Colorado’s Annual Gold Rush

BLOG #39, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
COLORADO ANNUAL GOLD RUSH
September 30, 2015

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Once again it’s Autumn in the Colorado Rockies. In recent days it sometimes seems like half of Colorado is on high country roads tracking down leaf-gold. For weeks now the media has been trumpeting the annual aspen gold-rush and guessing when it would happen—and where.

Where fall-colors are concerned, there are so many things that can go wrong: an early frost or snow, fierce winds, too much summer moisture, or too little summer moisture. That’s why Coloradans never take autumn splendor for granted

We always enjoy it when we get fall visitors as that gives us a good excuse to take full advantage of the season. This year, for some time now, our dear friends, Bob and Bev Mendenhall from Texas, have been calling, or e-mailing us asking when they ought to drop everything and head north so as to be at Maroon Bells on a peak day. Last year, we missed peak so they didn’t want a repeat of that! Problem is that peak color comes in Eastern Colorado at a different time than it does in Western Colorado. Not only that but colors turn at different times depending on elevation.

At any rate, we finally suggested they drop everything, jump in their SUV, and head north. The day after they arrived, we hit the road. We had plenty of company. Whenever we’d see a long line of cars stopped along the road, we stopped too. Usually, it would be spectacular vistas of autumn leaves, but sometimes people stop for animal life (usually elk, moose, big horn sheep, rocky mountain goats, marmots, pica, etc.). One lady told us, “Every year it’s the same: when the colors change I get so excited we just have to go see it before they’re gone!”

Colors varied: from Minturn to Leadville to Copper, colors were at peak. Coal Creek Canyon was disappointing as too much summer rain had resulted in a fungus that shriveled the leaves. Peak to Peak Highway was sub-par but had patches of great beauty. Rocky Mountain National Park was about average, as was the Lake Granby/Winter Park area. Squaw Pass was average as was Mount Evans—but the wildlife was more than worth the trip: especially the rocky mountain goats grandstanding near the very top of the highest paved road in America. And there was the almost surreal sight of a 1926 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost racing up to the top.

But then there was the piece de resistance: the two-day trip to Glenwood Springs, Aspen, and Maroon Bells. If we’d miscalculated its peak we’d have had some mightily disgruntled visitors! Not to worry: even though the colors along Maroon Creek were generally poor, past their prime, up ahead the ramparts encircling Maroon Lake (9,580′ elevation) were spectacular! Combine still-green, gold, umber, and orange aspens; the iridescent blue-green lake, the reddish maroon mountain walls; the deep blue high country Colorado sky; and the three iconic mountain bells: Pyramid Peak (14,018′), North Maroon Peak (14,014′), and South Maroon Peak (14,156′), lightly dusted by a recent early fall snow, and you’ll have the most photographed spot in all Colorado. Indeed, it adds up to being one of the most breathtaking natural spectacles in the world, on the bucket lists of untold thousands of travelers.

Like most of the enthralled visitors being bussed in, in a steady stream, we just didn’t want to leave; so we walked around the lake, took pictures, sat down on wooden benches, and dreamed in a sort of trance. Altogether: one of those extremely rare almost perfect days humans are granted so few of.

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Big Barnes & Noble Surprise! It Celebrates Lincoln

BLOG #38, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BIG BARNES & NOBLE SURPRISE!
IT CELEBRATES LINCOLN
September 23, 2015

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Some months ago, my editors at Howard/Simon & Schuster alerted me that a big serendipity would be coming our way on August 8. And sure enough, it happened.

My Abraham Lincoln biography, Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage, was first published in 2008, and has done very well; it is still in print. Since that time many thank-you letters have come our way, a number coming from adolescents, tweens, and teens. The common denominator: Thank you for bringing back the spiritual dimension of Lincoln’s life. I prayed daily that this would be so during the research and writing of the book. Readers also point out how readable it is—hard to put down (unlike most ponderous biographies).

Something most interesting has been gradually taking place during the last two years: Barnes & Noble managers tell me that more and more browsers are searching for spiritual books (young readers as well as old). Apparently, under the radar of the secular hedonistic media leaders of our time, a spiritual awakening is beginning to make itself felt.

So much so that key leaders of Barnes & Noble’s Sterling Division singled out this seven-year-old biography as one worthy of re-emphasis. Worthy of a special proprietary printing that they have now made available at a bargain price. Not only that, but since August 8, they have sent—not single copies, which is the norm—but 8 – 10 copies of each to their 500 plus stores across the nation!

My Howard editors are thrilled with the honor implied by this unexpected event. I am merely humbled and view it as an answer to prayer. For some time now I have asked God each day that, if it be His will, the Lincoln biography will sweep the nation—but only if it be to His honor and glory—not mine! For if ever the values represented by Lincoln’s selfless life should come back, it certainly ought to be now!

So here’s the big opportunity for each of you. The regular Howard/Simon & Schuster printings are still available at $22.99. They will continue to be sold at this price. However the Barnes & Noble limited edition of 5,000 will be available at about a 65% reduction (lower by far than regular wholesale): $7.98 each [Barnes & Noble members will be able to take an additional 10% discount, picking them up at $7.18 each]. Should the first-print-run sell through, they will either leave it at that or ask for another printing. If they do not reprint, the regular edition will still be available at $22.99.

I just heard from someone who bought nearly all the copies available at his closest Barnes & Noble outlet; he plans to give them all away. If each of you should take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get these inspirational biographies into the hands of friends and young people, what a blessing that might be! Since the Barnes & Noble edition looks almost the same (hardback with dust jacket) as the First Edition, and since I certainly can’t afford to sell them at that price, I would encourage our readers to buy these from Barnes & Noble rather than from me. What wonderful Christmas presents they’d make! To schools public as well as private. Both as Corporate or personal gifts.

Now here’s how you can tell them apart:

Barnes & Noble Edition: Copyright Page

Copyright © 2008 by Howard Books
This Howard Books proprietary edition August 2015
Howard and Colophon are trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau paragraph
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 [Howard’s regular printing currently indicates 4th printing]
Instead of the regular ISBN numbers, this Barnes & Noble printing has three:
ISBN 978-1-4165-5096-9
ISBN 978-1-5011-2271-2 (prop)
ISBN 978-1-4165-6431-5 (ebook)

Will be interested in hearing back from you as to responses you get by availing yourself of this printing.

Making Family Memories – Part Two

BLOG #37, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MAKING FAMILY MEMORIES
AROUND A MILL CREEK CAMPFIRE
Part Two
September 16, 2015

There were still only three of us, Marji, Connie and me that first evening. After checking into our cabin, Connie and I joined Marji around the campfire. It was good to relax, gaze into the flames, and catch up on family matters.

Next day was quiet so we joined Marji in a food-buying expedition in nearby Chester, adjacent to beautiful Lake Almanor. By evening, our numbers ballooned, each contingent making a dramatic entrance into the fireside area: brother-in-law Elmer; daughter Michelle, son-in-law Duane, grandsons Taylor and Seth; our son Greg; my cousin Steve and wife Roxann; nephew Shane, wife Lisa, and daughter Chloe. With fourteen now sitting around the campfire, it seemed that everyone was simultaneously talking to someone! Our kids had been backpacking in the coastal Redwoods for most of a week and thus had lots of hike-related experiences to share. It was fascinating to watch perhaps nature’s largest pine cones (sugarpine) contorting and writhing after they’d burst into flames in the fire-pit.

By Thursday, horseshoe-tossing had become a marathon. Except for meals, the action there never stopped. In time we were joined by our beloved Charlotte (long ago adopted into our family), nephew Jessie, and grandniece Lexi—bringing us up to near full-strength. In the evening, Steve (the storyteller of our family) regaled the campfire audience with story after story, many of them involving members of our family who are no longer with us. Few of us had ever heard them before. Steve has a wonderful gift: he can step back in time a half-century or more and remember every action, every word said, on a given day. Even vividly remembering things that took place when he was only two or three! Finally, reluctantly, we said our good nights and wended our way to cabins, trailer houses, or tents for the night. Some slept on the bank just above Mill Creek which, being spring-fed, was immune to California’s four-year drought, and thundered down the canyon.

Friday, it was time to caravan over to Lake Almanor where cousin Avenelle and Jim hosted us for the afternoon, ferrying most of us across the lake to a lakeside restaurant on the other side; the rest of our family circled around the lake by car. It proved to be a never-to-be-forgotten afternoon. Virtually the moment we returned to Mill Creek, clanging horseshoes were heard again. Others of us took walks into the towering evergreens that make the Mill Creek area so unforgettable. All around us, other family reunions were taking place. When the Central Valley’s heat gets to near furnace temperatures, everyone who can, flees to the mountains for blessed relief. That’s a key reason why the resort is booked up a year ahead of time. Later on, after a light snack, it was campfire time again. One of the stories Steve told us had to do with a mountain lion that stalked him in the Sierras—only by a miracle did Steve escape alive. And Elmer’s large stock of sugar pine cones continued to be raided one by one—after each performance, Elmer would be begged to “please burn one more!”

On Saturday, the family caravanned into the heart of Lassen Volcanic National Park, a place a number of us were unfamiliar with. The hike up to Bumpass Hell Hot Springs was most memorable, reminding us of Yellowstone National Park’s much more extensive stretch of performing sulphuric hot springs and geysers. Afterwards, we watched the informative film in the new Visitor’s Center. Shawn, who’d been involved in fighting the big Willow Creek fire in the Trinity Alps, had driven all the way to Mill Creek to be with us for the evening. After supper, Elmer and Seth teamed up to show us a family film most of us had never even heard about: the 1935 Golden Wedding Anniversary of my great grandparents, Dr. Ira and Emma Bond Wheeler in Healdsburg, California. What was funny was seeing the arrival of a long stream of family members in what to us were antique cars. Clearly, they’d packed in as many family members as could be shoe-horned in, for each disgorged an astonishingly large number of people before the car moved on and the next one arrived. This film had to have been one of the earlier family films ever made.

Afterwards, Shawn, a stand-up comedian if there ever was one, stood up and kept us in proverbial stitches for well over an hour. Especially did the cousins revel in his inimitable family-related humor. Much later, when the last sugarpine cone had writhed into embers, we bid farewell to everyone, for some left that evening and others very early next morning.

But on Sunday morning, after another delicious breakfast served on Mill Creek Restaurant’s outside deck, one after another, many with moist eyes, bid each other good-bye, each wondering if ever, on this earth, they’d be able to see the same family members assemble.

AFTERWARDS

Many have been the heartfelt responses since then. Especially having to do with the cousins who were together long enough to really get to know each other. Thanks to the serenity of Mill Creek and the scarcity of electronic media, everyone had a unique opportunity to really get to know each other in a deep way. But more than that, the young people were able to perceive parents, uncles and aunts, and grandparents, as flesh-and-blood people who not only once were so much like them but, seen with their contemporaries, shed their authority-figure-selves and were young-at-heart just like their descendants. And the numbers were just right: any more and they wouldn’t have been able to really get to know, appreciate, and love each one to the extent they did. Some of them have already, only a month later, said, “Oh, when can we do this again!”

Our personal conclusion: For each one of us, it was a life-changing experience!

Making Family Memories Around a Mill Creek Campfire

BLOG #36, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MAKING FAMILY MEMORIES
AROUND A MILL CREEK CAMPFIRE
Part One
September 9, 2015

It took close to two years to make the family reunion happen; after all, Mill Creek, California, is relatively unknown to most people. One member of our family came from Idaho, one from Florida, four from Maryland, two from Nevada, two from Colorado, and eight from various places in California–eighteen of us in all.

Miracle of miracles, eventually all eighteen arrived at Mill Creek—in spite of fierce forest fires burning all across Northern California. Especially in the San Joaquin Valley, smoke was thick, and most roads leading to the coast were closed due to the fires—at times it seemed like the entire Golden State was on fire!

The focal center of this gathering of the clan was Marji and Elmer Raymond’s trailer house and fire-pit. My sister Marji had been the main choreographer of the reunion. As we watched one contingent after another make their appearance, I couldn’t help but step backwards in time more than half a century when annual Thanksgiving reunions of the Wheeler and Bond clans were a given. High on Napa Valley’s Howell Mountain at Grandpa Rollo and Grandma Ruby’s Angwin ranch, it was unthinkable to miss Thanksgiving with extended family. The pattern was unvarying: car door after car door being slammed, Grandma Ruby’s singing out her unvarying, “Why you dear souls!” and “Why Papa!,” as each new arrival was hugged—all this while dogs barked excitedly and cats scurried for cover. The women gathered in the kitchen, each bringing food. The crescendo of family gossip and laughter made it a wonderful place to be—and the smaller children played with the well-over-a-hundred-year-old blocks by the fireplace (some of the blocks had crossed the plains in wagon trains a century before). Grandma Ruby (who was deaf, could read lips) ruled over this segment of the reunion. Outside, a little distance off, Grandpa Rollo ruled over the men in their marathon horseshoe tournaments that stopped only for dinner, or darkness. The continuous clinks as horseshoes reached the stake was etched in the soundtracks of my memory forever. The older boys watched in fascination as ringer after ringer rang out. Grandpa’s usually rang out most because rarely did his tosses miss the stake. There was much laughter and bantering and shouts when ringers were capped by other ringers. Since the usual Thanksgiving head-count averaged over eighty, the cumulative hubbub never stopped except to eat. And what meals those were! Only for the blessing was there momentary silence. At night, Grandpa challenged all comers at caroms. Eventually, the carom boards were put away and all gathered around the upright piano to sing. Grandma Ruby “listened” by putting her hand on the piano top and seraphically “feeling” the music. Eventually, the kids were put to bed but the adult socializing continued far into the night. And next day, the slammed car-doors and “you dear souls!” and “Why Papa’s” were heard once more, as the yearly ritual came to an end.

Except for an occasional funeral, once Grandpa and Grandma were moved to Oregon, the Napa Valley reunions stopped, and family members never again gathered together in mass as they had before. So you can imagine the memories that were brought back to Marji, my cousin Steve, and me as once more we heard the continuing ring of horseshoes—with one big difference—the marksmanship being generally so poor that it was a serendipity when a horseshoe actually touched a stake!

But this time, Marji made sure the women weren’t prisoners of the kitchen: breakfast and lunch could be eaten at the Mill Creek Restaurant or in the cabins; only the dinner would be picked up under the tent adjacent to the fire-pit and eaten around it.

Next week, we’ll take you through “the rest of the story.”

Sir Walter Scott’s “Quentin Durward”

BLOG #35, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #44
SIR WALTER SCOTT’S QUENTIN DURWARD
September 2, 2015

I was still in my childhood when I read my first historical romance. It made such an impression on me that I searched out more. By my mid-teens, historical romances had become an integral part of my yearly batch of must-read books

Early on, I stumbled onto my first Sir Walter Scott novel—I’ve been hooked on Scott ever since. So much so that I have concluded that our 44th book selection must be one of Scott’s historical novels.

Margaret Drabble, in her monumental The Oxford Companion to English Literature, declares that Sir Walter Scott’s (1771 – 1832) “influence as a novelist was incalculable; he established the form of the historical novel, and according to V. S. Pritchett, the form of the short story. He was avidly read and imitated throughout the 19th century, not only by historical novelists such as Ainsworth and Bulwer-Lytton, but also by writers such as Mrs. Gaskell, George Eliot, the Bronte sisters, and many others, who treated rural themes, contemporary peasant life, regional speech, etc., in a matter that owed much to Scott.”

Early on, impressed no little by Goethe’s romantic German poetry, Scott wrote romantic poetry that celebrated his native land of Scotland. His greatest successes being works such as Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808), and Lady of the Lake (1810).

Then he turned to a new genre: historical novels. Of which two centuries of devoted readers have reveled in romances such as Waverly (1814), Guy Mannering (1815), Rob Roy (1817), The Heart of Midlothian (1818), Ivanhoe (1819), Kenilworth (1821), and Quentin Durward (1823).

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I am choosing Quentin Durward first on the assumption that many of our readers will already have read the ever-popular Ivanhoe. There is something about Quentin Durward that so resonated in my mind many years ago that I have been unable to forget it.

The lead characters include Quentin Durward (a young Scottish adventurer, in France searching for action). He more than finds it!
La Balafré (Durward’s maternal uncle).
Isabelle, Countess of Croye.
King Louis XI of France (a Machiavellian pragmatist).
Charles, Duke of Burgundy (hasty and pugnacious).

The time: 1468.
The setting: France and Flanders.

Bear in mind that the action may seem slow at first; but, before long you’ll find it increasingly hard to put the book down. Surprisingly, you’ll discover that Scott’s portrayals of King Louis and Duke Charles seem modern in that their ethical behavior appears almost distressingly contemporary to readers of our time.

Also, it quickly becomes obvious that royal and aristocratic marriages back then had precious little to do with love; in that respect, both women and men were merely dynastic pawns.

Welcome to the anything-but-calm 15th century.

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There are a multitude of editions to choose from, but I heartily recommend a hardback with color plates such as the Dodd, Mead (New York) edition of 1924 which sports 16 color illustrations by Percy Tarrant.