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January 2, 2014

Music Therapy Organization Helps Vets Cope With PTSD

The Virginian-Pilot

Hampton, VA (AP) ``Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.’’

Playwright William Congreve coined that sentiment in 1697. Three centuries later, Dan Mathes is a poster boy for it.

Mathes, 54, came to the Hampton VA Medical Center in August carrying a lot of baggage from his 21 years in the Army. On a recent Friday afternoon, all of that was relegated to a back shelf of his mind as he caressed a shiny, new Yamaha acoustic guitar.

``It’s beautiful,’’ he told his guitar teacher, Mike Durig. ``This is amazing.’’

Mathes is one of more than 2,000 veterans who have completed a unique music therapy program designed for those who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and other forms of emotional distress.
The program is run by Guitars for Vets, a nonprofit organization that got its start in Milwaukee in 2007. There are 38 chapters around the country, including one in Hampton.

``We are growing exponentially,’’ said Peg Andrae, coordinator of the Hampton chapter. ``The veterans who have come through the program are our best testimonial. They are so appreciative, and you can see a change in them.’’

After referral by a medical care provider, vets get 10 weekly lessons from a volunteer instructor. At the end of the course, they get new guitars.

A pilot study in Milwaukee found that the program was effective in reducing symptoms of PTSD and depression and improving quality of life.

``I came in here with some real serious anger issues,’’ said Mathes, who has been diagnosed with PTSD. ``This takes my mind off everything.’’

Mathes said he sits in his room in the VA center’s residential treatment complex and practices for hours. As he does, a peaceful feeling envelops him, and the memories of trauma fade.

During his Army career, which ended in 2001, Mathes did stints as a hydraulic engineer, a marksman and a combat medic. He declined to talk about his combat experiences except to say: ``I’ve been through hell.’’

Until vets get their personal guitars, they use loaners donated by individuals and music companies. The nonprofit gets support from donors including the band Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Les Paul Foundation, which carries on the guitar pioneer’s legacy.

``This has helped me realize who I am again,’’ Mathes said. ``Before, I was an ogre. I didn’t want to be around anybody. I just wanted to stay under my bridge.’’

The course is an introduction to guitar basics, focusing on technique, music theory and sight reading.

Durig, a guitar teacher at Kecoughtan High School in Hampton, spent eight years as a Navy musician. He lives in Chesapeake.

Learning guitar is an ideal form of therapy because of the demands it places on the student, Durig said.
``This kind of musical training causes the two sides of the brain to talk to each other, the left, the logical side, and the right, the creative side,’’ he said. ``It’s one of the few disciplines that require you to use both. It requires so much concentration, it’s hard to think of anything else.’’

It’s particularly challenging for older vets, Durig said: ``It’s difficult for an older person to pick up something new. It takes a lot of gumption. It takes you completely out of your comfort zone.’’

The rewards are worth the effort, Mathes said. He’s talking up the program to fellow veterans of all ages, especially those who’ve come back from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

``I’ve seen quite a few young soldiers here who are in a lot worse shape than I am,’’ he said, and he thinks they would benefit from guitar therapy.

After admiring it, Mathes gingerly cradled his new guitar and plucked out a simple melody with a pick as Durig counted the beat.

``Awesome,’’ Mathes said.

For him, this is just the beginning, he said. He is determined to continue honing his skills.

Does he harbor any hopes of playing in public?

It’s too early to think about that, he said: ``I’m not ready to start signing autographs yet.’’

In the end, Durig said, it doesn’t matter.

``The object isn’t to make him a famous guitar player. The object is to make him happy. That’s a good enough goal in itself.’’

This Week In The Civil War: Winter Furloughs

This Week in the Civil War - This series marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws primarily from wartime dispatches credited to The Associated Press or other accounts distributed through the AP and other historical sources. By The Associated Press

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, Jan. 5: Wintertime furloughs, a court-martial, recruitment drives.

Many soldiers 150 years ago in the Civil War returned to homes on winter furloughs, finding rest after battles and months away from loved ones.

In January 1864, authorities on both sides were seeking to recruit new fighters as the conflict dragged on inexorably. The Springfield Republican in Massachusetts reported on Jan. 1, 1864, of much going on despite a lull in the fighting. Quoting dispatches from The Associated Press in part, the paper said Union Gen. William Sherman’s forces had returned from Knoxville, Tenn., to a base in Chattanooga, tired, dirtied and clothes shredded after recent fighting. ``While Gen. Sherman’s men were returning ... they encountered a furious storm, and when they reached Chattanooga many of them were barefooted, and not a few of them wore pantaloons, the legs of which had been torn into shreds to the knees.’’

A dispatch from Philadelphia reported the court-martial of a Union private found guilty of desertion. He was sentenced to be shot and, the report said, the sentence would be carried out in February 1864.

Elsewhere, divers scrubbed the bottoms of warships off South Carolina of grit and grime. Reports said divers with special helmets worked ``five or six hours at a time under water,’’ gasping for air as they surfaced.

Rare 1886 Michigan Lighthouse For Sale

The Detroit News

Port Sanilac, MI (AP) Ice chunks cling to the rocks and float along the shoreline of Lake Huron as heavy snow clouds hover over the horizon, threatening a storm to come. But no matter how dark it gets, the Port Sanilac lighthouse will guide anyone out on the lake to shore.

It’s been that way since 1886.

``When you’re there in the winter and the winds start kicking up, you get a real sense of what it was like when there was a keeper there carrying kerosene up the stairs to the light, doing his job,’’ said Tim Conklin, who has owned the lighthouse and its attached caretaker’s house with his wife, Ian Aronsson, since the 1990s when she inherited it.

Aronsson’s grandfather Carl Rosenfield, founder of Carl’s Chop House in Detroit, bought the property from the government in 1928 for $4,000 after it was decommissioned.

``Back when the government originally sold the lighthouse, it didn’t have that kind of historic connotation that they do now,’’ Conklin told The Detroit News. ``They just sold it as surplus government property.’’

Now the couple have decided to sell the property, which has been the time capsule for more than 80 years of their family’s memories.

``It’s been a constant living history for us,’’ Conklin said. ``The things that are inside, it’s not a museum where things were collected from the period; it’s stuff that’s been used.’’

Conklin and Aronsson have used the lighthouse as a weekend and summer home, taking the time to renovate the attached 2,400-square-foot three-bedroom, 1 1/2-bath home.

Price for the lighthouse and caretaker home: $999,800.

The lighthouse is a beacon for both ships and for the village of about 620 residents in the Thumb area, said Port Sanilac village president Andy Fabian.

``The history is just incredible. There are some great stories attached to that building,’’ said Fabian, owner of the Van Camp House Restaurant. ``It’s the centerpiece of our community.’’

The lighthouse was built as a response to increased shipping traffic in the Great Lakes. Two families lived in the caretaker’s house before Rosenfield bought the property.

Until the lighthouse’s lamp was electrified in 1929, the keeper would lug the fuel up 58 feet of stairs to the tower to keep the light burning. The light is now automated and can be seen 16 miles out into the lake, beamed by the lighthouse’s original Fresnel lens, which is owned and cared for by the Coast Guard.

The lighthouse is so important to Port Sanilac, the village considered buying the lighthouse last year, but couldn’t find the funds, said Fabian.

``It was just out of our reach,’’ he said. ``To do a (loan) we would have had to have a supporting millage and it would have been a bad time to put a tax on our residents.’’

According to the state tourism website, Michigan has 115 lighthouses, more than any other state. The opportunities to buy one are few and far between.

Since 2000, the federal General Services Administration has sold 26 lights for prices ranging from $10,000 to $933,000, mostly to governmental entities or nonprofits, said Cat Langel, a spokeswoman for the agency’s Great Lakes Division.

Once the U.S. Coast Guard determines a light isn’t necessary anymore, the GSA is authorized to begin the process to find new stewards for the light under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.

If the government can’t find a qualified buyer, the law allows the property to be sold at auction, usually with a minimum bid deposit of $10,000, Langel said.

``As with any real estate, there are numerous factors that affect each property’s final price including location, condition of the property, and fluctuations in the real estate market,’’ she said.

Privately owned lighthouses presently for sale in Michigan include one on Squaw Island, near Beaver Island, which is listed for $3.2 million and includes 69 acres, and the Round Island lighthouse on St. Mary’s River, which is listed for $2.4 million and includes the 7-acre island and a 3-acre mainland parcel.

Anyone who takes on a lighthouse will have to be prepared for the responsibility, said Jeff Shook, president of the Fenton-based Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy, which specializes in restoring decommissioned lighthouses around the state.

``It’s somebody that has to have a passion and interest in history, because it’s a lot of upkeep and maintenance in general,’’ said Shook. ``It would be very beneficial to have somebody who has that respect for the history of the tower and the house.’’

The Port Sanilac lighthouse is unusual because unlike most lighthouses, it’s in a village, rather than a remote area, he said.

``I always say there’s this lighthouse keeper romance that people have,’’ said Shook. ``You get a remote lighthouse someplace that’s hard to get to and off the beaten track, and hey there’s this family that used to live out there and keep the light and guide ships.’’

The view from the top of the Port Sanilac lighthouse includes the water and the nearby marina, which is closed during the winter. But even with few shops open in the area, people still drive past, stopping to pause, roll down their windows and snap photos of the stark white tower standing out against the cloudy sky.

``It’s an iconic monument for our beautiful little town,’’ said Fabian. ``That light shines through the whole winter reminding us we’ll be out on the water soon.’’
The lighthouse at sunset

Concern For Elves Prompts Iceland To Halt Roadway

The Associated Press

Reykjavik, Iceland (AP) In this land of fire and ice, where the fog-shrouded lava fields offer a spooky landscape in which anything might lurk, stories abound of the ``hidden folk’’— thousands of elves, making their homes in Iceland’s wilderness.

So perhaps it was only a matter of time before 21st-century elves got political representation.

Elf advocates have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project building a direct route from the Alftanes peninsula, where the president has a home, to the Reykjavik suburb of Gardabaer. They fear disturbing elf habitat and claim the area is particularly important because it contains an elf church.

The project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on a case brought by a group known as Friends of Lava, who cite both the environmental and the cultural impact—including the impact on elves—of the road project. The group has regularly brought hundreds of people out to block the bulldozers.

And it’s not the first time issues about ``Huldufolk,’’ Icelandic for ``hidden folk,’’ have affected planning decisions.

They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states that ``issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on.’’

Scandinavian folklore is full of elves, trolls and other mythological characters. Most people in Norway, Denmark and Sweden haven’t taken them seriously since the 19th century, but elves are no joke to many in Iceland, population 320,000.

A survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 found that 62 percent of the 1,000 respondents thought it was at least possible that elves exist.

Ragnhildur Jonsdottir, a self-proclaimed ``seer,’’ believes she can communicate with the creatures through telepathy.

``It will be a terrible loss and damaging both for the elf world and for us humans,’’ said Jonsdottir of the road project.

Although many of the Friends of Lava are motivated primarily by environmental concerns, they see the elf issue as part of a wider concern for the history and culture of a very unique landscape.

Andri Snaer Magnason, a well-known environmentalist, said his major concern was that the road would cut the lava field in two, among other things, destroying nesting sites.

``Some feel that the elf thing is a bit annoying,’’ said Magnason, adding that personally he was not sure they existed. However, he added, ``I got married in a church with a god just as invisible as the elves, so what might seem irrational is actually quite common’’ with Icelanders.

Terry Gunnell, a folklore professor at the University of Iceland, said he was not surprised by the wide acceptance of the possibility of elves.

``This is a land where your house can be destroyed by something you can’t see (earthquakes), where the wind can knock you off your feet, where the smell of sulfur from your taps tells you there is invisible fire not far below your feet, where the northern lights make the sky the biggest television screen in the world, and where hot springs and glaciers `talk,’’’ Gunnell said.

``Everyone is aware that the land is alive, and one can say that the stories of hidden people and the need to work carefully with them reflects an understanding that the land demands respect,’’ he added.

Gunnell said similar beliefs are found in western Ireland, but they thrive in Iceland because people remain in close contact with the land. Parents still let their children play out in the wilderness, often late into the night. Vast pristine areas remain, even near the capital, Reykjavik.

And at Christmas, Icelanders await not just one Santa Claus, but 13 trolls known as the ``Yule Lads’’ who come to town during the 13 days before Christmas. Each has his own task, putting rewards or punishments into the shoes of little children. They include Stufur, or Stubby, who is extremely short and eats crusts left in pans; Pottaskefill, or Pot-Scraper, who snatches leftovers; and Hurdaskellir or Door-Slammer, who likes to slam doors at night.

``If you ask an Icelander about elves, they might say they don’t believe,’’ said Jonsdottir. ``But we always have stories of them, if not from ourselves then from someone close like a family member.’’

Hilmar Gunnarsson, a writer in Reykjavik, fondly remembers a story his grandmother told him about a mischievous elf.

``She told me about (a pair) of her scissors that went missing and she was certain that an elf borrowed them,’’ Gunnarsson said. ``She would not believe that they were just lost and she would not buy (new) scissors. She said the elf would give them back when he was finished. She said they were returned.’’

One of Iceland’s most famous daughters, the singer Bjork, displayed no hesitation when asked by U.S. comedian and TV host Stephen Colbert if people in her country believed in elves.

``We do,’’ she said. ``It’s sort of a relationship with nature, like with the rocks. (The elves) all live in the rocks, so you have to. It’s all about respect, you know.’’

Door set in elf’s rock home by a human
Natural elf cave





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