The birds, a squirrel, and a “writing day”…

Spring has “officially” entered the picture—finally! Yep, the robins have showed up again, and I’ve witnessed them busily pecking away for worms in yards and lots all over the area the last few days.

I’ve even restored the bird feeder way out back and filled it with sunflower seeds, hoping to attract cardinals and other lovely members of the avian ilk. But of course it’s the big, squawking black birds that seem to monopolize the feeder throughout the day. Regardless, I have spotted the male cardinal and his mate, from time to time, able to grab a quick bite when the other glutinous birds aren’t around. Another “guest” in our backyard is a gray squirrel, whose thick, fuzzy winter coat makes him appear as a bouncing ball when he scoots from tree to ground under the bird feeder and then back up another tree nearby.

It was a very rough winter around these parts. Lots of snow in January and on into February, punctuated with days of intense winds and wind chill warnings. I can’t recall a winter when I chose to remain inside for most of the day as I did these past couple of months. The accumulation of snow and ice prevented any “getting around” the yard. I did, however, put the snow thrower to good use in keeping the driveway clear.

Now, looking out  my writing room window, over the snowless back yard and the farm fields to the east, it gives me a good feeling that we’ve turned the corner and soon the grass will be green again; the trees will be budding, ready to shoot forth their leafy beauty.

Sometime, after the fields are dry enough, the farmer will begin another growing cycle—this year it will be corn—and I’ll get to watch the seeds grow into green sprouts and then into healthy stalks and then a golden harvest in October.

The last few days have been sun filled with temperatures in the 40s. Not quite warm enough to grab the chair and sit out on the deck or the driveway to bask in the goodness that spring is, but it’s getting closer. Oh, how I anticipate being able to dress for the day in shorts and t-shirt!

 Today, a gray, chilly, and wet one, is my “writing day.” The ear buds are in, as I listen to Cinemix on Internet Radio while I write away, attempting to catch up after another stretch of time where I’ve failed to dazzle the keyboard with my magic. The novel, needing much work, awaits, and I probably should take advantage of this “writing day” to seriously get to it.

On another tack...

I recently finished reading a novel I’ve intended to get to for quite some time: Bernard Malamud’s The Natural. Most people are familiar with the 1984 movie by the same title, starring Robert Redford. I had frequently heard that Malamud’s award winning novel, published in 1952, takes a very drastic turn from what is portrayed in the movie. Without giving things away, I’ll simply say that main character, Roy Hobbs, is a very flawed human being. 

For those baseball fans who thrilled to the heroic tale that was the movie version of The Natural, it might be of interest to check out and read the true tale of The Natural by Bernard Malamud.

Well, I see that the black birds are at the feeder once again, and the gray squirrel has put in an appearance, awaiting any “freebies” the birds manage to drop from their buffet above. A couple of robins are hopping around, in search of the mysterious worm, concealed somewhere beneath.

Ah, spring has come to life once more in our back yard!

Wintry, Sunday thoughts…

More White Stuff…

100_3643.jpegWoke up to another day of snow this morning, as this winter just keeps rolling right along. We can get out if we need—or want—to, so it’s not as though we’re “snowed in.” Today, however, it will just be easier to stay in and not have to navigate the streets and roads in and out of our small town. Living out here in northern Illinois, surrounded by open fields, we get a lot of blowing and drifting. Thus, the roads are often more treacherous than those closer to cities and larger towns and villages.

I don’t have a problem with any of this, by the way. It’s OK to be tucked inside today. After all, I have many long-neglected writing “chores” to attend to, and there’s really no place we have to be today anyway. So I’ll launch Scrivener, knock the cobwebs off my work in progress, and spend a few hours seeing if I can make some headway on the revision/rewrite of a story that just continues to hang on and beg to be finished–for better or worse!

Recently, I have read a couple of very good blog posts by blogging friends that have rekindled my desire to “hit the keyboard” again. There’s nothing quite as nice as reading how others cope with getting their writing jump-started. A special word of thanks goes out to Francis Guenette at her wonderful blog Disappearing in Plain Sight for her inspirational posts.

After spending time writing away the morning and into the afternoon hours, and after this current snowfall abates, I’ll go out and see about clearing the driveway and sidewalk. The current temperature of 25°F isn’t so bad, and the wind is minimal. The fresh air will be good. For now, though, let it snow, and let my fingers find the right words on the keyboard!

A Great Read…

On another topic altogether, I’ve been reading—and enjoying—Bob Drury and Tom Clavin’s book, Valley Forge. I suppose, given our current weather, it’s quite easy to “get into” the overall tone and point of the book about that miserable winter of 1777 George Washington’s Continental Army spent there. But it would be truly unfair to compare anything of what we have to “endure” today with what these people suffered through during our Revolutionary War. Under supplied with food, clothing, ammunition, and shelter, they still managed to hang on and do what was necessary to achieve what they were fighting for–our independence.

The book is very good at illustrating how critically close to the brink of extinction Washington and the whole of the revolutionary forces were. As students and readers of history, we often gloss over the entire picture of the struggles and perils the Continental Army went through. Read this book to re-connect with the overall truth of that moment in our history. And even though I’m warm and snug as I read it now, it doesn’t hurt to have it cold and snowy outside—as a sort of tribute to those hardy souls who persevered–starved and half naked–at Valley Forge.

What’s Ahead…

Other than our seemingly daily battle with the on again-off again snow, we’re at a pretty calm period of the year. It doesn’t look as though an annual late-February trip to Florida is in the offing this year.

I guess I can live with this, given that we had a marvelous January cruise to and thru the

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Enjoying the sunshine on the Lido Deck in January

Panama Canal. The memory of those glorious warm days of shorts, short sleeve shirts, and sandals will have to suffice until spring arrives around here in late March/early-April. I had hoped to take in a spring training game or two this winter down there in the Florida sunshine, but I’ll have to plan for that next year.

Time spent right around the old homestead is never a bad thing, and that’s where I’ll be. Happy rest-of-winter to everyone. Until next time, stay warm, all!

 

 

Catching up and some “Super Sunday” thoughts…

OK. It’s been way too long since I actually sat down with the sole purpose to write something to post on Down Many Roads—my long-standing blog about various topics of which I’m interested. And I’ve frittered away so many opportunities to do that very thing during the past several weeks and months. Reading, rather than writing, has still been my “go to” activity when I’m up before dawn most mornings, and I feel rather guilty about that—but not that guilty! Recently, I have enjoyed reading the following books: Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan; The Russia Hoax, by Greg Jarrett; The Saga of the Pony Express, by Joseph J. Di Certo;

Since I last posted regarding our wonderful adventure on the Oregon Trail with our grandsons, I have been busy with a few road trips to Ohio to see Mom and my older sister and husband. Mom turned 90 last month and is doing remarkably well. We had just returned from an 18-day Panama Canal cruise, and our intention was to make the six hour drive to northern Ohio to celebrate her birthday on the actual day—January 22. But a nagging viral infection entered the scene, as did the return of the Polar Vortex, preventing me from making the trip to the shores of Lake Erie.

About that same time, we had been inundated with continuous snowfalls, accumulations mounting daily. As such, I’m planning a trip out in a couple of weeks, hoping that this sudden thaw and this stretch of very pleasant weather will hold on for a while. Fingers crossed.

Our aforementioned cruise began on January 2, when we flew out of O’Hare to San Diego. From start to finish, the whole trip was wonderful, particularly the warm and comfortable weather all the way along, where we ended up in Fort Lauderdale and flew home from there. I will be writing about the highlights of this adventure in future posts.

Watching the Super Bowl yesterday left me in a total state of “the blahs.” Not only was the game a complete flop, the commercials—usually the highlight of Super Sunday—were non existent. There is definitely something going on in our world and society that has changed things that are supposed to be fun into anything but. Too much preachy content that caters to a generation I find difficult to comprehend much of the time. The outcome was not really surprising, and I’m not a Patriots football fan. However, I do admire their achievements and their adherence to off-the-field obligations. Enjoy your White House visit, Patriots!

Now, it’s time to focus on getting through February. Good to be back and writing! See you sooner than later…

Trail’s end…

Writing now from northern Illinois, and looking back to our wonderful mid-July trip out on a stretch of the Oregon Trail in Wyoming, I still smile at the many moments and memories forged in that three-day adventure.

Our final day dawned as crystal clear and bright as the previous two had. And this IMG_0022.jpegmorning’s breakfast didn’t disappoint, either. We weren’t sure how far we would travel on this last day, but we would find out that some beautiful, open country lay ahead. Morris told us that our part of the trip would be finished by lunch time.

Leaving camp, we headed out once more and followed the rugged trail through private land and that of the Bureau of Land Management. We encountered more Mormons making their summer handcart journey. Everyone was friendly and eager to stop and watch as our horse drawn covered wagon rolled along nearby.

IMG_4485.jpegGrandson Jack once again spent most of the morning riding Taz, and brother Matt was invited to ride up on the driver’s seat with Morris. After a time, Morris turned the reins over to Matt, IMG_0052.jpegwho drove us over more original ruts of the Oregon Trail.

Before we realized it, the morning had run on toward lunch time, and as we arrived at another of the many fence gates, Morris announced that our part of the trip was finished.

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It was one final lunch out in the great wide open, breathing in the terrific air and basking in the glorious high plains sunshine. Then, it was time to load our trail backpacks and various other things we’d had along with us into the pickup that would haul us back to the remote spot where our car was parked.IMG_0101.jpeg

And it was as simple as that! It seemed that no sooner had our adventure begun, that it had just as quickly come to an end. Fond farewells to Morris and our other traveling companions occurred and then we climbed into the pickup that Randy would drive to get us to the cars.

It felt good to unload and put our belongings into our car. We pointed the car back toward Casper, where we would be spending the night before heading out the next morning to Devils Tower, Crazy Horse, and Mount Rushmore.

With a sense of accomplishment, we all relaxed and smiled at the notion that we’d be showering and putting on clean clothes for the first time all week!IMG_0161.jpeg

 

Wagon Westward! – (Pt. 2)

Day 2- Somewhere out in the High Plains of Wyoming on the Oregon Trail, near the Sweetwater River

35826461915_90e97a4cc8_b.jpgDawn arrived, seemingly quickly, and was spectacular as we awoke from a restful night. Once, during the night, I had found my way carefully out of the tipi to “check on nature,” and was treated to an awesome sky of billions of stars overhead, providing all of the light there was. Off in the distance, a few coyotes called out. Later, the hoot of an owl broke the stillness. By first light, most of us were ready to get on with the day’s adventure ahead.

Trail hand, Randy, proceeded with getting the morning fire ready for breakfast. Matt, always the helper, pitched in and lent a hand. The rest of us went about rolling up ourIMG_4453.jpg sleeping bags and packing our cots to stow once again in the goose neck of the trailer. We also had to take down the tipis and mess tent after breakfast. 

 We had some time to do all of this as we had to wait for Morris to get back with the pickup truck, having left in the night to drive back to Casper to pick up a family of three, who would be joining us for the rest of the trip.

IMG_9948.jpgBreakfast was nothing short of excellent! Thick strips of bacon, fresh eggs, potatoes all cooked on a flat top over charcoal were delicious. And the trail coffee truly hit the spot.

Following our morning’s feast, and quite satisfied, we finished breaking down the campsite and getting everything packed and stowed on the trailer and were just waiting for Morris and the new folks to join us. It was late morning when the blue pickup pulled into camp, and Morris immediately introduced the Collins family, and began harnessing the two horses up to the wagon. We were about to hit the trail once more.

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Hitting the trail – Day 2

What lay ahead as we bumped along the trail, was the infamous Rocky Ridge, considered one of the most treacherous parts of the Oregon Trail. I elected to stay in the wagon to “ride it out,” as the others walked to lighten the load. To say that it was a rough and wild ride going up and over the stairstep-like rocky obstacles would be a vast understatement.

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We continued on through land belonging to private owners and much of that of Bureau of Land Management. Along the way, we came upon IMG_9893.jpgMormons who were pushing or pulling handcarts along the trail. Thousands of Mormons visit Wyoming to re-enact traveling the Trail with handcarts to symbolize the suffering of Mormon’s who traveled
the  Trail in 1856-1860.IMG_4480.jpg

Before we knew it, we had come to our camp site. It was in a meadow that abutted a small grove of trees and a rather steep hill behind.

Since we “knew the drill” from yesterday, it didn’t take us long at all to set up the mess tent, the tipis, and to get things ready for that night’s dinner of rib eye steaks, green beans, and another dutch oven berry cobbler. Outstanding!IMG_0008.jpgIMG_1992.jpg

Afterwards, we all enjoyed spending some time around a campfire as the day gave way to dusk and then to darkness. Tired from another day’s journey, we climbed into our cots and sleeping bags and had no trouble getting to sleep.

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End of Day 2 – All is well!

Next: All Good Things Must End-Day 3

 

 

Miles of Memories…On the Trail – (Pt. 1)

Our summer travels in our trusty Chevy Equinox have netted well over 4,000 miles. But, as I like to say, they’re all wonderful miles! Miles of memories! And it’s not just the miles alone that count for all of this, but rather the people who have ridden along with us down those many miles.

Back in July, we had the pleasure of having our two grandsons—Jack (12) and Matt (10)—outIMG_9931.jpg to Casper, Wyoming, as passengers and participants for a three-day journey along part of the original Oregon Trail in a covered wagon.

Going in, we had no idea of just what to expect, but we came away from the experience feeling like it was one of the best things we’d ever done.

And though they are too young to actually admit that it was an adventure of a lifetime, we’re pretty certain that Jack and Matt will carry the memories of the journey with them their whole lives, Grandpa and Grandma notwithstanding.

And this was no amusement park staged make-believe trip. Everything was authentic and custom made—from the covered wagon to the tipis we slept in for two nights out in the middle of nowhere on the High Plains of Wyoming.

Historic-Trails-West-1-770x480.jpgThis all came about nearly a year ago when my wife started researching outfits that provided these kinds of tours. And that is when she came in contact with Morris Carter and his business, Historic Trails West, out of Casper.

When the date to leave finally arrived (following the boys’ baseball season on July 15) we pointed our loaded up Equinox west for the long drive out, stopping in Fremont, Nebraska, for a quick overnight on the way.

After arriving in Casper the next evening, the boys unwound in the pool at the Ramkota Hotel, followed by a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed.

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Matt in front of the Ramkota Hotel

Following a wonderful breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we were up and out to meet up with Morris by 8 a.m. to begin our three-day covered wagon trek. Little did we know just how amazing the next few days would be!

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First stop: Independence Rock.

Following Morris, who was driving his pickup pulling a 40-foot custom-made trailer that contained three horses, the wagon, various equipment and necessary items for the trip, and a porta-potty, we came upon

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Morris’s trailer

famous landmarks like Independence Rock, Devils Gate, and Split Rock. The early travelers and pioneers used these as guides and indicators of being on the right path west.

IMG_9865.jpgSeveral miles later, we finally reached our “setting off” place, a camp run by the Mormons.

The first duty was to get the trailer unloaded, the wagon cover (bonnet) attached, and make ready to “hit the trail.”

Jack and Matt’s first job became obvious when they each were handed a shovel and directed to the portion of the trailer where the horses had

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“Super Scoopers”

been riding.

Finally, all was ready and Morris called out to the two-horse team of big white Percherons (Jess and Jordan) to get going. And so we bumped along, crossing the first creek right away and slowly winding our way along a dirt trail westward.

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Tazz and Matt getting to know each other

We also had another horse (Tazz) for anyone who wished to ride. Matt started out on Tazz and later switched off to let his brother ride. They both enjoyed riding the trail atop Tazz!

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Jack up on Tazz

One of the horses (Jess) had developed a sore hoof along the way and was limping badly by this time. Morris knew that a change in the horse teams would be necessasry before tomorrow’s journey continued, and he was in contact with his home base to arrange for a switch during the night ahead.

After nearly eleven miles and experiencing so much wide open space and scenic surroundings, and the afternoon growing late, we reached our first night’s camping site. In a vast and wide open space, we had our first experience of setting up camp.

First, the horses were unhitched and watered and allowed to roam and graze in the vast open spaces. Under the guidance and instruction from Morris and Randy, we all helped IMG_9937.jpgto put up the cook tent and help with setting up a couple of long tables and chairs. Next, the two tipis were up in a relatively quickly, ready for our cots and sleeping bags.

Soon, Randy had the charcoal ready for the potatoes and pork chops,

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Morris “coaling up” the dutch oven cobbler

and the dutch oven cherry cobbler cooked slowly over the heat. It was a delicious trail meal that first night out, and afterwards we crawled into our sleeping bags relatively soon.

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Sun setting on our first day
Next: On the Trail-Day 2

 

 

 

 

 

“That guy” who lives in the past…

IMG_4349It’s mid-June already, and life here in northern Illinois keeps rolling right along. It seems as though those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer have definitely arrived, and the constant whirring of our air conditioner is the background “music” as we go about our daily living around the old homestead.

 I quietly “celebrated” another birthday a week ago and have been busy attending the grandsons’ baseball games a couple of times each week. As before, I’m doing way more reading than writing, but I keep intending to make amends in that department—soon! 

As these summer days settle in around us, I find myself harking back to last summer and those two magnificent trips we took: Alaska cruise in August; driving Route 66 in September. And although I am trying to avoid being that guy—the one who constantly lives in the past—I do have very fond memories of that Alaska trip.

IMG_5472For sure, I wouldn’t mind being on board that magnificent Holland-America ms Noordam once more, plying the Inside Passage to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Glacier Bay. And the long day’s bus ride out of Seward up to Denali National Park on that dreary and rainy day, wouldn’t be so bad right now, either. The splendid views of the magnificence of the entire area rest prominently in my mind’s memory right now.

 I find myself flashing back to our wonderful Route 66 Journey of last September (not many weeks after we returned from the Alaska trip) and wishing we were just preparing to do it all over again. I often lose myself recalling all those twists and turns on the “old” stretches of highway, the weather-worn, rusty neon signs and forgotten roadside businesses we encountered all along the way. 

IMG_6049I have several Facebook friends and Route 66-themed pages I follow every day, and I love seeing many of the same photos of the same places we experienced. Each one, familiar now, evokes so many wonderful memories.

Perhaps another journey along the Mother Road in the not-too-distant future is possible. After all, there are things we missed or didn’t have enough time to enjoy as thoroughly as we would have preferred. I’m afraid, though, that my traveling “partner” is not hot on that idea, as she feels that once was enough for her! We shall see…

I can’t, however, rest solely on last summer’s delightful road adventures. At this writing, I’m only a month away from another adventure, this time with our two grandsons. On Sunday, July 15, as soon as the boys are finished with the baseball tournament they’ll be wrapping up that day, we’re setting off for the territories once more! This time to Casper, Wyoming, for a three-day trip in a covered wagon on the old Oregon Trail. 

I suppose that it’s only fitting that we spend some time this summer experiencing another of the famous roads so full of historic importance in the great land of ours. Lots of miles ahead, but I’d not have it any other way.

farm against sky
Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com