We drove northeast from Atlanta to High Point, NC, through South Carolina.

  • The Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Highway, or Route 11, took us through northwestern South Carolina. Along this beautiful road we found Oconee Station State Historic Site:  a stone blockhouse built in 1792 to house troops on the frontier, and an early 19th century brick trading post.  William Bartram, the Quaker botanist, passed this way in the 1790s.  He sketched and recorded the medicinal plants of the Cherokee, including Echinacea.



The blockhouse is on the right, the trader’s house and post on the left.

  • This beautiful ruin stands in a cow pasture. A sign warns us that, according to South Carolina’s bovine law, if  you’re stupid enough to wander into the field and get trampled by a bull, it’s your own ___ fault!  A flock of starlings wheeled over the field and meadowlarks sang.



Along Route 11

  • As we left South Carolina, we passed close to Cowpens, the site of an important 1781 Revolutionary War battle which, like the battle at nearby Kings Mountain, turned the tide of that war in the South.

Lake Norman in Terrell, NC – yet another drowned valley

Our route sliced through layers of American history – geologic time, the pre-colonial times, early colonization, the French & Indian Wars, Revolutionary War, Civil War, slavery, pioneer life, plantations, coal mines, union wars, schools for African-American and Indian and white children, the struggle for civil rights that continues today.


Sunflowers grow in the median strip of I40 west of Winston-Salem, NC.

For every marker we saw or site we stopped at, there were dozens that we passed by unknowing or without the leisure to stop.  And doubtless many stories have never been remembered, perhaps never told.



From the Cumberland Gap we drove south into Tennessee and Knoxville.


Crossing the Clinch River again

  • The Museum of East Tennessee History in Knoxville has a fine permanent display as well as the current exhibition, “Stories in Stitches”, quilts from their beautifully curated permanent collection. One remarkable 19th century quilt shows scenes from the quilter’s life – businesses and people she knew well.  The 3 dimensional style reminds me of arpilleras from the Andes.  Three of the blocks portray her African-American neighbors.

    Crazy quilt


    The quilter tells us about her life and neighbors.



  • At age 19, Sam Houston taught school for one year in Marysville, TN before going to war. He became a war hero and a protégé of Andrew Jackson.  Before he became a teacher, he’d been a clerk in his brothers’ store but ran away to the Cherokee, where he learned their language and was adopted by the hereditary chief.  Later he had a half-Cherokee common law wife.  He disagreed with his mentor Jackson about the treatment of the Indians, yet Houston was put in charge of moving Cherokees from Tennessee to Arkansas in 1817.  Houston had a most colorful life.  I found myself wondering how he reconciled his closeness with the Cherokee with the policies that led to the Trail of Tears.  Or did he ever manage to reconcile them?




  • Another chapter in the history of the Cherokee was written at Fort Loudoun, a fort built by the British in 1756 during the French & Indian Wars. The Overhill Cherokee were the allies of the British and welcomed the fort, it is said.  Yet the British humiliated the Cherokee war chiefs by imprisoning them; the Cherokee besieged the fort and killed many in the garrison after the British surrendered and were promised safe passage.  This fort, unlike the much earlier Fort Christanna, has been rebuilt and these stories of cooperation and betrayal are told in a film at the park.

A palisade fence surrounds Fort Loudoun.  The “chevaux de frise” could block the gate, and  a thorny locust hedge grew outside the palisade.


Tellico Lake has drowned the site where the Cherokee village of Tuskegee once stood.

  • A tortoise crossed the road, we turned back to help it across (it needed no help) and discovered Overhill Gardens, a fine native plant nursery. We also learned that we’d taken a wrong turn and were heading for a gravel road in the mountains!  We turned around.OverhillGardens
  • The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, owned and operated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in Vonore, TN, was closed for renovation. I’d have liked to see the history as told by the Cherokee themselves.

The Cumberland Plateau:  Kentucky’s coalfields


Over Fishtrap Lake in Phyllis, KY, where Lita and Roger Rowlett live



Roger and Lita


Bitter melon and winged beans from the Philippines grow in Lita’s garden – and banana trees!


As a boy, Roger often climbed to the ridge behind his house, where these rock formations have stood for many centuries, looking out over the valleys and the rich forest.

  • In Letcher County we stayed with my old friend, Susie, and visited Gerry, another friend who lives on a small farm. Gerry showed us the spoon that she used to stir apple butter when a child – the spoon is 70 years old.  Her pantry is full of colorful jars of produce that she has put up, and the honey from the hives that her husband William tends.



Lina and Gerry


The apple butter spoon


  • Eula Hall is famous enough now to have a highway named after her and a book written about her. We found her still behind the desk of her office in the health clinic that she fought to establish on Mud Creek in Floyd County.  Eula is almost 90 and not able to do all she once did, but she continues to work for the welfare of the people in the coalfields and to speak out strongly on their behalf.   http://thegroundtruthproject.org/crossing-the-divide-kentucky/

Eula behind her desk


  • Wheelwright, KY was a mining town. I spent many days there in the early 1970s with the families of miners, black and white.  The men worked together, the children went to school together (I have been told, though this seems remarkable during the days of segregation), yet they lived in different parts of town and are buried in different graveyards.  Albert “Shine” Lewis died in 1972, and I last saw his widow Nell in 2010.  I don’t know where she is now.  On this trip I learned about the Eastern Kentucky Social Club, an association of black miners and their families from the coalfields of Kentucky and nearby states.  I’m now reading African American Miners and Migrants:  The Eastern Kentucky Social Club.

Shine with George Tackett


Nell in 2010


Looking down from Shine and Nell’s house to the houses of their African-American neighbors

  • The towns of Benham and Lynch in Harlan County are home to a coal mining museum and to Portal 31, where we took a tour on a small railroad car into the mine itself. US Steel built Lynch in 1917 and operated the mines until the 1950s.  The mine tour features animatronic displays that tell the history of the mine.  “Bloody Harlan” was the site of bitter struggle, and much shed blood, between union organizers and the companies that fought to keep them out.

Our transportation into Portal 31, Lynch, KY


One of the animatronic displays at Portal 31

  • The visitor center at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park tells the story of the Gap’s natural and human history, from the Indian settlers to the European pioneers who flooded through the gap toward the promised Eden of Kentucky. The painful story of the theft of Indian land is told here.

Manifest destiny – one side of the story


This sign greeted us as we entered Kentucky.  Daniel Boone was one of the “long hunters”.  His explorations opened the way for the many thousands who followed. 

Lina and I have just completed a 17 day and 3,600 mile road trip through the Southeast.  I will share some of what we saw and learned.

Ours is a stunningly beautiful country.  For the past two weeks we’ve been in mountains and the valleys between them:  the Blue Ridge, the Shenandoah Valley, Kentucky’s Cumberland Plateau, the “ridge and valley” country, Alleghenies and Berkshires.  We passed large artificial lakes, drowned valleys, created by the TVA and other dam projects – but few wetlands like the swamps and marshes of New Hampshire.  The weather was warm and golden.

We chose as many back roads as we could and so felt closer to the land and its history.  Historic markers by the roadside, quickly glimpsed, yield their secrets thanks to Google.  The stories we learned are a few patches in a vast quilt of American history, complex, painful, fascinating.  Here are some of them, in the order in which we found them.  I have some of my history from Wikipedia, and it has not all been fact checked!

  • Driving through southeastern Virginia, off of I-95, we passed through the Mattaponi Valley, the soybean fields golden yellow – not in flower but in leaf. The Mattaponi Indians have a small reservation.  In the late 16th century, Powhatan was their chief.  His daughter was Pocahontas.
  • From 1714 to 1718, Fort Christanna served as a frontier trading post, a shelter for Siouan tribes from hostile tribes and a school where Indian children learned English language and culture.  We found this site down a dirt road in the midst of a sandy pine forest.  Nothing of the fort is left.  Virginia has created a “Civil Rights in Education Heritage Trail”, and this is one stop along the way:  heritage http://www.varetreat.com/adventures/history-adventures/civil-rights-in-education–trail/


  • Moving west along Route 58 in Virginia, we passed fields of cotton, green-maroon leaves and the open bolls gleaming white.

Cotton - Gossypium sp.   Malva - Mallow

  • In Suffolk, VA, a marker remembered the Nansemond Collegiate Institute, opened in 1890 by black families to provide schooling for their children when none was available elsewhere. It continued to 1927 when a segregated public school for black children was opened.   http://www.markerhistory.com/nansemond-collegiate-institute-marker-ko-2/
  • Further west, Prestwould, a “gentry house” dating from the 1790s, is home to a great collection of furniture and wallpaper from that era. More interesting to me is the garden that Lady Jean Skipwith laid out.  She and Thomas Jefferson corresponded about their collections of native American plants.  A two room slave house has been “restored”: it is far more comfortable than the original would have been.  That history is acknowledged but not stressed during our tour.


  • Still further west, the Reynolds Homestead in Critz, VA turns out to be the ancestral home of R. J. Reynolds, the tobacco magnate. We saw the fine gravestones in the family graveyard and the mostly unmarked graves in the African graveyard, and we learned the story of “ex parte Virginia”, the first court case which, in 1878, upheld the federal government’s right to enforce civil rights legislation on the States.  I hope you can read the text in the photo.  If not, you’ll find it here:



The Reynolds Homestead


The story of Kitty Reynolds

  • Mabry Mill, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, offers a delightful brief visit to pioneer life in the mountains. We loved watching four visitors, perhaps traditional Mennonites, the women in bonnets and long dresses, the men in denim pants and vests, black hats and beards, taking photos of each other with their cell phones.  The sound of the water wheel is music.   Originally fed by an elaborate network of sluices (now in disuse), it could grind grain, power a sawmill and operate a woodworking shop.  Farmers cut sorghum and ground it in a mill to extract the sweet juice for syrup, just as Lina’s neighbors did – on a vast scale – on the sugar plantation where she grew up.



Making sorghum, from the Mabry Mill

  • The Konnarock Training School, founded by Lutheran missionaries in 1924, served the children of isolated mountain communities. A boarding school for girls, it also had day students from the surrounding hollows.  It closed in 1959.



View from near the Meadows of Dan in southwestern Virginia

  • Clinch Mountain runs 200 miles in a straight line. It is part of what is called the ridge and valley country.  Four dear friends live on the mountain or along the Clinch River that runs to its north. Clinch Mountain is on the border of coal country but not quite there.  As we left Virginia, we entered the land of King Coal.

Home on Clinch Mountain



Tomatoes from Maxine and Steve’s garden


The Bush Mill, Nickelsville, VA, built in 1831

I am on my way home now from the Philippines.  When I return, some of my friends will ask me how Filipinos feel about President Duterte’s brutal “war on drugs”.  I realize I won’t have very much to say.  A two week stay is too short to really understand a complex issue, though it is always tempting to become an instant expert.

I can say that some friends who voted for Duterte wish they had not.  The Catholic Church has come out strongly against the indiscriminate killing of suspected drug dealers and users, most of them poor people.  President Duterte has attacked the Church for this stand.  Many Filipinos feel that Duterte has made their country safer and still support him.  Much more I cannot say.

As we drove out of La Carlota on our way to the city of Kabankalan, we passed a large group of heavily armed soldiers lining the road.  A group of men in blue Tshirts were gathered in a field on one side of the road.  The fields we drove past were posted with signs that declared the land off limits to those men, members of a farmer’s group.

Our driver explained that 6,000 hectares (more than 12,000 acres) in this region belong to the Cojuangcos, the wealthy and land rich family to which former presidents Cory and Noynoy Aquino belong.  The struggle to redistribute land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, signed by Cory Aquino on June 10, 1988, has targeted the holdings of the Cojuangco family and others in the landed oligarchy.

A Father Rodrigo Anoran of the Philippine Independent Church (also called the Aglipayan Church) has been in the forefront of this struggle for many years.  (The Aglipayan Church is an offshoot of the Catholic Church that does not recognize the authority of the Pope, allows its priests to marry and is found only in the Philippines.)

Our guide told us that Anoran is the ringleader of the protest we saw:  the soldiers were there to prevent the men in blue Tshirts from occupying the land of the Cojuangcos.  In his opinion, Father Anoran is up to no good.  The men trying to take the land do not even work on the hacienda of the Cojuangcos, he said, but have been imported from the mountains and are being taken advantage of by Father Anoran and others on the left.

Last year I wrote about the social justice movement in the Catholic Church, after we visited our relative Father Jose Cadungon:


The social justice issues that Father Jose and so many others worked and sacrificed for will not go away as long as fabulous wealth exists right next to tremendous poverty.  It was very tempting for me to jump to judgement about what was happening in the fields we drove through.  Then I realized that I really know so little.  My short stay can only raise questions.

For some background on the sugar industry on Negros,


And here is a clipping from 2003 that I found about Father Anoran:


This post is a photo gallery of dry goods (tools, baskets, etc.) from the town market in La Carlota.  The geometry of the displays, the repeating patterns, are very beautiful.

You can read related posts at:






Made from split bamboo


These baskets are cages for chickens.



What we ought to beat our swords into



One kind of bolo …


… and others


The curved sickles have a serrated edge for cutting grass.


Charcoal braziers







Hammocks for babies


Bamboo skewers


Four years ago I wrote about the Philippine jeepney, the iconic form of public transportation.  (“Iconic” is so overused today that it is almost meaningless, but I claim its full meaning for the jeepney!)

https://orionblair.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/jeepney-on-march-1-2013/ https://orionblair.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/jeepney-art/?frame-nonce=65da1b556d

The motorized trike is ubiquitous.   They fill the gaps between the bus and jeepney routes and the final destination.  Lina took these photos of trikes on Negros Occidental.  They are smaller than their Palawan cousins.


A trike at the market in La Carlota

Some drivers have improvised wooden canopies which offer shade and some protection from rain.


Passengers can sit behind the driver, in the trike itself, on the front “bumper” – or, in rural areas, on the roof!



The “trisikad” is a pedal powered trike, also common in La Carlota.



Trikes are used to transport much more than people.


And finally, another wheeled vehicle:  the cart pushed by “sorbeteros”.  As they walk the streets, a hand bell advertises that fruit sorbetes (sherbet or ice cream) are passing by.


One of the pleasures of our travels is stumbling across new places and meeting new people.  At least as satisfying is finding old friends and learning how their lives have changed since our last time together.

Perhaps it was the stunning hedge of bougainvillea that attracted our attention to a small building along a side street in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, in January, 2009.


Walking closer we saw a beautiful mural showing the indigenous peoples of Palawan: the Tagbanua, Pala’wan and Batak.

Natripal mural

The building houses Natripal (United Tribes of Palawan), a federation of tribal peoples who advocate for justice and their traditional rights, as well as sustainable livelihood for their members.  One project focuses on traditional methods of extracting forest honey, preserving the forest and the traditional way of life as well as providing income.  Their struggles are similar to those of tribal peoples all over the world.  You can read more about Natripal here:



Lina and I struck up a friendship with Jinky and Ronald, young staff members of Natripal.  They traveled together on a large bangka to the Tabon Caves, where the skull of Tabon Man (22,000 – 24,000 years old) was found, along with over 1,500 burial jars.  Other human remains date back to perhaps 47,000 years ago.

Lina and Jinky

On the way across the water to the Tabon Caves:  January, 2009

We visited Natripal again and found Jinky, still active and involved in the work of Natripal.  Our visit was too short to learn much more, but the re-connection was important.

Jinky at Natripal

Lina and Jinky:  April, 2017

Two new discoveries in Puerto Princesa:   Binuatan Creations and a small museum devoted to World War II, very close to the former first asylum camp for Vietnamese.

Binuatan Grasses

Binuatan Weaver

Binuatan weaves 17 different plant fibers (field grasses and tree fibers) into brightly colored textiles which are then made into a wide variety of finished products.  The weavers are men and women, many of high school and college age earning extra income.   The weaving itself is simple – no intricate patterns here.  Nor are the fibers ikat dyed, as is the case with the tinalak fiber of Mindanao.   What sets these goods apart are the bright colors, interesting designs and careful finishing.

Binuatan Gift Shop

The Binuatan gift shop

I have written about weaving and fibers in the Philippines before.  You can see these posts at:



The Palawan Special Battalion World War II Museum is new since our last visit to Palawan in 2009. This private museum is owned by Higino “Buddy” Mendoza.  He established the museum in memory of his late father, local hero and guerilla Dr. Higinio Mendoza Sr., who was slain by Japanese troops at Canigaran Beach during World War II.  It is clearly a labor of love, one man’s vision supported by a most idiosyncratic collection!  Artifacts and photos tell the story of the occupation of Palawan by the Japanese, a massacre of American prisoners here, the resistance led by Philippine fighters, the Bataan Death March.  In addition, we see uniforms from all the armies involved in World War II, on the European front as well as the Pacific.  I read profiles of WWII flying “aces” and saw a cap such as a Soviet pilot might have worn – on a female mannequin.  This may not be so strange, as the Soviet Union was the first nation to allow women to fly combat missions.

Russian pilot!

Hdden radio

A “canteen” that hid a radio!

Here are links to Binuatan and the WWII Museum:



For all of us who look forward to our gardens, here are photos from a farm in Amadeo, Cavite that we visited two days ago.





Onions and kale – surprising to see kale flourishing in this hot climate!




Our host, Meloy, sits in back with his son and wife.  He is in his early 20s and already a skilled farmer – and a very hard worker.

Meloy is about to leave with his wife and young son to the family farm in Cabanatuan to help his father to farm.  His brother came with family for a “despedida” – a farewell dinner.  We were invited too.  The meal was served on a banana leaf table cloth.  Everything but the fish came from the land.


From left to right:  taro, cassava (manioc), kangkong or “water spinach”, eggplant, long beans or “sitaw”, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce.  Except for the salad crops, everything was steamed and delicious.


Ampalaya, or bitter melon, grows well on trellises.

Bitter melon (ampalaya) has strong anti-diabetic properties.  The Native Americans of the Southwest used to eat a bitter melon indigenous to that region.  There, and here in the Philippines, the healthy native diet has often been supplanted by fast foods and soda.  A return to food like that we ate on the farm will bring great benefits.  And it is delicious.


Tomatoes are supported on each side by a web of blue plastic twine.



A footnote to the soda story:  on the island of Bacolod, where great amounts of sugar are produced, some restaurants are refusing to serve Coke as the local bottlers are importing high fructose corn syrup from Vietnam – cheaper than the local sugar!

Of the approximately 800,000 people who fled Vietnam by sea after 1975 and arrived safely in another country, some made landfall on the west coast of Palawan, the most westerly of the large Philippine islands.  There they were taken to PFAC, the Philippine First Asylum Camp, in Puerto Princesa.  PFAC opened in 1979, as the “boat people” arrived in great numbers.  (I’ve not been able to get a reasonable estimate of how many Vietnamese passed through PFAC in its 17 years.)

PFAC in 2009

The view east from PFAC

Like their counterparts at first asylum camps in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong, they waited, for months or years, to be resettled in third countries.  Many went on the Philippine Refugee Processing Center (PRPC) in Bataan, where after six months of training they moved on to the US.  Others were never accepted as refugees and remained on Palawan.

The PRPC closed in June, 1994 and the Vietnamese who remained there were taken by boat to Puerto Princesa and from there to PFAC.  Lina accompanied them on this journey.  She had worked since 1986 in PRPC and would spend two more years at PFAC with her Vietnamese friends.  These were families who had been denied refugee status, even though they’d been taken to PRPC, either because of health or legal problems.

Goats at PFAC

In 2009, goats roamed the land where PFAC once stood.

The Philippine camp was unusual among others in Southeast Asia because it allowed its residents to leave the camp during the day and run small businesses, perhaps fishing or selling goods in the market.  The camp itself had a market, schools for children and adults, and places of worship for Buddhists, Catholics and Protestants.

Lina lived about one mile from the camp.  Every morning she’d walk to PFAC in time for a 6AM prayer service at the Vietnamese Protestant church; then enjo y breakfast with her friends.  She would return at midday to her room, rest and shower, then walk back in the afternoon to the camp until evening.   She accompanied these families through the difficult choices they had to make as the camp drew near to closing, as she’d accompanied them through the tremendous disappointment of being refused entry to the US and returning to Palawan.

Lubaton & Anh!

At Viet Ville in 2009, with Pham thi Anh (to Lina’s right) and Pastor Lubaton (to my right), who worked in the Protestant Church in PFAC with Lina.

These friends now live all over the world, and we have visited them in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, all over the US and back in Vietnam.  They love Lina and she loves them, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet them through her and to hear their stories.  If you’ve been reading this blog in past years, you’ve already met many of them.

PFAC closed in 1996.  By that time, many Vietnamese had accepted repatriation with cash gifts to help them establish themselves again in Vietnam.  A few were forcibly repatriated, but unlike other countries in Southeast Asia, the Philippines allowed others to stay.  The Catholic Church opposed forced repatriation and supported the integration of the remaining Vietnamese into Philippine society.

Vietville Restaurant

The Viet Ville restaurant

With the help of the church, a 13 hectare village called VietVille was built in 1997.  It contained “more than 200 cottages, a restaurant, a chapel, a pagoda, and a vast playground for children that included a basketball court”.   Over 1,500 Vietnamese moved there, but by 2006, most had been accepted for resettlement in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

In 2009 we visited Viet Ville and met Pham thi Anh, a lovely older woman who has made her life on Palawan, running the kitchen that now serves tourists who include Viet Ville on their itinerary to nearby Honda Bay.

Pham thi Anh

Pham thi Anh and Lina in 2017

We returned a few days ago to see Anh again and to enjoy her good food.  She and another old woman are the only Vietnamese left.  They continue to run the restaurant with the help of the Filipino staff.  The French colonials bequeathed good coffee and baguettes to the Vietnamese, and the Vietnamese have now brought those gifts to Palawan along with their wonderful cuisine.  Crisp loaves of “banh mi” are now found at many restaurants in Puerto Princesa which advertise Vietnamese cooking.

Banh mi!

Banh mi

Will Viet Ville survive as a tourist stop if not as a home for Vietnamese?  That will depend on the Church’s willingness to intercede again, to invest in developing the site.  Anh told us that the Vatican must make this decision.

While we talked, a workman was repainting the arched gate to the Catholic Church in preparation for a celebration of Our Lady of La Vang, who appeared to persecuted Catholics in Vietnam in 1798.  Boat people reported that the Virgin Mary and Guanyin, the Boddhisattva of Compassion, appeared to them at times of greatest danger on the seas and helped them through.  Faith has played an important role in the lives of many of our friends.  Anh concluded that all she and we can do is to pray for a good outcome.

VietVille Church

If you’d like to read previous posts about the Philippine Refugee Processing Center, go back to

“Journey to the Philippines”  https://orionblair.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/journey-to-the-philippines/

“Riot”    https://orionblair.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/330/

“Belinda’s Journey”      https://orionblair.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/belindas-story-the-long-journey-home/