DAY 11 - Van Buren County - June 15, 2013

Today started with a different kind of litter pick up. Up to this point on the tour, all of our pick ups have been along roadsides. This one was about 30-40 feet away from the roadside – just off the public road right-of-way. For that reason, county litter crews cannot legally remove the litter. That is where our team came in. With the permission of the property owner, an elderly woman living in poverty with her adult children, we were able to gather up and bag a couple of large piles of litter that had accumulated over a period of years – old, rotting furniture, child's plastic toys, stuffed animals, shoes, beer bottles, plastic bottles, etc. We then moved the gear twenty or so feet to the right-of-way along the edge of the road where it can be picked up legally by the county. This simple action of a few hours toned down a long-standing eyesore in this rural community. We weren't able to make the front yard spotless, but we made a big dent. The home is still a wreck of a dwelling, but at least its a start. My sincere hope is that the unfortunate souls who live here will find a way to pull themselves up and take a bit more pride in their surroundings. Maybe this will be the spark they need to move in that direction. Their situation of a rotting dwelling with mounds of accumulating trash in the front yard is a rather common sight in the more poverty-stricken areas of Appalachia. At times today I thought I had stepped into a black and white image from the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression. I felt that kind of depth of poverty coming from the place and its inhabitants. Its a stark reminder of how fortunate most of us our in our country and how we can't and shouldn't turn our backs on those less fortunate. Abject poverty is still alive and well in 21st century America.

The clean-up took place within a few miles of the stunning beauty of Fall Creek Falls State Park , where we met up with Junior Dodson and Roger Neeley with his two teenage daughters, Laura and Grace, who provided a chorus to complement the heart-felt original country tunes from the two best friends and guitar players. Being a day before Father's Day, both songs were fittingly about fathers. Junior's song, , was a touching tribute to his dad's life as a coal miner, bringing home a dollar for each cart full of coal he loaded. Junior's dad was a gentle and loving may who did his best to provide for his family on meager earnings. Roger sang a beautiful tune, about his dad's sacrifices as an American soldier in World War II and the lifelong physical and emotional impairment that the Battle of the Bulge caused him. His father was “strong as a buck and mean as a snake” and struggled most of his life with alcoholism. Two very different fathers, but both loved and revered by their sons long after their passing. Junior and Rogers music had such sincerity, such passion, and it was a refreshing alternative to the mass-produced commercial pop flowing from the radio dial.

Junior Dodson, and Neeley Family at Fall Creek Falls State Park

Junior Dodson, and Neeley Family at Fall Creek Falls State Park

Later, at the campground, I reflected on my own turn at fatherhood as I spent time with my daughters hitting a volleyball back and forth and playing with their Barbie camping set. They are both passionate about music and I can't help but wonder if some day they will write and sing a song about me, long after my passing.

Playing with vintage Barbie camping sets at Fall Creek Falls State Park

Playing with vintage Barbie camping sets at Fall Creek Falls State Park