Colorado’s Annual Gold Rush

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

IMG_8532

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Making Family Memories Around a Mill Creek Campfire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK – Part One

BLOG #33, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LOVE LETTER TO AMTRAK
Part One
August 19, 2015

Scan_Pic0177

Once more, we heard the haunting “All Aboard!”

Once more we were shown to our aptly-named “Roomette,” and shoe-horned ourselves in. And once more, we felt forward movement—another adventure begun.

Sadly, air travel offers little adventure anymore: cramped seating with only inches separating passengers and no leg room at all. Food-wise: maybe crackers, pretzels, or cookies. Only on transcontinental flights do you receive more than that. And once you climb to cruising altitude, all you see are clouds below you.

Not so, train travel. Comfortable seats with plenty of space between passengers and more than adequate leg room. Large windows; and in the Vistadome cars, glass overhead as well. A café car for snacks and a dining car for meals. For those who travel in sleeping cars, all meals are included. For travelers with families, larger sleeping quarters are available.

Children love it for they are not strapped down and can roam the train at will. Once they experience train travel, they can’t wait to get on another train. They are mesmerized by the scenery outside their windows: the mountains, plains, rivers, lakes, oceans, cities, people, animals, birds—entranced, they watch as the scroll of America unwinds before their very eyes. But adults too are fascinated at being able to really see America.

It is travel as it used to be. No driving hassle, jockeying with traffic; no toll booths, no road-work.

Equally significant: on trains travelers from all over the world get the opportunity to really get to know each other. In the dining car, you are seated in groups of four or six, facing each other; thus everyone gets acquainted. One hears much laughter for, once introduced to each other, they share their personal journeys with each other and become friends. Since many of the seats in the Observation Car are set at angles, this too encourages conversation. Others gather around tables conversing or playing table games.

At night, room attendants convert roomette seating into bunk beds. Admittedly, the beds are narrow and the overhead mattress is thinner than the one below, but even so one can sleep far easier than those on coach seats. There is something sleep-inducing by lying down on a train bed. Once the train is in motion, the gentle rocking is akin to being rocked to sleep as a child. You tend to awaken only when the train stops. And in the interstices of sleep and waking is the haunting sound of the engine horn far ahead drifting past you.

For this particular trip, we left our home on the top of Conifer Mountain, 9700 feet in elevation high in the Rockies, drove down to Golden as dawn broke; there we boarded Light Rail for the brand new renovated Union Station, already the hub of downtown Denver. Here we boarded the California Zephyr that had departed from Chicago the day before.

No sooner were we ensconced in our roomette when the train left the station. Shortly afterwards, on the intercom, we were invited to head up to the dining car for breakfast. Then we’d ricochet down the weaving cars like drunken people, laughing all the way. After being seated by another couple, we gazed out the window as the train began the long ascent to Moffat Tunnel in the Great Divide (from which all Front Range rivers run to the Mississippi and the Caribbean and all rivers on the other side empty into the Colorado and Mexico’s Sea of Cortez/Pacific Ocean).

We’ll continue this saga on Wednesday, August 26th.

 

THE “NEW” LONELIEST ROAD IN AMERICA

BLOG #32, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE “NEW” LONELIEST ROAD IN AMERICA
August 12, 2015

It was clear back on June 26, 2013, at the tail end of our second National Park Series, that I annointed Highway 50’s seemingly almost empty stretches of mostly straight highway, stretching from Fallon, Nevada to Holden, Utah as America’s loneliest highway. I never thought I’d ever find one to rival it—much less upstage it. But I have. And we were blindsided by its existence. Not the road itself, but its loneliness.

So fast-paced is this life that we live that we rarely take long road trips any more: it’s much easier and faster to fly. But every once in a while we get nostalgic for auto-travel (not interstates but rural roads).

Early in July, we decided to put together a 2200-mile tangent, beginning in Conifer, Colorado, then angling south on I-25 to Raton, NM; angling SE to Amarillo, Texas; then south on I-27 to Lubbock; then angling SE on all kinds of country roads to Austin; then SW on I-35 to San Antonio. We hadn’t ever driven on the back roads between Lubbock and Austin; indeed, we hadn’t driven south of Fort Worth in over thirty years.

My what changes we noticed! First of all, instead of everything being July-brown it was the greenest green we’d ever seen in Texas in July. Reason being the nonstop rainstorms that just wouldn’t quit. And even Texas backroads were generally in fine condition with 75 mph speed-limits being the norm. And what a difference population-wise! I’d heard, of course, about the continually increasing population in Texas, but it was jolting to see how tiny hamlets were now towns, towns were now cities, and cities—well, just take Austin for example. Austin is a city that is growing so fast city-planners have all but lost control. It was one vast traffic jam while we were there—even on I-35. Locals we spoke with confirmed that sometimes it takes them up to four hours just to get from one end to the other! The other big change we noticed was that on ridge after ridge after ridge, as far as the eye could see, virtual forests of white wind-turbines. Connie and I agreed that these days—at least in West Texas—wind-millionaires must be rivaling oil-millionaires.

But then, after seeing how it was almost all city now between Austin and San Antonio, it was time to head home. Not having any desire to re-experience I-35 traffic again, we decided to explore a route we’d never tried before. Perhaps it would be a bit more serene. Little did we know!

Our chosen route was Highway 90 west through Hondo and Uvalde to the border-town of Del Rio. This is wide-open country with relatively few habitations. Only Del Rio of any size at all, no small thanks to being home to Laughlin Air Force Base and the vast Amistad Reservoir. Though I’d heard about Amistad it was something else to actually experience it! It took us well over an hour NW of it to get past it. About the only vehicles we’d see would be Border Patrol vehicles. Another epiphany was that the Rio Grande River is part of the Amistad Reservoir. Yet another was the discovery that the Rio Grande is America’s fifth-longest river (1885 miles long). It is born in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, meanders south through Colorado and New Mexico, then forms the entire 1240-mile border between Texas and Mexico. What a road-trip following the Rio Grande from its source to the Gulf of Mexico would be. Ah! As Lucy Earp would say: “A blessing for another time!” Believe me, I now realize what a daunting challenge it is for Texas governors to police 1240 miles of the river border with Mexico!

Though it was already a lonely road en route to Del Rio, it really became lonely once we left Del Rio. We stayed on Hwy. 90 until we reached Sanderson, then turned NW on the southern terminus of 285 [Denver is its northern terminus]. Then it was on through small towns such as Fort Stockton and Pecos in Texas; and Carlsbad and Roswell en route to Santa Fe, and it is otherwise almost entirely devoid of human habitations. Not until we reached the outskirts of Santa Fe did we get back into much cell-phone coverage.

It so happened that we had to drive through a very large storm front, driven by fierce winds and characterized by one huge purplish-black thunderhead after another. I don’t believe I’ve ever, in my entire life, experienced such dramatic constantly changing sky paintings. It was often difficult to stay on the road, thanks to extremely strong side-winds and torrential rain. But it was grand to experience!

North of Santa Fe, it was a little lonely, but not nearly as much as between San Antonio and Santa Fe.

So, if you ever want to get away from it all in the lower 48 states, I wholeheartedly recommend you take 90/285 from San Antonio to Santa Fe!

Try it!

33rd ZANE GREY ROUNDUP – Part One

BLOG #29, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
33RD ZANE GREY ROUNDUP
Part One
July 22, 2015

Scan_Pic0171

For the eighth time in 33 years, faithful Zanies headed to Arizona. Our second convention had been held in Payson, in 1984; in 1986, we met in Flagstaff; in 1988, Page; we returned to Payson in 1995; it was Prescott, in 2008; we returned to Payson for the third time in 2007; two years later, we met at Mormon Lake; and now, in 2015, faithful Zanies returned to Mormon Lake for the second time.

Prior to the convention, Connie and I and Lucy and Bob Earp joined a large group of others for a visit to Kohl’s Ranch at Christopher Creek. Sunday afternoon, we caravanned up the slope of the Mogollon Rim to the site where Grey’s cabin once stood before the Dude Fire of 1990 erased it from the map. For me, it was so poignant to revisit a spot I have loved for so long. I first came here in the early 1970s, and returned again and again. Once I spent most of a week here; like Zane Grey himself, at night I’d spread out my bedding and sleep out under the stars, listening to the soughing of the pines. In those days, pilgrims came here from all over the world. I’d see them sitting on the veranda, a far-off look in their eyes as they gazed at range after range of mountains. And how could I forget college coeds, leaning against trees, lost in reading Grey’s timeless Mogollon Rim romances, Under the Tonto Rim and Code of the West. And there in the Cabin, holding court, the inimitable curator, Margaret Sell, to whom the place represented life itself.

Then it was back down the vast mesa to Kohl’s Ranch, loading up the Honda Pilot, and heading up on the mesa to Mormon Lake, there to be greeted by the gathering clan. Of all the places where we’ve met over the years, the Mormon Lake ranch is the most rustic, only the West Texas convention facilities at Fort Davis coming close. But it was its very rusticness [is there such a word?] that so many of us enjoyed so much.

A phenomenon that never ceases to amaze me is the sight of the returning faithful—many (usually a third to half the attendees) arrive days early, so eager are they to get together again. And so it proved to be once more.

In the evening, it was time for our opening banquet in the ranch’s so-called “Steakhouse.” Not formal like most banquets, but western attire the norm. In no time at all, the decibel level, caused by old friends finding each other and catching up on each other’s lives, got louder and louder—not to recede until Friday morning.

The highlight of the evening was the introduction of new attendees (seventeen, to be exact). Each was made to feel welcome—more than welcome: made to feel “at home.”

The food, provided by Scott Gold’s FOREVER Resorts team, was splendid.

Then it was time to head for the cabins and RVs. Tomorrow would be the biggest day of the convention.

TUESDAY

Not until Tuesday morning is over do I ever get to relax at our conventions. Reason being that I put more work and thought into the annual Keynote Address than I do any other speaking engagement. And, naturally, I don’t dare ever resort to anything that is stale or a re-run. Beginning in June of 1983, until now, in a very real way, I have measured my life by Keynotes. Now, here I was with my 33rd consecutive Keynote Address. I titled it, “Light of Western Stars — Why It Stands the Test of Time.” I chose this book for my Keynote because 2014 was the 100th anniversary of this, one of Grey’s greatest books. Also, it has always been one of my personal favorite reads. Those of you belonging to the Zane Grey’s West Society will be getting the full text of the Keynote in your next issue of our magazine, The Zane Grey Review.

I was followed by three fascinating presentations: Harvey Leake’s “From Kayente to Rainbow Bridge: The Rugged Route that Inspired Zane Grey’s Geography of The Rainbow Trail.” Leake is a direct descendant of John and Louisa Wetherill, famed Traders to the Navajos in Monument Valley and who had much to do with the discovery of Mesa Verde and Rainbow Bridge. We always look forward to his behind-the-scenes personalized history of the region.

Next came Dr. James D’Arc’s “BYU Happenings.” D’Arc is head curator of Brigham Young University’s film archives and has had a big role to play in the acquisition of major Zane Grey collections (including my own) and films in recent years. BYU is now the largest repository of Zane Grey archival holdings in the world. Reason being that Zane Grey’s books did more to bring fame to the American Southwest (especially Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico) than any other writer who ever lived.

D’Arc was followed by Dr. Alan Pratt’s “Appalling Beauty, Dangerous Crossing: Zane Grey at Lee’s Ferry.” Pratt, like Mr. Leake, has become a regular in terms of his visual explorations of Zane Grey book and travel settings. Pratt pointed out that back before the Colorado was dammed, during spring flood periods, the silt-laden river ran so fast that if you fell in while trying to cross it, inevitably you’d be swept away to your death.

Mr. Ryan Taylor then told our audience about a new Arizona opera: “Riders of the Purple Sage.”

* * *

I will complete the story of the 33rd convention in next week’s blog. If you haven’t yet joined the Zane Grey’s West Society, I urge you to do so! You will learn so much about—not just Zane Grey (the Father of the Romantic West)—but also this incredibly fascinating West tourists come from all around the world to see.

Our dues are only $35 a year (which includes four issues of our magazine, a veritable treasure of Western Americana). Just drop a line to our Secretary-Treasurer, Sheryle Hodapp, at 15 Deer Oaks Drive, Pleasanton, CA 94588
Phone: 925-699-0698
Email: Sheryle@ZGWS.org

and tell her I invited you to join our extended family. Also you can check out our Society’s website at: http://www.zgws.org.

 

Remaking Our Brains

BLOG #15, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
REMAKING OUR BRAINS
April 15, 2015

This was the weekend of our annual Conifer Kiwanis Reading Celebration for the third-graders who attend six mountain elementary schools here in the Colorado Rockies. Also for a large consortium of homeschoolers.

Before we honored the kids for their reading improvement, I gathered close to 90 third-graders on the floor around me, and urged them to make reading central to their lives. Since I poured thirty years of observation and research into my 1992 book, TV on Trial, and one of my main doctoral concentrations had to do with the relationship between reading and writing, and since those areas have remained central to me during my entire academic teaching career, I felt this occasion offered me a golden opportunity to plant seeds in these young minds.

I pointed out to them that there are two ways they can feed their brains: Reading and Electronic Imagery. Reading has been with us clear back to ancient times, but most significantly since the advent of printing, some six centuries ago. Electronic imagery is much more recent: around the turn of the twentieth century with the advent of moving pictures.

Today, electronic imagery has become so ubiquitous it increasingly has pushed reading onto the ropes, with some even questioning whether it can survive at all.

So, I pointed out to the third-graders that there are two significant differences between reading and electronic media: Reading is a creative process; electronic imagery tends to be creative only for those who create it. Reading is connotative. In other words, every time a person opens a book and begins reading, something exciting happens: that person’s brain shifts into its creative gear as the reader cranks out non-stop inner imagery that has the potential to actually change the brain into a powerhouse.

I introduced two contrasting word processes: “denotative” and “connotative.” Denotative has to do with the dictionary definition of a word. Let’s take, for instance, the word “father”; the dictionary definition is “a man who has begotten a child.” That’s all there is to it.

But the connotative process is so explosive it borders on the mind-numbing, for it has the potential, over time, to remake the brain. I pointed out that as you read the word “father,” if you have a loving father you adore, the mental image you create will tend to mirror that; but what if you have an abusive father? That would contribute to a much darker mental image. And no two readers ever create exactly the same mental imagery from the same words! For each individual is one-of-a-kind. That is why cloning would be such a terrible thing. As a person reads, word after word after word triggers the creation of mental imagery in the reader’s brain. So much so that just one book has the potential to create seismic differences in the reader’s outlook on life. But that’s not all, by any means. Each author writes in a different way from other authors; this is why Google enables teachers to catch plagiarists so easily, and why it borders on the impossible that an anonymous writer can long remain anonymous. The reader reads works by Alcott, Tolkien, Blume, Milne, Seuss, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Twain, or Martin Luther King, Jr.—; those stylistic differences are stored in inner templates, each of which may be drawn from when the reader begins to write herself/himself.

Depending upon whether the reader reads from a wide variety of books, stories, essays, etc. written by authors worth reading as opposed to stalling out on mental pablum; the former is likely to develop into a powerhouse and the latter into straitjacketed narrowism.

* * *

But what if individuals read no books and little of anything else, and instead feed the mind with electronic imagery (the norm for untold millions today), what happens to their minds? When one is watching television, cinema, video, or other electronic genres, whether one person is watching a given source or a billion people are watching it, every last one is internalizing the same picture! Reason being that the receiver’s brain has had nothing to do with the image’s creation—someone else did that. In fact, the receiver’s brain is completely bypassed: BAM! The image is blasted into the receiver’s brain. But it is not internalized for it is a foreign object. It is a self-standing entity that just sits there. Over time, as these foreign objects take up more and more space in the receiver’s brain, that person all but loses the creative potential that individual was born with.

In the collegiate freshman composition classes I’ve taught over the years, I’ve seen replayed the two species again, again, and again. When I tell a class, “Take out a blank piece of paper. We are going to write. . . . Now write!” It matters little whether I give them a subject to write about or let them choose, the results are the same each time: the reader, having all the internalized imagery of many authors’ books and stories synthesized into the memory banks, stylistic templates too, can hardly wait to start writing—and then the pen races across the page. The non-reader, almost invariably, just sits there glassy-eyed, like Bambi on ice. Since there is precious little in their brains that wasn’t created by someone else, there isn’t much they can draw from. And since they don’t read, they don’t know how to write either. Structurally, they are equally at sea. Since electronic imagery explodes at them from all directions, little of it structured, their thought-processes tend to be equally unstructured and disjointed. This is also true when they speak in public.

Furthermore, even in the business world, non-readers are handicapped. Studies have shown that when employing CEOs test them to see which applicant would be the best fit for a job, they are often given a task composed of, say five, steps in which to reach desired completion. Deliberately and unannounced, the CEO leaves out a step. So a reader moves from step to step: A to B, B to C, C to D, D to E, and E to F—only D to E is left out. The reader reaches this abyss, is puzzled , but doesn’t give up. Since the reader has developed a part of the brain scholars call the “library,” in which the brain talks to itself, the applicant, much like a spider, launches filaments out into the void, seeking for a terminus on the other side. Sooner or later, one of the filaments touches solid ground; the applicant now bridges to the other side and moves from E to F, and completes the task. The non-reader never can complete the task. Even when both applicants are college graduates with 4-point grade A averages, the results are still the same. A neighbor of mine, an executive himself, and a veteran administrator and employer, when I shared this study with him, explained, “So that’s it! I’ve long wondered why some top graduates could problem-solve and others failed so dismally. It makes sense!”

* * * * *

Sadly, our society has yet to recognize just how essential reading is to life and career success, even in areas that are not generally considered as demanding a reading background.

Are Books Dead? Third-Grade Readers at the Crossroads

BLOG #8, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
ARE BOOKS DEAD?
THIRD-GRADE READERS AT THE CROSSROADS
February 25, 2015

Scan_Pic0146February 8, 2007

Author Joe Wheeler, foreground left, and fellow Kiwanian Barry Sweeney, encouraged children to read by handing out certificates and books at Beaver Ranch on Feb. 3, 2007.

It appears to be a national consensus that unless a child falls in love with reading by the third grade, it is extremely unlikely that the child ever will. Because of this, thirteen years ago, the Conifer, Colorado Kiwanis Club launched out on uncharted waters. We had no guidebook, no map; we just knew something ought to be done about it. After all, every week, we recited the Kiwanis mantra, our reason for being: “Kiwanis is a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world—one child and one community at a time. Kiwanis is for kids here, there, and everywhere.”

Over time, gradually, we felt our way, as we adopted five elementary schools: Deer Creek, Elk Creek, Marshdale, Parmalee, and West Jefferson [Jeff, for short]. Recently, because there are so many homeschooling families in the Mountain Corridor, we added them as well.

Each year, we raise money for books; not bureaucracy or infrastructure—just books.

Because for us, this one thing we do, we have had an impact far greater than the size of our club would warrant. All our fund-raising is centered on reading. In my own case, every December, because every penny above cost of my books goes directly to third-grade readers, the largest grocery stores in the area permit us Kiwanians to set up inside the store. Kiwanians man the table and I inscribe from a very large selection of our in-print and out-of-print books. We also raise money by sponsoring a rest stop for bikers in the annual Triple Bypass Bike Race (“triple” meaning that it features three passes over 11,000 feet); drawing 4,000 – 6,000 bikers every year. And we also seek other sources of funding.

And every year, we Kiwanians hold a Reading Celebration for third-graders and their families, as well as their teachers and principals. On that occasion, the kids get to see Mr. Ron Lewis’s buffalo herd close up (he’s our club president), partake of refreshments, receive certificates of reading achievements, have one of my books (chosen by the child) personally inscribed as a gift from me. They will also join their teachers and principals, school by school, and tell us how last year’s money was spent, and how they feel about reading. They are then awarded the check for the upcoming year.

Scan_Pic0149February 27, 2014

Scan_Pic0150

That’s the fun part for me. During the past two weeks I have made appointments with area principals and third-grade teachers, to enter the classrooms and personally invite the third-graders to come to the Marshdale Reading Celebration. I brought with me fourteen of my books: ten collections of animal stories (series titled “The Good Lord Made Them All”), Showdown (sports stories for boys), Bluegrass Girl (horse stories for girls), The Talleyman Ghost (mystery stories for girls), and The Secrets of Creeping Desert (mystery stories for boys). Each attendee will choose one later, after first receiving parental permission to do so. Then I leave full-color posters depicting the 14 book covers with each teacher. By the time I leave, the kids are excited.

Often the teachers grant me time to talk with the kids about both reading and writing, and how they go together. At that age, being an author is a magical thing to them. When they’re told that I’ve written/edited 89 books so far, they are in awe. When I ask for questions, they are so excited, almost every hand is raised. Believe me, when all the third-grade sections are brought into one room for my annual visit, one section seated at their desks and the other sections seated on the floor (50 – 80 kids at a time), and seeing all those hands waving for my attention, it is an exciting thing to behold. Third-grade is a perfect grade to target for they are still excited about life and reading; fourth grade is too late.

This year, one of our schools, Elk Creek Elementary School, is being honored because its students made the 98th percentile in state-wide reading scores! Which gives Kiwanis validation for the thirteen years we’ve partnered with these area schools. And with parents–for unless they are partnering with us at home, our efforts are limited. But together, we can accomplish miracles!

As I see it, if my entire life were to be judged by just lighting the eyes of these children, one at a time, with the joy of learning, reading, writing, creating—it would be worth having lived.

LET IT SNOW!

BLOG #4, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
LET IT SNOW!
January 28, 2015

IMG_4946

What magic resides in those four letters! Especially since snow appears to be withdrawing from our world. As the global temperature grows hotter and hotter, we see such phenomena as the proverbial “snows of Kilamanjaro” in Africa drying up; even the Iditarod’s thousand-mile sled-dog race was forced to race much of the way on dirt because of so little snow last year; the polar bears in the North struggling to survive as arctic ice-packs melt earlier each year; opening up the long ice-locked Northwest Passage to ships; this melting placing at risk Narwhals–now Killer
Whales can corner them and kill them because there is no longer enough ice to shelter them; even the Himalayas are losing their life-giving snow.

Notice how this week, the entire Northeast all but shut down because an epic blizzard was roaring in. New York City completely shut down (including planes, trains, autos–except for emergency vehicles). 7,000 flights were cancelled. Funny it was to see Matt Lauer and his team walking to work, and he lying down in the middle of Fifth Avenue doing a snow angel in the snow. But instead of two to three feet, the city received only 6.2 inches! All the news people were psyched up for great visuals as their people reported in standing waist-deep in snow; instead, they had to do interviews from so little snow it didn’t even cover their shoe-tops. Of course it was deeper further north.

In Maryland, just the threat of a storm causes school districts to shut down for “snow days” that may or may not be snowy. Here in Colorado’s Front Range, any possibility that there might be a few flakes falling later on in the week is cause for jubilation among weather-forecasters desperate for ratings surges: every so many minutes they tell their listeners that “later on,” they’ll tell them how much snow will fall. Rarely are they right–but listeners like us listen anyway. Especially the kids who love snow days.

As for us, we revel in the sight of falling snow. At night, we’ll sit by the fireplace staring into the flames, offset by staring outside at the floodlight-illumined falling snow. I even enjoy shoveling it–as long as it’s not so deep it all but buries us!

And many people either live here or travel here in order to participate in the annual snowfalls. Interstate 70 out of Denver routinely grinds to a near halt as thousands of skiers head to the mountains.

And what would Christmas stories be without snow? Amazing how many incorporate that element as part of the story-line.

Out our northern windows, we can see the mountains (crowned by Long’s and Meeker peaks) of the Rocky Mountain National Park some eighty miles away. What an incredible difference between late-summer’s brown and winter’s pristine white! Takes one’s breath away just to  at it.

IMG_4965

So let’s all treasure snow while we still have it, revel in it whenever we have the chance.

Thank God for snow!

THE PERVERSITY OF CHRISTMAS TREES AND THEIR STANDS

BLOG #51, SERIES 5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE PERVERSITY OF CHRISTMAS TREES AND THEIR STANDS
DECEMBER 17, 2014

I suspect watching the Lucy and Desi Christmas special might have had something to do with it. You remember: Lucy’s determination to trim their Christmas tree so it will be perfectly symmetrical. The trimmer being their next-door sidekick: Mr. Mertz. As usual with Lucy, disaster was the result.

Just so, with us: Connie repeatedly urged me to hurry up and cut that perfect little fir tree north of our house. “Hurry, before it snows!” her very words. Like most husbands, I didn’t like being told what to do and when. The TV weather predictors had managed to be wrong so many times already this year, why should this time be different? “Maybe an inch or so in the foothills,” their prognosis.

So I waited. Then slipped and stumbled my way downhill through a foot of very cold and very wet snow. I had to dig down a foot just to get to the fir’s base. Then: a mighty cold job cutting it down and dragging it uphill to the house.

When Connie saw its snowy branches looking oh so Christmasy, she pronounced it a winner: perfectly symmetrical and just the right size.

Out to the garage I went to haul down from the rafters the big state-of-the-art/never-failed-us-yet Christmas tree stand.

Once inside with it, I lowered the tree into the stand. In order to preserve its symmetry I didn’t cut the big lower branches off. Eight stabilizers were screwed in to the tree to guarantee vertical perfection. It looked wonderful, but deep inside its firry heart, it harbored subversive thoughts.

Before we started decorating it, Connie called my attention to the fact that only the four upper stabilizers reached the tree; the four lower ones connected with nothing. I assured her that four would work just fine. Indeed, it appeared I was right. First we decorated it with long strings of colored lights. Finally, with a little rejiggling, it was perfect. Next, I put up scores of beautiful red ornaments. Then we tried out a bedraggled angel to crown the tree; it was quickly replaced by a shimmering red steeple-shaped ornament. We turned the room lights off and the tree lights on. Ah, perfection!

Shortly afterwards, we noticed that the tree was tilting in the wrong direction. I soon fixed it.

In no time at all, Connie called my attention to its tilting in a different direction. We fixed it. And the cycle continued again and again. And I was growing ever more irate.

Finally, I announced that, like it or not, the symmetry would have to be sacrificed. One after another after another, I cut enough low branches so there was a satisfactory thud as the tree hit bottom. All during the process, there was a light rain of ornaments letting go.

But now, we could finally fix the tree once and for all! All I had to do was screw in all eight stabilizers. Trouble was, Connie had filled the stand with water, and the rubber stabilizer connectors kept falling into the water, so I burrowed into the tree, Connie attempting to keep it erect while I fished the rubber connectors out. But now, some of the stabilizers didn’t get to the tree at all, as some were screwed out further than the others, leading to my inability to stabilize the tree. By now, more ornaments rained down—and broke. Including the piece de resistance at the top. And the long snaky electric lights did their utmost to strangle me. I got testy and testier, and howled like a man.

Finally, I left Connie holding the tree up and went out to the garage to corral an earlier vintage tree-stand. In the rafters, I finally found it. One small problem: part of it was missing. Then I remembered hearing, on the opposite side of the garage, something metallic fall behind high stacks of boxes filled with books. So I now had to move a big stack of boxes in order to retrieve the rest of the stand. Much time had passed by then.

So much so that Connie had all but given up on holding the tree upright. More ornaments had fallen.

So now we had to completely undecorate the tree, then lift it out of its original stand, stagger across the front room to the deck, carry the all-too-full water-filled original stand, trying not to spill much, then take it outside and dump the water off the deck.

Then, I lifted up the malevolent tree once again and lowered it into its much smaller stand. And the tree stood up straight and tall. It was quickly tightened in place.

And we got to start all over again.

True, the tree had lost some of its symmetry—-but somehow symmetry didn’t seem important any more. The important thing was: It stood up straight and tall! I concluded that symmetry was overrated anyhow.

RALPLH MOODY’S “LITTLE BRITCHES” [OR “THE WILD COUNTRY”]

BLOG #44, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #35

RALPH MOODY’S LITTLE BRITCHES [OR THE WILD COUNTRY]

October 29, 2014

If you’ve been searching for a wonderful true book to read aloud to your children and teenagers during your daily story hour, search no longer: This is your book.

I was a teenager when I first read the book—and it has warmed my heart ever since. It is one of those rare books written in First Person that really works. Just as is true with The Little House on the Prairie books, once you’ve read the first book in the series, you’ll rush out to buy the sequel, and then the rest of the series.

The real-life story of the author is almost as fascinating as the book.

Scan_Pic0118

Ralph Owen Moody (1898-1982) was born in East Rochester, New Hampshire. When he was eight, his parents moved the family to Colorado so that Ralph’s father might, in the dry climate of the Front Range, be healed from tuberculosis. In those days, thousands of tuberculosis-sufferers moved to Colorado and sister states in hopes they’d be healed by the move. Many were, but many were not. One of Ralph’s uncles told his brother that ranch life in Colorado was so heaven-like that he’d hardly have to work at all to get rich. You’ll note by a book illustration that the reality was far different.

Scan_Pic0119

The shack they moved to

Three years later, Ralph’s father died, and the eleven-year-old boy was forced to become man of the house, the mainstay of his mother and siblings.

But, even though the boy had yearned to be a writer almost as soon as he learned to read, the tough business of making a living and, marrying his sweetheart Edna, precluded that. In fact, he was fifty years old when, in helping a daughter with a high school writing class, he honed his own craft. Upon reading his first story, his teacher suggested he expand it into a full-length book.

Because Moody had grown up listening to his mother read out loud to him and his siblings, when he had the opportunity to tell his life story, he avoided formal writing and instead just told the story in common everyday language that children would both understand and appreciate. Little Britches (what he was dubbed after his boyhood arrival in Colorado) was published in 1950. In that serene Norman Rockwell Era of strong family values, Little Britches took the country by storm.

After his father’s farm had failed, he moved his family to Littleton, and shortly afterwards his father died of pneumonia. In Man of the Family (1951) and The Home Ranch (1956), Moody tells the story of those action-filled Colorado years. Mrs. Moody subsequently took her three sons and three daughters back to Medford, Massachusetts where Ralph completed his formal education through the eighth grade. This part of his story was published in Mary Emma and Company in 1961. Later on, Ralph joined his grandfather on his farm in Maine. This period was covered in The Fields of Home in 1953. In Shaking the Nickel Bush (1962), poor health results in Ralph moving west again in the midst of the Great Depression. Tough times are covered in The Dry Divide (1963) and the concluding eighth book of his life story, Horse of a Different Color (1968). When he was 83, he returned home to New England; he died there on June 28, 1982.

Scan_Pic0120

The family in midst of a tornado.

But not before chronicling one of the most gripping, moving, and inspirational autobiographies ever written. By the time you finish reading it to your family, none of you will ever be the same you were when you began.

Moody also published nine other books: Kit Carson and the Wild Frontier (1955), Geronimo, Wolf of the War Path (1958), Riders of the Pony Express (1958), Wells Fargo (1961), Silver and Lead: The Birth and Death of a Mining Town (1961), America Horses (1962), Come on Sea Biscuit (1963), The Old Trails West (1963), Stage Coach West (1967) and one play: The Valley of the Moon (1966).

There are many editions of Little Britches and its sequels. Most were published by W. W. Norton. They were also published by Reader’s Digest; People’s Book Club; Harcourt, Brace & World; and in paperback by Bantam.

Walt Disney Productions (released by Buena Vista Distribution) filmed Little Britches as The Wild Country in 1970. It starred Steve Forrest. Jack Elam, and Ronny Howard; co-starred Frank deKova, Morgan Woodward, and Vera Miles. The screen play was written by Calvin Clements, Jr., and Paul Savage; produced by Ron Miller, and directed by Robert Totten. In 1971, Bantam published Little Britches as The Wild Country.

Happy reading to you and your family!