Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ocrafolk Festival – Saturday Night at the Deepwater

In addition to offering an evening of great music, the Deepwater Theater on the Saturday night of the 11th Annual Ocrafolk Festival also offered air conditioning, electric lights, and a guaranteed bug free environment, three things our campsite at the National Park Service Campground was missing. When we walked into the Deepwater it was only the second time we had done so. The first time we had come to the theater was a couple years ago to hear Captain Rob Temple’s The Rumgagger, an evening of nautical tall tales and poems. This evening we had come to the Deepwater to hear Skye Zentz, Malomar, and a Songwriter Circle hosted by Phil Kelly.
Skye Zents, a twenty-five year young veteran of the Ocrafolk Festival, was a talented, versatile performer. Her youthful enthusiasm and the subject matter of her songs, with lyrics referencing contemporary zeitgeist, made me feel both old and nostalgic.

Malomar, an enthusiastic, talented, hilarious, collection of young musical artists with faux British accents invaded the Deepwater and entertained with hilarious parodies and tributes that had us both laughing and applauding. Imagine a musical version of Mad Magazine, Jon Stewart, Richard Colbert and Saturday Night Live, with British accents!

The Songwriter Circle, hosted by Phil Kelley, featured several of the festival’s songwriters/performers taking turns performing original songs as well as talking about the song’s creation and meaning. The format reminded us of the Light of Day Festival’s “Songwriters by the Sea” and was as equally intimate. It was also a nice way to wind down the evening and end the day.

The Ocrafolk Festival was a great part of our two twelve day stay on Ocracoke. I hope we will be able to return in future years.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Ocrafolk Festival – Saturday’s Performers on the Howard Street Stage

There were three different stages, the Live Oaks Stage, Howard Street Stage, and Deepwater Theater, with almost continuous entertainment from 9:00 AM through 6:00 PM on the Saturday of the eleventh annual Ocrafolk Festival. At times there were performers on all three stages, forcing one to make a choice about which performer to watch. At other times only one stage was active. But all day long, between the stages, local artisans and civic groups were selling their wares. My wife, I and our dog opted to spend most of our time at the Howard St. Stage, where locals John Golden and Captain Ron Temple were hosts, that is when we were not checking out the artisans.

The first act I wanted to catch, and did, was storyteller Donald Davis (photo top right). A retired United Methodist Minister, Davis has written several books and recorded several CD’s of folk stories. Several years ago I bought two of his books, Telling Your Own Stories, and Listening for the Crack of Dawn. I also purchased a cassette recording of Donald reading Listening for the Crack of Dawn. It was not until we attended this festival, however, that I saw and heard him tell some of his stories. Doing so was a treat. Later in the day I purchased yet another of his books, Writing as a Second Language.bought another book he had authored.
The next act we caught was The Honey Dewdrops, musicians that appeared on A Prairie Home Companion  (one of my favorite live radio shows, having been to a few live performances) in March 2008 when they won first place in the APHC “People in their Twenties Talent Show”. They were also selected as finalists in the 2009 Mountain Stage (another of my favorite live radio shows, having attended more live performances than I can remember) New Song Competition. In spite of such accolades, however, The Honey Dewdrops would not be our favorite musicians at the Ocrafolk Festival.
Before we heard the musicians who would become our favorites, I was treated to “Shipwreck Stories” presented by Philip Howard and John Golden. (photo middle right) John is local musician. Phil is a local entrepreneur who owns The Village Craftsman, a story teller, and keeper of local lore and history. Phil told stories related to shipwrecks around Ocracoke while John accompanied Phil with original songs on guitar, songs about the ships and their passengers and crew that Phil was telling stories about.

John and Phil's presentation seemed well rehearsed and almost seamless. It was educational as well as entertaining with both John and Phil showing their pride for Ocracoke and its people of the past.  Phil, especially, passionately recounted stories related to the old United States Lifesaving Service, a precursor of the United States Coast Guard.
The musicians who would become our favorite of the festival appeared after John and Phil had finished. When we read that one of the many musical genres Craicdown (photo bottom right)drew upon was the jigs and reels of the Celtic cultures, we knew we wanted to hear them perform. Even though the Honey Dewdrops had been selected as finalists in the 2009 Mountain Stage New Song Competition, I think Craicdown would also have been deserving of the title. The problem is, they have never appeared on Mountain Stage, but they should. With their Celtic roots and sound they should also be featured on Fiona Ritchie’s Thistle and Shamrock.
We liked Craicdown so much that as soon as they finished their set we rushed over to the Festival Information Table to be the first to buy their hot of the press first CD, Roads, and then hung around to talk with band members David DiGiuseppe, Rob Sharer, and Jim Roberts and have them autograph their CD, which they gladly did.
My favorite tracks on Roads are "No Rewards" and "Up In the Air", both written by Rob Shaw. About the subjugation of Indigenous Americans by European settlers,  "No Rewards" begins like a Celtic/Irish folk tale but soon picks up tempo to display Cajun influences.  Also displaying some Cajun influences, "Up in the Air" focus on the triumph over prejudice toward Irish immigrants in 1851 New York City, Racism and Segregation in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, and illegal Mexican immigrants in Yuma, Arizona in 2006.  My favorite lines from "Up In the Air"could serve as an anthem of the human spirit.

You can hold me down,
You can hold me down,
You can hold me down, down,
But you'll never keep me there.
Sink my body in the cold, cold ground,
But my souls up in the air,
In the air
There were many other musicians and performers on Howard St. Stage and the other two stages that we did not see or hear, so do not take my lack of mention of them as a slight. We simply did not have the time to enjoy every performer.
By the way, this was all free! The only cost to us was the hot sun, dusty roads and a few mosquitoes. Thanks to fundraising, donations, and lots of volunteer help, the Ocrafolk Festival is free to the public. There were no tickets or wrist bands or badges. We were free to come and go with our dog as we pleased. We could not always find a seat, but there was always plenty of standing room.
But wait. There is more. I have written only about Saturday during the daylight hours. I have yet written about Saturday evening’s performances in the Deepwater Theater. That will be in another post.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ocrafolk Festival – Friday Night Pot-Luck and Live Fundraising Auction

When my wife and I were planning our recent vacation on the Island of Ocracoke, NC, we had no idea that the 11th Annual Ocrafolk Festival would be taking place the only full weekend we would be there. It was a serendipitous pleasant surprise when soon after we arrived at Ocracoke on Sunday, May 30th we learned about the free community celebration that was scheduled to begin the following Friday, June 4th.

We have been vacationing on Ocracoke since the late 1980’s but have never been on the Island during the festival, which started in 1999. I knew there was a weeklong Ocrafolk School in October but was not even aware that there was an Ocrafolk Festival.

While camping in the National Park Service Campground a couple miles north of the village of Ocracoke we had been driving into the village in the evenings to eat dinner at one of the many fine restaurants. But on Friday, June 4, we ate at the Ocrafolk Festival Pot-Luck, held in the Ocracoke School Gym, home of the Ocracoke Dolphins, the moniker of both the boys and girls high school basketball teams. Since preparing a main dish in the campground would have been difficult, we opted to make a donation for a main dish provided by one of the many local restaurants so that we could attend. We are glad we did.

I have attended many church pot luck dinners but none of them as big as the pot luck at the Ocrafolk Festival. Several hundred people must have been present for the dinner in the gym and the two rows of food tables at the end of the basketball court, with a couple of tables off to the side, could barely hold the potpourri of both homemade and restaurant made appetizers, main dishes, side dishes, salads and desserts. Both my wife and I enjoyed all we could eat. As the dinner was winding down there was still some food available and people were going back for seconds and thirds.

After the dinner there was the Ocrafolk Festival Live Fundraising Auction, which we stayed for. Local resident Philip Howard served as auctioneer and young women from Ocracoke’s Girl Scout Troop helped display the more than three dozen items to be auctioned, featuring items in a way that would rival Vanna White.

I bid on a few items, including the Life Ring from the Schooner Windfall  (photo top right), but had set a forty dollar limit for myself and was outbid every time. Some of the items I had bid on sold for over a hundred dollars. The last item to be auctioned off was an Ocrafolk Festival Quilt that ultimately sold for a little less than a thousand dollars after two local matriarchs engaged in a bidding war to claim the one of a kind prize. Even though I could not claim a single winning bid I thoroughly enjoyed the auction as some of the items being auctioned were accompanied by interesting comments and stories, and Phil Howard was an entertaining auctioneer.

Even though the Green Grass Cloggers were scheduled to perform in the School Gym following the auction, my wife and I chose to call it an evening when the auction concluded. After all, we were sleeping a couple miles away in a tent and had become used to going to bed soon after the sun set. Nevertheless, we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening and were glad we decided to opt for pot luck rather than eating dinner in a restaurant.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Beach Reads

My reading tastes and habits are a bit odd. I generally read for information and inspiration rather than entertainment even when I am reading for pleasure. I am more inclined to read non-fiction than fiction and usually opt for theology, philosophy, the theory and practice of ministry, or an instructional book or trip narrative related to climbing or kayaking. For instance, many people, even most people, might pack a few novels to read on the beach when they are on vacation. I did not. While enjoying a two week beach vacation I finished reading one book that I had started before leaving for our vacation. I read a second book cover to cover while I was at the shore, and I started a third book before leaving the beach for home, none of them novels.

The book I had started reading before my recent vacation and finished reading while at the beach was Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. The book I started while at the beach but did not finish until after I returned home was Kathleen Norris’s Acedia & Me. The book I read from cover to cover while at the beach, most of it while on the beach with the Atlantic Ocean before me, was arguably one of the best and most appropriate beach reads I could have read.

According to Wikipedia, Rachel Carson's The Sea Around Us won both the 1952 National Book Award in nonfiction and a Burroughs Medal in nature writing. What book would make a better read while camping in a National Seashore just a dune’s walk away from the ocean along the Mid-Atlantic Coast than this award winning classic? Carson’s occasional references to Cape Hatteras and the Gulf Stream made the reading even more enjoyable since our campsite was just a few miles south of Cape Hatteras and in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and fishing charter boats left daily for the Gulf Stream from Ocracoke’s nearby docks.

I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring back when I was still in high school, many years ago, before "Global Climate Change" or "The Exxon Valdez" became part of our environmental lexicon. I was reading a lot of nature and environmental literature back then, including numerous writings by John Muir and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Silent Spring was part of that mix and a significant contributor of my growing environmental consciousness. Why I waited over thirty-five years and for a beach vacation to follow up my reading of Silent Spring by reading The Sea Around Us I’ll never know. Maybe the Gulf of Mexico oil leak environmental disaster had somthing to do with my finally picking this book up and reading it.

Carson wrote The Sea Around Us nearly sixty years ago in 1951 and the book is therefore a bit dated. I actually read The Newly Revised, Illustrated Edition, which Carson updated in 1960 with footnotes, but that was fifty years ago, so the science is still a little dated. But Carson’s poetic prose is not. Her command of and passion for science and the environment is communicated in a flowing prose that suggests she is as much a writer as a scientist, and her love of and respect for “that great mother of life, the sea” is evident on almost every page.

After reading on Facebook that I was reading The Sea Around Us while I was at the beach, a friend and colleague who happens to be a College English Professor responded that he recently had his English 101 students read an excerpt from Silent Spring that he chose basically at random out of an anthology. "It was excellent; I had no idea she was such a good writer" he opined. Maybe next time he will assign an excerpt from The Sea Around Us. Better yet, maybe he will offer a course on North American Environmental Writers and Literature which would include the entire text of The Sea Around Us.

The accompanying photo top right was taken at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on Ocracoke Island during our recent vacation.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

You Are Invited to the Sebago Canoe Club All Club Invitational

The Sebago Canoe Club will be will be hosting an "All Club Invitational" on Saturday July 17th. Planned as a “a gathering of human powered boaters on Jamaica Bay” the club expects to welcome and host 100-200 guest kayakers, sailors, canoeists, rowers and other types of human powered boaters.

Jamaica Bay, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, encompasses over 16,000 acres of islands, salt marshes, beaches, duck marshes and is teeming with wildlife. It is an excellent environment for kayaking, canoeing, rowing and sailing.

At the All Club Invitational you can explore Jamaica Bay on your own or join a guided trip into the Bay escorted by a member of the Sebago Canoe Club. There will be specific destinations where you can land and hear information about the harbor estuary system from partner organizations. Or if you do not feel like paddling you can simply relax on the grounds of the Sebago Canoe Club and enjoy the day.

The All Club Invitational is totally FREE. The Sebago Canoe Club will be providing food and drinks all day long for its friends and guests AT NO CHARGE. However, you should bring along energy bars and water for any trips you plan to take out into the bay.

Reservations are not required but the club does ask that ALL clubs and individuals let it know by June 28th that they are coming so the club can plan for the appropriate amount of parking, food, drink, trips etc.

Unfortunately you will need to bring your own boat. Due to the large number of people expected, the club will not be able to loan out boats. If you are a member of a club, try to borrow a club boat. If you are an individual, see if you can borrow a boat from a friend or rent one for the day from a local outfitter.

ANY human powered craft can participate. The Sebago Canoe Club has an 8' wide ramp leading down to a 30' dock that has a low freeboard. If your boat is larger and cannot fit down Sebago’s ramp, you can launch from one of the neighbor’s concrete boat ramps. Sebago has the facility to launch any boat of any size and weight. The ONLY RESTRICTION is that to enter Jamaica Bay you have to go under a bridge with a 28' clearance at mean high tide. Sebago asks that any person with a boat that cannot fit down the Sebago ramp should let it know so it can arrange for you to moor and launch at one of the adjoining clubs.

Please contact the All Club Invitational Coordinator at by June 28th to reserve a spot.

Sebago is accessible by public transportation or by car. See the club's website for more information. Please be aware that you CANNOT take a trailer on any Parkway in New York and will have to use truck routes if you are towing a boat to come to Sebago.

Free parking on the street is available in front of the club and Sebago has made arrangements with neighboring clubs to use their parking lots at no charge.

Trailer parking, including overnight parking, is also available, but please contact the All Club Invitational Coordinator at by June 28th to reserve a spot.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Writers Writing About Writing Smack Down: Annie Vs. Anne

The stage for this smack down was set by various contributors to A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Art. Harold Fickett, in his reflection, recommends Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life as further reading, noting that it is “jam-packed with helpful and wonderful anecdotes, particularly about the craziness of getting started.” In her reflection, Emilie Griffin also recommends The Writing Life, stating that it “has strong overtones of faith.” On the other hand, in her reflection, Luci Shaw recommends as further reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, opining “no other writer has written so whimsically . . . , showing how the daily word-by-word practice of writing can add up to a story, or a book.”

Taking these recommendations to heart, I purchased both books in the hope that reading Dillard and Lamott might help me become a better writer. Not having read either author before, I first turned to The Writing Life by Annie Dillard because she wrote it in 1989, five years before Lamott wrote Bird by Bird in 1994. I like to read authors and related books chronologically, thus Dillard before Lamott.

If this writers writing about writing smack down can be decided by the amount of my highlighting in each book, then with seventeen passages highlighted in Dillard’s 111 manuscript compared to the more than six dozen words, phrases and passages I highlighted in Lamott’s 238 page document, then Bird by Bird is the clear champion.

I found Dillard’s The Writing Life a hodgepodge of pithy advice that read like it had been culled from Dillard’s own reading rather than her experience. Lamott, on the other hand, engaged me with what read like personal recollections from life and a life of writing, recollections filled with engaging and entertaining metaphors, words, phrases and a healthy dose of respectful irreverence. I laughed more reading Lamott than I did reading Dillard and the former gave me more ideas for future writing projects than the former.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Worthy Cause Worth Supporting


My colleague in ministry and Facebook friend Bryan McFarland is a musician with a mission to help the Presbyterian Hunger Program. Bryan is a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) minister serving as the Hunger Action Advocate in North Carolina’s Salem Presbytery. He is also a singer/songwriter spear-heading a unique project of "music on a mission" helping the Presbyterian Hunger Program. He is planning to release new CD of hymns, songs and spirituals he and other musicians will be recording later this summer. I have heard Bryan perform and he is quite good.

10% of the production costs and at least 20% of the profits will be given to the Presbyterian Hunger Program. To learn more about his project read a feature story by the Presbyterian News Service. To pledge you support (HURRY, PLEDGING ENDS JUNE 30) go here. And yes, I have pledged!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


My wife and I are not big ORV (Off Road Vehicle) fanatics. We have, however, driven our 2003 AWD (All Wheel Drive) Honda Element out onto the beach at Ocracoke, NC a few times, incluing our most recent trip, when the photo at right was taken. We have driven out onto the beach enough times to know that we must lower the air pressure in the tires down to at least 20 psi or even as low as 15 psi, and to have a tow strap and a sand shovel in the car just in case we need to get ourselves out or be towed out. We never used the tow rope or the shovel, except to help dig other people of for other people to be towed out, until our most recent beach trip.

There seems to be an unwritten code of conduct for beach drivers. First, take responsibility for yourself. In other words, always have a sand shovel and tow strap in your vehicle. Second, if another driver gets stuck in the sand, do not immediately offer or render assistance. Allow the stuck driver enough time and attempts to get out so that they might preserve their dignity and self esteem. They could just free themselves without your help. If after a few attempts and a few minutes it seems that they are not making any progress or are actually making matters worse by becoming even more entrenched in the sand, then by all means walk over to them with your sand shovel in hand and offer to help dig them out and offer to help push them out.

Our most recent beach trip was the first time that we ourselves became stuck in the sand. Driving from NC Highway 12 onto the beach at Ramp 67, the sand seemed to grow deeper and softer the further we drove until, about two thirds of the way to the beach, we bottomed out and the front end of our Element, snow plow like, started moving sand and eventually became stuck. I climbed out of the car, dug out the front tires and removed sand from beneath the car with the intent of backing out, but the car would not move.

Eventually some good Samaritans from Ohio in a big honking 4x4 pickup truck drove up behind us. They helped me back up by pushing the front end of the car backwards as I slipped the manual transmission into reverse and slowly applied the gas. Thanks to their help I was able to back up into firmer and shallower sand and kept backing up all the way to Highway 12!

I regret I did not have any cold beer in the cooler in the car to offer these good guys. The few times I have helped dig or push someone out of their beach sand trap, more times than not, I have been rewarded or thanked with a cold one.

Back on the main road we drove south and successfully made it onto the beach at ramp 70 where the sand was both shallower and firmer than at Ramp 67.

Eventually the two buckeyes that had helped push us out, drove by and stopped to tell us that even in their big honking 4x4 with high clearance, they were not able to make it out to the beach at ramp 67. After they had pushed us out they had made it only a little farther than we had before they themselves backed out because the sand was even deeper and softer. My pride and self esteem were preserved with the news.

A few days later we were exploring sound side access points where we might go crabbing and perhaps launch our kayaks. We had successfully driven from Highway 12 to two sound side access points but while exploring a third access point once again bottomed out and became stuck in the sand. Even though we were less than twenty yards from firm ground I could tell that even deeper and softer sand separated our Honda from that firm ground and there was no use trying to drive forward. I tried digging us out so that I could back up but was not able to free us from our entrapment.

A local resident in a four wheel drive drove up behind us and helped me try to push our vehicle backward as my wife drove but our car remained stuck. When he offered to pull me out I broke out our tow strap, he hooked it up to his vehicle, and pulled us out of our little private sand trap to firmer ground, where I was able to turn the car around and head back out to Highway 12 in forward rather than reverse. Unfortunately I had no cold beer to say thanks.

Several days later we had our Element out on the beach and were enjoying the sand and surf when I noticed a four wheel drive vehicle had become stuck about forty yards away from us. The Passengers appeared to be digging sand from around the tires and one of them would occasionally climb back into the car and try to extricate it. After watching for several minutes and attempts I finally grabbed our sand shovel and tow strap and headed their way.

It turned out that the two men and women whose vehicle was stuck were not only from near Pittsburgh but were big Steelers and Pirate fans, in other words, my kind of people. They had been trying to dig themselves out using their hands and a child’s small plastic toy shovel. They had also bottomed out with sand up to the engine block. After digging awhile it became apparent that the vehicle was not going to move under its own power.

The driver of a nearby four wheel drive offered to pull thevehicle out, so I unwrapped my tow strap and hooked it to the frame of the stuck vehicle. The driver of the other 4WD hooked the other end of the strap to his trailer hitch and after two or three attempts was able to free the stuck vehicle, which drove a few feet to firmer sand, where I unhooked the tow strap.

The occupants of the extricated vehicle offered many thanks and a free place to stay if I were ever in Pittsburgh, but no cold beer.

Note to self: Add a cold six pack as the third peice of essential beach driving gear.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I’m Back

My wife, dog and I returned less than twenty-four hours ago from a two week vacation that included thirteen days and twelve nights of car camping at the National Park Service camp ground on Ocracoke Island, part of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. A photo of our campsite appears to the right. The ocean lies just beyond the dune in the background.

With lots of photos and stories to write and tell, I now have a backlog of "shore" material for Summit to Shore.

While we ate breakfasts in the campground and lunches on the beach, we ate dinners in restaurants every night except for the night we ate at a community pot-luck. Our activities included kayaking in the ocean and sound, crabbing, beach walking, attending a music and arts and crafts festival, an evening ghost story walk, boating among dolphins, shopping and reading. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

About The June 2010 Header Photo

The June Header Photo premiered a few days ago, on Friday, May 28. Personal travel plans prevented me from posting the photo today. The Blogger platform, however, allowed me to write this post at that time but to delay its posting until June 1.
The photo was taken over a year ago on May 25, 2009, during my most recent serious climbing trip to the Gunks. That means it has been over a year, far too long, since I last went climbing.

The scene features the western slope and face of New York’s Shawangunk Ridge looking south from the popular climbing area of the Gunks known as the Trapps.