"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

I feel a day late and a dollar short as it is now Halloween night. Despite its joys and excitement, I am glad to see the month end. October is one of the busiest times of the year for my family, in a good way, and I'm ready to hunker in and focus on all things domestic: my house (and Chickabiddy Cottage), my writing, and preparations for the (simple, joyful) holidays.

This is also the beginning of my 50th year. I can't quite believe it. 49 feels good but it also is providing the impetus for change in many ways: better health habits, setting good boundaries, and asking myself, what is it that I want to do with the next 50 years, God willing? Those are just personal goals–there are many that I have for my family, too, but those are shared. We've settled into our Kentucky lives fairly well and now it's time to micromanage the details and the dreams. The realization is also here that no longer can I idle away any goals by saying, "some day" because, let's face it, I was saying some of those same things twenty-five years ago, half my lifetime to this point.

Yesterday I read the eulogy that novelist Mona Simpson wrote about her brother Steve Jobs that appeared in the October 30th edition of The New York Times. Perhaps you have read it, too. If not, do yourself a favor and stop reading this post now and read it. I wept throughout because her words were lovely but also because of what she was sharing. Here is a man, not much older than myself, who has changed the way we communicate with the world. His life was a series of extraordinary accomplishments and a few setbacks. While he was known for his perfectionism, his sister portrayed him as a romantic who also knew all of the names of the English roses. What especially got me were his last words, as he looked beyond his wife and children on his death bed in that most intimate and sorrowful of moments that some of us are privy to share with someone we love.

His sister writes:
"But with that will, that work ethic, that strength, there was also sweet Steve's capacity for wonderment, the artist's belief in the ideal, the still more beautiful later.
Steve's final words, hours earlier, were monosyllables, repeated three times.
Before embarking, he'd looked at his sister Patty, then for a long time at his children, then at his life partner, Laurene, and then over their shoulders past them.
Steve's final words were:  
I want to continue to live, and eventually die, with that feeling of "OH WOW."

You come back when you're ready!


October 25, 2011

Big Sky Country–Day 4

Around noon, after the festivities ended at Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, South Dakota, we headed down from the Black Hills into eastern Wyoming and had to give up our detour northwards to Devils Tower, also in the Black Hills. There just wasn't enough time this trip–I suggested that we might fold that into a trip to Yellowstone National Park some day.

From east-central Wyoming we headed south with the Denver area our ultimate goal to visit with relatives for a few days. The drive was glorious: when the weather is right, "big sky" country is spectacular to drive through and we were treated to mountains, mesas, buttes, cattle and various wildlife along the way.

In northern Colorado we even saw snow. According to the Weather Channel they are about to get a huge blizzard there in the next forty-eight hours: up to two feet in some parts and about a foot in suburban Denver where we were visiting. I now believe that we picked the perfect late autumn window for our western excursion!

We enjoyed the spare openness of the Wyoming range but I have to say I would miss the hills of Kentucky (or New England) after a while. There is something so liberating about driving in open country like this–you sense the breadth and scope of this country and how, despite how populated it is, there are still miles of open, uninhabited land in the big square states of the great American West.

I'll let the photographs speak for themselves. They are more or less in chronological order and most were taken from our car window–don't worry: my husband was driving and I was shooting–at a "reasonable and proper" rate of speed.

You come back when you're ready!


Native Americans' Day–Day 4

The Black Hills of South Dakota live up to their name and we saw their full beauty on the fourth day which dawned clear, cold and sunny after the previous day of rain. On our way to the Crazy Horse Memorial, after a hearty breakfast, I suggested we go back to Mount Rushmore (a slight detour) and see it in the morning light. We weren't disappointed.

Between the gloom and the beginning affects of my feeling the altitude, our initial visit to Mount Rushmore was, well, not the bright spot I had expected. For you 1950s architecture and **North by Northwest movie buffs, there is a new visitor's center (although the original may have been copied in studio for the movie shoots). It works, it is beautifully executed but it was different. But what was jarring was that I missed my father in an unexpected way and got a bit, well, verklempt. We were retracing parts of his month-long trip with me in 1984. He always said that "Everyone should see Mount Rushmore before they die." [And along with that you could insert the Grand Canyon, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, etc.––I had been with him to some of those sites on our 1984 trip but not all.] So I got overwhelmed by a feeling of nostalgic longing for my father all over again: it has been almost nine years to the day that has passed [October 27, 2002]. It was also one of those moments in the years since his passing that I have felt him here with me. [Fortunately, I have a very loving and understanding husband and children!]

A movie still from North By Northwest.

So on the fourth day, thanks to a slight departure in the itinerary (always important to remain flexible!), we were able to see Mount Rushmore in the cool, bright early morning light. There is a particular view, that we discovered as we approached from the south side, where Washington's profile appears through a gap in the trees and rocks. At another spot, below the visitor's center on the road, we pulled over and a very kind couple from Ohio took our group photo. Of course we all had to be photographed in various ways in front of the backdrop: it's just what you do on vacation!

We arrived at the Crazy Horse Memorial by 10am in time for their special Native Americans' Day ceremony. South Dakota is the only state to officially recognize the second Monday in October––aka Columbus Day––as Native Americans' Day and we were lucky to have timed our trip to coincide with this celebration. They also said that there would be a blast on the sculpture following the ceremony, weather depending. [I took some photos of it, but it is so large a sculpture that the blast is hardly detectable at the base of it.]

Now for the purposes of scale, let me note that the small opening you see in the above photo–under Crazy Horse's outstretched arm–is ten stories tall, the size of a modest city building. The four presidents on Mount Rushmore would not only fit on the sculpture but be dwarfed. The Korczak Ziolkowski family has been working on this monument for the past fifty years and will be working on it at least fifty more. We told our boys that they will be able to bring their grandchildren here one day to see it finished. It was somewhat humbling to look at such a thing, like a great Egyptian sphinx magnified many times, and realize that we will not live to see its completion (well, unless we both make 99 and 106!).

The monument faces to the east and Crazy Horse said that "my lands are where my dead are buried," in 1877. To him, the Black Hills were his spiritual and physical home. Today there are many tribes in the region, including the Sioux. Several of the Lakota Sioux nation were represented at the ceremonies doing various dances and/or speaking. It was a moving experience as well as one that we don't have every day in our part of the world.

Eli insisted that we stop at this tourist spot so he could take a photo, or two.
I am so happy that our children share our warped senses of humor
and see the beauty in the little things, even if this woman reminded him of his mama!
This isn't logging: the Black Hills are victim to a specific kind of pine borer that is destroying its forests.
The Native Americans see this as a severe environmental, even spiritual, warning to all of us
as the Black Hills are sacred, holy lands to their culture and the birthplace of the Lakota Sioux nation.

You come back when you're ready!


**NOTE: Hooked on Houses is one of my favorite web sites of all time. Of course the author included a blog post on North by Northwest!

October 23, 2011

Les Mauvaises Terres–Day 3

The Prairie Homestead, just outside of the Badlands National Park off I-90, is a rare and preserved
sod home. The sod portion, built in 1909, is on the left and the other addition was added later.
Although cozy and play-house like, it would have been bleak–and dusty–much of the year.
That's the root cellar in a dugout to the right. Imagine the winters? And the wind?
A fine, interpretive display!
I like a museum with a sense of humor.

Some canned goods in the root cellar.

The sod chicken house.

The Badlands or Les Mauvaises Terres: bleak, expansive, not arable.
They are more photogenic when the sun is out but this was our poorest weather day of the trip.
In the 1930s, when auto travel had begun to be more popular in the West, 
Wall Drug Store lured people off the highway with the promise of free ice water.
You start to see signs for Wall Drug many miles east of it. [I even saw one in Amsterdam]
There are even more signs after you exit the Badlands–yup, right into the town of Wall, SD.
While it is the ultimate tourist trap, you have to see it once in your life (well, this is twice for  me).
And it seems to be the only show in town unless you want to keep driving further along to Rapid City.
There is still free ice water.
Coffee was great (or was it the price? Still 5 cents) but the food was lousy.

Get out of the way! Our boys do have a crazy sense of humor, too.
All things considered, Wall Drug is a great place to get out and stretch for a bit.

Magnificent Mount Rushmore, even though it was dreary out.

Mountain goats just sort of ambling along near a campsite.
Prairie dogs are everywhere and are a real menace to ranchers' livestock safety.
This bison was wandering around right outside of our car.
"Home, home on the range! Where the deer and the antelope play..."
Just missed this!

Our budding geologists.
Our cabin for the night at Rustic Ridge.
Cozy, clean and rustic.
Dinner at the end of a long day
at the Chute Rooster in Hill City, SD.
You come back when you're ready!