We started out on this very hot day on the outskirts of Martin where we met up with local Girl Scouts for one of our larger pickups of the tour. We walked a remote stretch of country road for about a mile and picked it clean. My hats off to the work ethic and team work of the girl scouts, who never complained once about how hot it was. They just rolled up their sleeves and got it done. Bravo!
After the clean-up, we made our way to the town of Paris and met up with banjo player extraordinaire Dan Knowles at the Robert E. Lee Academy for the Arts. Dan has devoted his life to this instrument and it shows. He played a few tunes from early in the 20th century and did a great job of demonstrating what a versatile instrument the banjo is. Previously, I've only heard the banjo played as part of an ensemble, usually just in rhythmic accompaniment. But here, Dan puts the banjo front and center, carrying the whole melody, and explained to us that “back in the day,” the instrument was commonly used in this way. In fact, the pieces he played for us were composed for the banjo specifically. You can listen to him play here and here.
Later on in Paris, we fittingly found ourselves sitting in the shadow of a scale model replica of the Eiffel Tower as we filmed the melodious sounds of the dulcimers plucked by Larry and Elaine Conger. It was a beautiful setting to the beautiful music, and the strains of September on the Mississippi somehow fit the pace of life in this small rural community.
We ended our day at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park, a very remote setting, and for the first time on the tour, we are without cell phone reception. Because we have been relying so heavily on internet access to stay in touch with the outside world while on tour, it was a wake-up call tonight as we sat in the RV at camp without internet access. The wifi hotspot that we have been traveling with uses cell reception to connect to the internet. It is a great convenience when traveling to do that, but it is pricey. The lack of technology this evening allowed me to reflect on how dependent we are on being “hyper-connected” in our modern age. I am of that generation wedged between the baby boomers and the Millenials – a GenXer. We are the generation that everyone forgets to talk about. There's always a lot of buzz out there about the Boomers and the Millenials, but we are the generation that just missed out of growing up in the cultural revolution of the 60's and on the other side, the technological revolution of the 90's. I have always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about that. Let's face it, growing up in the 70's was boring, although the cultural contributions of the decade are unmistakable, especially in music and film. I did not own a personal computer until I was mid-way through college and by the time the internet was widely available, I was already practically out of graduate school. So I did not have the benefit of growing up with the personal technology that is so pervasive today and have always felt somewhat behind the curve on technological sophistication and hipness. In many ways, this project has forced me to catch up a bit, especially with regards to social media.
Anyway, as I sat in the motor home contemplating the sudden loss of connectivity, it did give me a moment to be grateful for the setting. Throughout our tour, we have been graced with ending our days surrounded by the abundant natural beauty of Tennessee's State Parks. It is truly an exceptional parks system. In fact, in 2007 it was honored as the best state park system in the country by the National Recreation and Park Association. This is no small achievement and is a testament to the tireless dedication of state parks leadership, employees and volunteers. I think our parks our one of the greatest legacies we can leave our children and I'm very proud to live in a state that recognizes that. So far on this tour, I've cherished the time we have spent in the state parks every evening. It has been the perfect way to unwind after long and busy days.
To ensure the parks are always there for us, its our obligation as citizens to continue to support them. Beyond visiting them regularly, the best way to support the state parks is to join a “Friends” group of your local park. Just about every state park has such a group and they are composed of citizen-volunteers who take on tasks such as trail-building, volunteer seasonal interpretation and fundraising. Quite frankly, many of the things we love to see and do in our state parks (and take for granted), would not be possible without the support and involvement of the friends groups. I urge anyone reading this to take a moment to look into the nearest state park friends group and to join them. Here is a good on-line resource to find out what friends groups are in your region. You can support them by monetary donations and by volunteering.