TITLE: AUTHOR: Bernie DATE: 10:43 PM STATUS: Publish ----- BODY:
Yep, Christmas is over and I can smile knowing the Record is mine.

A reason to smile. The Record is ours.

The Record, of course, is owning the World's Largest Mule Drawn Christmas Wreath. Yes, I'm sure it's the Record because it scored a 5.5 on the MDWS (Mule Drawn Wreath Scale). 5.5 being the wreath diameter, in feet, at its narrowest part.

Wreath detail. Yes, that's a bailing twine bow. Each loop is half the length of a Bermuda hay bale.

Not convinced? Well don't argue. Who else in your neighborhood lugged a 5 1/2-foot red cedar and haystring wreath 20 miles by mule wagon?

who cares...? just get this stupid thing off my wagon and get me some grain...

This afternoon the record-setting arrangement was dropped off with friends who plan to use it for the traditional New Years celebration - a bonfire. In lieu of a tire and a gallon of kerosene to get things going, they figure this wreath will serve nicely.

I, unfortunately, will be unable to attend as I'm heading for a fiery occasion of another sort. That's right, I'm going to Oriental, NC to run the dragon and drop the croaker at midnight.

The Oriental dragon (TownDock.net photo)

If you've never climbed into the beast for the charge down Hodges Street, bring your pots and pans and come on out. The dragon runs twice on New Year's eve, at 8 pm for the young 'uns and 11:00 pm for the older 'uns.

Then the croaker drops at midnight, or as soon as the paint dries. Rumor has it there's a new fish in the works. Meet me at the usual spot on Hodges Street across from the town dock.

Happy New Year!

-------- TITLE: AUTHOR: Bernie DATE: 11:45 PM STATUS: Publish ----- BODY:
Written aboard sailing vessel Sea Bird
Nelson Harbor, Antigua
Christmas 1999

Come late December, the Caribbean's tropical version of Christmas hits fever pitch. Reggae groups sing of snow and sleds and roasting chestnuts on open fires. Steel pan bands hammer out renditions of "White Christmas" and "Jingle Bells" while taxi drivers in tropical prints argue the turkey versus ham debate. Between the heat, the steel pans and the arguing cabbies, I find it hard to cultivate that cozy Christmas feeling.

To jump start my Christmas spirit aboard my steel cutter Sea Bird, I water my basil plant, the one that survived on the circular pool of light that shone through the nav station porthole. The salt air was so harsh it had to live inside. This year, it would serve as my Christmas tree.

Sea Bird's Caribbean Christmas tree

Then I set up my nativity scene. It had been a going-away present from my aunt. My worn but cherished menagerie includes three tiny but wise wooden men, a tin foil Star of Bethlehem, two miniature candles, three origami stars and a heavenly host of trumpeting angels. Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus live in a two-inch tall pole barn. The whole collection fits into a battered four by six-inch box.

As I unpack the box I notice that a year's worth of hard sailing has changed the look of Christmas. A few of the angels have lost their wings. Rummaging around the box I'm rewarded with one mismatched pair. I manage to patch up the white angel. The other two wingless ones will have to keep the wise men company on the ground.

Casualty number two is the blue wise man who's chipped his golden crown. Because I don't have any gold paint I retouch his dented crown with a red pen. I'll just have to imagine his crown is studded with rubies.

I set up the creche on Sea Bird's bulkhead cabin heater. This makes a fine platform for the nativity scene because it reminds me of cooler Christmas weather back home. I tape the tin foil Star of Bethlehem to the stovepipe. The angels and lesser stars I suspend from lengths of light fishing line. To keep the wise men, the manger and the fallen angels in place while I sail, I secure them to the stovetop with pieces of white Velcro. Because I cut the Velcro too large, it looks like each figure is standing on a tiny drift of snow. This oversight only adds perceived Christmas chill to the tropical air. It's nothing a cup of hot tea can't cure.

Tea time aboard Sea Bird (Melinda Penkava photo)

As Sea Bird travels between islands, my nautical creche takes on a life of its own. One day an unusually jarring wave tips over the red wise man, cleanly knocking off his wooden head. Feeling guilty I grub out the instant epoxy and glue the head back on my decapitated friend. Of course the angels are shedding their cardboard wings like day old flying ants. I try to fix them as quickly as I can because they are too eerie swinging around without wings. In their graceless state, they look like they're being hanged for bad behavior.

As if wings weren't enough, the cherubs also start dropping their instruments. First the little drummer angel drops his miniscule drum. I can't find it on the cabin sole so now he swings over the wise men wielding what appear to be two tiny chopsticks. As if in cohorts, the blue trumpet angel loses his instrument (which suspiciously resembles a golf tee) and is resigned to spending the rest of the Yule season empty-handed. Yesterday the white angel redeemed the others by catching the Star of Bethlehem after it came untaped from the stovepipe. Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus weather it beautifully in their pole barn stable.

Sea Bird under sail (Will and Deni McIntrye photo)

Despite the humor of my rapidly disintegrating nativity scene, it gets me in the Christmas spirit. By now, the creche has become a living village. I have become its self appointed caretaker charged with keeping order and nurturing the occasional minor injury. Days, the angels and stars spin lazily to the motion of the Sea Bird. Nights they circle by candle light over the sleeping baby Jesus, casting elegant shadows on the mahogany coachroof. Their presence and antics cheer me immensely.

Sea Bird's scaled back decorations bring me back to simpler Christmas times. On top of the ship's stove, I rediscover the simple thrill of Yule time uncluttered by guilt-driven gift giving and high pressure Christmas shopping. I catch myself staring peacefully at the nativity scene to see who could use a helping hand. Every time I discover something new.

From aboard the Sea Bird, I wish you all a simple and peaceful Christmas. I hope you all discover your own quiet places to ponder the mysteries of the season. I wish I could show you mine. Only I must go now.

I hear angel wings falling.

copyright 2006 by Bernie Harberts
-------- TITLE: AUTHOR: Bernie DATE: 8:07 PM STATUS: Publish ----- BODY:
There I was, lined up for the Southern Pines Christmas parade. The Shriner Mini Car Unit was creating a miniature traffic jam behind my mule wagon and I was reflecting on how, earlier that morning, Polly had amused herself by eating on my home made Christmas wreath- the one I'd cobbled together at the last minute out of with cedar boughs and baling twine.

That's when I met the Aberdeen Sardine Queen.

I'd read of her in the local newspaper - how earlier this year, she'd won her crown at the Aberdeen Sardine Festival. And now here she was! Walking slowly alongside the Lost Sea Wagon, doing her tactful best to steer clear of the milling Shriners in their mini cars. She wore a blue skirt. Sequined fish swam across her hem and shoes.

How I knew it was the Sardine Queen

I climbed down from the Lost Sea wagon, praying Polly wouldn't run off - figuring out a way to introduce myself.

Now you have to understand I'm reserved by nature. That's why, in the past, I've run away to sea for months at a time. And celebrities? Forget about it. I've never met one because I don't have elbows sharp enough to barge up to one and say "Hi! My name's Bernie and I just loved you in...".

But this time it was easy. "Hi there!" she greeted me, and when I asked if she really was the Sardine Queen, she threw her arms wide to display the sash.

The 2006 Aberdeen Sardine Queen greeting

We talked a while, until it was clear Polly wasn't going to run away (this was her first parade with me). In real life, the Sardine Queen's name was Carol Gelfo. Somewhere in the discussion, she mentioned the sardine song.


"Oh yes, I have my own song," she told me. "I made it up myself in the shower." Then she began singing.

"Sardine, sardine, wonderful fish,
Looking so pretty sitting on my dish..."

My head swam like it does when I used to free dive among the coral reefs, following a red and blue parrot fish among the fan corals. She was divine! Wow, what a voice, so angelic, yet so oceanic as it floated from one clear note to the next.

I was so swept away by her delivery, her words faded from letters to the color blue. Maybe I stopped breathing because when my head stopped swimming, I heard the song's final words and they were "...could taste so foul".

Wow, such a heavenly song about, well, a dead fish that wound up with a can for a coffin and a Saltine for a tombstone.

Her song done,the Sardine Queen regaled me with stories of her reign - how she'd won the crown in October and, soon after, landed a ribbon cutting role at a new restaurant.

Still, fame hadn't gone to her head. A landscaper by trade, she'd kept her job at Gulley's Garden Center just down the street in downtown Southern Pines.

Just then, the Shriners fired up their mini cars, the Aberdeen Sardine Queen's chauffeur revved up her convertible Mustang and I posed for a quick photo with the Queen. The parade was about to begin.

The Sardine Queen jumped into her chauffeured Mustang, her driver hit the gas and with a wave of her wand across Polly's nose, she was off.

The last we saw of the Aberdeen Sardine Queen.


Post Script: Talks are underway between the Aberdeen Sardine Queen and the RiverEarth.com Provisioning Division for, yes, a case of sardines for the Lost Sea Expedition. The brand is still uncertain because, "folks donate all different kinds so it's hard to know what it'll be." This comes as step up from making my own fish jerky aboard my old sailboat the Sea Bird.
-------- TITLE: AUTHOR: Bernie DATE: 6:18 PM STATUS: Publish ----- BODY:
It started with a shadow in Arizona.

While traveling through the Saguaro State on my coast-to-coast mule ride, I snapped a photo of Woody's shadow.

It looked like this.

I always liked that photo for its cave painting simplicity. Still, at the back of my mind I wondered what it would look like if that shadow started walking. Hmm....

This was nothing new. Equine motion has always fascinated folks - and fueled debates.

Back in the late 1800's, railroad tycoon Leland Stanford (of Stanford University fame) hired photographer Eadweard Muybridge to settle one of the longest-standing contentions among horseman. Do all four hooves of a galloping horse ever leave the ground at the same time? Or is one foot always in contact with terra firma?

To settle the debate, Muybridge lined up over a dozen cameras and sent a race horse galloping past. As the horse sped by, its hooves tripped a trip wire attached to the shutter of each camera. Presto, a series of photos, each one taken a split second apart. When viewed in quick succession, an image of a galloping horse appeared.

Here's what that looked like.

Galloping Horse
First published in 1887.

Stanford, it turned out, was right. A galloping horse indeed spent a split second of each stride suspened in air.

But what about a mule shadow - walking?

Hmm. I thought on that for a while. Then I grabbed my camera, hooked mule Polly to the Lost Sea Wagon and drove to nearby Buckin Field to try out my idea. I set up the camera on a tripod, hit the Record button and jumped into the waiting wagon, planning to drive the rig into the viewing field, therefore filming myself.

Click here to view the ground-breaking footage I captured.

Okay. It was a complete flop save for the two bird chirps I captured. The camera turned itself off after a mintue of idly filming Buckin Field, long before I got Polly and the wagon underway.

Still, I didn't feel badly. Surely Muybridge sufffered failures in his early attempts at motion picture photography. There had to have been times when his race horse didn't come thundering down the track and a dozen loaded cameras sat there and captured...


So I tried again. This time I climbed into the wagon, with the camera already turned on, and filmed progress down Valleyview Road in Southern Pines.

Click here to see how that came out.

Will my film footage make me rich as Stanford or famous as Muybridge (in motion picture circles, at least)? No, probably not.

But that's not the point. My original idea was to animate a shadow so I could offer RiverEarth.com readers that extra glimpse into the motion and sounds behind mule travel.

On that accout I reckon I've succeded. In fact, I'm so pleased with the results, I've taken to calling these short vignettes 7 Second Mule Journeys, even if, chief among them, is a long shot of a a dormant hay field.

Stay tuned...