Getting rid of clutter, getting ready for travel

It’s been a bit of a stressful year. I accepted a job that proved to be a bad fit, not to mention I had to sit in an open office setup that sucked every bit of energy out of me (whoever invented the open office concept is a sadist). I am now freelancing again and decluttering my work area is a top priority. A few days ago I decided I also needed to declutter the closet where I store all of my hiking, caving, backpacking, and paddling gear. Over the past year, I’ve just crammed stuff back in the closet at the end of the weekend, and it was starting to look like an explosion of tents, clothes, and packs. I pulled everything out of the closet and dumped every single bit of gear onto the bedroom floor.

I’m getting ready for a road trip to Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah to research two historic fiction books I’m working on and I need to be able to find all my stuff when I start to pack. I also have several backpacking, hiking, and caving trips on the calendar this fall and was getting tired of not being able to quickly find the gear I need. The last straw was when I couldn’t find my small coffee press for a weekend backpacking trip. I MUST HAVE MY COFFEE.

I sorted through all of my stuff, including three tubs full of various caving and camping gear. I was reminded of the description of Harry Potter’s trunk as he got it ready for a new school year.  The bottom of Harry’s trunk always held a bunch of unidentifiable detritus. At the bottom of my tubs were random pieces of webbing, a lot of dirt, old batteries, string, and even two spare carbide canisters for my old carbide miner’s lamp I used to use as my main caving light when I was young and poor.


It didn’t take long to get everything sorted and stored in an orderly fashion in the closet. I have found that when my belongings are organized and neat, my state of mind is more relaxed and creative.
Now I can get back to writing, and also planning my trip. I’m doing a loop through Manitou Springs, Colorado to visit the Cliff House at Pikes Peak (built in 1873!), taking a tram up to the top of Pikes Peak, swinging through Canon City to visit the Royal Gorge, then swinging down through New Mexico and Utah to visit Chaco Canyon and Hovenweep. It’s been a while since I’ve gone on a road trip specifically to visit some amazing historic sites and I can’t wait.

Plaque marking the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan

Bolted into the side of a nondescript white brick building with red trim in the small town of Pulaski, TN, one block away from an exquisitely beautiful courthouse, is an aged bronze plaque. A modern sign on the door advertises a law firm within the small structure. But this building holds a secret: it was the building where in 1865 a group of five disenchanted Confederate war veterans sat in what was then the office of Judge Thomas M. Jones and decided to start the infamous group called the Ku Klux Klan. In 1917, United Daughters of the Confederacy attached a bronze plaque to the building with the inscription “Ku Klux Klan organized in this, the law office of Judge Thomas M. Jones, Dec. 24, 1865,” along with the names of the five men who were present on that fateful day. But if you visit the building now, you won’t be able to read those words, but you will still be able to see the plaque. pulaski tennessee kkk plaque
I read about this building several years ago and put it on my list of places to visit. Pulaski is only about 30 minutes from my home, but I hadn’t passed through the small town in well over 30 years. My only memory of Pulaski is driving through sometime in the 1970s on a family trip and noticing a sign that mentioned the KKK. I remember asking my mother what that meant, and she told me it was a group that only cared about hate. Since then, whenever I think of Pulaski, I only think of the KKK. But the town is really is much more than that.

Yesterday I was driving near Pulaski and decided to take a short detour to see the KKK plaque for myself. Because now, the plaque looks like this.

pulaski tennessee kkk plaqueIn the late 1980s, Pulaski lawyer Don Massey bought this little building for his law practice. By this point, nobody in town was very thrilled about being known as the birthplace of the KKK. The plaque’s message reminded everyone who saw it the legacy of hate not only in Pulaski, but in many areas throughout the post-war South. The town was unfortunately a destination for followers of messages of racial inequality and hatred, and that was not good for the town’s image. Many people probably wished the plaque would simply disappear. But would that draw even more attention from the KKK?

When Massey bought the building, he did something unexpected. Instead of just removing the plaque and throwing it away, he turned it around so nobody can read the words. He described why in an interview with the Seattle Times:

“I thought by turning the plaque around it would say the same thing as turning your back on racism and the negativism that goes with it and the complacency with the racial situation that we have today, and not just in the South,” Massey said.

When I learned about this reversed plaque, I loved the story. The people of Pulaski aren’t trying to ignore their history or their past, but they are moving past it. What Mr. Massey did is such an eloquent way to remind people of the past while at the same time completely disavowing the message written on that aging piece of bronze.

After visiting Pulaski, I will no longer only think about it as the birthplace of a hate group. It’s a lovely little town, and I will now think of the elegant courthouse building, the friendly people, and the lawyer who decided to make a statement against the most notorious hate group in the country.

If you want to visit: This is an actual business. The address is 205 W. Madison St., Pulaski, TN. The office is just one block away from the courthouse square. Just look for the one story white brick building with red trim. There is plenty of parking. If you stop by on a weekend in the summer months, you’ll like find a farmer’s market in full swing.


Visiting historic Pulaski, Tennessee

Yesterday while driving around in the middle of nowhere Tennessee, I noticed I was close to the small town of Pulaski. Even though the town is only about 30 minutes from my home, I hadn’t visited it in over 30 years. The only time I remember going through Pulaski was on a family trip in the 1970s. While on that trip, I saw a sign noting that the town is the home of the Ku Klux Klan and I asked my mom what that was. She told me a group dedicated to hate.

Ever since then, whenever I thought about Pulaski, I thought about the KKK. And I really, really don’t like the KKK.

But times change, and towns change, and Pulaski had long been on my list of small towns in my area to visit, especially because of how one small business owner dealt with a very public monument to the founding of the KKK (read about how a sign noting the birthplace of the Klan was reversed to counteract its message without erasing its history).

I drove to the small downtown district and the domed Giles County courthouse dominates the view. It’s exquisite. The architectural style of the building is French Renaissance, with a three-story rotunda with a vaulted skylight.

pulaski tennessee courthouseBuilt in 1857, this building survived the Civil War, even when Union troops occupied the town. According to a brochure I picked up on my visit, the Union forces threatened to burn down not only the courthouse, but the entire town, unless local citizens gave them $3,000–a huge amount of money during the Civil War. Thomas Martin, who founded the local Methodist college, paid the money and saved the town and its many beautiful structure.

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Geoglyphs in the Amazon

Researchers long thought that the cultural history of the Amazon rainforest region only featured small bands of hunters and gatherers, much like today’s indigenous cultures. Archaeological research is now showing something quite different:

Dr. Jose Iriarte of Exeter University, UK tells BBC News, “While some researchers think that Amazonia was inhabited by small bands of hunter-gatherers and shifting cultivators who had a minimal impact on the environment, and that the forest we see today is pristine and untouched for thousands of years – mounting evidence is showing this may not be the case.”

“This evidence suggests that Amazonia may have been inhabited by large, numerous, complex and hierarchical societies that had a major impact on the environment; what we call the ‘cultural parkland hypothesis’,” he continues.

As land was cleared for agriculture, people started to discover interesting earthworks long hidden by the jungle foliage. Since the late 1970s, researchers have documented over 450 different glyph areas in the Amazon. Some of the earthworks are intricate, geometric shapes. How did they get there? What were they used for? I always love pondering these kinds of mysteries. Theories about the purpose of the glyphs range from water drainage, use in ceremonials, and defensive sites. I’m looking forward to reading more research about this in the coming years.

Geoglyphs on deforested land at the Fazenda Colorada site in the Amazon rainforest, Rio Branco area, Acre. Site dated c. AD 1283. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.
Geoglyphs on deforested land at the Fazenda Colorada site in the Amazon rainforest, Rio Branco area. Site dated c. AD 1283. Photo from Wikipedia Commons.

History quote of the day: Winston Churchill

Today’s history quote is from one of my favorite people who made history in the 20th century. I love the imagery of this quote.

“History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.” Winston Churchill

winston churchill history quote