Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Mormon Trail + Addendum

The Mormon Trail

I have had the very good fortune to be treated as friend and neighbor by complete strangers on many occasions during my five cross-country walks. Episodes of kindness and generosity have come from the hands of a variety of folks. I am sure there is some commonality behind it all, but I have only gotten a few glimpses. Former hitchhikers, sometimes backpackers, occasional trekkers, and just plain friendly humans seem to make up a good share of the people who have helped me down the road.

I also have notice one particular recurring thread in my last years of walking. I have decided to call it the Mormon Trail. I seem more and more to run into and be helped along the way by Mormons, often called Latter Day Saints. In 2014, my travels criss-crossed the literal and historical Mormon Trail in Wyoming and Nebraska.

On other occasions, I have experienced a modern version of the Mormon Trail. In 2012, I received a lift up the road to Rexburg, Idaho, a tour of the city, and a night at the Super 8 thanks to Mayor of Rexburg, Richard Woodland. On the following day, I visited the Mayor at his City Hall, took pictures and was sent over to the Rexburg Standard for long and engaging newspaper interview.

Rexburg is the home of Brigham Young University - Idaho and overflows with Mormons and their churches and lives. But, Mormonism spreads out all over and especially in the western states. I received gifts - sometimes unknowingly, I suspect - from Mormons a number of times on the 2012-trip.

Near the end of the trek, I stopped in Rogerson, Idaho, before heading towards Jackpot, Nevada, and the real desert. Anita Robinson, who runs the convenience mart and restaurant - the only business in town, cooked me breakfast“on the house”and put me on the road with a remembrance of Captain Moroni (a figure from the Book of Mormon).

* Find the Trail of these stories at the blog called Photogobia.

In 2013, I was bailed out by Mormons in Coulson, Montana, when the front wheel of the Buggy I was pushing fell off. A Mormon woman, Joann Kofford, eventually took me under her wing, brought me to her home, made me part of her family, and got a young Mormon mechanic to repair my rig, which he did without charge. How lucky can a guy be?

One might wonder about getting stuck on the road? What luck is that? But then, people like Joann step up and lend a hand like we are all supposed to do. And, new opportunities develop.

Farther down the road short of Ashland, I got caught in a hailstorm. I was drying out a bit when I made the town, but was still pretty weathered. Another Mormon, Koyatu Jorden, took charge. She packed the buggy in the back of her van and drove me on to Broadus where I camped in the park for the night. She even left me with a blanket worrying about me keeping warm. Koyatu was heading off to do road construction in the morning.

* See blog Rescues & Rescuers.

It is interesting that the end of this trip in Nebraska found me being befriended in different ways by Seventh Day Adventists.

* See blog entitled Natural Healing.

In 2014 during my sojourn in Wyoming, I was befriended by a Mormon helper on the second day out. For a time, I had found myself stuck in the heat of the day in a ghost town named Moneta (although the highway map suggested a regular spot in the road). The one family, a couple, in “town” kept me out of the sun during the day. But by 5:00, I was heading east with a few hours of sunlight to spare.

Before long, a man with a small child in the back seat of his car stopped and invited me to ride to Casper. I was glad to accept as it was really a long way from nowhere. The Good Samaritan turned out to be a Mormon podiatrist who worked and lived up the road. Dr. Marshall evangelized me a bit during the road trip, but did not push too hard. He dropped me off in front of a McDonald's and tried to put money in my pocket. But, I refused and thanked him for his preceding generosity. I sent him a copy of one of my books later on.

I don't remember any more Mormons on the road that year, but suspect I had rides or offers or helps from others along the way. One of my favorite moments that year occurred when I got picked up by Kathryn Wempen and dropped off in Kearney, Nebraska. We had met a couple days earlier at the Methodist Church in Overton. I have told quite a bit about the Wempen story in other blogs. 

* This story still sits on the front page of The Portable School Website.

As for 2015, I should begin by telling that I lived most of this past year in Snowflake, Arizona. Snowflake is a Mormon pioneer town named for two men responsible for starting the small community of 5,000 people (10,000 counting adjoining Taylor). Mr. Snow and Mr. Flake put their heads and names together in 1876 to found Snowflake. It really could be called Noflakes because the snow is pretty sparse there even though the elevation is around 5500 feet.

On the other hand, there are lots of Mormons named Flake in the town. I met five of them during my stay, including Joseph who is a brother to US Senator, Jake Flake. I didn't meet any Snows.

In any case, I spent most of the year in real Mormon country. The Mormons were all around, but I mostly encountered them in the grocery store near the RV Park where I stayed. I had been settled for six months before I got a knock on the door from two female Mormon missionaries. The moment was a little surprising since I was unaware that young women could be missionaries and had to wonder why a Mormon pioneer town with a dozen Mormon wards might need missionaries.

I had already encountered a number of Jehovah Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists in the Trailer Park. Both of those sets of people were keen to interest me in their way.

I made but three good and potentially lasting friends in Snowflake. The first two were my landlord and landlady. I decided to call the Gibsons the Landbarons for a number of reasons. I don't believe Kevin and Debbie would mind.

My other friend is Jeff Hunt whom I met at the supermarket working one of his three jobs there. Jeff is descended from pioneer stock and invited me to his family picnic after the annual Pioneer Day Parade. Jeff did a large share of the cooking that day which featured chili and homemade bread. Jeff also did the honors in making 13 gallons of ice cream.



A few days after I had set a route and a starting date for my 2015 Walk to the Northland and Campaign Outing for Mr. Pooh, Jeff told me that he would look for us on his upcoming family trip through Salt Lake City into Idaho.

So, we kept in touch for a few days via text messages. When it happened that the family car was overheating and their trip was canceled, Jeff sent me a message wishing me luck on my travels and told me that he would pray that some of his Mormon kin would help me out along the road.

I tucked that notion in the back of my mind and continued on through Navajo Land. Pooh and I passed on by way of Utah and Wyoming. One morning as we had Montpelier, Idaho in our sites, a reddish late-model car (I don't know one from the other) made a U-turn on the highway and pulled up behind me. A woman approaching my age got out and asked me about our project and destination.

Before long, Pooh and I were ensconced in the backseat of the Mitchells' car. They were heading home to Boise and were quite interested to find out that we had started our journey in Snowflake, Arizona.

Carol Mitchell grew up in Snowflake, was born of Mormon stock, and knew the Hunt family quite well. How do you like those apples? 

Well, the Mitchells drove us 40-50 miles to Montpelier and headed onward for the rest of their journey home. So, did Jeff Hunt's prayer materialize? Or, how did that episode come about?

I had a couple other "Mormon experiences" on this recent trip in Idaho. Climbing a hill one morning in Potato Country, I was greeted by a group of young men up an incline on my side of the road. As I carried my flag, they were standing at attention and saluting. Well, I couldn't let that moment pass. So, I stopped. Walked up to where they were standing with eyes wide open. We had a short conversation and I took photos. I didn't ask, but knew quite surely that the boys were Mormons.



A day or two later in Chubbuck, I was sitting outside an ice cream shop having a treat. Some littler people appeared and asked about my adventure. They had seen me on the road earlier in the day. I had another conversation, campaign moment, and photo op.


On my last full day on the road, Terry and his daughter Raquel stopped to visit. Shortly thereafter, I got a motorcycle ride on the last mile or so into Rigby Idaho.



Some day, I will "figure" out the Mormon connection. When I do, I will relate the Rest of the Story.

Send comments or insights to theportableschool at gmail dot com.

Brief Addendum:

Two Mormon friends have recently suggested that because I have this affinity for Mormons, I should become one. My first response was 'not in this lifetime.'

After some thought I have come to the tentative conclusion that I must have traveled across the American continent with the Mormons in the 19th century - previous incarnation. That has got me thinking on another book with a title something like American Odyssey: From the Left Bank to the Golden Gate.

More later.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Telephone Power

Let me take a break from the Walk Blog and tell a story from my nine-month sojourn in Snowflake Arizona.

The "most exciting" week of my time there came when my landlords, the Gibsons, asked me to feed their dogs and cat while they did a horse training in Phoenix. They loaned me one of their cars while they were away, but I hiked back and forth six miles (10 times) in the roundtrip during their absence. I figured the exercise would help me get ready for my summer trek to the North land.

Practically every day, something out of the ordinary occurred during my hike to check on the animals. I, however, will just tell one story from those treks which occurred one evening.

While heading out about a half-mile from my destination, I got a beep on my cellphone. Since I "talk to wrong numbers," I stopped to check on the missed call from Ginger Arnold back on the East Coast. I decided I would return her call after I finished my chore.

On the return trip, I moved a few yards away from the shoulder of Old Woodruff Road and placed myself on top of big sandstone rock. I was at the top of the hill and as high as I could get in the area. I thought, "If there was a signal, I am sure to get it."

I punched through the numbers to make the call. And, I got through. Ginger said she was wondering about me. "Are you all right?"

I thought I was and said so. We talked just a few minutes and I returned to the road heading back to Snowflake.

I was just a few blocks down the hill reading a book as I walked, when TWO police cars with flashing lights came speeding in my direction. I was a bit surprised when they pulled off right in front of me. An officer jumped out of his car and asked, "Are you Phillips?"

"No."

"Well, you answer to the description of Phillips. Do you have a gun?"

"No. I haven't touched one in 40 years."

"Have you seen a man with a gun on the road?"

"No."

I was asked for my ID and I obediently handed it over. I didn't say much. I have learned to follow police orders and requests without question or wonderment.

After a couple minutes, the young officer returned my driver's license and the two headed off up the hill in their two police cars. I continued down the road on my wondering way, "What was that all about?" I thought.

By the time I turned the corner onto Concho Highway, the policemen were returning from their chase. They stopped just a block or so behind me.

Two or three evenings later, I traveled the same route without encountering police. (My first night out I had been offered and accepted a ride from Sank Flake, a former Snowflake Police Chief.) I was picking up trash as I wandered the road at that time. 

I had a plastic bagful when I saw a man emptying his own garbage into a big dumpster at the corner where I last saw the police. I went over, said Hello, and asked if I could dump my gleanings along with his.

He was accommodating and we started a conversation about a number of things. Before long, I had to ask, "Were you here the other night when the police stopped?"

I told him what had happened to me. The gentleman said, "Oh, I know what that was all about. Phillips used to live in the apartment next door. He was a little wacky, but now lives in Taylor. We haven't seen him for some time. I can almost guess who it was who called 911. Whoever it was was driving up Woodruff Road and saw a man standing on top of a rock next with what she imagined was a gun pointed to his head. Thus, the phone call to the police."

The moral of the story must be something like: "Do be careful where and when you make telephone calls and where you point your cellphone. I could be dangerous from one angle or another."


Image thanks to http://www.toonpool.com/cartoons/suicide_40002

Send comments to theportableschool@gmail.com.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Navajo Nation

This summer's excursion began on July 29 early in the morning. As opposed to past years, I had company every day in the form of my good friend, Mr. Pooh, who is running for President. He tells me to announce that he has over 16 votes committed as the result of our cross-country walk. I think he has a few more than that but ... who is really counting now? Visit http://poohforpresident.com.

Pooh and I had some interesting conversations along the way. And, you should have heard us singing "Side by Side" as we walked down the highway.

A new friend, Laura Schubert, offered us a ride to Chambers from Snowflake Arizona one day when the two of us were helping to get the Huethers ready to move from the Shady Corners RV Park. It was an 80-mile lift up the road and I could not pass up saving 3 days of walking and a visit with an energetic school teacher and good-deed doer.

Laura let us off at the Navajo exit. Mr. Pooh and I spent a couple hours on the south side of the Interstate at the gas station and convenience mart there. I decided we should start the walk - for astrological purposes - at 10:15. So, I visited with the cashier Teresa and got her to supply me with garbage bags to help clean up the truck parking lot. Interestingly, the dumpster was already overflowing when I tried to deposit extra bags full of trash. I have come to realize that there is job security in highway cleanup.



A little after 10, we passed through Chambers which is little more than a few houses and an abandoned gas station north of Interstate 40 on US Highway 191. It was just a bit eerie starting out in such territory.

I also must say that when I walk through an Indian reservation I have some trepidation. People have told me to beware and I have had my own wonderments. But like most every place I have walked, I have only had the best of experiences in traveling through the Cheyenne Reservation two years ago and this year marching across the Navajo Reservation.

People are people everywhere. And my experience of the Navajo Nation was overwhelmingly positive. There was one minor exception I will relate in another blog.

We passed a few miles along the highway. Skies were partly cloudy, the road clear and the scenery was desert with only a very rare tree to complement the sparse grass and sagebrush. Before long a young Indian woman and brother stopped and then carried us to a turn in the road at Many Ruins. The young man was returning from an AA meeting and seemed to want to do a good deed. We happily accepted.

The walk continued on to Klagetoh where we were greeted on the edge of town by a radiant woman named Dorothy who jumped out of her van and took up conversation. Dorothy grew up on the reservation but lives in Minnesota and was visiting her parents - the Begays. She had to know what we were up to while bestowing a number of treats and water upon us.

I made a photo-op out of the occasion and got Sam the Flag and Pooh the President into the picture with Dorothy and her family.



Later on while I was visiting with LaMonte Smith at the nearby convenience mart, Dorothy reappeared with an offering of spaghetti and garlic bread. Dorothy was one of the brightest light so the whole trip. (If you ever read this, Dorothy, send me a note.)



Mr. Smith was a real talker and bent my ear for quite a while before we walked on. Pooh and I had again gone but a few miles when offered a ride of several miles to Ganado. A family of five with Montana connections who lived in Klagetoh (they were also part of the Begay clan) lifted us up the road and then turned back to drive home. I assumed they lived in Ganado and was much surprised when they turned to retrace miles to their home. 



This happened another time when a young woman spotted us early in the morning when rising from night's rest on the side of the highway between Mountain View and Kemmerer Wyoming. Trittany had just gotten off work on a 13-hour shift as nurse at the medical facility in Kemmerer. She was returning to Robertson - an hour away - but stopped to invite us for a ride back to Kemmerer for which she retraced her travels 30 or so miles. Then she turned again to the south. Trittany would be back on duty in just a few hours. She told me that she only needed three hours of sleep each day. That makes her extraordinary in a number of ways.




Back to my Navajo Nation sojourn: The Begays pointed out a park near the highway where we could rest for the night. Well, it wasn't much of park. A few trees standing next to a "wash." There are a lot washes in that country. A wash being an area which spurts and floods a bit when rain collects and has no river or stream to run into. Otherwise washes are patches of sand and dirt with maybe some trees and bushes making for some extra greenery.

Pooh and I rested next to the few trees and walked on when the sun came up in the morning. We marched with the flag until reaching an intersection a few miles up the road. There we met Wilbur Smith, a "cousin" of LaMonte who works for the Highway Department and offered a ride to take us a few miles up the road.

Wilbur did most of the talking and we surveyed the desert heading northward. Fifteen or twenty miles later, Wilbur turned off the main highway and bid us Good Travels.

We walked on to and through Chinle. I was hoping to find a stream or gully, or somewhere do cool my feet. Just a shade tree amidst the buildings in the desert town. 

I eventually noticed the Liberty Fellowship on the way out of town. I thought, "At least I can rest on the shadow side of this little church."

Eventually, Terry Jones appeared and slowly opened to a conversation. Before long, he brought out a bucket of water for my feet. And later, a couple of hot dogs. 

Terry is not the Fellowship minister but rather caretaker. I learned a bit about him and the Fellowship he has helped put together. He also told me about a Revival which was to be held up the road. I didn't get the details, but said I would be on the lookout as I traveled northward.

Before the day was out, other Revivalers found me resting again on the side of the road. Paulette and Albert drove me to their Revival (a different one - it seems they are fairly common on the Navajo Reservation). Sorry, no Revival photos.

I had never been to a Revival of any kind before. It was a Navajo Christian long, loud episode under a large tent. Maybe 60 people participated in what was apparently a common occurrence. 

Christian Rock from a three-man group began the affair which was followed by one speaker after another as well as testimonials. I even got up and shared a few words about my march through Navajoland. 

I kept hearing that food would be coming before long. But, it seemed to get put off and put off because of the order and length of service.

I was at a disadvantage - not knowing a word of Navajo. Some of the service was translated intermittently. But, the final hurrahs did not occur until 11:30 pm after starting around 7:00.

I was not very hungry by then, but decided to have a few beans and start walking again. By the time I passed through the line, all the beans were gone. So, ate a bit of rice and had a cookie.

Then, I made my Adieus. I was invited to rest on the property. But, I figured one spot on the desert was as good as any. The night was young and needed quiet and space.

We hiked on - laden with food and bottled drinks given by new friends - for a few miles along a dirt track next to highway. The moon was full and it was good to be back with Pooh on the road.

What did I learn from the Revival? 
* There are good people everywhere - or at least trying to be good.
We have opportunities to practice. And, I get to be on the receiving end of things when I go walking. That was not my intention, but it has been my good fortune along the way.
* Church people - whoever they are - like to carry on about God wanting this and that and having a special place for them. But, we all have a place now and always will. Old friend, Bill Modes, used to say, "We are living in eternal life right now!"


The next day, I woke up near Many Farms and walked slowly around Round Rock. It was a long stretch but I got to see many sides of the natural monument and walk through a bit of the Black Mesa. I had imagined hiking through part of Monument Valley. Round Rock turned out to be a good substitute.

I had a number of helpers that day. Carissa and Whistle stopped (photo) in mid-afternoon and gifted me with water and a sandwich. A little later, I was "shocked" when ice water in a bottle was handed to me by a couple of women in a local taxi for medical services. What a deal!
After walking most of the day, I made it to the town of Round Rock AZ. It barely deserves the name compared to the earlier spots on the road in the Navajo Reservation. After a short ride which I will tell in another installment, I walked past the small enclave of little more than houses with a school. I passed another tent set up for a Revival which was about to begin.

I decided one Revival might last me for years and walked onward. Of a sudden, a small pickup stopped. A woman named Adella invited me to sit in the back of her vehicle as she drove toward Blanding Utah with her two grandchildren in front. 

From walking three miles an hours, all of a sudden Pooh and I were watching Round Rock, the desert floor, and the rest of the world race past us. My appreciation - at least for the moment - for vehicular travel was increased. It was also grand to see the desert and rock formations pass by in full relief.

It seems Pooh and I swept through the Navajo Reservation in a flash. Time is one of those variable affairs.

What does not change in my experience - is people ready and wanting to lend a hand. Would that we recognized that and knew better how to make use of all those helping hands.

Thanks to all my friends here and there and especially in Navajo Nation.

Send comments to theportableschool@gmail.com.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Back in Montana Again

Friends, Neighbors and Fellow Travelers.

I made it to Montana after 19 days on the road. My partner Pooh and I are not much worse for the wear.

We met many fine people along the route from Snowflake Arizona to Harlowton Montana. I will try to share highlights of the journey in coming days and post pictures once I am re-settled.

Returning to Harlowton has been a bit of a surprise. Practically every day, an old friend or acquaintance appears wearing a big smile, asking about me and my travels and my future.

My good friends Duane and Audrey Kolman drove 300 miles to Rexburg Idaho to relieve me from road duty after already covering about 800. Now, I am occupied with helping them with house improvements. Duane is tending to refurbishing and painting window frames. I am in charge of the eaves and soffits.

The painting has been an irregular process in part because of social occasions. There has been family company, the 100th anniversary of the Masonic Lodge in Lavina, a dowsing excursion north of Shawmut, and an evening of guitar serenades thanks to Lorenzo Haarr. It has also been slow by heat, smoke from forest fires here and there, and the tempered movements of aging painters.

But, persistence pays off in painting just as in walking the highway. More about the latter in the next post. 

Send comments to theportableschool@gmail.com.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Sweet Alternative to Politics as Usual

Friends and Neighbors.

My friend Charlotte has suggested a number of times that Robert should campaign for President. All else failing he might sell some books like Hillary Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul and several others.

Well, that would be a less than honest way to campaign. And, we need more truth, honesty, and other things in politics in the rest of life. And, Robert is not very political anyway.

Enter Pooh the Bear. Pooh is a friend to many and recently a regular companion for me.

picture info at new website
I told Charlotte that Pooh should run for President as the Sweet Alternative. Several people have responded positively to the idea and concur that Americans need another choice.

I asked Pooh if he was interested. He said, "If the Donald can run, Then, Pooh can be President."

Pooh and I will be campaigning in the coming days as we take a summer trip from Arizona to Montana and back.

We invite your interest and support. Pooh has a new website at http://PoohForPresident.com

We will blog from http://theportableschool.blogspot.com as opportunities allow.

Contact us through email at theportableschool@gmail.com

Friday, January 30, 2015

Working The Night Shift

One of the wonders of my walking excursions is meeting people that it would be almost impossible for me to encounter otherwise. Everybody has got a story and some stories are -- Far Out, as John Denver would say.

Extraordinary stories began to appear on my 2014 Walk after I "camped" one night on the back steps of the First United Methodist Church in Overton, Nebraska. I wanted some distance between me and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks that night, so the FUMC steps filled the bill.



First United Methodist Church, Overton Nebraska

In the morning, I decided, "Maybe I should attend church." I grew up in the Methodist Church and it had been a long time since I sat in the pew at any church.

So, I hung around the building until church service time. I met some members, sat with twenty or so people, and listened to the sermon. The most remarkable part of the sermon was when the minister repeatedly acknowledged a frail man named Ernie and his wisdom. Ernie nodded, but just a little.


After service, I went down to the fellowship hall and joined the group for brunch. Quickly while brunching, I got two invitations to ride toward Kansas City in the coming days. One couple was going to see the Royals play the Yankees. Another woman, Ernie's wife, said she would be going toward Kearney on Monday. She said, "I will look for you."



Ernie and Kathryn face the camera on the left

And, so Kathryn Wempen did. It had rained buckets Sunday night and I had holed up under a pavilion in City Park at Elm Creek hoping things would clear enough to get back on the road and catch that ride. 


The skies cleared late in the morning and I got several miles down the road before Kathryn caught up with me. I took off my backpack, put it and my flag Sam in the back seat, and jumped in the passenger seat.


Kathryn and I commenced to have a wide-ranging though brief conversation as we drove to Kearney where I visited Morris Publishing, which has printed three of my books, and Cabelas next door where I bought a new pair of walking shoes - Keens.


Our conversation focused largely upon Ernie Wempen, who is a bit of a wonder. Much more than that, really. 


You see Mr. Wempen has spent much of his life in some kind of darkness or another leading to total blindness. But, he still managed to work, ranch, have a family, and lead a full life.


Ernie Wempen at work during the day (age 75+)

After being reminded a number of times about Ernie since I have been off the road, I just thought more people should know about Ernie Wempen. I wrote Mrs. Wempen to get more details and she emailed me back with the following note. 


"What a surprise and a JOY to hear from you.  It will take more time than I have right now to answer your questions.  I have copies of some articles that appeared in some local papers a few years ago that are quite accurate and answer some of your questions.  This man is a complex subject, to say the least.  In the l5 years I have known him I haven't stopped marveling at his accomplishments, his positive outlook on life and a can-do attitude toward any challenge that presents itself.


In answer to your first question:  He is 88 years old (last August); he was born with congenital cataracts; his parents didn't figure out he was blind until he was nearly 5 years old, as he did everything his siblings did.  A visiting uncle noted him searching for toys on the floor and suggested he might be blind.  His father confirmed the fact when he would bump into him if he stepped in front of him.

His parents began the task of finding a Dr. who would remove the cataracts and as near as he can remember, a Dr. in Omaha removed both cataracts when he was about 9 years old.  Only one eye regained limited sight, however, and he wore glasses with extremely thick lenses.  The natural progression of congenital cataracts is the onset of glaucoma and he began treatment for this a few years later.  

He tells the story of attempting to round up cattle in a severe blizzard and when he returned to his home his face was covered in ice and thawed by sitting over a pan of hot water.  The stress led to a spike in the pressure in his eyes and he was hospitalized in an attempt to reduce the pressure.  He said he awoke about 4:00 a.m. in the hospital and experienced a jolt of lightning like pain and at that point he was completely and permanently blind.  My best guess is that his optic nerve snapped at that point resulting in irreversible blindness.  


As near as I can figure that was in 1959, when he was 33 years old.  He was living on his own (where we now live) in what he described as "the shack".  He said he spent a few months on the couch and one day decided his lifelong philosophy of "I can do what you can't do, and you can't do what I can do, and I just got up and went to work!"  And he's been working ever since as a rancher.  His Dad gave him the quarter of land he now lives on and he proceeded to accumulate five more quarters through a lifetime of hard work and stick-to-it attitude and an iron will to just get it done!


He ranched alone (walking sometimes 2-4 miles to fence, etc.) until he married in 1971.  His wife helped him (as I did) driving, keeping books, keeping house, etc., but he still did the lion's share of work on his own.  I have often remarked "had he had sight, he could have been a construction engineer, or a mechanic, or a number of other things because he could hitch machinery, fix simple mechanical problems, and always know where and when to apply leverage to move 'immovable' objects."  


My favorite story that occurred after we were married (in l999) happened one extremely hot summer.  He was visiting with one of the neighbors who remarked that "it's so hot I can hardly stand to get my work done!" 


Ernie replied, "It hasn't bothered me that much, I just get up about 2:00 a.m.and get my work done, then I come into the house about 10 and sit by the air conditioner."  


The neighbor replied, "I can't do that because I can't see (in the dark)." 


Ernie's simple answer was "Neither can I".


Ernie has certainly not had an easy life.  His mother died on his youngest brother's lst birthday, and his father raised his four children alone and ranched and also accumulated several quarters of land.  His wife of 25 years died two weeks after their 25th anniversary from a nine year battle with cancer.  He was alone again three years before we married.


A few weeks after we were married, we were attending a fellowship supper at the Overton church when an outspoken, sometimes obnoxiously outspoken, lady walked up to me within earshot of Ernie and demanded to know why I would marry some blind man I would have to "look after" the rest of my life.  


I was really taken back by her remark, but I replied with no hesitation: "I don't look after Ernie, Ernie looks after me!" and that's the way it has been in our 15+ years of marriage.  


At this point in time, it's my turn to look after him since he was so ill after hip surgery on Dec 12, 2012.  He has begun to exhibit signs of stage 2 Alzheimers and can no longer remember all the stories that were so interesting regarding his very colorful and productive life.


Wish I could tell you all of those stories, but time and space wouldn't allow it.  He really is more book material than article material, but that won't happen at this point, as many of his musings are locked up in his mind forever.  I read a book (rather technical book) by an author named "Oliver" [may have been Oliver Sacks], the name of which escapes me now, but in it he described almost to perfection, the ways in which people like Ernie compensate for the loss of sight (and other disabilities). It was very enlightening for me.


Kathryn sent a second email to respond to questions:


Hi! Robert:  Sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your questions.  I really don't have any answers for you except a quote from Isaiah 42:l6  "I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.  These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them."  


I think that is probably the only answer we will get to "how did he manage these things".  Ernie would tell you "the first thing is to never be scared.  If you get scared you can't do anything".  I know he discovered and appreciated more things that most of us take so much for granted.  


His "can do" attitude was probably the most useful force in accomplishing all the things he managed to do in his lifetime.  He has an inner calm and never sits in judgment of how other people do things.  He has a live and let live attitude that escapes many people. 


Some time later, Kathryn sent me some of her 



Musings About Ernie. 

Each time Ernie put one foot ahead of the other, it was a step in faith, an unspoken trust that he he was "looked after." His job was just to keep moving ahead to the next chore, the next thing that needed mending. And he spent his life doing just that -- looking after his beloved cows or chickens, or goats, or his faithful dog. He loved all animals (especially mules) and he credited them with more sense and feelings than most of us human possess. There were always fences to be mended, a garden to be weeded, or animals that needed to be fed or sheltered from the weather. He didn't much cater to farming, or "digging in the dirt" as he put it, but considered himself a rancher first and foremost. He carried a buggy whip to "guide" him and the slightest touch of that whip on an object miraculously let him know where he was and which way to go. 


His calloused fingers and hands were his eyes and they "showed him" how to do simple mechanical repairs, how to hook up machinery to his tractors and pickups that he sometimes took it upon himself to move about. He always seemed to know just where and when to apply leverage to move "unmoveable objects." 


He was a builder of all sorts of crates, bridges, gates, and even the outbuildings on his farmstead. He only needed someone to read the tape measure and the level and he could take it from there. He did the bulk of his work on his knees, close to the work at hand.


He was in his element at the livestock auctions, bidding and speculating on cattle that he would take home and "shine up" and resell. He had the uncanny ability to know the weight of an animal by the way the rattled the scale in the ring, and their age by the sound of their bellow. 


Thank goodness and God for people like Mr. Wempen. We can all stand to be reminded we can do more - like Ernie has done.


There will be a Part II to this story, down the road.


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Sunday, January 18, 2015

66 at 66

The first 66 in the title is my chronological age, not to be confused with my actual relatively youthful, undeterminable age.

The other 66 is Route 66. It dawned on me the other day that I was living just a few miles south of Route 66. The Greyhound bus covered many miles on or near the old route bringing me to Holbrook, AZ. Thence I took shuttle bus about 25 miles south to little Snowflake. (We had some snow the other night. Warmed and melted quickly.)




My friends the Kolmans traveled some Route 66 territory a couple years ago and gave me a Route 66 flag on their return to Montana. It is now covering one of my windows in the travel trailer I am renting. The other windows have the World, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, my Star and Heart American flag, and a Tibetan banner covering them.

I recall walking along the Lincoln Highway through some of Nebraska last summer.

But, Route 66 seems to be in a class by itself - also known as the Mother Road, the Will Rogers Highway, and Main Street of America. It was established in 1926 as one of the original highways in the US Highway system. 




If you are my vintage, you will remember the TV show called Route 66 in the 80s and maybe even the theme song for the show. Remember?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._Route_66

Very interesting blog coming about a man I met on latest journey. Keep an eye out for Night Shift.

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Friday, January 9, 2015

The Snow in Snowflake

Howdy Neighbors.

Having completed my summer Walk and spent seven weeks in Kansas, I decided to get to the southern zone any which I could. With help from my friend Charlotte, I found a spot to walk, read, write and meditate for the winter and beyond in Snowflake, Arizona. And, I have renewed an old connection in Show Low. I already have an invitation to speak at Unity of the White Mountains late this month.


I have been in Snowflake for seven weeks now. It has "snowed" twice since. A dusting once and an inch or so the other time. Little snow, but it does get quite chilly at night.

The name Snowflake is a bit deceptive. The town of 5500 which sits at elevation of around 5600 feet north of the White Mountains in Navajo County, got its moniker entirely unrelated to the weather.

Snowflake was founded in 1878 by Erastus Snow and William Jordan Flake. Flake and family had been sent by Brigham Young to help Mormon colonies settle in Arizona. They sold all their land in Beaver, Utah, and headed for Silver Creek where they took possession of Stinson Valley using cattle to pay for the purchase.

Erastus Snow was the Mormon apostle charged with Arizona colonization. He soon visited the new settlement and decided that it should be called Snow Flake. He made the proposal for the name to Mr. Flake who quickly agreed. And, so it is.

There is a lot of history in Snowflake. Several museums and many LDS churches and even a Mormon temple which looms in the western skyline. Jeff Flake is presently one of Arizona's US Senators along with John McCain. Flake is one of the original founder's descendants.

Other than that, Snowflake has lots of trailer parks (I now live in one), plenty of sagebrush and a little grass, many storage units (a growing business in many places). Main Street is Highway 77 which passes often noisily within yards of my abode.The proximate town is Taylor - a couple miles south, with a section called Wagon Wheel in between.

Until recently, there was a paper mill a few miles west in Heber which employed many Snowflakers. The story is that the Canadians bought the operation and closed it down. The Snowflake Mills Credit Union is about to be re-named Rim Country Credit. 

The Town of Snowflake website says - "From light industry to retail, the opportunities are endless for businesses wishing to expand or relocate to Snowflake. Plentiful land, affordable development costs, and a community that’s vested in the success of its local businesses are just a few reasons why Snowflake is becoming a major economic force in Northeastern Arizona."

So, come on down and take a gander at Snowflake. Don't worry about snow.

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