Embrace Good Traditions

Editor’s note:
George Smith is a co-founder of Marshall’s Wonderland of Lights. He recently sent me this article. It’s something we should all think around.

Traditions, good traditions, the ones that make us smile, that give our kids and grandkids pleasure, that bring back fond memories should be cherished and protected and embraced, revered even.

Marshall has such a tradition, one that is more than 30 years old and has brought more people to this city and produced more smiling faces than any other event…ever.

The Wonderland of Lights is not another festival; it is an institution that must be preserved, changed to fit the times and cultivated with love and reverence.

When Wonderland of Lights was conceived, Marshall was in the midst of the worst economic period since the Great Depression. There were more empty storefronts downtown than were occupied buildings; 18 of the top 22 retail establishments had given up and locked their doors.

From Day 1, the Wonderland of Lights was never about “lights”; it was about the spirit in the hearts of the special people in a special place called Marshall. As co-chairman with J.C. Hughes, Jr. for first five years of the holiday lighting festival, I have a personal bias in making sure the festival not only stays viable…but grows as it glows annually.
A vast majority of the citizens embraced the concept of Wonderland from Day 1. And from the onset, the Chamber of Commerce, Tony Bridge at the radio station, and the News Messenger pushed the idea because it served as a beacon of light in a dark era of the city’s history.

What was so special about Wonderland of Lights?

One night in the first year, I was going around the square, replacing burned out bulbs and talking to visitors. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a woman and four children get out of a car. Something made me watch them. The kids, 10 to about four years of age, were running around under the lighted trees and staring gawk-eyed at the courthouse with its 100,000-plus lights.

The woman watched them and, suddenly, slumped to the ground. I ran over to check on her. “Are you okay?”

She looked up and big tears were coursing down her cheeks. “This is just so beautiful. This is just so incredibly beautiful.”

Her story tore through my heart.

Her husband had left, walked out of the marriage a few weeks before; she had no job, no money and four small children. And Christmas was less than a month away.

She looked up at the lights. “This is our Christmas! I bring the kids up every night and let them run and play and marvel at the beauty.

“It’s all they’ll have this year for Christmas.”

I turned away on the pretense of getting something  to write on which gave me time to wipe my tears away.

I got the lady’s contact information that night and the next day started a “telephone tree” to see if folks could help.

Within 48 hours, the spirit of Marshall rose up: The lady had a job, free day care for the kids, enough money to keep the rented house outside of town and utilities, groceries, and abundant Christmas presents and clothes for all the children. This newspaper gifted her with a Christmas tree, lights and ornaments and a shopping trip to local merchants.

The spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Marshall.

Fast forward a few years. There was an incredibly likable high school girl who volunteered to help string lights and work at the old city hall stage on the intricate task of making light panels in chicken wire.

She was happy, helpful, diligent and hard working. She always carried a smile on her face to share with others.

One night she didn’t show up to work; we learned she had been killed in a car wreck.

The day after her funeral someone put up a small decorated Christmas tree at the gravesite; one of her friend, knowing she loved teddy bears, put a small bear in a glass jar by her gravestone.

The tree and the bear were stolen.

Within a couple of days, there were five small, decorated Christmas trees and more than 10 teddy bears in jars surrounding her gravesite.

The spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Marshall.

Of course, there were detractors for the projects, aginners who didn’t like change, who didn’t like the Chamber or the newspaper and went out of their way to make their feelings known. One lived in a very nice neighborhood and when all his neighbors decorated their houses and landscaping…this resident held on to an intense curmudgeonry with a fierce determination.

About the first of December that year, the resident left on a family vacation and returned to find the house and landscaping ablaze with thousands of tiny white lights, courtesy of his neighbors, who even ran extension cords to their homes to provide power.

The spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Marshall.

Wonderland of Lights is not about Christmas lights; it never has been. Don’t let the special spirit diminish. Embrace and enhance this tradition that only Marshall possesses.

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Just Another Adventure Story

Editor’s Comment:

I met Robert Holmes over 30 years ago.  We first met at a photography seminar that he conducted at Point Reyes National Seashore.  Over the next several years we got to know each other during other seminars and photo shoots.  I found out he had shoot for National Geographic and had traveled all over the world. 

Even though Bob is much older than me ( he was born in Mach 1943 and I was not born until July 1943) we became friends. From our conversations I learned that he had shot extensively in India.  In fact he encouraged me to take a couple of months off and go to India to shoot.  “Play it safe” Munden did not follow through on that trip.

In 2001 when I moved back to Texas, which in some ways is like a third world country,  we lost contact.  All I remembered is that he lived in Mill Valley California.  

About 6 years ago I was attending a block party in Novato California.  Noticed a guy across the room.  I though, “That guy looks a lots like Bob Holmes.”  After I noticed he was staring back at me,  I walked his direction.  At that point me both knew who the other person was.  My hair was shorter than the last time we met.  Bob’s was even shorter.  That was the only difference.  Our conversation took off where we had left off.

As it turned out I was staying with my ex-wife and her husband in the house I had lived in for 15 years.  Bob had moved from Mill Valley and was living in a house three doors down from my old house.  Since that meeting I always try to touch base with Bob during my yearly trips to California.

Bob has lived an exciting live but he rarely provides any details.  COVID-19 has changed all our lives.  Bob’s normal busy travel schedule has come to  an halt.  He has had the time reflect of his past expediences. He first published the attached  story in 2018 and re-posted it a couple of days ago.  This is what real adventurers do.

Ron Munden

and now the real story

Robert Holmes’ career as one of the world’s most successful and prolific travel photographers has extended over 40 years. He is the only photographer to be honored five times by the Society of American Travel Writers with their Travel Photographer of the Year award, most recently for 2017.

He has worked for National Geographic, Geo, Saveur, Life, Time and hundreds of other major magazines and international companies.

His assignments have taken him from coverage of the 1975 British Everest Expedition to searching for snow leopards in the remote valleys of western Nepal for National Geographic Magazine.

Bob has illustrated over 50 books and he has regularly been one of the elite group of the world’s 100 best photojournalists invited to participate in the acclaimed “Day in the Life” series.

Bob is a Fellow of both the Royal Geographical Society and the Explorers Club.

“The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong — that’s when adventure starts.”

– Yvon Chouinard

One misstep would have sent us careening down the mountainside, but caution was not a luxury we could afford, so we moved as fast as we could in the pitch darkness of night. Behind us, an angry mob from the village of Hispar was gaining ground.

The ice axe was still in my hands.

I was exhausted. I was supposed to be documenting the achievements of the scientists and explorers on our team. I had planned on climbing tall mountains and taking awe inspiring photographs. The rescue helicopter, the descent of the glacier, the sickness — none of that was part of the plan. Neither was being chased down a mountainside in the Himalaya.

There, in a remote valley in the middle of the night, the men who chased us were out for blood — my porter Ali’s blood, and my potentially-hepatitis-laden blood.


The Karakoram mountains rise where present-day Afghanistan, China, Pakistan, and India come together — the result of tectonic collisions. It is a land of turbulence: earthquakes that change the faces of mountains; wars that change the borders of nations.

The eponymous highway winds treacherously across deserts and over mountains with frequent, sometimes-deadly, hairpin turns. Today, the Karakoram Highway connects Karachi, Pakistan on the coast of the Indian Ocean to Beijing, China. It is a 4,500-mile-long feat of civil engineering that many have traveled and some call the eighth wonder of the world. But back in July of 1980, the Karakoram Highway was newly built, barely completed, often unnavigable, and off limits to foreigners.

Read The Complete Story By Clicking Here

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Marshall Depot Board shares Amtrak’s plans to restore staffing

Marshall Depot Board shares Amtrak’s plans to restore staffing that was eliminated in 2018 at the Amtrak station in Marshall, Texas and 14 other cities nationwide

Passenger rail advocates from the Marshall Depot Board of Directors shared exciting news on Wednesday that Amtrak is in the process of restoring, in the coming month to six weeks, the paid Customer Service Representative positions at the Marshall, Texas station, as well as the staffing of 14 cities nationwide, which were all eliminated by Amtrak in 2018.

Christina Anderson, member of the Marshall Depot Board and I-20 Corridor Council, who, along with her husband former Harrison County Judge and former Texas State Senator Richard Anderson, headed up the local and regional grassroot efforts in 2018 to urge Amtrak to not eliminate the important staffing at the Marshall station and the other stations nationwide, shared the following statement, on behalf of the Marshall Depot Board:

“During the sadness and difficulty of the ongoing pandemic and with continued gratitude for the brave service of our frontline workers and all working together to battle the current health crisis, we’re very grateful and honored to be able to share some welcomed and happy news with our community and region. On Tuesday, May 19, we received a phone call from Amtrak informing us that Amtrak plans to restore the paid Customer Service Representative staffing at our Marshall Depot station, as well as at the 14 other U.S. cities who had staffing eliminated in 2018.”

Ms. Anderson added:  “Congratulations and much appreciation to all who worked with such dedication—locally, regionally, and nationally—on the grassroots effort to help Amtrak understand the critical role that staffing of our stations plays in our rural and urban communities, plus the critical role that Amtrak’s long-distance National Network plays in providing much-needed transportation options to citizens throughout America. Our community greatly values and appreciates our strong, long-standing partnership with Amtrak, as Marshall is proudly one of the stops along the Texas Eagle route. And, with regard to this issue, we are grateful that our local and national unified voices were heard.”

Cathy Wright, President of the Marshall Depot Board, echoed this sentiment: “We’re so appreciative to all who worked so hard and effectively to bring about this successful outcome, not only in 2018 but over the past two years. We’re thankful for the strong working relationship we have with Amtrak, now and in the past, and we look forward to the relationship continuing to strengthen in the many years to come.”

Amtrak shared the information that there would be a posting internally within Amtrak for the two restored Customer Service Representative (CSR) jobs in Marshall from May 20-May 27. The jobs will then be posted externally. One CSR agent would work Monday through Thursday, the other CSR agent would work Friday through Sunday, for a fully-staffed station in Marshall.

The CSR agents will provide service at the Marshall Depot station in the three hours before, during, and after the arrival and departure of the northbound, as well as the southbound trains on the Texas Eagle route, which provides service between Chicago and San Antonio. The northbound train to Chicago departs each day at 7:31pm and the southbound train to Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio departs at 7:50am.  Marshall is one of only about 525 cities nationwide that has an Amtrak stop.

By way of background, Amtrak announced in the spring of 2018 that the company planned to eliminate the Customer Service Representative staffing at the Marshall Depot station by the end of June of that year.

At that time, Amtrak also announced the elimination of staffing at 14 other cities–Texarkana, Arkansas; Cincinnati, Ohio; Topeka, Kansas; Meridian, Mississippi; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Hammond, Louisiana; Charleston, West Virginia; Fort Madison, Iowa; Ottumwa, Iowa; Garden City, Kansas; La Junta, Colorado; Lamy, New Mexico; Shelby, Montana; and Havre, Montana.

In 2018, upon hearing the news of the proposed staffing elimination, members of the Marshall Depot Board went into action to inform the community and region about the proposed de-staffing and to mobilize them through a letter-writing and petition-signing campaign to Amtrak officials and members of Congress.

“We worked not only throughout our community and region,” Richard Anderson shared, “but also with advocates in some of the other 14 affected cities. We also worked with national rail advocacy groups such as Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization (TEMPO) and Rail Passengers Association to raise awareness with members of Congress and Amtrak about the negative economic, tourism, and quality of life impact that the staffing elimination would have on Marshall, the other cities, and the National Network.”

The Marshall Depot Board received more than 750 signatures on the petition from citizens throughout the region. Petitions were provided to be signed at community events and at local business such as The Ginocchio Restaurant, East Texas Office Supply, Central Perks, Red Poppy Hair Salon, and the T & P Railway Museum, located at the Marshall Depot.

The final petition from our region was presented via mail to the President of Amtrak, Chairman of the Board of Amtrak, as well as to various members of the Texas Congressional delegation.

In the ensuing months, through a continued collaborative effort by rail advocates nationwide concerning the 15 affected cities and related routes, advocates were able to convince Congress to provide the directive to Amtrak to restore the CSR positions in all 15 cities, including Marshall.

 Dr. Bill Pollard, President of the Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization (TEMPO) who also served for nearly 20 years as volunteer Local Revenue Manager for the Texas Eagle, underscored the importance of the CSR staffing to the safety of Amtrak stations.

“Due to their knowledge, experience, and recurrent training,” Dr. Pollard shared, “the Customer Service Representatives provide services to ensure safe entraining and de-training of passengers, safety on the platform, assistance to persons with disabilities and/or special needs, assistance with luggage, and other important services.  They are often the ‘face of Amtrak’ and are the initial or primary contact for the traveling public to access Amtrak’s important transportation services.”

Ms. Anderson shared that the Marshall Depot Board looks forward to sharing additional information as things progress regarding this positive news regarding the restoration of the Amtrak staffing.

She shared: “We can’t underscore enough how fortunate we are to be an Amtrak-served community and the important economic, transportation, and quality of life benefits that Amtrak and the Marshall Depot provide our community and region. We’re also thankful to be a part of  such a strong local, regional, and national network of grassroots advocates in support of passenger rail. Plus, in this uncertain time of the pandemic, we’re fortunate that two jobs are being added to the Marshall economy.”

Cathy Wright added: “On behalf of all the members of the Marshall Depot Board, we wish to thank everyone in our community and region for their support of Amtrak and the Marshall Depot.”

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What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been – Feb. & Mar. 2020 — Morocco

What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been – Feb. & Mar. 2020 — Morocco

I left home for Madrid, Spain on 28 Jan. 2020.  I picked Nancy up at the Casablanca International Airport, Morocco on 22 Feb. 

I believe everyone is in agreement that our world has changed in the last two months.  For those traveling like us the change presented challenges, worries, options to discuss, fall back plans and decisions.

2 Feb 2020 an email I wrote: “I am not saying to do nothing but a student at AZ State U wants to cancel classes, etc. and more people died of measles, flu, car accidents, gun deaths, etc last year and no one thought this was a pandemic and the President and at least one Secretary told us this isn’t an issue.”   (My underline today not at the time of my email.)

The above is my reply to a short string of emails that I started.  I can’t say I wasn’t aware of the C19 virus within days of leaving home.  I will say it wasn’t for another month before I began to think the virus might not only impact our travels but the lives of friends and family.

Dec. 31 China confirms existence of a new virus.

Jan. 20 first reported case in U.S.

Jan. 22 China shuts down Wuhan

Jan. 22 trump: “We have it totally under control.  It’s one person coming in from China.”

I arrived in Madrid, picked up the 4Runner and drove northwest towards Segovia, Avilla, Salamanca, and the tiny village of Santa Cruz located in the Sierra de la Culebra.  I left Santa Cruz for a night and morning in Ciudad Rodrigo before driving onto Toledo.  Toledo to Marbella for new tires and hi-lift jack for the 4Runner.  Broke the 4Runner’s new tires in with a short drive to a ferry from Spain to Morocco on 10 Feb.After new tires and hi lift jack were installed on the 4Runner I took a 10 Feb. afternoon car ferry to Morocco.

And 33 days later Spain declared a state of emergency due to the C19 virus.  I left Spain and was unaware of any talk of the virus – 33 days later the country locks down!

On 22 Feb. I picked Nancy up at the Casablanca International Airport and we drove to Fez for a 4-day/5-night stay.  Our travel plans were based on us staying in Morocco and the Western Sahara until late April – experience maybe the first week of Ramadan.  Then take the ferry back to Spain for a month or more of spring wild flowers and birds.  We were planning on returning home sometime in mid May to early June. 

Feb. 23 Italy locks down – 50,000 cases.

Feb. 27 U.S. stock market crashes.

Feb. 29 First C19 death in U.S.

Mar. 10 Morocco records first C19 death.

We arrived in Marrakesh on the afternoon of 12 March.  This was the day of our C19 virus awakening and the possibility of not going home anytime soon.  We did the typical Moroccan check-in that includes a 30+ minute conversation with the owner.  This was when we heard Morocco had at least one confirmed virus death, people were buying and hoarding toilet paper just like in the U.S. and Europeans had been told to book flights for home by their Embassies. 

Our riad owner, not the U.S. government made us start to think the C19 virus was something we needed to investigate and understand.  We both spent the remainder of the day and the next morning on the Internet reading as much as we could digest about the C19 virus.  It quickly became apparent that the scientific and medical experts believed this was more than just a serious flu, it was a killer virus that has no medical cure and a vaccine is at minimum 12 to 18 months and maybe several years away from widespread distribution.

Mar. 11 trump holds an Oval office speech – we watched.  Stock market futures crash over 600 points during his talk.

Mar 12 trump: “If an American is coming back or anybody is coming back, we’re testing,  We have a tremendous testing setup where people coming in have to be tested … We’re not putting them on planes if it shows positive, but if they do come here, we’re quarantining.”

Mar. 13 Morocco suspends all flights & ferries to Spain, Italy, France & Algeria.

Mar. 13 I sent an email to several doctors and family: Do we stay or do we go?  Consensus replies was: stay.  It was felt things were worse in the U.S. than Morocco.

Mar. 14 Spain goes into lock down.

Mar. 14 Morocco adds 25 countries to its list of no flights but the U.S. isn’t on the list.

Mar. 14 I spent 6+ hours trying to find a flight out of Morocco to anywhere – no luck.

Mar. 15 Morocco suspends all international flights.

Mar. 15 Watched videos of the complete unpreparness of our federal gov. and the resulting total chaos for returning Americans at U.S. airports – decided we had better chance of not catching C19 virus in Morocco than returning to a U.S. airport.

Mar. 15 Watched VP Pence’s live briefing on NPR – I felt we were hearing scientific/medical facts.

Everyday Nancy and I were spending several hours on the Internet and then discuss “Should we stay or Should we go” (Take off of Clash song in 1981 – thanks to cousin Rick on bringing this to my attention and yes I own the CD.)  It was always the last thing we discussed before going to sleep and the first thing we talked about in the morning.

We knew the C19 virus cases were rising exponentially in the U.S.  But the U.S. is home, family is there, and overall medical care for those with Medicare is good and yes we are in that group of privileged individuals with government provided Medicare.  Morocco has few cases, took action earlier than the U.S., has poor public health care but good private care hospitals but no one – family – to help us if both of us catch the C19 virus.

Mar. 15 Contacted U.S. Embassy by email and provided requested contact information for the two of us.

Mar. 16 Received auto response from Embassy telling us if we die call the emergency number and same if we go to jail – nothing about C19 virus or evacuation flights to U.S.

Mar. 16 Morocco shuts down all restaurants, tourist locations, etc.

We spent our day at our hotel but went out at 4:30 to get dinner and watched the city shut down from our outdoor restaurant table.  About 5:40 I told Nancy it was time to pay the bill and head home – the restaurant staff was moving chairs and tables into the building.

We decided that it would be safer for us somewhere other than Marrakesh.  I decided the safer place at least for the next week would be Taroudant.  Taroudant is 3.5 hrs south; only 80,000 people and I booked a room outside of town.

At this point in time I am beginning to think we won’t be able to travel home until June and maybe later.  No flights out of Morocco and only foreign government sponsored flights are allowed to land and pick-up their citizens.  I am reading the virus will peak in April/May in the U.S.  If the U.S. is to peak in April/May hopefully Morocco will peak earlier and be able to open its airports to at least a limited number of international flights by June.  Therefore we have sort of resigned ourselves to a long stay in Morocco.

Since it appeared we were going to be in Morocco for several more months I began looking for additional places with small populations and off the primary tourist path to visit and hunker down for days, weeks or months.

On our arrival we made the mistake of driving down this street.  Although later we were told Marrakesh was almost empty of tourist on the day of our arrival we did no more than three or four miles per hour due to foot traffic, horse carriages, bikes and taxis.

minute walk. 

Our bedroom and then there is the large bathroom, the larger sitting room and the covered porch which is two-thirds the size of the above three rooms combined.

18 Mar – Washington Post, Forbes, NBC, WSJ, NYT, etc. report on stranded Americans in Morocco, Peru, etc. and no help from the U.S. government in getting these Americans home.

An email by me on the morning of 19 Mar:

“Come to Morocco plenty of food and toilet paper.  Unfortunately no U.S. government in Morocco is helping U.S. citizens.

If you want to see the State Departments total disregard for helping U.S. citizens go to US Embassy Morocco and check out their twitter response and then read the replies (by American citizens).  I believe the last twitter message from Embassy was 30 hours ago; UK updates every hour and has been flying people home for at least the last three days.  Believe the U.S. ambassador was head of Automobile Association and doesn’t believe in climate change.  Arrived in Jan. and haven’t bother to check to see if he is still here.

We took a very nice drive for about 4.5 hours.  I touched an ATM and washed hands and took a gas receipt paper and washed hands. Sitting on our terrace and waiting for dinner in about three hours.

Stay healthy!”

During our drive we beat the rain home but the effects of the rain beat us the next day.

A second email by me on the morning of 19 Mar.: “Hiding out in Morocco. 

Will come home when flights are available or should the gov/US Embassy get its act together. Other countries flew or are flying citizens home and giving hourly updates. 

U S is recommending you try to fly to another country and at this time don’t think helping citizens fly home is necessary. Last BS embassy twitter is 30 hrs ago. DRAIN THE SWAMP, BABY!”

Nancy’s phone woke her up at 3:40 am. Friday 20 Mar.  It was an email from the State Department notifying Americans in Morocco that there would be five flights beginning at 9:30 Friday morning or less than six hours from the time of the message.  Nancy woke me up and I in a less than good humor got up and politely replied to the Embassy requesting two seats for the U.S. and providing all requested information on the two of us. I then notified family we were coming home.  Then back to bed for more sleep.

We got up early and packed.  I asked for our breakfast about 30 minutes earlier than our previously requested 9:00 am time.  We let the owner know we were leaving and would not be staying another night with them (or more).  Settled up our bill and tipped our English translator and more importantly very good cook.

We were out the gate by 10:00 am and that gave us five and half hours to make a three and half hour trip – as long as you don’t drive into a sinkhole.

I hit the hole with the front tire and said something like, “oh shit!”  The rear tire sank up to the axle. 

I opened the door and squeezed out of my seat to the ground, climbed up to the roof rack, open the storage box and threw down our shovel, then unlocked our traction boards and threw them down, climbed down and began digging. 

Nancy volunteered to walk back to our hotel to get help. 

The digging: the tire is in mud but less than a foot forward of the tire or back from the tire is dry almost concrete, rocky dirt.  I am thinking I may get the mud away from the tire but don’t think my collapsible shovel is strong enough to penetrate the dry rock hard dirt.  Don’t think I can create a ramp so as to place the traction boards under the wheel.  Keep digging, Tom.

In the next 15 minutes I made damn little progress in getting us out of the hole.  Nancy returned with the owner and his grounds man.  They spent the next 20 to 30 minutes trying to pull us out with the owner’s Land Rover.  No luck. 

The grounds man called for a tractor.  About 15 minutes later a small farm tractor showed up.  First try – nothing.  The grounds man and an on looker using someone’s pick and my shovel spent ten minutes digging and then the tractor tried a second time.  I was in 4-wheel drive, the tractor was pulling and slowly I began to move – Yes, we are on dry ground!!!

Before I can pay for all this help – everyone was gone.  Gone like in less than five minutes after I was out of the hole.  Not a single person ever put their hand out, they just helped.

We drove back to the hotel.  Dropped the grounds man off.  But he wouldn’t let us leave until he has washed the mud off the 4Runner and cleaned our floor mats.  I gave him money and asked him to spread it around to those who helped us.  As is the custom in Morocco he refused the money but I told him the money was a gift for their generosity in helping us not a payment.

Out the gate and on our way again.  Drove a little faster than the speed limit for the first hour.  Then for the next two-hour we were on a 4-lane divided highway with a posted speed limit of 120 km/72 mph and I averaged a little more than 80.

We arrived at the airport and drove into the parking lot.  Grabbed our bags, locked the 4Runner and began walking toward a very empty airport entrance.

I will state the Embassy people at the airport had everything in a very organized setup.  First table you provide your name and they find you on a computer.  They give you a promissory note to fill out and provided a pen.  You fill out the form and drop your pen into a box – the pens are not reused.  Next table an official checks your paperwork.  This official then points you to the line to stand in for issuance of your ticket.  We were a little surprised that we were flying British Airways rather than a U.S. carrier.  Took us less than ten minutes in line before we were in front of a ticketing agent checked our bags and had our tickets handed to us.  This was a very efficient ticketing process.

Our gate is A2 – middle far left in photograph.  As you can see in the photograph not a lot of people at our gate and the other gates are not in use.

Our flight left about an hour late.  I am guessing the flight was 60% or less full.  We talked with one of the stewardesses for 45 minutes or more before and during the flight.  She told us she was given only a couple of hours from notification at home to takeoff of the flight.  There were almost no provisions on the plane – one water and one bag of nuts per person.

We landed and deboarded.  We were met by a British Airway representative who passed out vouchers for a bus ride from and back to the airport.  Took maybe three minutes to go through passport control.  Five minutes to pickup our bags and then it was out the terminal doors to our bus.  Less than ten minutes later our bus was on its way – and you were lucky if no one was less than three feet away from you.  I will say it was a happy crowded bus and no one was complaining.

We arrived at a Radisson hotel.  Stood in a line for a couple of minutes where everybody kept several steps away from the nearest person to them and then received our room number and entry card plus our dinner and breakfast vouchers.

Before we left our table for the dinner buffet I made a quick stop at the bar for two gin martinis up.  We definitely are no longer in Morocco – (1) a bar is available and (2) the price of the martinis was about one sixth of our daily budget in Morocco.  But after our day even a high priced martini didn’t bring our moods down.

I woke up the next morning and checked on our flight.  Our flight was on British Airway not a U.S. carrier and to leave at 3:30 pm.  We did breakfast and about 11:00 am caught the bus to the airport.

We stood in a very short line to check in.  The British Airway agent asked for my name and I gave it to her.  “Sir you don’t appear in our reservation system.”  A couple of minutes later she finds William Allin which should have been Thomas William Allin.  Five minutes later she has the name corrected and issues my ticket.

“Sir, your wife’s name.”  Nancy answers with Nancy Melissa Key.  “Hmm, I don’t see that name”.  Five minutes later, “Sir do you have your ticket subs from yesterday’s flight?”  I have no reason why but for one of the few times in my life if ever I say yes and hand our ticket stubs to her.  Long story short, the agent spent 20+ minutes on the phone to someone and never let them hang up until she had printed a ticket for Nancy and handed it to her.

Our flight to Dallas was uneventful – just like I want every flight to be.  Shortly after we boarded we were given a form to fill out and told to present it to some unknown person when we land.  Deboarding was slow – they allowed 15 people at a time to get off.  The person who collects our forms tells everyone we have been given the wrong forms, hands us new forms and we fill them out by using the jet way wall as a writing surface.

Once inside the terminal our forms are collected and we are told we are being requested to self-quarantine for 14 days – that’s it.  No temperature taken and of course no test since the government still doesn’t have enough test for hospitals much less airports.

We pass through Pass Port control and into the United States.  We were home.

Again, I must say as little help as the U.S. government and our State Department provided us the Embassy staff at the Marrakesh airport was very professional and friendly.

I can’t think of a time when it’s more important that factual information is provided from the President of your country than a worldwide pandemic or war.  Individual citizens have to make decisions based on this information.  If we had been provided factual information maybe we would have (or could have) left Morocco before Morocco shut down all international flights.  Maybe we would have and maybe we wouldn’t have caught a flight out but I never had the opportunity to make this decision because of misinformation or no information.

I also want to state that even thought this pandemic virus is a complicated issue I felt the scientific and medical community provided easy to understand and straightforward information.  My error was in not reading the scientific and medical information back in Feb. rather than waiting until early to mid March.

This debacle has been eye opener for me.  I have always felt that our U.S. Passport provided a certain security other countries couldn’t provide their citizens and the backing of the U.S. government.  I now know this is no longer a fact.  Our Embassy diplomatic staffs no longer are able to provide timely information or assistance as quickly as other countries’ embassies.

We aren’t going to stop traveling but I now know I must rely on ourselves in times of trouble. 

I hope everyone will get out and see the world.  It’s a wonderful place to explore.

Tom Allin

September 26th marks a decade since Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge opened

This Thursday, from 3:00-6:00, volunteers will be on hand at the Visitor’s Center at the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Zeugner Dr, Karnack, TX 75661, to share history of the refuge, and help direct them to interesting hikes, providing just cold water and interpretation/welcoming.

Background: September 26th marks a decade that the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Karnack, Texas, has been open to the public.  Many elected officials at the local, state and federal level, as well as employees of their agencies, alongside local nonprofits and local people, all had a hand in the journey to opening this resource to the public.  In 1997 the decommissioning of the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant allowed the Caddo Lake Institute to lease significant lands at the plant to prove the ecological value of the site.  That resulted in an agreement for the transfer of ownership from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, creating the overlay Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge on October 19, 2000. The plant has been gradually conveyed to USFWS as as clean-up of the contamination of the areas of the lands were used by the Army of manufacturing explosives, and other munitions are completed. 

The Refuge Officially opened to the public on September 26th, 2009.  Open dawn to dusk, the public has access to:  a 6 mile auto tour route, and many more miles of road suitable for cycling; 6 hiking trails providing over 10 miles of trail; 9 miles of horseback trails; multiple bird blinds; the Visitor Center; Starr Ranch Pavillion; and a boat ramp for canoes and kayaks.  The Refuge also hosts white-tailed deer hunts and feral hog hunts. Included are opportunities for youths and hunters with disabilities. 

The Refuge purpose is the management, conservation, and protection of migratory birds and other fish and wildlife.  This bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem provides essential habitat for a diversity of migratory and resident wildlife species in Texas.   Caddo Lake NWR contains some of the best examples of mature flooded bald cypress forest in the United States and includes cypress trees nearly 400 years old.  The Caddo Lake wetlands also support one of the most diverse plant communities in Texas.    The wetlands of Caddo Lake are very important to migratory bird species within the Central Flyway.  The area supports one of the highest breeding populations of wood ducks, prothonotary warblers, and other birds in the United States.  With recent reports showing a steep decline in our nation’s birds, this key habitat is even more crucial.  Fish and Wildlife Service Water right, resulting from the Refuge designation, now helps protect flows into the Lake and thus habitat for many fish, bird, and vegetation species, including the state threatened paddlefish.

For more about visiting the refuge: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/caddo_lake/.  For more about how to volunteer to help at the refuge:  http://caddofriends.com/ or the Texas Master Naturalists at https://txmn.org/cypress/.  For more about the cleanup at LHAAP: http://www.longhornaap.com/. For more about the Caddo Lake Institute: www.caddolakeinstitute.org

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Viansa Winery Thirty Years Ago

By Deloris Munden

By Deloris Munden

About 30 years ago my technical writing company was a 7-day a week job. It was supposed to be my “retirement” job following my retirement from Uncle Sam. The one where you work a couple of days a week. In this case success was not a good thing.

In the meantime I saw an ad for a new winery nearby that featured 90 acres of wetlands, a deli and wine by the bottle. The name of the winery was Viansa and it was just too close to pass up.

My first trip there was everything the ad promised and more. The wetlands were filled with birds and migrations were fantastic. Wine, cheese and bread was good and I found myself turning away work so that I could visit the winery.

Eventually I was able to get Ron away from his office long enough to see the winery and he liked what he saw.

Bad move! Ron thought I should get a job there. No way. Most of you have been spared the experience of the Munden sales pitch. Ron can become the most nagging, in-your-face person you ever want to meet. I received multiple calls from him daily asking if I had scheduled an interview. He shoved and I would give in a bit. He would shove more and one day I found myself behind a wine tasting bar saying “Hello and welcome to Viansa.”

I must have been crazy.

That was my introduction into the Sonoma Valley wine experience. At the end of the day it was not uncommon for Sam Sebastiani to come in to the winery and share with us what he had been doing in the vineyard that day, the progress of the vines and fruit and to ask us what was selling and what was the feedback.

I couldn’t believe it. Sam’s father, Samueli, was the first generation Sebastiani in Sonoma and he was the driving force that helped Sonoma become what it is today.
What an incredible experience. It was a slow start. We would park our cars by the highway so people would think that we had a lot of visitors.

We started serving triple chocolate cookies with Cabernet Sauvignon which sent our sales soaring. 

And all the while Sam is planting and planting. Olive trees so we could make olive oil, focusing on Italian varietals and having staff meetings to keep us informed.

Ron visited Viansa last week and he said it is so lush and green with lots of visitors enjoying a glass of wine and the beautiful view of Sonoma Valley.

Thank you Ron for being a pest and pushing me into one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had.

Travel Log: Greece 2019

By Ron Munden

30 May 2019: On June 11 my wife Deloris and I will be in Greece. This will be her first trip to Greece. I will be returning after 40 years. I know it was 40 years because:

The Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor, near Middletown, Pa., partially melted down on March 28, 1979. This was the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history, although its small radioactive releases had no detectable health effects on plant workers or the public.

While this was happening in the United States, I was on a cruise ship that took me from the Canary Islands, into the Mediterranean and finally to Greece.

During that trip we visited many places but the place that still stands out in my mind is Mykonos. I have always felt I needed more time in the Greek Islands. That is what motivated me to book a return trip to Greece and the Aegean Islands. They say, “you can never go back – it is never as good the second time.” We are about to find out.

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