Monday, May 29, 2017

Honoring the heroes of my family

Today is Memorial Day and naturally the thoughts of Americans turn to those who served their country in America's wars and paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.  Memorial Day is intended to honor them, while Veteran's Day is set aside each year to honor the men and women who have in the past and currently participate in the Armed Services.  I made the above video not so much for Memorial Day because many of my ancestors survived their respective conflicts, but because they all served when their country called, and they did their duty with honor.  The word honor has lost much of its traditional meaning these days, but traditionally it refers to having a keen sense of ethical conduct and integrity.  It seems to me that many people have lost sight of the fact that the blessings we enjoy now in America are not a birthright of all citizens, but are instead the product of a contract we have with each other, the words of which are written in the blood of those who have come before us who have paid for our freedom with their lives. 

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it really means to call oneself an American.  Our country seems to be divided along so many lines these days that it's difficult to determine where one sub-group ends and the other begins.  For some reason we've decided to ignore the common heritage that has in the past always unified us to concentrate on the minutia of what divides us along social, political and idealogical grounds.  We also seem to have lost sight of the fact that in every war this country has fought, the American soldier was fighting against a common enemy outside our borders and not within the boundaries of our own country.  At no other time in American history with the exception of the Civil War was the enemy we were fighting each other. 

I owe the members of my family who have served their country a debt a gratitude, both for the freedom I enjoy as a citizen of the United States and for my very existence.  I would not even be here were it not for the bad marksmanship of an unknown British soldier, who in 1784 shot my direct ancestor William T. Gaulding at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse and somehow managed not to hit any vital organs.  William Gaulding reported in his pension application that he was wounded severely during that battle when he was shot in the head and 'the bullet exited his nose, thereby rendering him incapable for further service.'  Well, I guess so.  His looks must not have been too much of a mangled mess because he managed to find two women who were willing to marry him, so I am indebted to them as well for enabling him to leave descendants, one of whom is me.  Hurray for that. 

I also think about my Grandfather, Lester P. Gauldin who was an artilleryman and served in France during World War I and took part in the Second Battle of the Somme.  My father told me once that his father was a stretcher-bearer, which means he was one of the men who was given the terrible task of retrieving the bodies of dead and injured comrades from the battlefield at great risk to themselves. I can't imagine the impossibility of having to do something like that, any more than I can imagine the impossible task of facing a rain of German bullets on the beach in Normandy and then facing an impenetrable wall of rock to climb.  I went to the American cemetery at Normandy in 2000 and stood in the midst of white crosses that stretched almost as far as I could see. 
Here's the group I was with, heading for the cliffside to look over the edge and towards the beach where the Americans landed on that day in June of 1944.  The magnitude of what those men accomplished is beyond belief, but the impact of being in a place where Americans defied the possible can only be felt by actually being in the place where it happened, surrounded by white crosses that stretch almost to the horizon.

This is what Americans do.  Americans do the impossible and call it their duty.  When my family came to this country they left their former alliances behind them and became American to the point where they were willing to die to defend an idea.  They were no longer Scots or English or Germans or Irish.  They didn't think of themselves or their fellow citizens as anything less than a unified people of a shared heritage, and neither do I. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Squirrel Season

Squirrel season at the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in San Antonio doesn't mean the same as it does to hunters.  It means Springtime is the time of the year when baby animals are born, and there is an abundance of infant mammals including squirrels that have to be rehabilitated for eventual release.  The little ones have to be fed formula by syringe 4x per day, which means volunteers are doing that almost continually.  I did nothing but feed squirrels for 5 hours yesterday, but eventually they get big enough to eat on their own and we don't have to work so hard.  Some make it; some don't but we all try very hard to get most of them to survive.  I held one last week while it passed away, and yes, even a squirrel's life is valuable and worth preserving. 
"I Know There's a Cat Around Here Somewhere"  by Catherine L. Gauldin, 2010
Colored Pencil and pastel on paper, 14 x 18
I've always liked these animals, and they remind me of little comedians.  A while back I saw a fox squirrel viewing me with a lot of suspicion from behind a tree on the grounds of the Courthouse in Columbus, Texas.  I took a few pictures of him and one of them yielded this portrait in Colored Pencil and pastel.  He made an interesting subject for a drawing, and I liked the result so it's been hanging on my wall ever since.  I think I'd like to do some more images of the various species of Squirrels we have here in Texas. 

The one with the widest distribution is the fox squirrel. It prefers an open, parklike woods where large mature trees shade the forest floor and prevent the under-brush from flourishing, but it can adapt to a variety of forest habitats. It is most abundant in the eastern third of the state, and distribution in the wild is about one squirrel for every two or three acres. Since a fox squirrel ranges over an area of at least ten acres during any one season and may cover forty acres during a year's time, the territories of several often overlap. It is not uncommon for squirrels to share winter food supplies.
http://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/nonpwdpubs/introducing_mammals/squirrels/