Oatman Massacre: The Bones Still Speak

 

Olive Oatman

A cool wind blows from east to west across our lonely mesa, impeded only by scattered low-lying creosote bushes and straggling steadfast saguaro, and a volcanic rock field spread helter-skelter to the horizon sustains a barely perceptible mournful moan from time past. Standing here in silence, screams of terror echo from an event that took place here 167 years ago. A signpost awaits our laborious hike up the rock-strewn, hardscrabble cut in the cliff face; the rock underfoot is scarred by the wagon wheels of the Butterfield Stage that passed twice a day for three years and wore grooves in the rock. We reach a plain metal sign that reads simply: “Site of Oatman Massacre, Feb. 18, 1851, Yuma County Historical Society.”

Oatman massacre site

The Butterfield Stage was to follow the tracks of countless travelers to this spot—Native Americans, intrepid explorers, and the fated Oatman family. It is here where our story begins.

Wagon ruts worn in rock

Roys Oatman was born in Vermont in the early nineteenth century, descended from Dutch immigrants, and in time his family became captivated by the religious fervor of the time, converting from the Dutch Reformed Church to Methodist. Members of the family began migrating, as was the zeitgeist of those times, escaping poor weather and economic hardships, to arrive in New York just as a wave of evangelical fervor swept America. New sects were popping up like weeds, and the Oatmans joined the masses of aspirants to a better life, prospecting farming opportunities in the Ohio River valley, Indiana, and Illinois regions.

When Roys turned 23, he married Mary Ann Sperry, and they produced seven children between the years 1834 and 1849. During those years, the family came in contact with a former Vermonter named Joseph Smith, the charismatic self-proclaimed prophet of a religious sect designated as the Latter Day Saints, known by most as Mormons.

The Mormons and the Brewsterites

Smith was said to have a gift of spiritual insight, using crystal balls to see “ghosts, infernal spirits, and mountains of gold and silver,” and he tapped into the spiritual fever spreading like wildfire across America. When he was 25, he published his Book of Mormon, translated from, he claimed, golden plates found buried in the side of the hill near his father’s farm. These magical plates purported to tell a history of ancient peoples, the Nephites (“a white, delightsome people”) and the Lamanites (“a dark, filthy and loathsome people”) who fled Jerusalem around 600 B.C. settling in America.

These gold plates were never revealed (why doesn’t this surprise me?), and were allegedly kept in a locked box behind a curtain to be translated only by the home-schooled Smith with the help of special glasses given to him by the Angel Moroni, their guardian. Surprisingly, many people were taken in by this phantasmagorical religious creation, and sought affiliation. Others dismissed it a harmless fraud, and yet others—a growing number—were outraged, branding it blasphemy. In the midst of this social tornado, Smith claimed to have received the revelation that his flock were meant to seek out the New Jerusalem, or City of Zion. He dutifully sent his “saints” in a quest for its discovery.

In Ohio in 1838, a revolt against this upstart faith resulted in Smith and his close followers being tarred and feathered and they were run out of the state. Smith’s cult continued to be harassed and ensuing arguments, battles, and a war resulted in their flight to Illinois in 1839. The Illinoisans were sympathetic to those suffering what they perceived as religious persecution and welcomed Joseph’s flock. This sanctuary was to be short-lived, however, as people soon learned of the new church’s belief in polygamy, antithetical to their own religious doctrine.

Roys Oatman and his family were caught in the spell of Mormonism, though, and joined the church with the same enthusiasm that had shown itself in their previous transformation to Methodism. Like all religions, the Mormons believed that they alone were God’s chosen people. However, the large numbers of orthodox Christian deserters, the polygamy that offended prevailing moral principles, and Smith’s expanding political power—he had become the mayor of Nauvoo, Illinois, and was even considering running for the office of President of the United States—ignited a groundswell of anger against the church. Warrants for the arrest of Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were issued after Smith closed down the local newspaper that criticized him for sexual malfeasance; many believed that he was intending on declaring himself king. The Smith brothers surrendered to the authorities and were jailed, along with several of their followers. A mob of angry citizens—incited, some say, by the local Masonic lodge, who sought revenge against Smith for stealing Masonic secrets to establish Mormon ritual—stormed the jail, shooting and killing Joseph and Hyrum Smith, though some of his followers survived.

Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s murder scene

Joseph Smith’s death opened a hole in the leadership of his church and others attempted to fill it: we will follow the one that leads to the conclusion of this story. The Oatmans, still holding onto the faith of the Mormon Church, looked for signs of new leadership, and that leadership was revealed to be James Colin Brewster. When he was just ten years old, word spread that Brewster had a gift for seeing visions and objects not seen by the natural eye, such as “ancient records that are to be written.” Overlooking the vagueness of his visions and, like Smith, his complete lack of education, the boy was examined by Mormon temple elders, and they soon declared that Brewster was a prophet, a seer, a revelator, and a translator. Not surprisingly, this led the boy to have more “revelations,” this time in the form of an angel commanding him to write the “books of Esdras.” Young Brewster’s lack of education meant that he could not write himself, so his semi-literate father took dictation. Eventually, scribes were employed to assist and finally a message was received that a gathering place had been appointed for the “saints.” No actual location—despite “divine” intervention—was provided, but it was said to be located in a vague, remote corner of Southwest America. It was a place called Cedonia, the Land of Bashan, the Land of California, the Land of Peace…and this author can’t help including: the Land of OZ!

The official Mormon Church quickly denounced Brewster, whose prophetic proclamations and growing ego challenged and denounced Joseph Smith. The Church stated that only Smith was appointed to receive the commandments as received by Moses. A power war of words ensued between the Mormon hierarchy and the newly self-appointed “Brewsterites.”

The Dark Road Ahead

Roys Oatman, now head of a family of nine, found his shibboleth in Brewster. He sold the family’s possessions, the family packed what little they thought they’d need for a new life, and they set off West on May 6, 1850, joining the Brewsters and a small caravan of hopeful aspirants to discover “Bashan.” Soon though, many in the group became annoyed by the lackadaisical attitude of the Brewster family in maintaining a focused journey. Some seem to have felt that the Brewsters had no clue what their destination was, and perhaps were stonewalling. Unrest smoldered among the families, and some separated themselves from the main group. Approximately 90 people pressed on following, for a time, the Santa Fe Trail across the Plains into the mountains of New Mexico and the unknown dangers of Indian country. After all, it had been prophesied in the Mormon scripture that the “Lamanites would one day accept the gospel,” whereupon “their scales of darkness shall fall from their eyes, and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a white and a delightsome people.”

It was hard travel for the Brewsterites. The season was late, hot, and dry, fomenting restlessness. Arguments and campfire meetings deteriorated into shouting matches. The emigrants chose the quicker, southern route in an attempt to save travel time, and consequently crossed the part of the country that the native Mexicans called the “Jornada Del Muerto,” the Journey of Death. Ominous human bones, dead pack animals, and castoff travel detritus littered their route, stoking fears among the group. A passing U.S. Government mail train warned the travelers that Indians had been spotted in the area and advised them to leave. Brewster proclaimed that they were under the special protection of the Almighty, and they pressed on. Nearby Native Americans were very aware of the pilgrims’ presence, and tested their defenses by stealing some of their livestock at night. Tensions continued to mount among the wagon teams, and on October 9, 1850, those sympathetic to the Brewsters split from the Oatmans. Passing into Chiricahua Apache territory, the Oatman party was preyed upon, losing several of their animals again. The Oatman team didn’t realize that the winters of 1850-51 were some of the driest on record in the Southwest and the Native Americans were under similar drive and pressure to survive. The naïve and misinformed travelers were engaged in a growing struggle for survival.

On January 8, 1851, the exhausted families arrived in Tucson, at that time a Mexican town, to purchase the meager amounts of food and supplies that were available due to Apache raids in the area. Little rest time was allotted, and the Oatman party trekked around El Picacho (“the Peak”), a mountain observation point employed for hundreds of years by the O’odham Apaches and other tribes, to arrive at a friendly Pima native village. Despite their desperation for supplies, the Pimas informed them that what little they had could not be shared. Apache raids had claimed any surplus.

Picacho Peak

One of the women in the Oatman party gave birth on February 7, but Roys Oatman insisted that they press on to “Bashan,” just, he claimed, a short couple of hundred miles to the west. The new parents, along with all the other families, chose not to continue travel out of fear of attack and the uncertainty of resupply. Mrs. Oatman was also expecting a baby, due within three to four weeks, but Mr. Oatman’s stubbornness dominated. Waiting, regrouping, and traveling on as a group, must have monopolized their conversations. But obsessiveness and weakness of numbers brought danger, like a vise, close in around them, and Roys Oatman continued on, taking his large family with him.

Fateful Decisions

The Gila River flowed northwest, then west, and then southwest, and the Oatmans set as straight a course as possible to intersect the southwest segment. This shortcut required a passage over rough terrain. Their animals stumbled painfully. Before them lay a series of steep climbs and drops onto and off of plateaus. Oxen required assistance navigating these inclines. Unloading, lifting and guiding the wagon wheels, braking down the slope, and repacking again until the next rise forced them to do it all over again became a monotonous, mind-numbing routine. It was back-breaking work moving rocks and sand to permit their wagon’s wheels’ purchase on the volcanic rock faces. They believed they had stumbled upon a barely discernable foot path and trackway, perhaps the Mormon Battalion trail, blazed between the years 1846 and 1847.

Mormon Battalion’s trail marker at the Oatman massacre site

February 18, 1851, would be a date and memory that would live in the legends of the surviving Oatmans and annals of western history. The day dawned clear, bright, and cool, as the family crossed the Gila River and came up the sand bank to the base of a steep rocky road cut into the cliff side. They looked at each other with despair, as it seemed that the succession of ascents and descents to similar mesa tops would never end. Once again they would have to engage in the well-practiced and agonizing trial of hill negotiation.

Wagon road up to Oatman massacre mesa

Lorenzo, one of the sons, paused during the herculean push, wiped the sweat from his brow, and looked out at the slowly expanding vista of the Gila basin behind them. He thought he spied movement among the Palo Verde trees scattering the river banks below. The family managed to reach the top, livestock slipping and stumbling over loose rock, and after taking stock of the way ahead, decided to rest. They let the animals graze, gathering strength for night travel under a cool, bright, full moon. Lorenzo’s fears were realized when they spied a large group of Indians coming up the trackway.

Roys Oatman greeted the menacing group of approximately 17 Native Americans in Spanish, and the family felt waves of fear pass through them. The tribal members wanted tobacco and pipes, and after they finished smoking, demanded corn meal. Roys replied that he had almost no food to feed his own family, but offered some bread. When they had eaten the bread, the warriors demanded more. Their tone was threatening, and Roys declined. This time, one of the native group, perhaps seeing no defensive weapons, climbed into the Oatman’s wagon and began rummaging around their goods. He shouted out in insistence for meat, but Roys again said no. Immediately a group of Indians jumped up and began taking supplies from their wagon, tucking them into their clothing. Roys passively ignored this invasion, perhaps hoping not to incite a more aggressive response. While the warriors commiserated among themselves, he proceeded to repack the wagon with the items that had been carelessly thrown onto the ground. Olive Oatman, the oldest daughter, and Lorenzo recollected that no one in the family provoked the warriors in any way, but the native assemblage erupted instantly into a massive shouting and screaming charge at the family.

Lorenzo was struck on the head and fell to the ground. He attempted to rise and was struck again. Simultaneously, Roys, his pregnant wife, his daughters Lucy and Charity Ann, and sons Roys Jr., and Roland were beaten to the ground. Olive recalls seeing all of her family lying in a blood-soaked, grotesque scattering of bodies, then she passed out.

The warriors started a looting spree among the fractured, broken, and bleeding inhabitants, stripping the wagon, removing the wheels, unyoking the cows and oxen, and—most essential to our story—capturing 13-year-old Olive and her 8-year-old sister, Mary Ann. The scene of carnage left behind would leave its mark on history and the horror of those moments of rage, fear, and terror would echo in time on that lonely plateau.

Captivity

Olive and Mary Ann recollect that their attackers divided into two groups, one herding the animals and carrying the looted items while the others shepherded the captured girls about half a mile to a campsite. After a brief rest and some food, which the girls refused, they continued their march. By this time their captors had removed the girls’ shoes, knowing that would prevent their escape. Their feet were quickly bruised and bloodied by the volcanic rock, rubble, and innumerable cactus thorns. Mary Ann was too weak to continue and was carried on the back of one of the attackers. All the Oatmans’ oxen and livestock were butchered, and Olive remembered that they marched on for three or four days to the Native American village.

Olive retold stories of mistreatment and forced labor while living with the tribe. She and Mary Ann, in poor health, were treated harshly as captives, which was the custom among the native peoples at that time. Over the course of about a year, though, they slowly assimilated into tribal life, learning how to avoid being beaten, and Olive learned the language of her captors, thought to be Tolkepaya.

One day, another native group, presumed to be the Mohaves and friendly with the Tolkepaya, came into their camp, learned of their captives, and sought to trade for them. The leader of this Mohave group was a young woman who, Olive later learned, was the daughter of their chief, “beautiful, intelligent, well-spoken, fluent in the languages of both tribes,” and most important, sympathetic to the predicament of the girls. Olive and Mary Ann were asked if they would prefer staying with their captors or leaving with the Mohaves. They declined to answer for fear it would be held against them. After much tribal discussion and controversial argumentation it was agreed they would be sold or traded for horses, blankets, beads, and foodstuffs. The girls then traveled with the Mohaves on a journey of about ten days through the desert to an area near the Colorado River where the states of Arizona, Nevada, and California intersected. Indeed this was not to be the wondrous “Bashan” that the Brewsterites had traveled so long, with tragic painful loss, to discover.

Olive and Mary Ann entered the chief’s household, where they were expected to work for their lodging, gathering wood, picking berries, and joining in the labor of sowing and harvesting wheat, corn, beans, pumpkins, and melons. In time, as the girls’ language skills improved, they entered into a deeper engagement with the Mohaves, discovering many who treated them with kindness, and friendships were forged. The chief’s wife assumed a motherly role with the girls, giving them plots of ground to cultivate as their own. Friendship flourished between Olive, Mary Ann, and the chief’s daughter, and to formalize this relationship, the tribe renamed Olive “Spantsa.” A mark of tribal relationships among the Mohaves was tattooing, and both Olive and Mary Ann joined in this initiation.

They were decorated with chin tattoos and single lines on each arm, with pigments from the juice of weeds mixed with blue powder ground from river rocks, and rubbed into the bleeding lines.

During the ensuing years after their transfer to the Mohaves, Mary Ann continued to grow weak from lack of nutrition. Despite Olive’s and the tribal chief’s family’s efforts, she died in the year Olive presumed to be 1855. Olive buried her sister, who had joined the growing number of Mohaves who also died of starvation in those drought years. Her burial was against the tribal tradition of cremation, but the tribe allowed Olive to do this.

Discovery

Retracing our steps to the day of the massacre, we take up Lorenzo’s story. With amazing good luck, he managed to survive the Native American attack, he surmised, by either being thrown over the edge of the mesa, or falling over the cliff and remaining undiscovered by the marauding band as they left the scene of destruction. Lorenzo managed to make his way slowly to an emigrant encampment, where he recovered and spent the next five years seeking his fortune. Eagerly, he attempted to unearth more information about his family’s demise. While in Los Angeles, he joined up with men trekking into the mountains prospecting for gold, hoping that two goals might be met: information about his sisters—who he hoped might still be alive—and a means to make a living. News was received that one of them had died in captivity, but that the surviving sister was still living with an unknown tribe. Letters and petitions moved across the chain of government and military hands until one day, after runners had been sent out among the indigenous peoples, information returned that indeed Olive, or at least, a white woman named Spantsa, had been discovered. A Quechan tribal member offered to intercede and negotiate for her release.

February 1856 thrust Olive and her tribal family into turmoil and transition. The tribal emissary did indeed appear, and entered into an arduous three-day negotiation for Olive’s release. The tribal council argued that keeping her as a means of future friendly engagement with the white military would be more advantageous than her release. Finally the chief agreed to part with Olive, sweetened by the “gift” of a white horse. Accompanied by the chief’s daughter Topeka, Olive returned to Fort Yuma, dressed in her tribal attire of only a willow bark dress. A calico gown was quickly found so that she could be “properly” presentable.

The Olive Oatman welcomed at the fort was a woman transformed by five years of change beyond the ken of most people. Her English was halting, her countenance darkened by hard labor in sun and elements, and of course the inescapable permanent facial tribal tattoos created unsought attention. She was taken into the care of women in logistical support of the fort and slowly regained her familiarity with the English language and American acculturation.

Her brother Lorenzo soon heard of Olive’s recovery, and left California to reunite with his sister, and they spent much time acclimating themselves to the ensuing year’s changes and hardships. The last Olive saw of her tribal family was a final farewell with a member of the Mohave tribe who greeted her as she and Lorenzo were leaving the fort by wagon. It is said that Olive told him in his native tongue, “I will tell all about the Mohave and how I lived with them. Good-bye.”

Epilogue

Olive Oatman shared her story with newspapers throughout the West, and her and Lorenzo’s fame spread throughout America. She went on the lecture circuit, connecting with the Reverend Royal Byron Stratton, pastor of a Methodist church, and author of a semi-factual book recounting her experiences. The book became wildly popular in a country fascinated with Native encounters. Olive eventually married a wealthy cattle baron and banker who shielded her for the rest of her life from public scrutiny.

Middle-aged Olive, heavily made up to hide her facial tattoos

Lorenzo married and struggled unsuccessfully for success. He died at the age of 65, followed by Olive a year and a half later. Rev. Stratton became mentally unstable, and was defrocked from the church. There were always unsubstantiated rumors that Olive had half-Native American children, but never any proof.

And so we circle back to the ill-fated Oatmans. Roys’s choice to follow and believe in a charlatan’s made-up visions, and his stubborn refusal to heed his internal conscience and the warnings of others, cost his and his family’s lives, and incredible suffering for Olive, Mary Ann, and Lorenzo. The ensuing written publication of the Oatman Massacre places the blame of this tragedy on the Native American tribe as a consequence of the societal beliefs at the time. A chunk of this remains true, but the lion’s share can be laid squarely on Roys’s decision to blatantly disregard forewarning.

For years, the remains of the deceased family lay in situ, to rot and join the food chain on that rocky mesa top, bones scattered haphazardly among the rocks and cactus. Occasional wagons struggled over and past, including the Butterfield Stage that shared that remote trail, until at some point, the bones were gathered and covered in rock cairns. Later, travelers paused to remove the stones and re-inter the bones down the cliff to a spot where they could be buried in the soft sandy earth bordering the Gila River. The Gila, however, rampaged and flooded the burial spot. Many years later, the Daughters of the American Revolution banded together to build a more permanent granite and concrete memorial with a bronze plaque inscribed with the words

In Memory Of
The Oatman Family
Six Members Of This Pioneer
Family
Massacred By Indians In March
1851
Erected By The Arizona Society
Daughters Of The American
Revolution – 1954

Oatman family burial plot

Scene Along the Road 4: Winds and Tracks of Time

Zephyros
Ah, Joshua Tree! We find ourselves again at a favorite boondocking site, just adjacent to the National Park border, with the I-10 corridor’s blistering fast cell and data connection. Every iteration is a learning experience, and this time we come armed with a simple elegant phone app that locates east and west to align our solar directly south for energy maximization. We are now positioned with our awning north-facing, and winter sun creates a solar reflector off the aluminum skin at all times of the day. Thanks to Vinnie Lamica’s polish job, we can be seen from miles away, easy to signal the cavalry if attacked by rampaging zombies or wind-blown jumping chollas—probably the most deadly cactus on the planet!

Days One and Two passed in serene bliss: warm days and a night sky lit like millions of shotgun shell blasts through a black, back-lit canopy. We lit our propane fire pit, sipped evening libations, and read to each other, pausing to tell stories and anecdotes.

But an onslaught soon blindsided us. Weather reports are notoriously fickle and inaccurate, as everyone knows. Early the following day, I sat outside basking in the silence of the desert, scanning the northern mountain ranges. Layering rock and strata patterns revealed shades of varying browns filled by meager earth footholds, patches of green vegetation in their grasp below folded peaks sharply contrasting a cerulean sky. While mentally free-floating, a subtle ghostly apparition began to cloud the clear view with a growing smoky haze, though no telltale olfactory signs emerged. The distant ranges disappeared into an unseen dimension, replaced by a cold wind seeping across the landscape, like a darkly magical Etch a Sketch-erasing moment. Mean winds obscured the prospect of all that once sat in stillness, knocking chairs over and disheveling all that could not stand in its insistence. The temperature dropped by twenty degrees, and it blew and blew….

The French experience Le Mistral meaning “master wind.” This dry cold northerly wind blows in squalls toward the Mediterranean coast of southern France, tormenting people for weeks on end, and has driven people mad. They say even murder is forgiven after a week of Le Mistral! “If the Mistral blows for nine days, then a murder on the ninth day was treated as a crime of passion, not as a cold-blooded murder,” states Professor Marion Diamond, University of Queensland. There is also the Sirocco which blows from north Africa across the Mediterranean to southern Europe. Web search reveals at least 75 different world culture names for winds to include: Bayamo, from Cuba; Chubasco, Central America; Haboob, Sudan; Nor’easter, from guess where?; Santa Ana, southern California; Williwaw, Aleutian Islands; and lastly, Zephyros, from the ancient Greeks, to name just a few.

Returning back to the “driving people mad” statement, we scurried into the Silver Submarine in haste against the onslaught, and sat while the Airstream shook violently despite being firmly anchored by stabilizers and weight of body and contents. There was no let-up from wind blasts growing in intensity at times close to around 50+ miles per hour. Orienting our rig east-west opened our long sides to the full force of the northerly wind; opening the door against this took every bit of strength to the critical balance point where the wind chose whether to pull it open for you, or slam it closed and induce ear trauma. If you’ve ever experienced an earthquake magnitude about 4–5 on the Richter scale, you can appreciate our growing apprehension. The only barrier from madness was the arrival of our friend John, who was passing through to explore the East Coast and graced us with hours of debauchery and insightful storytelling. His plans to tent in our camp quickly became laughable.

Two days—and many libations—later, the relentless wind carried him away east, leaving us to ride it out to acceptable levels after four days of Zephyros’s torture.

Being on a rocking boat for days on end and stepping on shore brings reality to the term “sea legs,” and post-wind we walked around camp like drunken sailors…or was that still the effects of our two-day liquid libertinism?

Tracks of Time
One of the secrets to successful boondocking is minimizing water use and discharge, in the form of grey water wash and black water human waste. We were luckily located far enough in the “boonies” to trek a short distance into the remote desert expanse with shovel, and explore flora, fauna, and geographics as we kept our trailer black tank light. It is interesting to note how rare rain water flows in the desert, moving through the pathways of least resistance. It was on one of these duty jaunts that I came across a section of hardpack mud, where the water had pooled until it found release. Post-rain squalls, water disappears instantly here, and it left behind, in this case, a smooth surface suitable for recording tracks of movement before quickly drying into hard pan.

On the island of Crete, encased in mud, researchers discovered the nearly six-million-year-old tracks of what appear to be human, or close to human, footprints.

Ape foot prints present themselves remarkably different, so these newly discovered impressions are serious contenders for human origin, or at least a branch off ape-like ancestors closer to our own. The closest confirmed human footprints discovered so far are in Laetoli, Tanzania, and are dated at 3.65 million years.

Studying tracks and traces is a fascinating detective pastime, opening up the wonders of creatures that passed previously invisible. Animal scat is another intriguing study along this theme and I was about to carefully bury mine forever, but a side glance to a hardpack section of easy walking revealed numerous human and animal tracks and traces. The hoof prints of deer registered clearly.

In the study of animal tracking we learn there are hoppers, draggers, and walkers, both four foot and single track, which category deer fall into. Directly adjacent to the deer tracks and close in time were the markings of human habitation: a fire ring, bike tire tracks, and graffiti scratchings. Humans never reflect much order or efficiency, and usually exhibit a non-discerning scream of existence. In my daily desert duty hikes, I found medicine pill bottles filled with marijuana, various alcohol bottles, cans, plastic containers, bags, and—richest of all, scratched into the dried mud to await the layering of perhaps millions of years, and eventual discovery by some distant civilization, if such exists—this graffito:

Human graffito inscription above deer paw print presentation

 

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Meeting with some of the oldest living things on earth

August 10, 1952: Patricia Huber was feeling very uncomfortable. She was a few days, or perhaps hours, from giving birth, and her baby’s kicking and rolling about was tempering her tolerance for the event soon to come. She shuffled over to the Philco black and white TV, clicked it on, and waited the obligatory minute for the tube to excite into a grainy image. It, too, expressed its displeasure by providing little response to her shuttling of the rabbit-eared antenna on top. Clicking the antenna switch and turning the antenna in 360-degree arcs brought little satisfaction, though holding it in the air two feet above the set sharpened the picture non-acceptably. Several weeks before, she had removed a number of tubes from the back of the set and brought them to the Rexall Drug Store down the street for testing, replacing one. This was not the time for the set to go on the fritz. Clicking through channels she settled on Kukla, Fran, and Ollie,

and thought to herself that it wouldn’t be long before her soon-to-arrive child might be entertained by this show. Two days later, unassisted by early network TV, a baby boy—me—was born.

August 10, 2017, 65 years later: Ruth and I drive slowly and deliberately up an eight-mile winding switchback road, arriving at Wheeler Peak in Great Basin National Park, to begin a pilgrimage to one of the oldest living things on earth: bristlecone pines. There are other lofty contenders: cloning oak (Jurupa Oak),

Jurupa Oak, Riverside, California

which is thought to have reproduced itself for over 13,000 years, lives in Riverside, California, in a thicket of 70 stem clusters that all share the same genetics. If that 13K age pushes your alertness button, there is another tree grouping called Pando in Utah, which is not a single tree but a grove of 47,000 quaking aspens that share the same root system. This massive underground organism shares a similarity to huge subterrestrial fungal/mushroom mats, and it is a matter of interpretation whether they are a single living thing or a multiplicity of identical trees spread out over 107 acres of land. Here is the most stunning fact in regard to this ancient living, cloning, entity: it is estimated to have lived for over one million years! Yes! You read that right. Trees that may have predated humanity.

Pando- Quaking Aspens in Fishlake, Utah

I don’t want to steal the thunder from these massive methuselahs, as they have the uniqueness and advantage of communal support. There is much to be said about the power and strength of this lifestyle. We, however, set out on a trek into our particular portal of the past, in Great Basin, one of a few spread-out bristlecone enclaves throughout the western United States.

Bristelecone pine grove at the base of Wheeler Peak. Great Basin National Park, Nevada, USA.

These uniquely individual trees stand stalwart in all weather and conditions, growing infinitesimally over time and adversity. They have a provenance handed down by previous generations through fossil records dating back more than 40 million years, to the Eocene Epoch, when modern mammals first emerged.

Our destination grove contains bristlecones averaging around three to four thousand years of age, but some of the oldest dated by dendrochronology (the study of tree growth ring patterns) still stand at around 4,800 years. These precious Ancient Ones are guarded from the curious and often destructive masses by secreting their locations. Studies of long dead, yet still undecayed bristlecone trunks, have revealed their ages to be around 8,000 years or more. We observed the grounded corpses of trees that died over one thousand years ago, looking much like their vertical living family.

Many pilgrimages demand sacrifice from seekers, and our shibboleth was a hike over steep rocks and roots beginning at 9,800 feet, plodding up, step by careful step, sucking precious elusive air, to arrive at the time capsule island of Ancient Ones at 10,400 feet. To instill clarity to this journey, I’ve broken down our pilgrimage of 1.4 miles one way, into a timeline of a typical bristlecone lifespan. A few facts before I begin:

  • An average person walks approximately 2,000 steps per mile, with a single stride of about 2.5 feet
  • Some of the oldest bristlecones at our destination have lived 4,000 years
  • 4 trail distance miles, one way = 7,392 feet, with an average stride of 2.5 feet = 2,957 steps
  • Assigning the number of steps taken to years of bristlecone life, on our journey, from the start of the trail to the grove: 2,957 steps; divided by 4,000 years gives us: 1 year of life = ¾ of a stride or about .74 steps per year. Whew!
    No. of steps Year What was happening in history
    118 1849 California Gold Rush
    168 1776 Signing of the Declaration of Independence
    291 1601 Shakespeare writes Hamlet
    360 1503 Leonardo Da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa
    405 1438 The Incas rule Peru
    454 1368 The Ming Dynasty begins in China
    529 1260 Chartres Cathedral in France is consecrated
    607 1150 Angkor Wat in Cambodia, one of the wonders of the world, is completed
    712 1000 Classic Pueblo Anasazi culture thrives in North America
    977 622 Mohammed flees from Mecca to Medina; 1st year of the Muslim calendar
    1,093 455 Rome falls to the Vandals
    1,482 100 BCE The Chinese develop paper
    1,562 215 BCE Great Wall of China is built
    1,725 447 BCE The Parthenon in Athens is built to honor Athena, goddess of wisdom
    1,779 525 BCE Cyrus the Great of Persia conquers Babylon and frees the Jews
    1,835 604 BCE Lao Tse, founder of Taoism, is born
    2,077 8-900 BCE The Iliad and The Odyssey are composed, possibly by Greek poet Homer
    2,112 1000 BCE Hebrew elders write the Old Testament books of the Bible
    2,461 1500 BCE The Olmec civilization thrives in Mexico
    2,671 1800 BCE Hammurabi, king of Babylon, develops the oldest known code of laws
    2,800+ 1500-2000 BCE Stonehenge is constructed, the Pharaohs rule Egypt, the Great Pyramid of Giza is completed in approximately 2,680 BCE.
    Our bristlecone pine is now a sapling, 3 feet high and already 40 years old.

    Bristlecone sapling in foreground, well into 100+ years old.

Having attained our destination, I felt impelled to reach out and wrap my arms around the steel-hard and environmentally twisted wood trunk, and imagine my miniscule 65-year life span as if it could be comprehended by my ancient tree, or even I by it? I have lived one one-hundredth the lifetime of this embraced master of elements. How much life force, a wisdom of sorts, was absorbed into this tree’s moment-to-moment existence? The elements that gave it life, temperature, nutrients, air quality, environmental forces to resist growth, drought, imperfect seasons, insect pests, wood rotting fungi, attempts by man to cut down, trim and remove limbs for fire, lightning strikes, avalanches, rain, flooding and wind storms, shifting terrain, climate change, earthquakes, old age, emanated in its magnificence.

In the world of man, our cares appear to revolve around us. We exist at the peak of life’s pyramid, or so we perceive it, yet the bristlecone pine stands silently living—gnarled, limbs broken, bark stripped, trunk twisted, yet thriving in adversity through the millennia. Reaching out again, I feel the ancient trunk with respectful hands, nearly three-quarters of my life past, but at the moment very honored to be in the presence of One who continues to silently impart life lessons reflectively.

The Ancient Ones: Mesa Verde, Hovenweep, Slick Rock Country, and Living on the Edge

Many of us have what we call our “home base,” and for us it is the Southwest. Moving west through Colorado, we watched the terrain shape shift from peaks and rolling plains to rocky red cliffs and haunting hoodoos beckoning to us in anthropomorphic, deceptive shadows. Over the years, we have shied away from the tourist-impacted regional ruins of the Ancient Ones, as the required ranger-led walks tended toward the lowest common denominator; but this time, we dug deeper to discover educational enlightenment further afield.

From our camp near the entrance to Mesa Verde National Park, we drove a circuitous, steep, and breathtaking road, past numerous sharp turn pullouts a quarter of a mile above the distant landscape, through the clouds with views of terrain flattened by elevation into the horizon. It is no wonder the Ancestral Puebloan people chose this place of stunning contrasts and connection to nature, sharp as their carved stone arrowheads, as their home. Our park map informed us that our destination, Long House, on Weatherill Mesa, was 27 miles away, with a maximum vehicle length of 25 feet—we squeaked by at 24 feet, 11 and 15/16 inches. The evidence of civilization’s intrusion was omnipresent despite our limited speed limit of 30 mph amidst the demands of geographic and floral captivations. Vehicles came rushing up in the rearview mirror to near bumper impatience in a hurry to go…where? Perhaps to take a picture of themselves in front of their destination signage and the claim, “We were there!” There were a couple of moments on tight corners when I visualized them standing in for Thelma and Louise as in the movie (which incidentally was shot in nearby Moab, but that’s another story), their ’66 Thunderbird convertible careening off the canyon’s lip into space. 27 miles, and a one-hour estimated drive time, does open space to the imagination.

To avoid speeding on dangerous driving roads, we allowed ourselves plenty of time to arrive, taking the opportunity to make a side trip to another neighboring cliff dwelling, known as Step House. A 100-foot descent along a one-mile trail into a cool shaded dwelling with outstanding petroglyphs was the perfect prelude to the premier hike of our Mesa Verde excursion, Long House, a two-and-a-quarter-mile, two-and-a-half-hour-plus hike into a gem of the Ancestral Puebloan Peoples’ meeting and ritual center.

There are some men and women whose candle burns brightly among the masses. Such a person now moved around our gathering tour group like a desert coyote, gathering information, querying place of origin, reasons for arriving, engaging in conversation, and testing and expanding the receptivity, friendliness, and malleability to fresh learning within our newly formed tour clan. I recognized these group analysis techniques from my teaching years, where on the first day, I gathered vital clues like a fortune teller reads a client, preparing teaching strategies to shock and awe learners. This grey ghost disappeared behind a concession stand to light up a cigarette and I began my own sniff circle of it to discern its sincerity, believability, and integrity to the theme and place, like a good student should test a teacher. I threw out questions testing knowledge of Ed Abbey (who frequented and wrote about this area), which were received in promising recognition but unrevealing of this Coyote’s background and knowledge. Our long afternoon hike would reveal all in mesa and canyon time.

Our Coyote took the form of a 70-plus-year-old Native American man, David Nighteagle (Lakota for owl): gaunt, thin-faced, with prominent hook nose, and long grey hair in two tight braids wrapped in fine leather framing his face and neatly falling below his breast to become handles for his expressive hands.

He stood slightly stooped, was blind in one eye, and explicitly informed everyone that he expected them to stand on his good side so as not to be missed by his doubly watchful good eye. Nighteagle was impeccably dressed in regulation National Park Service uniform and hat, smartly pressed and prepped to display an image of professional currency with the visage of a man stepping out of antiquity. He quickly—with storytelling, questions, and answers—captured us with assertive leadership, warmth, and wicked, testing, Coyote humor. Many of you will understand this statement, if you are familiar with the Native American legends of Coyote, the trickster.

Our journey down canyon began in intense mid-day heat, and all around us storm clouds darkened the red canyon rocks, threatening deluge and storm. We were informed that this high Mesa Verde region suffers more lightning strikes annually than any other place in America, and the surrounding terrain revealed this truth in the skeletons of burned out juniper and pinyon pine trees that didn’t survive firefighting attempts to save critical areas of the park over the years.

A mile down trail soon brought our quickly spread out group to the edge of a steep canyon.

The narrow pathway along rocks and stubborn ancient trees, found cleavage in the stone, to share growth with the cacti, sage, bunch grass, amaranth, and pinyon pines. The versatile yucca plant shared proximal real estate, providing fibers for weaving clothing, making sandals, baskets, amazingly strong rope, and needle-like tips that could be used for sewing and weapons.

As is often the case, the Ancient Ones located their homes and meeting places in the crook of canyons with water seeps deep in the neck of vast semi-circular sandstone overhangs. Malleable sandstone could be worked into shape, and ground up and mixed with proper ingredients to form a strong cement to bind stones into walls, kivas (circular underground rooms), and partitions for living spaces, as well as storage for food and animals. This was our prospect as we turned a corner to stand before an awe-inspiring, massive edifice of nature and man.

Nighteagle called forward a young girl from our group to shout a traditional welcoming greeting to the ancestral spirits in the maw of our massive cliff dwelling. Her “Hello!” echoed away in eerie silence and we all found ourselves anticipating a return call to ensure our safety from the dwellers of the ancient past.

We climbed ladders and meandered among the ruins listening to stories of the Ancient Ones. Soon, though, the sky darkened, taking on a deep and foreboding purple hue; lightning and thunder became prominent. Cool wind chased the heat of the mesa from our refuge and brought with it the sweet scent exclamation of vegetation embracing revitalizing water. The cracks of thunder echoed up the canyon like tidal waves to crash into our enclosure, curl back onto itself, intensifying and focusing the vibration into the bowels of our solar plexuses. Our brother guide, Nighteagle, called for a time of silence to contemplate the voice of nature resounding and magnifying in this womb of sandstone. Large globules of raindrops slowly began exploding upon the super-dried desert sand outside the cliff dwelling overhang, quickly increasing into the insistent roar of a thousand cymbals. One hundred feet overhead, rain water seeking release from saturated soil above found a natural spout in the rock and began pouring in dribbles, buckets, and hundreds of gallons down across us, as we stood assimilating this symphony of sound.

Beginning of waterfall at Longhouse

Nighteagle silently reached for a tubular pouch strung across his back, pulled out a hand carved cedar flute, and began playing a haunting tune to accompany the weakening reverberation of rain, thunder, and lightning.

 

I thought I saw, for a moment, out of the corner of my eyes, people run laughing to stand under the newly created waterfall and collect this precious resource. The illusion passed when the sound of Nighteagle’s long-range radio crackled with the news that the storm was passing into the south, opening up a window of opportunity to sadly leave this mirage in the mesa. The return to our point of origin became a walking meditation and benediction to these magical moments.

Warning from the Collared Lizard of Hovenweep

I can remember it like yesterday, though it was nearly 20 years ago. We set off seeking adventure into the wilds of the Southwest, traveling in serendipity to discover, far off the beaten path, miles from civilization and supply, a National Monument: Hovenweep. You don’t have to scratch below the surface to discover the depth of human history in this region. Nomadic Paleoindians hunted and gathered food with the seasons in this region for 10,000 years. Around A.D. 800 they began to settle and cross pollinate culture and technology to reach their nadir around the 1200s and a population of around 2,500 spread among six villages. Much remains of their elaborate buildings using similar construction techniques to those found at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. Square and round towers can be found perched on the edge of canyons: these might have been celestial observatories, granaries, defensive structures, storage facilities, residences, or combinations thereof. Below these impressive structures, the inhabitants terraced the hillsides, built catch dams for water storage, and harvested vegetables.

We pulled into a campsite with minimal amenities, only one water source for the campground, one simple toilet structure, and no electricity at the time, and cell service was a vision to become future reality. After waiting for the intense heat of the day to diminish, we loaded our camera gear and water supply and set off across the slick rock following the traditional rock cairns to stay on trail. We stood in awe of the building styles of the Ancient Ones, with tiny chinks of rock nestled carefully within mortar courses holding the hand hewn, ground and fitted sandstone and local rock. Crossing a relatively flat slick rock section we noticed a colorful shape bobbing up and down in the shade of a stunted bonsai-like juniper tree.

Our guidebook identified it as a Collared Lizard, beautifully clad in a brilliant blue/green body adorned with yellow mottling and a yellow-and-black collar circling his neck. A bright yellow face set its dark eyes in deep relief. We stood stock still so as not to chase it away. Surprisingly, it trotted out to meet us halfway. We barely had time to glance at each other in surprise when the lizard crossed the remaining distance to arrive at our feet, staring up at us in challenge. Its mouth opened and closed as it bobbed up and down as if it was trying to speak to us. What was it saying?

I got down on all fours to face our fearless interloper and it crept closer to approach my face, its mouth still shaping soundless words. I backed away for fear the little tyrant would attack. But really?! Not it, but we, backed away to return to our campsite and discuss the turn of events.

Several days later we left the Monument and saw along our road an unmarked dirt trail heading off in the general direction of our travel, and the day was young. We bounced along on the mesa top to reach its rim and the road dropped precipitously, into sharp corners with deep enough drop offs to launch us into turkey buzzard heaven. The weather changed suddenly, as it often does in this region, turning dark, and the wind began to howl. We reached the bottom of our rock-strewn, downhill road, and comfort set in to take the fine rock road ahead with increasing speed. Turning a corner to the right the road cambered a bit down to the left and I accelerated into it—with no recovery in traction. The truck slid sideways in the direction of the camber, which allowed less than one second to steer away from a five-foot-high embankment. The steering wheel was as unresponsive as wheels on oil. We launched sideways into space…how time changes when you are flipping sideways, rotating upside down in a split second and the crushing metal, broken glass, screaming partner next to me…and stunned silence. The truck came to rest right-side-up, gently and silently rocking from the inertia.

Luckily, Ruth always moves her seat back when traveling, and this helped her avoid being smashed by the caved-in windshield on her side. Broken glass covered the front cab and us. We jumped out of the truck to find comfort and safety in unmoving ground and surveyed our situation. Ruth needed a quick wrap to staunch a bleeding elbow, and we were in the middle of nowhere, with no cell reception—we had to fend for ourselves. I turned the key in the ignition, and it fired up immediately…thank you, Toyota! We picked up some of our belongings that had flipped out of the back of the truck, including the unbroken champagne bottles that would be chilled in celebration later, and I managed to find a moderately shallow spot to drive back up on the road in four-wheel-drive. We continued along our previous route very slowly, both in severe shock, until we reached a tiny hole-in-the-wall adobe building nestled in trees and large rocks: Hatch Trading Post.

The proprietress, Laura Hatch, told us her radio didn’t work in this weather, and proceeded to put us in her broken-down Buick and drive (at breakneck speed, on deep potholed roads, with ruined shock absorbers) 45 miles into the town of Blanding for medical care and x-rays for Ruth. The drive to town was slightly more stressful than our multi-second accident, as we thought, for sure, we wouldn’t survive the bouncing journey.

Later we reprised what had happened. Weather was an issue, yes. The road condition was a big contributor, yes. Driver error, most definitely, yes. But the LIZARD?! What was it trying to say to us…?

19th Anniversary Celebration at the crash site cairn.

“Where ya from?…”

We posted this short video clip a number of months ago—how time does slip by—but it seems appropriate to once again revisit it as an icon to our response that seems to pop up inevitably no matter where we go, and pretty much as regular as the new day dawns. This was snipped from that very iconic film, The Magnificent Seven, staring Yul Brenner and Steve McQueen.

As we travel West, there is a subtle shift in the spirit that Ruth and I have noticed and discussed often. Generally speaking, in the history of our country, there has been a continual migration of the populace West in search of fortune and freshness of opportunity. Some immigrated to America, stayed, and rooted. Others moved West, and West again. We’ve read biographical accounts of families that carved out lives and homesteads against great odds, heard the call to newer horizons, and pulled up stakes to recreate their hopes anew. What challenges and trials they encountered! When we stop and contemplate the effort that went into just acquiring food to eat; remember, no refrigeration, no prepackaged grocery items, no Cabela’s to purchase ammunition, no police force to protect from those seeking short cuts to their labors, or from angry natives seeking revenge for your invasive presence on their lands.

No judgement here, but among those who stayed for generations, a powerful spirit of community and pride of place and roots developed. They found their Valhalla. And then there are those pesky migration genes that drive humanity ever onward and westward, metaphorically. I’m not going to ask you to guess which category we fall into, but as you travel West you begin to feel that subtle call to seek that which is just beyond the next hill. Dare I quote the voiceover, opening lead-in, to the Star Trek television series, in reference to the Starship Enterprise? “…to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

The West is geographically less compact, more amenable to movement: the open spaces push away constriction of mind and challenge you to explore. There are reduced comfort factors, yes, perhaps fewer meticulously cross-stitched “Home Sweet Home” decrees emblazoned in picture frames on living room walls.

There is a burgeoning inner voice emanating from the soul of civilization reframing itself in the new millennia to demand a revisitation and reaffirmation of our earthly stewardship. Concurrent in that consciousness is the old familiar nomadic urge to migrate (no longer constrained by gravity), exhorting humanity to lift off terra firma and seek new homes among Earth’s sister planets.

I just hope humanity can transcend its militant animalistic nature in time to make this leap. Perhaps we all reside in a nexus of civilization. In the meantime though, mindful of this, we move on, meeting, sharing, and learning as we go. I am reminded of the definition of epigenesis: development involving gradual diversification and differentiation of an initially undifferentiated entity. It is true that we may have a genetic predisposition to violence passed down from our ancestors, but this predisposition impels, but doesn’t compel, action. It is modified by an infinite environment of factors such as formal education, and life lessons through interpersonal intercourse.

The theory of epigenesis presents us a unique opportunity to participate and prove the theorem scientifically through active engagement in civility, tolerance, broad-mindedness, and vulnerability that comes from placing oneself, through travel, in unprescribed environments. This is a tall order, an aspiration to emulate for sure. We return to ponder momentarily the Star Trek theme.

The call of Go West! is still alive, though the West Coast is stackin’ ’em up and pushin’ ’em back as the populace expands, but the response remains as strong as it was when Chris, Yul Brenner’s character was asked the question, “Where ya goin’?”

 

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Scene Along the Road 2: Rules of the Road, Writ in Sand

I glance into the driver’s rear view mirror…I spot check the rear trailer video camera…all clear. One second later a vehicle passes on the left as fast as a blink of the eye, and gone. Not a moment to take your attention off the road in this arena.

There is a lot of machismo on the roads of America. When the above mentioned situation arises and there is a car barreling along in the fast lane (ya’ll know that the left lane is for passing only, yes?! [We have at least one reader from England, and to you I say, “Bear with me.”]), the speeder plants himself conspicuously on the slower driver’s rear bumper with an unspoken claim to the lane. This can go several ways. Our slowpoke might not even notice, due to his lively in-car conversation, his mobile phone capturing his attention. But eventually he wakes up and moves over, or often there will be the selfish response, “I’m here, and will not be moved away by you.” We’ve watched this tension explode into the uncomfortable escalating drama of flashing lights and honking horns. Invariably, the put-upon driver will swing around to the right lane, thus blocking the slow driver’s ability to move over, creating a dangerous impasse with no easy resolution. Speeding drivers often move in packs, like rabid wolves in search of prey, so this sets up our slowpoke to get over immediately or face the wrath of the next pursuing four wheeled quadruped.

You will usually find us in the far right, truckers’ lane, where I’m counting coup on road kill. Pulling a fifty-foot rig over thousands of miles requires a lot of gallons of diesel fuel, and traveling at interstate speeds creates an exponential loss of miles per gallon. For this reason, we usually hang around 60 mph and get to our destination just a little bit later than Google maps or GPS routing notates, but we put our saved cash into the “entertainment fund.”

Now getting back on the machismo sound bite. On- and off-ramps create some interesting drama for drivers and their reactions to our Silver Submarine. The macho types have issues with following us to their nearby highway exit and will speed up, careen around us, and at the last microsecond, pull hard into our lane and across into the exit ramp, barely missing us, and forcing me to stomp hard on the brakes. This is very much like bull fighting, and we’re the matador. The stubborn macho driver will cut over and across our bumper, accident avoided by my wide-eyed, adrenaline-fueled braking assistance, and it seems at times as though I can almost hear the sound of his horns scraping our silken-bumpered pantaloons. The only difference is there is no shout of Olé! from the crowd, just an expletive from me complemented by a lean on the horn, barely escaping being gored!

Oh…sorry…did I mention turn signals? “No!” is your wry reply. Certain makes and models of drivers apparently don’t come with them.

On occasion, comfortably in cruise control, we come upon a line of cars snaking behind a slow moving vehicle in the right lane. They pull out and move around as spaces permit, into the fast lane and allow the next impatient driver to take his place in the queue. Not soon enough, our turn arises, and we then must allow time and room to pass around. This poses a problem, as oncoming drivers from the rear see our predicament and grin steely in selfish satisfaction as they pass us. There is no way in hell they are going to slow down and let us escape. It’s our turn to suffer, and suffer we will. We have a highway eternity to contemplate and calculate the driver mindset ahead of us. A sign approaches and at first I understand the cause. It reads 40 mph. Of course. There is road work ahead, and I missed the warning. I’m in the wrong…until the word “minimum” emerges in clarity. The driver in our windshield is just probably old or interstate insecure, which becomes apparent as we eventually pass, her blue-haired head and eyes focused forward, unwavering like a shop window mannequin, both hands gripping the wheel in white knuckled fear, speed unwavering. No cops are going to bust her for bad driving. No, sir.

On-ramps bring out a new set of challenges. Will the oncoming drivers see us as we approach from their left? The same set of conditions are in force here as the earlier mentioned fast lane blockers, but we’ll add one more condition: the driver is old, young, or inexperienced and they haven’t figured out what to do with that strange long pedal on the far right of those other pedals, leaving me to guess their speed and ramp entrance trajectory. Did you ever walk toward someone on the street and both you and they move in the same direction to avoid each other? Well, the same situation can occur when two vehicles converge upon each other, one from an on-ramp, and the other in the slow lane at the same speed. You think they will speed up, they think the same. Now add traffic completely blocking the left lanes. You slow down to allow them to pass, as getting 50 feet of metal moving requires some significant time and power. So do they! You quickly scan your rear view mirror and see an impatient driver that would rather not be following a trailer and is contemplating swinging around you to make that bull run to the next exit…Olé!

Truck drivers, for the most part, are pretty safe, though we’ve seen some hellacious trailer rig wrecks. Mobile phones do creep into everyone’s driving habits and are seen on roads everywhere as vehicles waver in and out of lanes, oblivious to surrounding drivers. It is fascinating to pull up alongside drivers holding their phones like pancakes on their hands and observing their expressions as they speak. What percentage of road recognition exists, you wonder?

Occasionally we’ve encountered drivers that resent our presence on the roads in any situation, though often they are found in inner cities, during driving rain storms and severe traffic. They see us as an impediment to their travel and pass us waving frantically to pull into some other lane which most often connotes off the highway altogether, we reckon.

The great way to study the psyche of society on America’s roads is to get out and drive. There are some wonderful folks out there, but there are also a passel full of crazed unpredictable bulls…and we know what becomes of them ultimately…

 

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Disney World: not for the weak-hearted

We hadn’t done it in over 30 years, neither of us, so we rolled into Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground for a week’s adventure…now, “rolling in” is an understatement as the Disney Dream Machine bought land for cents on the dollar long ago in the “Way Back Machine.” Driving into Disney World is like visiting Yellowstone NP—if you think you are going anywhere fast in time and distance, forget about it. Both places sport “great huge tracts of land.”

Fort Wilderness opened in 1971, the same year the Park opened, and in true Disney fashion has 799 campsites, and 409 air-conditioned wilderness cabins on 700 acres of forest and lakes (the italics are mine). This piece of paradise sits among four theme parks: Epcot, Magic Kingdom Park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Oh, and there are two more water parks, sorry: Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. I’m not even going to get into the numerous resort hotels that service this giant monolith, nor the massive vehicle infrastructure: buses, cars, trucks, boats, monorails, trains, horses, carriages, golf carts, bicycles…I know I’m leaving something out here! Well, maybe I will get into it, we’ll see…

We pulled up to the greeting kiosk and were given the tummy tickling Disney welcome and visitor package which included the most-important Magic Bands in the colors of our choice, unless we’d decide to purchase a customized one from the Disney stores located everywhere throughout the Park and, of course, online.

This state-of-the-art band has the look of an exercise tracker, and uses an R-Fid chip to electromagnetically track your every desire, allowing you to program it to fast track you through the often one-hour waits on the attractions, and to lighten your pocket of any necessary cash and credit cards. Wearing this band simulates the illusion of life in the 24th-and-a-half century, when we no longer have to use money, just wave your hand over a pick-up and your wish and your command come true. It’s almost that easy. A wave, and sometimes a little pin code if you’re purchasing big ticket items like lunch or dinner. You can’t let your euphoria dull your senses though, as these purchases on the Disney properties are, for the most part, expected pricing times two.

The Magic Band admits you to the Park after a very careful passage through metal detectors and airport quality TSA inspection of all carry-ons. I didn’t forget to leave my switchblade concealed weapon behind, which in Florida requires a special permit, allowing a concealed carry gun as well, but that’s not allowed in the Park, and is another whole story. When you first enter the Magic Kingdom, you wave your armband over a four-inch metal representation of Mickey Mouse, wait for the magic circle to change color from warning red to freeing green, place the finger of your choice over the fingerprint reader until it is recorded, and from then on your presence and safety within the Park is preserved for posterity.

Pausing for a moment to contemplate the degree of infrastructure needed to operate this massive monster of the Park of Muses is like peeling away layers of an onion that grow as you strip them down. Looking at the property as a whole, it spans 40 square miles, the size of San Francisco! Maintaining the grounds, roads, and what lies below them to look like a happy, clean, safe, welcoming Small World, gingerbread, cartoonesque dreamland is a massive undertaking on a city scale. Moving people and vehicles efficiently, handling food, utilities, waste; supply and use of energy; housing guests in all the venues; security/safety, inter-intra communications; public relations and entertainment; maintenance of all rides that run a minimum of 12 hours a day and carry huge numbers of people, requires an amazing network of interconnectiveness.

Let’s look, for example, at the Pirates of the Caribbean. 50 boats carrying approximately 1,150 people at a time, travel over 630,000 gallons of water during the eight-and-a-half-minute ride, and encounter 119 complex audio-animatronic characters. The music, explosions, effects, and timing boggle the mind. The rollercoaster ride, Space Mountain, has 13 two-car trains that can carry a total of 78 passengers, running continually at speeds up to 28 miles per hour, which seems faster in the dark. Speaking of Space Mountain, your mind plays time and space tricks with you, on a 26-foot drop of only two and a half jerky, speed- and direction-changing minutes.

Two men seeking punishment in the Kingdom attempted to tackle all 46 rides in Disney World’s four theme parks in a 17-hour day in 2015, and succeeded. Engineering of all genres is king in the Kingdom!

We purchased a three-day pass into the Magic Kingdom for a king’s ransom, and were allowed fast pass privileges with our Magic Bands for three rides per day, the rest on a queue basis. I was curious about the ticket price to enter the Park when it opened in 1971, and learned that it was $3.50 for admission plus ride ticket books ranging from $4.50 to $5.75, allowing entry into the rated rides as many of you may remember, from A-E. You may also remember the E-ticket, and how it has entered our lexicon as getting on the best ride experience. Our cost ran approximately $1,200, including lodging and one three-day Park entry and ride privileges.

E ticket from 1977

Most RVers rented golf carts to move around the Fort Wilderness property’s tennis courts, theme-related trinket shops, groceries, and roadways, and just tool around like 12-year-old kids on their first driving experience. (Disney World provides this attraction in a much desirable safer mode, where you can pilot your own mini car along a roadway bouncing from one side of a safety control rail to the other, preventing the inevitable side impact crash that would come from 98% of the drivers.) At times I felt like I was back in Thailand on the streets of Bangkok, where traffic rules were implied, enforced by bribes, and a small motorcycle or bicycle would carry mother, father, children, animals, sacks of groceries, and appliances, weaving in and out of crazed, chaotic traffic.

We avoided this melee, and each morning rode our bikes to the dock of Bay Lake on the edge of Fort Wilderness to board the boat carrying us to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom. After passing through the checkpoints we joined thousands of people debarking from the above-mentioned vehicles who thronged to the entrances of the six lands within the kingdom: Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Liberty Square, and Main Street USA. Everyone crowded up Main Street, and the swarming multitudes were held back from entering their chosen Land until the cannon fired precisely at 9:00 am.

Everyone had a planned go-to before-crowd ride. Most attempted to avoid the mind-numbingly scientific crowd control queues that wended in a slow moving crawl around tight turns like intestinal folds that if stretched out, would at guess, be a mile in length. Fans and misters were mounted above in strategic locations to ameliorate heat stroke in the melting sun, and goofy (pun intended) diversions placed along the pathways kept parents from murdering their impatient kids during the long wait. A curiously minded person has much time to contemplate whatever thoughts he or she may wish to entertain. I often picked out a person, often a scantily clad nymph, to track. As we wended our way in and out of the infinite ribbon of passage, I couldn’t help from pushing back the realization that “could one hour of waiting be worth a three-minute joy ride on a fast moving roller coaster?” Well…looking at the previously mentioned eye candy and asking that question brought up the inevitable answer, my friends.

 

One memory I do have from my last visit to the Park years ago was how hot it can get in central Florida. Not just hot but humid, with both in the mid-nineties. Ruth and I found a secret shelter and respite from both in a sheltered ice cream parlor in Adventureland that had a protective wooden wall along its front and a dark narrow corridor with just enough room to pass through from ordering to pickup. There were three windows along this dark passageway: one to order, one to pick up, and a third that was shuttered, with slats spaced to allow a massive air-conditioned blast to pass through, and a small nook for us to stand in and stare out through the blinding heat toward the teaming hordes moving by in a curtain of heat. Needless to say, this became our oasis of refuge over the days of our visit. The ice cream purchasers passed us, satisfied with its cooling qualities and wondered what two lone people were doing standing in that dark hallway. Some recognized immediately our status and remarked admiringly. We used the Jedi mind trick on them to save our secret igloo.

There’s lots of time to think, but so little opportunity to hear your thoughts! From the time you enter the Magic Kingdom, there is sound—often subliminal at times—mostly very present and in your face and body really: music. 1950-60s cute, Disney, mind-numbing music, and cartoon voices coming from everywhere. It doesn’t leave you alone, the music and sound grabs your consciousness like a mongoose sinking its fangs into a cobra. You can’t escape it. It’s on the walkways everywhere, in the bathrooms, in the queues, on the rides, in the restaurants, everywhere it explodes in your head telling you that you are being entertained and happy.

Entrance audio loop for you to play during a pleasant deck party! (Warning: it’s an hour long…)

At the end of the day in the Park, we begged for mercy from the onslaught, barrage, and salvos of sound. It was in many ways more exhausting than the combined crowds and heat that magnified as the days grew long. The grand finale, of course, was the end of the evening pre-Park closing fireworks display where all the elements crescendoed to complete the migraine-inducing explosion of noise and send you away, a stumbling, satiated zombie. Mind you, we love fireworks more than just about anyone, but we savored being safely and silently on the boat back to our bikes, our quiet campsite, and the Silver Submarine. We think we have finally satisfied a desire to return to our lingering memories of the entertainment of the Magic Kingdom.

Caliginous Cacophony

Spoiler Alert! If you’re reading this on a cellphone, and consequently not seeing the photos, you’re missing out—find a bigger screen!

We open the silver door and step out into the warm moist night, Gyp and I. A full moon illuminates a landscape flush with vegetation rich in verdure. Spanish moss sways in sultry breezes, and immediately I become aware of the chorus of sound reverberating around us, two approximate pitches actually, a low grate, like large countless unoiled gears meshing, and a higher announcement akin to the hands of a  stadium full of people running their fingernails over the teeth of plastic combs. All life of the night declaring, “I’m here! I’m here!” As we meander along the diaphanously lit pathway, I identify the source of nature’s caterwauling—bullfrogs and crickets—not by sight though, as rummaging through the deep dark underbrush could awaken a slumbering alligator near the lakeshore. We hear off in the near distance the rhythmic lapping of waves around the roots of cypress trees with their lower trunks happily immersed in dark ominous water. The cool water and its submerged inhabitants invite—sanity and safety caution otherwise.

Gyp makes an immediate crossover from a slow ambulation on my left to inspect a dark mass on the path near right…moving slowly away with the sound of feet shusshing leaves, a large turtle near three-quarters of a foot long is seeking a place of refuge, being too near the dangers of thoughtless alien four-wheeled machines of the night. Looking up between the branches of the trees I spy the outline of a magnificent magnolia blossom framed by the full moon and, after a short period of light adjustment, see—and really smell more—scores of wondrous white flowerets. The northern magnolia doesn’t hold a candle to its relative here in the South, the scent of which commands attention like few flowers in the fifty states, fulfilling its biological imperative in the reproductive world. Most of my memories of the South are of the scent of magnolia hanging sensually in the warm moist air of the night, and this moment is magical synergy of the first order.

As we meander through moon shadows along our pathway, twinkling fairy lights—magical fireflies in the tens of thousands—illuminate the forest on either side of us.

Fireflies illumine the moonlit night

There is great difficulty determining the borderline between the illumination of firefly “language” and the broadcasting light of the stars, both proclaiming presence in time and space. We cross from an audio into a visual universe where a flash can make the difference between defending turf or sexual attraction. This biological light show serves just one purpose, the propagation of the species. Males usually flash a “neon” advertisement while the females lurk in the foliage studying and ranking each suitor’s viability and suitability of mating.

Firefly lights are one of the most efficient in the world, 100% efficient in contrast to incandescent light, which is 10%, or even compact fluorescent, with 90% efficiency. The scientifically named “cold lights” found in the firefly’s tail contain two chemicals, Luciferase and Luciferin. Luciferin is heat resistant and it glows under the right conditions. Luciferase is an enzyme that triggers light emission. ATP, a chemical within the firefly’s body, converts to energy and initiates the glow. All living things contain ATP, but interestingly, an imbalance allows medical researchers to detect certain diseases such as cancer and muscular dystrophy when the chemicals from fireflies are injected into humans. Did you know that some of our remote space exploration satellites contain these same chemicals to boldly detect life where “…no one has gone before?”

My memories turn from the light show before us to adventure on an island off the coast of Thailand, where bioluminescence in the waters caused any movement in them to activate an eerie blue green glow. Every wave crash on shore sparkled neon bright like an acid trip in a fairyland lake.

Bioluminescence

Moving one’s hands and feet briskly, or spinning in the water, created a light bright enough to read a book. Spinning and jumping about too much would get you labeled a nut case, and you could read your book under the 24-hour watch lights of a Thai psych ward. Seriously though, if you city slickers need a more related metaphor, imagine a low rider’s car, subwoofers announcing its presence in bone- and- diaphragm-vibrating beat. Below the car, a neon blue illumines its underside, and it appears to be gliding on a lubricant of blue firefly light along the busy byway.

What a synchronous symphony of sound, light, and smell in the night, an exemplification of the great diversity and wonder on this planet! It is a reminder to waken the senses, that each breath of life is magical in every moment, and is part of the great mystery of life…now to keep those thoughts alive…

To keep up-to-date, hit the SUBCRIBE button below right. And, follow our travels and find other fun sites with the links on the left. (Look up “Caliginous” and win 100 true inquisitive/learner points!)

Nothin’ says Amurica like the rodeo!

Seeing a rodeo was big on our bucket list, and Rodeo Austin—our San Francisco-away-from-home in the middle of the conservative melting pot of the Lone Star State—would be the host. We’ve been talkin’ ’bout goin’ to this halfway across this fine country. Well hell, we’ve got our boots, hats, belts, and sheep dog, and we’re falling steeply into an easy drawl as we speak with the locals. To top it off, despite Ruth’s cringing reluctance, Dwight Yoakam is the musical headliner at the first night of the show. My earlier years living in the south inoculated me to the musical brand, gotta say.

In driving rain, we pulled into the huge gateway to the rodeo and fair ground causeway, inching our way in the vehicle throng to pay the $10 dollar parking fee. This granted us permission to be waved into the vast expanse of field mud, muck, and rocks, to park in anonymous rows…ruh row. Finding our horse upon return is going to be one heck of a challenge. “Not to worry,” I said to myself as I pulled out my cell phone parking app and clicked Current Location.

The carnival midway was lit up like Vegas on a Friday night, but the driving rain rendered attendance on the rides to close to zero. The colorful lights refracting through the rain drops made the scene an island-like mirage likened to a scary clown carnival movie set, and if you’ve seen the 1962 film Carnival of Souls, well…

Disappearing into a dark hole of hell was not to be our destiny that night as we soon were encapsulated into the throngs of people working their way into a huge oblong interior stadium with seating all the way from ring side high up into bleachers. All seats were ticketed, though not necessarily practiced, and folks competed politely for better seating. There was a fair share of reluctant shuffling through the tight rows—like everything else in Texas, most folks are BIG. In order to get to our seats, however, we had to pass through the portals of commercial chaos, venders selling everything western, from clothing, hats, belts, accoutrement, household art, farm equipment, animal supplies, and of course the ubiquitous beer and refreshments of the baser kind. We discovered, after seating, someone drinking one of Ruth’s favorite ciders and this synergized her rodeo experience. The wait in line for said drinks though, rivaled that of ladies’ restroom lines in a rock concert.

Just as my drink purchase finished, the stadium lights fell, and in the darkness an attractive young filly—woman, that is—rode out into the bright moving searchlight on a stunning pure white horse carrying an American flag and rode in synchrony and circles to the music. All hats were off, everyone standing, many with hands over hearts. The rowdy rumbling crowd transformed itself into a silent, worshiping unified mass of damp eyes and trembling patriotic hearts. As the “…land of the free, and the home of the brave,” stanza completed, a monstrous cheer arose from the throng. Capturing the moment’s ardent devotion, a video appeared on the massive center ring screen portraying all-American western scenes and images from the rodeo’s past. We had arrived at our destination.

“Why go to a rodeo?” you might ask. Well, tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling (or “rasslin’”), saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, bull riding, and barrel racing, all vestiges from the Golden Age of the American West.

When you’re going to have a baby, and of course you’re planning on having your kid take up rodeo, your choice of names may just make the difference between winning and losing. These are the actual (we presume) first names of the contestants:

Bull riding: Wyatt, Chase, Dalton, Troy, Colby, Toby, Nate
Barrel racing: Kara, Cayla, Rachel, Kaitlyn, Morgan, Molly, Katelyn, Kimmi
Saddle bronc riding: Luke, Toby, Brady, Preston, Tom, Dusty
Steer wrestling (rasslin’): Jacob, Taz, Cody, Chason, Cody, Kody, Trell
Tie down roping: Justin, Cooper, Cade, Dillon, Cody, Clint
Team roping: Will/Tanner, Jake/Tyler, Cale/Nick, Clayton/Dakota, Jessie/Jet, Brett/Wesley, Zac/Will, Ty/Krece

Now these are names to reckon with!

Watching this extravaganza is mind boggling in its complexity, hand-eye coordination, strength, and damn-sure tenacity. Tossing a lasso at full gallop to capture a running calf’s legs while your partner at the same time lassos its head in approximately seven seconds takes countless hours of horse, calf, and human exercise. Watching any bareback or saddle bronc or bull riding makes you cringe as you image the G forces racking your body and the feeling of being thrown from your mount countless times to acquire these skills, renders your knees weak. Certain areas of a cowboy’s anatomy would be the first to agree. This is a young man’s sport, to be enjoyed by us thankful spectators. I can’t imagine what drug could remedy the pain both short term and long from this sport. Perhaps this explains the rodeo’s popularity? This is spectacle, not only of skill but raw physicality that we perhaps all envy when it is past, if it ever came.

On the other side of the coin is the ever popular mutton-bustin’, where 3- to 9-year-olds take turns being hoisted up on the backs of sheep to see how long they can ride before dropping like full ticks off a dog. This is a real crowd pleaser, as everyone waits to see the wackiest position a kid can wrangle themselves into while barely grasping their woolen reins. The poor kids looked kind of lost in the exercise, not really sure what the heck was going on, and too young in most cases to develop a complex based on being laughed at by a crowd. At the end of this “Joke’s on You” exercise, each kid got an identical trophy regardless of time riding, not exactly the kind of message of winners and losers in life to portray. Incidentally, there is actually a phobia of sheep believe it or not called Ovinophobia. Put that in your woolen drawer. It may well be that some of these kids will go on to look up that definition later in life…or they’ll move on to horses and bulls. By the way, did you know that there is also a phobia of horses and bulls too: equinophobia and taurophobia?

No rodeo is complete without the ubiquitous clown, which in this case proceeded to make a fool of himself and the crowd, hey…isn’t that what a clown is for?! You got your clown arguing with the announcer, clown stealing a fan’s cell phone and looking up texts to read to the audience, clown spearheading vendor giveaways to sections of the crowd, clown leading crowd cheers, clown climbing in the classic clown barrel to be head butted by angry, agitated bulls. That was my favorite activity for that clown, yep justice.

And the moment we’ve all (mostly, except for Ruth) been waiting for! Tractors pulling trailers piled into the stadium loaded with sound equipment and a platform that folded out into a revolving stage. Dwight Yoakam’s roadies put on a premiere performance of setting up in 20 minutes for a band of five members and all their gear; very impressive. Unfortunately, the acoustics sucked in the stadium and you had to really struggle to get the words to the music. 99% of the songs were Dwight’s hits so the crowd, knowing the music, sang along…yes, me too in places, though Ruth struggled with this. I helped her with one of the lines in the truck later though:

“I’m a honkey-tonk man, and I can’t seem to stop,
love to give the girls a whirl to the music of an old juke box.
When my money’s all gone, pick up the telephone, say,
‘Hey hey, momma, can yer daddy come home.’” Yep!

One hour of solid music passed, including a tribute to the late Merle Haggard, and people intuitively sensed that if they didn’t leave then, they would be in a world of traffic hurt. I didn’t, thanks to undying Dwight fever to the last. Ruth and I agreed to meet at our entrance point to the stadium, and she gratefully bolted. I should have followed her, as how often do we forget that everyone leaving at once is not the same as everyone coming in over a period of several hours. I stared at my parking app in the rain for several minutes until Ruth took control and said, “Just follow me.” Our horse was tied where we parked her, and as is often the case, every one of the thousands present appeared to leave ahead of us on the one-lane exit road. Then there was the road construction on the streets of Austin that rivals that of the worst of any city I’ve ever seen. But that friends, is a different story!

One short story, above 25 stories, above 40 centuries, on the bottom of the ocean, 265 million years ago…or…

Long roads: short thoughts

I wake in the middle of the night to the sound of the wind beating our aluminum trailer skin, and crack an eye to watch it blow through curtains, carrying memories from time lost, when wind and water shared this space…this is a place where the earth dreams and remembers when continents bonded together in primordial conversations, waters delineating horizons.

This was a time when Earth brought to light the elements of itself to explore. There were no mammals, birds, or bees; or flowers to reflect color and awaken genesis through evolution. Dragonfly was king of the air; waters seethed in eddies of life; Earth simmered, memories of its youth still fresh to express; water, the womb of earth, nourished the cycle of change and transformation. Trilobite, one of the earliest of sea creatures, was nearing the end of its existence, and the reefs were closed off by tectonic movement. Land rose, water reformed itself in harmony with its contours, and all intercourse, interactions, and detritus in this liquid abyss of life slowly passed down, particle by particle, drawn by Earth’s gravity to settle on the sea bed, slowly accreting over countless eons of time.

Millions of years of sea bed accretion

Sea levels rose and fell as Earth morphed, and froze at times. Looking back in the mists of antiquity with the “eye of today” into those night skies would provoke questions and confusion, for galaxies and stars would be unrecognizable in contrast to our present panorama.

Countless skeletal fragments and marine organisms that fell through the abyss of water and time developed into our limestone sedimentation found all over the world, and particularly in our latest region of travel, central and southern Texas. The fossil reefs can now be seen in road cuts throughout the region and we stopped to bask in the rock time machine, and study with fascination the zoology in a small sampling within these cuts.

It is interesting to note that creationists state that the Great Flood, which we all learned carried Noah and the ark to safety (after, let’s not forget, killing every living being on earth, including innocent babies and children), is presumed to have taken place somewhere between about 4,000 and 100,000 years ago (yes, this is a considerable span of conjecture!). In order to fit this biblical paradigm into the development of limestone which is factually dated to approximately 350 million years ago, creationist hypotheses state that too much limestone exists on earth to be created in such a short time to fit into the biblical itinerary. They then postulate that it was created by the earth’s natural chemical/geologic formulations such as are found deep in the ocean near the tectonic trench and—I am not making this up—close to the “lost city.” (I’m not going here, okay?!) There are some mighty complicated chemical combination explanations as well as challenges to how long it takes for caves to be formed. Seems creationists haven’t heard of Occam’s Razor.

But there’s more: It was noted that the care keepers of caves continually shorten their projected dates of origin, and that stalagmites were “observed” to be formed in a matter of days (I’m not going to ask about their method of data collection, and anyway, I digress). You can sharpen your critical thinking and perspectives one way or another, by checking out any number of creation “science” (oxymoron alert!) websites. One, in particular, allows you to delve into profound subjects such as the origin of the Grand Canyon, the earth’s radioactivity, an explanation of the elongated and flattened Mastodon penis, and technical notes to fill in the details on how the great catastrophic flood projected rocks into space which became…comets…? But I digress: I bet you want to return to the aforementioned mastodon of the moment. “Creationist research” (oxymoron alert!) noted that when a man is strangled, his penis becomes elongated. (No, I don’t know why they felt the need to study this.) They then leap—and it’s most definitely a leap—to the conclusion that said mastodon strangled itself on grasses while eating at the time of the great cataclysm, because said cataclysm threw water up into the atmosphere, which was then super-cooled, and then returned to the earth to freeze our unfortunate mastodon mid-mastication, pressing and preserving its unfortunate organ for posterity. But I digress…being on the road tends to focus the mind.

Directly adjacent to our campsite, along a tributary of the Pecos River that flows into the Rio Grande, an ancient people painted pictographs on the undersides of the rock wall grottos in Seminole Canyon State Park, Texas. Millions of years post-limestone formation, ground water erosion had created the perfect sweet spot for human migrants to record their exploits hunting camel, bison, elephants (yes, you’re reading this right), and speaking to their gods through magic symbolism and human/animistic interpretations. Once again, the detritus of human interaction rained down on the grotto floors over thousands of years to slowly raise the earthen level, allowing those dreamers to challenge our eyes to understand how they could draw so high up on the rock faces. Did they build ladders? Perhaps. Maybe they stood on each other’s shoulders. It can’t be any more improbable than the Grand Canyon being created in a blink of the eye.

Back in the real world, it seems that mid-19th century cattlemen found these dwellings, housed their cattle in the protected alcoves, and their stock in turn trampled down and moved the earth to lower and earlier human inhabitant levels. This was followed by modern archaeologists who dug down to “rediscover” the lifestyles of our forebears. This lifestyle stands in sharp relief to our current culture, though in some extremely rare occurrences, vestiges can still be found among us today, as can be seen by this rare sighting in the Whole Foods flagship store in Austin, Texas. Notice the staggering “out of time” confusion and uncertainty of this subject seen next to the pastry fridge in a daze…but I digress.

They are still among us!

We all stand on the shoulders of giants or, in reality, trillions of bits of tiny marine microorganisms.

Follow us as we go by clicking the link on the left to the “Map our travels to the horizon.”

“Where Ya From?”

Perhaps nothing epitomizes the theme of our travels better than this clip from the original Magnificent Seven, staring Yul Brynner.

 

 

Dog noses make “scents,” and you make the road by walking it

Part 1: Our Border Collie, Gyp, takes out her herding frustration with us by bringing us sticks to throw, and her impulsiveness led me to look up the definition and explanation of OCD in the dictionary. What a surprise to find her picture in the heading, poster child of the affliction! Watching her in action is a study of wonder. I throw the stick, and as she’s getting quite a bit older, fifty percent of the time she misses seeing where it lands—and this is where it gets interesting. Putting her nose to the ground, she follows a hidden scent trail cast off by the stick as it passes over the earth, and/or is able to track the stick in a maze of perambulations, closer and closer in a fine scent trail of discovery. There are times, though, that she misses her prize and in a stretch of my imagination, she thinks, “Heck, I’ll just find another stick and bring it to him. A stick is a stick as long as we can continue this endless mind-numbing game.” Believe me when I say this, 99 percent of the time I have to be the one to stop this neurosis or it could go on for hours. One time we were invited to a friend’s house for a party that lasted long into the night, and our deranged dog wore through dozens of rounds of stick- and ball-throwers through the entirety of the event. If only Border Collies could be project managers, things would get done, yes?!

This was taken from the website Dogster: Psychologist and prolific dog book author Stanley Coren gave an example of what that huge sniffer sensitivity looks like. Let’s say you have a gram of a component of human sweat known as butyric acid. Surprisingly, humans are quite good at smelling this. If you let it evaporate in the space of a 10-story building, many of us would still be able to detect a faint scent upon entering the building. Not bad, for a human nose. But consider this: If you put the 135-square-mile city of Philadelphia under a 300-foot-high enclosure, evaporated the gram of butyric acid and let a dog in, the average dog would still be able to detect the odor.

Border Collie nose in action
Border Collie nose in action

Now getting back to that alternative stick. If I throw it, Gyp will often then track to the first stick and I can see her pause in recognition but then move on as she recognized the scent pattern fade as an earlier throw. She then moves on to find the first and either bring it or—just to add some complication—go back to the first stick and pick it up as well, to drop at my feet. At one point I started to teach her in stages: after she brought me one stick, I would say, “ONE.” If she dropped two sticks, “TWO,” and so on, to imprint numbers with sticks. This didn’t go well with me, as I lacked patience and follow through, thinking that she was only hearing: “La-la-la-stick,” or “Not close enough,” meaning, when she could hear, that the stick was just too darn far away. She would oblige me in her Border Collie stubbornness by picking up the stick and moving it a half-inch closer. To this day, our stubborn dog will not give us any quarter, always trying to get the jump on us.

As we have all seen, dogs communicate by sniffing each other’s butts and nether parts. Be a dog for a moment if you can, and imagine: what they are sensing?! Gender, food eaten, frequency of walks, environment of origin, pee scent to counter with their own and possibly recognize in future walks. They can sense fear, anxiety, and aggressiveness to avoid or attack, including hormone changes that define the encountered dog’s wellbeing or lack of, as well as their treatment; and what else?

We often have to put up with a lot in our dogs but imagine what they must tolerate in us? How can they endure the onslaught of scents we subject them to, so far above our range of recognition?

 

Part 2: If you’re the person who rolls your eyes when you read some of my philosophical ramblings, you can skip this next deeply insightful, and potentially life-changing section.

When I was teaching at City College of San Francisco, I would often tell my students that they were not as helpless as they imagined, that in fact they had much more control of their lives than they thought. Actually, most often they were creating results absentmindedly that ran counter to their intentions, kind of like getting on a horse and letting it go wherever it wanted, rather than taking the reins and being in control.

Let’s say, hypothetically, you need a pair of shoes, a car, or whatever is in your mind’s eye. You research your needs, check pricing, determine availability, etc. Then you find yourself noticing people wearing shoes, probably your desired choice, or for some reason that car that was looking pretty fine is now on the street wherever you look. Why is this? Ruth and I will discuss a subject at length, or research a theme and it just keeps popping up in the strangest places in seemingly unrelated situations. Is there a hand in the sky or invisible aliens playing cosmic games with our desires and sensibilities, or can it be something closer to our noses and we are the unconscious magicians playing with forces we know not what?

When I would teach electrical theory I would often take students of a trip through the universe via the great film created by the team Charles and Ray Eames in 1977 titled, Powers of Ten and the Relative Size of Things in the Universe. This nine-minute short takes place in the park on the lakefront in Chicago and we see from one meter away a couple sleeping in the sun. The landscape steadily moves out in powers of ten in larger increments until it reaches the farthest know region of space that is currently known. Then at a rate of 10 to the 10th meters per second, the footage returns back to the same view in the park from one meter away and reverses into the skin of the man in negative powers of ten through the blood vessels, DNA, into the vast inner space of a single carbon atom again to the limits of our understanding of matter at this level.

As it turns out, in the microcosm, the laws of physics don’t follow the same rules that apply in the larger universe. Quantum physicists surmise through scientific analysis, that the observer can alter the observed and that matter is both present and not present in a “magical” quantum state or matrix. With this awareness of the universe as an infinite matrix we can see a bit more clearly that all matter is either bonding or disassociating in a constant state of flux. What seems solid is not. At an atomic level, the distance between the electrons and nucleus in a typical hydrogen atom, one of the most common elements in the universe, is metaphorically described thus: If we build a scale model of an atom with the nucleus one foot in diameter, the electron would be the equivalent of a little more than ten miles away! Now, do you believe your senses if there is no such thing as “solid?” Don’t even go there with me and ask, “What is real?”

My point is that we are part of a limitless micro/macrocosmic matrix and we do have something to do with its operation on some level. There are scientists that postulate that we live in multiverses coexisting simultaneously in space, time, matter, and energy, and the laws that govern them may be very different from our existence in this time and space. If we can set reciprocal actions and creations in motion by mere thoughts, what is possible? Am I naïve to postulate that we can “make the road by walking it?” Are we helpless players in this world on a stage of hopelessness? I think not.

Back on the road: musings in metaphysics of the wandering kind

Three summer months traversing the western US, three months prepping our house for friendly renters/caretakers, and now we are off again on a journey with no concrete destination or time constraints.

We’ve taken one week in Rio Vista, close to our Airstream storage facility in Fairfield, California, to stage and prep our journey.

Our campsite is on the mouth of a maze of sloughs and canals on the edge of the Sacramento Delta. It is strange, looking out from the kitchen window seats and watching motorboats cruise out of the local docks below us, cows trolling the farm land directly behind, and an incongruous  ocean vessel seemingly slowly skimming the landscape in a hidden deep water canal in the background.

What would be the best of camping, for this week is tempered by having to pay a pretty exorbitant site fee for the privilege of having no electricity, sewer, or water hookups, as the local water supply has been deemed unfit, so boondocking we go. Well… there are flush toilets (those that aren’t locked for the season), and the wildlife is awesome: owls, eagles, egrets, ground squirrels, feral cats, and the cacophony of cows remains constant. We meet fellow Airstream travelers, Scott and Cornelia, to share stories around the campfire. The serendipitous synchronicity of these types of meetings is magical, even more so fueled by fine wine.

Did I mention owls? I’ve always had a fascination for these silent swooping night scavengers with haunting hypnotic calls. You know you’re a geek when: you listen to hours of Roger Tory Peterson’s bird calls on CDs, the announcer listing the name of each bird and a recording of the call is played…twice. Having said this, when I tell you that we have heard the screech owl exclusively, there will be no doubt!

 

The most exciting thing besides recognizing the call of this mostly invisible predator is discovering owl pellets! They are usually found directly below roosting branches in hangout trees (kind of like beer cans in 7-11 parking lots) and contain the undigested remains of the owl’s meals. Careful inspection may reward you with what looks like coyote scat covered in hair and often with a pointy end…don’t make the mistake of probing that one, unless you are a  geek of the third order! I picked up three (owl pellets) adjacent to our trailer and cut them open to discover small mouse bones and teeth buried deep within an “Easter egg” of fur.

 

 

 

owl-pellets-disected

 

One pellet contained the leg bone of a small crab, which answers the question: Are owls into “surf and turf?”

 

Why wandering, travel?

Re-framing, risking, imagining, cycling, exploring, provoking, questing, migrating, proportioning, stimulating, re-creating…

The obvious: travel takes us outside our norms and patterns of everyday life. The world around us bombards our senses with countless electro-chemical stimuli which we in turn order and form into patterns of recognition and consciousness. Perhaps one example of this would be the study of Pointillism, a technique of painting in which distinct dots are applied in patterns to form an image. Georges Seurat was one of the originators of this style, and I remember visiting the Art Institute of Chicago and standing too close to the painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte - 1884

 

Thousands of colored dots overwhelmed my senses, but upon stepping back everything blended into a focused and pleasant image.

 

Close up image
Close up image of Seurat’s painting

 

 

Travel changes our perspectives and reframes our comprehension of the usual, besides pulling us away into the bigger picture. There is ever-present danger in this action though, as it challenges our opinions and world view. A study of humanity is very much a study of migration and exploration that, we believe, will take us into the stars.

Our human tribe does have several branches, however. Nomads are infected with the push of wanderlust provoking the desire to see what is around the next bend, whereas the pastorals find comfort and safety in the castle of hearth and home.

We like to think we have the best genes of both tribes in our Airstream. A moveable base camp with creature comforts and wheels to permit movement on terra firma, with a secondary tow vehicle permitting deeper flexibility of exploration.

Our summer wanderings taught us that there is potential agony and ecstasy in every moment, meetings with remarkable people and places, challenges to be met, and lessons to be learned. We’ve spread our wings and now travel south for warmth for winter and the road ahead.

Washing the traces of the world away…and away

 

I’m sitting 20 feet off the beach on the coast, just north of Ventura, California, listening to the hypnotic whoosh of wave breaks on the shore. Glancing to my right, the silver rear end of the Airstream and its panoramic windows frame an infinite horizon to the west. This would be the land’s end of the westward expansion in the 19th century: “Go West young man, go West.”

The eye-squinting brilliance of aluminum reflecting the sun’s rays against the azure blue sky, and sand-muddied purple turbulent waters, is dulled somewhat by microscopic coatings of regional terroir layering its skin at 60 mph and three quarters of a thousand miles.

Several times in nearly 4,000 miles we have sought out a truck and car wash to wipe clean our badge of nomadic wanderlust and return to that iconic marketing and public display look. Our first being the Blue Beacon, on the outskirts of Las Vegas, having just dropped out of the high desert down deep into the 104-degree heatwaves of this manmade oasis of sin and pleasure. Our rig and truck stands an imposing 50 feet in length solo, but next to semi tractors and trailers is diminutive and tinkertoyesque (may have created a new word?!). We fell into the queue to a huge building with two bays 30 feet high and 20 feet wide, and slowly worked our way closer to the maw of a dark opening from which we could hear the shouting of many men in the throes of battle with the machines contained within. Our turn arrived, and we were instructed to pull into a mob of about 10 to 15 men wielding six-foot water-blasting wands of tremendous power and multiplicity, from a trickle of soap, to wash and soap mix, to rinse and waxy chemical treatments.

Blue Beacon Truck Wash

The sounds of the water blasts were deafening as they echoed through the semi darkness within the foggy mist, antidoted by earplugs. A team leader shouted commands and the men moved in a syncopated dance around us, their camaraderie formed by countless hours’ labor in this sound-deafening sauna. Their labored barks and yells took on the rhythm of the famous “field hollers” which characterized the laboring African American cotton pickers of the South, and which developed into the Blues we know today.

There is something quite pleasurable in watching your vehicle come clean through the movie screen of your front windshield, yet the time to move out into the blinding light and heat arrived with a wave from our team leader and a beckon toward the pay station. I slid a respectable tip into an underling’s hand and received in turn an additional tire sidewall polish. We were “Ready for our close up, Mr. DeMille!”

Arriving in San Diego, it was time for another round of ablution, but this time, our truck went solo as nothing was available for the complete ensemble. We negotiated a hand wash over the quickie machine in-and-out option, and sat in the waiting area. This is a perfect environment for people-watching; they come in and then we try matching their image and personalities to their cars when they drive out. Time elapsed and we became keenly aware that the waves of customers passing through the car wash event in front of us were multiplying. Yes, we paid for a hand wash…and we waited. The minute hand of my watch rounded the dial, and I stepped out to spy the location of our truck now parked in its own bay, with one person diligently laboring within. I reached into my wallet and with a grin mentioned to Ruth that for every ten minutes of this kind of labor, I would add another dollar to the tip. That wallet unzipped three more times and this time with a wry grin I said that certainly the peak of the curve had been reached and that as each ensuing ten minutes passed, I would subtract a dollar; but it just couldn’t be the right thing to do…

Fifteen minutes passed, and to relieve a sore butt and stretch out a tired back, I surreptitiously walked out to determine the cause of the delay. I returned shortly to exclaim that it appeared that they were color matching the paint that they had wiped off in their washing diligence during the past hour and a half. Well, I was close to correct as shortly our beast arrived and we had to pull out our sunglasses to dull the glare. I don’t believe we have ever seen such a perfect finish on any truck, perhaps not even when it was presented to us at the dealership. Our detailer received his tip—a $5 bill with a thick wad of ones artfully wrapped within—with a gracious smile, and we set off to hopefully delay the inevitable return but, again hopefully, not with the same timeframe. Someday a dirt repellent surface will be invented, but perhaps not too soon to keep a labor-intensive, yet honorable and immediately gratifying, profession from dying away.

Viva Oasis Las Vegas

If you wanna go big, go Vegas.

RV Parking

46 acres with spaces for 935 RVs, a “Centurion” posted at the front gate for the security of the guests, separate family and adult pools with waterfalls and spas, restaurant, banquet facilities, fitness center, and 18-hole putting course. At every RV spot there are the remnants of phone service from the more hip Rat Pack era, to call either another RV and plan a cocktail hour, or the 24,000 foot clubhouse to coordinate a White Wedding in their chapel. Perhaps you and 280 special guests can celebrate your daughter’s Quinceanera in the elegant ballroom, trailer park style.

This place has got it all, baby! Gyp and I took some serious walks together late in the evening in a balmy 90-degree heat, following a 104⁰ water sucking, dry desert day heat.(Gyp noted no swimming facilities for dogs.) It was almost magical at night with each RV mini-home lit up with activity in air-conditioned comfort. A number of years ago, Ruth and I began noticing trailer “handles,” or monograms if you will, and this was the place to build out that list. Mind you, my notations were taken at night through the dim light of each RV pad pedestal light, but here goes (as you read, think about what emotions these names elicit in your mind):

Adventurer, Sea Breeze, Avenger, Dominator, South Wind, Springdale, Designer, Road Warrior, Freedom Elite, Silverback, Cyclone, Brave, Magic Bus, Carriage, Imperial, Montana, Summit, King of the Road, Coachman, Pursuit, Elk Ridge, Voyager, Cardinal, Cougar, Lynx, Alumiscape, Rockwood, Vectra, Sportsmaster, Prowler, Cherokee, Conquest, Bighorn, Wave, Alpenlite, Sierra, Westport, Cameo, Bayhill, Pinnacle, New Vision, Big Country, Mountain Air, Cornerstone, Bounder, Caribou, Outlaw, Prevost, Patriot, Funfinder, Starcraft, North Trail, Cruiser, Heritage Glen, Cedar Creek, Solitude, Denali. We would be remiss for not adding in our own baby, Airstream International Serenity.

So I got about 60 here and there were untold numbers of repeats, and, forgive me for falling down on my reporting duties, but do you know how long it takes to walk around near 900 candidates? The park was very full the night of our extended walk and armed with this census and an insatiable need to collect useless facts, Ruth and I calculated that if the park was just 3/4 full, and each site paid approximately $50 (which is middle- to low-range daily rates), the daily operational take would be $33,750, or a very cool $1,012,500 per month. This will pay the electric bill, I reckon, not counting ancillary fees…and the casinos are just down the street!

Nomads, Hobos, and Bohos

At a very early age, going on vacation had a special place in my psyche. The force of wanderlust was compelling. I remember seeing a mysterious trail or an unknown road, and just going, with no thought of return―causing my family much concern. The drive to keep moving forward beyond the known, to see what was around the next corner or just out of reach was such a compelling push of rapture, unlike mostly any singular joy in life…yet perhaps, the essence of life itself.

I’d heard countless people speak of the value of recreation and that word stuck in my mind by way of two syllables: re-creation. Now this perspective of the word brings much more value to the meaning. To take something mundane and make it new, to transform routines into revelations, ennui to enthusiasm.

Exercise is certainly a form of recreation, but travel introduces so many more dimensions. Through travel we hopefully climb out of our routines and engage others who most probably have a much different perspective. Geography and proximity to divergent life styles form living patterns. There are reasons that more liberal mindsets are usually found on opposite coasts with diversified cultures and concentrated educational systems. On the other hand, in the hinterlands and remote areas, you will often find those of a like mind that gravitate in sympathy with each other, strong in tradition, suspicious of change, powerfully supportive as a clan, yet very often most welcoming and open socially. This is expressed in regional pride as “southern,” “country,” or “mountain” hospitality.

Traveling offers us the opportunity to slip through the American life stream using perhaps the metaphor of a honeybee moving from flower to flower, extracting the nectar of sustenance. Becoming rootless, our stories and consciousness unfurl to encompass all who we come in contact with, opening up new vistas, and expanding our boundaries of learning limitlessly.

Just moving from place to place and making the effort to talk with people and listen to the stories of their lives, families, local lore, the goings on, and then equally transfusing our own in return, changes our world one moment at a time, a domino effect of huge proportions.

Throughout our civilization there have been those who lived the nomadic life, beginning with the hunter gatherers, and this genetic drive remains one of the primal urges of humanity as we spread across the globe over the millennia.

 

The story of humanity is one of conquering and confiscating the lands of the vanquished, who either assimilated or moved on to find safe havens. The study of diaspora throughout history affirms this political and religious fact.

The phrase, “Go west, young man!” attributed to the author Horace Greely, regarding America’s westward expansion related to the concept of “Manifest Destiny,” which was popular in the mid-1800s. It was believed that settling the West would relieve our country of the “crowded” cities and poverty that abounded. People saw the West as the savior and solution to poor systems management, creating another diaspora of the native Americans in the grab for land and ensuing gold and silver rushes.

Now that humanity has filled in most of the habitable spaces on the planet we are like ants on a rock reaching out―but just not quite getting to―a sweet juicy peach on the picnic table of the solar system and stars. Yes, if we survive ourselves…there will be Manifest Destiny off the earth; and this is a story for future generations and theorists.

In traveling we search for truth in context and meaning in recreation. There have been nomads of the land but also of the heart, traveling among us in the form of wandering minstrels carrying song, story, and education to those bound by necessity. Showmen and funfair itinerants brought pleasure where drudgery abounded. Throughout the Middle Ages, masons worked in guilds or clans created to protect the secrets of the building of the great cathedrals in Europe with roots back to ancient Egypt. The stonemasons of the time who were “operative,” and not “speculative” as we have with us today, were very unusual in that they―unlike those under the kings and lords of the time―were free to move from place to place, keeping their extensive learning alive and inducting apprentices along their journeys. Many of the major edifices in Europe were a century in the building and knowledge and information passed between the builders as needed. This would soon morph into the development and protection of the arts and sciences from the prying eyes of a dogmatic church and state.

Of the most recent itinerants in America you will find hobos, tramps, and bums. Hobos were and are today’s traveling workers. Tramps work only when forced too, and bums don’t work at all. The etymology of the term hobo come from the late 1890s, some possible derivations are “Hoe Boy,” or farm hand, “Ho boy,” as a greeting, or as Bill Bryson suggested in his book, Made in America, that “Ho Beau” was an abbreviation for “homeward bound,” taken from a railroad greeting. Lastly, there was “Homeless boy.”

The railroad played a large part in the development of the hobos’ movement across America, though a number of possibilities existed as door-to-door salesmen, knife sharpeners, and workers for hire/handymen.

The culture developed an entire sub-language of words understood by fellow “’bos,” the term used to address fellow hobos. A few of many words of this hidden itinerant language were:
Banjo: a portable frying pan
Bone polisher: dog
Buck: a Catholic priest good for a dollar
California blankets: newspapers used to cover oneself on a park bench
Grease the track: get run over by a train
and many other juicy expressions. Many of these words have entered into our common lexicon such as “the big house” or “glad rags.”

As many words as were available for ’bos to communicate, there were an equal number of symbols, too, left for the discerning eye to catch in an obscure spot or fence post, such as a triangle with hands to signify a man with a gun, or a horizontal zigzag signifying a barking dog.

Many notables have lived the hobo life for a time, tapping into the heart and soul of Americana. Jack Dempsey, Loren Eiseley, Woody Guthrie and Dave Van Ronk (both Bob Dylan mentors), Jack Kerouac, Jack London, Louis L’amour, Robert Mitchum, and Carl Sandburg.

A twist in our lingo brings us to the “Boho,” from Bohemian, and the last connection to the wanderlust lifestyle. In pre-hippie years a bohemian was known as a person practicing an unconventional lifestyle with few permanent ties, a vagabond, wanderer, and adventurer. The word came into our language in the nineteenth century to describe unorthodox, marginalized, impoverished artists, writers, musicians, and actors, who practiced free love, often living intentionally poor lives. The Romanis, or gypsies, were often associated with this moniker as they were always on the move, loved music, dance, and flew in the face of rules and conventionality.

Journalists in America and specifically San Francisco in the late eighteen and early nineteen hundreds became strongly associated with the idea of bohemianism, and Mark Twain and other writers tied themselves to this concept, organizing the Bohemian Club, which is still in existence today. Certain areas of the US have been designated as bohemian hot spots, many of which you are aware of: Greenwich Village, North Beach, Venice Beach, Topanga Canyon, Ojai, Boulder, Key West, and many others.

To sum up, whether you admire nomads, hobos, bohos, vagabonds,
adventurers, peripatetic wanderers, letting your hair down, or re-creating,
hear the call of the wild. Go! Listen, share, and be beguiled!

Lessons learning and other musings

Looking out our Airstream’s panoramic windows and pondering on this languorously hot July day how life experiences diverge so quickly from their moment of creation. We often ask ourselves how things would have been so different if we had only…let’s say bought that house in that other neighborhood, which led to not meeting some of our closest friends, which led to many incredible experiences, and on and on in an infinite chain of events. It is like a multidimensional cone expanding out in time and space. Each moment is like this. Every choice. Every decision pregnant with opportunity and a different life. Whew! Looking backwards brings smiles and sadness, cringing and cackling.

In the book, The Once and Future King by T.H. White, Merlin mentored the young Arthur and gave him the experience of transference into other beings. I am attempting to learn this lesson now, watching hawks being harassed away from nests by much smaller, fearless birds. I spy dozens of ground squirrels jumping out of their burrows and scurrying to another cool entrance, touching noses with one another, exchanging some form of communication, followed by chases, then back down into the darkness below the relentless heat. Slowing down to awaken the senses and become aware of the micro and macrocosm is the exercise of the moment. Monarch butterflies shimmer in the sunlight as their wings flutter in counterpoint to the wind-tufted leaves, movements like visual musical notes.

This benchmark in life, retirement, is bringing up questions and musings on my work and careers, as there have been so many chapters to this encyclopedia of experiences. Teaching has been the Elysian Fields throughout my careers, surrounded by a semi-permeable electric fence to keep bureaucratic machinations, confusion, and the numbing roar of the mass mind out yet admit the rejuvenation of change. Speaking of electric fences: just recently, I was hiking up a deserted country road along a pasture fenced with nylon twine. A horse within and I spied each other simultaneously and it approached me but kept at arm’s length from the fence and my reach. I stretched my arm as far as I could between the twine rungs to come within just a couple inches of the horse’s nose for polite recognition, but it wouldn’t accept my touch. Looking more carefully at the twine I recognized the cause of the horse’s reticence. Within each strand of nylon there was a very thin spiral wire, almost invisible to the eye but most definitely not to the touch, which carried an electrical admonition to stay away. The definition of horse sense came to mind and I thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t have to relearn my lesson again from childhood.

That electric fence kept that horse from wandering, safe from interlopers. My mental fence is a barrier against mediocrity and to safely contain within the remembrance to swim upstream, climb the waterfall, to paint clown faces on the stern, black and white portraits of those who dictate, “It must be done this way!”

Slowing down and seeing. This is the clarion call of this chapter of change. To see a galaxy twinkling in the Milky Way, perhaps now millions of years dead, the light from which traveled through space at 186,000 miles per second since before life on earth, impacting the nerves, creating memories. Is this light now within, from that distant source, reincarnation?

Humanity is broadcasting itself through the electromagnetic spectrum into space at a significantly lower speed than light. I Love Lucy TV shows from the 60s are radiating out of our solar system as a gift to future travelers. If we could travel fast enough, we could relive our broadcast history “live.”

There may come a time when we realize that our search for extraterrestrial life as we know it has been futile. We may someday decode some as yet unknown electromagnetic spectrum or subset, perhaps light itself, continually bombarding earth with, “Welcome to the Universe!” greetings.