Snow Moon Reflections

I’m having a little trouble keeping all of the different moon names straight. Last night was the Snow Moon. I managed to get a snapshot of it. It doesn’t look different from any other full moon. It’s called the Snow Moon mainly because February tends have the winter’s heaviest snow fall, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. It’s also known as the Hunger Moon or the Bony Moon, because this time of year could mean starvation for some back in the days when you had to hunt for your meals.

I got that mixed up somehow with the Wolf Moon—which was in January. I missed that one. On the other hand, you can think of being hungry as a wolf, or the wolf being at your door, meaning not having the means to fend off starvation. Anyhow, that’s my excuse for getting the Wolf Moon mixed up with the Snow Moon. However, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, some Native Americans actually called the January full moon the Snow Moon.

We did get a lot of snow in both January and February. We shoveled a lot of it. I guess there’s no official name for the problem I have flexing my stiff, sore left ring finger, which I’m pretty sure results from my grip on the snow shovel handle. I also occasionally get a stiff, sore left big toe, which I can’t flex. I believe this is from the way I tend to lean into my left instep when plunging the shovel into a big snowdrift.

Before you get after me with critiques about my body mechanics when snow shoveling, let me say this: I quit twisting my back and throwing the snow over my shoulder this season.

That said about the basic meaning of the Snow Moon according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, there are other interpretations. This can be a time for reflection on transitions in one’s life.

There have been a lot of big and little changes in my life, the biggest one recently being retirement. It has been difficult to release my grip on my identity as a psychiatrist. I’ve been a doctor for a long time. It’s hard to remember what I was before I started medical school in the summer of 1988, which was a pivotal time for me. I joined several other students who were members of minority and disadvantaged groups, including but not limited to African Americans, in the summer enrichment medical school program. It has since developed into what is now the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) at the University of Iowa.

In fact, it was a pivotal time for the University of Iowa College of Medicine. Leaders, including Philip G. Hubbard, were trying to navigate the controversy surrounding the concept of affirmative action. Not everyone accepted the idea with open arms at the time.

These days, I sometimes find myself remembering how I’ve changed over the past several decades. I recall the sometimes-awkward feeling of being a freshman at Huston-Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in the mid-1970s. I had grown up in in a small town in Iowa, where I was often the only Black student in class.

When I was a child, I was lucky enough to have role models from both sides of the apparent racial divide. Although Paul ‘Blackie’ Espinosa was not African American, he took me and my younger brother to a Twins baseball game. While I don’t remember much about that day except that it was fiendishly hot—I remember how kind Blackie was to us.

I remember Al Martin, who was an African American artist in the community where I grew up. He took me to an art show where he displayed some of his paintings. Here again, while the Iowa weather was a small distraction (it was a very cold fall day), I looked up to Al as a leader.

I also remember a local pastor, Glen Bandel, who was white and who came to our house one terrible night when my mother was very sick. He stayed all night watching to make sure she didn’t need to go to the hospital. He slept sitting up in a rocking chair. I googled his name the other day. Much to my surprise, he’s still alive and is in his 90s. There was a news item announcing the celebration of his 90th birthday a couple of years ago.

As I try to stitch my past to my present, I keep finding that the strongest thread over the last 43 years has been my wife, Sena. I don’t know where I would be without her. I don’t like to contemplate it. I don’t know how I’ll navigate the changes that are surely happening even as I sit here and, in turn, dread or welcome them. Change will happen, no matter what the shape or tint of the moon, and whether I want it or not.

Keep Looking Up for UFOs

I’m sure you’ve already heard about the sighting of a UFO in the sky over New Mexico by an American Airlines pilot in the last few days. His recorded account sounds like he thought it might be some kind of long, cylindrical missile. It may or may not be the subject of an FBI investigation. I don’t know why the FBI should get involved. Heck, I have an unretouched snapshot of the darn thing by remote viewing via teleportation through a wormhole vortex. I’ve had lots of practice with this potentially dangerous maneuver, but you should not try this at home.

The original story I saw mentioned that the UFO was seen over a remote corner of New Mexico—close to a place called Des Moines. Don’t confuse that with Des Moines, Iowa.  That doesn’t mean that UFOs never visit Iowa. It’s hard to know what to make of all those soybean mutilation reports.

There was a similar incident a couple of weeks ago. A UFO was reportedly spotted over Florida, although that one was said to be an actual missile. I got a shot of that one too, and I’m not so sure. Note the scorch marks on the fuselage.

It’s pretty frustrating that so few people get their cameras out when they see UFOs. You can claim that it’s adequate if we get recordings of pilots saying things like, “I’m seeing a UFO right now and it’s shaped kind of like a cross between a toaster oven and an Emu. I would say more but I’m being abducted as we speak. Can someone call my broker and tell her I want to buy more shares of crop circle futures?”

But a picture is worth a thousand words. How about those tic tac images? Has anyone contacted Ferrero Group to remind them that you need some kind of license to make UFOs? They’re too big to eat, by the way.

Some of you might remember the Public Broadcasting TV show Star Gazer hosted by Jack Horkheimer? He always closed the show by inviting viewers to “Keep looking up!”

That’s something we could all do more of. Keep looking up.

COVID-19 Vaccine Jab Today

Today I got my first COVID-19 vaccine shot and I’m scheduled for the second one. This was through the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (UIHC). It was a slick operation and a lot of people like me (in the 1b class) were getting vaccinated. There were very kind and efficient persons guiding me everywhere I needed to go, starting in the parking lot, all the way in the building, leading to the person who administered the vaccine. And from there, I was never at a loss for where to go next, which was to the waiting room for observation for 15-30 minutes.  I got jabbed. I stuck around for at least 15 minutes as required and had no worrisome reaction symptoms. I was in and out in a half hour.

I requested the vaccine through MyChart about a week ago. I got notified to schedule yesterday through MyChart. I kept getting a message that there were no available openings. I was just going to check back periodically, but was pleasantly surprised this morning when they telephoned me inviting me to come in today.

I also found out from a news item this morning that the Iowa COVID vaccine provider portal may have a glitch in it. Some of the counties were not able to post accurate data. Some are listed as not having available vaccine providers when, in fact, they do. The list varies from day to day. For now, I removed the web link from the menu on my blog until they get it worked out, which I hope will be soon.

But UIHC definitely did not have a problem getting the vaccine into arms today. There are two ways to request the vaccine: through MyChart or a web-based request form. Hang in there and keep trying.

The UIHC COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic gets the Triple Whammy Shout-Out for kindness, safety, and a great job.

Try to Keep Your Buns Warm

I was out shoveling snow this morning in the subzero temperatures.  It’s getting down to 20 and 30 degrees below zero with the wind chills today and tomorrow—and likely beyond. Try to keep your buns warm in weather like that. Sena helped by making hot cocoa when I came in for a break. Little things like that make a big difference. Like many other people in the country, we’re getting out despite the wind chill warnings. There are a couple of reasons for that. None of us want our neighbors falling on our sidewalks. The other reason is that you look for just about any kind of a break from the indoor routine caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, part of which is the TV show lineup.

On the other hand, I get a kick out of the Ancient Aliens program. Last night, William Shatner, the Star Trek star who has his own show about the weird and wonderful, UnXplained. He sat at the head of a table lined by a group of Ancient Aliens heavy hitters, along with video guest stars including physicist Michio Kaku. I think Shatner was playing the role of devil’s advocate, apparently trying to argue against the idea that aliens are driving their UFOs recklessly around our planet while intoxicated on oregano, crashing them on the Weather Channel’s Highway 401 in British Columbia, forcing the Heavy Rescue crews to pull them out of ditches using 65-ton rotators (which look like they’re from another planet, by the way) and occasionally kidnapping various humans for the odd anal probing.

Anyway, I suspect Shatner was playfully provocative and this got the Ancient Alien crew to talking loudly and rapidly all at once, interrupting each other and challenging Shatner to a knife fight and whatnot. Just kidding; they were all very polite and respectful.

Me at the Star Trek Museum in Riverside, Iowa in 2016

I think it’s possible to take the Ancient Aliens show too seriously. I really wondered why Shatner was invited as a guest on Ancient Aliens. Maybe they don’t take themselves as seriously as some people think. Well, OK, they probably do.

In fact, I don’t think Shatner takes his own show, The UnXplained, seriously. I wonder if the title of the show is a sort of jab at the X-Files? Remember the 1999 episode, “The Unnatural”? Josh Exley (played by Jesse Martin) was an alien who took the form of an alien and was an excellent baseball player. He hid among an all-African American baseball team in Roswell in the 1940s but was executed by an alien bounty hunter who didn’t want him mixing with the human race. Think about that irony. The episode was warmly comical and at times, even poked fun at the preoccupation with alien invasions. I actually liked Jesse Martin’s version of the gospel song “Come and Go with Me to That Land.” There is no full version of it, but I also liked Sam Cooke’s rendition. Sena and I both really enjoyed watching the X-Files while eating popcorn. I treasure the memory.

Well, the sun is shining and it has finally almost stopped snowing. I have to go back out and finish shoveling.

Have a great Valentine’s Day tomorrow.

Me and my valentine in New York

Music Appreciation for Black History Month

African Americans have made important contributions to classical music, as I pointed out in the post about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor a couple of months ago. I know a little about classical music although I remember the major composers the way many do, by the 4 Bs: Brahms, Bach, Beethoven, and Bigfoot. Bigfoot could really wail, and still does according to some people. Who could forget his iconic and literal smash hit, “Knock 3 times on a Tree Trunk if You Fear Me” (Opus 3, No. 7, adagio on rye in G-Minor)?

Seriously, it turns out that there is an Iowa Connection for an African American musician, Harry T. Burleigh, who influenced Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, ‘From the New World.’ I listened to the work for first time in my life as I wrote this post. Burleigh was an accomplished composer, arranger, and baritone vocalist. He sang traditional spirituals, which inspired Dvorak to say “In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.” It is reported by some writers that the Largo of Symphony 9 was influenced by spiritual music. I think even my untrained ear caught that.

Anyway, Dvorak visited Spillville, Iowa back in the summer of 1893. He lived on the second floor of what is now the Dvorak Exhibit and the Bily Clock Museum. A Des Moines Register article published in 2018 mentioned him going for walks along the Turkey River and played the organ for the local church congregation. He carried “his little bucket of beer like everybody did back in the day,” according to a member of a Spillville historical group. David Neely, music director and principal conductor of the Des Moines Metro Opera, said Dvorak “…left a legacy in this country. Not many composers did things like that.” And I would add that Harry T. Burleigh left a legacy in this country as well. Not many people do things like that.

Unfortunately, despite having an impressive funeral after his death in 1949, he was initially buried in an unmarked grave in White Plains, New York. He was later given a proper internment in the Erie Cemetery in Pennsylvania.

There is only one surviving recording of him singing “Go Down Moses.” It’s on YouTube. One of his biographers, Jean E. Snyder, commented that Burleigh himself did not care for the recording. He wrote the definitive arrangement of many Negro Spirituals including “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “Deep River.”

Black History Nugget: Huston-Tillotson University

I just encountered a nugget about the history of Huston-Tillotson University (H-TU), one of the 107 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). There is an Iowa connection to the school. In 1877, a farmer named Samuel Huston from either Marengo, Iowa or Honey Creek Township, Iowa (depending on what you read) donated land and money amounting to $10,000 ($9,000 according to other records) to what would become Samuel Huston College in Austin, Texas. In 1952, Samuel Huston College merged with Tillotson College to form Huston-Tillotson College. I was a student there in the mid-1970s.

The Texas State Historical Association (TSHA) says Huston was from Honey Creek Township (there is more than one Honey Creek in Iowa), which is in Iowa County. Just about everyone else says he was from Marengo, which is also in Iowa County.

Baseball legend Jackie Robinson was the basketball coach for one season in the 1940s at Samuel Huston College prior to the merger with Tillotson College. The Rams didn’t fare well, according to the Wikipedia article about H-TU. I recall going to one of the basketball games when I was a student in the 1970s. They didn’t fare well at that game either. At one point, one of the H-TU students in the stands yelled out very loudly “Mets!” This drew laughter even from the fans. He was known for his sense of humor.

The H-TU baseball team played on Downs Field on campus. If I remember the layout correctly, you could cut across Downs Fields to get to Church’s Chicken. It was a short walk. If you press me for details about how I would know that, it might force me to make a few comments about the dining hall food. So, don’t press me. Don’t bother looking for Church’s Chicken in that area on Google maps. It’s long gone.

It wasn’t all about Church’s Chicken. There were outlets for activism at that time. Along with a couple of classmates, I attended a meeting of a few members of the Nation of Islam. We were frisked at the door. Malcolm X had been an influential leader of the Nation of Islam until his assassination in 1965. One speaker at the meeting said a number of times “You might see me anywhere” (Church’s Chicken?). I’m not sure why he said it so many times.

I recall a visiting sociology professor who delivered an electrifying lecture all about how to create change in society by direct action. He assigned me and another student to interview members of the Austin, Texas Police Department about how black people might be targeted for unequal treatment under the law in certain parts of the city. We got stuck in a corner of the department with very large volumes of the uniform crime report. The police were very polite but didn’t say much. I don’t remember how the professor graded us.

One of my favorite teachers at H-TU was Dr. Lamar “Major” Kirven. We called him Major Kirven because he was a military officer as well as a teacher. He taught Black History. He tried to write on the blackboard but nobody could read his handwriting because it was always illegible. It was a running joke with all of his students and he had a great sense of humor about it. One time, I complained about another student in the class who was pretty good at being interruptive. He said, “Brother Amos, patience is a virtue.”  

I’ve been trying to learn from Major Kirven ever since.

February is Black History Month: Lift Every Voice and Sing

February is Black History Month and I have been searching the web for a nice rendition of the song Lift Every Voice and Sing. This is otherwise known as the Negro or Black National Anthem. I found an excellent performance recorded on YouTube by over one hundred students and alumni of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). They are members of the National HBCU Concert Choir.

That means something special to me because I attended Huston-Tillotson University back in the mid-1970s. Sure enough there was a member of the choir from H-TU.

The school was called Huston-Tillotson College back then. I was there for just a couple of years before I transferred credit to Iowa State University, graduating from ISU in the mid-1980s. I remember my first year in the men’s dormitory. That’s right, the women were separated from the men. There was no air conditioning, if you can imagine that in the sweltering summer of Austin, Texas.

I remember vividly the powerful rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing as performed by a woman on an evening radio show I would listen to while trying not to think about the heat. She sang it before every show. I don’t remember anything else about the format or content of the program—just her impossibly perfect voice. I have not heard anything more compelling since then by a single performer.

The history of the song and the lyrics is on the NAACP web site. The first performance was by 500 schoolchildren. The National HBCU Concert Choir version probably fits the intention of the authors, James Weldon Johnson and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson. It’s in the title of the song itself, Lift Every Voice and Sing. It’s meant to be sung by many in unison.

%d bloggers like this: