Saturday, February 23, 2008


Today I was watching (yet again) the 1978 Buddy Holly Story, the film starring the talented Gary Busey who was nominated for the Academy Award for his outstanding performance and portrayal of Buddy Holly. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score, quite a compliment for the actors, including Busey, who played their instruments and sang all the songs. No voiceovers here.

But we’re not here today to talk about the film, rather the memories prompted by that film. We’ve all experienced traumas and events of such import that we remember those exact moments many years later and, indeed, precisely what we were doing at the time. I can recall several such events that have left their very real permanent impressions on my person. For me they all happened “yesterday” or even a few minutes ago and remain a large part of my psyche and my life experiences.

One such event was the death of Buddy Holly (of the Crickets), Ritchie (La Bamba) Valens
and J. P. Richardson aka "The Big Bopper" on or around 1:05 A.M. on February 3, 1959 which was accurately noted by Don McLean and his song American Pie, as “the day the music died” and the often pondered metaphor for the impending significant changes within American society. The trio was on a chartered flight from Clear Lake/Mason, Iowa to Fargo, North Dakota when their plane went down in a snow storm shortly after take off. For Texans this was an especially traumatic event taking two native sons; Holly, the curly haired, scrawny kid with huge glasses from Lubbock and Richardson from Sabine Pass/Beaumont.

I was a freshman at Lenox School in Lenox, Massachusetts. We were in the middle of deep winter in the Berkshires and the sport of hockey had captured my heart and soul. Mentor and Coach Ed Gleason thought I might have some promise as a goaltender, left-handed or not.

That Tuesday forty-nine years ago I was walking from St. Martin’s Hall to the gym when a fellow student ran up and announced that Buddy Holly had been killed in a plane crash in Iowa! Despite my New England connections my home (and where my Dad lived) was listed as Dallas, Texas and everybody knew how much I loved the music of Texas’ favorite son, Buddy Holly. Many of my fellow students had been punished with my shower renditions of Peggy Sue, That’ll Be The Day and other Holly hits though my voice was pretty good in those days. I loved Holly’s voice and eclectic style and had perfected Holly’s famous hiccup style (actually a glottal stop). I stood shocked and mesmerized for what seemed like an hour in the snow and cold just wondering - Why? I even remember later talking with the very empathetic school headmaster, Dr. Robert L Curry about my feelings and sense of loss.

I visited Clear Lake, Iowa several years ago and found that it has little to brag about except the existence of the still operating Surf Ballroom, the site of Buddy Holly's last concert, a lot of churches and restaurants that remember Buddy Holly in one fashion or another. For all you Rural Hill Amazing Maize Maze aficionados the two and one-half mile wooden stockade Fort Custer Maze in Clear Lake is worthy of your efforts though not as unique as our corn field in Huntersville, North Carolina. Other than that this town is a typical plains farming community and given nearby Clear Lake, an uneventful tourist stop on Interstate 35.

Fast forward four years…

On Friday, November 22, 1963 on or around 2:00 pm good Friend and fellow Sig Ep Floyd “Bud” Moore and I were walking southwest across the campus at Ole Miss and were adjacent to the old Student Union (now Weir Hall) walking towards Fraternity Row. Bud was my mentor and Sigma Phi Epsilon Big Brother and a gentle giant at around 6’ 4” and 260 pounds. He was an offensive guard and had played some ball at Bucknell before transferring to Ole Miss where he ultimately couldn’t play because of a health issue. While the sizable boy from Marietta, Mississippi wasn’t especially large for a guard, considering some of the behemoths on the Rebel football team, he made up for that with a consummately respectful, quiet demeanor and character that set him well apart from all others.

We were about halfway between the Union and the Cafeteria (now the Paul B. Johnson Commons) when the announcement was made that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas at 12:30 PM! We were both shocked and saddened. I recall Bud’s specific initial reaction included despair and anger. It was later reported that there was an air of jubilation on campus. If there was I didn’t see it – after all, our President had just been killed. I do remember that when we were near the fraternity house a passerby tried to make light of the killing and Bud jumped his case like stink on a skunk. He made sure that everything was put in its proper perspective. Like the rest of the country, the campus remained mostly respectful and somber though the events of October 1962 still were recent history (That and other Ole Miss happenings will be the topics of future commentary).

The third event was the incident we all know as 911. On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was conducting an Employee orientation at employer Cybershield in Canton, Georgia. I was facilitating several new employees through the mostly mundane process when around 8:50 AM our receptionist broke into the meeting and announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center! The horror of that moment still haunts me. Of course, at that point we had no idea that this was part of a coordinated plot by the Osama bin Laden inspired Al Qaeda.

I postponed the orientation and set up the monitor/TV in the lobby and turned it on to WSB-TV, the always reliable Atlanta ABC affiliate. ABC Good Morning America co-anchors Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer and their ultimate award winning coverage did great justice to the unfolding story. They brought some reason to the insanity of the moment.

The lobby soon filled with both managers and other staff from the plant. No one worried about the time clock and our work essentially ended for the day. We sat and stood through the entire ordeal and watched in horror when shortly after 9:00 AM on live television yet another hijacked commercial aircraft slammed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Until then we all thought this might be a highly improbable, tragic accident. We now knew that we were dealing with a far sinister issue, maybe even war?

How many planes had been hijacked? By now there were reports that many aircraft had been pressed into service by terrorists. At 9:37 AM another plane plowed into the Pentagon further reinforcing our fears. Reports starting coming in that all commercial and private aircraft were being recalled and grounded and that a full scramble of military aircraft was in process. How many other hijacked aircraft were left to deal with?

That question was interrupted by the horror of the collapse of the New York Trade Center south tower at 9:59 AM and then reports that another commercial airliner, United Airlines flight 93 was headed towards Washington, DC and the Capitol building. We heard of a scramble of interceptor jets and later learned that due to the heroics of many passengers, the aircraft of flight 93 had crashed at 10:03 AM in a field in southwest Pennsylvania about 150 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.

Shortly thereafter we saw live the collapse of the north tower at 10:28 AM and then the lesser known tower seven which collapsed around 5:20 PM because of damage sustained from the collapse of the north tower.

What the hell was happening?

Some Employees quietly sobbed as the carnage played out while most of us just stood in shock and abject horror which eventually turned into anger. We knew that thousands of civilians had most likely died though the final number 2,998 still seems low. The good news was that over 16,000 survived the attacks, due to the bravery of the New York Fire and Police Departments, all probably to the chagrin of our new adversaries. We had turned defeat into a great victory…

Yes, I remember all these events like they were yesterday. I still remember and revere the memory and songs of Buddy Holly who exerted a profound influence on popular music (and me) and was recently ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as #13 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

I remember JFK with all his foibles and accomplishments and the day when a gentle giant from Mississippi made reason the standard.

The heroics of many 911 rescuers and the mostly forgotten minions who helped ease the burden of the victims and the rescuers. The work of the American Red Cross is a given. Friends Sandy and Susan Marshall of the nearby lower Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea who lost many Friends in the attacks helped feed rescuers for weeks while a local, favorite restaurant of mine, Williamson Brothers Bar-B-Q of Canton and Marietta, Georgia relocated to ground zero for one weekend. Danny and Larry Williamson brought their Talladega, Alabama inspired, southern style barbecue to the rescuers who, no doubt, still remember that hospitality. Thanks, guys.

Remembering, that’s what it’s all about and the above events have helped shape my life and my value system. So, what are your special memories?


Ned Buxton

Saturday, February 16, 2008


I’m working with a great company in Plano, Texas who adhere to the olde traditions of Texas. Along with the land on which they built their new and very impressive corporate headquarters on Legacy Drive, they acquired the adjoining large section which is now a pasture for a small herd of Texas Longhorns (yea-ha!) and three seemingly forlorn bison. Yes, I said bison, not buffalo.

It is apparent that in that particular bovine community, the pecking order first includes all the Longhorns and then the bison. They are second class citizens and exist literally at the pleasure of the states favorite breed. Indeed, we are told that once upon a time there used to be four bison until one of the more aggressive longhorns apparently ticked off, tragically gored the critter to death.

Many of the folks with this company call the noble bison, buffaloes, much to the chagrin of this writer who wants to use this platform to once and for all and to the credit of one of the greatest of our native icons, set the record straight.

Scientifically, the term “buffalo” is incorrect for the North American species. Its proper Latin name is Bison bison. Admittedly in American Western culture, the bison is commonly referred to as "buffalo"; however, this is a misnomer. Though both bison and buffalo belong to the same family Bovidae, the term “buffalo” properly applies only to the Asian Water Buffalo and African Buffalo.

So how could this happen? In the seventeenth century, French explorers in North America referred to the new species they encountered as “les boeufs,” meaning oxen or beeves. The English, arriving later, changed the pronunciation to “la buff.” The name grew distorted as “buffle,” “buffler,” “buffillo,” and, eventually, “buffalo.” (We can thank J. Albert Rorabacher and his The American Buffalo in Transition for this clarification.) Makes you wonder what would have happened had the French won the Seven Year’s War?

Naturalists have estimated that in the time of Columbus there were from 60 to 100 million bison in North America ranging on the Great Plains north to south from Great Slave Lake in Canada all the way to Mexico and west to east from Oregon almost to the Atlantic. They were part of the largest community of wild animals ever known to exist on planet Earth. Indeed, Bison were the most numerous single species of large wild mammal on Earth.

Good Friend Chinnubbie MacIntosh of the Muscogee Nation (Creek) and the Scottish Clan MacIntosh near Tulsa, Oklahoma told me of a time when the Osage Hills north of Tulsa were literally blackened by millions and millions of stampeding bison spilling over their gentle slopes.

In 1800 it was estimated there were forty million bison in the United States alone. Then we had the incursion of European settlers into the American West. Most startling, by 1883, there were few wild bison left in the United States. The majority of the forty million animals were killed in a fifty-five year period, beginning in 1830. By 1900, there were less than six hundred wild or domesticated bison left in North America.

While many people including Buffalo Bill Cody denounced the slaughter; no one really did anything to stop it as it was perceived as one of the main food sources for the Native Peoples who the United States Government was bent on eradicating. It just didn’t fit the government’s less than benevolent model. If I had been born native they would have shot and killed me years ago…

Today we are faring a bit better with the American Bison population estimated at 350,000. Though many of them are not genetically pure, having been crossbred, the trend is to reestablish and maintain more purebred populations. There are four genetically pure, free roaming herds on public lands in North America to include the herd at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho; the herd in the Henry Mountains in Utah; the herd at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota and the one on Elk Island in Alberta, Canada. It seems fitting that we have a population at the Wind Cave National Park herd in South Dakota as the Lakota People believe that the location where Man first ascended from the underworld.

The herd at Yellowstone National Park numbers around 3,500 and is descended from the Pelican Valley herd in Yellowstone that sought refuge there from the plains slaughter of the 1800’s.

This herd’s migration to lower elevations outside the park during the winter has caused all sorts of concerns by local ranchers who fear that their livestock may be infected with brucellosis though there has never been a documented case of such a transfer. There have long been differing management perspectives between Yellowstone Park Staff and local ranchers recently exacerbated with the reintroduction of the wolf. We all need to recognize the heroic work by such stalwarts as the now retired Norm Bishop who continues to fight the good fight.

So the fight to preserve this species goes on to even include the efforts of Captain Outrageous aka Ted Turner who raises a herd believed to exceed 45,000 bison on fourteen of his fifteen ranches in seven western US states. That makes it the largest privately held herd in the United States. Turner is serious in his effort to perpetuate the species not only for commercial but also philanthropic reasons.

The Caprock Canyons State Park bison herd, isolated in the Texas Panhandle for over 100 years, has never had a new infusion of (to use a polite term) energy. Turner donated three of his purebred bison bulls in order to counter what has been diagnosed as "inbreeding depression" by the Caprock cows. The bulls came from Turner’s ranch in northeastern New Mexico. We’ll just have to monitor the Caprock herd.

Not that bison aren’t appreciative of our efforts (they aren’t), they are among the most dangerous animals encountered by visitors to the various U.S. and Canadian National Parks, especially Yellowstone National Park. I remember Norm Bishop telling me years ago that they were the most dangerous animal at Yellowstone even more so than the legendary Grizzly bear. Norm recounted curious foreign (especially Japanese) tourists who with limited fluency in English didn’t totally understand the warnings posted in the park. Many were seriously injured or even killed when they ventured too close to the bisons. It took a creative comic book with graphic illustrations to better educate those tourists and minimize the inevitable gorings.

We need realize that bison have a testy disposition and are capable of leaping over fences and other barriers and can run as fast as 35 miles per hour. As validated by Norm Bishop, between 1978 and 1992, over four times as many people in Yellowstone National Park were killed or injured by bison as by bears (12 by bears, 56 by bison). Yikes!

I was aware of that when in 1980 while cross country skiing with Norm in Yellowstone we encountered a huge lone bull. Norm was breaking trail and I was dutifully trying to keep up with this outstanding tri-athlete. Norm had just skied down a short embankment near a stand of pine and stopped at the top of the next rise and was frantically motioning me to stop. Well, I couldn’t and skied past that bull who fortunately could have cared less that we were invading his territory. I didn’t see him until I was literally right next to him. As I skied past I caught his musty smell and snort and looking into his right eye could have literally touched him with my left hand! What a majestic animal though Norm at that time was probably pondering just how he was going to evacuate my carcass back to Ranger headquarters.

So, you see I have a great reverence for the bison and feel that he may be my sprit animal. I certainly appreciate what the company has done there in Plano. One of the recruiters known affectionately as Buffalo Bob now monitors the population of our small bison herd via our monthly Bison Metrics Chart to the delight of all company employees. Given our recent close scrutiny we now fear that we have three bulls somewhat limiting our potential to grow the herd. I wonder if we might convince Ted Turner to loan us a couple of ladies from his ranch in New Mexico?


Ned Buxton

Sunday, February 10, 2008


I was pulling into the parking lot of a local supermarket in far north Dallas the other day when I noted with disdain a now typical winter scene that included a huge flock of grackles and catbirds sitting in the trees, on phone and power lines, cars and any surface that would afford them an easy ingress and egress. It was like one of the more macabre scenes from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. No car was safe from the defecatory recreation (yea, it seems they sometimes do it just for fun) of these little beasties. What were usually prime parking places under trees and lamp poles are now ignored by customers in favor of more remote and uncovered spaces. When I first arrived back in Dallas I took advantage of an open parking space (eureka!) under a tree and near the entrance of the store only to return to a car peppered with bird poop. Why didn’t anyone warn me? You know what that stuff does to car paint? Guess as the new kind on the block, that was my initiation. I headed for the nearest car wash.

Now, despite the fact that the local landlords were now playing the recording of raptors to include eagle and hawk calls, nothing seems to faze these noisy winged wanderers who are, by now, quite comfortable with us humans. The ultimate symbiotic relationship between bird and Homo Sapiens might just be with these two species. I guess I can’t say symbiotic as we humans really don’t derive any benefit from them (OK, they eat Japanese beetles and grubs) as they cause millions and millions of dollars in agricultural damage every year and other damage recounted in the body of this piece.

As I was getting out of my Endeavor much to my delight I noted a rather large female red-tailed hawk settle into a crowd of these birds alighting atop one of the light poles in the parking lot. As soon as she landed there was a flurry of activity that saw the thousands and thousands of grackles and catbirds in the lot scurrying and flying away in a magnificent roar that I’m sure exceeded 100db. They all didn’t just fly to the next lot either; they got the heck out of there, maybe to the next county. It was a sight to see and the hawk just stayed put slowly looking first left then right before she started preening herself. She had a look of good humor about her and I am convinced that she was laughing. It was quite a scene…. I watched the hawk for another ten minutes until out of boredom she once again rose up and flew away as dusk approached. Those birds didn't return that evening.

I thought for a moment that she was part of some control mechanism as recommended by the good folks over at the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center who have recommended raptors as the answer to the conflagration of birds in Dallas. They have advised setting up nesting boxes for owls and hawks so that our problem can be solved the natural way - bird vs. bird - grackles and catbirds vs. our raptor Friends. Medical City Hospital in Dallas has installed owl and hawk boxes in an effort to scare off the grackles and catbirds. In order to speculate on the ultimate winners all we need do is look at the fantastic job turned in by the peregrine falcons in New York City against their famed rats-with-wings (pigeons).

Flocks of these grackles and catbirds easily number in the thousands and experts like Dr. Ken Steigman late of the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary, in Mckinney Texas and now Director of the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area, says grackle flocks can measure several miles long. Yikes! Aside from their noise they are one of the more insidious pests in our environment today. Humanitarian issues aside, I have seen them literally overwhelm trees, buildings and bridges. Their droppings contain ammonia and uric acid that corrodes stone, metal, masonry and paint finishes and can even spread histoplasmosis, a respiratory disease that can be fatal to man. Before the final word came in on the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis-St. Paul, inspectors had speculated that bird droppings could have corroded the beams. Bottom line: these birds pose a very real problem.

Local pest control companies have been contacted frequently to provide bird control for bridges and overpasses in north Texas. While these companies have apparently put in many bids to control these pests, we have yet to see any aggressive programs implemented. If the municipalities engaged as much bird control as private and commercial property owners, we may not have a problem of the magnitude we have now.

Any sense of urgency should be heightened by the existence of the Avian Flu (H5N1) in other parts of the world and the threat of pandemic. The most recent January 2008 outbreak of bird flu in India's densely populated state of West Bengal (24M) could spiral out of control, according to Indian officials.

While grackles and catbirds are apparently immune to the West Nile Virus which is inexplicably more prevalent in north than south Texas, they remain highly susceptible to H5N1. This somewhat explains why populations of these birds have exploded in the Dallas metropolitan area and offers an even more ominous scenario should a pandemic outbreak occur.

I say let nature take its course and turn our good raptor Friends loose on this scourge. An aggressive predator deterrent would mean the expansion of a greater symbiosis and the opportunity to once again grab a really great parking space…


Ned Buxton

Saturday, February 2, 2008


I just saw a profile on David Crosby of Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young) (CSNY) fame on CBS’s Sunday Morning. Included in the interview was the appearance of Crosby’s bride of twenty years, Jan Dance. That little vignette brought me back many years to memories especially of Ms. Dance who had a role to play in the life of this writer. If she ever sees this narrative she might be surprised, but then again, probably not.

It all started out in 1975 when four Friends with a passion for the outdoors joined in a business venture called High Country Outfitters in Atlanta, Georgia. Those enthusiasts included Denny Mays, a pharmaceutical salesman from the Tidewater of Virginia; Gerald Marshall, paddler extraordinaire and outdoor store manager from central Georgia, Danny “Bubba” Sloan, accountant with the Royal Globe insurance company and yes, yours truly who was then a training manager with Equifax in Atlanta. High Country Outfitters is still a going and very successful business enterprise thanks to Bubba’s leadership.

The glue that bound us together was Denny Mays, a man of slight build though great strength who was one of the best rock climbers anybody had ever seen. He was one of the elite climbing fraternity captained by that brilliant misanthropic curmudgeon Yvon Chouinard (with whom I totally agree). With a balding pate and an ever present though apologetic smile, he was the leader and the best people person of the Team. His clipped Tidewater accent and demeanor just beamed sincerity and good times. Those qualities blended nicely with the rest of us who all hung out at Horace Holden’s American Adventures, the same store that became High Country in 1975.

Among other attributes we mostly shared one thing – a love of life and the great outdoors. I was pleased that, motivated by them, I conjured up the name High Country and the now famous twin peaks logo. I still have our original business cards and our tee shirt with our new logo that educated, “Chocks Protect Your Rocks.”

When I left work at 1600 Peachtree Street at 4:00 pm (closely followed by Bubba Sloan who worked across the street), we wound our way to Powers Ferry Landing to work the evening at the store, drink a few beers (which we readily shared with our customers) and used our stone fireplace as a climbing wall well before that concept was ever commercially conceived.

Denny and Jan were great Friends during this time and Jan would regularly visit the store. She had an infectious smile and demeanor that always said welcome. To me her eyes always seem to reflect an innate wisdom and some hidden truth like the location of the Holy Grail. She was one of those folks you just liked to hang with.

High Country was involved with the Georgia Canoeing Association and those who eventually went on to form the Atlanta Whitewater Club. These folks which included me assisted with the coordination and administration of the annual slalom & downriver races in Helen, Georgia and the now famous (yea, legendary) 100 mile Helen to Atlanta whitewater race on the Chattahoochee River and across Lake Sidney Lanier (then full of water).

The late great Dave Gale of The Wildwood Shop in Helen was the primary organizer of the Helen to Atlanta whitewater race with its unique LeMans start that saw serious competitors like Payson Kennedy and Robin Oscar of the Nantahala Outdoor Center and Gerald Marshall and Tom Bolen of High Country. There were fourteen other teams though most were weekend (sunshine and beer) warriors.

I remember that Payson and Robin as well as Gerald and Tom paddled flat water canoes (with lots of flotation) anticipating that the difference in the race would be that stretch across Lake Lanier. If they could survive the modest whitewater of the upper and lower Chattahoochee above Atlanta then they had a good chance to win. They were right as those with keel-less whitewater boats weren’t really competitive.

I had a fully tricked Toyota Land Cruiser station wagon with a million candlepower of headlights on the front and a full PA system that good Friend Dave Gale used to start many of the races. I accompanied my Land Cruiser and on one occasion Jan spent the day helping and assisting me with some of the more mundane race tasks. I got to really know her and we even had a chance to play and frolic in and out of the river. One of my favorite photos is me carrying all ninety pounds (maybe - soaking wet) of Jan across the Chattahoochee River on my back. That photo is safely tucked away (yes, I can’t find it) though that day and photo are forever etched in my mind. I think that I learned to laugh that day.

Jan later left the Atlanta area (seemed sudden) to pursue her dreams that apparently included the record business on the west coast where she eventually partnered with David Crosby. Though I heard that she successfully fought her own demons, I am assured that she provided much of the stimulus to Crosby to ultimately try to clean up his act – something he stated that he had accomplished after he got out of prison in 1986. Jan and David were married in 1987. Apparently while he needs Jan’s continuing ministrations and counsel, they looked content in the CBS interview.

By the way, it was Jan who facilitated Crosby’s donation of sperm used to produce two children through artificial insemination for friend and rock musician Melissa Etheridge and her then partner Julie Cypher, who carried the two babies. Etheridge and Cypher have since split up much to Crosby’s dismay.

Moving on, Denny found another special Lady in Hope and lived the great life until his untimely and premature passing because of brain cancer. His memory remains strong and the Conference Center at the High Country Whitewater Center on the Ocoee River in Tennessee proudly bears his name.

By the way that 1975 Helen to Atlanta race that wound its way down the upper Hooch and across Lake Lanier and again to the river to Powers Ferry Landing in Atlanta was won by Gerald Marshall and Tom Bolen of High Country in a time of 18 hours and thirty minutes. Their closest competitors were the now legendary Payson Kennedy and Robin Oscar who finished a distant second with a time of twenty-one hours and thirty minutes. Only two other teams finished and well in back of the two front runners.

Yes, Jan was there at the finish line in all of her glory to greet, congratulate and minister to the exhausted winners. I was recently reminded of David Crosby’s attempt many years ago to describe Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young though that statement seems to best sum up my feelings for Jan Dance and all she meant to Denny and the whole High Country crowd. Yes, she was “seven pounds of stuff in a three pound bag.” I will never forget her. You go Girl!

Thanks, Jan. All the best to you and David.


Ned Buxton