Notes Along The Road

“O wad some power the giftie gie us.

To see oursel’s as ithers see us!

It wad frae monie a blunder free us;

And foolish notion.”

It is said that on St. Paddies Day, all people are Irish. For over two hundred years, January  25th is also such a day. For on this day in 1759, Robert Burns was born.

Three three generatio

T. Charleston and Sons independent book store, Grand Village, Branson Missouri.
 A book signing

I suppose that it is always important to set the scene for an essay. Our table is set up outside the front door of the bookstore. It is a beautiful fall morning, say, 65 degrees, the trees are beginning to show fall colors, and we are in a small courtyard, surrounded by shops. My books are stacked. And I am ready, pen in hand. In the middle of the courtyard a small fountain merrily splashes water, and over beyond the fountain to my right, is a giant wood rocking chair which puts life in perspective. As I look about, I find nothing, not to like. Nay, beyond that, nothing not to love.

Then suddenly into our little garden of tranquility they came like the biblical serpent. Men pulling a long corrugated green hose attached to a pump. A quick pull on the rope, and the engine sprang into life with a cacophony of pops, snaps, and then a steady roar, of Ta, Ta, Ta, Ta, Ta. The hose was pushed into the fountain and water flowed from it’s basin into a sump. For the next hour, the air is filled with petroleum fumes, and Ta, Ta, Ta, Ta. “Grumble, grumble, Grumplesnuff!”             

Finally the roar of the engine stopped and the serpent left our garden. An elderly woman, my first person for the day, approached me. “You look just like Santa Claus.” Okay, I do have white hair and a beard, and yes, I am somewhat portly, no six pack abs here. And yes, I am told my eyes do seem to twinkle. But, I am here to sign my novels. She could just as easily have said, “You look just like Ernest Hemmingway.” After all, he had white hair and a beard, and he had a belly that may nor may not have shook like jelly, and he had, if not twinkling eyes, at least red tinged ones. But, no, she said, Santa Claus. “Grumplesnuff.”

As my Momma use to say, “He who laughs last, has the slowest mind.” It’s time for an attitude adjustment. This Grumplesnuff attitude has got to go. Someone on Facebook recently described one of my posts as being cantankerous, and quarrelsome. I saw my post as being analytical and assertive, certainly not cantankerous, besides, the person who wrote that is an idiot – oops – almost forgot, it is attitude adjustment time. Just as one robin does not a spring make; cantankerous, and quarrelsome does not sell books.

Suddenly, the Attitude Adjustment Deity hears my plea and springs into action. Across the square a musician with a clarinet begins to play “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” His CDs are a mere five dollars apiece. A monarch butterfly flits around the table and lands on my books. How is that for a sign? Just to be sure that I was watching, there is a buzzing sound and a humming bird flies over head. If a talking bunny comes out of the flower bed, I will know that the attitude adjustment deity has overdone herself. Okay, it is now time to set the scene again. It is a warm beautiful fall day, life is good, and the musician is playing the love theme from Titanic.

It is a relaxing morning. A large group of Korean War veterans, here in Branson for a reunion, walk by. Such a strange war; at the time we called it a “Police Action.” I somehow doubt that the passing men saw the war quite in those terms. People stop to talk about the books, some buy, some only make conversation. “The time has come the walrus said, to talk of may things” – so that morning we talked of Southern California, my likeness to Santa, the Gettysburg Battlefield, scouting, current politics. The people passing are mostly older, mostly retired, mostly Caucasian. I suppose, in a sense they are a sub-set of what we consider to be Tea Party people. But regardless of how the media describes them, these are not mean-spirited people, not Astroturf, not racist, not dumb, and certainly not lemmings. They are just Americans, concerned for their country and a bit disappointed in their government. Those who have demeaned and denigrated them should be ashamed.

Another author arrives and sets up a table. He is dressed like John Wayne. Not that I know how John Wayne dresses, but, if he did not dress like this fellow, he should have. Ermal Walden Williamson has been a professional John Wayne impersonator for about a quarter of a century. Over the time he has been in movies, done commercials, two man shows, and television, and is an author. He is just about as much of the “real McCoy” as one can get while impersonating someone else. It is probably not much of a stretch to believe that a John Wayne look-alike writes in the Western Genre. He has a series of books which highlight the exploits of a Texas Calvary unit pre-and post Civil War. But for me sitting sleepily behind my stack of books, Ermal is real lesson in salesmanship. “Where you from?” – “Texas.” - Ermal hands the man a book – “That’s where this takes place.” “Ohio.” “Did you know that John Wayne made a movie there,” and hands the man a book. “Oklahoma.” “I was just there.” and hands the lady a book. It is a real skill; he seems to listen attentively and finds something in common with each passing group. I envy his skill and his shrinking stack of books. In the world of business, it is called being a “rain maker.” I shake my head in amazement, in that there was no one passing, he has walked to the fountain, grabbed a woman from her chair and they are dancing. They have their picture taken together, and he hands her a book. Good on you, Ermal.

I have spent several days in the court yard signing books. On the last day, five authors are set up in the court yard. Riki Lipe is set up next to me; she is both the author and illustrator of her small books for children. I liked her even before she bought both of my novels. Not only is she talented, but discerning in literary taste. At the far end of the group was a woman who also sold books for children. I liked her works, as the books gave parents practical examples of how to teach their children to deal with everyday situations. The authors in the middle were two of the Osmond Brothers who have just completed books. A nice crowd gathered. Marilyn is delighted, given that our family has been fans of their family for a very long time. It is a pleasure to see them again; they are very gracious, nice people, certainly not pretentious. I especially enjoyed talking to Wayne’s wife, Kathy. Not only is she a very nice person, but given that she bought two of my books, she obviously has great taste. Were the Osmond’s lines longer than mine? Yes. Did the book store owner put a bowl of M&Ms on their table? Yes. Did more people ask them to stand and have their picture taken with them? Yes. Has this been a wonderful day? Yes.

Branson is a beautiful place in the Fall. The days have been sunny and warm. The passing people have been wonderful and fun to talk to. I’ve signed just about all the books that I brought with me. but, it is the people-watching that has made this trip most enjoyable. It is always pleasant to see older people walking together holding hands. There really is something to this thing called “old age benefits.” The air has been filled with gentle laughter. Across the court yard I watched a group of octogenarians attempt to see how many of them could fit onto the giant rocking chair. I am sure a Guinness World Record was reached, but then again, who’s counting. After the group moved on, a single couple of septuagenarians snuggled together in the chair. I am reminded of a wonderful line. “This is where I laughed the most, and loved the best.”

Notes from the road – Decatur IL

          We are off to Decatur Illinois. If you are traveling from St. Louis, drive east about two hours, turn right at Springfield. Well it seemed easy until “She That Knows” (Ms. Garmin) takes over and we turn off the highway to follow a less traveled path. This is farm country, a land of endless fields, pickups and tractors. The road passes through a series of small towns – small in size, not in aspiration. I am reminded of this as we enter Morrisonville whose motto is “Progress on the Prairie.” Straight-forward-people live out here. The roads leading off the highway have names like Archery Club, and Martin Farm, These are people who like to know where they are going, no froufrou, city street names for them. I decided to test this hypothesis and turn at the next road. Unfortunately it was Primitive Baptist Road, and I decided against it. How primitive are Primitive Baptists anyway? Caution won out over adventure so we continued on our way.


We are on our way to Decatur to attend the Decatur Celebration. It is a large arts/crafts street festival. I have arranged for a booth where I will show Micah’s stone carvings and I can sign a few books. As I drive along, I worry that perhaps Micah has not supplied me with enough of his Celtic stones, or perhaps I have not brought enough books. It also occurs to me that my thoughts are similar to the ones I have after buying lottery tickets. How will I distribute the millions? I should be more worried about having too many stones and books left over after the last day of the Celebration. But then again, the corn fields we are passing look a lot like the place where the guy built his Field of Dreams – perhaps he was right – “Build it and they will come.”


I should tell you that we are having a good year in corn and soy. Looking out the window, I find myself singing a tune from Oklahoma“The corn is as high as an elephant's eye, An' it looks like its climbin' clear up to the sky” it is a beautiful morning, but I am not sure about the elephant’s eye part. We pass a large Monsanto research center dedicated to corn and soy beans. The talk radio program that I am listening to is discussing smeat. Apparently you can do away with raising animals for food. Get a few cow cells, add a few scientists and a large petrie dish, and voila, you can grow smeat. They are proposing this en vitro smeat as a method for settling disputes within vegans and meat-eater mixed families. My mind returns to the Monsanto plant we just passed – what do you think those researchers are doing back there, creating Franken foods?


My wife Marilyn draws my attention to the front yard of a house we are passing and I cringe. There they are: a pink toilet, an old fashioned bathtub, and vintage clothes washer, all filled with dirt and overflowing with flowers. My worst nightmare come true. For years the kids and I have maintained a united front against Marilyn’s idea that it would be fun to use a toilet for a yard planter. To be fair, her idea is to put it along one of the paths that cross our property, sort of planned serendipity. You would be walking along and there it would be – and in her mind, you would smile at the whimsy. So far a resounding chorus of NO, has dissuaded her. But the reinforcement of the yard we are passing promises to bring the issue to fore. I should probably call the kids and warn them to gird their loins for the upcoming battle. Okay, you are probably reading this and saying to yourself, “poor, Marilyn, mean ol Ray” But, come on, we have just gotten her to retire the “Watering Elvis” from the front flower garden.


Off in the distance, The Decatur water tower comes into sight. DecaturPride of the Prairie – Did I mention that this is very flat land?

Retirement has struck and I have given myself Alaska for my first summer off. What part of it? If truth be told, as much as one can drive around before it snows up there. So for the last several months we have saved, planned the route (Lewis and Clark did a lot of that) tried out new far north equipment and dreamed. It is now the 20th of June, the various gods of weather, good fortune, and lost travelers have been consulted (Vikings did a lot of that). So this morning we have hit the road, skeedadled, vamoosed and are on our way. As the gods of weather foretold (KMOV) the day was singularly propitious for an outing. Missouri, heartland of the nation slipped by the window in a patchwork of shades of green. Large graceful barns and solitary farm houses commanded the rural valleys. 

Notes From the Road - Off to Alaska (well almost off to Alaska)

As we drive, small signs indicate the way to towns and villages somewhere off to the right and left of the highway. However, we are on a mission, our route is planned, and we will not be deterred by the attractions of Emma nor Knob Knoster, though I am sure there charms are many. What do you suppose the people do in a place called Knoster?  Whatever Knob Knosterians do, do you suppose they would do something different if they had a more forceful name? Would a Knob Knosterian be more productive if his village was named Industry? I see on the map that we will be passing Cravensville today. How do you suppose a name like that effects a place. Would it naturally become a haven for cowards? Would Bob Ford, hide out there after shooting Jessie. If it was a site for a great Civil War battle, would both sides run? There may be something to this name thing, have you noticed that St. Louis is more pious than New Orleans. Coincidence? I think not.

We are off to Alaska to visit places with names like Chicken, Chickaloon, Coldfoot, and Homer Spit. Other than proof that you should never let guys name things, how do you think these names have affected these places. Think of Bali Hai and you get an image of beautiful half dressed natives, with warm generous spirits. Now imagine if you will Chicken. What images come to mind? I have decided that our adventure needs a research theme, perhaps even two. First, is there a relationship between a towns name and who the people are? For instance, if Chicken were renamed Maui, what would be the result?

The second research theme comes from the great American tradition of the Conspiracy Theory. Who believes that Oswald was the lone gunman? Did George Bush lie to us about weapons of mass destruction? Was the American moon landing actually shot in a studio in Hollywood?  So, here it is. Name one thing that Americans agree about? Can’t think of one? No, of course not, that would almost be un-American. Yet, seemingly, all those who travel to Alaska, love the place, many saying that they would go back. In a place where you can have days and months without sunlight, how can this be true? Are we being brainwashed? Is there a government program in place that hides the truth?

These and other vital questions will be researched along the way, and so it seems appropriate that today we begin the research in the land of Harry Truman, The Show Me State.

At the end of the first day we have left the state of Missouri and entered Kansas. Our destination is Camp Mulberry Creek, near Morill. It is early in the season, and gas is precious these days, so we share the camp with only one other group. It is a Foil Royale, and campfire night. As the evening deepens into darkness, a thousand fire flies cover the area. I have always loved fireflies, and tonight their luminosity seems increased. I will take this as a propitious sign of good things to come.

How shall we dine tonight? Unlike other examples, I will share with you from the road on issues such as bear taming, glacier walking, or claim jumping, you may try this at home.

Hobo Ham Dinner 
1 sweet potato
4 ham slices
2 slices of favorite cheese
brown sugar

This makes 4 dinners. For each, lay out a 12" square of foil. Lay ham on foil and top with 1/4 of the sweet potato which has been sliced very thin. sprinkle with cheese, a small pat of butter and brown sugar. Add 1 T water and wrap tightly. Place on grid over a low fire for 10 to 15 minutes 

Notes from the road – Alaska

Second day, Indian country. We have been passing through reservations for the Sac, Fox, and Kickapoo people. Early in our national history, unable and unwilling to share the land between the Mississippi and the East coast with the indigenous people, stalwarts such as Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson created the large reservation policy. Essentially this entailed moving the Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi. Lest you think this was a matter of largess on our part, you need to consider that on most maps of the day, west of the Mississippi was labeled the Great American Desert. This is also the land of the Pony Express, Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, and California Trail which speaks to the idea that perhaps we were too hasty in creating a large reservation policy and needed to modify it too much smaller land areas for the indigenous people. We did have to change a bit of wording on treaties, phrases such as “as long as the river flows, and grass grows.” All of which seemed to indicate that we were planning to make the large reservation policy permanent, but hey, it was a long time ago. It is interesting that our language uses the phrase “Indian Giver” for someone who gives and then takes back.

In truth, it appears to me that in the end, the Indians had to lose the land. The buffalo could not roam, the deer could not play all day, and the Apache and Comanche could not raid across into Mexico for horses. The real question then is whether we could have been more honorable in our dealings with these people, even if in the end they were going to lose their lands. The answer is yes, but hey, that was a long time ago.  Unfortunately my only reference for the Kickapoo s is the Al Capp comic strip Little Abner. I resolve to do better and look them up. It seems wrong to not know more about a people who we share a land with, but there have been so many wrongs done, that my lack of knowledge seems small. But, when I return from this adventure, I resolve to increase my Kickapoo knowledge base.

Today we drive across Nebraska. The land is beautiful, perhaps a bit less gentle than that in Missouri. The trees are deciduous but  seem to have hardier leaves. Many of the homes along the way are earth contact or bermed and those that aren’t have rather steep roof lines which speaks to harsher winters than those found at home. We are passing mile upon mile of corn fields. Such a verdant land we share. I have often thought that when Americans brag about how hard we work, and how much we have done to create our wealth, and how self made we are, that we are forgetting how blessed with resources our land really is. Given the wealth of our land, if a people could not have prospered, someone should slap them. We are blessed. How blessed, you ask? Well if I look really carefully out my window, I can actually see the corn getting taller.

So at the end of day two, we are almost at the Wyoming border. Things have gone well. We are traveling with a very old popup trailer. It is a little known fact that trailers like dogs do not age in human years. I think it is a matter of ten to one human years, and if that is so, ours is an octogenarian. Actually I do not know exactly how old an octogenarian would be but it is such a great word. Anyway, our trailer, which we shall from this point on, refer to as Matilda, has been dropping bolts and screws along the way. So far this has only caused minor problems, and a bit of busted knuckles, and frayed nerves at the end of the day, but nothing that a glass of wine, and campfire could not calm.

 In an attempt to broaden your cuisine choices, we again present an offering from the road.

Fishy Foil Dinner  

Layer in following order on a large double layer square of heavy duty aluminum foil. (An aluminum pie pan works too if it doesn't have holes in it...just cover the finished product loosely with foil)

Layer 1 "brick" of ramen noodles, favorite fish filet or shrimp enough for 2, assorted thin sliced favorite veggies (enough for 2), seasoning packet from noodle mix packet.

Pull up the corners of aluminum foil & twist to make a pouch. Leave a small opening at the top for venting. Pour in one cup of liquid.(broth, beer, wine or water)

Cook over coals on a grate until done. Usually 20-30 minutes. Serves 2

For easier handling you can divide everything in half & make smaller packets

Day Three – Notes along the road  

This is pass through county. The lushness of the lowland fields has been replaced by grasslands, which has turned to high desert. Off in the distance we see strange insect like machines pulling wealth to the surface. Along the road antelope can be seen, with herds scattered on the hillside. Although I watched carefully, I did not see the antelopes at play; perhaps they are awaiting the arrival of the deer. There is a lot of space in Wyoming. It is a high lonely land of scrub and sagebrush. The homes along the way are isolated and like everything else in the land they appear to be just holding on. The warm blowing wind across the sage and grasslands is a constant.   

We seem to be crossing the Platte River at every turn. This is the land of the great migration to the American West. Mormons, miners, and farmers headed out to California, Utah, and Oregon. Beginning with the mountain men in 1630 a steady stream of immigrants’ journied west to fulfill dreams. One of my favorite reads is “Men to Match My Mountain. These trails were the lifelines that made the dreams possible. Along these paths strode giants, people who could and did. Often along the Mormon trail the pioneers came not in ox pulled wagons, put pushed handcarts filled with their earthly possessions. Off in the distance we see the rock formations known as Jail and Courthouse rock. These large solitary dformations were warmly recalled in pioneer journals as they were familiar and welcome sites which indicated that a resting place was near. Seeing signs along the way, we drove off the highway to see where the Oregon Trail’s ruts are still visible.   

At the moment, Matilda (the pop-up) and I are sitting in a Wal Mart parking lot. Marilyn in order to have ample space has parked in an area generally reserved for large trucks. There are about fifty long haul rigs in the immediate area. There is something very romantic to the long haulers, modern knights of the road. Like the warm winds that are a constant to this place, the truckers are ever on the move, independent, and alone. The American trucker is perhaps the last refuge of the cowboy tradition. As I write this, an elderly man pushing a shopping cart, moves toward one of the rigs. He is short, dressed in sneakers, shorts, and a Hawaiian shirt. Whatever hair that remains falls upon his collar from a fringe that begins at the back of his head. I am momentarily startled by this sneaker, Hawaiian shirted vision which almost drives the cowboy vision from my mind. Yet cowboyness was never a matter of looks, it was an attitude, a matter of character. After all, who was Billy the Kid, but a skinny, freckle face and perhaps homicidal maniac. So who knows what kind of a cowboy heart is being hidden under the Hawaiian shirt. As I have concentrated on the man getting his groceries, two large trucks have pulled in beside me and now I feel like I am in a canyon. For the sake of Matilda, (I think I heard another bolt drop) I  decide to move away from these behemoths, and find another part of the parking lot, a place filled with cars and pickups, a place where we can be equals.  

I should tell you what I am doing sitting in the Wal Mart Parking lot. I am tending our two dogs, (Spike and Astro) while Marilyn and Micah (wife and son) are in the store. Micah is off to tend to Matilda’s ever-growing need for bolts and screws, while Marilyn is purchasing food. So once again, the tableau is complete, the woman, the great gatherer, off to find food for the family, while the men are tending the flocks (Spike and Astro) and taking care of our transportation needs.  OK, I know it is a bit of a stretch, but it did seem a noble family picture.

Looking over the map today, I found several towns with names worth mentioning. First, Lodge Pole, what a great name, a name suggesting strength, straightness’ of purpose, if it were a man, he would be one who holds up more than his part of the bargain. The second was Cheyenne, also a great name. Cheyenne, you can almost hear our forefather’s conversations. “Where are you bound for stranger?” “We’re bound for Cheyenne!” Cheyenne pulls at you, puts a bit of strut in your walk. People wouldn’t choose to have a problem with a man from Cheyenne. But tonight we are not bound for Lodge Pole or Cheyenne, tonight we shall find rest in a place called Casper. Now what kind of a name is that? 


So once again the woman who has now gathered the family food offers a new dish for the road.

Juicy Lime Chicken (serves 2) 

2 boneless chicken breasts
1 bottle Lime sauce
1 lime, sliced

Put each chicken breast on a square of aluminum foil. Generously apply lime sauce, covering both sides of the chicken. Place about 4 lime slices on top of each chicken breast. The sauce will prevent the chicken from burning to the foil. Double wrap in foil, place on coals. Cook roughly 30 minutes, depending on thickness of chicken, turning over every 7 minutes or so. After cooking, squeeze cooked lime slices over chicken. If desired, add more sauce. Enjoy!

(This is good to prepare with campfire potatoes cooked in foil, season potatoes with leftover lime sauce)  

Notes along the road - Casper
Day 4

So what's in a name? Everything. Casper - Disaster
The signs of problems to come had been there all day long, small signs indicating the highway we were on followed the Sand Creek Massacre Trail. Sand Creek is a place of bitter loss. A place where the American flag, and the white flag of surrender had been raised but still the carnage continued until over 200 Indians, mostly elderly men, women, and children lay dead. The army suffered a little over 50 casualties, mostly from friendly fire. The signs along the road had it right, this was not a battle, it was a massacre. There were many wrongs done in the name of western expansion and progress, and Sand Creek was one of them.

But I digress because the telling of the Casper-Disaster needs time for the ragged edges to heal a bit. I shall start with why a pop-up is called a pop-up. There is a crank that you place in what we shall call a framising gear, and when the crank is turned the framising gear pops up the pop up. Actually I have no idea what the part is called, we called it many things that evening when the pop-up failed to pop-up.

So there we sat, our Matilda packed and closed. Not only did Matilda refuse to pop up, she refused to give us our pots, pans, coats, and blankets. I shall stop with the list for the telling will take too long a time (and it is so unseemly to whine). Let me only say that it would be nice to have shoes. It was as if the Oregon Trail immigrants had awoke one morning to find that the wheels on their wagons had been removed and replaced with square blocks.

OK, enough of the morose thoughts, we shall use the tent stored in the
back of the pickup tonight and find a solution tomorrow. This is America, right? We're Americans, right? There is always a solution. And as for Matilda, we need to cut her a bit of slack. I fear, when truth be known, when calm heads and rational analysis is applied (when the black box is recovered) we shall find the true cause to be human error.

So the next morning arises on a sky blue day and we have the telephone number of a man who actually comes out and fixes framising gears. It is only fair to wait for a decent hour to call him. But when is that, six, seven, or eight am? Six seems too early, and would perhaps make us appear
too eager, but our needs are too great to wait til eight. So we settle on seven. So the call is made, and the answer to our problems is on the line, and yes he fixes lift cables (aka framising gears). Then he reminds us that we are in Casper. He is sure he could fix our problem if he had the part, which he doesn't, but he assures us that he can get one, say in about three weeks, and get us back on the road.

Three weeks! That is unacceptable! It is time to break out the lap top. We'll call the manufacturer directly, and get the part shipped overnight. Three weeks b e dammed, its FED EX time. Break out the plastic. There is always a solution.

The manufacturer was pleasant, and yes they could ship the part to us. Well, that is if they had the part, which they didn't. Unfortunately due to Matilda's advanced age, they no longer used that particular part, but could fabricate one for us, say, in about a week. So here we are in Casper-Disaster, our pop up will not pop up and beyond that refuses to give me my shoes.

So we are off again, towing a pop up in name only. I am scheduled to
attend a writer's conference in Jackson Hole, WY the 26-29th of July, and we can tent camp until then. But the question looms, What about Alaska? Is our adventure doomed? The hot heads in our group (actually my son Micah) with gold pan firmly gripped between his teeth, is willing to abandon Matilda, and camp our way north. There is always a solution.

Being older and much wiser than Micah, I decide to punt. Actually it is a management practice I honed in my many years as a university administrator, the non-decision decision. We will go to Yellowstone for a few days, then I will attend the conference. So today I will not think about a decision, perhaps, not even tomorrow. We are off to visit the first, and
arguably the greatest national park in the world
Notes from the Road - Yellowstone
Yellowstone the national treasure lies before us, but also in our memories. When Marilyn and I were still in early marriage, we camped there one Fall. It is a place of great beauty, and mystery, with its grand waterfalls, fumaroles that hiss from the ground, bubbling mud pots, and great geysers, and I should mention grizzly bears. On our first trip here we tent camped in a place known as Fishing Bridge and according to the ranger we arrived the day after he had installed news bear proof garbage cans.What he did not inform us about was how this change had affected the temperment of the bears who had grown accustomed to dining in our camping area. I am not sure what the exact word is in bear language, but it is fair to say, they were not pleased. But we knew the rules about bears, no food in tents, clean and put away everything. I now think that it might have gone better, If I had left out a little snack, kind of a commiseration offering showing that I sympathized with their situation.

Anyway, our tent was up, the fire out, all food rules obeyed, and we snuggled in our sleeping bags. By two am in the morning, the bear not finding dinner, nor a snack left by a friendly camper was in a foul mood.
He came strolling into our camping area ripping up the tents as he passed. The guy in the pup tent next to us suddenly found himself in the fresh air as the bear had shredded his tent end to end. We could hear the commotion but before we could react (like run for the car)he struck a side tarp which we had attached to our tent and almost collapsed the tent on us. What does a man do, lying there in the darkness, young pregnant wife by his side, with a vicious beast outside? Well I am not exactly sure what a man does, but I yelled "HEY" and buried myself in my sleeping bag. OK, it might not have been my finest hour, but the bear did move on. It was probably my very authoritative "HEY" that did the trick. So lessons were learned that night as we watched the campers in our area, pack and leave at 2:00 am. I suppose the big take home message was never, never, tent camp in Yellowstone! But here we were at the South Gate of the park about to break the rule learned so many years ago in Yellowstone. If we get attacked by bears, Matilada is going off a cliff.

Our first day went well, the park still shows the effects of the 1988 fire., with dead Lodge Pole Pines standing among new growth, and a great number of fallen trees strewn about. The Lodge Pole Pine has an interesting evolutionary system of seed capsules. The trees produce two types, one for regular years, they have several hundred seeds, and another with thousands of seeds, which is activated by the extreme heat of a forest fire. Yellowstone is coming back, it is only our human time shortened vision (aproximately 640,000 hours) that makes this seem like a loss. We spent the day listening to fumaroles hiss, mud pots bubble, and geysers blow. The highlight of the first day was watching Old Faithful, faithfully doing its thing.

Speaking of our 640,000 hour time, I noticed several of the geyser systems had changed since I was last here in the 60s. Mammoth Hot Springs has very little activity and appears to be dying. Not sure what
that means but Yellowstone is now very dynamic.

One thing that does not change is the relationship between people and wild animals. When you come into the park you are given a picture of a buffalo, and a man flying over his head. The caption is something like, buffalo are dangerous, do not approach. Buffalo can run about 30 miles per hour and get to a weight of 2000 pounds. On the road a small herd of buffalo were grazing in a meadow and suddenly there was a traffic jam with people leaving their cars, approaching the herd for a better picture. I watch a man carrying a baby walk by the car and move to within about
twenty feet of a male buffalo. I am trying to think about what he thought about the picture with the man flying over the buffalo head. Perhaps, "Professional buffalo jumping, - don't try this at home.

That night, we slept secure in our tents, no bears came, and we woke refreshed. We did not push Matilda over a cliff. Micah tells me that on e-bay, there is a 1958 camping trailer, whose current bid is $400.00, and it is located in Missoula Montana, on our way. I tell him that I was still in high school in 1958, and there is probably a good reasons for the trailer to be at $400.

"Come on Dad, the trailer will get us to Alaska! There has to be a way."

Jackson Hole- Notes from the road
Micah tells me that to be fair, I should tell you that the trailer is a 1958 Shasta Airflyte with birch interior. Think about it, a camping trailer with birch interior, they don't make them like that anymore. This may actually be a good investment. OK, so there are a few dings, OK, it did show that it had leaked in the past, but not today.

He checked e-bay again, this time the bid was $511.00. It was still a steal. It could make dreams come true, we could be off to Alaska. "Come on, the axle had been replaced in 2006, this baby is road worthy." Michah has now called in reinforcements, his brother Jason thinks we should go for it. Micah is now willing to split the costs with me. "We can get it for $700.00, that's only $350.00 each. I advised him never to use the word, "only" when he was talking about my money.

The final bid came in at $900.00, without an Edge bid. Somewhere out there a "Mr Ski to Live, Live to Ski" is the proud owner of a 1958 birch wood interior, Shasta Airflyte. We wish him well, but our solution to Alaska has not been resolved.

Jackson Hole, what a strange name. Actually, Hole is a mountain man term for high valley. Given that this particular valley was first discovered by a man named Jackson, it became, Jackson's Hole, and later Jackson Hole. The local people prefer the name Jackson, for the town and Jackson Hole for the valley. It is an interesting place, a bit upscale touristy. When we stopped to do some laundry, here we found a couple of homeless people, several Mexicans, several Chinese, a few yuppies,
and two Eastern Europeans. There is a great diversity of people and wealth in Jackson, that you would not necessarily see walking about the art galleries and boutiques.

So I am attending a writer's conference in Jackson Hole. This is part of my process for shedding the mantle of the academic and learning the craft of writing.

I understand to become a writer one must write. How much? A lot. OK, I can do that. You also need to read. How much? A lot. It is also recommended that one attend writer's conferences, rub shoulders with those who like you wish to be writers. Generally the faculty are
successful in the craft and will share with you their of how they did it stories.

Before I continue, I must share with you a little about myself. First, I don't join things. Second, I don't generally like team sports, cocktail parties or groups larger than ten. Third, in general, I divide the world into two groups, family, and other people. So, while I might recognize the usefulness of attending a writer's conference and I am sure that I will learn things. In the back of my mind there is this vision of the scene from Jungle Book where the Monkey King is dancing about the boy singing, "I want to be like you, talk like you, walk like you," and of course, in my vision, I am the monkey dancing about the "arrived writers."

So it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I am here. The line up of
professional writers who will function as faculty is impressive. The conference is offering to have the faculty review a fifteen page writing sample of each attendee and provide a twenty minute one on one session to discuss the quality of writing. The lectures and workshops involve practical advice for technical development as well as advice on how to gain an agent, and publisher.

The staff at the conference were incredible. There was not a single request that I made that was not attended to, and if it was possible for them to be helpful, they were.

The speakers at the conference were top notch, to the point that I found myself in tears during one of the readings. I also found it fun to listen to the differentiation between literary and genre writers. The literary writers seemed to have the greatest prestige, while the commercial fiction genre writers had lower prestige, but larger audiences, and fatter pay checks.

It was a strange dichotomy. I remember one of the literary types decrying that everyone felt that they could be writers, and that somehow this was akin to a hell, "which was filled with amateur musicians." To be fair the woman was amazingly talented, her use of the language was awe inspiring. It just would have been nice, if she had understood or cared that in the audience there was us monkeys singing and dancing, "I want to be like you, talk like you, walk like you."

A great ancedote from a genre writer came when he was asked what he did when he faced writer's block. He said that he thought of this short fat guy named Gerald, who had an office in a nearby bank. Whenever he felt writer's block he thought of Gerald, the guy who handled his home mortgage.

Great quotes heard:

The difference between the right word and the almost right word, is the difference between lightning, and a lightning bug. (Mark Twain)

Nice quote by the mystery writer - Elizabeth George

"The problem is that we compare our insides with the outsides of others."

One of the first social functions of the conference was a cocktail party. Peopled milled about introducing themselves, sharing what they were writing, and moving on. For a bit it felt like "speed dating" where people are trying to make "connections" and in the first thirty minutes I met several interesting peoploe with fun stories to share. I spotted a guy
standing off by the window not really being part of anything and approached him. I asked if he was a writer, or worked there, and he said that he was just "nobody" and was waiting for his girlfriend. "So you are a person who can in no way be of any help to me in regard to my writing career?" I asked. "Nope" he replied. I put out my hand to shake his, "I'm Ray Edge, it is a pleasure to meet you."

The three twenty minute conferences with faculty to discuss my writing sample were both fun and useful. The sample is taken from my second novel which is a continuation of the first novel "Flight of the Piasa." As a result, I was having to do quite a bit of background for the characters in regard to the first book. For the most part the faculty was very positive,
and gave me great ideas as to how to provide the backgrounding. One of them who had spent time in Bosnia and had witnessed the horrors of the Serbs raping the Moslem women suggested that in a particular scene that I have my main character, Snow Pine be raped. This was a scene where she had been captured by another tribe - he felt that it would add authenticity and excitement. I thanked him for his suggestion, but no way is my Snow Pine getting raped, not from my pen.

"No passion in the world is equal to the passion of someone who wishes to alter your manuscript."

So what is my opinion of the writer's conference? You get out of it what you put in. Writing is a very solitary, isolating business. To be among those who do it well was inspiring. I came away with new ideas, some new friends, and a renewed sense that this was a craft, I wanted to
pursue. It was great to be among people who loved words.

As I remember I began this piece with a personality profile which Sara has accurately described as curmudgeon, you should never really expect me to say "yippee" but it was fun and worthwhile.

Sometime during the conference we manhandled Matilda, propped her sides up with 2x4s and Micah crawled into her dark interior and retrieved our stuff. It is good to have shoes. We are now headed out of Jackson Hole, Matilda is again closed, and following behind. Life is good.

However, it is now time to make the decision in regard to continuing to Alaska, pulling Matilda behind (if I can't be loyal to my pop-up, what kind of a person would I be?) With the words from the song, "Should I Stay Or Should I Go?" ringing in my ears, the decision is made. Alaska will need to wait for another year. I suspect that it will still be up there.

We camped that afternoon in Yellowstone near a historical marker
commemorating the flight of the Nez Perce toward Canada. It occured to me that the Native Americans had several options when confronted with the European civilization. They could welcome us, become us, fight us or flee from us. The Taino who welcomed Columbus, did not understand his need to the meeting a profitable interprise, they become extinct as a people within 150 years. The Cherokee tried to become us: small farming villages, republican style government, even a sylabary so that their language could be written. When faced with eviction, they did the most American thing of all, took us to court, and won. However, the Supreme Court does not control the army, so the Trail of Tears occured. The Sioux, Comanche, and Apache all tried to fight us. Unfortunately for them, there were not enough Custers, who had graduated at the bottom of his class at West Point. Then there are the Nez Perce, the people who tried to flee.

The Nez Perce had welcomed Lewis and Clark into their homelands in Idaho and Oregon. However, faced with a series of treaties that continued to take their lands, they finally said "NO MORE". When the
military was sent in to explain that "NO" was not an acceptable answer, they fled to Candada to join Sitting Bull.

What follows is a 1800 mile retreat, a series of battles (most won by the Indians). However, these are pyrric victories, as each victory depleted their supplies and warriors. That afternoon in the half light, my mind saw them in the meadow, Joseph and his people. They are only a few now, it is cold, they move slowly through the snow, they are gaunt from lack of food, their faces register the loss of so many.

After being surrounded at Bear Paw Mountain, Chief Joseph comes forward to make peace. "From where the sun now stands, I shall fight no more forever"

The people were never allowed to return to their homelands.
Notes from the road - All that glitters
We are off to Gem Mountain Montana, the very heart of Sapphire country. The history is long, with the first load of sapphires shipping out of the rock creek area near Phillipsburg in 1894. They were destined for lands as far away as England and Switzerland. The royal jewels of England contain a brilliant blue yogo sappire from Gem Mountain, and the clock makers of Switzerland used them for watch jewels and fine instrument bearings. Chemically sapphires and rubies are dialuminum trioxide, a clear and colorless mineral. Impurities in the mineral create the distinct colors. Iron makes yellow, iron plus titanium, makes blue, and cromium makes red. On display at the 1900 Paris Exposition was a broach which displayed 200 sapphires, each with its own tint and or shade. Red sapphires are known throughout the world as rubies. Once mined the stones are heat treated to dissolve their mineral crystals and bring out the maximum brilliance of the stones.

But, enough of the technical material, we are after the "Big One" and we arrive in the late afternoon to plan our next days campaign. The mine has a small camping area, where miners (thats us) can camp for free. There are several other camps of our hardy breed scattered about the hillside, and after the evening meals are attended to, we migrate toward a large communal fire. Here we find others who quest for treasure, an old salty one (actually she was kinda petite) who had been down this trail before, was willing to show past finds, now made into fine rings, and pendants. Around the fire stories were told, tales from far lands, tales of treasure
found and lost. As the hour reaches toward midnight, I remind myself that the morning brings the sapphire mine and retreat to the tent. The sky is big here and the stars are bright enough to light the way. There are some who say that our large brains developed in response to increased protein in our diets. However, standing there looking up at the evening sky, it occured to me that our brains expanded as a result of the communal fires, where we could gather in relative safety, and look up in awe and wonder.Perhaps that is why astronomy became our first great science.

The next morning we are off to the mine. Actually the mine is about four miles away (so they say, but never take us there). We gather at a place with sorting tables, mounds of unclean gravel, and a long water trough. You can purchase a bucket of the uncleaned gravel for $14,00, wash out the mud in the trough, and then sort through the cleaned gravel.

Should we approach with caution, perhaps buying one, maybe two buckets as a test? Should we throw caution to the wind, buy ten buckets, thereby gaining a special two bucket bonus? Surely with twelve buckets, our fortune is assured. So twelve buckets it is, and for only $140.00. It is a small price, for within those buckets of uncleaned gravel, lies the "BIG ONE" the answer to our hopes and dreams.

The process calls for the placing of the sapphire rich unclean gravel onto a box screen, taking the box to the water trough, and shaking it until the gravel is clean. However, I do this a disservice, as in fact, it is almost poetry, a dance of minerals. There is a technique to this thing. We learn to float the gravel, make waves in our boxes, shake and rotate. And, if
done well, not only will the sample be clean and mud free, the sapphires which are heavier than the rest of the materials will move downward to rest again the bottom of the screen. Then it is just a matter, of moving to the sorting table, rocking the box three times, and turning it over toward you. "Never away from you!" This is known as the flop, and if done well, when the screen box is removed, at the very bottom,(which if you were following is now the top) shining at you from the gravel, will be sapphires.

So the moment of truth has arrived, the gravel cleaned, the flop, flopped, and you stand there with your pile of gravel. At the top are shining pieces of what appears to be stained glass. SAPPHIRES - perhaps, I should put that in smaller case, as they are kinds small sapphires, but sapphires never the less. Our technique is flawless, the sapphires went to the bottom, our flop revealed them at the top, and now with our tweazers we place them in small containers. It is an auspicious beginning. But, what if all the sapphires, did not go to the bottom, which is now the top? Dare we risk losing a single stone that somehow still remains hidden within the mound of wet gravel? The word,"NAY!" (hell NAY, if that were possible) rings out over the sorting tables, as we take our tweazers and begin to
move the grains of gravel and sand, one by one, seeking the illusive (Big One".

All that glitters - continued
The largest sapphire found this year was a 14 carat stone. Not being greedy, we determine that a 3 carat would be nice. A three could be cut into a fine ring. Perhaps a 3 carat in a deep blue. Yes, that is our goal, a 3 carat in a deep blue.

Hours pass, we find gems in every bucket. Some are blue, most are green, and some are pink or yellow. None are 3 carrat, but rather are tiny, less than one carrat. But we have twelve buckets, surely, a 3 carat blue sapphire is in the next screen of uncleaned gravel. Surely. The woman next to us finds a 3.5 carrot green stone.

It is now 4:10 in the afternoon, seven hours of labor has produced beautiful stones, but not the illusive 3 carat. We are down to the last two
bonus buckets and pause. Perhaps Scarlet was right "Tommorrow, is another day." Lets quit and get something to eat. Phillipsburg is just sixteen miles away, and it is after all, the fourth of July. The three carat blue sapphire can wait another twelve hours.

By the way, the food at Fire on the Mountain, a small hot sauce deli, in Phillipsburg is worth a visit. The guy who runs the place, is an escapee from the sixties, so conversations have long pauses, but the food is good.

The next morning, we begin again. "When all else fails, hope springs eternal." We know that the next screenful will be the one. We are now at the final screenfull, we have worked the gravel twice. Shall we go for a third time? Even withouth the Big One, we each have our personal stash of sapphires. The tweezers, move over the last bits of gravel, and the truth is known. NO big one. It is time to see the mine jeweler to have our stones weighed and graded for quality. A gens qualities are discussed in terms of size or carats. Historically, a carat was the weight of one carob bean. One carob, one carat. Today, one carat equals 1/400 of an ounce. A "point" is 1/100 of a carat.

The jeweler separated the stones by size and by potential for cutting. Some stones contain internal fractures, and mineral inclusions that effect the ability to make them into gem stones.

Micah had the most carats, over 70. Marilyn had one that if we had it heat treated, would be a beautiful orange. As for me, I had the largest, 1.7 carat, but it had an external flaw, but was still cutable. I also had the largest bag of genuine, Montana rocks. Things that looked like sapphires, but were not. Optimism, is one of my personal flaws.

So we did not find the big one, had a great time. Became obsessed for a time, looking for tiny specks of stained glass in piles of gravels. But not all is lost, we are off to Libby Creek to the north in Montana where we can mine for gold. Sapphires? That was yesterdays treasure, we are
after gold.

When we arrived and drove into the camp, I knew we were at the place. The guys were old, even the women had beards and teeth missing. These were the real thing, prospectors. If not prospectors, maybe, pirates, but upstate Montana is not their usuall stomping grounds. Maybe a convention of the homeless? No, these were prospecters.

The next day we spent up to our knees in ice cold water, dipping our pans into the sands. There is a technique to this, practically a poetry of dancing minerals. OK, I know I said that before, but it was a wonderful thing. Besides, I was using a patented new style of gold pan, it almost has a gps unit within it. Did we get nuggets?

Actually, we have an excuse. The area was a closed mine. It had first been placer mined (holes dug into the ground) then it had been hydrauliced (this is probably not a word - but if it were, it would mean that someone had taken a huge hose and washed the mountain down)and then if there were anything left, they dredged the area. So there we were, with our little gold pans, seeking gold that had been thrice looked for. So if we did not get much beyond cold feet and a bit of color at the bottom of our pans, it was not our fault.

Somewhere toward the afternoon, I became a fisherman, out after the illusive "big one" - "When all else fails, hope springs eternal."

That evening, over our meal of vienna sausage and beans, we decide to call it a day for seeking our fortune in mining - maybe even give up fishing too.

As we drive away from Libby Creek, I am reminded of Samuel Brannan, one of the first millionaires of the 1849 California Gold Rush. I should probably tell you that he was not really a miner, he sold shovels.
Mt. St. Helens - notes from the road
For weeks prior to the eruption the signs were ominous. People had been evacuated from their homes, the mountain had burped and gurgled, and some had been allowed to return. Old Harry Truman, up on Spirit Lake, with his sixteen cats, and eighteen raccoons, refused to evacuate, in the most colorful of language. Like his namesake, and all true Missurians, "you have to show me." was his mantra. The media loved it. The press and hawkers had turned this into a circus event. "I Survived" T-shirts were everywhere.

Then on the quiet morning of May 18th,1980, at 8:32 am, a cubic mile of mountain moved, mostly upward. The forests on the east side of the mountain flattened like matchsticks. It is estimated that over 4 billion board feet (enough to build 300,000 two bedroom homes) was destroyed. The scientists,on the mountain, monitoring the equipment, which monitored the mountain, disappeared. Lakes disappeared, river ceased to flow, new lakes and river formed. The unthinkable, had become thinkable.

A new chapter for Mt.St. Helens was being written in a plume of ash which in the first fifteen minutes, reached 80,000 feet, and pyroclastic rivers of fire. That morning fifty-seven people died, and many others went missing. Families and friends gathered to hear any scrap of news from the mountain.

Now three decades later, I drive toward the mountain. At one scenic overlook, we stop to take pictures. There is a small stone tablet with an arrow pointing outward with a single word inscribed "MOUNTAIN." But it is not the Mt. St. Helens of my memory, this mountain is flatter, not as spectacular, more like a hurt beast, hunkered down,waiting, quiet, but not quiescent.

The rivers we pass on our way upward still run a milky grey, the color of
ash. We stopped at a visitor's center with a view of a pyroclastic river, now still, glutted and sealed with ask. For $160.00 one can take a helocopter and view the devestation from a birds eye view. There is a gift store in the center, which offers souveniers of the event, books, pictures, Christmas ornaments, (made from ash), and tiny vials of the grey powder. One T-shirt had a picture of the mountain with its fifteen mile ash plume, and the words, "Work Free Smoke Zone" another I spotted declared Mt. St. Helens to be an "Ash Hole" and suddenly I begin to feel anxious. We have not learned, we are primitive man, shaking our fists, or thumbing our noses in the face of the unknowable. It is time for me to leave the mountain.

Will Mt. St. Helens once again regain her natural beauty. Probably, but
not in puny humans years, but surely in geological time. Will we forget, lured once again to build our homes on her high meadows, to fish in her lakes and streams? Probably.

As I drive off the mountain, I look back through the rear view mirror and see the mishappen mountain. I wonder, are there small Italian villages on the flanks of Mt. Vesuvious?

Mt. St. Helens became active again, October 2004.

Notes from the Road - Columbia River

We camped along the Oregon coast in the Lewis and Clark state park. This is rain country, and the forest is dense with a lushness of ferns, vines, and flowers. It is still, as if nature herself is holding all sounds of civilization at bay. We have found a beautiful, comfortable, clean site. Sitting here reading it is easy to imagine Lewis and Clark finding comfort and shelter here. Yet, even here in paradise, things have changed. We passed through a stand of old forest, never touched by logging and marveled at the girth of the trees, three to four times larger than any we take shelter under tonight. Did the Lewis and Clark party have a vision of paradise, three or four times greater than what surrounds us? I am reminded of a hot apple tart I bought at the Quick Mart this morning. Is that a fair comparison? Is the paradise that surrounds me now, like a microwaved apple tart compared to an apple pie I remember eating fresh from my grandmother's kitchen? Such a good and giving land we have, where even a facsimile of her past glory is still beautiful beyond my words to describe. "It must have been lovely."

We now head east along the Columbia river toward Idaho. As we travel, we see a growing stark divide between the great river and surrounding land. The river to our left, contained by a series of dams, sparkles blue in the sun. But, the land has changed, gone is the lushness of ferms, and forest, replaced by long vistas of rolling grasslands. We have entered cattle country. Near Deadman's Pass we find the ruts made by pioneer wagons, like the ones we left in wyoming. They have traveled so far, crossed the Rockies, and have almost arrived.

The three great trails, California, Oregon, Mormon, represent three great impulses of the human spirit. The 49ers were chasing adventure and quick wealth. Their arrival in northern California was so overwhelming that it added a new star to the national flag, and made us a continental land, a land bounded by two great oceans. These miners, who hailed from many nations of the world, flooded into San Francisco and stamped the city forever with their diversity and cosmopolitan nature. Think of Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Why are they so different? It was the miners.

The Oregonians also chased wealth, but it was wealth in land. The opportunity to build a future, not beholden to others, but as freemen. Of the three groups, 49ers, Mormons, Oregonians, the Oregonians are perhaps the most quintesential pioneers of our memory. Small wagons, pulled by oxen, all in a line, headed toward a place where land was abundant and for the taking. If you listen closely to the night air, you can almost hear the families gathered about their evening fires, discussing what they were going to do first, when they arrived on "their" land.

The Mormon impulse was different. Following their prophet, Joseph Smith, they had established themselves in Ohio, only to be un-welcomed. Then it was off to Missouri, to begin again. The history is sad here, there is murder, intolerance, and bigotry, literally a war against them that pushed them from their homes into Illinois. In Illinois they build again, But here, they are
confronted not only by outside enemies, but conflict within as the new doctrine of polygamy was revealed.

Suddenly the man who had seemed to be beyond the power of mortals to harm was assassinated while under protection by the government. Joseph Smith the charismatic prophet, the irrepressible optimist, who in the face of stinging defeat, could raise the vision of his people to try again, was dead.

It is a muted and stunned people who leave Illinois to create the Mormon trail. They follow a new
prophet, Brigham Young. Yes, they go for religious freedom, but the impulse is not to be American pioneers,they go to flee this country. To find a place, so removed that they will be left alone. It is said the when they reached the hills overlooking their new lands, many were disheartened by its appearance. The great salt flats off in the distance, devoid of trees, plants, or life. Brigham Young rose from his sick bed to see the valley below and declared "This is the Place", and so it was.

Tonight we camp at Emigrant Springs, a place where the pioneers camped, filled their water barrels for the final push across the desert. Whether Mormon, 49er or Oregon farmer, they are part of what makes us, us. They truly were men and women who matched the mountains.

Notes from the road - Kansas
So this is it - we have turned east and are homeward bound. During the last several weeks, we saw Yellowstone National Park, Mt. St. Helens, hunted saphires on Gem Mountain, gold in Libby Montana, sweated in the Canyon lands of Utah, was inspired by the Columbia River Gorge, Jackson Hole Wyoming, and the Grand Tetons - But, we have saved the best for last, a drive across Kansas.

The sky is big and wide here, very blue with small puffy white clouds. The land appears to be completely under cultivation, with the corn being about arm pit high. Multiple hues from gold to green dependent upon the crop and level of irrigation fill the landscape. Nothing moves, with the exception of an occasional dust devil, or a cloud following a tractor off in the distance. If you were to search for a single word to match the scene, it would be endless. One could imagine a group of scientists trying to put to rest the age old question as to whether the earth is flat or round coming here to test their hypothesis. They would use tractors, face them west, and let them go. Imagine the hushed silence, as the tractor's exhause pipes, slowly sink below the far horizon. That is, if it is truly round - from here it looks pretty flat to me. I'm betting that the tractors will just get smaller until they go out of sight.

This is not to say that Kansas is boring. There is a lot going on here and signs tempt us to leave the highway and explore as we drive across the state. There are exciting places to visit:

* The Prairie Museum of Art and History.
*The High Plains Prairie Museum
*Iwo Jima Memorial
* The boyhood home of Bob Dole
* Largest Prairie Dog Village
* Rattlesnake Jewelry
* The OZ Museum
* The Negroe Baseball League Museum
* The Jazz Museum
* The Boothill at Dodge City
* The boyhood home of Walter P. Chrysler

I could continue, but the point is made, Kansas is a happening place. Actually I was rather tempted to leave the highway to see the "worlds largest prairie dog" and a "five legged deer". Opportunities like that don't come often, but we are on our way, and like the noble postman, nothing will stay our progress, it is almost a mission that calls us forward. We are homeward bound.

Just as Illinois is the land of Lincoln, and California gave us Richard Nixon, Kansas
is the land of Ike Eisenhower. Ike the great hero of WW II, the man who got us out of Korea. A man so affiable, that even if he disagreed with you, you liked him. We liked him so much we elected him president. What words can be used to describe the man: understated, good, modest, humble, organized, (he was the last president to actually make the job look easy), and honest (perhaps not as honest as Abe, but generally a good guy). When you think about it these words could also describe Kansas. Perhaps it is not the clothes after all, it is the land that makes the man. One of his crowing achievements as president was the great interstate highway system that crosses our great land. Do you suppose that he was looking across these vast endless prairies when he got the idea?

Tonight we bed in Kansas City. The agenda calls for us to see a concert by the Original Sinners (son and daughter in law) and BBQ at Gates (one of the great BBQ places in the whole world - if not the greatest)

So this is the last note from the road - hope you enjoyed the ride. Learned a lot during this trip. Such a great country we have.

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