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.

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MANY GLACIER LODGE

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

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

Swiftcurrent Lake at Many Glacier Lodge

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

* * * * *

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

Circular fireplace in May Glacier Hotel's lobby

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

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

Many Glacier Hotel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘What was that?’ asked Kim.”

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

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

For a time there is silence in the room.”

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

* * * * *

Many Glacier Hotel

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

* * * * *

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

SOURCES CONSULTED

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

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK TITANS

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

                                                                        –John Muir (Olin, 31)

GEORGE BIRD GRINELL

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOUIS HILL

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

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

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

SOURCES CONSULTED 

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

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

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

HOW TO FALL DOWN STAIRS

Yes, there is an art to it, and—inadvertently, it must be admitted—I have perfected that art.  Following are the ideal conditions for pulling it off:

  • Be sure you are sleeping in an unfamiliar bed in a relatively unfamiliar house.
  • Set an alarm clock; but be sure it is some distance away so that, when it rings, you will have to get out of bed and grope for it.
  • By all means set it for an early hour, so that it will be pitch-dark when it rings.
  • Be sure and place a suitcase—for strategic purposes—directly in line of the steps you’ll have to take before you reach the alarm clock.
  • Make certain you are sleeping in an upper-story of a house.
  • Make doubly certain there is a long flight of stairs in close proximity to the alarm clock (descending stairs, of course); and none of those namby-pamby carpeted stairs, but real he-man wooden ones.
  • At the bottom of the stairs you should make sure you have a tile landing on which to conclude your fall, and a solid wooden door to ram your head into.
  • The choice of the right alarm clock is a must: none of those soft, languorous lullabies, but a no-nonsense demanding “Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!” followed by an almost immediate strident double-time beep (guaranteed to disorient and confuse you as you stumble around).
  • With this preamble, you’re almost preordained to blindly launch into space off the top stair.  In the pitch-dark it will seem surreal as you fall into the void.  Then you will hit, hit, hit, and hit, as you roll down the stairs.  Because you are so disoriented and nine-tenths asleep, you will roll down like a rag doll or someone who is blissfully dead-drunk.
  • By the time you reach the bottom, you are guaranteed an audience because of your thunderous fall and unconscious but heartfelt moans.  You’ll immediately rouse the entire household.
  • By all the laws of probability, you should have (at the very least), a broken neck, broken back, or broken hip–with an excellent chance of being paralyzed for life.  But if you follow my fool-proof directions, you’ll merely end up a mass of black, blue, purple, and green bruises (spectacularly beautiful to those with a perverted sense of humor), and rather than be in a body cast, you’ll revel in around-the-clock ice-pack treatments, heat-treatments, and a steady stream of extra-strength pain pills.
  • Did I mention sympathy?  Oh yes, plenty of that.
  • And outright disbelief from the entire medical profession who will consider you a postcard example of the miraculous.
  • One more thing: That God must have an awfully good reason for a deus-ex-machina rescue of His stupid child.

* * * * *

My solo-flight took place at 5:30 A.M., Wednesday, November 10, in Annapolis, Maryland.  I have no current plans to re-enact it.  Once you achieve perfection in something, it makes no sense to do it again!

Media Schedule & Book Signings

Because of a rush of media interviews & book signings, we are postponing the first Glacier National Park Lodge blog. Hope to get back on schedule soon. Thank you for understanding.
Check our web page for an event near you.

OLD FAITHFUL INN

            After leaving Grand Coulee Dam, we drove south along shimmering blue Banks Lake (a Grand Coulee reservoir) to Coulee City, then turned east on hwy 2, taking us to Spokane and Interstate 90.  We stayed at a Best Western in Coeur d’Alene that night.  Next morning we continued along I-90.  Now, the scenery became more mountainous and scenic—well, as scenic as interstates ever get.  Because we were on a tight schedule, we made few stops en route to Bozeman, Montana, where we stayed at the Hampton.

            Already the differences between the world of the old national park lodges and the world of chain lodges was beginning to be more and more marked in our minds: small bedrooms and large lobbies compared to small lobbies and large bedrooms; serenity compared to electronic noise; camaraderie compared to isolation; deep thoughts about life compared to electronic stifling of thought—not coincidentally, TVs everywhere to no TVs at all.

Historic North Entrance gate to Yellowstone National Park

            Next day, we drove into Yellowstone National Park, stopping at the famous Gardiner Gate at the North Entrance, Mammoth Hot Springs, Norris Geyser Basin, and Virginia Cascade, en route to Old Faithful Inn and Old Faithful Geyser.

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK       

            Before 1872, there was not in the entire world such a thing as a “national park.”  For almost three quarters of a century, reports of its wonders had occasionally trickled out, but no one believed them.  Not until 1870, when Thomas Moran and William Henry Jackson not only saw those wonders but returned with proof: Moran’s stunning panoramic paintings and Jackson’s memorable and convincing photographs.   On the premise that it was useless to developers, the bill for its preservation passed almost unanimously.  It was signed into law by Pres. Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872.

            But creating a national park and protecting it proved to be two different things.  Gradually, conditions deteriorated to the point where the park’s very survival was at risk.  At this critical point, George Bird Grinnell (influential editor of Forest and Stream and close friend of young Teddy Roosevelt) and General Phil Sheridan (hero of the great Civil War poem, “Sheridan’s Ride”) joined forces; since the government refused to protect the park, Sheridan sent his cavalry in—thirty years later, they were still there.

            Roosevelt first visited the park in 1883, John Muir in 1888, Rudyard Kipling in 1889.  By then most everyone was calling the park “Wonderland.”  On April 24, 1903, Roosevelt, on a transcontinental 14,000-mile speaking tour, spent two weeks in Yellowstone.  Dedicating the new entrance arch in Gardiner, Montana, TR said,

The Yellowstone Park is something absolutely unique in the world. . . .  Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors, where at the same time not only the scenery of the wilderness, but the wild creatures of the Park are scrupulously preserved.

                                                                        —(Duncan and Burns, 92).

Old Faithful Geyser

            Yellowstone’s iconic symbol is Old Faithful Geyser—most appropriate since, with over 10,000 hydrothermal features, the park offers the largest concentration of geysers (over 300) and geothermal activity on earth.  1,700-foot-deep Yellowstone Canyon is by itself one of the greatest natural wonders on earth; and Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake in North America above 7,000 feet.  But Yellowstone is also perhaps the world’s most successful wildlife sanctuary, with grizzlies, black bears, elk, moose, wolves, bison, and so much more.

            In short, 2,200,000 acre Yellowstone is the parent stock for all the national parks around the world that have come into being during the last 138 years. 

THE STORY OF OLD FAITHFUL

            Have you ever noticed that it is the best-known, most famous, subjects that prove the hardest to get your arms around?  Just so, it is for Old Faithful Inn, without question the best known hotel in national park history.  Strangely enough it is just as much an international icon as Old Faithful Geyser itself.

            Over 3,000,000 tourists from all over the world swarm Yellowstone each year, almost all during the short summer season—so they come at the rate of almost a million a month.  And it appears that no one dares to come here without worshiping at the shrine of both Old Faithfuls.  Who’d believe they’d been to Yellowstone without photographic proof that they’d actually stood there in front of those two semi-immortal entities?

            So how did the lodge get here in the first place?

            Well, in the early days they could get by with just tents.  But all that changed in 1883 when railroad tracks reached the North Entrance in Gardiner.  Park administration continued to complain about the failure of tourists to stay long enough to see much; but the reason was obvious: they had to find lodging somewhere by nightfall.

            The breakthrough came in 1901 when Northern Pacific Railroad sold its controlling stock in Yellowstone Park Association to the Yellowstone Transportation Company; Harry Child was named president.  Up till then, the park had lacked a focal center, a final authority.  Child would rule supreme in Yellowstone for the rest of his life.  Almost immediately, he set about searching for an architect he could count on, not just for a building or two, but for the long haul.  He found that in the person in a self-taught architect by the name of Robert Reamer.

            Reamer journeyed to Yellowstone in 1903 via a career trajectory beginning in Ohio, and continuing through Tennessee, Michigan, Illinois, and California.  When Child first heard of him, Reamer was making a name for himself in San Diego, especially in terms of his projects for the already legendary del Coronado Hotel (first opened in 1888).  It proved to be a perfect fit: Child and Reamer worked together for the rest of Reamer’s life.

            Old Faithful not only was Reamer’s first major project, it would remain his life’s greatest achievement.  Teddy Roosevelt, in his 1903 visit to the park, upon seeing Reamer’s designs for park hotels, expressed his delight.  Northern Pacific Railroad came up with $100,000 to construct it.

Interior of Old Faithful Inn

            Reamer designed the iconic core of the hotel in 1903, the East Wing in 1913-14, and the Y-shaped West Wing in 1927; eventually providing 327 rooms for guests.  The seven-story stair-stepped-inn is striking enough from the outside, but Reamer’s biographer, Ruth Quinn, maintains that the píece de résistance has to be the lobby:

                        For most visitors the lobby stands as the structure’s distinguishing feature.  From its polished maple floor to the peak of its log paneled ceiling, it measures more than 76 feet in height.  The lobby of Old Faithful Inn is a maze of twisted branches, inviting staircases, and welcoming balconies described by one historian as rusticity gone berserk!  Upon viewing the lobby, many are drawn beyond, to experience it—to touch its enormous stone chimney, to stroke a beautifully polished log, to inhale the scent of the wood, to listen to the creak of the stairs and the chatter of admirers.  This is a building to delight the senses.  It is a public space with a strong sense of place where many feel at home.  All eyes are carried upward, one gapes and wonders, Who could have imagined this? (Quinn, 1).

            Old Faithful Inn would become the template, the inspiration, for other great park hotels such as El Tovar, East Glacier, Many Glacier, Prince of Wales; Crater Lake, and Ahwahnee.  It would be reproduced life-size for the Panama Pacific Exposition in 1915, and is the inspiration behind Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.

            Though it has been loved to death from the start, almost we lost it during the 1970s.  Barnes notes that “Rotting logs, worn shingle siding, and a deteriorating roof were the obvious problem. . . .  There were joints coming apart, the roof was collapsing in sections, logs were falling off the building.”  The NPS seriously considered demolishing it, but the public was outraged at the very thought! (Barnes, 24).

            It took ten years and over $7,000,000 to fix the problems and shore it up for the next half century.  Periodic earthquakes are always a problem since Yellowstone itself is the world’s most active volcano.

            The entire world watched with bated breath, however, in 1988, when it appeared certain Old Faithful Inn was doomed.  In that terrible forest fire, when almost a third of the park burned over, only a last-minute shift of the wind saved the lodge for posterity.

* * * * *

Exterior of Old Faithful Inn

            Over the years we’d been to Old Faithful Geyser and Inn many times, but had never stayed here.  Since it’s booked a year in advance, it was not easy to get rooms in the Inn itself.  Turns out we didn’t spend much time in our bedrooms, because the hotel itself is so fascinating.  Especially the people-watching.  The clock everyone watches is the one that tells everyone when Old Faithful Geyser is due to erupt (the intervals used to be about an hour long, but since the last big earthquake, it has extended to about an hour and a half).  About fifteen minutes before it’s due, the tide goes out; five minutes before, the inn is all but deserted.  When it’s over, the tide surges in again—but in one long sustained tsunami.  And the cycle is faithfully repeated night and day.  The poor Inn never sleeps.  One clerk told me, “I get here at 6 a.m., and chances are the lobby will be jammed already!”

            What’s most fun is to sit on the second floor mezzanine and watch the faces of people young and old as they stream in—especially the moment of shock when they freeze in motion and stare up and up in awe, jaws dropping.  It never fails.

            Since dinner reservations are so difficult to secure, our travel agent made ours over half a year ahead of time.  Eating in Reamer’s great dining room was a feast for the senses as well as for the food itself.

            Next morning, Bob and I took a tour of the Inn.  Our guide, in period costume, really made the old hotel live, telling us behind-the-scenes anecdotes and secrets most people would never know.  We learned that the last major quake stopped the great fourteen-foot clock and messed up the chimney in the huge fireplace—no one knows when they’ll be up and running again.

            But unlike sister park lodges, because of the continual tidal surges there is little serenity here—though, later in the evening, we came fairly close when a pianist played old standards and brought about the first lessening of the decibels since we’d arrived.  And breakfast was considerably quieter than dinner was.

            So we weren’t sorry to go.  Wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world!  But once was enough.  Perhaps Reamer’s next hotel would be quieter.

SPECIAL NOTE

            Next Wednesday, we’ll move on to Robert Reamer’s Yellowstone Lake Lodge.

SOURCES

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Parks 1 (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc., 2002). [Splendid chapter on the hotel].

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2009). [The most definitive history of Yellowstone Park I’ve ever read].

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

Quinn, Ruth, Weaver of Dreams (Gardiner, MT: Leslie and Ruth Quinn, Publishers, 2004). [Invaluable biography of the builder of Old Faithful Inn].

Scofield, Susan C, and Jeremy C. Schmidt, The Inn at Old Faithful (no p.: Crowsnest Associates, 1979).

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

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Graphic Society, 2009). [Helpful].

NORTH CASCADE LOOP

            Reluctantly, we checked out of Crescent Lake Lodge—but not before procrastinating all we could by taking forever to eat our breakfast in that sunny dining room.  Finally, I—Lucy calls me “the tour guide from hell”—got everyone rounded up, and we were on our way again.

            We had hoped to cross on a ferry to Whidbey Island from Port Townsend—but it was booked solid.  So we drove down the peninsula on hwy 101 to Kingston, and took the ferry across there.  It was a stunningly beautiful day, and Puget Sound flaunted its blue for us.  Next, we tried to get a ferry across to Whidbey Island from Mukilteo, only to strike out again—everyone, it seemed, was deserting Seattle for the holiday weekend.  Finally, we gave up, and grudgingly drove up I-5 to Burlington, where we checked in at a Hampton’s.  Bad news from the back seat: Connie had generously gifted her bug to Lucy.  Lucy’s case was to prove considerably worse than Connie’s—I got a baleful eye when I jocularly attributed the difference to Lucy’s inexplicable reluctance to chomp down on a couple tablespoons worth of garlic.  With both backseaters out of commission, Bob and I crossed over onto Whidbey Island on hwy 20.  An absolutely spectacular vista awaited us at the high bridge that connected the mainland to Whidbey.  Whidbey Island surprised us: we expected it to be much more built up and heavily populated than it is.  Back in Burlington, it proved to be a quiet evening.

Mt. Baker

           Next morning, we finally had the opportunity to see two iconic snowcapped mountains in the North Cascades.  We drove hwy 20 to hwy 9 north, then hwy 542 east.  We passed what shyly bore the #33, and had to go back.  It was a humble little narrow windy road that had much to be humble about.  Finally, we reached the Cougar Ridge vista point that wasn’t. 10,778 foot Mount Baker was taking the holiday off.  Regretfully, we unwound ourselves back down to hwy 542 and continued east all the way to the Mount Baker Ski Area—but 9,127-foot-high Mount Shuskan was taking the 4th off too.  Sadly, we turned around and headed back to Burlington. As Longfellow put it in “Rainy Day,” “Some days must be dark and dreary.”

            The next day, Lucy was worse, but we had to move on anyway.  Again, we picked up hwy 20 and headed east.  At Concrete, we turned north on hwy 11, following the shoreline of Baker Lake.  But both Baker and Shuskan had foggy hangovers from the holidays and refused to come out.  So it was that we had to leave Washington without seeing those two majestic mountains we’d seen in so many photographs through the years and had salivated for so long.  None of us could bring ourselves to say, “Two blessings for another time.” We could only sigh at the lost opportunity.

A WORLD OF ICE, ROCK, AND SNOW

            There are few untrampled wilderness areas left in the world
            North Cascades National Park is one of them.

                               —(North Cascades), 18

            The North Cascades National Park consists of 505,000 acres of rugged unspoiled beauty.  With peaks in excess of 9,000 feet, the park offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the nation; its average elevation is nearly 7,000 feet.  It is anchored by two young volcanoes both towering over 10,000 feet: Mt. Baker to the north and Glacier Peak to the south.  Even though these mountains may seem low compared to the 14,000-foot giants in the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevadas, their vertical relief is as great or greater than any other range.

            So why do these mountains carry so much snow and ice?  It is because, running parallel to the coast and only thirty miles from the Puget Sound, “North Cascades intercept the storms that sweep in from the Pacific.  As the warm, moisture-laden air is pushed up against the mountains, it rises, cools, and drops its moisture as rain and snow.  Average annual precipitation on the west side is 110 inches.  The winter season may deposit as much as 46 feet of snow.” (North Cascades, 15).  Indeed, so much snow falls here that Highway 20 is closed through the mountains from November to April—no traffic gets through

            In actuality, the Cascades are much larger than the park itself.  When you factor in adjoining land across the Canadian border and more than 2,000,000 acres of federally designated wilderness, the ecosystem encompasses over 3,000,000 acres of protected public land.  Very few roads bisect this vast wilderness.  Its creeks would be called rivers anywhere else; these creeks eventually merge into four mighty rivers draining into the Pacific: Chilliwack, Baker, Skagit, and Nooksack.  Since the eastern side attracts much less rain, the rivers are much smaller: the Methrow and Pasayten.  Its two greatest bodies of water are Lake Chelan and 12,000 acre 25-mile-long Ross Lake.

            We can thank Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson for preserving the Cascades for us.  Concerns about the pace of population growth, especially in the West, caused Udall to warn, “What we save now may be all we’ll save.”  Besides helping to save roadless North Cascades with its 318 glaciers (almost a third of all those left in the lower 48), Udall also joined forces with the Sierra Club to save what was left of the California redwoods (which live several thousand years and grow 300 feet high).  By Udall’s time, loggers had wiped out 85% of this old growth; Redwood National Park saved only half of them.  First Lady Lady Bird Johnson was also a great champion of these parks.  North Cascades National Park was created in 1968, so it’s only 42 years old.   Highway 20 wasn’t constructed until 1972.

* * * * *

Ancient Douglas Fir

            We next stopped at Rockport State Park with its stand of magnificent old growth Douglas fir, towering to 300 feet high.  Bob and I walked through one of the loops—the park is currently closed to auto traffic because of habitat destruction.  It would be our last view of old growth trees.  We could only imagine what it must have been like a century ago before the West was all but denuded of these great trees.  What a debt of gratitude we owe Park Manager Al Nickerson and all those other thousands of conscientious guardians of our fragile park heritage.  Without them, we’d lose everything.

Diablo Lake

            Next we stopped for huckleberry ice cream at a roadside hutch—but they were sold out of it.  Then, perversely—when it was too late to go back—the sun came out.  We all walked out to see the spectacular Gorge Creek Falls cascading hundreds of feet down the mountain, then rushing under the 900-foot-high bridge.  One more stop: the dramatic Diablo lake overlook—its jade-green water is so beautiful you almost wonder if it was computer-enhanced.

Western Town of Winthrop with Wooden Sidewalks

            Late afternoon found us dropping down out of that pristine wilderness into the gold-mining town of Winthrop.  True it was once Old West but little of it was left when, in 1972, borrowing a leaf from Leavenworth, Winthrop reinvented itself, complete with old West facades, wooden sidewalks, and old-fashioned streetlights.  Town leaders at least had justification for Owen Wister describes some of the town’s original sites and citizens in his novel, The Virginian.  Wister and his bride had earlier honeymooned here.  We stayed on the Chewuch River in a River’s Edge Motel cabin.  The river lulled us to sleep.

NEXT STOP: We’ll be visiting the Grand Coulee Dam.

SOURCES

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2002).

The Most Scenic Drives in America (Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1997). [Very helpful].

North Cascades National Park (Las Vegas, NV: K.C. Publications, 2008). [Most informative!].

Oregon & Washington Tour Book (Heathrow, Florida: AAA Publishing, 2010).

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

ENZIAN INN AND LEAVENWORTH

A beautiful morning in Stehekin! But rare is the journey where everything goes right. In our case: somehow, somewhere, Bob had lost his driver’s license! No small problem when you’re switching drivers every day. With only one phone on the “island,” It was difficult for Bob to set in motion a process whereby he could secure a substitute license on short notice.

Our breakfast over, we checked out and reveled in our last couple of hours before returning to civilization. But all too soon the blast of the fast boat’s horn told us it was time to go. At 28 mph, we were able to make it back to Chelan in only two and a half hours. No driver’s license in Chelan—more phone calls. Then it was back on hwy 97 through the Wenatchee Valley, the “Apple Capital of the World.” When hwy 97 turned south we joined hwy 2 on the Southern Cascade Loop.

Hanging flowers in the town of Leavenworth

Leavenworth—an unlikely success story of an old logging town that was given up for dead. A group of residents banded together and searched for ways to end their thirty-year recession. Someone came up with a break-through solution: since they were perfectly positioned near the confluence of two great national forests, the Wenatchee and Snoqualmie, encircled with snow-capped peaks, and blessed by a white water river, why not go Bavarian Alps? Why not indeed? What did they have to lose? By the early 1960s, the plan was put in motion: they reinvented themselves as a Bavarian alpine village. It paid off: Today, 1,200,000 visitors a year help fill the little town’s coffers, with nonstop festivities. This year alone, they put on the Leavenworth Choral Festival (April 10), Ale Fest (April 17), Maifest (May 7-9), Spring Bird Fest (May 13-16), Bavarian Bike and Brews Festival (June 5), Wine Walk (June 5), International Accordian Festival (June 17-20), Kinderfest (July 4), International Dance Festival (June 26-27), Wine Tasting Festival (Aug. 21), Quilts in the Village (Sept. 8 – 12), Salmon Festival (Sept. 18-19), Washington State Autumn Leaf Festival (Sept. 24 – 26), Oktoberfest (Oct. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16), Christkindlemarket (Nov. 26-28), Christmas Lighting Festival (Dec. 3-5, 10-12, 17-19), and Icefest Jan 15-16, 2011). It wasn’t easy, but we somehow managed to reach Leavenworth between festivals.

Our nephew Byron Palmer’s second suggested place to stop in Washington was Leavenworth’s Enzian Inn (he and his family always stay there when in the area). Thus it was that with all the other Bavarian motels to choose from, we checked in at the Enzian Inn. One of the reasons we so enjoy staying in national park lodges is that each is unique, a quality in all-too-short supply in today’s cookie cutter lodging age. Rarely do we find anything “different” about a chain hotel or motel. But Bob and Rob Johnson shared a dream: that they could more than compete in a chain-motel age. Together they created an inn that is not only Leavenworth’s largest, it is also the product of craftsmanship and talent in wood. It is a thing of beauty. You notice it immediately when you enter the beautiful foyer and look up at the second story mezzanine—just as is true with Paradise Inn’s. Everywhere, upstairs and downstairs, there are lounge chairs, sofas, and couches for guests who wish to chat with each other, relax, read by the great fireplace on the first floor, or play board games (there’s a wall of them to choose from—also puzzles—on the second floor mezzanine). Also an outside deck overlooking the picturesque little town.

After walking through the town, eating at an Italian restaurant (not everything’s Bavarian!), and pigging out on ice cream, we returned to the Enzian where we again played Phase Ten—Bob had the nerve to beat us. While we were playing, people gathered around the beautiful old Charles M. Stieff grand piano downstairs. Soon the evening’s performance began: not classical but music generations of Americans have loved. Applause (from both floors) followed each number. The pianist played for a full hour and a half. Every night of the year such an evening concert for the guests takes place here.

Alpenhorn at Enzian Inn

The guest rooms were just as lovely as the inn. Next morning, we went up to a ballroom-sized fourth-floor vista room, where a veritable feast awaited us–all complimentary. Hot omelets and scrambled eggs made to order, hot cereal, breads, muffins, juices, fruit, bagels, coffee, tea, pastries of every possible kind—oh, the list could go on and on. In a word, it was overwhelming—all served by waitresses in Bavarian dresses. About half-way through, Bob Johnson came in, wearing his lederhosen and cap, lugging his great Alpenhorn, mounted the outside balcony rail, and then we heard it—the whole town heard it—straight out of the Alps. Every day, either the father or the son plays the Alpenhorn twice during the breakfast hour.

I am including this segment in our lodge series because here is living proof that not all great lodges are found in parks. That here in a small Washingtown town that has reinvented itself, a father and son decided that rather than just build another cookie cutter motel, they’d build something out of the golden age of hotels, with old-timey space to relax in, in their equivalent of a great hall, a mezzanine to tie the two floors together, a fireplace to dream by, live piano music each evening, a breakfast you’d pay $50 for anywhere else, then the Alpenhorn music thrown in for good measure—all for the same price everyone else in town charges. It boggles my mind! But it works: The inn was full.

SOURCES

AAA Oregon and Washington Tour Book (Heatherow, Florida, 2010).

“History of Leavenworth, Washington (a hand-out).

“The Alpenhorn at the Enzian,” (a hand-out).

The Most Scenic Drives in America, (Pleasantville, New York: Te Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1997).

“Sonnenschein auf Leavenworth,” (Leavenworth, WA: NCW Media, Inc., 2010).

STEHEKIN LANDING RESORT AND LAKE CHELAN

            We were in no hurry to leave Paradise Inn dining hall.  Indeed, we wished we could stay there another day, but since the hotel was all booked up and our other reservations had been made long before, Lucy and Connie settled into their nests in the back seat; in the front, we changed drivers, and drove down the mountain.  Just before we arrived at the Stevens Canyon Entrance, we passed through the Grove of the Patriarchs.  Another “blessing for another time” was to return here and revel in those thousand-year-old Douglas firs and western red cedars.

            Passing through the rugged Tatoosh Wilderness on hwy 12, we continued on to one of the nation’s best known fruit-growing regions, the Yakima Valley; from here we took hwy 97 north, arriving at Lake Chelan in mid-afternoon.  Here we checked in at the Lakeside Best Western, beautifully landscaped with flower-beds, shrubbery and trees.

THE TIME WARP

            Here and there in life, if we’re both adventurous and lucky, we stumble on certain places that are magical.  When we’d told our nephew, Byron Palmer (who works for Alaska Airlines) that we planned to explore Washington state, he categorized Lake Chelan and Stehekin as “must-sees.”  But even though we found the south end of the lake to be attractive, nothing prepared us for the northern terminus 51 miles away.

Lake Chelan

            Next morning early, we boarded Lady of the Lake II for what turned out to be a journey into a time warp.  As the boat moved north, the genial captain pointed out places of interest—the verdant orchards and vineyards gave the lake a Mediterranean look.  We learned that fjord-like Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the United States, its 1,486-foot depth exceeded only by Crater Lake’s 1,932 and Lake Tahoe’s 1,645.  We were surprised to discover that Chelan is considered to be the deepest gorge in North America: the Grand Canyon of the Colorado is a mile deep, Kings Canyon is 7,800 feet deep, Hells Canyon is 8,200 feet deep, and Lake Chelan’s gorge (given that it plunges down to 386 feet below sea level) is 8,631 feet deep.  Indeed, so deep is the lake that we were told it takes the water flowing in to the northern part of the lake from Stehekin River ten years to reach the south end 51 miles away.  Needless to say, its greens and blues, being glacier-fed, are a feast for the eyes.

View of Cathedral Peaks

           Roads reach only the midway point of our four-hour boat trip.  Soon cell phones ceased to function, no power lines or telephone lines exist, and human habitations are mighty few.  We did see one bear off to our right.  The Lady made several stops to let people off or pick them up at wilderness jumping-off points.  Other than the boat’s twin turbines, we heard nothing else.  Looming high above us were the snowcapped mountains of the North Cascades National Park, reminding us no little of the Alps.

            Finally, we docked at a little hamlet of about 85 full-time residents few Americans have ever heard of—Stehekin.  The only way one can get here is by boat, float plane, or trail.  All motor vehicles used here are brought in or taken out once a month by barge.

View of Lake Chelan from deck

            We disembarked and registered at Stehekin Landing Resort, all wooden buildings of recent vintage (1983 and later).  We stayed in two of their lakeside cabins—the front-deck view was to die for.

            In 1814, Alexander Ross of the Northwest Fur Company became one of the first white men to explore the Stehekin Valley.  But it was not until the first steamboat (built on the lake in 1889) that settlers and homesteaders moved in.  Without electricity or roads from the outside world, lifestyles were little different from frontier life: water was carried from the river, wood was used for both cooking and heating, kerosene lamps were used at night.  Not until 1963 did Chelan County PUD put in a small hydroelectric plant so folks could have electricity.  When the North Cascades National Park was established in 1968, the southern part of Lake Chelan was excluded.  A park headquarters was established in Stehekin.  Part of the legislation mandated that a road would never be built into Stehekin.  Since that time, preserving the Stehekin way of life and cultural history has become a mutual effort between the community and the park service.

* * * * *

            Stehekin really comes to life in the summers, and the population swells in order to accommodate people like us.  Young people especially revel in coming here where there is no TV and only one satellite telephone—it is such a different world from anything they’ve ever known before.  We found them a joy to talk to as they served us in the rustic dining room.

Rainbow Falls

            In mid afternoon a driver was rounded up to shuttle us up to Rainbow Falls.  We were totally unprepared for it, for it was something on the scale of waterfalls in Yosemite.  321 feet high, you can hear its thunder before you ever see it—yet, unbelievably, it appears to be virtually unknown.  We have nothing that can compare to it in the Colorado Rockies.  It wasn’t just its height that impressed us, though it did—it was the sheer volume of water coming over the falls.  As we walked part way back, we saw few motor vehicles but quite a few people on bicycles.  We stopped to inspect the old log-cabin schoolhouse so reminiscent of those of a century or two ago.

            We moved on, following signs to “The Bakery.”  First town I’ve ever been in where a bakery was the destination so many people considered central to their lives.  We stopped there.  Back at the landing, it gradually came home to us that when the year-round towns-people spoke of Stehekin as “the island,” it really made sense, for they are cut off from the rest of the world—one of the very few hamlets in the lower 48 where this is so.  In the winter, when boats (and the mail and supplies they bring) reach here only three times a week, Stehekin settles down to an even quieter life.  Since there may be five or six feet of snow on the ground, with Chelan 51 miles away having none, it’s not too surprising to hear—as I did!—that the north end of the lake was 600 feet higher than the south.  Go figure!

            We found the park headquarters to be a magnet; Connie rushed over there (about 500 feet) to get her park passport stamped first thing.  In the evening, I attended a lecture there.  In talking to locals, I discovered that a number really sacrifice in order to live here (one dentist works all week in Ellensburg, returning home by boat for weekends).  Children are either home schooled or attend the “newer” schoolhouse (if the snow’s not too deep).  The postmistress is a retiree who came here in order to experience life again, to be needed.  She and her husband love it on the “Island.”  When she takes mail to the boat, she locks the door “because of federal regulations—but I really don’t need to here,” she told me.

            During the night, the wind came up.  Its sound in the evergreens was wonderful.  With no other sound, and the lights off around us, it really seemed like another world.

SPECIAL NOTE

            Next week it’s on to Enzian Inn and Leavenworth.

SOURCES

Barnhart, Mike and Nancy, Stehekin: A Mountain Community (Stehekin, WA: Bridge Creek Publishing, 2003).

Barnhart, Mike and Nancy, Lake Chelan and the North Cascades (Stehekin, WA: Bridge Creek Publishing, 2000).

The Lady of the Lake (Stehekin, WA: Ladyofthelake.com, 2010).

Lake Chelan (Chelan, WA: Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, 2010).

Lake Chelan, Washington (Chelan, WA: Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, 2010).

North Cascades National Park (Las Vegas: K.C. Publications, 2008).

Hackenmiller, Tom, Ladies of the Lake (Wenatchee, WA: Point Publishing, 1998).

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

The Stehekin Guidebook (Stehekin, WA: Stehekin Heritage, 2010).

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

DON’T LET CONCRETE SETTLE IN YOUR HEAD

The moment you’re satisfied with what you’ve got,
The concrete has begun to settle in your head.”
—Reader’s Digest

Modern technology has made it imperative that education be lifelong rather than merely a stage. Do you remember the feeling, as a child, of holding on to the circular bar of a playground merry-go-round as it went faster and faster, and the centrifugal force was so great you felt that at any moment you’d blindly sail off into space? Sometimes the frantic pace of our lives produces the same feeling. Yet, the price of just letting go is higher than one might think.

Nicholas Murray Butler put it this way: “If your curve of efficiency is ascending at 45, and keeps ascending after that period, it may well move upward for your whole life, but if there is a turn downward at 45, you will never recover.” Of course the age designation of 45 is a relative term.

The good Lord created us to grow at every stage of our lives—and on into eternity. Again and again, in His parables, Christ hammered home the message that continual growth is a divine mandate, not merely an option.

Some years ago, in Texas, I was privileged to develop, implement, and run an adult degree program created for all those who seek to re-board the growth-wagon of life. Those were some of the most energizing years I ever experienced. What a difference between those students and the average college students (18 – 22 years old) who more often than not are clueless about life and rarely pose Life’s Three Eternal Questions: Who am I? Where have I come from? and Where am I going? All too many flounder through their college years, drop out, or graduate without any real sense of purpose, or even direction.

Not so adult students! When they re-enter the academic world they remind you of Shakespeare’s Cassius:

“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look”

That’s just it: they come back because they are hungry for what they once took for granted, and are frantically trying to make up for lost time. Indeed some keep sighing, “Oh, I keep thinking of all the years I’ve lost,” as though that loss of momentum precludes ever climbing back on Life’s Juggernaut. I refused to accept such a cop-out; most would sheepishly grin and sign up when I posed this reality to them: “You know, five years from now you’re going to be five years older whether or not you begin the degree process—why not at least be aiming somewhere?”

It was surprising to discover how many were back because they’d finally realized one of life’s most brutal realities: they might very well be the men or women who, more than any others, propelled their company or institution to success, but almost invariably someone with that piece of parchment we call a degree was holding the key position of leadership in their sector, and drawing a commensurate paycheck. And it never ceased to amaze me how quickly my adult students would move up the career ladder once their bosses discovered they were enrolled in a degree program and were making steady progress towards that goal.

That’s really what degrees do for you. They don’t by themselves make you more intelligent, but because people perceive that they do, they validate in the public’s eye everything you do, write, or say. Then there is the requisite self-discipline. Employers feel that anyone who has earned a degree has exhibited staying-power, something they’re always seeking in their top employees.

Degrees accomplish something else in our lives. Sort of like the Millionaire game show: if you miss a given question, you can only drop back so far (to the last major plateau). Just so degrees offer you achievement plateaus you can drop back to, and build towards the next plateau higher up. They represent solid foundational blocks of achievement.

Nor should we ever discount the difference degrees make in our own attitudes toward ourselves. Deserved or undeserved, we stand taller and straighter with them than without. Though it is a subtle difference, we feel it, and it energizes us to continue growing. Each graduation ceremony may thus be likened to another booster rocket in our life’s trajectory.

Given the current rate of technological change, however, degree programs, and even the textbooks prepared for them, may become obsolete before you can even prepare for them. That’s why what your degree is in means less and less each year that passes; it’s the fact that you completed one that makes you a viable job candidate.

Also, as a former chair of English and Communication departments, and hence coordinator of job placement of our graduates, I can testify that, more and more in a society obsessed with electronics, there is developing an ever more desperate search for women and men who can think rationally, reason from cause to effect, explore different schools of thought without getting argumentative, and articulate coherently and persuasively both in speech and on paper.

So, wherever we are in life, the truly imperative thing is that each of us needs to make sure we’re in a growth mode. Not to be in one is a living death.

I’ll leave the last word today to Phillips Brooks:

The ideal life is in our blood and never will be still. Sad will be the day for us when we become contented with the thoughts we are thinking and the deeds we are doing—where there is not forever beating at the doors of our souls some desire to do something larger, which we know that we were meant and made to do.