ZION NATIONAL PARK

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARKS #6

ZION NATIONAL PARK

 

January 18, 2012

 

For millennia, it was one of the earth’s loneliest places, known only to aboriginal Native Americans such as the Virgin Anasazi (arriving here in the 1200s), followed by the Paiutes [meaning “Utes who live by water].  A Mormon pioneer named Nephi Johnson is reputed to be the first individual of European ancestry to set eyes on the canyon, in 1858.  Isaac Behunin, another Mormon settler, in the 1860s, was so awestruck by the magnificent scenery of the canyon that he proclaimed, “This is Zion!”  Brigham Young himself packed into the canyon in 1863.  Famed explorer John Wesley Powell, hearing of the area’s wonders, trekked in sometime in 1872.

 

Even so, the canyon remained virtually unknown to the outside world until Scribner’s Magazine featured it in a 1904 article.  At that time, although there was a lot of national buzz generated by the new Fred Harvey hotel, El Tovar on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, there was virtually nothing known about any of the many national wonders north of the Grand Canyon we take for granted a century later.

 

In 1917, National Park Acting Director, Horace Albright, accepted an invitation to visit Southern Utah, where the Virgin River carves its way through a beautiful canyon of sandstone cliffs.  It had been set aside as a National Monument in 1909—named Mukuntuweap, from a Paiute word for “canyon”—but had been virtually ignored by the federal government ever since:

 

I was surprised, excited, and thrilled.  More than that, I was just plain stunned.  I had no concept of the staggering beauty I beheld.  Local Utah people said that Yosemite was a [Mukuntuweap] without color.  But this didn’t faintly prepare me for the reality of the towering rock walls, splashed with brilliant hues of tans and reds interspersed with whites.

 

The great towers, temples, spires, and peaks appeared unearthly as they encircled the narrow, lush gorge cut by the sparkling Virgin River.

 

It was love at first sight for me.  I was so impressed . . . that I determined we should expand Mukuntuweap and have it made a national park.

 

Albright’s enthusiasm, upon his return to Washington, took him to the White House where he convinced President Woodrow Wilson to change the monument’s difficult-to-pronounce name to the name Local Mormons had long used for the canyon, “Zion.”  Within a year, Congress would follow Wilson’s lead, expand the protected area to 147 ,551 acres and elevate its status to Zion National Park (Duncan and Burns, 171).

 

But even national park status failed to significantly increase tourist traffic into the park, mainly because it was so difficult to get to.  Horace Albright and Stephen Mather, to remedy this situation, in 1922, persuaded the executives of Union Pacific Railroad to join forces with the National Park Service and construct spur lines into the park’s vicinity and create a lodge worthy of its setting.  In May of 1923, architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood was summoned to Union Pacific’s headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska and invited to add Zion to his portfolio, along with Bryce.

 

It is interesting to note the pattern that developed over the years of Underwood’s long and distinguished architectural career with the National Park Service: the rustic lodges would be secondary to the landscape itself—lying gently on the land.  His earlier ones tended to simplicity, but as the years passed, Underwood’s vision for the lodges grew grander.

 

In Zion, Underwood constructed a two-story wood, stone, and glass edifice, anchored by four large native sandstone columns.  By 1927, he had flanked the hotel by ten duplex Deluxe Cabins; and by 1929, five fourplex Deluxe Cabins.  Those Deluxe Cabins were as beautiful and enduring as the Bryce Canyon cabins descried in our January 11 blog: characterized by native stone fireplaces, chimneys, foundations, exposed mill framing, gable roofs, and front porches.

 

At the same time, Mather and Albright helped push through an engineering marvel: the 10-mile-long Mt. Carmel-Zion Scenic highway [Highway 9]; the 1.1 mile tunnel, blasted through solid rock, took almost three years to complete.  Before the highway was opened in 1930, fewer than 4,000 visitors a year made it into the park; the year it opened, that number swelled to 55,000.

 

Sadly, on January 28, 1966, Underwood’s lovely lodge burned down, accidentally ignited by a crew doing repair work.  All that was left were the stone fireplace and the four pillars.  It was rebuilt in 108 days—but gone forever was the charming original.  Trying to be kind, Barnes characterizes the result as “a simple two-story utilitarian building with little appeal and none of the design and planning that went into earlier park architecture” (Barnes, 119).  Others were more frank, labeling ti a “monstrosity.”  Through the years since then, however, beginning in 1992, current ownership (XANTERRA Parks and Resorts [formerly Fred Harvey Hotels]), began a program of restoration and has tried to bring back some of the ambiance of the original.  But to anyone who has studied photographs of the original, what exists today jars and elicits a longing for what once was.

 

 

Park-wise, however, good things continue to happen.  Over 2,500,000 visitors come here every year, from all over the world. Since the valley was being destroyed by congestion, beginning in 2000, the heart and soul of Zion (the valley floor), has been closed to auto traffic during tourist season.  Instead, visitors park in Springdale and board propane-powered shuttle busses that ferry visitors into and out of the park.  The only exceptions have to do with those lucky few who have secured lodging inside the park at the lodge.  Their orange window cards enable them to drive to the lodge and park there until check-out time, when they may drive out.  Exceptions are dealt with by park police.  This has restored serenity to Zion.

 

OUR OWN JOURNEY

 

Awoke at 5:35 so as to get dressed and take in sunrise over Bryce Canyon.  We (Bob and Lucy Earp, and us) were disappointed as the overcast sky kept the sun from doing its usual colorizing.  After a delicious breakfast in the lodge dining room, we dithered as long as we could, furious at ourselves for failure to book two nights in that already cherished Duplex Cabin.  After checking out, we spent several hours driving along the rim, stopping at overlooks, then proceeding to Rainbow Overlook (the highest part of the park).  By then, the sun had broken through the clouds.

 

All too soon, we headed for the exit and then south on #89 through Glendale, Orderville, and Mount Carmel, to Mount Carmel Junction; here we turned west on #9 on the Mount Carmel-

Zion Scenic Highway.  That famed tunnel continues to amaze, even over eighty years after it was bored through solid rock.  The occasional panoramic windows provide us with glimpses of the magical world outside.

 

Once we came out into the sunlight, we were free to leatherneck—unfortunately, the Lincoln had no sunroof.  Finally, we turned in at the Zion National Park Visitor Center in Springdale.  It was a warm May day—but not nearly as warm as it gets in July (100E the daily average)!  We took full advantage of the film on the park’s history and iconic landmarks (such as the Weeping rock, Angel’s Landing, Kolob Arch, Temple of Sinawava, Great White Throne, the Organ, the Narrows, the Watchman, Towers of the Virgin, Kolob Canyon, Court of the Patriarchs, Checkerboard Mesa, etc).

 

 

Then we got back in our car, and made it past security, thanks to our orange card prominently marked (Registered Zion Lodge Guest), with dates.  We really felt privileged as we were permitted to drive in to the lodge.

 

The lodge was, as we knew it would be, a disappointment, after Bryce.  Besides, the area around it is roped off because of a habitat restoration project.  The wooden motel-like structure which housed our rooms was “same ol same ol,” typical of other forgettable lodgings we have stayed at through the years.  Dinner, we ate at the lodge’s salad bar.  After playing dominoes, we turned in.

J97 – Waterfall in one of the side canyons

 

Next morning, we awoke to a stunning blue sky day!  Breakfast was delicious.  We spent the day exploring the sites of the canyon, including side canyons, the Weeping Rock, along the Virgin River, and ending the day walking up into the Narrows where the Virgin River pours out of a slot canyon.  Along the way, we rubbed shoulders with men, women, and children, of all ages and nationalities.  Cooler than the day before, it turned out to be one of those absolutely perfect May days that come to us all too rarely in this journey called “life.”

 

Most visitors see only a small portion of the park, restricting their travel to the 6.2 mile road on the valley floor and possibly the Mt. Carmel-Zion Scenic Highway, and completely missing the spectacular northwestern end of the park, the Kolob Canyon area, which includes Kolob Arch, at 310 feet across possibly the largest free-standing rock arch in the world, and the steep 20-mile-long Kolob Terrace Road, out of the town of Virgin.  Neither did we make it to that part of the park; we could only sigh once again, and with Lucy, intone “A blessing for another time.”

 

SOURCES

 

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks I (Bend, OR: W. W. West, Inc., 2002).

 

Colorado and Utah (Heathrow, FL: AAA Publishing, 2010).

 

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

 

Leach, Nicky, Zion: Sanctuary in the Desert (Mariposa, CA: Sierra Press, 2000, 2010).

 

The Most Scenic Drives in America (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest, Inc., 1997).

 

Scott, David L. and Kay W., The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

 

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

Advertisements

IOWA CAUCUS – REBIRTH? OR ABERRATION?

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

IOWA CAUCUS

REBIRTH?  OR ABERRATION?

 

Dec. 21, 2011

 

As a historian of ideas, I’ve always been fascinated by sudden turning points.  Case in point: During the last year, we’ve seen, one after another, the emergence of democracy all across North Africa and the Middle East.  Even totalitarian Russia now feels the open scorn of its people.

 

In the daily news, we’ve seen Europe reeling from one economic seismic shock after another.  For decades, Europe has been a poster child for a template that appeared to have staying power: one currency for all, fiscal stability, no closed borders between nations, cradle to the grave welfare for all, more than generous retirement benefits, vacations galore (it often seemed that the population of the entire continent could be found on beaches every August), and millions of tourists flooding the continent the icing on the cake.  But no longer: Europe’s template has cracked right down the middle.  And nobody knows how to fix it.

 

In the U.S., things are little better than in Europe.  Only the fact that the spotlight of the world has been fixated on Europe rather than us has enabled us to escape the world’s scrutiny.  But that cannot long last.  Our status quo is unrelentingly grim.

But in Iowa, on the eve of the last debate before the Caucus, something electric happened.  Gingrich may well be right in declaring that we haven’t had anything this substantive in our political arena since the Lincoln-Douglas debates a century and a half ago.  But first, I must admit that, though I’m a registered Republican, I’m a centrist and vote accordingly.  Like most Americans, in recent years I’ve been disillusioned time after time by the G.O.P.  All too often it has seemed as if our Republican leaders were determined to out-dumb each other.  “”Naive’ and “uninformed” way too inadequate to describe their condition, their evident ignorance of current events and national and world history off the charts of probability; their voting out of offices the informed and intelligent moderates who would work together for the good of the country –  instead they elected, all too often, individuals so close-minded they’d stampede the nation off a cliff rather than work together.

However, on Dec. 15, there took place a rational debate between presidential candidates who, for once, did themselves and their party proud.  Same for the moderators.  Such an impact did this make on me that I was unable to sleep afterwards; in fact, at 2:30 a.m. next morning, I got up and wrote until 5:00 a.m.

 

But even now, I find myself incapable of really making sense of all I heard that night.  I’m mightily muddled.  But even so, permit me to muddle through these swirling unconnected thoughts.  Stream-of-consciousness disorganized because I can’t yet make sense of them:

 

It’s like, on the eve of Dec. 15, the proverbial straw broke the camel’s back.  The candidates and the concerned audience fed on each other, together rising to unexpected heights:

 

Rather than merely ramble on unstructured I am bullet-pointing the concerns that generated that eve of Dec. 15:

 

 

  • Government gridlock
  • Out-of-control spending
  • Massive unemployment – worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, for third year in a row
  • Epidemic of bankruptcies
  • Millions of lives shattered by foreclosures and being evicted from their homes.  Almost half owe more than they could get by selling their homes.
  • The middle class shrinking so dramatically that the gap between rich and poor has yawned so wide we risk revolution from the disenfranchised.
  • The collusion between government and Big Banks
  • The breakdown of our protective agencies
  • The federal out-of-control spending taking a terrible toll on the finances, education, social programs, infrastructure, and public services of individual states, resulting in a devastating implosion
  • The revolving door between government and lobbyists
  • Government office being restricted to self-made millionaires or billionaires or those who sell their souls to special interest groups
  • The decline of a literate electorate.  With elections decided by electronic sound-bytes rather than thoughtful reading of newspapers, magazines, and books
  • The political campaigns degenerating into attack ads and character assassination orchestrated by unknown sources or people
  • Vote fraud
  • The staggering economic toll taken by multiple foreign wars
  • Retirees losing all they’d saved for their retirement years
  • Graduates unable to find well-paying jobs
  • Manufacturing continuing to be sent overseas
  • The perceived failure of so many of our schools and colleges
  • The courts becoming ever more hostile to all public expressions of religion or belief in a higher power
  • Marriage discredited by secular forces; so much so that the nuclear family (man, woman, child) is for the first time ceasing to be the norm.  Out-of-wedlock births are skyrocketing to such an extent that it is said that one-third of all American children are effectively being raised by their grandparents.  Sexuality today trumps lifetime commitment.
  • A media apparently determined to so ridicule religion and those who attempt to live by biblical principles that they will discredit those people into irrelevancy.
  • Widespread attempts to strip religious holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving of their spiritual significance
  • The replacement of time-honored concepts of Good and Evil and Right and Wrong with psychiatric terminology divorced from a Higher Power.  Result: lying under oath no longer means much to all those who don’t believe in God (however they may perceive Him).  Neither do cheating or stealing seem wrong.
  • Deconstruction of history strips our erstwhile national heroes of whatever noble qualities were once attributed to them.
  • Thoughtful parents so terrified of societal forces hostile to their children (bullying, hazing, pedophilia, rape, substance abuse, sexuality without commitment, ridicule of their beliefs, etc.) that they are pulling their children out of public schools and homeschooling them

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

All these variables swirled around during the memorable two-hour debate (meaningful because moderators asked searching thoughtful questions of the candidates, zeroing in on issues where candidates were perceived to be on thin ice).  Furthermore, moderators permitted candidates to respond and defend their actions and words.  Unlike so many meaningless public debates of recent years, where no real substantive dialogue took place, this debate was very real—indeed it was so gripping I felt it to be high drama!

 

Significantly, the Dec. 15 growing consensus appeared to be: our template is broken beyond repair; it almost has to be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with cutting politicians’ salaries in half, moving back to citizen governance with half-time government service and half time work in the real world.  Frugality once again.  Pay as we go: don’t spend any money we don’t have.  Create jobs rather than parasitically siphoning off the life blood of those who are working hard to create a newer and better society.  Bring God back—, more to the point: bring us back to God.  Respect right to life.  Bring back a society based on the twin bedrocks of God and country.

 

Frankly, I’m less than optimistic that what I felt in the auditorium on Dec. 15 will blossom into a much needed cultural revolution.  For both parties—not just the G.O.P.

 

However, in the darkest days of history, God has summoned great men and women to selfless service—Moses, Daniel, St. Paul, St. Nicholas, St. Francis, Luther, the Wesleys, Washington, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Gandhi, Schweitzer, Churchill, Mother Teresa.

 

Why could not God do it again?

THE SOUTHWEST NATIONAL PARK LODGES #2

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK AND THE STANLEY HOTEL

for Nov. 16, 2011

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

To the strains of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again, our intrepid little foursome resumed our odyssey in a black Lincoln Town Car (because it’s the only car with a trunk large enough to hold three weeks’ of luggage for four people, including books and “priceless” souvenir coffee mugs picked up along the way).  We then pulled out of our long driveway onto Conifer Mountain Drive with Connie and Lucy ensconced in their backseat nests and Bob and I in the navigational cockpit.  Over time, we’ve developed a system that works well for us: one of us navigates (drawing upon maps) and reads out loud, to front and back passengers, about the history of the parks and lodges we are driving towards.  This way, when we actually arrive there, we know what is important or significant; this way it’s almost like coming to a loved home.

We owe the dream of making the Great Circle to Ken Burns and his landmark National Parks miniseries on PBS.  It was watching those riveting films that provided the impetus.  The reference sources we rely on most heavily for these blogs are Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan’s The National Parks, Mel White’s Complete National Parks of the United States, and Christine Barnes’ definitive two-volume work, Great Lodges of the National Parks.  Though I also refer to other works, these four books are our traveling reference bible.

Our pattern has been to first read out loud sections dealing with the founding and preservation of the national park, landmark, monument, forest, etc., first, then follow it up with the equally fascinating story of these fascinating and fragile national park lodges.  It has been gratifying to discover how many people vicariously travel with us via these blogs.  Some readers will no doubt follow in our footsteps by themselves making the Great Circle circuit, and others will content themselves with a metaphorical, almost virtual, experience.  Either way, we welcome you aboard.

So it was that as Bob Earp took the wheel for the two-hour drive to our first night’s destination, I served as tour guide and patched together the story of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Stanley Hotel.  We discovered that the mountainous area radiating out from the little town of Estes Park, because of its close proximity to Denver, had long been a popular tourist destination. The immediate magnets, of course, being 14,259 foot high Longs Peak and its shy sister, Meeker Peak, sadly ignored by many because it’s “only a thirteener.”

As we’d already discovered in our northwest national park peregrinations, invariably there were fascinating people who stepped in to preserve these natural wonders for us.  All it seems to take are one or two local visionaries to do the spade work and two or three more to spearhead the project nationally.  In the case of this particular park, as is true of virtually all other great national parks, one name towers above all others—John Muir.  Without him, one shudders to think of the fate of all these magnificent parks we tend to take for granted.  Second only in significance to Muir were Stephen Tyng Mather and his able associate, Horace Albright; this triad constitutes the founding fathers of our entire national park system, today the envy of the world.

Locally, two very different men stepped in to preserve this mountainous area for posterity: Enos Mills and Freelan O. Stanley.  And what brought both to Colorado in the first place was a deadly malady known to contemporaries as “consumption” and to us as “tuberculosis.”  Fully one-third

of Colorado residents back at the turn of the twentieth century were consumptives, each with a hacking cough that doomed them to an early death unless they managed to escape from the lowlands and settle in the brisk, invigorating, life-giving air of the mountains.

Earlier on, a member of the European nobility, the fourth Earl of Dunraven, had purchased a large tract of land near Longs Peak.  Object: to turn it into an exclusive hunting preserve for himself and his wealthy friends.  But the Earl lacked staying power.  Enter F. O. Stanley, a twin to his brother, Francis Edgar, born in Kingfield, Main. The brothers grew up, both entered the teaching profession but soon left it because of entrepreneurial ventures.  In 1884, the brothers (both inventors) fine-tuned a new film process, called Stanley Dry Plate, that revolutionized photography.  Eventually, in 1904, they’d sell it to George Eastman for $530,000.  But long before that sale, the brothers had become so fascinated with the automobile and steam-propulsion that they created their first steam-propelled auto—it became known as the “Stanley Steamer.”  They completed their first Steamer in 1897, and launched a new model in 1901.  Two years later, F. O.’s doctor told him that he’d soon be dead of consumption unless he moved into the high mountains.

 

So it was that F.O. and his wife, Flora, came to Denver; then, seeking higher yet ground, discovered Estes Park, which they promptly fell in love with.  Constitutionally incapable of remaining inactive for long, Stanley purchased from Dunraven 160 acres of land adjacent to Estes Park.  Object: to build on it a great hotel.  Stanley then hired Denver architect, T. Robert Weiger, to implement his hotel plans.  Weiger is also known as the designer of Denver’s iconic City and County Building.  Ground was broken, fall of 1907.  The Colonial Revival hotel (like Yellowstone Lake Hotel, one of the few surviving examples of neoclassical design in the wilds of the mountainous West), four stories high, was crowned by a two-layer hexagon-shaped bell tower, that has ever since been likened to a wedding gazebo atop a perfectly proportioned cake.  It was flanked by perpendicular wings at each end, and graced by a long first floor veranda with six double sets of Doric columns and Palladian windows.  Eight other separate buildings were added later.

With the nearest railroad 22 miles down Big Thompson Canyon, Stanley improved the road and imported a fleet of Stanley Steamers and Stanley Wagons to ferry guests back and forth from the railroad.  Because his auto-stage line proved so successful, Stanley is known today as “the father of auto-tourism in America.”  And the elite of America and travelers from abroad came, with their maids and nannies.  Came to this “first all electric hotel in the world” to play croquet on the front courtyard; read, chat, or dream on the veranda; take trail rides, play billiards, pool, or golf; attend concerts, vaudeville shows, balls; and be feted with fine dining (with one waiter per table).  It put Estes Park on the map.

Enos Mills, on the other hand, came from a very different background: the plains of Kansas.  He moved here when only fourteen, dying of consumption.  Like Stanley, here in the mountains, his health was restored.  He would build a hotel facility that could not have been more different from Stanley’s: the plain-looking, almost primitive Longs Peak Inn, which took in summer guests who were willing to participate in Mills’ conservative spartan lifestyle: no drinking, dancing, or card-playing, but rather take strenuous hikes, study nature, and attend lectures (three times a week, given by Mills himself).

Mills and Stanley soon discovered they shared a common passion: preserve for posterity those beautiful mountains they’d come to cherish.  Mills, in a chance meeting with John Muir in San Francisco in 1899, caught a vision for his life work: to help bring the Rocky Mountains into the fledgling national park system.  Mills and Stanley now enlisted the powerful support of Mather and Albright in Washington, D.C.  A bill to create the park (at 265,800 acres, smaller than they wanted) was introduced in Congress in 1914.  But unlike the stories of other national parks, it did not languish there—John Muir died.  Because of Muir’s support for the park, and the sentiment generated by his passing, the bill was rushed through in only a month!  It was dedicated on September 4, 1915, with both Mather and Albright in attendance.  The way the final bill was drawn, the Stanley Hotel ended up a couple of miles outside the park.

And thus was born Rocky Mountain National Park, which straddles the Continental Divide and includes more than sixty peaks 12,000 feet high or higher, 50 alpine lakes, 450 miles of streams and rivers, 355 miles of trails, and great diversity of habitat (given that its elevation ranges from a low of 7,840′ to a high of 14,259′ (Longs Peak).  It is crossed by the legendary Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous road in America (reaching 12,183′).  Massive snowfalls keep it closed during winter, so it is only open from June 1 to October.  The lower sections are open year-round.  Not surprisingly, the park is one of our nation’s most popular tourist destinations.

As for the Stanley Hotel, its very survival was for a long time in doubt.  One man, Roe Emering, somehow kept it alive during the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Even after selling the hotel, the Stanleys returned here every summer; here F.O. would sit on the veranda, gaze out at the majestic mountains, and dream.  He died October 2, 1940 at the age of 91.  From 1971-1995, the hotel ownership went through a soap opera series of events (time-share schemes, lawsuits, tax problems, closure, bankruptcy), but in 1995, Grand Heritage Hotels saved it, and has lovingly restored it to its former beauty.  Today it is part of the National Trust’s Historic Hotels of America.

And Stephen King provided extra survival insurance: while living in nearby Boulder, King and his family discovered the Stanley, and found in it the inspiration for a book he was then writing, The Shining.  The movie, however, was filmed by Stanley Kubrick in England, with exterior shots taken at Oregon’s Timberline Lodge.  In 1996, King decided to film a six-part miniseries—this time filmed at the Stanley.  Since the restored lobby was now light and airy, King requested that it be repainted so as to give it a dark and sinister look; this was done.  Not surprisingly, ghost stories were born in its wake, along with murder mystery dinners, Halloween balls, daily ghost and history tours (from the creepy basement to the cobwebby attic); and stories abound of creaking floorboards, tinkling pianos, scurrying ghost children, etc—but all agree that there is nothing sinister or evil here, given that even the ghosts appear to love coming back just to enjoy themselves.

OUR VISIT

Connie and I remembered back to two special visits, first when a cavalcade of cars wound down from the mountains, preceded by police cars with flashing lights; soon the Emperor and Empress of Japan arrived, emerged, smiling their delight, and walked up the steps to the veranda only a few feet away from us.  They were eager to be off into the high country to see and photograph places and vistas they’d only read about.  The second was the night of Princess Diane’s funeral; Connie and I woke up in our room at 4 a.m., turned on the TV, and watched the pagentry until long past dawn.

Now we checked in, hauled in our smallest suitcases, and walked downtown to meander through the shops and eat home-made ice cream.  Later on, we drove into the park so Connie could get her national park passport book stamped, and Bob and Lucy could view an elk herd.

Inside the Stanley, we played dominoes in a room adjacent to the bar.  Later we became acquainted with a lovely waitress named Olga, from Hungary (most of her family had been killed in the Holocaust).  She’s now taking Hotel Management courses at Denver University.   Afterwards, we chatted by one of the great fireplaces on the first floor.  Then we struck up a conversation with Ute (from Germany) at the front desk.  She told us that over 150 weddings are held at the Stanley between Memorial Day and Labor Day.   Also that lots of corporations hold retreats here; and that the employees come here from all over the world.  In spite of it all, she said, it’s quieter here than one might think—even serene.  Though the Stanley remains a formal hotel, it’s more comfortable than most—a great place in which to work.

Then we snuggled down in our beds.  During the night, the wind battered the hundred-year-old hotel—and snow. For it was early in May.  We fell asleep wondering how we’d make it over the pass the next day.  The last thought, however: How grateful we all ought to be that this grand dame of the Rockies is still with us!

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we will sidetrack to the December Book of the Month.

SOURCES

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks, II (Portland, Oregon: Graphic Arts Books, 2008).

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

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

A Trembling World

A TREMBLING WORLD
Part One

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

In early August, our grandson Taylor and our son Greg, joined Connie and me on a whirlwind visit to Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Vatican City, and Croatia. The day-trips were long (9 – 11 hours the norm for most of them) and the pace far faster than we’d have preferred [more on that in a later blog series].

I had the advantage over the other three in that I knew Spanish. Because of that, I understood some French and two-thirds of the Italian dialogue. Croatian, of course, was a different story.

Connie and I had been to Europe three times before. This time, however, the mood there was radically different from what it had been earlier. Gone was the assumption that united Europe (the Common Market) was a global powerhouse on a par with the United States and (during the 1970s, U.S.S.R.). Not so this time. As one Italian told me, “I am frightened, for the whole world is trembling beneath my feet.”

I found that perception reinforced by others I spoke with. Gone is their erstwhile euphoria and smug complacency; gone too the unspoken assumptions that the entire continent would bask in lolling on their beaches during the entire month of August and that the cradle-to-the-grave care they’d been promised by the state was a given. In their daily news, the dominoes continue to fall: first Greece, then storm clouds gathered over the likes of the U.K., Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy—and now, possibly France. No one knows what nation’s economy will come under fire next.

As for the U.S. and our part in the global fiscal mess, I found that, rather than anger they felt disillusioned, accompanied by a profound loss of respect. They clearly expected much more of us than for our administration and Congress to put their possible re-election ahead of the needs of the American people and the world. For it was our inexcusable unwillingness to come together for a solution to our national debt ceiling that has exacerbated and even precipitated the world-wide plunge of stock markets.

In this vein, deeply sobering is Time Magazine’s August 22 cover story: “The Decline and Fall of Europe (And Maybe the West).” It begins with these riveting words: “Its economic union is unraveling, London is ablaze, and the continent’s once dependable trading partner the U.S. is too feeble to save the day or the euro. Say goodbye to the old order.”

Rana Forgohar (the writer of the cover story) postulates that “This is no blip but a crisis of the old order. . . . It is a crisis that is shaking not only markets, jobs and national growth prospects but an entire way of thinking about how the world works–in this case, the assumption that life gets better and opportunities richer for each successive generation in the West.”

Dominic Sandbrook in his “Capitalism in Crisis (London Daily Mail, Aug. 6, 2011) begins his sobering essay with his conclusion: “Eighty years ago, a banking collapse devastated Europe, triggering war. Today, faith in free markets is faltering again. . . . But in the summer of 2011, with the euro zone in chaos, the British economy stagnant and the U.S. crippled by debt, with social mobility at a standstill and millions of ordinary families squeezed until they can barely breathe, it feels disturbingly familiar.”

Sandbrook goes on to point out that not since the global meltdown of the 1930’s has the gap between rich and poor been as great as today; “with bankers still pocketing gigantic bonuses and Europe swept with a wave of austerity, even the Right are beginning to wonder whether the system is intolerably loaded in favour of rich metropolitan elites.”

And what happened next eighty years ago? In Sandbrook’s words: “Many turned to the Right, swelling the rank of the Nazis and their allies. In Britain, a generation of intellectuals turned their backs on capitalism, placing their faith in the utopian idealism of Soviet Communism and closing their eyes to the horrors of Stalin’s barbaric regime.”

In that same issue of the Daily Mail, City Editor Alex Brummer penned these scathing lines: “There has been a terrible failure of politics in America and euroland, where leaders have shied away from bold decisions and the gritty determination needed to follow them through. Those who will suffer the most from this inaction are millions of households in Britain and the rest of the western world, who face dramatic falls in their living standards.”

Truly, we are faced with a global crisis of epic proportions, a subject I have referred to from time to time in earlier blogs: That no global template lasts. Sooner or later it wears out, and something entirely different inevitably follows—usually after years of world-wide trauma and upheaval.

We will continue to explore this subject in next Wednesday’s blog.

29TH ZANE GREY CONVENTION Part 4, EXPLORING JAMESTOWN

Reconstructed Indian village

29TH ZANE GREY CONVENTION

Scenes from the Jamestown State Park:

Since we were all exploring Williamsburg on our own, buses took our tour group first to Colonial Jamestown. Unfortunately, Jamestown is divided into two enclaves (one has to decide which one you wish to see): the Virginia site or the federal site. Our bus took the main group to the Virginia site, where there is an exceedingly impressive museum, as well as the reconstructed 1607 fort, Indian village, and ships the settlers traveled in from England.

Seamen re-enactors

At the ship docks, re-enactors in period costume filled us in on the significance of what we were seeing. It boggled the mind to imagine so many passengers jammed into such cramped quarters for months at a time, with no sanitary facilities, mighty few beds, inadequate food with no kitchen or dining facilities. No bathing facilities, no air-conditioning or heating. The stench must have been awful!

Ships seen from entrance to the fort

Life in the Jamestown fort was re-enacted in the same way. Many of our group went back to Federal Jamestown later. Here is where the real action is taking place today. For centuries, it was believed that Old Jamestown was buried somewhere under the James River, thus Americans could only speculate on what life was like there in 1607 and during the terrible years that followed, when so many died in Indian attacks and from disease or malnutrition. But then came the groundswell of renewed interest in the history of Jamestown during the period leading up to the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

Scene inside the fort

According to William M. Kelso (the head archeologist for the Jamestown Rediscovery Project), in his recent book, Jamestown: The Buried Truth (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2006), there was just enough doubt as to whether all vestiges of the original fort and site were gone forever to see for themselves if it was true. Kelso had been working on the site clear back in 1955, just before the 350th anniversary. A lot had been unearthed by archeologists since, but not the original fort. Finally, they struck pay-dirt, by digging out one 10-foot-square section at a time. Slowly, painstakingly, they are uncovering the history of the very beginnings of our nation. They found the fort! Connie visited the dig Thursday afternoon with Earps and Riffels and were there soon after an archeologist unearthed a piece of pottery! Over 700,000 artifacts have been unearthed so far!

Rifleman inside the fort

As to its significance, Kelso writes, “The excavations at Jamestown have turned up more evidence than anyone had expected – most important, the site of James Fort, so long thought unrecoverable. Nor are these physical remains the only treasure to be discovered. The soil has yielded a new understanding of the early years of Jamestown; a new picture of its settlers, of their abilities, their lives, and their accomplishments; and a new story of the interdependence between the English settlers and the Virginia Indians” (Kelso, 7).

Studying life below deck

It is no hyperbole to say that the most exciting place to visit in America today is the ongoing Jamestown dig. Next time you visit that part of the nation, by all means take the time to see what’s happening for yourself.

Reconstructed ships - Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery in Jamestown Harbor

It was fascinating to see that even in the Virginia re-creation of the James Fort, results from the Jamestown archeological dig is causing them to restructure the placement of buildings within the fort, for archeologists have even discovered the exact placement of postholes!

Scroll down for scenes from the Federal Jamestown Park Dig Site:

Lucy Earp and Pocahontas

Piece of pottery found while our group was there

Henry Nardi and Terri Bolinger

Captain John Smith, famous Jamestown governor and military leader.

Next Wednesday, we shall conclude our coverage of the convention.

HOOKS:

Jamestown 400th anniversary
Artifacts

29TH ZANE GREY CONVENTION, Part 3 EXPLORING YORKTOWN

29TH ZANE GREY CONVENTION

If there is a third-fiddle in the historic triangle of Virginia, it has to be heretofore little-noticed Yorktown. It is exceedingly unlikely that today, one in 10,000 Americans knows the significance of Yorktown. I know I personally had only a vague understanding of its historical significance prior to the Wednesday of the convention. Here, in brief, is a summation of its significance:

On July 4, 1776, American patriots signed the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. War was declared. For five long years, George Washington led his ragtag army in battle with the well-trained British forces. More often than not, Washington was defeated in these clashes, but each time managed to escape. It was a battle-weary people, with little in the way of good news to cheer them up, that faced the definite possibility—even probability—that they would lose to the world’s greatest superpower that September of 1781. But there was a wild card in the deck: France, Great Britain’s fiercest enemy. It was a global war the two nations fought, thus Britain was not at liberty to further weaken the global war by allocating more warships and troops to the American rebellion than it already had. France took advantage of this golden opportunity to embarrass its enemy by sending a fleet to the rescue of the American rebels.

Yorktown Ramparts

The French Admiral Comte de Grasse proceeded with his entire fleet of 24 ships from the West Indies to the Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile, sailing from New York, Admiral Thomas Graves with 19 British ships left New York. On September 5, at Virginia Capes, the two forces collided. Because of being becalmed (no wind to propel them), their fighting was indecisive. Then, reinforced by additional vessels and siege guns from Newport, R.I., the French sailed back into the Chesapeake to take final control of the Yorktown Harbor.

Yorktown Ramparts

During late summer of 1781, the Marquis de Lafayette (serving under Washington) had so harassed Cornwallis’s troops that he’d been forced to retreat from Wilmington, N.C. to Richmond, VA, then Williamsburg, and finally, near the end of July, to Yorktown, which he proceeded to fortify. Lafayette’s forces, now totaling 8,000 troops blocked Cornwallis from escaping anywhere by land. Cornwallis’s army of 7,000 kept waiting in vain for the British reinforcements to arrive. Under the naval umbrella of the French fleet, Washington dramatically moved 7,000 additional Franco-American troops from New York to Virginia. But Cornwallis’s last hope, Thomas Graves, felt he had no alternative but to return to New York after the stand-off at Virginia Capes. As a result of this, after strategizing with British General Sir Henry Clinton, a British rescue fleet, two-thirds the size of the French, set sail from New York on October 17 with 7,000 British troops. But it was too late: Bombarded by the French fleet on one side and 16,000 allied troops on land, Cornwallis surrendered his entire army on October 19, thus assuring victory to the allied forces. In short, without the French, quite possibly we’d still be part of the British Commonwealth today, like Canada.

David Leeson at Yorktown Battlefield

As our bus pulled into the Yorktown Museum, I felt I’d finally learn the entire story. Instead, I was disappointed: nowhere in all the displays and dioramas was the full story told, nor was it told in the film. Indeed, it was only on returning home and researching for this blog that I turned to the Britannica Encyclopedia and got the full story. Now, if I were to return to the Yorktown Battlefield, which our folk visited that Wednesday, I’d know what the significance was of the fortifications we rather blankly gazed at.

Yorktown Village

Next Wednesday, we’ll explore Old Jamestown

29th Zane Grey Convention – Part 2

EXPLORING COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG

Old church in Williamsburg

Wednesdays have traditionally been field trip days for the Zane Grey’s West Society – a time to explore places we might not otherwise see and experience were it not for opportunities such as these. Almost everyone signed up. Unlike most travel organizations and cruise ship lines, we keep the costs associated with our conventions down as low as possible. Our Wednesday field trip, for instance, costs attendees almost exactly what the Society pays for it. Lodging prices are also kept low.

Practicing writing with quills in Williamsburg

This year, since the Woodlands Hotel where we stayed (and held our meetings) adjoined Colonial Williamsburg, we needed no guided tour because our members were able to walk into it and back, or take the free shuttle. Most any time we weren’t in meetings, attendees would be exploring that wonderful old capital of Virginia. A good share of the buildings feature people in colonial costume who guide you through the period rooms and show you how different life was back then. No vehicle traffic is permitted in the Old Town – only horse-drawn carriages.

Carriage ride in Williamsburg

Williamsburg (originally named Middle Plantation) was first settled in 1633, 26 years after Jamestown. The College of William and Mary, third oldest college in America, was founded here in 1693. In 1699, after the burning of Jamestown, Williamsburg became the capital of Virginia. It soon became the political, social, and cultural center of the colony. Williamsburg thrived until the capital was moved to Richmond in 1782. After the center of Virginia government left it, Williamsburg was all but forgotten for almost 150 years. Most likely it would have been lost forever had it not been for the vision of the Rev. William A. R. Goodwin who originated the idea of restoring it. In 1926 things really began to happen when Goodwin persuaded the philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to sponsor the project. Since then, more than 3000 acres of land have been acquired and nearly 150 major buildings restored or reconstructed. The Capitol and Governor’s Palace are furnished as they were in the 18th century, and the entire area is landscaped as it was in colonial times. Hostesses, craftsmen, militiamen, and attendants are costumed in the style of the period. Today several million people a year come here to relive colonial days.

Basket weavers in Williamsburg

Next Wednesday we’ll explore Old Yorktown.

29th Zane Grey Convention

 

WILLIAMSBURG, VA

Part 1

Every four or five conventions, we go east rather than west.  Williamsburg it was this year—with Jamestown and Yorktown making up the triangular cradle of the American nation.

Once upon a time, in the not very distant past, Zane Grey was a household name across America.  In fact, during the first half of the 20th century, Grey was the world’s most popular and highest-paid author.  He is generally considered to be the Creator of the Romantic West and the Father of the Western Novel.  But today, with reading in decline along with literacy in general, with young people literate in little other than popular culture and sports, with plunging national test scores in history, it should come as little surprise that few people under the age of 50 recognize either his name or his books.

We in the Zane Grey’s West Society seek to do our part to help reverse that sad state of affairs.  We don’t want the love of the West to die out when we step off the stage of life.

Four-hundred years ago, Virginia was the wild West; 250 years ago, the Ohio Valley wilderness was the frontier.  It was during this time period that one of Grey’s ancestors, Betty Zane, became a Revolutionary War heroine when she risked her life in order to race across a clearing, a sack of gun powder on her shoulder, as a desperate act to save Fort Henry (commanded by Col. Ebenezer Zane, her brother) and those settlers within who were being besieged by French and Indian forces.  Since those besieged were out of gunpowder, they were doomed unless by some miracle they could contrive to secure some gunpowder.  Not surprisingly, when Grey grew up and began to write, Betty Zane (a novel based partly on that heroic dash) would become his first published book.  Three more novels set in America’s second West followed: The Spirit of the Border, The Last Trail, and George Washington, Frontiersman.  George Washington was well acquainted with the Zane family.  In fact, after the Revolutionary War was over, George Washington and the Continental Congress authorized Ebenezer Zane and his brothers to blaze a trail into the wilderness, on the west side of the Mississippi.  That route was first known as “Zane’s Trace,” then the National Road, then Highway 40, and today Interstate 70.  All this family history was reason enough for us to meet in Williamsburg the third week of June this year.

I’m often asked the question, “What do you do in your conventions?” Let me walk you through to give you the answer: first of all, we drive to, take a train to, or fly to, wherever a given convention might take place.  Traditionally, the convention begins on a Monday evening, consequently you’d expect everyone to arrive sometime Monday.  NOT.  A number arrive by Friday, and fully half generally check in by Sunday.  Our Zanies so enjoy being together that they can’t wait to catch up on the intervening year.   Registration takes place Monday afternoon, as does the process of hauling books or memorabilia to the room chosen to house the auction items until Tuesday afternoon.  Most everyone brings items since without that annual transfusion of funds, we’d have to dramatically raise our dues (we’ve only raised them once in 29 years!).  The only way we’ve been able to pull that off is to all serve pro-bono.  There is no paid anyone in the entire Society.  For all of us, serving is a labor of love.

Terry Bolinger welcoming the convention

Monday evening is the barbecue or opening banquet.  Since there’d been a lot of rain, this time we held a banquet inside.  No one sits alone—our members make sure of that.  After being welcomed by our president, Terry Bolinger, dinner is served.  Afterwards, Terry had all the new attendees stand, introduce themselves, and tell where they’re from.  These introductions accelerate the getting-acquainted process.  Next came the introduction of James Perry, Public Affairs Officer for the three parks we were visiting this convention: Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.  He welcomed us to the colonial triangle and filled us in on what we ought to look for.  Afterwards, Dr. Jim D’Arc, Director of Film archives for Brigham Young University, took us behind the scenes of the famous movie he’d brought along: Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, directed by John Ford, and in the cast: Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert, and Edna May Oliver.  Sometimes the films Dr. D’Arc brings are shown on evenings other than Monday.

Tuesdays are always the longest days, perhaps because the members Memorial Breakfast begins at 7 a.m.  As soon as breakfast is over, we give members the opportunity to reminisce about those who are no longer with us.  For to live in the hearts of others is not to die.  Before we separate, always—for 29 unbroken conventions now—, I remind the members that before the Society was founded, the other Co-Founder (the Rev. G. M. Farley) and I promised each other that, in order to make sure no one would ever be lonely at a convention, Poet Laureate of America Edwin Markham’s “Outwitted” would be recited, then everyone would repeat it aloud.  We now did just that:

“He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”

Joe Wheeler giving his 29th keynote address

After a short break, we reconvened.  After preliminaries, I was introduced, and I gave my 29th convention keynote address.  This one was titled, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” and had to do with that traumatic six-year period (1982 – 1988) when it appeared that the Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania home of Zane and Dolly Grey would be lost to the wrecking ball.  Few of our attendees had ever heard before the story of  how the miracle of it ended up in the National Park System took place.

Lackawaxen, PA Museum in 1982

This was followed by Dorothy Moon, head curator of the Lackawaxen Museum, who filled us in on all the fascinating things that were happening there.  She in turn was followed by two representatives (Joanne Duncan and Kathryn Miller) from the National Road/Zane Grey Museum in New Concord, Ohio, who also brought us up to date on that facility.  It has been mighty tough for them because the recession has hit Ohio so hard.

In the afternoon, a good share of the attendees gathered to participate in the annual auction.  Since so much is riding on the income derived from it, I encouraged everyone to get into the act.  Besides the regular auction, there was also the opportunity to bid on a large number of silent auction items.

Back side of Zane Grey House in Lackawaxen, Pa in 1982

In the evening, many returned for Huckster’s Night (an opportunity to hawk items you’d rather sell than have to haul home).  Others took the evening off, a number eating in colonial restaurants in Williamsburg—complete with staff in colonial costumes.

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we’ll explore Old Town, Williamsburg.

Southern Caribbean Cruise

ANTICIPATION, BOARDING, SETTLING, SAILING

Each time we venture out of our squirrel cage and explore places we’ve never seen before, we change—or ought to. Last January, Connie and I joined our faithful travel buddies, Bob and Lucy Earp on a cruise to the Southern Caribbean, in order to celebrate together one of Lucy’s most special birthdays. Joining us on the cruise were Ed and Jo Riffel of Glasgow, Kentucky. We first became acquainted with Riffels on a cruise to the Mexican Riviera six years ago. Never will we forget that first dinner! It was a table for ten, and none of us knew the other six. Before long, introductions were made, and to Connie’s and my consternation, we discovered that all three couples came from Kentucky; since Bob was born in Kentucky, it was instant Old Home Week! To say we bonded would be the wildest sort of understatement. We’ve met as a group several times since at resorts or restaurants. Well, Ed and Jo Riffel were one of those twosomes. Afterwards, they joined the Zane Grey’s West Society, thus cementing our friendship even more. At any rate, we were able to convince the Riffels to cruise with us, thus bringing the birthday celebrants up to six.

FORT LAUDERDALE HARBOR


During recent years, Fort Lauderdale, Florida has become one of the world’s great cruise ship harbors. And it was a perfect—and blessedly cool—afternoon when we hugged our son Greg good-bye, cleared the milling cattlepens that process so many thousands (methodically and efficiently assigning and tagging and passporting and shipcreditcarding and roomassigning and dinnerassigning) each of the somewhat bewildered wannabe cruisers.

Eventually, we were ushered to our room, the door to our home for the next two weeks opened, and to our delight, the room was as perfectly prepared for us—including fresh fruit and fresh-cut flowers—as though we were royalty. First things we did after the door closed was to rush to our veranda, one of the very best things about cruising. Couldn’t even imagine booking an inside cabin—we’d get claustrophobic for sure!

For a time we sat there and looked out at the other cruise ships around us, each a beehive of activity just like ours. Then the Earps and Riffels logged in, so we evacuated and proceeded to explore our new home from prow to stern, lowest deck to highest. Afterwards, we returned to our room to await a process that seems like Russian Roulette: Will all pieces of our luggage be making the same trip we are? It is no idle worry, for unscrambling those thousands of multi-tagged suitcases clogging up a vast area of the terminal was not for the faint-of-heart. Every once in a while we’d be regaled by stories dealing with how much “fun” it was to sail out sans luggage. Happened on this cruise too, someone’s luggage ended up on another cruise ship—eventually, the baggage caught up with them. As somewhat seasoned travelers, we’ve learned to always carry on one case each, with enough clothing for a couple of days (toilet articles, meds, etc.), just in case. Several hours passed before we could breathe giant sighs of relief, when outside in the hall docked those precious arks containing our clothing and “stuff.”

Then it was time to separate his from hers and commandeer cupboard, closet, and shelf space for the coming two weeks. Finally, everything distributed and housed, we shoved the suitcases under the bed, and were ready for our journey to begin. This is one of the beauties of cruising: not having to repack suitcases each morning and evening.
When the time neared for sailing out we all climbed up to the top deck. Quickly we noted the usual separation between the physically fit and the lethargic: one took the stairs and the other waited in lines that were often long for elevators.
Up on top, we could look out at all the other cruise ships, also teeming with passengers on top in order to take photos of the sailings. Among our Fort Everglades Harbor sister ships were the Queen Mary 2, Crown Princess, Navigator of the Seas, and the talk of the cruising world, the new mega ship, Oasis of the Seas (a veritable floating city with probably 7,500 – 9,000 people, including crew) on board. Other ships were moored further away. As each ship cast off its ropy tentacles, smoke poured out of the smoke stacks, and it slowly eased out into the main channel. It was a never-to-be-forgotten sight as each ship, each as beautiful as its designers and builders could dream up, sailed out to sea, each one mantled with all the radiant colors of a tropical sunset.

AT SEA

Then we six made our way to the aft dining room, and were seated at the windowside Table 79, where we’d dine together each evening. Several hours later we returned to our rooms, and more tired than we’d realized, decided to forego any of the ship’s entertainment, instead opting to just sit out on the veranda and revel in the sounds, sights, and odors of the sea. And after a time—the luminosity of a rising room.

We retired, left the veranda door open a little so we could hear the waves breaking out from the prow and forward section of the ship, and an occasional seabird. As we encountered the full force of the Atlantic Ocean, the turbulence proportionally increased. I held my woman for a while, before she dropped off to a light sleep from which she’d awaken periodically; my thoughts, unlike hers, reveled in the oceanic turbulence, and I blissfully dropped off into a disgustingly deep [to Connie] sleep. My last conscious thoughts having to do with, How will this cruise change me?

* * * * *

Judging by the responses coming in to us, our blog-readers appear to really enjoy and appreciate our “on the road” blogs, vicariously traveling along with us. In weeks to come, we will be stopping at St. Maarten, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Barbados, Grenada, Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire.

It will be great to have you along.

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.