One More Time

I have been blogging for five years now.

In September of 2008, when I was a high school senior who fancied myself enough of a writer that I thought I should do it publicly (still not sure if that was a good idea), I started my first blog.  It was drama-laden and iffy at best in the adjectives department and still exists if you really want to go there.  But don’t think I’ll be providing the URL.

Actual picture of high school me in an actual marching band uniform.  I look like such a baby.  I wish I could go back in time and warn myself not to take Intro to Statistics.

Actual picture of high school me in an actual marching band uniform (I’m on the left). I look like such a baby.  So naive about the ways of the world.  I wish I could go back in time and warn myself not to take Intro to Statistics in college.

In September of 2011, I began my second blog upon departing for a semester in Salzburg, Austria.  I only posted about a dozen times on that one, since I was, you know, living my grandest Sound of Music daydreams.

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In December of 2011, back from my travels, I decided that I didn’t want to return to the high school Blogger blog, and anyway, I had a new goal in mind: I was resolved to blog once a day, every day for the entire new year.  Thus Eight Days a Week was born on WordPress.  When that year ended I stuck around for another year, blogging about whatever struck my fancy.

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In September of 2013, I decided to start yet another blog.  My last, I fervently hope.  I have long wanted my blog to be its own website, to have a higher level of creative control, to have a chance to join blogging communities, and to interact with blog readers on a larger scale.  Additionally, while the name suited my original project well, Eight Days a Week no longer describes what I’m trying to do as a blogger and writer.

So, I’ve moved.  One more time.

Don’t think for a moment that this changes much.  Goodness knows I’ll be writing the same goofy sagas and literary rants as always.  Also, as I mentioned before, my posts from Eight Days a Week have transferred over to the new blog, so the gang’s truly all there.

Although it’s not really goodbye, I want to take what feels like a solemn moment to thank all of you for reading, for following, for liking, for commenting.  Thanks for not rolling your eyes when eye rolling was more than justified.  At least, thanks for not rolling your eyes where I could see you.  It has meant a great deal to have the support of fine folks such as yourselves.

I hope that you’ll follow the link below to the new blog**, where an introduction is waiting:

http://www.hollyinspec.com

**Please note that if you’d like to continue to receive my posts in your email, you’ll have to resubscribe at my new blog (link above).  I will no longer be posting on Eight Days a Week.  

The Oak Tree in my Foot

There was an oak tree in my foot.

It happened when I stepped out onto the deck to snatch dry clothes from the rail before the dark and damp set in.

I heard a crunch under my bare foot, but didn’t realize what had happened until the next morning when I saw the small acorn, splintered and crushed, and felt the bruise in my heel.

By then it was too late.

In the night the bits of acorn in my heel had sprouted thin white tendrils.

The tendrils wound through plains of muscle, delicate vein tunnels, nerves lit up like small cities.

The roots stretched toward the extremities of my left foot, only ceasing their growth when they reached the tip of my big toe.

Then the acorn shards in my heel began to thicken.

The next night while I slept, a tree trunk the circumference of a ChapStick tube poked softly through the bandage I had carefully applied.

It grew downward, splayed into parallel arcs.  Leaves fluttered out, already yellow and orange.

The tiny oak grew acorns of its own and dropped them until they littered the foot of my bed like a forest floor.

The oak tree lived an entire lifetime in one night, hurrying so that by the time I endeavored to put my feet on the floor the next morning, it would only be a stump, a splinter in my heel.

Oak trees aren’t unintelligent, you see.

When mom plucked out the splinter, it was only a splinter.

And when I found a tangled clump of bark and crumbling leaves at the foot of my bed, I blamed the dog.

A Salute to Vienna

Having suffered through a few early morning wake ups in a row, all I wanted to do after work today was lounge on the couch and wait for SNL.  So be it.  I’ve brought pillows and blankets from my bed.  I have technology–laptop, phone, remote control–within arm’s reach.  I have Old Dutch pretzels.  I have a water bottle for the inevitable moment when I start to shrivel from the saltiness of the pretzels.  Ruby is at my feet chewing the squeaker out of her stuffed skunk (that’s an odd sentence).

On TV is, of all things, A Salute to Vienna.  It is “a music and dance gala concert showcasing the musical heritage of Vienna.”  And I’m enjoying it immensely, even though I’ve already forgotten enough German that I can only listen dumbly.

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Photo credit: salutetovienna.com

Every so often, as they tend to do, the PBS folks break in and ask me to donate sixty dollars so that programs like this might remain on television.  Their cause is a noble one, but I have to say that they should consider changing tactics.  Instead of politely, humbly asking for our money, perhaps they should try threats.  Like, “if you don’t call in RIGHT NOW the principal soprano will appear in your living room and blast a high C until you produce your wallet.”  Or, “Remember your little three-week Keeping up with the Kardashians marathon last summer?  Gee, I would hate to let slip about that to your friends and relatives…”

Beyond inspiring brilliant fundraising strategies, A Salute to Vienna is making me remember when I was in Vienna myself a few years ago.  Particularly, when friends and I stood in line for hours in order to get 4 Euro parterre seats for the Magic Flute at the Vienna State Opera.  Despite parterre translating to “standing room in which you may fight over velvet-topped railings to lean on.  Tough luck, Holly.  You should have worn more comfortable shoes.”, it was a beautiful night in a beautiful city.

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Heck, maybe I’ll cough up that sixty dollars.

Lap Swim Musings

Thoughts I have while swimming laps:

1. Remember when I used to be afraid that there was a Great White shark in the pool and that one day it would emerge from the shadowy corner where it’s been lurking for the past two decades and get me?

2. But that can’t happen.  Right?  Right?

3. “Hey Ho” is playing.  I will now hold the kickboard so I can keep my head above water and listen.

4. How many times has my mom lapped me now?  Five?  Does the lifeguard know she’s a triathlete?  Maybe I should tell him so he won’t judge me so harshly for my comparative slowness.

5. I should probably get a serious swimsuit.  The red with blue polka dots was funny the first day, but now I think people half expect me to head for the kiddie pool instead of the deep end.

6. My word I’m tired.  My word I’m going to grip the side and rest while pretending to watch the clock as if I’m taking a scheduled rest.  But really I’m going to rest until I stop panting like a winded rhino.

7. My word I thought I was in shape.  Why is this so hard?

8. I think I’ll have some chocolate when I get home.

9. A small piece of dark, though, because that’s Dr. Oz approved.

10. When did Dr. Oz start running my life?  Oh, when he said that the lotion I was already using was the best kind of lotion.  That was when I decided we must be on the same wavelength.

11.  Maybe two pieces of dark chocolate.

12. I wish I could do a flip turn.  The polka dots must be holding me back.

How I imagine I look while swimming

How I imagine I look while swimming.

How I actually look.

How I actually look.

On My Own: Minnesota Orchestra Musicians Edition

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In my teens (particularly in high school), I never would have gone to something like this by myself.  I would have wanted to be with my family or with a group of friends.  Not because I feared crowds or for my general safety in public, but rather because I would have wanted to look like I belonged, somehow.  Like I was the kind of successful person who had back up, who had peeps, who had voluntary companions.

In my twenties, I’ve discarded this particular security blanket.  I have studying abroad to thank for that, and a certain icy roommate who seemed to either think that I was a swamp monster or entirely nonexistent.  That sort of treatment, rather than crushing my spirit–cue Oprah monologue–forced me to be independent, self-confident, and to chuckle to myself at the horrendous awkwardness of the situation.

An example of my claimed immense self-growth: a few evenings ago I went to a concert by myself.  I drove to Minneapolis (though I’ve always liked driving); ran up on a curb while attempting to park on a smart, residential street; and walked along Lake Harriet until I reached the band shell where the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians would be performing.

I then stood for an hour and a half at the back of the band shell’s lawn listening and periodically patting the head of my standing neighbor’s small black dog.  I enjoyed the music, and the general splendor of being near a great mass of water and seeing the occasional bright-sailed sailboat race across it.

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

Photo credit: Jana Freiband

The only discomfort involved in the outing–aside from when I jumped the curb with witnesses–was that when it comes to classical music, I hardly know what I’m hearing.  There a movement has ended, there the sound is building … that’s about the extent of my knowledge.  I greatly admired the young woman near me who had her eyes closed the entire time and was softly swaying her body as if in a great, music-induced trance.  I would have done the same, hoping for epiphany, but bad things tend to happen when I close my eyes.

You can see me in this photo!  It's tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I'm the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair.  It's a little embarrassing that I'm not even watching the concert in this photo.  But hey--maybe I'm petting the dog?

You can see me in this photo! It’s tough, but if you look straight back from the man sitting center in the green shirt and Twins baseball cap, I’m the girl turned sideways with an orange-ish scarf on and a bun in my hair. It’s a little embarrassing that I’m not even watching the concert in this photo. But hey–maybe I’m petting the dog? Photo credit: Jennifer Simonson

Truthfully, until I arrived at Lake Harriet, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into.  I knew it was a Minnesota Orchestra concert, and that it was free.  But I didn’t realize that these were the Minnesota Orchestra musicians who have been locked out of the Minnesota Orchestral Association since October 2012, following a labor dispute.

Good for them for continuing to perform, despite the lack of steady salary.  Good for them for refusing to let their orchestra become anything less than the world-class group it’s always been.

After the concert was over, I pushed my way to the front of the band shell where buttons and t-shirts were being sold.  I grinned hugely as I bought my button and pinned it on, so much so that the woman at the table asked if I was a musician myself.  No, ma’am.  It just felt good to support a cause again.  Not good as in, my word, I’m such a Good Samaritan, but good as in, my word, even though I’m by myself, I’m part of this large group of happy people who love music and come to listen to it and buy buttons to support it.  What was left of my trembling high school self shrank three sizes that day.

If you’d like to learn more about the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians, their cause, and their upcoming concerts, here‘s the link to their website. The Star Tribune write-up of the Lake Harriet concert and the current lockout situation can be found here.

Writing “Rules”

Admittedly, upon waking this morning and reading the Weather Channel’s description of the cool temperature and slight breeze, I bolted outside in my pajamas to confirm for myself.  I appreciate every change of season as it comes, but there’s something about fall.  Perhaps it’s the (lifelong, I suspect) association with a new school year, but summer to fall feels like the greatest shift of all.  It feels like a shift that permeates not only the temperature and the leaf color, but people’s lives.  Big things are afoot, my friends, for you and for me.  Even if we don’t know what these big things are yet.

What I have for you today, far from the promised materialism of Friday Favorites, are my writing “rules.”  I typed these out last night instead of working on a short story.  That’s right: I wrote rules for writing instead of actually applying the rules and writing.  Though writing the rules was writing …  just not the kind of writing I was thinking of when I wrote them.

Right.  Or write, if you’d prefer.

Needless to say, I don’t actually believe that my writing rules should be your rules, or even that my rules apply to my writing all of the time (thus the obnoxious quotations around “rules”).  But it was a surprisingly good time to think about how I write and how I’d like to write and how I live so that I might write.

Holly’s Written “Rules” For Writing

1. Never show a first draft.  No matter how encouraging your reader is, the brilliancy of your fragile baby draft will shrink in your eyes once you let another’s eyes judge it.  Wait until a draft is as good as you can make it before you let people tell you how far it has yet to go.

"The first draft of anything is shit." -Ernest Hemingway

“The first draft of anything is shit.”  -Ernest Hemingway

2. When stumped, start over.  And by start over, I mean start a new word document, entirely separate from the stump-inducing one.  Retype the parts you liked on the old document, but do so without looking.  This is how you find a new angle: via blank slate.

3. Find your writing power song and don’t be too proud to use it.  Mine is “Briony” from the Atonement film score.  Because of the typewriter sounds.  Note: your power song does not need to be subtle.

4. Read your work out loud, even when you don’t want to, or are in public.  You will always catch typos and icky-sounding syntax that you couldn’t possibly have otherwise.

5. Write down an idea, name, image, conversation the minute it strikes you.  You will have forgotten it by the following morning otherwise.  See “Marble Memo” post for my portable solution.

6. The power of mulling is highly underestimated.  Not everything to do with writing has to do with the act of putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.  Sometimes the solution to a plot tangle is to write until you get it right.  Other times, you simply have to puzzle it out to yourself while circling the local roundabout intersection in your Subaru.

7. Even if you can’t take criticism well, learn to take it and then cry later.  Because you need criticism.

8.  Do things.  Meet people.  Be out in the world.  Be afraid and uncomfortable and awkward and curious.  Let it all filter into your writing.  Emily Dickinson has dibs on the secluded attic writer, and goodness knows we couldn’t do it as well as her anyway.

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9. Tell people you’re a writer.  The title “writer” has nothing to do with publishing status or age or degree.  If you love writing and do it often–whether for hobby or for career–then you’re a writer.  Revel in the raised eyebrows that will often follow your proclamation.  Don’t forget to adopt the Hemingway swagger as you walk away.

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10. Let yourself be intimidated by the greats.  Let yourself revel in their genius, regardless of who the greats are for you.  For me, they’re primarily Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf.  And they scare me and sometimes make me feel like I will never amount to anything because I don’t write like Scott Fitzgerald and Virginia Woolf.  But they also make me proud to be part of this rowdy clan of crazy genius writers.

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11.  Write your own writing rules.  Or know them, at least.  Make some standards for yourself and stick to them.  This is how we prove to those eyebrow raisers (and to ourselves) that what we do is as important and as “real” of a job as, say, accounting.

If you do write your own writing rules, share them with me.  Comment with the link.  I’d love to read them.

Wedding

I have never seen my friend Tim look so happy.  That moment everyone talks about–when the groom first sees the bride start down the aisle–happened just as everyone said it would.  Tim looked as if he were about to cry, explode from happiness, and faint from nervousness all at once.  I almost burst into tears just to see it.  A small edit: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look that happy.

Children, that’s the look your partner should have on your wedding day.

The wedding was in a church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.  I drove from Minneapolis with two friends, and drove from Sauk Centre to Fergus Falls with those same two friends plus Ben.  He still goes to Morris, the lucky dog.  It was a long three and a half hours in the car, punctuated by a visit to Keith’s Kettle for lunch.

Keith’s Kettle is advertised via billboard for about one-hundred miles of highway, and every billboard features a color photograph of Keith himself, smiling and pink-faced.  It has long been a goal of mine to pay a visit to the famed establishment, and now I have.  My chili was actually fairly delicious, if you’re looking for a recommendation.  And we saw Keith himself, greeting diners from the front desk.  He was wearing the exact same polo shirt he wears on the billboards.

When we arrived in Fergus Falls, we piled into the church bathrooms to change.  I called dibs on the shower stall, and was able to shimmy into dress and heels with relative ease.

Then we found the groomsmen, two fellow Morris graduates and former Pine Hall (my freshman dorm) residents, and were brought in to hug the groom before we found our seats.

It was a beautiful, beautiful ceremony, draped with white tulle and navy silk.  I fumbled a little through the rock version of “Amazing Grace” (rather unlike the solemn Catholic version), but that was largely overlooked.  Tears were shed again (in case you’re looking to tally) when the bride and groom distributed roses to their parents and grandparents.

The reception began with an announcement asking guests not to clink glasses in order to get the bride and groom to kiss.  We at table five, self-dubbed the “kids’ table” (made up of a smattering of Tim’s friends from elementary school, high school, and college) hid our disappointment and politely obliged.  A half hour later, the mother of the groom came by our table to say hello and to tell us quietly that if we clinked, she would pretend she didn’t hear.  So we clinked and cheered at the resulting kiss.  An hour later, the bride walked by and told us quietly to clink again.  Not wishing to deny the bride anything on her wedding day, of course we complied.

After cake was eaten and another round of hugs swept the hall, we piled back into the Prius for the ride home.  King was with us now, squished between Ben and I in the dreaded middle backseat.  It was just like freshman year.  We played twenty questions.  King and I sang about the ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall until Evan made us stop.  We talked endlessly about how happy Tim and Morgan had looked.  And how much older they had looked, suddenly.  How impressively distant from the rest of us unmarried, freshly independent, jobless folk.

As we passed illuminated billboard after billboard plastered with Keith’s welcoming grin, I could almost believe that we had been on just another Perkins run in Alexandria, and were now on our way back to campus.

Photo credit: SR Photography

Sidenote: best wedding photograph I’ve ever seen.  Photo credit: SR Photography.

Friday Favorites 3

This song:

You know that song “Mirrors” by whats-his-name former *NSYNC lead?  The song that is played three times an hour on every radio station in the country, including those stations typically reserved for classical and/or talk?  That song has been stuck in my head for the past three days.  This afternoon I even invented an elaborate system which involved showering with the door partly open so that Mac could blast “Mirrors” without suffering steam damage.

Mystery critters:

Ruby–who has only just learned to whine when she has to use the outdoor facilities (before she simply followed one of us around with her ears perked)–and I discovered a mystery whilst patrolling the yard yesterday evening.  Sidenote: Ruby is a dog, not my human younger sister.  My real human younger sister only whines when I talk to her during Pretty Little Liars.  Anyway, some kind of animal was up in a tree clipping sizeable branches and letting them fall to the ground.  There was already a scattering of green-leaved sticks when Ruby and I arrived on site, and a few more fell as we peered up to catch a glimpse of the creature.  No luck.  The foliage was thick enough to hide it, and it quieted once it spotted us.  Was it a squirrel?  But I’ve never seen a squirrel prune branches like that, unless it’s beginning to build a nest for winter and planned to gather the clippings later?  Was it a bear?  I’ve seen a treed bear before.  For a split second I thought maybe a pet monkey had escaped from somewhere and was about to flash down at me, teeth bared.  But perhaps that’s not it either.  If any zoologists care to comment, particularly if you can support my monkey theory, I would be grateful.

This book:

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I would like to dispel any rumors involving the feature film Cheaper by the Dozen, starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt.  The movie is, in fact, based on a real-life family, but only so far as both the real and the fictional family had twelve children.  The real-life family, the Gilbreths, were quite different than Steve and Bonnie’s in every other way.  The parents, Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Sr. and Lillian Moller Gilbreth, were pioneers in the field of motion study around the turn of the century.  And the book–written by two of the children–details the uniqueness of a large family governed by notions of efficiency.  Think French and German language records played in the bathrooms.  The book is heartwarming and very funny:

“Dad himself used to tell a story about one time when Mother went off to fill a lecture engagement and left him in charge at home. When Mother returned, she asked him if everything had run smoothly.
Didn’t have any trouble except with that one over there,’ he replied. ‘But a spanking brought him into line.’
Mother could handle any crisis without losing her composure.
That’s not one of ours, dear,’ she said. ‘He belongs next door.”

Weddings:

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I’m attending my first tomorrow.  I mean, I was a flower girl for my aunt and uncle’s wedding when I was five, but all I remember about that is enjoying the swish of my beautiful dress.  Tomorrow two of my friends from college marry.  I will be wearing lipstick. I will likely cry.  I will likely make a fool of myself on the dance floor.  But I’m so excited that I doubt I’ll sleep well tonight.

This blog reader:

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Okay, guys: this is cool and something you should look into if you, like me, keep tabs on about twelve different blogs.  To get set up, all you have to do is make a free account with Feedly, enter the URLs of the blogs you read, and then the day’s postings appear right on your Feedly.  No need to go to each individual website.  I use Feedly on Mac and as a mobile app, and both are user-friendly and frankly pretty slick.

This TV show:

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When I was in high school and everyone else in the nation was watching The Office, I wasn’t.  What was I watching instead?  Survivor, House Hunters, probably some Disney Channel.  The commentaries on the Chronicles of Narnia DVD.  I don’t know what was wrong with me, either.  I’m on the bandwagon now, however, and happy to be here.  Kevin and his squinty-eyed one liners are my favorites.

Out East Road Trip Day 6: Gettysburg, PA

I expected Gettysburg to look like a battlefield.  To be wide open, possibly filled with uniformed reenactors, and flanked on all sides by tourists with lens-heavy Canons.  And strewn with Civil War bullets, just waiting to be spotted by a sharp-eyed speculator like myself.

More subtle than my imaginings, Gettysburg is a town in Pennsylvania.  Before the battle, it was small.  It contained shops, a seminary, and a few brick houses with porches protruding into thick hydrangeas.  It was a town dissected by roads running from every direction.  These roads made it attractive to both the Union and Confederate armies:  Supplies and men could be brought in easily.  But there was never meant to be a battle, our guide explained.  And somehow it ended up being the bloodiest of all.

Outside of town, the ground slopes up and down softly.  There are hills with familiar names.  I remember my middle school history teacher reciting them to us: Cemetery Hill, Little Round Top, Culp’s Hill.  Between the hills and the advantages they provided to those upon them, are other battle landmarks.  The peach orchard.  The wheat field, which switched occupants–from Northerners to Southerners and back again–four times in one hour.  The boulder-studded field that Pickett’s forces charged across, headed for the clump of trees upon the ridge and the perceived weakness in the Union line.  Wooden fences and rock walls (leftover from some long-ago farmer’s plowing) border fields.  The wooden fences are not original, but are built, so we were told, on the same spots they once occupied.  The crops, too, are in the process of being planted in their pre-battle places.  The peach trees are young.

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The only bits of modernity which have been left alone by the National Park Service are the monuments.  A few decades after the war, veterans returned to the battle site to explain to researchers what had happened where.  And to dedicate monuments to their brave regiments, to their commanding officers.  States built monuments too, so that scattered throughout almost all of Gettysburg are marble pillars and metal statues.  Most northern states are represented, but–unsurprisingly, given the location of the battlefield, the outcome of the battle, and the outcome of the war–there are fewer monuments from southern states.

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In order to know what we were looking at, we went to the Visitors’ Center first.  It boasts a brief film narrated by Morgan Freeman, a museum packed with artifacts, and something called the Cyclorama.  Mom and I decided that the Cyclorama must be a ride of sorts, and spent the first part of the presentation waiting for the floor to move.  It didn’t, but the room-sized, cylindrical painting depicting the entire battle of Gettysburg was impressive.

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Later in the afternoon, we took a bus tour led by a licensed guide.  That’s a federally licensed guide: apparently when Civil War veterans went back to visit the battlefields, they were appalled by the inaccuracies spread by unofficial tour guides.  The veterans managed to pass a bill requiring those who give paid tours in National Military Parks to obtain licenses first.  The process for getting such a license is grueling: application, written exam, training seminar, and oral examination.  It was a good decision to take the bus tour.  Undoubtedly as a result of his extensive testing, our guide was able to go into great detail regarding the battle.  Using landmarks, he explained to us how far the lines of troops extended, where different regiments were stationed, and how both sides moved on each of the three days of the battle.  I typically don’t care much about military tactics, but it was fascinating to learn about the struggle for high ground and the usefulness of the roads and the town.

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Most interesting to me was the aftermath.  Once both sides had moved out–the Confederates first and then the Yankees “in cautious pursuit”–the town was entirely altered.  Wounded men, most of whom were already or would shortly become amputees, filled all corners of nearly every building in town.  Trees and homes were pocked with bullet marks or decimated from cannon fire.  Crops were trampled.  Bodies choked the land for miles.  One witness reported that on July 4th, 1863–the day after the battle ended–one could walk from one end of the wheat field to another without touching the ground.  The dead were buried in shallow graves, many to be uncovered by heavy rainfall.  Horses were considered too difficult to bury, and so most were piled and burned.  Even four months after Gettysburg, when President Lincoln arrived to dedicate the cemetery and deliver his Gettysburg Address, audience members reported feeling nauseous from the lingering stench of death.

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It was a haunting place to visit, more so because it doesn’t look at all as you’d expect the site of 51,000 deaths to look.

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