Friday, July 31, 2015

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets"

I’m in Ozark, MO, and I love seeing Jesus at work.

Not in words.

In action.

I’m at a Christian thrift store. When I walked in, two things caught my attention. First, this place is dirty. Dusty. Crammed with donated stuff, some of which is better suited for a community dump than a resale house. Second, the TV. It’s blaring from the back of the room. I’m guessing to show customers it still works.

 I walk toward the noise (because I’m nosy) and I hear laughter, not from the TV, but from inside the store. As I turn the corner, I see five men eating lunch, watching the TV. Something’s funny because they're laughing. One guy bounces on his chair because he’s so tickled.

It’s clear from their dirty, ill-fitting clothes, scraggily beards  and skeletal builds that three of the five men have fallen on hard times. The  other two guys are  clean shaven and well dressed. So my guess is they are not down on their luck.  Are they here to help those who are? 

I keep on shopping. The TV goes silent. And I watch the men file toward the front of the store, where they stop, hand over the video they’d just been watching,  and sing happy birthday to the woman behind the cash register. She smiles, waves them off, and they head out the door. All but one.  The bouncer. He’s a little lost. Just sitting on a nearby chair. Kinda edgy. Drugs?

It’s my turn to check out ($2 for beautiful silver earrings), so I ask,”What’s with the guys watching TV?”

“Oh,” she says. “They’re …” She hesitates … momentarily … then completes her thought: "volunteers. They come in to have their lunch.”

So, as I see it, this little Christian thrift store puts a few homeless men to work. Gives them food, a nice little place to eat and a chance to watch some TV. And then, when given the chance to brag about the good that’s being done here, they chose, instead, to show respect toward these men, to protect their integrity in front of a stranger.
Yep. I'm seeing Jesus at work.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Oh. So. Cool. In Oklahoma

As dusk approaches, the relentless heat of Guymon, OK, (a humid 103°) subsides, giving way to a breeze and  promise of a perfect night. A cool night. A sweet night.

At the drive-in. YES! The DRIVE IN!

We rerouted our trip East to dip down into Oklahoma because a little ap on my phone told me there was an RV park here. And that park was connected to a drive in.

Oh. So. Cool.

SO we’re sitting in our comfy chairs just outside our fifth-wheel, munching on movie-theater popcorn and drinking my home-made iced tea out of monster cups of ice I bought at the concession stand.

We’re watching a dozen kids play ball and swing and under the big screen, just waiting for dark. We’re watching a dozen or more cars trail in, then people file out, heading for the concession stand. Pizza. Hamburgers. French fries. Candy.

Oh. So. Cool.

We even have our dog at our feet.  On his own big pillow. And he’s  watching the kids. Smelling the air. Barking at a cat.

Oh. So. Cool.

Frankly, I don’t care that the movie’s so bad it’s painful to watch (“Pixels”) or that that  “cat" smells a lot like a skunk. Arnold’s back in the next flick (“Terminator Genisys”), we get free refills on our monster tub of popcorn and we can stay until they turn the lights out because we’re already home.

Oh. So. Cool.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

What a difference a crowd makes

The famous Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park.
We went to Mesa Verde today, a massive national park in the southwestern corner of Colorado. It has more than 4,500 archeological sites, 400 of which are cliff dwellings, where the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians lived. The Anasazi.


As big and intense as this park is, so are the crowds. Dozens and dozens of people milling about in orchestrated attendance. Old women like me complaining about their aches and pains, children eating candy and hopping around walls, Bubba-types with barrel chests pounding their way forward. Yes, chewing bits of hay.

Usually I love being in intense crowds. But Wednesday's experience at less well known  parks spoiled me.

Painted Hand. We hiked a circuitous mile to find this in the Canyons of the Ancients.
 Wednesday, Allen and I hiked ALL BY OURSELVES through the Canyons of the Ancients, across a rock mesa and discovered Painted Hand, a cliff dwelling hanging onto the side of a mountain. It was magical. I felt the heat of the sun. Listened to the birds. Imagined children at play, chasing turkeys and dogs. Men chopping away at the hardened earth to plant corn, squash, beans. Women, skinning a freshly caught deer, preserving the hides and bones for utilitarian purposes.

We strolled around and in and out another dwelling,  called Lowry, preserved and protected but not fenced off. We walked where the ancients walked.

At Hovenweep, a national park like Mesa Verde, but on a much smaller scale, Allen and I explored alone as well. We stood at the edge of a canyon  and surveyed the cliff dwellings, pondering in peace why these people moved into the mountainsides.  No one knows why.

Like I said, magical.

One of the ruins at Hovenweep National Park.
Today, I imagined nothing. And I walked in waves of crowds.  I caught a glimpse at the famous Cliff Palace  (see my selfie!), but I had to keep trading places with the crowds to be respectful.

We didn't even go into the museum to see the 25 minute film about the park. And I LOVE THOSE FILMS. But the crowds were daunting. We drove in. Then drove out.

Oh, I am GLAD YES GLAD lots of people love the national parks like I do. I just wish they'd show their love on different days.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Life on the road

Al taking pictures during a barrel racing competition at our campground (a county fairgrounds)

That's Lily (our Wildcat fifth wheel) next to our truck parked in a campsite at the Jerome County Fairgrounds in Jerome, Idaho.

Oh, the transient life.

Today marks the two-month point in our journey. We left home May 19 and it's now July 19. 

Many things go right. Many things go wrong. But we're used to that.

This week, for instance. We arrived at the Jerome County Fairgrounds in Jerome, Idaho, on Sunday. It's a great deal. $10 a night for water and electric hookups.  That means we can shower daily AND do dishes, too. Yay!

On Monday, a monster RV pulls in, backs up and smashes a utility pole. There goes our water. Boo.

He offers to go buy us lots of gallons of fresh water; sweet man. But we have plenty on board.

So, we shower every other day and use paper plates. No problem.

He leaves the next day and we have the place to ourselves. We tour, bike ride, enjoy the serenity.

On Wednesday, dozens of horses and people converge on the fairgrounds and we enjoy a free night of team cow roping. What fun! Yay!

On Thursday, the maintenance workers warn us we might lose our electricity, too.  Boo.

No problem. We have a generator.

Well, we don't lose our electricity (YAY!), so we head  out for dinner (rainbow trout)  and a scenic cruise on the Snake River.

When we return, we break our refrigerator door so it no longer locks. Have to use a rope to keep it closed until we can get it fixed. Boo.

We notice some motorcycles at the fairground. Within 24 hours, the fairgrounds is peppered with them. A weekend convention of the Christian Motorcycle Association. Great people. Kids for the dog to play with. Yay.

Saturday morning, more horses. This time, free barrel racing. Yay.

So life on the road for us is unpredictable. Mostly unplanned. And fun. Lots of hurdles, but we always find slicky slides and carousels.

We have a little more than a month to go in this journey. We leave here tomorrow. 

Where we go depends on which way our wind blows when we head out.

(Update: It blew us down to Moab, UT, for lunch and on to Cortez, CO, to visit Mesa Verde National Park.)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Rutted in history

The half-circle at left is a modern road. The historic ruts are perpendicular. I think.
Can't tell if I'm gullible or humbled to be standing here, on a windy hill, staring down at deep ruts in the mesa. And digging deep down into my heart to believe these ruts were made by the wagon wheels of pioneers who suffered amazing tragedies while following the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s.

I close my eyes and try to imagine men, women and children pushing their wagons, tugging on their horses' reigns, working their way up  these  steep canyon walls, hungry, cold, ill.  In her 1849 journal, "A Woman's Trip Across the Plains," pioneer Catherine Haun wrote, "It  was not an unusual sight  to see graves, carcasses of animals, and abandoned wagons. In fact, the latter furnished us with wood for the campfires as the sagebrush was scarce and unsatisfactory."

I DO believe Haun was there, on the trail. My problem is believing this is the trail. Right here in Hagerman Fossil Beds, a treasure of a national park in Southcentral Idaho. The fossils that make this park famous are the oldest ever found from the genus Equus (horse, zebra).  The Hagerman Horse might have  migrated over the landbridge into Asia before the Ice Age. But it was here first.

I have no problem believing the horse was here, or the sloth or the mastodon or the more than 200 species of plants and animals who lived here 2.6 million years ago, whose bones document their existence. Hard, fossilized evidence.

It's just that those ruts ... They  perfectly align themselves with the route of electric lines heading up the same hill and connect with a main highway. I close my eyes and can see big trucks with poles getting stuck in the spring mud. Making those ruts. Maybe a few years ago. But not wagons 166 years ago.

My husband's bought this historic tale. He says I'm looking at the wrong ruts. Look over there, at that rut, he says. The one filled with tumbleweed. And he's standing there, staring at that rut, drinking in the concept, the misery. The landmark essence of what occurred. Right here.

He's aghast at my suspicions.

Still ...

Friday, July 17, 2015

Making friends in the Magic Valley

Marce and Lester, great friends

We’re sitting on a tour boat on the Snake River in Idaho, sipping great coffee as the storied 1000 Springs area unfolds before us.

Look! Up there! Waterfalls erupting from the canyon walls. It looks like the mountains are weeping. And those birds! Mud swallows by the thousands. Flocks of black and white ducks? Gulls? Pelicans? Not sure.

Sadly, the “stories” of this area are mine to discover elsewhere, because the tour boat captain's not one for talking. Much.

I expected a narrative from him. All I get are notes. 
Until Lester sits down.

Lester and Marce, his long-time friend and fellow Berkeley graduate, are part of the Road Scholar group on this tour boat with us. They sat in the rear of the boat until the sun got too hot, then asked to join us in the shade.

From this moment on, Lester entertains with his non-stop stories, about the time he was asked to be an astronaut, got to meet John Glenn, but then turned down the opportunity. Or about bunking with a general in Vietnam. Or writing a supply acquisition order signed off without comment by McNamara himself. Or how his cousin was appointed ambassador to Finland, simply because he spoke Finnish.

And on and on. He then recites lengthy beautiful passages from "Kubla Khan."

Marce says little. She just grins as Lester tells his tales. She lightly touches his upper arm now and then. Probably when the tales get too tall.

Doesn’t matter.

The stories have nothing to do with this beautiful part of the world, called the Magic Valley. But they color my world magnificently, because Lester (who’s been a doctor, a geologist and a fighter pilot, and is 90 years old) tells them. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

A historic meeting

Muir's signature is third one down. Not sure about the others. 

There’s something special about holding hands with history.

I stand here, inside this little lumberjack museum in tiny Pierce, Idaho, staring at this block of wood. So desperate to reach out. To flatten my hand on the name carved into it. J.H. MUIR.

John Muir. One of my idols. A man so in love with nature even his wife lovingly tossed him back outside into the hills  to replenish his soul. He understood the need to maintain our waterways, our prairies, our mountainsides as living monuments to the planet that sustains them. He was the quintessential conservationist whose advocacy of all things natural led to the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. 

And he battled the logging industry, weary with the raping of the land, the wholesale pillaging of great forests. So it’s ironic I’d come this close to shaking hands with one of my tree-hugging heroes inside a museum dedicated to an industry that takes those trees down.

Or is it?

This  little museum, called the J. Howard Bradbury Memorial Logging Museum, obviously honors my hero, too. Because it chronicles the logging industry in Central Idaho, an industry that has evolved to understand the need to replenish the land, to replant in numbers equivalent to what’s taken. To conserve.

 I suspect when a lumberjack felled the great tree and found the famous signature, he, too, felt he was holding hands with history. 

And saved the piece to honor the man.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Meager beginnings

This little mound is of historic significance.

I’m staring at a mound of rock and dirt, maybe 50 feet at its highest. It’s nothing to look at. Just volcanic rock thatched with brittle-dry grasses and weeds. It’s quite small. Nothing spectacular at all, nestled in the shadows of magnificent rolling and folded hills just outside Kamiah, Idaho.

But it is important. Historic.

It is the Heart of the Monster, the birthplace of all human beings, the last of which were the Niimiipu, translated as “The People.”

We know them as the Nez Perce, translated as Pierced Nose, so named by French Canadian fur traders in the 18th century, who actually confused them with another people who pierce their noses. The Niimiipu didn’t. Still don’t.

For the past two weeks, we’ve camped on land owned by the Niimiipu, and engaged with multiple sites historic to The People, sites maintained by the Nez Perce National Historic Park. The park includes 38 sites in four states —  Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington — and follows The People’s trail.

Along the way is this beginning, the Heart of the Monster, this little chunk of land I walked a half a mile in 114-degree heat to see.

It’s so unimpressive. Nondescript.  If I didn’t know the story.

It reminds me of another unimpressive chunk of significant history, Plymouth Rock. Been there? It’s laughably small, big enough for one person to step foot on. I know that story, too.

I think of that rock and this mound and the ironic connection. Historic.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Discovering racism on the Gold Rush Highway

The history placards inside this historic Idaho building tell of how the land it is sitting on was stolen from the Nez Perce.

Hate saddens me.

I’m enjoying the historic Gold Rush Byway, a winding 49-mile road that takes me up the mountain from Greer, Idaho, into Pierce and Weipee. The scenery excites me with vistas of beautiful stands of pine, clusters of wildflowers and fields of low-growing wheat. Roadside placards quench my thirst for knowledge of how Lewis and Clark survived their arduous journey. I learn they’d died without the generosity and intelligence of native people, of the Nez Perce. 

Then I run smack into the hatefulness of yesterday.

Signs, tiny museums and a diorama along the route document how it took about 70 years for the White man to befriend the Nez Perce, then infiltrate the area, steal from them, chase them away, kill them. 

About 70 years after the Nez Perce nursed the Lewis and Clark expedition back to health, provided shelter, horses and canoes, the now-famous Chief Joseph uttered in defeat “I will fight no more forever.”

I also discover (on the backside of an info board … you’d miss it if you weren’t curious) that the White man here hated the Chinese, too. They even lynched some of them, popularizing a hanging tree as a symbol of their “success."

So this beautiful journey I’m on saddens me. It is steeped in 1) a love of money (blinded by the potential riches from gold); 2) arrogance; 3) thievery; 4) murder; 5) lies, lies, lies.

Yes. Yes. All battles for dominance have a victor and a loser.

I am saddened by the way the West was won. Because hate saddens me.