Monday, April 29, 2013

Guard of the Plains, the Unexpected Hike

As with any drive home Jack and I became anxious to reach our home, but traveling with Lucy dog makes us always aware of how often dogs need to get and refresh themselves.  Lucy loves to doggie facebook every rest stop, truck stop,  fast food eatery, or for that matter any stop.
Letty and Lucy nearly breathless from the hike.

We were heading West on I-70 pushing our way home, when Lucy nosed us telling it was time to get out.  We pulled into a roadside stop between Topeka and Junction City and the first thing we noticed was a granite sign reading "Blue Star Memorial Highway."  Since my mother was a staunch Republican from Kansas I am acutely aware of President Eisenhower's role in our interstate highway system, and am forever grateful for his visionary ability to connect our world.

Lucy's nose took us beyond the Blue Star sign and to a hidden path in the brown bushy undergrowth on the side hill.  Thanks to Lucy we discovered the most fabulous site in Kansas that I believe many people never see. We climbed past a path that led to the parked cars for the East bound traffic, and continued spiraling upwards, in Kansas no less. This steel sculpture atop a hill of divided highways remained hidden from our sight until we stepped through the winter brown trees and bushes and emerged high over the plains.  

When at last the bushes cleared away and we stood alone on top of this brown scene, our eyes were astounded at the vistas with hawks flying below us and around us.  For miles we could see in any direction and felt as if we had discovered solitude and nature in the middle of rolling hills and roaring traffic.  What a contrast of earth's beauty from the snow covered ground in Wisconsin, to the rolling farm lands in Iowa, to the Flint Hills of Kansas.
Awestruck beauty in brown tones, as only nature paints.

Under the tower Lucy found the plate telling us about our discovery.  "Guard of the Plains" by James Kirby Johnson,  November 1970.  What a grand culmination to our Honeymoon Retirement Adventure.  I'm so thankful that someone in Kansas had a vision and believed in artwork as a way to entice people's imagination.
Lucy found the path and the dedication.

P.S. My friend Chi Chi Allen found this marker of the Guard of the Plains and shared her picture with me.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Snow Scenes, the Honeymoon Retirement Adventure part 3

Isaac's plan for our hike mapped out in snow.
There's something about March that beckons spring in my imagination and sometimes in the earth.  Yet, I'm amazed how adaptable our bodies can be, like nature bending with the breezes of the prairie.  The last week of March we traveled to Dodgeville, Wisconsin to spend a week with our kids in their cabin in the woods.  Personal phone calls about weather conditions are so much more enlightening than my phone apps, with Ann and Mike both warning, "Bring winter coats, boots, warm clothes there's snow on the ground."

Jack and I sat silently by the phone.  "Did they say snow on the ground, and bring plenty of books to read because they have no TV service?"  We obediently packed for winter in spring and pilled our luggage into the car along with the dog and headed North without golf clubs.

We were not surprised when we saw the hills east of the Mississippi in Wisconsin snow covered, but we were in awe when we pulled into the snow-packed driveway of the cabin.  Winter had stalled over the hills keeping Spring at bay, and what a delightful, refreshing week we enjoyed as a family, thanks to natures slow ticking clock.

No TV and only a bar of cell phone service led to many hours of playing cards, eating Ann's delicious home cooked meals, chatting, reading, taking naps, and hiking up the hills and down the roads.
Ann and Isaac on top of the hill.

Isaac shows us the ceramic owl.
The Adventure continued all week as we played outside every chance nature gave us, and the snow accumulated as it fell from the sky for several of the days we visited.

Even though there were tracks that pickups had driven on the frozen lake, and people were ice fishing, I was not convinced I could casually walk on it without collapsing into the cold waters.  With a little effort Mike proved to us prairie flatlanders that yes indede the river was frozen at least a foot.  Our honeymoon retirement trip was uniquely relaxing and refreshing.
Mike's fingers finally touched cold water.  Ouch!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Museum Musings, the Honeymoon Retirement Adventure part 2

View from our car.
Crossing the Mississippi River, listening to the long mournful blare of the boats following the river from my dorm room at LSU, reading books about the Mississippi, especially when the earthquake hit over a hundred years ago causing it to flow backwards, are moments that intrigue me.  This time, on our retirement trip, I took pictures and videos of the momentous river.

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is located near the river in Dubuque, Iowa, and this trip we made time to visit the museum.  The museum like the river intrigued each of us: Jack, Mike, Isaac, and me.  We could walk through and read the history of the river delta, watch the children play in the water area that depicted the flow and deltas, observe the fishes in the various aquariums, tour the riverboat makings and history, or learn more about the critters that inhabit the river.  We chose to enjoy it all.

Big blue catfish observing Isaac and Nana Letty

Isaac observing the river otter.

Mike, Nana Letty, and Isaac playing.

The Librarian and Mr. Twain.
Retirement...all smiles and musings, molding new memories, respecting the old ones.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Readings and Greetings: The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

By the time I finished reading this novel I felt broken, like Langston Hughes' poetic lines*, "Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is like a broken-winged bird that cannot fly."  I was angry and sad that our society could be so cruel as to allow such bullying, such labeling, such abuse and neglect.   My body and mind responded viscerally to this story, and I couldn't find words to write down my feelings.

"Sleep on it, Letty,"  I told myself.  " Let it marinate overnight so I might treat it more tenderly upon rest and reflection rather than write now in this emotional moment of sadness and anger."  

So I slept on my thoughts about Rachel, Brick, Nella, Laronne, Aunt Loretta, Grandma.  They haven't changed, but my insides are no longer tied in knots of anguish.  My suggestion is Don't Read this Book unless you have a heart that won't burst for the women in this story.  Don't Read this Book if abuse or neglect bother your soul.  Don't Read this Book if you can't stomach how a mother's love can go from devotion and sacrifice to a twisted end.  Don't Read this Book if you wonder how people could keep secrets, why they bury family and family history and never look back.  

If, on the other hand, you can handle sad books that do leave the reader with just a shard of hope, or you want a book that we call "a page turner" then this is the book for you.  264 pages can be devoured in one rainy cold day.

Eleven year old Rachel, a beautiful blue eyed little girl of light brown complexion survives a fall or a shove from a Chicago apartment building, because her fall is cushioned by the already dead and broken bodies of her brother, mother, and baby sister.  Her father, a G.I. stationed in Europe, sits in the hospital with her, and meets a young boy who changed his name from Jamie to Brick after seeing Rachel's brother fly by his apartment window.  Before Rachel comes out of the coma the father leaves his daughter and never returns to the story.  The Grandmother, the father's mother, lives in a mostly black neighborhood in Portland, Oregon where Rachel is sent to live when she is well.  In her Grandma's neighborhood she learns that in American we label people by color.  You are either black or white.  Being Danish, which she is since her mother was a white woman from Denmark, is not important.  It is the racism, the culture, and the loneliness that breaks across the reader's soul.  I know how ugly and cruel people can be, especially children and teens.  I just prefer to spend my time with people who are upbeat;  in this story Rachel does her best to pick upbeat people as friends, but some situations are out of her control.  

The layout of the novel is intriguing, but sometimes hard to follow.  The chapters change as we meet each person's story and their impact on the mystery as to how or why Rachel fell from the sky.  Durrow weaves a mystery, but in the end she makes the reader stop and ask, "Do I label people, by color, by class, by circumstance?"

I'm curious as to what my book club members will say about the book.  If you read this book, please feel free to leave a comment below.  

* "Dreams" by Langston Hughes

Hold on to dreams
  for if dreams die
Life is like a broken-winged bird
  that cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
  for when dreams go
Life is a barren field
  frozen in snow.

? I wonder if Rachel read this poem, or better yet, did the author Heidi Durrow identify with this poem?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Honeymoon Retirement Adventure

With a title like this there could easily be three stories, and that's just the beginning of the journey.  There's no telling where this story will end.  I retired nearly five years ago and Jack joined me March 1.  So we are now learning to live together night and day.

The road to Wisconsin, our first official retirement trip and where our son,his wife, and our grandson live, led us to Iowa City for our first night, and a surprise
To the Good Life.
celebration.  Dinner began at the Iowa River Power Restaurant with a toast to our new life together.  The waitress looked inquisitive.  Looking up at her,  I cheerfully explained , "We're on our Honeymoon Retirement trip, so this is a toast to us and the trips to come."

In silence she studied the two of us, looked out the window at the ice capped river that was rushing by, and implored, "You came here to celebrate your honeymoon retirement trip?"  To which Jack and I burst forth in genuine laughter. She continued,  "What brought you here to Iowa City?"  Together, we looked at each other and then up at our waitress in replied in unison, "A man."

We'd both recalled another dinner when a journey began with our move to Hutchinson, KS from Norman, OK.  One evening on a cold winter's night when the snow blew sideways, we ate dinner at Amarillo's Bar and Grill in Hutchinson.  While at the bar waiting on an open table, the young bartender chatted with us about living in a small town like Hutch.  We explained that we moved from Norman with a least 80,000 people many of whom where quite young, and oh, so much younger than the population here.  This led her to ask in a rather incredulous voice, "What brought you to Hutch?"

From our waitress, who seemed to understand that life is a journey.

Jack stepped back, with the fingers of his right hand began pointing at his chest, while the grin grew on his face, "A man," he replied.  "A man brought her to Hutch.  I brought her to Hutch!"  And that is why we laughed.

Like any adventure this night was just the beginning.  Stay tuned as the story unfolds.