AUTUMN LEAVES



 

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

Oct. 5, 2011

Everywhere, as I pen these lines, there is gold.  To paraphrase Sound of Music, “The hills are alive with the gold of autumn.”  Saturday, we battled rush-hour type traffic up into Clear Creek Canyon.  Everyone, it seems, had concluded, It’s time to drive up into the mountains for our annual autumn fix.  Yesterday, we took highway 285 south, battling traffic again.  At Kenosha Pass, thousands of cars and even more thousands of camera-toting people of all ages, clogged the mountaintop.  And on across the vast reaches of the South Park plain, the aspens lit up the sky.

Conifer Mountain is ablaze as well—splotches of gold, orange, yellow, and umber interspersed with lodgepole pine green.  We keep looking at and photographing our equally beautiful long driveway.  For well we know, it will not stay this way: in only days, the wind will strip the leaves from the aspens, and then we’ll know for sure that Old Man Winter’s on his way.

When teaching at Washington Adventist University, many were the Octobers when two professors and I would take a bus load of students north into New England (they’d get class credit in English, history, or religion), visit cultural sites, and “ride the colors down.”  Those autumns are indelibly limned in the archival galleries of my mind.

Only once, in a short story, have I attempted to capture autumn’s essence.  I titled it “October Song,” and included it in my book titled What’s So Good About Tough Times? (New York: WaterBrook/Random House, 2001).

I began my romance with twelve lines of poetry:

Oh to be in New England in autumn

When the leaves turn from green to gold;

Oh to be in New England in autumn

When I too am growing old.

The years, they are a-passing

Passing like the scarlet, brown, and umber leaves

Wearily letting go, and cascading down

From the soon to be naked trees.

Rolling up the rugged shore are waves of blue and gray;

Blue today in the serenity of Indian Summer,

Gray tomorrow in the hurricanes of late autumn

With autumn leaves the in-between.

For I too am nearing my October;

Remorselessly the sands of my hourglass

Sift down and down and down

Just like the leaves, just like the leaves.

Later in the story, I return to the theme of autumn with these prose lines, articulated by the story’s fictional protagonist, John A. Baldwin:

I have always loved autumn in New England, and so I try to meet my tryst with her every year.  Two songs have deeply moved me since I was young.  They are Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves” and Kurt Weill’s “September Song.”  They move me still, even more than they did in those days gone by, perhaps because those words now mirror me, and my age.

For me, too, the days are “dwindling down to a precious few.”  I, too, no longer have time for the “waiting game.”  I, too, have reached my life’s September, and October is knocking at my door.  And well I know how great a distance separates May from December.

But I don’t feel old.  Like Tennyson’s immortal Ulysses, I am nowhere near ready to slow my wandering steps and wait until Death comes after me.  Death is going to pant a little before he catches me.  As long as I live and breathe, I shall create and attempt to make a difference.  I shall grow, learn, and ever hone my craft.  I shall stay young till that last breath.  Just as the sea refuses to surrender, but assaults its beaches millennium after millennium, just so I refuse to surrender or slow down.  Who knows, perhaps love may yet come to me, improbable as it may seem after so many fruitless years of searching for “the one woman.”  As it was for my long-departed mother, there can be only one mate for me

So while I feel the shortness of time left to me more in autumn than in any other time of the year, it does not cause me to surrender, but rather to “seek, find, and not to yield.”

True I bravely say all this, but deep down I know every October finds me weaker than the one before, and that one of them will be my last.  But I have determined, like Dylan Thomas’s persona, to “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” [from “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”].

So, wherever you may be when you read these lines, I urge you to climb into your car, and not stop until you find autumn.

* * *

Next Wednesday, for all those readers who are afflicted like us with an incurable case of wanderlust, we shall continue with our tribute to Ken Burns, as we complete the great circle of national parks and national park lodges by loading up the car with Bob and Lucy Earp, and visit Rocky Mountain National Park, Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Bryce, Zion, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, South Rim, Death Valley, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and Great Basin.

We hope you’ll tag along with us!

 

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Easter, Lent, and “Easter in My Heart”

Once again we celebrate Easter, commemorating our Lord’s resurrection on April 7, A.D. 30. Given that Easter is one of the two holiest days in the Christian Church, it is surprising that there is such widespread confusion about what Easter is and is not. Indeed this recent question was addressed to me on Facebook: “Please tell me what Lent is.” In this blog, I am answering that question.

First of all, however, let’s find out how Easter began in the first place. It almost didn’t because the idea that special times might be considered sacred in themselves did not even exist in Post Apostolic Christianity. Instead, they continued to observe the Jewish festivals, though with a different emphasis: for instance, for Passover, Christ was considered to be the true Paschal Lamb.

As time passed and more and more Christians observed Easter, pitched battles were continually fought over when the Resurrection should be celebrated, the Gentile Christians espousing one time and Jewish Christians another. Not until the Council of Nicaea in 325 was there a consensus: that Easter was to be kept on Sunday, and the same Sunday around the world.

Lent, quite simply, is a period of fasting during the 40 days preceding Easter. For instance, in the 2011 calendar, Lent (Ash Wednesday) began on March 9, and Easter Sunday (at the conclusion of Easter Week), will be celebrated on April 24.

Initially Lent was considered to be a season of preparation for baptism, of absolution for penitents, or of retreat or recollection, but there was little uniformity in practice. During the medieval period Lent fasting was vigorously enforced among the faithful; that consensus, however, broke down during the Reformation. By the eighteenth century, strict observance of the Lenten fast was generally abandoned.

Today, many devout Christians are returning to the earlier strong emphasis on fasting during the forty days leading up to Easter Week.

EASTER IN MY HEART

As an anthologizer of Christmas stories for nineteen years now, I never cease to be amazed at two realities: Where Christmas stories are concerned, I have untold thousands of stories to choose from; but where Easter stories are concerned, I have almost none! Why is it that Christians respond so differently to the two equally high days?

I really became aware of this discrepancy in 1999 when I signed a contract with WaterBrook/Random House to put together a collection of spiritually-based Easter stories for the Christian community. I was staggered to discover that they just plain didn’t exist! In fact, I seriously wondered if I’d have to tell my publisher that the book was impossible to produce. Finally, I took the matter to the Lord, asking that if it be His will that such a book ought to be, He’d open doors I knew not of.

I now quote from this precious book of Easter stories that almost wasn’t: “I never cease to be amazed by God’s incredible choreography. A number of years ago, when Christmas in My Heart was in its infancy, a friend of mine, the Reverend Dr. Darrell Richardson, called me up and told me that he was in town for a convention and had brought me a present. It turned out to be a large box of old (most over half a century old) inspirational magazines, all filled with stories. As the years passed by, I looked into the box once, picked out a Christmas story or two, then forgot all about it.”

Now, after earnestly praying to God, reminding Him that my final book deadline was almost upon me, and to “please help me find such stories—and quickly! . . . , one morning, the conviction came, Find that box of old magazines! In due time, I found it then searched through the entire collection. In the process, I found more great Easter stories than I had encountered all through the years! How incredible, and humbling, to realize that years ago, God knew the day was coming when those stories would be needed—and had them sent to me ahead of time! I no longer believe in coincidence: I have experienced far too many instances of divine scripting and choreography. But only recently did I find a biblical base for that assumption (Psalm 139:1-5, 15-16), one of the most life-changing passages in all Scripture.” (Easter in My Heart, 12-16).

* * * * *

Easter in My Heart

Sadly, Easter in My Heart is no longer in print, but we still have copies available for those who seek stories that will reveal the deeper spiritual meaning of Easter for their children or for incorporating into Easter services in their churches.

For information on how to order, log in at and if you let us know right away, we’ll fire off a copy to you in time for Easter week.

Do let me know your thoughts, reactions, and responses to this blog.

BREAKTHROUGHS

Once in a long while in this thing we call life, we experience a real breakthrough. Sort of like breaking the sound barrier—which for a very long time was deemed an impossibility. Nowadays, because of regulations that deal with the effects of sonic booms on people below, we rarely hear them. In January, during a cruise to the Southern Caribbean, in Barbados (one of four regular stops in the Americas for the legendary Concorde), I was privileged to explore one of those iconic super-airliners—and to experience a virtual flight re-enacted, complete with sonic boom.

Interestingly enough, the Concorde’s ability to fly at twice the speed of sound was touted as the reason it was such a technological breakthrough: it was expected to pave the way for ever faster passenger planes (more like rockets than traditional planes) and passenger travel into space. It was the world’s gold standard for several decades, during which only the super rich could afford to travel in those semi-rockets. Instead, it was proven too expensive to operate, and air travel reverted back to pre-Concorde flight expectations. Nevertheless, it was a major technological breakthrough, and engineers continue to build on it, and learn from it.

In my own life, I remember such a breakthrough during my college years. Because of a negative mindset, I floundered through my first two years. Reason being, I’d convinced myself I was incapable of earning anything higher than a B in college courses. As a predictable result, that assumption turned out to be a self-fulling prophecy.

Until one memorable day, in a history class taught by the well-known Dr. Walter C. Utt of Pacific Union College in California’s Napa Valley. For reasons that made no sense to me, my exam paper was returned to me marked A-. Surely, I thought, Dr. Utt must have made a mistake! Utt evidently gave me someone else’s grade (someone, unlike me, who was capable of earning A’s).

Unable to make sense out of it, I took the exam to Dr. Utt, and asked him if I’d actually earned an A-. Smilingly, he answered, “Yes, Joe, you earned that grade. Best work you’ve ever done for me.” Back in my room, I just couldn’t get this miracle out of my head, pondering it night and day. Then came the life-changing epiphany: If I’m really capable of earning A-s, if I study a little harder, why couldn’t I earn an A next time?

And so my life changed forever: Amazingly, during the nineteen years that followed, through a bachelors and masters in history from Pacific Union College, a masters in English from University of California – Sacramento, and the Ph.D. in English (History of Ideas emphasis), from Vanderbilt University, in only two or three isolated instances did I ever earn anything less than an A! The barrier had simply been mental; once I’d broken through it once, I was able to soar wherever my dreams would take me.

A second crucial breakthrough took place in stages, each essential in my own life trajectory, for if I failed to conquer that giant called procrastination, little could be expected of me. First came the Eight Magic Words, “If not now—when? If not me—whom?” articulated by the Rabbi Hillel (a contemporary of Christ). Before every opportunity, challenge, invitation, request, etc., is dealt with, first pose these two questions before I either pass or act on them. Second, Kalidasa’s “Salutation to the Dawn,” written over a millennium and a half ago by India’s greatest writer. In this poem, Kalidasa postulated that every day is a miniature lifetime, with a beginning, middle, and end; and only when we so treat each day can we stop frittering away our life energy in our yesterdays, bemoaning the mistakes we made in the past, and worrying about our futures. By concentrating all our energy into our todays, Kalidasa pointed out that we’d thereby cease to waste our times in two dimensions of time we can do nothing about. Third, Helen Mallicoat’s timeless “I Am” poem, in which God declares He is not “I was,” nor is He “I Will Be,” but rather He is “I Am”—only in the “I Am” present may we find Him. Fourth, Life’s Three Eternal Questions: “Who Am I? Where Did I Come From? Where Am I Going?” Only as we continually pose these to ourselves can we avoid veering out of our desired trajectory.

These four anti-procrastination tools did not come to me all at once, but rather over a third of a century. Without them, neither my advanced degrees nor our 74 books would have ever come to be at all.

A third equally significant breakthrough in my life occurred about five or six years ago. Significant because in life we may coast to a certain extent while we are young and have vast stores of vital energy in us; but, inevitably, we can only coast so far and so long before we begin paying the price. In my case, the problem had to do with my addiction to workaholicism. Always I’d assumed that exercise was merely an option rather than a necessity in life. It took me two near-death experiences to wean me away from that error in judgment. And a catalyst: a major health study that resulted in a conclusion I’d never heard of before: that there are no plateaus in life: each of us is either becoming stronger than we were or weaker than we were, every day. Indeed, that our bodies reinvent themselves every 100 days, at any age! It was that “any age” that merged (in my mind) this study with the true life experiences of specific contemporary Americans such as California’s Hulda Crooks and Mavis Lindgren who, late in life, decided to run: Mavis Lindgren in races and Hulda Crooks in running up mountains such as Mt. Whitney and Mt. Fuji, each running circles around those a quarter their age. Over time, they actually became stronger in their 70s and 80s and raced on beyond that.

I was then in what would have become a free-fall health-wise, exercising only sporadically. But I wanted to remain healthful and creative and alive, it was just that until that “100-day study,” I’d never found a tool that was strong enough to reverse my decline. Looking at myself sans rose-tinted glasses, I concluded that I was doomed unless I awoke out of my deadly inertia and vigorously—rain or shine, cold or hot—exercised for 30 – 60 minutes every day of my life! For if I failed to do so, missing days here and there, I’d be lost, for inevitably I’d slip right back into inertia. For close to five years now, I haven’t missed a day, and I feel better than I have in years, and have more energy.

Which brings me to a lateral related breakthrough five nights ago ( the night preceding the Super Moon on March 19—not to be that near or bright for another eighteen years). The moon was gloriously close and brighter than I could ever remember it. I retired at 10:30 p.m. and awoke at 12:30 a.m. by the moon’s radiance. Got up at 1:00 a.m. Concluding that a reason for waking so soon was my failure to get enough vigorous exercise in shoveling four inches of snow off our upper deck, I decided to do stairs (I usually do around 2,100, half up at a semi-run—that 2,100 turning out to be a wall I seemingly could not break through). Keep in mind that we live at close to 10,000 feet elevation so our hearts have to really work to keep us functioning at full torque. However, on this particular night, for some inexplicable reason, I had so much energy I felt I’d never get back to sleep unless I put more pressure on myself; so, for the first time ever, I exercised 5-pound barbells during about a third of the stairs, doing so on the upward segments. Even so, though I broke a sweat sooner, I just didn’t get tired. Not even when I hit the proverbial 2,100-step mental wall: I just smashed through, not stopping until 2,800 steps (a quarter more than ever before); even then, I could easily have topped 3,000!

Which taught me a lesson: even in my 70s, it was possible to keep growing stronger and stronger.

Thank God for breakthroughs!

Do let me know your thoughts, reactions, and responses to this blog.

FIRST READER SURVEY

Now that our blogs have been running for a year and a half, I have a favor to ask of you:  Would you mind telling me which blogs you liked the best (as to type)?  Which ones would you like to see more of?

To make it easy, here are the general categories addressed during Series One’s 65 blogs (some categories overlap):

Number of blogs dealing with:

(26)        Travel in our national parks, monuments, forests, etc., and related lodging.

(7)        Education: Value of, problems with.

(5)        Milestones in the news; significance of.

(4)        Boys: Why we’re losing them.

(4)        Recovering from bad times, tough times, or our mistakes.

(3)        New beginnings, New Year’s Day.

(3)        Reading in our lives.

(3)        Education milestones, alumni gatherings.

(3)        Travel in America [besides our national parks].

(3)        Christmas season: Christmas books and stories.

(2)        Travel abroad.

(2)        Travel on cruise ships.

(1)        Love.

(1)        Life stories of great people (like Lincoln).

(1)        Children.

(1)        Leadership.

(1)        Fragility of life.

(1)        Animals.

(1)        Creativity.

(1)        Organizations we serve in.

(1)        Humor.

  1. So which of these did you enjoy most.  Relate to most?  Feel most valuable, helpful, insightful?  Share with others?  Make copies of?
  2. Which subject areas would you like to see continued?
  3. Which subject areas would you like to see increased.
  4. Which subject areas would you like to see reduced?
  5. Which non-appearing subject areas would you most like to see addressed?
  6. As for illustrations—do you feel they help increase interest in subject?  Do you feel they are worth the trouble? 

It would be most helpful to me if you’d be kind enough to amplify and give reasons for your conclusions.

* * * * *

I’ll report back, letting you know what kind of feedback we received—so please, take a moment and weigh in, so that I’ll know better which subjects I should explore more (or less) during our Series Two.

Published in: on March 2, 2011 at 7:17 am  Comments (5)  
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MANY GLACIER LODGE

Each of Hill’s great Glacier National Park lodges creates a different mood. Not the least of this one’s charm is the twelve-mile-long drive through Swiftcurrent Valley, so wild that you’re likely to see bears to your left fishing in the river.

Just before reaching Swiftcurrent Lake, a magnificent waterfall thunders out of the lake in a torrent. After shutterbugging, you proceed to another world.

Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier Lodge

While larger than its East Glacier counterpart, because Many Glacier Hotel blends so seamlessly into the natural grandeur of the park, it actually appears smaller. Even before you find a parking spot on the hill above, you somehow feel you’re “home.” However, once you enter that great but warmth-inducing lobby, the pressures of the world outside begin to dissipate. But, let me warn you: by the time you’ve stayed here a couple of days (the minimum recomended stay), it almost takes a crowbar to dislodge you.

* * * * *

Louis Hill chose this stunning site for his second Glacier Park hotel in 1909. Two architects (Thomas McMahon and Kirtland Cutter) visited the site in 1914, and subsequently drew plans for a Swiss-style mountain hotel. Although Hill chose McMahon over Cutter, according to National Park historian Christine Barnes, “it is a blend of the Bartlett McMahon Glacier Park Lodge . . . and Cutter’s original drawings. . . . The Swiss chalet architecture combined with timbers and native rock—a hallmark of Cutter’s Lake McDonald Lodge . . . is prevalent at Many Glacier” (Barnes, 50).

Circular fireplace in May Glacier Hotel's lobby

The Circular Fireplace at Many Glacier LodgeThe Great Hall, though only half the size of East Glacier’s baronial colonnade, seems perfect for the setting. Three balconies line two sides of the lobby with guest rooms. Dominating the room is a fire pit over which is suspended a huge copper hood. A fire burns here night and day. The great Ptarmigan Dining Room is anchored by a massive stone fireplace; Swiss banners hang from the ceiling, and floor-to-ceiling windows reveal the almost breath-taking scenery of snow-capped mountains as reflected in the glacial lake.

The hotel opened on July 4, 1915. So popular was it that it was soon expanded to 214 rooms. Altogether, it cost $500,000 to construct.

Many Glacier Hotel

Through the years, the venerable hotel has survived changing tastes in travel and accommodations, fires, heavy snowfalls, floods, and benign neglect. In fact, its owners, burdened by the staggering costs involved in its maintenance and upkeep, at times, would have been glad to see it burn down. But, in spite of it all, the hotel beat the odds and, almost a century after its birth, remains the reigning queen at the center of Glacier National Park..

Connie and I have returned to it again and again. In fact, I even incorporated it into one of my Christmas stories, “By the Fireplace:”

“A dreamy look comes over Kim’s face. ‘Grammy, you would have liked Many Glacier Hotel. Isn’t that a funny name? Sort of like ‘Many Cassie’ or ‘Many Mother.’ Cassie giggles. ‘It had a big lobby with a high ceiling. Out the northern windows was one of the most beautiful lakes, glacier turquoise, that you’ll ever see. And in the middle of the lobby was a fire pit with a copper hood, open on all sides. And around it people from all around the world sat and talked.’

‘Or played games, crocheted, read, or just relaxed,’ adds Tom.

‘But what impressed me most,’ continues Kim, ‘was the people. People who had traveled widely, were cultured, some very wealthy, who talked about the most interesting things. . . .”

Diane adds, “At East Glacier they put puzzles together. And people played and sang at the piano. Remember those two cowboy singers?’ ‘They were funny,’ chimes in Cassie.”

“But those two couldn’t hold a candle to that string trio from Slovakia at Many Glacier,’ declares her father. ‘It was fascinating to watch the audience in that big lobby. One by one they stood up and gravitated toward the trio who were performing classical, folk, light-classical, and old standards. At the end they showered them with tips. Did you see the size of some of those bills?”

“Sure did! There was money in that room’ concludes Tom. ‘By the way, I was intrigued by something Uncle Lance said as we were leaving the park. I thought it was kind of strange, coming from him, being an advertising copywriter.”

“‘What was that?’ asked Kim.”

“Well, he seemed kind of blown away by this peaceful, quiet world at Glacier. So different from the world of advertising hype he makes his living in. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Tom, mark my words. You may quite possibly have seen the future in the lodges of Glacier.’ I asked him what he meant, and he said, ‘Well, we’ve just about reached the breaking point in terms of electronic intrusion and noise in our lives. Serenity is almost a lost commodity. God did not create us to be so inundated in ear-battering sound. People are already breaking over it. Just think, in the average American home the television is on seven to nine hours a day, and children are playing with Play Stations instead of being outdoors. There’s the computer, the television screen in your face all day at the office, telephones, cell phones everywhere you go, even on planes, ships, and vacations in the remotest places of the world . . . Faxes, videos, radio. Barraged by a million ads by the time you’re 20! It just goes on and on. So I say it again: You may have just seen the future. Human behavior can tilt only so far before it changes direction. We’ve about reached that point.”

Grandpa had been intently following the dialogue; now he enters the conversation. “‘Sooo,’ he says slowly, ‘if I’m hearing you right, there was something about the Glacier experience that has been reinforced by this blizzard. Where are you trying to take us?’”

For a time there is silence in the room.”

—Wheeler, Christmas in My Heart® 14, 122-123.

* * * * *

Many Glacier Hotel

When you stay here, be sure and book a lakeside room. Waking up to that ever-changing panorama outside your window is an experience that burns its way into your memory. It becomes a Shangri-la to escape to when the troubles of the real world begin to close in on you.

* * * * *

Next week, we’ll move on to Prince of Wales Hotel.

SOURCES CONSULTED

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the West 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc, 1997).
Wheeler, Joe, Christmas in My Heart® 14 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2005).

NEW YEAR REFLECTIONS

As 2010 came to an end, our family, gathered together in our mountain chalet in the Colorado Rockies, experienced our first significant snowfall of the season. That welcome gift of life-sustaining moisture reminded us of how dependent we are on God’s gift of life.

But celebrating Christmas and Christmastide with family also brought home the message that, other than God, family is all we have to sustain us on this troubled planet. Which, in turn, inspired me to write this week’s blog, thoughts that doubtless came to millions of other parents and grandparents, who waited, as we did, for all the children to come home.

HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
Can there possibly be three more poignant words in the English language than these?

For weeks, the house has been getting ready:

Food is purchased and hauled in, load after load of it, until the refrigerator/freezer, the pantry, and even the overflow freezer downstairs, all are filled to the bulging point.

Christmas decorations are brought down from the rafters of the garage, as are the outside Christmas lights (defying logic, all snarled together as usual), and the half-century-old creche (purchased in Latin America).

Guest bedrooms are spruced up, the bedding fresh from a recent washing. Shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotions for dry skin, hair dryers, towels (in the bathrooms), all are positioned for use.

The overworked vacuum cleaner grows tired and irritable.

Goodies such as English toffee, breads, pies, cookies, and cakes are made.

Load after load of firewood is brought in and stacked on the lower deck.

New board games for the family are purchased in city malls.

Presents and stocking-stuffers begin to stack up in the quilt-room. Much better-hidden are the trading-game gifts, for secrecy in the annual trading game is an absolute must.

Airplane arrival schedules are posted in the kitchen by the telephone; each vacation day’s proposed activities discussed by phone and e-mail with the children (long-since grown, but our children still).

Cots and foam mattresses are brought in from the garage.

Tired-looking kitchen stools are hauled away by the garbage man, and new ones purchased as replacements.

Both SUVs are cleaned inside and out.

Nor are Charlie the chattering squirrel,. Foxy Lady and her numerous progeny, or the ever-hungry birds forgotten.

* * *

Like the explosive finale of a fireworks, spectacular, the pace of preparation during nthe final 48 hours builds to a crescendo: the towering Norfolk Pine is bedecked with multicolored lights; outside, the Christmas lights are positioned under the eaves, on the outside stairway banister, and in a nine-foot lodgepole pine halfway down the driveway. More of the Dickens Village is lit. Candles and decorations add to the festive mood. The creche is set up in its usual place of honor. Seven bright red stockings hang from the fireplace mantel; just below, a roaring fire in the fireplace is but a scratch of a match away. Flight arrival times are checked and re-checked. Presents, now wrapped in bright Christmas paper, are stacked under the Christmas tree.

* * *

It lacks but one thing—and that one thing comes at last, to the tune of automobile lights in the driveway, slamming car doors, impatient grandkids racing up the steps; then the door is swung open, wafting down the stairs the fragrance of candles, burning pine and aspen, home-cooking, and German stollen slowly rising in the oven–then glad cries, hugs, kisses, and tears.

As for the house, with a giant sigh it plumps its feathers. All its chicks are home at last—and Christmas has come once again.

LAKE McDONALD LODGE

Glacier National Park is sliced in two by the Continental Divide. The eastern side is quiet and genteel, the west can sometimes feel like Coney Island on a busy day. Hill maintained iron-handed control of what little development was permitted in the east, but no such master hand exhibited much control of the west, which grew like Topsy, with little indication of any master hand.

Most likely the Lodge would have been treated even worse had it not been for its early-on isolation. In 1895, George Snyder constructed the Snyder Hotel here, but given that there were as yet no roads to it, all access was by boat.

In 1904 – 05, John Lewis gained control of the hotel. In the years that followed, he watched with great interest the construction of Glacier Park Hotel Lodge, and sighed because he lacked the wherewithal to construct its equal on the western side. Nevertheless, he had a vision for his brainchild, implemented by architect Kirtland Cutter of Spokane. Lewis had the original Snyder Hotel moved so he could construct a new one in its place.

Cutter had gained valuable experience with Swiss-style architecture in co-designing the Idaho Building for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Lake McDonald Lodge

Construction of this alpine chalet began in 1913 and was completed in 1914. Three and a half stories high, it is a combination of stucco and clapboarding, painted brown like the Great Northern hotels. All supplies had to be hauled in by boat; or, during the bitterly cold winter, skidded across on ice. The exterior was Swiss-appearing, but inside, it was Wild West. Especially dramatic was the three-story lobby dominated by a huge fireplace, so large that five-foot-long logs were routinely burned in it. A log-trussed ceiling and cedar balconies on three sides added to the warm ambiance. Great western cedar logs helped anchor the room. Lewis decorated the lobby with his own hunting trophies (elk, moose, mountain sheep, goat, eagle, etc.); animal skins and Navajo rugs were draped from the balconies. The walls were enlivened by Fred Kiser photographs and Frank Stick and H. Bartlett oil paintings. Famed Montana artist Charlie Russell was a frequent guest here; he it was who is said to have created the fireplace designs.

Beautiful Lake McDonald

The 65-room hotel opened in June of 1914; it had cost $48,000, less than one-tenth of its eastern competition. Early guests, after disembarking from trains, boarded a steamship to take them across Glacier’s largest lake. Their initial view of the alpine lodge framed against glass-smooth water, verdant forests, and snow-capped mountains made coming here and staying here a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

Not until 1921 was a road to the lodge completed. A road that proved to be a mixed blessing, for it brought with it more and more automobile traffic and noise. Now that the lodge received guests from both directions, there was no longer a focal center. The resultant remodeling altered the symmetry of the lodge. Successive owners accelerated the deterioration and blurring of focus. A flood didn’t help much either.

Finally, just in the nick of time, in 1988-9, a $1.2 million renovation took place. The object being to, as much as possible, restore the lodge to what it had once been in 1914. Fortunately, 60% of the original furniture was still intact. The Great Lobby was lovingly restored, and the dining room was rescued from its near-hopeless state. Once again, the fireplace rules supreme. The ambiance is back.

* * * * *

Red Jammers

Several times we’ve ridden in Jammers over the Divide and down to the Lodge, and had lunch in the dining area. We have not yet stayed here over night. Consequently, I cannot accurately describe what it’s like at night.

Nevertheless, there is one reality that cannot help but dilute the overall experience. In the little village that clusters around the lodge are 38 cabins, two two-story motel units, support buildings, a store, and the resultant traffic that all this generates.

A pity.

SOURCES CONSULTED Invaluable for the history of the hotel is Christine Barnes’ splendid Great Lodges of the West 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. W. West, Inc, 1997). Also helpful is David and Kay W. Scott’s The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

GLACIER PARK LODGE

Glacier National Park is perceived by many as being one of the most remote national parks in the lower 48, for it is a destination rather than being a way-station on a route to somewhere.  Comparatively few Americans have ever been here, which is a pity for it is a magical place of great beauty.

That the park exists at all we owe no small thanks to railroad tycoon, Louis Hill, son of James J. Hill, founder of the Great Northern empire of trains and ships.  Indeed, such a passion did Louis Hill have for the park and its development that he temporarily stepped down from the presidency of Great Northern so that he could devote all his time to Glacier.  His dream was to create a park on the European model, complete with great hotels, chalets, roads, trails, telephone and boat service—something never before accomplished in America.

He began by using his Great Northern clout to secure a special Act of Congress in 1912 to purchase 160 acres of land that was part of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation that bordered the just created [in 1910] Glacier National Park.  Here he would position his flagship hotel, and he would lay transcontinental railway track right to his front door (one of the very few national parks where this was done).  Even El Tovar’s rail connection would be a spur rather than being part of a transcontinental route.

Glacier Park Lodge

Hill lay awake nights dreaming of ways to make his first Glacier hotel into one of the nation’s greatest.  The linchpin had come to him earlier, in 1905, while attending the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon.  Unquestionably, the hit of the exposition was the great Oregon Forestry Building, constructed in the rectangular colonnaded basilica style pioneered by Roman architects—only, rather than built of brick, stone, and masonry, this one was anchored by massive Oregon Douglas fir, four feet thick and 48 feet high, each weighing 30,000 – 36,000 pounds.  Now Hill determined to make those same great columns the WOW factor at Glacier.

So it came to pass that Hill constructed (with the able assistance of architects S. L. Bartlett and Thomas McMahon) a great forest basilica at East Glacier.  When the Blackfeet Indians saw those 60 massive logs hauled in by train, they were in awe, for they’d never seen trees that big!  They promptly dubbed the new building “Oom-Coo-Mush-Taw” (Big Tree Lodge”).  Hill did not miss a trick: to ensure that the bark wouldn’t fall off later, he had the logs cut before the sap began to run in the spring.  The Great Hall with its 200 by 100 foot lobby, soaring 60 feet high with three atriums, flanked by galleries on each side, is indeed—as Hill planned it to be—akin to a great European cathedral, only created out of trees.

Great Lobby of Glacier Park Lodge

Inside, Hill orchestrated a most eclectic mix: Indian pictographs; animal horns and skins; buffalo skulls; Indian teepees; Blackfeet crafts, rugs, blankets, baskets; two great fireplaces [the open one has since been removed]; Japanese lanterns hung from rafters, and tea served by women in kimonos; Blackfeet Indians in full regalia and porters in Bavarian uniforms.

When the hotel was completed in 1913, its upperscale rooms featured private baths, fireplaces, and porches.  So successful was it that Hill added 111 additional rooms to the original 61.  Altogether, it cost more than $500,000 to build.

But here we are, almost a hundred years later, and it remains one of America’s great hotels.

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Connie and I have not only seen the lodge from the windows of an Amtrak train, we have stayed there three times, most recently when the Zane Grey’s West Society held its annual convention there.  Bob and Lucy Earp were also in attendance with us.  My brother, concert pianist Romayne Wheeler, feted our Society and hotel guests with a concert in the Grand Hall.

Red jammers at Glacier Park Lodge

Each of Hill’s three great Glacier hotels has a unique feel all its own.  Glacier Park Lodge feels more like a jumping-off place rather than a park hotel.  Vintage red jammers ferry people all over the park, departing and returning to the hotel.  It is part of a small railroad town so it has its own infrastructure, and it borders the large Blackfeet reservation.

Yet, with all this, it remains a serene place to stay.  Separating the railway terminal from the hotel is a thousand-foot-long garden.  In the great lobby and long vista’d verandas, guests play board games, write letters, visit with friends, and regenerate from the hectic life they left behind.  No one misses the television sets ubiquitous in cookie-cutter lodgings elsewhere.  To experience the Great Hall alone is worth the trip.  Especially at night when you stare into the flickering flames in the fireplace.

And once you’ve stayed here one time, you’ll yearn to return.

SOURCES CONSULTED

Invaluable for the history of the hotel is Christine Barnes’ splendid Great Lodges of the West 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. W. West, Inc, 1997).  Also helpful is David and Kay W. Scott’s The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK TITANS

Give a month to this precious reserve [Glacier National Park].  The time will not be taken from the sum of your life.  Instead of shortening, it will infinitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.

                                                                        –John Muir (Olin, 31)

GEORGE BIRD GRINELL

George Bird Grinnell was one of the most influential men our nation has ever known.  Founder of the Audubon Society and colleague of John Muir, Grinnell sold his father’s investment business in order to speak out on conservation issues in his Forest and Stream magazine.  But of all the at-risk beauty spots in the nation, Glacier held center stage in his heart.  He labeled it “The Crown of the Continent…one of the most beautiful mountain regions in the world.”

As to what this region had come to mean to him, he wrote “How often, in dreams of the night or days, have I revisited these scenes during the years that have passed. . . .  How often, in fancy, have I seated myself on some rock…and gazed over the beautiful scene.

Few people know these wonderful mountains, yet no one who goes there but comes away with enthusiasm for their wild and singular beauty” (Duncan and Burns, 116).

In 1897, Grinnell pulled every known string at his command to get the Glacier area set aside as the Lewis and Clark Forest Preserve.  Then he immediately set about moving the debate to the next level: national park status.  But the opposition from special interests was determined to continue mining around the scenic lakes, hunting in the mountains, and denuding the forest of its trees.

Thirteen more years would pass, with Grinnell refusing to admit defeat and fiercely battling on, before, at long last, in 1910, President Taft, with a stroke of his pen, preserved for all time the million-acre wonderland the world knows as Glacier National Park.

Years later, Grinnell reflected on the significance of it all: “If we had not succeeded in getting those regions set apart as National Parks, by this time they would have been . . . cut bare of timber, dotted with irrigation reservoirs, the game would have been all killed off, the country would have been burned over” (Duncan and Burns, 119).

LOUIS HILL

But Grinnell was anything but alone in his efforts to save Glacier for posterity.  Louis Hill, the Great Northern Railway tycoon, was tireless in promoting the park.  To attract tourists conditioned to vacation in Europe, he enthusiastically preached the gospel of “See America First!”  He labeled Glacier National Park as “America’s Switzerland,” and employed Blackfoot Indians to dress in full regalia as they met incoming trains.  Disembarking, tourists could rent tepees so as to immerse themselves immediately into the Wild West.  Hill even paid for a group of Blackfoot Indians to tour the East.  And got Mary Roberts Rinehart to write about the park.

Legendary park visionary, Stephen Tyng Mather, viewed Hill—not as an opponent but as a valued and trusted ally.

But Louis Hill’s legacy is far bigger than just smart advertising: he was an inspired lodge-builder and innkeeper.  More on that during the next few weeks.

SOURCES CONSULTED 

Duncan Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009).

Olin, Susan, Insider’s Guide® to Glacier National Park (Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2003). 

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society, 2009).

CHRISTMAS IN MY HEART® MEANDERS

“Meander” is the most apt verb I can think of to describe the journey of the last nineteen years. Nothing about it can remotely be classified as being predictable (perhaps the most exciting and frustrating aspect of turning over the navigational role of one’s life to God).

If I ever doubted the confusion generated by this meandering, the reactions of those who stop to look at the blur of Christmas-related titles and publishers at book-signing tables would set me straight. Goodness, sometimes I get confused myself just trying to explain all the twists and turns. But let’s try anyhow.

Christmas in My Heart

First of all: what I’ve come to call the “core series.” Fortunately, Review and Herald Publishing’s commitment to the series was unwavering (for a decade and a half); this provided the stability the series needed in its formative years. Unbeknownst to me, that very first year, I was locked in to what became the series’ defining template: old-timey Currier and Ives covers (horizontal rather than vertical format), old-timey woodcut illustrations inside, and old-timey (even when stories are new ones) stories that touch the heart. As time passed, and more and more Christmasaholics bought into completion (keeping their own series complete by buying the new collection every Christmas season), the template became so iconic I couldn’t have altered it even had I wanted to do so.

Focus on the Family’s involvement began early, and has continued with unbroken commitment ever since. Indeed, well over half the time, the Focus Christmas story of the year has been taken from the pages of Christmas in My Heart®. Most years, the books have been offered as premiums to ministry supporters, as part of seasonal mailouts reaching millions every Christmas.

Because of Focus on the Family’s involvement and because the first four books were a GOLD MEDALLION Finalist in 1995, the series rapidly expanded into Evangelical Christianity.

Which led to the seven-year partnership with Doubleday/Random House, beginning in 1996. Their books were re-scrambles (some stories taken at random from each of the first four collections), with old-timey (but not Currier and Ives) covers, woodcut illustrations (but different from those in the core series), vertical format rather than horizontal, and hardback with dust jacket rather than trade paper. With the entry of Doubleday, the series was marketed in chain stores everywhere, thus becoming a staple in the broader secular market.

Concerned that someone else might try to steal the title, Doubleday insisted that we Trademark it (which we did, after considerable legal choreography, effort and money). We renewed that Trademark at the end of five years, and again after ten years. Fortuitously, it turns out, for during the last 24 months, someone (a major player in today’s marketplace) moved in on the title. Only the Trademark saved us.

Christmas in My Soul

Doubleday/Random House published four Christmas in My Heart® Treasuries (1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999); at the end of that period, they moved on to a new series title, Christmas in My Soul for their gift books over the next three years (2000, 2001, and 2002), each book a re-scramble of stories taken from the first six books in the core series.

In 1998, Tyndale House co-published with Review and Herald the core edition of Christmas in my Heart® 7 (both publishing house imprints on the title page). In 1999 Tyndale House joined forces with Focus on the Family to publish a vertical trade paper edition of the core series (with different cover and introduction, but otherwise remaining the same content and illustration-wise).

But when Doubleday switched series titles in 2000, Focus on the Family and Tyndale House pounced on the hardback rights to the core series. Those vertical hardbacks with dust jackets were also beautiful works of art, just as Doubleday’s were, with old-timey non-Currier and Ives covers; but otherwise, inside, the same stories and illustrations as those used by Review and Herald in the core series. These editions continued to be published through 2006 (Christmas in My Heart® 9 – 15).

The 12 Stories of Christmas

In 2001, RiverOak/David C. Cook published The Twelve Stories of Christmas (the first twelve Christmas stories I wrote personally); for the only time, I also told the story behind the story—how I happened to write each one.

In 2006, storms assailed Christmas in My Heart®. Review and Herald wavered in its commitment to continuing the series, thus opening up the possibility of Focus on the Family/Tyndale House taking over all markets for the core series. Needless to say, Focus on the Family and Tyndale were delighted. But, at the last minute, Review and Herald decided to publish Christmas in My Heart® 16 after all. Result: Tyndale House and Focus on the Family ceased publishing their hardbacks of the core series. But then, even though they were still selling the same number of books as before, Review and Herald decided that Christmas in My Heart® 16 would be a nice number to conclude the series with. Not sharing this perception that the series had reached its terminus, I asked Pacific Press Publishing if they were interested in picking up the series with Christmas in My Heart® 17. The answer, in only hours, was a resounding, “In a heartbeat!” Same format, same Currier and Ives covers, same woodcut illustrations as before—all agreed upon. Thus the series has continued; this year with Christmas in My Heart® 19. The manuscript for Christmas in My Heart® 20 has already been sent in.

In 2007 and 2008, Howard/Simon & Schuster published three beautiful retrospective collections (rescramblings from Christmas in My Heart® 1 – 16): The Best of Christmas in My Heart® 1, Christmas in My Heart® 2, and Candle in the Forest and Other Christmas Stories Children Love.

Christmas in My Heart® 1 was published in Spanish and the first six books were published (rescrambles) in Norwegian.

St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas

Besides this, I edited Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Abby Farwell Brown’s Christmas Angel for Focus on the Family/Tyndale House in 1997 and 1999. I partnered with Canon James Rosenthal for our book St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas for Thomas Nelson in 2005; just off the press is another St. Nicholas book, my Saint Nicholas, part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters biography series.

This incredible story would have been much more difficult without the steadfast support and innovative placement of our collections by my cherished agent and friend, Greg Johnson, president of WordServe Literary Group, Ltd.

A special note: because of editorial differences of opinion (as to specific story-inclusion) in Review and Herald and Focus on the Family/Tyndale House, those who wish to acquire the complete core series of stories—so far—would need to secure the following:

Review and Herald Christmas in My Heart® 1 – 16.

Focus on the Family/Tyndale House Christmas in My Heart® 13 and Christmas in My Heart® 15.

Pacific Press Christmas in My Heart® 17, 18, 19.

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So this blog brings all these meanderings up to date. Connie and I have no idea as to how long the series may last—we leave all that up to the good Lord. We take no credit for the first nineteen years of its story: we’ve only been taking orders from our Commander in Chief. When it is His will that the last Christmas in My Heart® book rolls off the press, then it will be time to write “Finis” to its story.

But not until then.

I’ll conclude this blog with a line from one of James Dobson’s many personal letters to me, “You’re right, Joe: Neither of our ministries belongs to us—but isn’t it a great ride?”

That it has been—and continues to be.