was a solid string of personal success.  A pretty good soccer player, he quit the high school team in order to concentrate on his studies.  That dedication apparently paid off.  Four years at Cal-Riverside produced a degree in the demanding field of neuroscience, receiving the highest academic honors. He was active in the Presbyterian Church.  People who knew him used words like shy, quiet, pleasant, and really smart. 

In other words, normal.

But they also used other words, like recluse, introvert; a loner.  Fellow students have said, “No one knew him.  No one.”

Friday, July 06, 2012

Independence Day and the Train Ride from Hell



Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
Words and image

The Fourth of July is, and should be, a day of celebration for all Americans. It is one of those rare days when we can lay aside our partisan bickering and revel in that unifying thread of national pride. The template is familiar to most, friends and family gather for grilling and good times, then retire to the nearest fireworks display before going back home and the welcome relief of air conditioning and a shower.

This year, we went to the National Mall in Washington DC, that rectangular strip of abused grass and bare dirt that lies between the capitol and the tall, spare obelisk of the Washington Monument. We waited until mid-afternoon to leave Virginia, riding the metro into The District. We met up with our son and his family under a shady tree and from there, we went in to the Natural History museum. Our son’s wife had family in from Korea and they were anxious to view the Hope Diamond in all its glittering 56-carat glory. While the unprecedented heat beat down mercilessly upon the Nation’s Capital, we whiled away the hours in the relative comfort inside.

As the afternoon waned into early evening, we claimed a small patch of real estate from which we could watch the fireworks. Those patches get harder to find each year as the mall fills up with tents and pavilions. I took some moments to look closely at the faces of the million or so of our closest friends who had gathered for the show. There was ample evidence that we are truly an immigrant nation. I don’t care what ethnicity you claim, you’re still an immigrant. Even those we call “Native Americans” are descendants of people from Asia who traipsed across the Bering Land Bridge beginning some 16,000 years ago. Americans, along with visitors who may harbor a desire to become one, were all gathered in communal purpose and singular meaning. For anyone with even a shred of appreciation for the patchwork story that is America, it was certainly a moment of note.

It was still very hot, close to 100 degrees, but some evening thunderstorms to the west provided a welcome curtain from the direct blast of the setting sun, and a very welcome breeze began to make itself apparent.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Civil War: Events of July 1862

On July 1st, Union Naval forces began an assault on Fort McAllister in Bryan County, GA.

Also on the 1st, Robert E. Lee's forces launced a series of uncoordinated assaults on a strong Union position at Malvern Hill in Henrico County, VA.  The attacks failed, but despite the victroy, Union commander McClellan withdrew to Harrison's Landing on the James River where his forces could be protected by Union gunboats.  This was the last day of the Seven Days Battles, and the end of the Union's Peninsula Campaign.

It was a busy day in Washington as well as President Lincoln signed into law the Pacific Railroad Act, which incorporated the Union Pacific Railroad and subsidizing it with federal money.

And in South Carolina, General David Hunter organized the first all-black infantry regiment, which became the legendary 33rd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment.

On July 2nd, President Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 3-year enlistments.

From July 4th until August 1st, Confederates under John Hunt Morgan raided Kentucky.