Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Ho-humming Jesus (Sunday homily)

So, this is a pretty striking reaction to Jesus.
He is healing people, casting out demons, 
and teaching people about God, offering forgiveness and offering hope.

“And they took offense at him.”

We know this kid, they said; he grew up here. 
We know his family. Who does he think he is? 

Ho-hum, they said.

Their hardness of heart “prevented” Jesus from performing miracles; 
not because he was literally incapable of doing so – 
he is God, he can do what he likes – 
but rather, because there was no point.
The point of his healings and his teaching are the same: 
to open people up to the supernatural life God offers them.
But they were closed off; his miracles would do them no good.

It is shocking to think of people reacting this way.
But let me ask you: if you could have just 5 or ten minutes with Jesus, 
in which he would do for you what he offered those people,
Would you rearrange your schedule to meet with him?

I think a lot of us are saying, of course I would!
So then I ask you: what do you think happens in the confessional?

I know: a lot of people get discouraged because they go to confession, and they don’t get better.

But maybe the sacrament is keeping you from getting worse – 
did you ever consider that?

Saint Therese the Little Flower made a point on this somewhere:
That the reason we don’t quickly overcome our sins 
is because that would lead us to massive spiritual pride, 
which can send us to hell just as easily.
So it is God’s mercy that we spend our lives wrestling with sin, 
rather than one confession and done.

It really is this simple: what do you think happens in confession?
Do you believe Jesus is there, with all his power and his mercy?
Do you believe that? 

For that matter, do you believe the Holy Mass is a miracle?
Because that is what it is.

Actually, two miracles; two miracles happen in every Mass; 
and we all witness them.

The first miracle is that God brings us to Calvary, 
to the Sacrifice that Jesus offered on the Cross.
The Mass is the Cross; the Mass brings us to the Cross.
When you and I are at Mass, we are right there with Jesus.

The second miracle is the change of bread and wine 
into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – 
the true, real Presence of Jesus our Lord.

And, now that I think about it, there are three miracles.
The third one is that you and I, 
in receiving the Eucharist in a state of grace – 
meaning, we are not conscious of a mortal sin 
that we have not yet brought to confession…
I say again, when we receive the Eucharist in a state of grace,
we are united with Jesus. We have union with God.
When I say it aloud, it is astounding; it’s shattering.
I can’t help wondering, 
how in the world do we ho-hum these wonders? 
How does it happen? And yet, we do.

I don’t mean you; I mean me.
I stand at this altar, day by day. 
I give out God’s mercy in the confessional, and I’m glad to do it; 
but I confess to you, I am not overwhelmed enough. 
Not nearly enough.

It wasn’t just the hometown neighbors of Jesus who ho-hummed him; 
And by their “yeah, so what?” attitude, closed the door to miracles.
No; it wasn’t just them.

I don’t want to be those people. Do you? Do you?

“Jesus, I dare to ask: break down the barriers, break my heart open!
Please keep me, please keep these your flock, 
from being numbered among those 
about whom you are ‘amazed at their lack of faith.’
Please, Lord, in your mercy, may these words not be said of us. Amen.”

Sunday, June 30, 2024

A homily about pornography (without using the word)

 This homily is going to focus on something delicate and not pleasant.

But I’ll use careful wording for the sake of younger ears.

There’s a chronic problem faced by a lot of people around us – 

but very few are ever going to talk about it openly.

And it isn’t just grown-ups; 

it includes a shocking number of our kids, starting in their early teens.

I’m talking about the dark corners of the Internet; 

mainly ugly images and videos, but also, increasingly, online gambling. 

For a lot of people, this isn’t just an occasional thing; it is an addiction.

If this isn’t you, it can be really hard to understand.

How can someone wreck his or her life over alcohol 

or gambling or over dark stuff on the Internet?

What you must understand 

is that this isn’t merely a question of will power.

It isn’t about not praying enough, or some easy trick. It goes deeper.

Partly it’s brain chemistry. 

Something makes me feel good, and for some of us, 

we want it too much.

There’s also an issue of connection – intimacy –

which is a hidden crisis in our times.

If you or I do not have the healthy kind of human connections, 

we are prone to seek out the wrong kind. 

False kinds. Empty connections.

Which means, if we are hooked on the wrong kind,

a big part of the remedy involves seeking more of the healthy kind.

When a lot of us were children, 

we had one phone the whole house shared.

When you talked on the phone, you did in the hall or living room.

And all you could do with your phone was talk.

Most people had one TV, with 3, 4 or wow! Five channels!

So, TV was much more a thing you did with others.

Today, everyone has his or her own telephone;

You can watch TV on it. Alone. You do lots of things. Alone.

A few years ago, 

I talked about the good practice of a “thank you” phone call.

It turns out, some teenagers found calling grandma terrifying.

They knew how to text, not talk.

See how disconnected we have become?

No wonder more of us seek connection in fake and twisted ways online.

Now let’s talk about what happened in the Gospel.

A man comes to Jesus; his daughter is very ill.

What does Jesus say? I will come to her. 

Along the way.

A woman in the crowd reaches out and touches Jesus.

And then, surprisingly, Jesus decides to call her out.

Why not just let her go on her way: she was healed after all.

If you were her, would you want the spotlight to be put on you?

It’s kind of harsh. Why would he do that?

There was something more that woman needed 

than just to have her bleeding problem stopped.

This condition had been humiliating, 

and for 12 years, it separated her from others.

Perhaps this woman felt shame, ugly, unwanted and unloved.

She didn’t just need the medical issue fixed; 

She needed even more for her connection with others to be restored.

To be loved and to know it. That’s the healing the woman needed.

Jesus wasn’t embarrassing her; he was pulling her from the shadows.

Then she told Jesus the whole truth.

One of the most healing things you and I can do, 

when we have something we feel shame about, is to tell someone.

Being alone with that shame gives it so much power.

Remember: what we need is to connect in a healthy, real way.

Jesus wanted that woman to know she wasn’t just a stranger; 

she was family. He called her “daughter.” 

That’s the connection. You are a beloved child of God. And so am I.

Dealing with these habits online: I don’t have all the answers, 

but if you want to talk, and get it out,

we priests are here to listen and not repeat things.

We have a group called “Catholics in Recovery” 

as a place for anyone facing addictive behaviors to start healing.

And no matter what separates you, 

what you think makes you totally outside and unworthy,

is just not big enough that God won’t say to you, 

you are beloved son, you are my beloved daughter.

God created this world to be a place of life.

He made you and me to be “imperishable.”

And he came into the world – becoming one of us –

To raise us back to life.

You are the one to whom Christ is speaking in the Gospel.

You are the child, he says, “is not dead but asleep.”

And to you, his most loved child, he says, “Arise!”

Sunday, June 23, 2024

What do Job and the Apostles both discover? (Sunday homily)

Image from: Just a Catholic Blog

Since the Book of Job rarely gets read on Sunday,

This is a chance to fill in some details behind today’s reading.

At the beginning, Job has a good life, 

and he offers prayers and sacrifices to keep it that way.

What do you think? Do you and I ever operate that way?

“I’ve got a good life, so I’ll go to church and God will keep blessing me.”

The risk – for Job and for us – is this:

what happens when Job, or we, lose our good life?

When our health fails or everything goes south, like Job we ask: 

what did I do wrong? Why did this happen to me?

And here we come to something many don’t notice about Job:

He says to God, I want you to come here and tell me what I did wrong.

And God does come and speak to Job!

God agrees, Job did not commit any sin. 

Now we arrive at today’s reading, where God reveals his glory,

And after this, Job falls silent; he no longer has any complaint, 

even though he is still weighed down with pain and grief. 

Why does Job fall silent? What has changed for him?

Job has reached a new relationship with God:

He doesn’t worship from a distance, God is right there.

It isn’t about the good things of life. 

Now Job realizes, knowing God is the treasure.

So, now we jump ahead to Paul’s letter and to the Gospel.

Both Paul, speaking to the Corinthians, 

and the Apostles, speaking to each other,

are grappling with the same question: Who is this Jesus?

And the answer is, he’s the exact same treasure Job discovered.

I almost said what maybe you are thinking right now:

We can’t imagine what it is like to realize, as the Apostles did, 

that the Lord your God is sitting with you in your fishing boat.

But that’s not true! You and I do know what that is like!

Every time you and I come into this church, 

or drive by a Catholic church, we know: Jesus is right here.

So I can walk over here to the tabernacle, 

and I suppose this is about how close he was 

to the Apostles in that storm.

And while the Eucharist is the fullest reality of God present to us, there is more! 

All seven sacraments serve to make God present to us, as in that boat.

And each one of us, by virtue of our baptism, 

our confirmation, and of our maintaining communion with Jesus 

by prayer and seeking holiness, we too make God present to others.

Not the unique full, real presence of the Eucharist, 

but still, something real and powerful in our world.

Saint Paul tells the Corinthians: don’t miss the reality of what we have!

And today, I’m repeating that to you.

And let me say this to our young men:

When I talk to you about being a priest, you may wonder, 

why would I even think about that? Here’s the answer:

Everyone can share Jesus with the world.

Everyone can be as close to Jesus as the Apostles in the boat.

But someone has to take up the unique mission 

of offering the sacrifice of the Mass, 

Of lending your voice to speak absolution, 

freeing us from sins in the sacrament of confession, 

And letting Jesus use your hands to anoint and comfort us in sickness.

Jesus invited the Apostles to that special surrender and he invites you. 

When many of our fellow Christians gather on the Lord’s Day, 

the preacher will give an altar call, 

challenging everyone to wake up to God’s invitation, not later; now! 

That’s kind of what God is doing for Job and again, for the Apostles.

And, let’s face it, we often need the storm to focus their minds.

If you have no storms in your life, thank God!

But that might tempt you to think the invitation isn’t just as urgent.

Meet the One who commands the storms and supplies all we need.

Jesus himself is the treasure.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

What to do with terrible sermons

Here are some thoughts that came to me today as I considered the various observations about homilies (or sermons, the terminology isn't all that important):

1. Most bishops, deacons and priests seriously try to offer homilies that are for your benefit.

2. Preparing a homily message, and delivering it, are two distinct challenges that come easier to some; and it isn't merely a matter of training.

3. Many priests and perhaps bishops, face a particular challenge in finding time to do even minimal work in that preparation. Some priests who give homilies without much preparation may be lazy, but I suspect many more find all their time taken up with other things.

4. Preparing a homily that addresses delicate or controversial topics is especially challenging, because it involves, metaphorically, navigating a minefield. Many or most weeks, time or other circumstances may lead a homilist to say, I just can't manage that this week. Rinse and repeat, week after week.

5. Many priests have been encouraged by feedback to be funny, to be entertaining, to be light, as opposed to be substantive and controversial. This comes both from positive and negative feedback.

6. Recognize these last two aspects, combined with the force of habit, for the peril they create: we preachers can get comfortable with, and rationalize, not giving you all that much in our homilies.

7. It may be desirable that the homilist be funny or lively or eloquent or dramatic or animated and profound, and to manage to avoid giving offense, and to avoid any rhetorical sharp elbows or awkward expression; and to do all that in 3 minutes or 90 seconds or with a single sentence. 

But sometimes the job that needs to be done, and the worker doing the job, can't work out that way. Indeed, what you get may, in your judgment, be too...whatever. It might even be what some treat as the worst possible thing: "boring."

8. Before you complain (and I'm not saying you can never complain, but I will ask how you justify complaining to everyone else, but never bothering to address your comments to the one who offered the homily), maybe consider the prior points and perhaps ask: what do I think the homilist hoped to do for any of us, for me in particular, with his message? 

In short, apply charity. Do you actually think the homilist's purpose was to harm you? Even in offending, perhaps deliberately, was it to *harm* -- or to save? 

9. Somewhere along the way, before you say or do anything at all, you might ask: "How can I help?"

10. And along the way, ask: how much merit does my grievance really have? 

Actually misrepresenting the Faith, or the facts, in a serious way, is seriously bad, as is a serious and deliberate lack of charity toward anyone. My guess is, most of the complaints people offer don't rise to this level. No, the usual complaints are, "too long," "too boring" or "not that again!" 

If you really cannot find anything else of merit in the homily (and I've listened to homilies that were a struggle for me to find much treasure!) there remains this: your suffering, such as it is, can be purgatory for you and how precious is that!

What do you think of these quick observations?

Sunday, June 16, 2024

God doesn't care... (Sunday homily)

God doesn’t care about big and little.

Being the biggest kid at school or the strongest country in the world.

This doesn’t impress him.

And saying, “I’m too old,” or “I’m too young,” or “I don’t know enough,” 

aren’t excuses that cut any ice with God.

This business of saying that human life doesn’t matter 

when it’s too early or too small: 

Well, we humans who determine value by money or power or size, 

find it easy to devalue early human life. But what does God say?

God doesn’t care about big or little.

An awful lot of change has happened in this world — 

both for bad and for good – 

through people who didn’t listen when others said, “who are you?”

Marx - who are you?

Saint Paul – who are you?

Martin Luther King - who are you?

Mother Theresa – who are you?

God doesn’t care about little or big…except when it comes to virtue.

No matter what age you are, or how limited your abilities, 

you can be rich in courage and justice, chastity and generosity.

Consider Father Maximilian Kolbe. He was a Polish priest, 

his country conquered in six weeks in World War II, 

and he was thrown into the notorious death camp Auschwitz.

Every day he saw proof that he and everyone else imprisoned

were nothing to their captors;

and he had to know he would die,

and that he was powerless to prevent it.

Father Maximilian had serious health problems even beforehand.

He was a brilliant scholar, but what did that count for now?

How insignificant, how nothing, he might have felt!

Yet he planted a tiny seed of generosity: 

he stepped forward to take the place of another prisoner 

marked for death.

That man – Franciszek Gajowniczek – 

survived Auschwitz, and was in St. Peter’s Square in Rome 

when Pope John Paul II declared Maximilian Kolbe a saint!

But understand – and right here is the practical takeaway 

for each of us – that the courage and ability to deny oneself 

that Maximilian had in that hour didn’t just show up.

It began when he was a boy learning the habit of virtue: 

of choosing prayer, kindness, chastity and generosity.

And while on this subject: a lot of people don’t get 

why chastity or self-denial matter all that much. 

Here’s the answer: the capacity to say no to what my body says 

is super-duper urgent, right now, is directly proportional 

to being able to say YES to putting others first.

I never witnessed my father making any heroic sacrifices 

like St. Maximilian – at least, I didn’t think so; 

until, as a man, I reflected on how my dad 

almost never seemed to be sick. But of course he was!

What he did, however, was still get out of bed and go to work.

Chastity and temperance form that virtue of self-gift in us.

No matter who you are, how small or young you are, 

or if you think, I’m too old, it’s too late for me:

While you have breath, 

it is not too late to become greater in virtue,

Which is the only thing that really matters 

both in this life and in eternity. 

Today is not too late to say to Jesus:

Please plant that seed of courage, of faith, in me;

As small as I am, I will give all I can to make it grow, 

even if all I have is just today.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Doubling back to South Dakota

In my account of my recent travels, I realize I never talked about visiting either the Crazy Horse Memorial, or Mount Rushmore. And what happened was that I didn't have any pictures worth sharing. The few I took didn't turn out well.

So, doubling back...

My first stop, midday Tuesday, was the Crazy Horse Memorial. This is amazing. I don't have time to tell the whole story, but you can look it up. Some details I will highlight:

- The organizers want to create a city there, made up of a university and a museum as well as the memorial. All three exist in embryonic form, but not finished.

- They said they won't take federal dollars because they don't trust the feds to honor the plan.

- The statue being carved out of the mountain will take a very long time to complete. It began in the 40s, and only the head and the upper part of Crazy Horse's arm is complete. I didn't see an estimate of how long it will take, but perhaps not even 100 years will be enough. The sculptor -- whose grandchildren are working on it now! -- laughed in the film that is shown, saying, so what? Time is relative!

- There's a lot more to see in the museum, and there were young ladies giving presentations in Native American dance and music; I left my hat in my car and so couldn't sit too long in the sun, and I wanted to move on to Mount Rushmore. In any case, I actually spent more time at Crazy Horse than with the four presidents.

Onto Mt. Rushmore...

It's striking how the planners arranged it; you don't really see the famous images until you have parked and ascended the stairs and entered through a grand passageway; then, there they are!

I didn't even bother taking photos of the mountain! You can find better images online. When I arrived, I was still a little sun-weary so I sat in a shady spot, both to contemplate the mountain, and to watch the people. It was like a little UN; there were bikers wearing Harley-Davidson gear whose native language seemed to be German! I couldn't help laughing as a dad patiently tried to get his kids to cooperate with a photograph.

There are displays on the story behind the famous sculptures, but I was already familiar with it, and at any rate, I was worn out. What I didn't know, but learned at the prior stop, was that the sculptor who gave his life to dynamiting Crazy Horse out of a mountain, worked first for the scultor at nearby Mt. Rushmore. 

Also something to keep in mind, if you visit: there is an ampitheater at the foot of the mountain, and at night (every night?) there is a lighting ceremony; if I'd done my homework, I might have planned to be there for that. But I arrived around 3 pm, and didn't want to hang around for six hours, nor did I want to return. But I bet that would be cool to see.

OK, that's a wrap!

Friday, June 14, 2024

Wrapping up the adventure

This morning I'll drive home. I'm outside Madison, Wisconsin, dreading driving anywhere near Chicago, because the traffic is always terrible; but alternative routes don't look promising.

Last night I visited with a friend from my days in Washington, it was great catching up with her.

Here are some remaining photos and narrative. Below is the Chalet Motel in Custer, South Dakota. A blast from the past. I carefully checked the reviews before booking, because it could have been a nightmare; in fact, it was very nice. My room opened into a tiny, shaded courtyard, so I enjoyed having a cold drink after arriving, before heading out for dinner.

Custer has buffalo statues all over town, variously decorated:

My next stop was Wall Drug. Honestly, I could care less; however, I figured people would ask, and be shocked if I said I didn't stop. So I stopped, looked around for five minutes, and drove on. The ubiquitous signs along the highway promise free ice water and five cent coffee, and free donuts for honeymooners. 

Also along I-90 is a Minuteman Missile National Historic Site! So I headed there next. When I arrived, all I found was a lavatory facility and a parking lot, with a few cars, and some explanatory signs. Nothing else. Upon reading the signs, I discovered the facility is actually three sites, spread over several miles. About eight miles to the west was the actual missile silo, which is really what I wanted to see. Several miles ahead was the "visitor's center." Where I arrived was the former command center; that is, where the military personnel remained on duty, all the time, just in case the order ever came. Here's that command center, across the road from the toilets:

There was no way I was driving back west for the silo, so I pressed on across South Dakota. If there are any Dakotans reading, please explain why there were all these little black bugs everywhere. I am sure I brought a lot of their carcasses back on the front grill of my car, along with cicadas and assorted other fauna from 12 states. The front of my car is insect armageddon; it got so bad before a rainstorm the other day that it attract flies! I thought about taking a picture; however I am too lazy to figure out how to blur out my license plate.
My stop for the night was Sioux Falls. Here is an arch over the river:

And I discovered an Italian restaurant just steps from the hotel, the R Wine Bar. I am extremely skeptical and picky about Italian restaurants; very, very few are anything like authentic. This place blew me away. I ordered a Caprese Salad, some beef and mushroom ragu on polenta, and a creme brulee for dessert. Now, I'm not saying it was all exactly like in Italy, but it was the best I've had in an Italian restaurant since visiting Italy; of course, a second or third try might have disillusioned me. Anyway, here is the Caprese (and no, it didn't come this way; I started to eat it before I decided to take a picture):

Yesterday morning, I scudded across the southern edge of Minnesota and into Wisconsin, the landscape becoming extremely familiar, a process that began once I crossed the mighty Missouri; on the eastern bank of the even mightier Mississippi, geographically, I'm home. Last night, my friend and I met a restaurant that was fairly well hidden on the water side of an apartment building. In a few minutes, I'll set out for gasoline and home.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Day 10: Across the Plains

This morning I'm in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and my next stop is outside Madison, Wisconsin, where I'll be able to visit with a friend from my political days who I haven't seen in several years. And I have good wifi, and I have some time, so I'll try to catch things up.

Let's post some pictures, starting with Grand Teton National Park:

If you go, be aware there are two routes that go roughly north-south, one on the east side of the Snake River, which gave me the view above, and then another drive on the west side. I drove down the east side of the river to Jackson Hole -- which was very prosperous, very touristy and very crowded -- and then found my way up the other side of the river, which gave even more spectacular views. Also, if you are so inclined, you can hike in these mountains.

It was about this spot, as I recall, I stopped to pray Midmorning Prayer, which included this from Psalm 121: "I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where shall come my help? My help shall come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth."

While in the Grand Teton area, I espied a sign for "Chapel of the Transfiguration" but didn't turn off. When I saw this chapel -- on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart! -- I took that as a divine nudge.

I spent about six hours driving around this park, and then drove north to Yellowstone. I passed through and then went eastward toward my lodging for the next two days. Friday night, I found this place for dinner, just a few miles down the road:

As you can read, this place claims to be Buffalo Bill Cody's "original hunting lodge," which I do not dispute. The barroom below, where I ate, isn't actually in the original building, which is nearby and not public. If you look closely, you'll see lots of animal heads on the walls, and a chandelier which the bartender claims includes buffalo skin and you can see also includes intricate metal work. He and another patron (who I'll describe more presently) asserted various high values to the chandelier.

Here was my first course, a Martini and Rocky Mountain oysters. I'd never had them. Delicious!

It was fun sitting here, listening to and observing the other guests. The bartender was from Alabama -- I guessed because who else would have an Alabama scrimmage game on TV? The gentlemen with the white hair turned out to be a resident at Pahaska (Cody's Indian name), and he explained, in a roundabout way, that he dresses up as Cody and if I wanted to see that, come back the next day around 8:30 am. I was tempted, but I wanted to get to the park.

This was hung in the corner, I'm guessing also made from buffalo hide. 

I apologize in advance for my pictures -- not enough and not very good. However, you can find excellent photographs of Yellowstone online, and for me, it takes a great deal of trouble to shoot and then edit the pictures. I confess: I'm too lazy. 

Here is Old Faithful geyser, seen from a covered porch nearby. To my right is a very fine lodge, where I snagged a sandwich to go.

There are a number of spots where you can view hot springs, bubbling and steaming. They are slightly ominous reminders that this whole park sits on the mouth of a temporarily dormant volcano.

I met a ranger here who has worked at the park for over 50 years -- he was in his 80s! -- and he described the Dragon's Mouth spring as one that changes constantly, sometimes erupting more forcefully, and the rock ceiling periodically drops large chunks of rock.

And, lest there be any confusion: that bubbling, steaming stuff is terribly hot and terribly poisonous. When visiting the West Thumb geysers, I overheard a mom say, "OK, that's enough about farts."

Here are the falls at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. There were several places to stop to view this canyon.

Here are photos of Mammoth Springs, which was my last stop before heading north. This is a mountain of travertine, formed over many years by water pouring forth and causing the limestone buildup. Follow the link above for details. I thought I had more striking photos, sorry! Feel free to mention in your Yelp Review.

Before I wrap up Yellowstone, I will add this observation. At various points, the landscape here made me think of The Lord of the Rings. The poisonous landscape above? Mordor. But lots of other sights were more like the Elven realms and the Misty Mountains. I can't say I discovered Hobbiton.

When I got to Livingston, Montana, I went into town for dinner. As the sun skimmed the horizon, I caught this sight. It reminded me of the alternate history section of "It's A Wonderful Life."

The restaurant I visited, called the Mint, had this vending machine near the men's room. This was a reminder of my childhood! My father's business -- which supported our family -- involved delivering lots of candy and, yes, cigarettes, to golf clubs and swim clubs, and also maintaining lots of vending machines at various locations, including the Cincinnati Post building downtown, and all around the University of Cincinnati. He had a lot of machines exactly like this:

This broken down wagon was outside my hotel in Gillette, Wyoming. 

Here are pictures from Little Bighorn (oops, this may get me banned from Facebook again!). This is the Native American monument, with a cut-out oriented toward the nearby memorial to Custer and his men, on the spot where they made their last stand.

At various points around the battlefield, markers indicate where individual warriors -- either from the Indian Nations or the U.S. forces -- fell. The U.S. markers are in the usual limestone white; these are red as you can see. 

Here is Custer National Cemetery. Although I didn't verify it, this includes far more than those who died at the battle. There is a smaller cemetery on the hill that was the last redoubt of Custer and his men; and there is a section marked where the soldiers horses fell; the men killed them in order to create some measure of defensive ramparts, to no avail.

I'm afraid I don't recall just where this was, but it was on the road from Little Bighorn to Custer, where I stayed after visiting the Crazy Horse Monument and Mount Rushmore.

This is a sod house, re-built by some of the students from the town:

The jail, which made me think of the old Cincinnati Workhouse, where my mother warned me, I'd end up if I didn't change my ways.

I've got to hit the road for Wisconsin, I'll try to catch things up further soon.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Day 9: Turning East

I'm sorry this will be another brief post as, well, I am on vacation!

A quick re-cap:

Friday I was at Grand Teton National Park for most of the day, then passed through Yellowstone National Park from the south entrance to the east entrance. Saturday I was back at Yellowstone, not as long as I wanted, which I'll explain below; and then, Sunday I spent most of the day in the park, before heading north to Livingston, Montana (and state 46).

A few observations about these national parks:

- If you ever wonder if they are over-hyped, the answer is no. The sights and experiences were everything you would hope.

- Don't worry about accessibility. You can drive to lots of things worth seeing.

- Don't worry about not being able to get into the wild; there are ample places for hiking and camping.

- Do plan ahead, both in researching all that there is to see, and plan your stops; and book well in advance, if you want to stay in Yellowstone, which -- while costly -- would have been worth it. I booked a very nice mountainside, creekside lodge (that's the name: Creek Side Lodge), advertised as 10 miles from Yellowstone's east entrance. True, but that omits how far that entrance is from the heart of the park. I had a two-hour, twisty mountain drive each way to get into the center of the park, not to mention the driving around the massive "loop." Stunning sights all along the drive, but I'd rather have been closer.

- Don't be the driver if you are either nervous or impatient behind the wheel. You know who you are! Let someone else drive.

- When you see wildlife, just keep moving, calmly. Stopping to coo at the "adorable" critters strikes me as a very poor decision. We Ohioans know how much havoc a mere deer can do to a car; the longhorn sheep, elk and bison are notably, or else significantly more massive than deer, so what do you think happens when that cute animal decides your Honda Accord looks like a threat? I say, keep moving along. If you want to gaze at animals, get your car off the road. The park posts signs everywhere giving further advice on this subject, namely, don't feed them and don't get too close.

I am not at all sorry I devoted so much time to these two parks, and when I get a better time, I'll post what pictures I took, but don't get too expectant: I'm not that good at it and I figure other people have published far better shots of these spectacular places. 

So what rearranged my Saturday? Discovering that Mass wasn't offered when and where I thought. Again, this is on me for not being more diligent. I had thought there was both a Sunday morning Mass in the park, and a Sunday evening option on the way north; but upon further checking, on Saturday morning, those weren't going to take place this past weekend. So, after some reworking, I decided Saturday afternoon Mass in "nearby" Cody (3 hours east from the center of the park!) was the best option. I was glad to visit Cody, but sorry I didn't plan for it. There was a museum for Buffalo Bill, and also a collection of old-looking buildings supposedly marking the original settlement; but it was closed by the time Mass ended.

In my defense, Google Maps, which is usually extremely helpful, was anything but when dealing with driving through Yellowstone. I think what messes up the app is the fact that many roads in the park are closed in winter, and subject to closure beyond that. So, when I was planning my trip and trying to calculate routes, Google would not let me plan to drive through the park; it almost always routed me around. Of course, I could have done it the old-fashioned way, using the road atlas in my car! (Another suggestion: always keep one of these, because the Internet isn't everywhere.) In retrospect, it would have worked to have departed Yellowstone through Cody and then up to Montana. 

Cody, by the way, boasts a German restaurant, and I was very sorely tempted. However, I had a 50-minute drive back to my lodging, and I don't think carry-out schnitzel would be so good after that drive. Nor did I think it prudent to drive back along those twisty mountain roads after schnitzel, and of course some beer, as dusk fell and the bears were on the road (I was told dusk and dawn are the best times to see them). For the same reason, I didn't stay for the 8 pm rodeo in town, although that looked like great fun. Better would have been to have stayed in Cody for a night. Next time!

My drive to Montana on Sunday afternoon, and then eastward toward Gillette, Wyoming, where I stayed last night, was mostly accompanied by the Yellowstone River, which finally bent toward the north as I steered south. Along the way I passed through the Crow Reservation, and visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield. (FYI, on this trip I played the "senior card" for the first time, as I qualified, at 62, for the $20 one-year pass for all national parks.) This, too, was well worth the visit.

Here's a fact that doesn't often get mentioned, however, regarding this tragic battle. The U.S. forces were not, strictly speaking, the agressors. They were caught between several Indian tribes that had, contrary to treaty, departed their reservation in Wyoming and South Dakota -- with good provocation, to be fair -- but in doing so, they trespassed on Crow territory. So the Crow invoked their treaty with the U.S., demanding protection. Of course, there's a lot more to it, there always is; but that's my point: usually the story is, Native Americans, good, U.S. bad. History is complicated because it involves people, who are complicated.

It's time to hit the road. Today's agenda is the Crazy Horse memorial, then Mount Rushmore. If time allows, I hope a longer post later.

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Deep in the Wyoming Wild

Sorry for no post since Friday morning, but I was busy all day Friday at Grand Teton National Park, until about 3 when I headed north for Yellowstone. When I arrived at the lodge just east of Yellowstone, it was late, and to boot, the Internet was pretty bad. It's barely better now, so I probably will keep this short. Enjoyed drinks and dinner at a restaurant where Buffalo Bill Cody had his own hunting lodge, and supposedly entertained the Prince of Monaco 110 years ago. Several interesting people and details from that evening! This morning I headed back to Yellowstone, which is a two-hour drive from here; next time I will book earlier and be willing to pay more to be closer. Originally I planned to attend Mass in the park, but then discovered that didn't begin for another week; so I left early and drove into Cody -- a 2-1/2 hour drive east -- for Mass this evening. Picked up some BBQ in Cody (named after guess who?) and headed back to the lodge on a creek that is roaring as I speak, from the snow rapidly melting in the mountains. Tomorrow I'll return to Yellowstone again and see what I missed so far, before heading north to Montana, state number 46.

God willing, I'll have reliable Internet there and will catch up and post photos.

Friday, June 07, 2024

Day 5: Climbing

It was a stunningly beautiful day as I headed out of Fort Collins, cloudless sky, 75 degrees. Very quickly, I was climbing. To blow the surprise, I think the highest I got was at Shoshone National Forest, reaching over 9,000 feet above sea level. The trees disappeared fairly quickly out of Ft. Collins. Far to my left are snow-capped mountains as I traversed a broad, high plain. A little bit cultivated, but mainly grazing land, although I didn't see a lot of animals. And I discovered one reason these are called the Rockies: many of the mountains and hills look exactly like massive piles of rubble -- of rocks.

The trees returned, mostly conifers. As I passed into Wyoming along U.S. 287, the trees vanished, along with almost all vegetation. A lot of this drive looked almost like desert. To my right is a railroad track; to my left, long, parallel lines of snow fences. Lots of snow fences all along the drive. 

I decided to stop in Laramie, and on the approach, suddenly the road was a bit crowded. Discovered a Catholic church dedicated to St. Lawrence O'Toole:

After praying a few minutes, I headed on. Climbing west of Laramie, I saw repeated signs warning of possible road closures, due to snow I imagine. Here and there I saw white patches -- yes, I know what you're thinking, duh, it's snow! But I don't think so, it was too close to my level. A mountain looms up to my left: purple mountain majesty indeed!

The North Platte River actually looked like a river; at the same time, all the rivers I saw (some very narrow) were clogged with water. 

Espying the town of Sinclair, home of "the most modern refinery," I took another detour. Here I saw the Union Pacific line, which was the first railroad to unite the continent. The town was built by the Sinclair Oil Company, and here is the once-renowned Parco Hotel. The doors were locked, but the interior looked well kept. A sign suggested the local Baptist church owned the property.

Note the dinosaur; also, the railroad tracks and a UP caboose in the background:

On the way out of town, a sign informed me that Lincoln Street was part of the Lincoln Highway. Imagine trying to cross the country that way!

Back on the highway, I cross the continental divide for the first time, meaning a moment before, I was far west as you can be, and still claim in any way to be "east." It turned out my trek would weave among the mountains and bring me back and forth across that line, which demarks where the watershed drains either to the Mississippi, or to the Pacific.

Almost hit some critter in "Jeffrey City" which looked like an assembly of about ten buildings. Passing through Lander, I found myself in a broad, beautiful valley. There's a Brew Fest tonight, I won't make it back. My drive took me into the Wind River Reservation. Elevation about 5,500, on the way much higher. 

A sign -- easy to miss -- tells me the grave of Sacagewea is down a side road! I turned around and headed down the much rougher road. No more signs telling me where to turn, so I relied on Google to get me there. 

It is amazing to me that so little is made of the gravesite of such an important figure; perhaps she is not so important to the tribe whose land this is?

On the last leg of a six-plus-hour drive, I came to a total stop as the two-lane highway was getting repaved just ahead. The 15 minute pause gave me a chance to rearrange my cooler, stretch my legs and chat with the signalman. The traffic from the other side of the hill came through, and now it was our turn; after passing beyond that area, I came into a beautiful valley surrounding the Wind River, along U.S. 26. A sign on the side: "Stay in vehicle. Do not approach bears on the road." It wasn't the first time I was promised bears on this trip, but still none sighted. I intend to mention this in the Yelp review!

Reaching the summit, it seems, of my journey, in the Shoshone National Forest, I am stunned to see snow, not higher up, but all around me. The ambient temperature is 74. It just takes that long to melt. 

Around 5:30 pm I arrive at the Hatchet Inn:

After a good night's sleep, and having finished one more cup of coffee, I'm off to the Grand Tetons National Park -- I can see the peaks out the restaurant window right now. I'll spend the day visiting that park, then head north for Yellowstone, which I'll explore till Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, June 06, 2024

Day 4: Suddenly West

As I left the La Quinta Inn in Dodge City, I snapped this photo in the back parking lot:

And as I pressed west and north, passing through a lot of small towns, I saw a lot of gear that looked authentically old and decrepit, like this. I wonder how much of the stock of wagons and surreys are still around?

My first leg took me along the original route of the Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, now part of Burlington Northern-Sante Fe R.R. The country was somewhat green, but still fairly dry; I realized everywhere I saw a copse or line of trees, that was a river or creek, and most of these latter were dry when I saw them. Looking ahead, I thought I saw mountains, but soon realized it was just a massive cloud bank. Turns out the earth really is round!

For whatever reason, it fascinates me to re-encounter roads familiar from the east: U.S. 50, 40 and 36, and eventually, I found myself back on I-70. But for the first couple of hours, I was on U.S. 400 and then some state and even local Kansas roads. No matter; there were few cars or even trucks and the posted speed limit was seldom less than 65. The tallest buildings were generally grain silos, water towers and then churches.

Frankly, this section of the trip was almost mesmerizing trip. Don't get me wrong: the landscape was pleasing, and the thought of all the food that is produced here was striking. But I found myself thinking about traveling through here not by car, but by wagon or by horse. I found myself thinking, under the right circumstances, it would make sense to form a convoy -- a wagon train -- with other vehicles.

A lot of the land wasn't cultivated, and it wasn't being grazed, that I could tell. 

Somewhere in far western Kansas, I saw two bicyclists conversing on the side of the road; I suspect they met going opposite directions. Not a tree for many miles, to provide any cover. 

Passing into Colorado, the sagebrush staged a comeback, and I realized, from signage, that I was gradually rising higher, with the elevation approaching (from memory) 4800 feet above sea level. High Plains indeed. West of Wild Horse, Colorado, I could no longer get any FM stations; somewhere before, I lost my cell signal, but got it back after a bit. 

I wasn't at all tired, but invariable landscape did tend to create a strange mental mood: good think I wasn't listening to "buy gold" ads, or I'd have pulled over and executed the sell and buy orders from the side of the road. So I found a news station and listened to very detailed commentary on the commodities and futures markets, not just locally, but worldwide. This area may seem remote, but folks here pay keen attention to the weather on six continents.

Then, as I rounded a long, rising bend, BOOM! The Rockies were suddenly ahead, the snow-crowned peaks knitting with the cloud-dappled sky. Imagine seeing that in a Conestoga wagon, and moving toward them, not at 75 miles per hour as I was, but at a much slower speed. You'd have lots of time to contemplate: how am I crossing that?

One flaw in traveling along state and local roads, in a sparsely populated place: no rest stops. I kept hoping, but finally, I had to pull over. I saw a historical marker telling the story of a massacre of Native Americans in the 1860sa massacre of Native Americans in the 1860s:

If you find this hard to read in the photo, realize that it was just as faded in reality. But, as interested as I was in learning more, I had a more basic need. Again, no trees! Without any more unwanted details, I handled it, and thankfully, not a car came by all the several minutes I stretched my legs at this spot. 

Finally, my wiggling west and north across Kansarado (I made that up) led me to I-70, which was busier than the back roads, but still not congested; that came when I reached the outskirts of Denver, and turned north on the bypass that took me past the airport and up to I-25, which led me -- slowly! -- into Ft. Collins.

Last night for dinner, I had Elk for the first time! No, I didn't shoot one along the way (wouldn't that be fun!); it was on the menu at the Farm House at Jessup Farms. When will I have the chance again? I have a rule for restaurants that look to be serious about good food: trust the chef. The double-rib chop came medium rare, and as game, it was almost purple in color. It was served on a bed of hashed potatoes, spinach, pork belly and garlic, and then surrounded by a "jus" of blackberries (or was it blueberries and raspberries, as one of the servers described it)? In any case, the presentation was a carnivore's dream and a vegan's massive coronary: it looked like a chop of meat in a sea of blood. I ate every bite, even gnawing what I could from the bones. If I ever make it back this way, I'll be glad to visit that restaurant again; it had a very interesting array of libations in the bar, and the wine offered was excellent.

Now it's time to get gas and ice -- the hotel here has a sign pleading with guests not to drain its ice machine, so I'll buy a bag at the gas station and head northwest. Can you guess where next?

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Day 3: Oklahoma! (And western Kansas)


Call me sentimental, call me crazy, but when I travel like this, I often feel the romance of the places I visit. I think of the history and the imagery that lives in my imagination, fueled by so many movies and shows.

Yesterday morning, after a simple breakfast, and getting my fridge in order. Oh? You don't know...here's my fridge:

I have cold drinks and snacks, plus ice. As I can, I refill it, usually in the morning. Monday, I asked for ice at a McDonalds, the manager said, we don't give away ice, but he was nice and gave me some. I swear, I remember from my childhood McDonalds offering to fill coolers with ice -- to get customers in the store, of course -- but no one I've asked remembers that, including that kind manager. But hotels will do it. Only, here's a pro-tip: don't check out till after you get your ice, as you may need your room key to get access to the room with the ice machine.

Anyway, first stop in Tulsa was the Golden Driller.

If you shudder, as many want you to do, pause and contemplate how awful life would be on earth had petroleum never been developed.

Next, Oral Roberts University. You can read all about this spiritual entrepreneur, but the fact is, he built something pretty impressive in his university. Lots of modernist (if that is the right term) architecture, I wonder what serious architects say about it. Here are a couple of shots:

After this, the oldest Catholic church in Oklahoma, the Cathedral of the Holy Family.

I didn't realize till later I failed to get an exterior shot, as I was snapping pictures of other churches just down the street:

The more modern building to the right is part of the same complex. If you look closely, you'll see part of the front door on the older building is boarded up with plywood. Across the street is what looks to be a closed Church of Christ Scientist. The front and side were festooned with colorful cloths, and behind some of them, it appears homeless people have made their dwelling.

After this, the "Cave House," which some website said was worth seeing.

Around 12:30 pm, I headed west from Tulsa, crossing a large lake I assume is man-made, as part of the Arkansas River. AS I rocketed west (speed limits were generally between 65 and 80), the landscape gradually changed, as there were fewer leaf-bearing trees, and more firs and also more scrubby plants. I also noticed recurring pumps, which might be for oil -- or water. 

I admired the directness of Oklahoma signs: "Merge right now!" and "Speed 80: no tolerance." Also, kudos to Oklahoma drivers, they know what the passing lane is for. Road work along the Cimmaron Turnpike revealed orange-red dirt; I imagined that dirt blowing across the state, in the Dust Bowl era.

The terrain was lonely, and only a few cultivated fields for a long while, but plenty of cattle. Saw ranches with front gates, but no house in sight. At I-35, I turned north, then caught U.S. 64 and headed further west in Oklahoma. Saw a "parking area" -- not "rest stop." No bathrooms, no buildings. Past here, I started to see more crops: corn and wheat; is there a red-colored wheat? Saw that, too. 

Hey, Oklahoma: you have boring, albeit logical, street names -- i.e., numbered streets and avenues. I listened to country all the way. Oh, and saw this sign in far-west Oklahoma: "Hitchhikers may be escaping inmates" -- just before reaching Alva, which after a long stretch of nothing, seemed like a big city.

After Alva, and going up a curving rise and passing behind some hills, a vista opened up that took my breath: "this is the West!" It looked like a dozen John Wayne movies. This is when I saw some fluffy green plants, kind of sage-colored, and then realized: that's sagebrush. Pretty soon it was everywhere. Saw my first buffalo as I neared the town of...Buffalo.

I turned north on U.S. 183, which took me into Kansas, and as it did, the trees nearly disappeared. Hills and hills with nothing but crops -- or grass. Also began to see some facilities with very large numbers of cattle. Again, making me think of John Wayne's "The Cowboys," although that ended in Montana, I think.

Arrrived at Dodge City, Kansas around 5 pm, and looked around. There's an entertainment facility here, but the pricing assumes you're spending many hours there. They have a gunfight at 6:30 pm, a "country dinner," and a variety show. The clerk at the hotel didn't seem impressed, and I opted not to go. Did I make a mistake?

The hotel is on Wyatt Earp Boulevard, which is populated by lots of restaurants, almost all of which are Mexican. No offense to Mexicans, but I don't really love Mexican food north of the Rio Grande (I enjoyed it very much when I have visited Mexico). The golf course restaurant seemed the only alternative, apart from fast food (and a Thai restaurant).

Now it's time to hit the road to Ft. Collins, Colorado, which again sounds like a place a John Wayne character visited, but I didn't find anything after a quick search. Feel free to verify this in the comments.