Category: #travel

If it could go wrong, it did . . .

Welcoming committee in Banff - Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Our welcoming committee in Banff.

…except when it mattered.

With a tip’o the hat to that rode-hard-put-away-wet cowboy crooner cum hippie, Willie Nelson, I’m:

“On the road again,
I just can’t wait to get on the road again . . .
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again”

But this time to Canada for a family reunion with the Reist’s, a branch from my dad’s side of the clan.  We’re going to spend a weekend together near Didsbury, a farming town of about 5,000 north of Calgary.

I’m traveling with my chronically peripatetic sister, Linda.  In a rental car, we’ve front loaded the reunion by several days to first go down the east side of the Continent’s spine from the Calgary to Glacier National Park.  Then turning west over the Divide and heading north through Banff and continuing to the iconic Fairmont Hotel on Lake Louise.  Then crossing the Divide again for the reunion before taking in the last day of the “Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” the Calgary Stampede.

A comedy of errors.  That wasn’t so funny.

But this little story comes with a sub-plot that, infuriatingly, just keeps on giving.

It began early in the morning when Linda flew in from her home in Albuquerque to DIA where we were scheduled, we thought, to catch a Frontier flight together to Calgary.  But when she got to the gate she was told that the plane had already left.  And that Frontier wouldn’t have another flight to Calgary for three days.  Information that she immediately communicated to me while I was in my Uber to the airport.  Talk about that sinking feeling.

“But,” she continued, “I might be able to get us on another airline that leaves this afternoon.  But it’ll probably cost more.”

“Well, what choice do we have?” I replied.  “We’ve got all the other arrangements made.  I think we have to take it if you can get it.  But I wonder what happened?  I have it right here on my calendar that we should have had plenty of time to catch this flight.”

“Well, I’m not sure, but I think the travel agent messed up and didn’t send us the notice of the change.”

“Great.  And, of course, it’s my travel agent.   Well,” I sighed, “you better get the tickets.  I’ll deal with the travel agent later.”  And you can bet your bottom dollar that I will.  ‘Cause those tickets, purchased at the last possible moment, cost so much that you couldn’t get me to confess how much even if you put thumb screws on each of my fingers.  And toes.

But wait.  There’s more!

When we got to the rental car desk in Calgary, the hits just kept coming.  I’d forgotten my driving glasses-didn’t really need ’em to sit in the Uber on the way to the airport.  And it didn’t seem quite fair to have my sister do all the driving.

Seriously abashed, I had to call my understandably resentful wife to have her ship them to the Lake Louise where I could take up the slack for the last few days of driving duty.  And, at the time, it seemed like a good plan.

Until, that is, I got this text from my wife:  “Took the glasses to the UPS store.  $165.09 to have them shipped to Canada!”

“Oh, my Lord!” I exclaimed as I stared at the little letters on my phone.  But my sister didn’t seem much surprised:  “Lake Louise is remote.  There aren’t any airports around there.  I just hope they get there in time.”

But wait!  There’s still more!

From Calgary, Linda drove us back across the U.S. border to Glacier National Park.  There, we planned to spend a night and then take a ride in one of the famous open top “Red Bus Tours” that navigate the Going-to-the-Sun-Road to see the spectacular peaks, glaciers and wildlife.  To make sure we were on track to be at the proper bus stop to answer the early morning “‘Board!” we scouted out the area after dinner at the rustic Lake McDonald Lodge where our table overlooked the lake and the rugged peaks beyond.

While on the road the next morning, we got engrossed in one of the several nourishing conversations that occurred during the trip.  Since Linda moved away from home for college when I was a kid-and she never lived in Denver again-this was the most time we’ve spent together for decades.  As she drove us down the winding two lane highway that followed a powerfully sinuous river coursing beneath pine clad slopes, we talked about war, peace, Christianity and my relatively recent conversion to near pacifism.  So, rather than going just a few miles to the turnoff to catch our bus, we, completely absorbed, drove miles by it before she realized where we were.  And so we missed the tour altogether!

Oh, well!  All’s well that ends well.

Turned out, however, that it wasn’t altogether a bad thing.  The drive back up across the Canadian border to our next layover in the tiny tourist burg of Radium Hot Springs on the west side of the Divide pretty much burned up the day even without our “going to the sun.”  And even though the summer days that far north are anything but short.

True, the glasses fiasco continued to plague us for a few days; something, said the email from DHL, about getting a tiny pair of glasses across an international border.  So Linda was at the helm for the rest of the drive.  And I gave up and just told DHL to “return to sender.”  Which they did.  Has to be about the most expensive round trips that a pair of glasses has ever made.

But at least they were there to greet me when I finally made it home.

 

 

It’s just one damn thing after another.

And then you die?

Did you see the recent stories and pictures of climbers stuck in a human traffic jam trying to get to the top of Mount Everest?  I saw them while on my recent trip to Scotland and England.

At least 11 people died attempting to scale Earth’s highest peak this year.  Some of the “mountaineers” clambered over dead bodies in their desperate attempt the “bag” summit.   I hesitate to describe all of these folks as mountaineers because I’m convinced that at least some of them pay tens of thousands of dollars to be largely dragged to the summit by their Nepalese guides.

One of the casualties, an Austrian, was survived by his wife and children.  Another, a 62 year old Coloradan, died on the way down from the top.  He thus became a short lived member of the “7 Summit Club”-a group who’s members have scaled the highest peak on each continent.  Surviving family members were uniformly quoted as saying that the deceased “died doing what they loved.”

Adventure?  Or mere dilettantism?

There can’t be much question that climbing Everest is an “adventure” in the dictionary sense:  “a bold, risky undertaking with an uncertain outcome.”  But is that really enough?  Is it really enough just to be frightened half to death?  Or even fully to death?  Doesn’t  real adventure require that there be a higher purpose?  A reason other than cheap (or very expensive) thrills?

It’s not, after all, that Everest hasn’t been climbed before.  What’s going on there now isn’t remotely connected with “boldly going where no man (or woman) has gone before”.  Since the first serious efforts to scale the peak were made in the early 1920’s, over 300 people have died on its slopes.  Which means who knows how many thousands of others have successfully or unsuccessfully made the attempt-but lived to tell the tale.

Real adventure

By contrast, think, for example, of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Yes, Huck had his share of heart thumping, life threatening adventures rafting down the Mississippi.  But it became more than that; it was a quest for nigger Jim’s freedom (don’t blame me, blame Mark Twain).  Think of Harry Potter.  Or the Biblical accounts of Abraham or Moses.  Or Homer’s The Illiad and The Odyssey.  Jesus.  The list goes on and on.  Sure, plenty of narrow escapes.  And sometimes lethal failures to escape.

But success or failure really isn’t the point.  To put your life at risk, shouldn’t there be something really important at stake, a quest?  Adventure for it’s own sake is just amusement.  Go to Disney World for tittilation; it’s a lot cheaper and you’re not going to leave behind a widow.

“But,” you might ask, “how can someone like me get involved in real adventure?”

Well, try this.  Join the Army or Marines and volunteer to go to Afghanistan. I’ll bet you’ll get to see and do some things that get your adrenaline going.  And, depending on your point of view, you’ll be involved in a something that has a higher calling.

Or how about this?  Some old friends of ours, Roger and EvaJean Dockum, have been missionaries with tribal people in Bolivia for many years.  Some of their predecessors, a group of five men, pioneered the work in Bolivia with what they knew to be a dangerous and virtual stone age tribe in the 1940’s and ’50’s.  During one of their first encounters, there was a misunderstanding and the five men were murdered.  Like the Everest climbers, they left behind wives and children.  But their calling was much higher than a mere mountain top.  

Education?  Or amusement?

Of course, this was all brought to mind by my recent trip to England.  “What,” I asked myself, “is the point of a trip like this?”

First, let’s be honest, this is nothing more than amusement.  Sure, we went to museums and saw ruins beyond counting.  We dutifully read many of the countless explanations of the displays we saw on exhibit.  Hadrian’s Wall.  What’s left of the Roman Baths in Bath.  Bewildered and overcome by the sheer volume of information, I listened to the audio guide of Windsor Castle.  (Where I was dismayed that I saw exactly none of the Royals!)

But educational?  Sorry.  I ain’t buyin’ it.  You might as well claim that the best way to build a strong body is to do nothing but eat.  And never work out.  Sure, you’re going to build flab.  But muscles?  Not unless you somehow make the information your own.

Adventure.  Without leaving home.

One of the ways I tried to make things my own was by attending church services.  See how people in England worshiped.  Or, even better, meet some of the locals.

We attended an Evensong service at the ancient York cathedral.  But my sense was that most of the other attendees considered it yet one more stop on the de rigueur tourist circuit.  I got a similar feeling when I attended mass beneath the dome of Sir Christopher Wren’s iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of London.  Both structures spectacular.  Both services solemnly beautiful.  But with tourists wandering around, chattering, and snapping pictures on their cells, something, including anything like a true “local,” was missing.

But that wasn’t the case in the lovely little town of Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds where, one Sunday morning I attended a service at the Campden Baptist Church.  They meet in a school gymnasium.  No, the building wasn’t ancient and beautiful.  In fact, it was nondescript.  But neither were there tourists wandering around yakking and taking pictures.  Instead, I met locals whose hearts were in the service-and who seemed to be pleased that I was there.  The sermon was something I needed to hear:  “Pray as you can, not as you aught.”  I met a guy who’s a shepherd and his young family.  And a CPA on the side.  Don’t ask me exactly how that works.  But that’s my story-and I’m stickin’ to it.

Campden Baptist has a great history.  In the ’70’s, the “congregation” had shrunk to three elderly folks sitting in a chilly back room praying for new members.  But, as James puts it, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  Now, the church has grown to three different locations.  And for my money, that’s a real quest.

On the road again?

So, would I do a trip like this again?  Probably not-and certainly not for three weeks.  Too many museums.  Too many ruins.  Too many sheep.  Too many miles.  Too much living out of a suitcase.  Too many undigested experiences piled on too many undigested experiences.

But don’t get me wrong.  It’s’ not as if there weren’t positives.  It gave me the opportunity to see the world from a very different perspective.  And, on a few occasions, to write about them.  But, for this dreadfully slow writer, it was like drinking at a fire hydrant; heck, here we are two weeks out from jet lag and I’m still pecking away!

But, I promise, you’ve heard your last about “This Scepter’d isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars . . . This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The more things change: Scotland

The more they stay the same:  Palestine

Our intrepid Gang of Seven tourists is now down in Bath, England.  But I’m still catching up on our trip through the narrow byways of Scotland.

There, forbidding, windswept peaks rise out of gorse covered moors that plunge into a restless North Sea.  On the Isle of Sky, more sheep than humans.  And, of course, we sample the wares at the island’s only distillery, the Talisker.

Bonnie Prince Charlie versus the “Butcher” Cumberland

But if it’s Tuesday, this must be when we visited the site of the 1746 Battle of Culloden.  Although not much to see now, this lonely Highlands plain is the site of a brutal battle that also marks the beginning of the nearly as ruthless suppression of Scottish national aspirations that followed.

Like most European conflicts of this era, it’s complicated and, in the end, is a squabble between the French and English monarchs.  For our purposes however, it’s enough to know that Bonnie Prince Charles was a surrogate for the French crown.  He managed to persuade some Scottish clan leaders to support his claim to the British throne.  Naturally, the British king, George II, objected.  And it was game on.

With his Scottish clansmen allies of 7,000, Prince Charles enjoyed some initial success, at one point even threatening London.  But faced with unrest among his own troops, Charles retreated north toward the Scottish highlands.  Pursued by English forces under the Duke of Cumberland, the opposing armies clashed at Culloden.  The clansmens’ primitive ardor and arms proved no match for English discipline and superior weapons; in the space of an hour the Scots suffered a crushing and bloody defeat.

After the battle, Cumberland ordered that no quarter be given to survivors.  The killing of wounded continued for two days after the battle, for which action Cumberland earned the sobriquet “The Butcher”.

Ethnic cleansing

But the war on Scot nationalism didn’t end there.  Fearful that rebellion would again rear its head, the English initiated the policies of clearances and transportation to, as Scrooge notoriously put it, “decrease the surplus population.”

Clearances resulted in the eviction of many Highland farmer tenants to make way for landlords to more profitably graze sheep and cattle.  While it’s true that the marginal soil and harsh climate of the Highlands made farming a chancy proposition, pushing people off the land caused widespread misery, famine, and the forced emigration of Highlanders over the entire globe.

Penal transportation to British colonies, such as Australia, was also widespread as a way of subduing the Scots.  It was liberally used against any who had the remotest connection with “the ‘Forty Five,” as the uprising of Prince Charles became known. While more humane than the former practice of capital punishment for even petty criminal offenses and unpaid debts, it nonetheless had the same net effect: breaking the Highlanders’ spirit.

Palestine: Repetition with variation

As I walked over the battlefield, it was difficult for me to figure out exactly what happened where in what is largely a featureless sea of thatch and gorse.  And the recently constructed visitors center, with its “360-degree battle immersion theater” didn’t help much; true, there was plenty of sound and fury, but the flickering images signified little for me.

But taken together, the day reminded me that history, like art, often repeats itself-but with variation.

And so it was that I thought of Palestine on the field of Culloden.  Again, it’s complicated.  And the details remain controversial.  But for our purposes, from 1947 to 1949 Palestinians and Jews fought a bloody war that led to the “clearance,” or, more conventionally, “The Exodus” of more than 700,000 Arabs from their towns and homes.  Four hundred Arab towns and villages were “depopulated” and the homes of many displaced Arabs were taken by Jews.  About 10,000 Jews also fled their homes as a result of the war.

While they agree on little else, historians on both sides reckon that more than 20,000 died, Arab and Jewish, military and civilian.

Known by Arabs as the “Cataclysm,” Jews refer to the conflict as the “War of Independence.”

As at Culloden, there were no shortage of atrocities in Palestine.  Again, while the facts are disputed, the weight of historical evidence indicates that the majority of massacres were perpetuated by Jews.  Arabs contend that the atrocities were part of a Jewish plan to force them to leave their homeland.   The Israeli government, of course, denies this.

The victors write the history books

Again, I’m no expert. But here’s what I find persuasive.  In the 1980’s both Israel and Great Britain (who had unsuccessfully tried to maintain peace in Palestine after WWII under a United Nations mandate), opened their archives to historians on the whole vexed topic.  A group of Jewish researchers, who became know as the “New Historians“, examined these materials and then recast the traditional, heroic vision of Israel’s founding and the Palestinian Exodus in a light significantly less favorable to Israel.

Which, still, can be dismissed as a case of “he said, she said.”

But not this.  While the New Historians were initially dismissed in Israel as cranks, their views were widely considered legitimate by the 1990’s.  At which point the government reclassified as Top Secret” accounts of Israeli “expulsion[s] of Palestinians, massacres or rapes perpetrated by Israeli soldiers, along with other events considered embarrassing by the establishment.”

What could be more convincing proof of putting inconvenient facts down the Orwellian Memory Hole?  And then trying to keep them there.

The similarities only go so far

While I was on my Scotch odyssey, I re-read Arthur Herman’s informative history, How the Scots Invented Modern World.  For a small, impoverished land, the Scots punched far above their weight intellectually and in trade.  Their contributions in science, medicine and business began in the Scotch cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, but were rapidly spread world wide by the Scottish diaspora that grew out of the clearances and penal transportation.

Which raises the question:  what have Palestinian Arabs done since the 1948 exodus, their Cataclysm?  Unfortunately, and in comparison with the Scots, not much.

Much of their energy has been devoted to largely futile efforts to undo the Cataclysm.  Despite repeated wars with Israel and diplomatic initiatives in the United Nations and other forums, there are over 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in squalid Middle East camps.  There, they ceaselessly lobby for the Right of Return to the homes and property that they lost in their various conflicts with Israel.  While it’s true that Palestinians also have a significant world wide diaspora-and notable figures have emerged from it-one wonders what Palestinians could achieved had they been less focused on “what could have been.”

Is demography destiny?

By population and land mass, Israel is a tiny nation.  Swimming in a vast ocean of Arab Muslims.

Of Israel’s 9 million inhabitants, about 75%, or 6.7 million, are Jews.  Most of the rest are Arabs.

But that, perhaps, is not the real issue.  The greater Arab world extends all the way across North Africa and through the Middle East.  It has a combined population of over 422 million inhabitants, most of whom are under 25 years of age.

It’s true that Muslim nations in the Middle East are notoriously fractious.  Conflicts between them are rife.

But what are the odds that, eventually, they will effectively unite with their co-religionists and successfully take on Israel?  Maybe not this year.  Maybe not in the next ten years.  But in the next 100 years?  That’s a long time.  And Israel has sewn the wind in the Arab world.  How long can the whirlwind be delayed?

Maybe Israel is counting on it’s obedient lap dog, the United States, to continue to meddle in the Mideast and provide it with the latest and greatest weapon systems.  And most of the money to buy them.

But how long is that going to continue?  Judging by my admittedly unscientific polling, not forever.  The great majority of Americans that I’ve talked to have had a bellyful-and more-of bloody, endless, costly and futile war in the Mideast.

And now our Washington war mongers are beating the drums for taking on Iran?  In my humble opinion that’s the perfect illustration of insanity: doing the same thing over and over.  And expecting a different result.

Do they really think that Americans are going to get on board for yet another Mideast war?  I’m betting no.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gonna’ take a sentimental journey

750x450 sleeping in airport

A sentimental journey home!

Cruise the blogosphere for for any length of time and, count on it, you’ll come across a bunch of sites devoted to travel.

Love Travelling.  Dan Flying Solo.  A Broken Backpack.  The Path Less Pedaled.  Nowhere.  The list goes on and on.  And for those of you who just can’t get enough, check out Top 10 Travel Bloggers You Should Already Be Following.  How dare you be so late to the party?

Now, I’ve done a bit of traveling.  And a bit of blogging.  After all, I’m retired.  But I’m bush league compared to these guys.

It just comes with the territory

Nonetheless, I just got back three week trek through Scotland, England and London with my sister, her husband and some of her equally Allmon Brothers-esque, “Ramblin’ Man” companions.  And trust me, “Lord, they were born ramblin’ men.” And women. Definitely, more so than I.

But when I got this email from my sister late the other night (I had taken a different flight and was already home), I doubt that even she and her husband realized what a trip ending “adventure” they were in for:

I’ll bet you’re home; we’re in the Boston airport having been rerouted after our flight out of London was delayed so long that we missed our connection in Reykjavík to Denver.

We spent the night on the floor in the Boston airport waiting for employees to show up so we could get our boarding passes for Denver. In about an hour we’ll board a plane for Denver, check again for our bags when we get there, (our bags didn’t make it to Boston—don’t know why; they may be in Denver🙏) and then head for ABQ.

We should be home by 4pm-ish. That’s enough to sour one on ever leaving home again!
Sure hope you didn’t have to play ring-around-the-rosie to get home.
All in, she later reported that the trip home took 36 hours!

But I wonder

Do I follow all, or even a few, of these travel blogs?  Not really.  But I have written about a few of the mostly U.S. road trips that I’ve taken over the years; that’s probably how I got on the radar of some of these travel bloggers.

Which means that I have no real idea if the type of scenario described by my sister and which illustrates the dramatically less glamorous side of travel-and which is a loathsome fly in the ointment of that more glamorous side-ever makes it into the hip travel sites.   You know, the type of travel blogs gorgeously illustrated with photos of drop dead beaches.  And stunning mountain vistas.  And exotic city scapes.

But, on reflection, these travel snafus almost certainly do make it on to the pages of the tourist blogs.  And, if they don’t, how could they lay claim to even a modicum of authenticity?  Hey, even my flight home from London was delayed two hours on the tarmac when a baggage door was dinged during loading.  As the pilot told us, it was about 30 minutes to fix the ding.  And 90 minutes for paperwork.

The bottom line

So, yes, the trip was interesting.  And-wait for it-I’ll milk this trek for another post or two in the next several days.  But are they the kind of posts loaded with those glamorous photos that are likely to make you pack your bags and take your chances with the airlines?  Don’t hold your breath.

 

 

 

 

Kilts, bag pipes and drums

Against machine guns and poison gas

After dinner here in Oban, our gang walked back to our B&B along the water front, past a small, grassy square.  There were about 20 men and women with bag pipes and drums, playing, marching and rehearsing for what, I assumed was an upcoming competition or festival.  Only one man was dressed in full Scots regalia, kilts, knee-socks, codpiece, the works.  Why everyone else was in street clothes, I can’t tell you.

My wife, who’s half Irish and half Italian, always starts quietly sobbing when she hears bagpipes fire up.  Not quite sure why.  Probably a combination of the weird, mournful wailing and memories of her long dead Irish grandfather, Jerry.  And, particularly, the way Jerry became a near second father to her brother, Cliff, Jr., who was killed by friendly fire shortly after he was drafted and shipped over to Vietnam.

According to schedule

It’s gotten to the point where bagpipes often have a similar effect on me: a catch in my throat, at the least.  I might even have to wipe away a tear or two.  Why?  Similar reasons.  The mournful wailing.  And death.  But not for a relative.  It’s for what happened to Western Civilization in the blood soaked trenches of World War I.  France.  England.  Russia.  America.  Germany.  Italy.  The list goes on.  They all lost their collective minds.   Nearly 40 million dead and wounded, military and civilian.  The U.S. was a bit player in terms of casualties-but it played a decisive role in turning back a nearly successful, final German offensive that resulted in that nation’s exhaustion and defeat.

World War I has been called the “Timetable War” because of the limitations of the rail systems that were required to mobilize the hundreds of thousands of troops in the lead-up to the plunge into the abattoirs.   When that volume of trains are set in motion in such a compressed timeframe, they basically become one-way vehicles: they’re very difficult to turn around and there aren’t any passing lanes.  Once the order to go to war was given, the various hostile powers couldn’t reverse it without running the risk that their cross border enemy wouldn’t do the same.  And leave their own forces trapped in trains in a hopeless traffic jam.

So the flower of Europe’s youth perished-way ahead of schedule.

They’re everywhere

Here, the reminders of death are everywhere.  Stop in any of the little towns we’ve gone through and you’re almost sure to see a war memorial inscribed with the names of the dead from history’s bloodiest century, the 20th.  World War I.  World War II.  Korea.  But in the towns we’ve been through, WWI was by far the bloodiest for Britain.

But it’s not just the lives that were lost.  Or, as awful as it sounds, perhaps even the most important thing that was lost.  The bloody Napoleonic Wars had come to an end about a century earlier in 1815.  In the 100 years between the end of those wars and the start of WWI, Europe and much of the rest of the world largely enjoyed peace.  And relative prosperity.  Britain played world cop.  Western Civilization flourished.  They call it Pax Britannica.  

But it all came crashing down on July 28, 1914.  And since World War II was really just a continuation of World War I’s bloodletting (except on steroids), the fighting didn’t really end until the atom bomb was dropped and the Japanese surrendered in Tokyo harbor on September 2, 1945.  Western Civilization still hasn’t recovered its sense of optimism and self-confidence that was lost in the madness of supposedly “advanced” societies tearing at each others vitals like rabid dogs.  

The Pals

The next morning, I looked to my right down the Oban waterfront.  There, several hundred yards away was a column.  I walked down and, sure enough, it was a war memorial.  Rough hewn and rustic, there were dozens and dozens of names.  Although all of the 20th century’s wars were represented, overwhelmingly the dead were from “The Great War.”

To encourage enlistment, the British military established “Pals” battalions.  This allowed young men from the same town or school to enlist with their friends rather being randomly assigned to units full of strangers.  The Pal system worked-with often horrifying consequences.   In the 1916 Somme offensive, of 700 Pals from the small town of Accrington, 235 were killed and 350 were wounded in the space of 30 minutes.   

Were the many Scottish soldiers whose names were etched on the Oban memorial Pals?  Did they “go over the top” behind wailing bagpipers in tartan kilts?  I don’t know.  But one of the soldiers at the top of the memorial has on a stone kilt.  And, more importantly, who can think of this madness and not get a catch in their throat?  And utter a prayer that we won’t repeat the insanity.  And that, by the grace of God, Western Civilization might someday come to a recognition that it has a great deal to offer a world that still needs what it has.  At least when it’s at its best.

 

 

 

 

On the water front

750x450 Scotland

The Lord still inhabits the praises of his people

Last winter my sister, Linda, and her husband came to Colorado for a visit.  Don’t ask me how, but they managed to wedge it in amongst all their other globe girdling trips.  As I’ve said of them before, throw a dart at a map of the world.  And they’ve probably been there.

Over dinner, they mentioned that they were going to Scotland and England this spring with a group of friends.  I took the opportunity to invite myself along.  Graciously, they didn’t let the opportunity go by.  Even though she introduced me to her friends as “my brother who tells corny jokes.”

So here I am in Scotland in the little seaside town of Oban, staying at the Alltavona B&B. My hostess tells me that in Gaelic the name means “beside the water.”  Which is appropriate; I’m watching the ferry go by no more than 200 yards from my window.

Today, however, I’d had enough of the “cozy” 8 seater van, counting sheep and lochs, tasting whiskey, eating bangers and mash, and watching three thousand foot peaks go by that are all above timber line because we’re so near the arctic.  So I stayed behind while the rest of the gang jumped on a small boat to go to an island to see puffins.  Not my thing.  It’s time for me to fire up the blog and reflect on the trip.  Not to mention that I consider sea sickness, to which I’m so prone, a fate worse than death.

Rosary beads aplenty

I asked our hostess about an internet cafe.  She was puzzled, “We have internet here.”  I assured her that I preferred to work in a coffee shop.  “Well, in that case, why don’t you try the chocolate shop?  It’s just down the way.”  So I walked down the bay, crossing the street a time or two, trying to avoid getting run over by looking the wrong direction.  And there it was: the Oban Chocolate Co.   The coffee was good.  So was the scone and jam (too early for chocolate).  But the internet connection was terrible.  So, after some futile fiddling, I headed back to the Alltavona.

Halfway there, the bells of a squat, stolid church began clanging; it’s Wednesday morning here and time for mass.  Even if far from musical, the bells were, at least, the real thing.  I walked up a few stairs and went through the doors behind a couple of elderly ladies.  Finding a place to sit was absolutely no problem.  To describe the interior as austere is an understatement.  Roughly quarried from the grey, volcanic rock of ages that underlays so much of this part of Scotland, the charcoal stone was only broken by the white lines of mortar that bound the structure together.  Sun streamed through simple windows, faintly stained rose.  The church had been built during the lean days following the end of World War II.

The tiny congregation in the cavernous structure was just finishing the rosary as I sat down.  Several participants fingered their beads from where they prayed on wooden kneelers.  Soon, a priest began saying the mass.  His homily was brief.  And even forgettable.  But it was a welcome sabbath from days of restless movement, of random historical fact strung on random historical fact.

Brendan and Kenneth

I paused for a few minutes to read about the church when the service was over.  The bells that had summoned me to worship were good Catholic boys: Brendan and Kenneth.  The church is named after St. Columba, the Irish evangelist who brought Christianity to Scotland in the 6th century.

Christianity’s never been a popularity contest.  Consider what they did to its founder.  But no more could it be extirpated by hanging Jesus on a cross than it could be stamped out by a scant attendance at a Wednesday morning mass.  Like the resurrected Christ himself, the Church is built for the ages.  And the long haul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

III. The Communion of Saints.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Past.  Present. And FUTURE.

Hit the rewind button.  Again.  Back to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore for a couple of nights at the beautiful State Game Lodge.  I stayed there as a kid with my mom and brother on two trips we made to visit her relatives in far southeast North Dakota.

The Lodge seemed huge then; small now.  One night, my brother and I sat out on the big front porch, watching a fierce storm, the lightning bolts turning the surrounding hills white before they were plunged into an even greater blackness.  Thunder claps coming from just over our heads and then tumbling down the valleys, the rain sluicing in curtains off the roof in front of where we, mesmerized, sat.  The show was over too quickly.

Those were lean times for our family; my dad had gone from driving big Cadillacs with those outrageous tail fins to a little VW bug with faded, orange paint.  But it did the trick, laboring up those long grades in Wyoming, getting us to mom’s relatives’ farms in southeast North Dakota.  Those farmers-those relations-are mostly gone now.

Angry hornets.

Custer State Park is something like a beekeeper’s veil:  it keeps at bay the annoying swarms of tourist traps that would otherwise overwhelm Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Badlands National Park.

Mount Rushmore in a driving rain, sleet mix is less than ideal.  But look on the bright side-I pretty much had the place to myself.  And the weather did nothing to deter those stoic, gray figures, their faces wreathed in mist, gazing out towards the horizon.

Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse Memorial

Persistence and determination are alone omnipotent.

A few miles down the road, it was the same story at the Crazy Horse Memorial, where the massive sculpture pranced in and out of the clouds.

In 1939, Lakota Sioux Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote a letter to the well known Polish-American sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, asking him to create a monument so that “the white man would know that the red man has great heroes too.”  Although Ziolkowski answered in the affirmative, the start of the work was interrupted by the sculptor’s WWII Army service; he was wounded at the Omaha Beach landings.

The first blast on the sculpture didn’t come until June 3, 1948.  The work hasn’t stopped since.  Not by Ziolkowski’s death in 1982.  Nor his wife Ruth’s death in 2014.  It’s now carried on by their 10 children and even grandchildren.

When I first visited Crazy Horse with my mom and brother back in the early ’60’s, you had to have an active imagination to have any idea what was taking shape on that distant pile of rocks.  No longer.  Crazy Horse’s face is finished, even though it will be years, if not decades, before the entire sculpture is.  (This glacial pace of progress has been the object of some criticism and charges of family nepotism.)

Why has it gone so slowly?  It’s all been done with admission fees and private donations.  When federal aid was offered, Ziolkowski and the tribes he worked with refused.  When I asked one of the museum attendants, “Why?” he answered, “The federal government took our land.  We’re not going to take money from them.”

Past. Present. And future.

When Monique Ziolkowshi, Korczak’s daughter and now CEO of the undertaking, is asked when the sculpture will be finished, she replies, “I’ll be dead before it’s done.”

Is this monument, which this woman will never see completed, a strange project to devote one’s life to?  Maybe.

But isn’t it a sort of picture of how life should be lived?  Hopefully, our ancestors have bequeathed something to us we consider worth preserving.  A tradition, or, as Burke had it, a “prescription,” that we carry into the present.  And that we, in turn, live, move and have our being in such a way that makes “the Permanent Things,” as T.S. Eliot described them, beguiling to our descendants.

 

 

II. The Communion of Saints.

big boy locomotive

Big Boy Locomotive

Past. PRESENT. And Future.

Fast forward to the present.  And Cheyenne, Wyoming.  On the map, the drive from the Adams Bonanza Farm was pretty straight forward.  Southwest to Pierre, the capital of South Dakota and where I spent a night at The Hitching Horse Inn B&B, a few blocks from the Missouri River.  Then, west to Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills for a couple of a gray days; I hadn’t seen that country since my mom took my brother and me there as kids.

From there, south to Cheyenne, Wyoming and a night at the Nagle Warren Mansion B&B. It’s part of “Cattle Baron Row” and was a short walk through the drizzle from downtown.   A few blocks in the other direction, there’s a park with the Union Pacific’s “Big Boy” locomotive is on display.  As a kid, I remember watching it belching black smoke as it thundered across the purple sage of Wyoming and we raced it in our car on the way to summer vacations in Boise.

The Heart of the Matter

But while my drive was linear, the listening wasn’t.  It was The Heart of the Matterby Graham Greene, considered by many to be one of the 20th century’s greatest novelists and a self described “Catholic agnostic.”

The novel captures the ambiguity of living on the evanescent bubble of the present.  Loosely based on Greene’s life, the setting is a west African British colony during World War II.  It’s the story of a hapless policeman, Henry Scobie. Tormented rather than comforted by his Catholic faith, he’s a trapped, despairing, and disillusioned man.  His career is going nowhere.  A loveless marriage is made unbearable by the death of his one daughter.  An affair with a younger woman is not just unsatisfactory, the church teaches that it’s a mortal sin.  Suicide, the only apparent way out, piles eternal damnation on mortal sin.  Not to mention to the human wreckage Scobie believes his death will leave in its wake.

Needless to say, the book didn’t become a near instant best seller on its 1948 publication based on its happy subject matter. My review?  It made the nearly featureless miles of the Wyoming outback melt away.

The scandal that keeps on giving.  And taking.

On Sunday morning I enjoyed breakfast with several other guests around the large table in the dining room.  On line, I’d seen that the main Catholic cathedral for Wyoming was nearby.   I asked our host, Jim, to point me in the right direction and I walked to the early service.  

The Cathedral of St. Mary

The Cathedral of St. Mary

The Cathedral of St. Mary is regal.   Very different than the evangelical, Protestant sanctuaries I’m used to and which, so often, are only a step or two up from unadorned shoe boxes.  The priest was from India and his thick accent rendered the homily largely incomprehensible.    (Catholic homilies, even when comprehensible, are usually a step or two down from the Protestant sermons I’m used to.  Well, guess you can’t have it all.)

As the homily drifted over my head in Cheyenne, my thoughts wondered back to a Mass I’d gone to at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church several weeks before in Silverthorne, Colorado.  I happened to catch Our Lady at the height of the sexual abuse scandal.  There, amidst the crying babies and fidgety kids, the minister read a letter of apology from the Archdiocese.  The stained glass windows shimmered as I blinked away tears.

But why should I be surprised?  I’ve been a Christian nearly 40 years.  During that time, I’ve been a member of four Protestant churches.  In three of the four, church leadership got tangled up in some kind of sexual misconduct.  While not excusing it, I’ve come to believe that it’s nearly an occupational hazard.  What are the chances of a pastor effectively counseling parishioners without being open and transparent?  About zilch?  But those are the very same qualities that can open the door for inappropriate intimacy.  Would the anonymity of the confessional booth help?  Not sure, but might be worth a try.

An uncivil war

A final Catholic story.  For at least 30 years, I’ve made silent retreats at the Sacred Heart Retreat Retreat House just west of Sedalia, Colorado.  Wonderful place-they welcome all comers.  Need to get away?  Forget Southwest Airlines.  Head down to the Retreat House.

Last time I was there, I read a few articles from Commonweal magazine, a Left of center Catholic publication.  Fits right in with my Jesuit friends at Sacred Heart.  But, figuring I could use a bit of leavening from the political Left, I sent away for a subscription.  While the relentless Trump thumping has given me serious second thoughts-even up to the point where I may not renew-a recent article on the church’s horrific sex scandal came as a revelation.

The article, entitled Time to Leave?, is largely about how the sex scandal is seen by the liberal and conservative wings of the Catholic church.  Paul Baumann, the magazine’s senior writer and a card carrying liberal, denounces the card carrying conservative Catholic journalist, Damon Linker, for leaving the church.  Baumann contends that the scandal is largely behind the church at this point and that to keep stirring the pot is primarily a symptom of conservative distaste for Pope Francis.

Linker explains his decision to leave the church in an article, The Unbearable Ugliness of the Catholic Church.   While the article is worth reading, you can pretty much get the gist of it from the title alone.  Linker argues that the scandal is anything but ancient history.  And that it’s a cancer continuing to gnaw at the church’s vitals.

So, ancient history?  Or torn from today’s headlines?  How’s an outsider like me to really judge?

But, to steal a line from those well known observers of all things Catholic, The Grateful Dead, “All a friend can say is, ‘Ain’t it a shame.'”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I. The Communion Of Saints.

Mom's old home in North Dakota

My mom and her family were blown out of their North Dakota home during the dust bowl days.

PAST.  Present.  And Future.

I’m on the road.  Again.  Marleen and I flew to visit our son in Omaha.  But, because she’s not a fan of long road trips-and I still am-I rented a car and took a circuitous, sentimental  journey back to Denver.

On the way, I listened to hours of recorded books: one of the pleasures of road trips for me.  One was The Conservative Mind by Russell Kirk.  The other was The Heart of the Mattera novel by Englishman Graham Greene, considered by many to be one of the best writers of the 20th century.  More later.

My first destination was the far south east corner of North Dakota.  It’s where my mom grew up during the Great Depression in a small farm house with her parents and six siblings.  The family was blown out during the Dust Bowl.  After selling all they could at a farm auction, they headed to west to Yakima, Washington to work in the fruit orchards and canning factories.  For some reason, the last two to leave North Dakota were my grand mother, Hazel, and the youngest daughter, Connie.  They hitchhiked the 600 some miles from North Dakota to Yakima, Washington.  Real Grapes of Wrath stuff.

The nearest towns to where my mom grew up are Lidgerwood and Wahpeton.  My mom’s last remaining relative in the area, Clark Williams, was my gracious host and guide on what was a cool, grey day.   Wikipedia characterizes Clark as one of the Wahpeton’s “notable people” because he represented the area for years in the state House.  Not much older than I, his health isn’t good.  While we were waiting for our hamburgers at Dee’s Bar & Grill in Lidgerwood, he stepped out the back door for a smoke-before coming back in to hook himself up to his oxygen tank.  I was disappointed to learn that his side of the family seems fractured and that I wouldn’t be able to participate in a family reunion-because they don’t have them.

It wasn’t easy to tell if my mom’s old house hard by the Wild Rice River is still occupied; Clark thought it was.  Brown William’s house, my grandma’s brother, was just around the corner.  Although the house is no longer in our family, it still looked good with a fresh, grey tin roof.

The geography of the area is peculiar.  Although it’s not far from the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota, this flat, extremely fertile country is drained by the Red River that runs north to eventually drain into Canada’s Hudson Bay.  As I drove north from Omaha on a dark night, it was disorienting for a Coloradan to see a road sign flash by telling me that I was crossing the Continental Divide hundreds of miles west of the Rockies.

The Past: Custom and Tradition.

In his frightening novel, Nineteen Eighty-FourGeorge Orwell depicts a world in which “Big Brother” manipulates everything, including history.  An entire bureaucracy, the “Ministry of Truth,” is given over to rewriting the past to make it conform to the current party line-which changes from day to day.  Inconvenient historical facts are consigned to the “memory hole.”  The fickle nature of the past adds measurably to the hellish world that Orwell, drawing on the hellish world that Joseph Stalin had created in reality, depicted in his novel.

The antidote for the horror of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Stalin’s gulag?  Russell Kirk’s 1953 tome, The Conservative Mind.  The book-be prepared for a long one-surveys conservative thinkers and their ideas from Edmond Burke (1729-1797), an English politician and philosopher, to T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), the Nobel laureate author of what is perhaps the most famous of modern poems, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  

For a book that was written as a doctoral dissertation, The Conservative Mind is remarkable not just for the breadth and depth of its scholarly content.  It also played an enormously influential role in reinvigorating conservatism when the movement had been almost entirely written off in the wake of what seemed the irrevocable triumph of New Deal liberalism.  The book’s a “must read” for anyone who wants to understand the rise and meaning of modern conservatism.

It’s Burke that casts the longest shadow over the pages of The Conservative Mind.  His extended essay, Reflections on the Revolution in France, profoundly influenced both the England of Burke’s day and the modern conservative movement.  Written as a warning against the bloody excesses and turmoil of the revolution, Burke was not an advocate of putting society in a straight jacket. However, he believed that change in a healthy society should be evolutionary and guided by tradition and custom-or, as he put it in the language of his time, “prescription.”  In so doing, society fulfills its obligation to generations past, present, and future.

Bonanza!

One of the early conservative statesmen that Kirk describes is John Adams.  Founding Father, our first Vice President, second President, and rock ribbed New Englander, Adams sired a host of descendants. Including John Quincy Adams, the sixth President.  Somewhere down the line, another John Quincy Adams came along who lived in Wheaton, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

In 1881, this particular Adams took advantage of cheap railroad land in the Dakota Territory to purchase 9,600 acres and gave it to his daughter and son-in-law as a wedding gift.  It eventually became the Adams Fairview Bonanza Farm, about 15 miles from Wahpeton.  Making the most of the flat, fertile land, Bonanza farmers put together armies of workers, mules, and capital to grow enormous quantities of mostly grain to feed the world’s rapidly expanding population.  At one point, the Adams farm was a virtual small city, with bunk and mess houses, several barns, an office building, and a grain elevator at the end of a rail spur.  There was a herd of 10,000 sheep.

Now, the original rambling farm house is now a lovely B&B; I stayed two nights in the master bedroom suite.  One gray morning, to stretch my legs, I walked to the nearest section crossroad.  It might not have been in the middle of nowhere, but I think I saw it somewhere out there beyond those fields that ran as flat as a table to the horizon.

 

John and Tuula Kube,my gracious hosts

John and Tuula Kube, my gracious hosts.

My gracious hosts, John and Tuula Kube, are, just like my mom’s family, good Scandahoovians.  (They’re no relation to the original Adams family.)  Great French toast and Swedish pancakes were served up for my two breakfasts.  It goes without saying, slathered with plenty of butter.  And, despite my having invited myself to dinner, a wonderful meal of local beef and steaming bowls of fresh vegetables out of their garden.  While they don’t farm the place themselves anymore, they do rent it out to other local farmers.  Their daughter and her family live just across the gravel road.

Was it an accident that I stayed in a bedroom in a house that had once been owned by a descendant of a man who’d played such an important role in our nation’s history?  And whose story I’d been listening to?  Probably.  But it sure was a nice serendipity.  And more than enough to slingshot me on to my next destination, far across those lonely plains, as John and Tuula shrank in my rear view mirror.

 

 

 

 

 

The Rewind Button. Part III.

500x350 four kachinas sign

The Church Of Beethoven.

The next day, our tour guides, Linda and Jim, took us back to Santa Fe where we meandered up the Canyon Road art district.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for in the way of art in its countless galleries, you may as well give up.  From there, we had lunch at the the historic La Fonda hotel, right on the central plaza.  Nothing changed my opinion that it’s tough to get bad Mexican food in New Mexico.

Back To The Four Kachinas.

On out way out of town,  we drove by the Four Kachinas, the B&B I’d stayed a couple of nights before.  Something we did a few days later in Albuquerque turned my thoughts back there.

The cook responsible for the second “B” was a young woman who lived in a trailer home outside of town.  After the other guests had left, I visited with her as she cleaned up.

She’s studying to be nurse at night school.  When she learned I was from Denver, she asked, “Have you ever heard of the Victory Chapel in Lakewood?”

An impressive woman.  Working at a B&B that caters to the affluent, scraping by in a trailer park, going to night school, and yet willing to go out on a limb for her Lord.

“No,” I answered, “can’t say that I have.  How do you know about that church?”

“It’s the home church for the one I go to here,” she replied.  “And I’m going to Denver this summer for a weekend convention there.”

“Well,” I said, “hope it goes well.  My wife and I attend a Greenwood Community Church in Denver.”

The Chattering Classes.

Sunday morning, back in Albuquerque, the four of us went to Chatter.  Not our first rodeo there with Jim and Linda; it’s an intimate space in the warehouse district where chamber music-among other things-are performed.

Formerly known as the Church of Beethoven, I have to confess to a frisson of Schadenfreude when I learned that the name change was due to a trade mark dispute with the estate of the deceased founder, Felix Wurman and his collaborator, David Felberg.

While, by the way, there is some dispute about Beethoven’s religious beliefs, it is generally agreed that he never attended church.  His friend, Haydn, thought he was an atheist.

Call me hopelessly old fashioned, but why not go to a real church on Sunday mornings?   Don’t get me wrong.  I like classical music as much as the next guy.  And the musicians excelled on works by Mendelssohn and Schumann.

However, I found that a couple other offerings on the morning’s program were about as soothing as ragged nails being dragged across a chalkboard.  The “Spoken Word,” by Megan Baldridge, featured a mercifully brief anti-Trump diatribe from her cleverly titled, UNpresidented, collection of poetry.   The audience was suitably appreciative.

And then there was the “Celebration of Silence:  Two Minutes.”  It was so easy to imagine this exercise morphing into an Orwellian “Two Minutes Hate” if the fellow up front had suggested that we focus our thoughts on the President.

Classical Music Awash In An Sea Of Fracked Oil.

At the bottom right of the program there was a little box that read, “Chatter is grateful for the support of New Mexico Arts, a Division of the Department of Cultural Affairs.”

“Aha!” I thought, “just like cultural events in Denver, this outfit is probably supported by a regressive sales tax to subsidize the elite pleasures of the old and affluent.”  Sure enough, as I walked out I conducted an unscientific survey and counted no more than about 20 in the crowd of 200-300 who appeared to be under the age of 35.  The rest, like me, were old codgers.

Wrong again-at least about the sales tax.  Although I checked the NMA website when I got home, it only said that the state devotes “1%” to support public art.  But one percent of what?  It didn’t say.

So I called.

The lady who took my call was pleasant and helpful.  “I went to Chatter recently,” I said, “and saw that you provide some of its support.  I looked on your website, but couldn’t figure out where that money comes from.  Is it a sales tax or something else?”

She reported that the legislature set the budget each year.  “And,” she continued, “a lot of that comes from oil and gas revenues.”

Indeed.  New Mexico recently passed Oklahoma and California to become the third largest oil producer in the country.  Being pumped from the Permian basin just across the border from Texas, virtually all of that oil is coming from fracked wells.

Maybe at the next Chatter, the leader of the “Celebration of Silence: Two Minutes” can suggest that the crowd send happy thoughts the way of the oil business.

What’s In A Name?

According to an Albuquerque newspaper, the organization’s founder, Wurman, intended the name, The Church of Beethoven, to be “ironic.”

Now, I know that “ironic” can be one of those slippery words with multiple definitions.  But according to Google, some synonyms include sarcastic, sardonic, cynical, mocking, satirical, caustic, wry.”  And context is telling.

And could the context make it any more plain what was intended by the original name?  The Church of Beethoven.  On Sunday morning.  This, in other words, is where the smart set is on Sunday mornings.

And to what end?  To demonstrate that these “church” goers aren’t among the booboisie squandering their Sunday mornings at those oh-soretrograde real churches.

Like, for example, the Victory Temple. The church the young woman at the Four Kachinas attends.  And who, scraping by in a trailer park, is going to night school.  And is, no doubt, a card carrying member of that booboisie.

I wonder what those two Jewish founders of the Church of Beethoven would think of a Friday musical soiree, at sundown, called the Shabbat of Wagner?  The irony would probably have them in stitches.

Happy Trails To You.

I could probably go on.  But, I fear, I’ve already kicked over too many hornets’ nests.

So, until we meet again.