the long haul


Yesterday marked our first full week on the road.  It’s been great.  It’s also been hard.

Much of the time it felt like the steep grade on highway 140 in eastern Oregon.  We made it but not without a great deal of sweat and wringing of hands…well, that was mostly me. 

This first week was marked by two trailer tire blow-outs, some emergency mechanical work, broken water lines, rough roads, heavy winds.  I could go on. 


More than once the words of Proverbs 16:9 came to mind, “in his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps”.

For all the planning and preparation we had done, our steps, or wheels rather, we’re definitely going in another direction.  

So what is this direction? And what is the purpose?

It’s been a daily unfolding.

If not for the first blow out we wouldn’t have met the local rancher who appeared, quite literally, out of no where with a cordless impact wrench to insist on helping us.  I wasn’t sure there were still people like that left in the world. But, yes. There are.

And if we hadn’t been delayed we wouldn’t have had the most spectacular steak dinner in Paisley, Oregon, where Doug ran into an old friend.

And we wouldn’t have stayed at peaceful Base Camp RV Park near Lakeview, Oregon.  Which turned out to be the perfect place to spend our first night on the road.

Because of delays we’ve missed connections and cancelled reservations.  We’ve been down highways we never intended to travel.  At one point I lamented of being off course.  But as a very wise friend posted on Facebook, “there is no off course, just other course”. 

She is right, of course.  I didn’t want to at first, but I like this “other” course.

I want to know more.

I’ve collected pictures and memories this first week.  As internet connection and time allow, I’ll keep sharing.

Mayhem…. he’s a friend of mine

Things have been quiet at my house.

I mentioned a few weeks back a yard sale was in the works … but there was some question if it would happen.

It hasn’t.  It isn’t….not even a remote possibility.

While I was out-of-town last month, Doug hurt his knee.  We wait for a surgery date.

Each evening as he hobbles to his easy chair, puts his leg up and packs it in for the day, I can’t help but reflect on how “normal” this looks.  The man is a walking billboard for mayhem.

I could go on for days about the various physical disasters Doug has stepped, fallen and crashed into, but that would make for an overly long, rambling post.  So here’s just one ………

My in-laws made a decision to provide a major travel experience for each of their grandchildren.  They took a cruise, loved it, so planned another for several family members including our two oldest sons, Doug and I.

Not long before our cruise date, Doug was stricken with appendicitis and had surgery.  We sweated it down to the wire, but he was able to get his stitches out and travel approved by the doc just days before our departure.  He was still weak on our flight to Florida.

The cruise was spectacular….something I could go on about for days.  But this post is about Mr. Mayhem.  He’d already scared everyone with his last-minute appendicitis…. it was just the beginning.

On our first full day at sea he thought sunning himself by the pool would be the thing to do.  As we were glaringly, pasty white Oregonians, I urged him to be careful.  “No big deal” he assured me.

Ian and David checked on him a couple of times suggesting he might be getting a little red.  “I can take care of myself” he declared.

Later in the afternoon I was shocked (no, not really) to see Doug.  He’d fallen asleep by the pool.  The sun had done its job.  He was well cooked.

In excruciating pain all thru dinner, one of the “formal” dining nights, the weight of dress slacks on his legs was more than he could bear.  He spent a miserable, sleepless night………which he felt compelled to share with me.

PHARMACIA??

Next day we arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

He thought he should protect his legs by not wearing shorts.  He wore white pants.  Specifically, white jeans…heavy, thick white jeans.  Not a brilliant choice, but what do I know??  I tried to warn him.  Not to mention it was a terrible fashion choice, even back then.

In spite of the unfamiliar heat and humidity, the boys and I were excited.  Doug, on the other hand, struggled to walk…slightly bow-legged, constantly pulling pants away from skin.  His goal was to find the nearest pharmacy.

And find one we did.  Doug struggled to communicate, but eventually purchased several items he hoped would end his suffering.

Mickey D’s and the Cops

Next, we needed a place where he could apply his bag full of ointments.  A familiar golden arches came into view….McDonald’s.  Hallelujah!!  (I think Doug actually said that.)

It didn’t smell so good in there.  Nevertheless, we all bought soft drinks and took a seat while Doug went into the men’s room.

Once inside he realized there was a huge plumbing problem… also the source of the bad smell.  There was a couple of inches of standing water covering the entire floor along with other “stuff” that would normally be inside a toilet bowl.

Doug was not deterred.  Doug was determined to keep his white jeans clean and dry.  Doug is a resourceful man.  He carefully stepped up onto the toilet seat.  He dropped his pants.  He ripped open the first container he could get his hands on and liberally slathered a thick, white ointment all over his legs.  He was giddy with relief.  He stood there, rolling his head around soaking in his first pain free moment in 24 hours…………when a police officer stepped into the room to see a scarlet red, crazed looking man standing on a toilet seat, pants around his ankles rubbing white gooey stuff all over his legs.  He (the cop) made a hasty exit.

Doug also made a hasty exit.  He was fearful the guy might come back with reinforcements.  We grabbed our drinks and left.

Moral of the story….when Doug says something, anything is “no big deal” you cannot believe him.  I’ve got the emergency room receipts to prove it.

Here we are post-burn at dinner………notice Doug’s plastic smile.  Eyes glazed and dialated.

Dinner aboard Sovereign of the Seas

Here we are pre-burn……….we happy travelers, we happy few.

Cliff, Ian, David, Brooke and Doug

No Place for Quitters ….. 5th of series

Before our move to Alaska, my life was pretty safe.  I’d never really met an on purpose mean person.  I was about to.

The tow truck operator …. I do remember his name but will keep it to myself.  From now on I’ll refer to him as “the man” and his place of business as “the shop”.  I forgave him years ago.

He had a gas station/car repair/tow service…I think the only one in town.  There’s no doubt he did a tremendous service for us.  He had to use his biggest truck and cherry picker to pull our truck from its unhappy place.  It was an all day affair that involved several people and Doug.

We knew it would cost ….he made it clear upfront.  But when we arrived at his shop, he demanded more.

Tok is a small community … it was smaller then.  There really wasn’t anyone to complain to.  He held all our earthly goods on his property.  We paid him.  This left us dangerously short of cash for the rest of the trip.  Not to mention, we didn’t know if we had a running truck.

He also offered to fix the truck …. for more money of course.  No surprise…we declined.

Most of Doug’s tools were smooshed in the damaged back-end of the truck.  We couldn’t risk opening it until we reached our destination – or – till the truck was declared officially dead.  So Doug began his “assessment”.  As a non-mechanic with few tools available he was in a tough spot.  We unloaded the cab and tilted it forward so he could get at the engine.  We looked like the Northern Exposure version of the Grapes of Wrath…. bashed up truck, personal goods strewn about.

I had to find a way for Ian and I to make it thru the day while Doug worked.  With the cab tilted we couldn’t sit there.  And keeping in mind…this was Alaska…still in the grip of winter… around 10 degrees F. ….it wasn’t a very hospitable environment for a pregnant gal and a toddler.  There was no Denny’s on the corner.  There was no corner!

The shop was on the edge of town…very little else around.  Across the road and down was a small restaurant with a “No Loitering” sign out front.  So who was around to loiter??  Me?  I was beginning to take things very personally.

Inside the shop’s “waiting room”, a few feet from Doug and our truck, was the man who had just ripped us off, two large dogs, and an older couple I assumed were his parents.  I asked if we might pop in occasionally to thaw out.  He said no….that’s where his dogs stayed and they didn’t like strangers.

So Ian and I took a walk….came back frozen to the bone ….I asked if we could just step inside the workshop area…no one was in there.  He said no…the shop was full of dangerous equipment.  I asked if we could use the restroom.  He said no…he didn’t have a restroomHe had made himself perfectly clear.

Ian and I left for the restaurant.  They were friendlier…as long as I was buying something.  So that’s what we did …. we’d pop into the restaurant for hot chocolate and the bathroom… walk back to Doug,  sit on a box wrapped in blankets, read stories….walk back to the restaurant and order some small thing….and on and on that went.  Every now and then Doug had something I could help with.  We just kept as busy as we could to stay warm.  All the while … the man, his dogs, his parents sat inside watching.

And Ian… as he’d been throughout the entire trip, was a trooper.

Later in the day, while the man was gone on a call, the older gentleman appeared at our truck with a tool he thought Doug could use.  It made all the difference.  By late afternoon the truck was running.  It didn’t look like it should run, but it was!

It was an amazing moment of triumph to shove our belongings and ourselves into the cab and drive to the motel.  More amazing… Doug had not taken a single break all day, working on the engine with bare hands in freezing temps.

But before resting our weary bones, we stopped at the weigh station to learn what our chances were for clearance to hit the road.  The trooper was amused by the sight of us, but at least he was nice.  He gave us directions to the general store.  We were to get more heavy-duty rope to secure the back end…and we needed working tail lights.  He told us where we could get the best dinner in town, wished us a good night’s rest and told us to come back in the morning.

We did all that plus…. Doug fixed the gaping hole in my door with cardboard and duct tape.  He created a window for his door with cardboard, clear plastic and more duct tape.  We McGillivrays do love our duct tape!  And I loved his determination and creativity.

Ian the road warrior

And we did get to Anchorage, of course.  It’s just over 300 miles from Tok, but it took us two more days.  The poor old truck had issues, but it got us there.

 Anchorage is really the true beginning of our story…. but I’ve got to take a break and spend some time in the present day.  This journey has been long …..I’m worn out.

From Light To Dark ….. 4th of series

“HE is before all things, and in HIM all things hold together”… Colossians 1:17

Wish I’d known that verse before we left Destruction Bay.  But maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.

What I did know that morning …. God’s handiwork dazzled our eyes around every turn.  It was too big to capture with a cheap camera. 

What I couldn’t know …by day’s end we would enter the darkest time I’d experienced to that point in life.

Because blog posts shouldn’t be entire books…and because I’m thinking some of this should be a book so I can expand…and because I’m not writing a travel log…I’m moving quickly thru this next bit.  Much of the next couple days were a blur anyway, with exceptions burned in memory.  I’ll focus on the exceptions.

As pleasant as the Mounty was at the BC border …his U.S. counterpart at the Alaska border was the opposite…rude, suspicious, unkind.  Doug unpacked a lot from the back of our truck for inspection.  As feared, we couldn’t get it all back in so stowed tire and tow chains under my seat…other odds and ends filled the cab.

With a sleeping child in my lap and Doug focused on a difficult stretch of highway, we rolled on.  As we crested a ridge and started downhill, we were surprised to see another vehicle approach.  We’d had the road to ourselves all day.

The tractor-trailer rig, pulling a huge load of pipe, was moving fast…right down the center.  I thought he would move over.  At any moment.  He did not.  Doug moved as far right as he could.

The trucker stayed on center.  The two lane highway had no shoulders and steep ravines on either side.  It felt like forever, but I’m sure it was only moments as Doug battled the inevitable.

Our right front wheel went off the road.  With one last effort to keep us from going in head first, Doug cranked the steering wheel hard…brought the front tire back up as the rear end of the truck swung out, over the road’s edge, then down.

Rear wheels downhill, front wheels uphill…we were positioned like astronauts for take-off.  The truck slid sideways thru the snow about 50 feet until something snagged the tires and flipped us on to the passenger side.  Then we stopped.  Then it was silent ….for a moment.

The mad scramble began… we had to get out.  Doug smelled gasoline.  I couldn’t move.  I handed Ian up to Doug.  He climbed out, dropped into the snow, climbed up to the highway to deposit Ian.  I discovered the tow chains stored beneath the seat had wrapped themselves around my legs.

As I worked at the chains I could see my tiny child standing on the edge of the highway…screaming hysterical, shaking, his arms reaching for me.  I stared out that windshield, eyes laser-locked to Ian’s, and I could not believe how this place had drawn us in.  This place so beautiful, had turned into a nightmare.  I was wrapped in the most helpless, hopelessness …tighter than the chains on my legs. 

As Doug got back to me, a car pulled up and a man swooped Ian into a blanket… we got the chains off and me out… and we stood in disbelief on the side of a highway in the middle of a frozen nowhere… our life lay in a heap at the bottom.

Of course, I know now that really wasn’t so.  Our life was us…. whole and together.  The only physical injury was a cut on my hand.  But at that moment, I felt as God-forsaken as the scene looked.

This man and family….returning to their home in Fairbanks, took us up the highway to 40 Mile Roadhouse.  They helped us settle in, get a room, eat a meal, then they were off.  Their kindness was soothing.

We had nothing but ourselves.  A state trooper took Doug back to the truck and they gathered whatever would be immediately useful…a few clothes, diapers, food, my bag which held all our important papers and money.  He helped Doug make arrangements with a tow service for the morning.  He gave us his number to call if we needed medical help… anything at all… he’d do what he could.

The trooper and the family from Fairbanks were the kind of people we’d read about in the north country…. not the border agentnot the trucker who didn’t stop to see if we were dead or alive.  Nothing made sense to me at that point.

Ian and I spent the next day in a cabin at 40 Mile.  Doug and the tow truck driver headed to the scene… our version of “Destruction Bay”.  We had no idea how anything would turn out.

But at the end of that long day, I was overwhelmed to see the tow truck, with ours on behind.  Doug was ecstatic.  The fear was they would manage to pull the truck up onto the road, but all the contents would spill out the back.

Nothing spilled.  Everything made it out of the ravine.  “In Him all things hold together”… our lives, our family…even the back door of a truck.

The driver would pick us up in the morning and bring us into Tok.  He was taking our truck to his shop there.  We had no idea if it would be road-worthy.  All we could do was celebrate one small victory and pray for the next step.

Into the Snow ….. 3rd of series

…if you’ve started reading our great adventure today, you can find parts one and two here and hereWe’ve a few more pages left to this story……

It was snowing lightly that first morning in Haines.  Reports said blizzard, so we hurried thru breakfast.  We should have savored it ….it was to be the last “normal” meal for a while.

We would be within Alaska’s borders for a short time before crossing into British Columbia.  The Haines Highway would take us into BC, up the Chilkat Pass and into Yukon Territory.  Our next fuel stop was planned for Haines Junction, YT.  Our next sleep would be Destruction Bay, YT.  Ominous name, eh?  Thought I’d throw in that “eh” in honor of Doug’s Canadian heritage.

Speaking of Doug, there was a visible change in his demeanor as we hit the road.  It seemed like he’d been driving truck thru snow all his life.  There was a new confidence I’d never seen.

And at only two and a half years old, Ian was amazing.  He sat in his special seat between Doug and I like a miniature scout.  His eyes scanned the road like his father, he noticed obscure sights along the way… the only things missing were the coonskin cap and buckskin jacket.  He had his moments, understandably, but I will always be grateful for his goodness.

Not far out of Haines was the most spectacular sight….trees, still winter bare were covered with black dots.  Closer we got, the dots were actually eagles.  Hundreds of them.  We’d entered the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.  Doug was convinced they were saying “Welcome…this is your new home”.

Snow was heavy by the time we reached the BC border.  The Mounty who checked our papers was friendly…quite chatty actually, like Doug.  I thought maybe it was a Canadian thing.  We opened up the back of the truck hoping he would not feel the need to investigate more thoroughly.  Luckily, he did not.  It wasn’t that we had anything to hide, we just had no clue how we’d get it back in again!

At the BC border, Pleasant Camp

He proclaimed us well prepared for the journey.  We had tools in case of breakdown, extra tires, extra fuel and survival supplies.  He gave us weather info, suggested we take it slow and drive in the center of the road when there was no oncoming traffic.  This seemed strange to me.  Then he said something a bit disturbing…

“As you head up the pass, don’t stop for anything…not for a hitchhiker…not for a breakdown.  Keep this truck rolling forward.”

The Mounties patrolled that stretch of highway regularly and they would give help where needed.  If we stopped we ran the risk of getting stuck ourselves.

It was hard to imagine driving past someone in need….we weren’t raised that way.  Intellectually we understood his advice.  I wondered if we could really do it.

It didn’t take long to be tested.  We recognized cars and trucks we’d disembarked with along the route.  There were folks hitchhiking thru the snow and cold temps…pure craziness!  Then on the steepest part of the climb we saw the first of several wrecks – a truck had slipped off the edge of the road… a little farther up, a car.  The people were out and about, unharmed, digging out…or attempting to.

It was hard to just keep going.  But we did.  Slowly, carefully our big old truck just kept rolling up the mountain.  Ian and I didn’t make a peep.  Doug was totally focused.  I was proud of him.

We made it to the top of the pass, beyond the tree line even.  For the first time in hours we stopped the truck, stretched our legs and yelled just to hear our echos.

Crossing into the Yukon

We rolled on, taking advantage of day light hours.  We fueled up in Haines Junction, snacked on food we had and continued toward Destruction Bay.  There was no oncoming traffic that day…we stuck to the center of the road like the Mounty said.

By the time we got there it was dark.  We were beat.  The kitchen was closed and the room was small and odd…unwelcoming.  It had been a surreal day of highs and lows…I was sinking toward the lows.

Doug and Ian crashed immediately.  I couldn’t turn my mind off.  What was I doing out here?  Instead of hearing the next door neighbor’s dog bark, I was listening to wolves howling.

Doug and Ian out for the night - Destruction Bay, YT

I was awake most of the night.  I read.  I prayed.  I wondered if we were doing right by Ian.  I double checked our money and maps ….something felt “off”, but I didn’t know what.

Our home away from home at Destruction Bay.

Morning came.  We checked out of the strange little room and pointed the truck toward Alaska.  We hoped to cross the border by noon and spend that night in Tok.  At least, that was the plan.

Courage to Stand ….. 2nd of series

I’ve known my husband over 43 years.  Doug is an original thinker.  He’s not afraid to try the untested.  He has faults, but being wimpy is not one of them.

It’s one thing to sit behind a computer screen and type what you believe….it’s something totally different to stand in front of people and say and/or do what you believe …and run the risk of criticism.

He’s taken that risk consistently.  I can’t say I’ve always been happy about it….but I’ve always appreciated his courage.

We’d been married 6 years by the time our journey to Alaska began.  During those years he’d been involved in multiple business attempts, 2 or 3 different jobs and a couple of starts and stops at college.  A lot of change to pack into 6 years.

I was confused by it all …. sometimes angry.  We had a child.  Not to mention, my own goals and dreams were paying a price.  There were times I felt like quitting, but couldn’t get passed that “for better or worse” thing.

I’ll give it to Doug that he was (is) a hard worker.  He put himself out there 110%.  He was struggling to find that elusive “something”.  It wasn’t an easy time.

Unfortunately, his choices labeled him.  A friend from church once told me we were viewed as the couple most likely to divorce.  Nice friend.  Every different job, business attempt, whatever…. was just another “Doug thing”.  And so the move to Alaska was viewed by some as another crazy “Doug thing” that wouldn’t fly.

But as said in the last post, this was different.  After the shock wore off, I felt right about what we were doing. 

Some will never agree, but I think it was perfect timing (except for being pregnant and toting a toddler with us, oh, and it was still winter!).  We both had excellent job skills.  No matter where we went we knew we could work.  We paid off all our debts after selling the house.  A big bank account would have been nice …but we didn’t have that.  We had enough money for our needs….and enough dreams and plans for 20 people.

Doug bought a used Dodge, medium duty, tilt-cab truck with a 16 foot box.  Inside that box we packed our earthly belongings.  The plan was to drive to Seattle, take the ferry to Haines, Alaska, then drive to Anchorage.

Doug and his dad, Cliff, built a special “perch” in the cab for Ian.  I suppose taking a two-year old on such a trip was not the most brilliant thing in the world, but it was what it was.  So Ian had his own special place….he could sit between Doug and I, or lay down and sleep, or play with his toys.  It was a soft, cushy, warm little spot.

When the reality of our move finally settled in, my mother flew into high gear with her sewing machine, Doug’s mother with her knitting needles.  My dad, Cliff and Doug were constantly tuning and tweaking the truck.  And they spent many exasperated hours packing and re-packing all of our “must haves”.

If we knew then what we know now, we’d have taken very little.  Our thought was to take all the basics to set up a household when we got there.  For all of our selling and giving away…we took far more than we needed.

So, we spent a last Christmas in the first house we ever bought……….

We moved in with Doug’s folks for a few weeks………..

Then we hit the road on March 7, 1976.  I didn’t know saying goodbye would be so hard.

Brooke and Ian, MV Columbia

We drove our big, old truck onto the ferry, MV Columbia on a Friday morning in Seattle……………

Doug and Ian on the top deck

Ian, the Alaskan adventurer

………early the next Monday morning we disembarked in Haines.  Our feet were on Alaskan soil, well, snow.  We ate a big breakfast, piled in the truck and headed for the Canadian border.

Crossing into Canada

  This was the day the real adventure began.

 

“it’s safe to move about the cabin”

My youngest son turned 29 last week and it reminded me how much I hate flying.  Conversely, I flew a lot last week and that always reminds me of Daniel.

Does it not occur to anyone but me how unnatural it is to hurtle thru space in a metal object?  And while you’re up there nothing good happens.  You alternately freeze and sweat, there’s always someone sneezing and strange people fall asleep on your shoulder.  I flew for years with a baby or toddler in arms…first flight with a seat to myself and the lady next door spilled coffee in my newly emptied lap.

A couple years ago Doug and I flew home after a conference in Las Vegas.  Moments before boarding a very rumpled, hygienically challenged man staggered into the area.  He stood awkwardly, kind of swaying with a creepy, leering expression.  You know the phrase..”what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”?  He looked like he was trying to take it home with him.  I began to feel very sorry for his seatmate…which turned out to be me, which is why I know he was hygienically challenged.

So back to Daniel……….

We used to fly in and out of Alaska quite often.  On this particular trip it was just me and the boys returning to Anchorage from San Francisco.  Earlier in the morning a plane had crash landed at Dallas-Ft Worth, blamed on extreme wind shear.  The crash caused numerous delays across the country and for my flight as well.

As a white knuckle flyer anyway, this did not help.  Two hours later, my once freshly scrubbed, combed and pressed boys boarded with me on our way to Seattle.  Shirts were un-tucked, Ian and David (almost 12 and 9) were locked in verbal combat, Daniel (3) had lost a sock, Andrew (4) had gum in his hair…I did not care.  Just wanted to get this flying thing over with.

In Seattle we missed our connection, found a new flight but were delayed again due to mechanical difficulties.  O, great.  Finally boarded..then had to get off.  They decided to bring in a new plane.  We were supposed to be home for dinner, Anchorage time.  As it was we didn’t leave Seattle until 10 p.m.  I tried to call Doug from a public phone (pre-cell phone era…yes, there was such a time) but no answer.  Boy, would he be cranky by the time we landed.

So we’re flying, flying….weather’s a little stormy..fair amount of turbulence.  I’m trying to be calm…don’t want my boys to see what a weenie I am.  For Ian and Andrew this flying is no problem.  Ian would fly a carpet  if there were actually flying carpets.  Andrew was just a happy little kid that rolled with whatever…….they were both sound asleep.

David and Daniel seemed to be a bit more affected by my nervousness vibes…for which I’ve apologized many times.  David didn’t seem to like flying any more than me and was looking mighty grumpy as we bumped our way thru the sky.  Daniel had not slept all day and had a grip on me that was really quite painful.  I held him on my lap, tried to comfort, begged him to sleep…that wasn’t happening.

With about an hour and a half flying time left the turbulence picked up significantly.  Even the flight attendants had to take their seats and buckle up.  Suddenly the plane dropped violently.  A woman yelled (no, not me) a word I cannot repeat.  And I hear a deep, booming man voice scream, “I DON’T WANNA DIE!!!!”……..except the voice was coming out of my tiny, little child.

It was one of those split second events that feels like an eternity during which many things are happening at once.

“Mom!  Shut that kid up!” from David………in my head I’m screaming right along with Daniel….passengers are looking at us like they’d throw us out the window if they could….Andrew and Ian are sleeping.

Obviously we made it home.  After the big event the rest of the flight was fairly calm and Daniel fell asleep…just as we were beginning our descent.  Doug pretended to be ticked off when we landed, but I knew he was actually happy.

So this is why Daniel and flight are forever linked in my brain.  I try to look for good things in all that happens so I will say I appreciate how flying gets me places I want to go a whole lot quicker than walking.  Plus, it enhances my spiritual life because I spend a lot of time in prayer before, during and after.

Daniel grew up and has a beautiful family.

His deep, booming man voice fits him much better now.

He still flies occasionally.

I don’t think he screams anymore.

The Witness Tree

Spending last week in the Washington D.C. area was terrific.  It was a rare chance for me to unwind, take walks, read and reflect.  Although Doug’s primary purpose was work, we managed to pack alot of miles, a lot of sights and a lot of good food into the in between spaces.  I love good southern cooking, but oddly enough had the best Thai dinner of my life in Virginia…a testament I suppose to our diverse American culture.

As Civil War buffs, we had no lack of places to go and things to do.  I collected pictures and recorded experiences for future posts.  Thought I was ready to move on to new writing material…get back to the old job…back to the normal.  But where I was last week just won’t let me go.  Sights and words and those Whitman brothers from my last post keep rolling around in my head.

At Antietam National Battlefield, Doug and I climbed the observation tower in the middle of the corn fields.  The original tower, built by confederate troops to track the advancing army was made of logs, chinked and stacked high.  The stone tower we climbed (huffing and puffing greatly) is a monument to the original.  The cold wind whipped us, but the view was breathtaking.

To get to where I’m going I need to describe something sad… please bare with me.  Imagine if you can …. September 17, 1862 ….  75,500 Union and 38,000 Confederate soldiers coming face to face … right there … in these pictures.  The battle started at 5:30 A.M. and ended at 5:30 P.M..  It claimed over 23,000 casualties…the single largest amount of dead, wounded and missing in one day of any battle during the entire war.

Looking closer in is the Sunken Road…a lane the famers used to move crops from place to place. …An 800-yard stretch of road where 5600 casualties were claimed alone.

Painting pictures of death and dying is not my thing, but I am swept into what happened there.  I don’t understand it.  I know the history books are full of the “whys” of the Civil War, but I still cannot comprehend the “how” for the average foot soldier….how they could face each other…so close.

But the picture of Antietam that sticks with me most, is the Witness Tree at the bridge.

Not far away from the corn fields is Antietam Creek and the Burnside Bridge.  During that part of the battle a portion of the bridge was blown away by cannon fire.  The stacked stone walls, so common in that area, became the backdrop for temporary graves of too many soldiers.

Wood slats from the bridge were used as temporary grave markers until each soldier could be reinterred elsewhere.  Beautiful foliage, groves of trees were blown to bits…except for one.

As I walked across the bridge and down the other side I was thinking of Walt Whitman, tending wounded soldiers somewhere, worrying about George.  I wondered if George had been where I stood.

Indeed, he had.  This fact may not impress some, but to my geeky self, one who loves to dig up facts and weave stories together, it was like finding that missing jigsaw puzzle piece.

The Witness Tree…it stood there as George engaged in combat around and over the bridge.  It stood as cannons roared and rifles cracked.  It stood as men sought shelter and fell.  It can’t speak the story that unfolded beneath it …. but it does stand today as a memorial to the service and sacrifice of men locked in a terrible battle within a war that ultimately pulled the nation back together again.

Unlike the tree, Walt Whitman could speak and did ….his poems and letters giving testimony to the life and times in which he lived.  Like the tree he could stand…he did that by tending those in need, putting action to his words.  He was a witness tree for his time.

Could it be we all are a witness tree in our own corner of life….growing, gathering wisdom and esperience…sharing that along with our talents to those our lives touch?  Well, I like that analogy anyway.

Earlier this year I made a committment to myself, to God, and joined an online mentoring group of like minded folk …. to make this a year that counts.  I don’t want another year, five or ten to pass only to look back and see the same old roadblocks and habits exist … those things I allow in my life which keep me stuck.  In the end I want to have stood for something.  The old Witness Tree has helped me pull some of that into deeper perspective.  Thanks, tree.

Yesterday I stumbled on a scripture that made me laugh…kind of a confirmation of what’s been rolling around in my head and heart,

“You have circled this mountain long enough.  Now turn north”

                         Deuteronomy 2:3

…………..Turnin north………….

Brothers, Mothers and War

I was intrigued to find poet Walt Whitman had been at the Battle of Fredericksburg during the Civil War… bought a thin booklet about his life and some selected writings at the bookstore in Arlington.  He was 42 when the war started.  His younger brother George joined the 51st New York Volunteers.  Hearing his brother had been hurt, he left home to find him…and eventually did, recovering well from slight wounds.  George continued on with the 51st, but Walt, so impacted by what he found as he traveled near front lines of battle, spent most of the rest of the war volunteering in Washington D.C. hospitals, make-shift hospital camps, assisting troops in any way he could.

Walt read to, wrote letters for, fed, and dressed wounds of soldiers…both union and confederate.  Sometimes he just sat by their bedside.  And he kept a watchful eye out for George, for any news of him.

Snippets of this letter to his mother, written while he was ill, connected with me in a couple ways:

Mrs. Louisa Whitman, Brooklyn                                                         

Washington, June 17, 1864

Dearest Mother. I got your letter this morning. This place and the hospitals seem to have got the better of me…..The doctors have told me……. I need an entire change of air…….if I find my illness goes over I will stay here yet awhile.  All I think about is to be here if any thing should happen to George.                     Walt

As I read his words, it struck me how unrealistic it was to “stay there…if “…..  knowing there really was nothing he could do for George….just like there was nothing I could do for Andrew or David while they served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Yet how many times did I balk at leaving the house “in case he calls” ? 

Doug – “Then he’ll call back..or call your cell”.

Me –  “But he’ll call the house phone…I should be here to answer”.

Doug – “Don’t be silly.  He’s doing his job.  You do yours”.

Me – “What’s mine?’

Doug – “To live your life”.

I’m glad one of us could be sensible about it all.

And then the other part of Whitman’s letter…is it’s a brother story.  I love brother stories…probably because I raised four of them.  They argue, fight and call each other “butt-head”, but when it counts they are for each other.  Always for each other.

Brothers, Moms, wars….alot of subject matter there.  Far too much for one little post.  So for now it’s time to head outside.  It’s overcast today, but I’m going to take pictures anyway.  Cherry blossoms are starting to pop out…plus, Starbucks is calling.

Travels With Doug

I’m in Alexandria Virginia this week…tagging along with Doug while he attends a conference.  The hotel is free.  I promised him I wouldn’t eat much.  All we had to buy was my plane ticket.

This was my first official act upon touching down at Reagan National Friday evening in 80 degree weather, blue skies and no rain.   NO RAIN!!!!!!!

Of course, to get to the pecan waffle it took two hours of bumper to bumper driving to go about 25 miles south.  I used to think the worst drivers are in Oregon…but truly, they are here.  I don’t mean to offend, but the truth is the truth.

Saturday we toured old Fredericksburg, the battlefield and Chatham House… a private home used by union soldiers. 

And this, the long drive way by which famous generals, President Lincoln, Clara Barton and even poet Walt Whitman traveled up to Chatham House.  Whitman went there looking for, but not finding his brother….. and stayed awhile to help in “the surgery”.

………then the tone of our little visit changed a bit Sunday morning………..

  This is me waiting in the car …for the police …while Doug is outside arguing with the man who rear-ended us.  By the way, since I haven’t mastered taking pictures of my face without making my nose look disproportionately large, I’m logging my journey by foot.  Anyway, at that moment I was praying this would not be indicative of the rest of our week.  In the side view mirror I see the other man’s wife and elderly mother with their heads down.  I assume they are praying too….”please Lord, deliver us from these men-folk!”. 

The police arrive only to tell us they don’t file police reports on fender benders in private parking lots, suggest we exchange insurance info and go our way.  The other man said bad words to Doug and went his way.  Doug did not say bad words…very proud of him.  I told Doug not to worry….this rental car is already so banged up, one more dent won’t matter.  In fact, I’ve never seen a rental car like it ….it actually had band aids on it…little stickers that say “dent reported”.  Very weird.  And sure enough, back at rental return they didn’t even care.  Like I said….worst drivers are ……….

So after returning the car yesterday and checking into the hotel for this week’s adventures, we took Metro into D.C…. 

Here we are after walking across the Potomac River (we wisely decided to use the bridge) from Arlington to the Mall.  We thought we were dying, but water and a Snickers bar fixed us right up. 

I’m collecting pictures and stories for another day, pictures that are worth some thoughtful discussion….

 but in the meantime…………. 

    ….this is me on Monday morning.  I’m going to read a book and pretty much be a bum today.