Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Report from Alpine, WY

Dear Family and Friends:

I'm sitting in the Library in Alpine, WY. It is very rainy today, and the Library is bustling with activity because they are having a kick-off for a summer reading program for kids. I really like this library -- the staff is very friendly and helpful, it is an attractive environment, and, of course, they have WiFi!

This is my first attempt to send a group email after my "dust-up" with Sovernet. I have received permission from everyone who is receiving this group email. Here's hoping that none of your servers will think this is spam! It has been recommended to me to create a blog and then anyone who wanted to keep track of our travels could just go to that. I intend to do that, but I haven't figured it out yet. But these road reports sent as a group email may be a vanishing species.

I think when I sent my first report we were in Bartlett, IL, and that was 3 weeks ago! Wow, time flies when you're having fun. So the short story is that since then, we were in Columbia, MO for five days, visiting the Shays, then we were on the road for two days heading West, arrived in Alpine, WY on May 21st and have been there ever since. Let me fill in some highlights:

1) The highlights in Columbia were definitely seeing Katie in two performances. The first was a Theater Showcase at Rock Bridge High School. Instead of putting on a spring Broadway musical, this year the Musical Theater Class staged 17 scenes from as many plays and musicals. It was a very ambitious effort-- especially for the set crew and the costumers!. Katie was in four scenes, (a)An opening scene from Cabaret (Katie was a Kit-Kat Club dancer, and her boyfriend, Taylor, had the role of Joel Grey in the movie -- the Master of Ceremonies); (b) a scene from the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods (Katie was the Witch and sang very beautifully the solo "Children will Listen,"); (c) a scene from a play by Japanese playwright Kobo Ane (whom folks of my generation know best as the screenplay author of Woman in the Dunes), titled The Woman Who Turned into a Stick (The original play was actually The Man Who Turned into a Stick, but since Stick was played by Katie, the gender of the protagonist was changed; Katie's performance in this cryptic but powerful play was quite moving);
Katie as "Stick"
(d) a final Circus scene in which Katie was a chorus-member. Ellen and I were so enthralled by these performances that we went twice! The second performance came four days later and was by the Mixed Choir in which Katie sings -- actually the evening featured three Rock Bridge Choirs. They have an outstanding music program at Rock Bridge! At the end of this performance, 39 graduating seniors were honored, including Katie! That will leave quite a hole in the choir!

2) During our 5-day stay in Columbia, Rob and Betsey (Katie's parents, Betsey is my daughter), went to Santa Fe, NM for a meeting of Big 12 Conference Music School Directors (of which Rob is one). So Ellen and I got to "hold the fort" with Katie. As you can imagine, Katie's final weeks as a senior are pretty full, but we got to see her in between events and activities.

Ellen and I took several nice walks on the MKT Trail in Columbia, had good ice-cream a couple of times at Sparkey's Homemade Ice Cream (with flavors like Lavender-Honey!), watched a remarkable movie on Netflix - Birdy - and made a day trip to the nearby town of Hermann, MO, which was settled in the 19th C. by German immigrants and still retains a strong German heritage. It is the center of a wine district which sort of replicates the Rheinland, and has many lovely old brick homes and stores. The UCC church - formerly Evangelical and Reformed - is HUGE, and was still holding services in German as late as the 1950s. We also visited a spectacular nursery, Strawberry Farms, outside Columbia, and got some plants for Betsey's garden and also got a couple to bring to Paul and Jenny.

3)We left Columbia Thursday am, 5/20, and drove 748 miles to Alliance, NE!!! As you know, Ellen does all the driving while I sit in the back seat, comfortably stretched out, keeping Ellen entertained by reading aloud, playing music, and of course, just chatting. What are we reading? We are working through a biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein by Ray Monk, which we are finding quite compelling mainly because Wittgenstein was a remarkably difficult and complex person who was tortured by his incredibly high standards of thought in the field of Logic, his sense of obligation to be faithful to his genius, and his difficulty in finding people who could understand and appreciate what he was doing. He divested himself of all his worldly wealth (his family was incredibly wealthy), served on the front in WW I by preference (he would accept no special favors), and buried himself in rural Austria as an elementary school teacher, living a life of poverty among the poor but trying to lift the sights of his pupils intellectually, and thus mostly eliciting hostility from students and even more, their parents who just wanted their kids to stay home on the farm. Parents particularly resented his pulling the hair of his female students who didn't do well in math!!

We are also reading Pigeon Post, one of the books in Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons series. These are utterly charming books -- anyone who hasn't read them, should. I also read excerpts from things we pick up along the way. I am still reading the biography of John Brown which I'm finding quite fascinating. It is unbelievable how much we have not been told about this man in the standard histories. I venture to say that the new text books in Kansas do not mention him favorably!

Our long trip to Alliance was mainly via secondary roads rather than Interstates, and took us along part of the old Pony Express Trail in Kansas and Nebraska, through the Flint Hills of Kansas and the Sand Hills of Nebraska, through Grand Island, NE which has a HUGE Mall, and through a lot of towns suffering from economic depression: e.g., lots of empty stores, boarded up windows, empty streets. Now and then we would find a sweet little town, and we did find a nicely-kept park near (I think) Broken Bow, NE where we ate our lunch on a picnic table.

Our second day of travel, from Alliance to Alpine, WY, took us mostly through Wyoming (Lusk, Casper, Shoshoni, Riverton, Dubois, etc,). None of these towns are particularly lovely -- they are highly industrialized, and places like Shoshoni are almost dead. We used to go to a RoadFood spot -- "The Drugstore" -- in Shoshoni, where you could get 64 flavors of shakes, but it has disappeared. However the natural scenery is spectacular. The latter part of the trip, late evening, took us through the Tetons when they were shrouded in clouds, but with spectacular breaks of sun and visibility. We only drove 540 miles the second day -- a mere nothing.

4)Since arriving in Alpine we have has a pretty quiet time enjoying being with Paul, Jenny and Max. The weather has been unusually cold and wet, and there was even a bit of snow. Ellen and I have taken a few walks, 1-2 hours in length, one up into the Caribou National Forest into Idaho. We've seem a few wildflowers, and some spectacular birds. Just outside the house we've been watching a red-napped sapsucker and a western tanager almost every day, and yesterday I watched what I think was a Wilson's warbler through the binoculars a long time. We saw an eagle up close, a fox crossed the road in front of us carrying prey, and there are pelicans, osprey, herons, geese, mallards, all over the place (lots of water nearby). Max's vocabulary has exploded just in the last two weeks and grows daily. When he is outside and free to do what he wants, he is sheer joy. When he is frustrated in his desire of the moment, he can be pretty fierce, but he gets over it fast (usually). We've taken him to church two Sundays (a United Methodist/ELCA Church), and he loves the nursery room there -- no end of interesting things to play with. He is a very sweet little boy to say the least. We're eating well, between Jenny and Ellen, we've had a lot of great and creative meals. Paul is unemployed at the moment, but working on odd jobs, e.g., building a deck, making picnic tables, doing finishing work around the house. He's applying all over the place, but so are hundreds of others. Patience definitely needed!

5) I (Larry) will be returning to Missouri on June 3rd to be there for Katie's actual graduation ceremony on June 5th. I'll fly from Jackson Hole to Kansas City, drive to Columbia (2 hours) and then fly back on June 7th. Then we'll head to Boise, ID, where we will do an informal workshop with the Boise Hospice Singers, and then on to Salem, OR around June 14th.

My battery power is down to 20% so I guess I'll sign off.

Love to ALL!!
Larry and Ellen

May 11, 2010
We’ve been on our trip for a week, and it’s been an interesting week. Our first 3 nights were spent at Wallace Ayres’ home in Swarthmore, PA. We enjoyed Wallace’s new house, especially the very comfortable screened porch and her newly planted garden; Ellen and Wallace got to do quite a bit of visiting, made a trip to IKEA together and worked on a sewing project. Ellen and I had a lovely lunch with Sarah and Harry, friends in the area; I walked over to the Swarthmore College campus and looked around. It was a welcome, low-key, restful time, after having had a very full weekend at home (including two Chorale concerts and pre-concert talks (by me), a Chorale 30th reunion, and much more).

Friday, leaving after noon, we drove down Route 1 through the PA countryside – everything in full bloom – heading toward Virginia. We made a spontaneous stop at Harpers Ferry N.H.P., the site of John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal there in 1859, his failed attempt to arm a slave rebellion that he hoped would end slavery in this country. He was tried and hanged for his effort. We arrived in late afternoon, not much time to “take it in,” but we were there long enough to have our interest whetted, and I bought a biography of John Brown in the bookstore which has proved to be very interesting (David S. Reynolds, John Brown, Abolitionist; The Man who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War and Seeded Civil Rights, 2005).

John Brown
I learned pretty quickly that Brown grew up in the Congregational Church, and that his Calvinist faith, a militant form of Puritanism, was a major source of his abolitionist fervor. He was supported morally and financially by folks like Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott and Garrison, even if they didn’t agree with his tactics. And through the power of the Internet, I learned that the weekend I “discovered” John Brown (I knew of him, of course), the UCC church in Lake Placid, NY – where Brown had a farm – was hosting a symposium about him. I was largely unaware of all of this, but when I’ve finished Reynolds’ book, I will be more aware.

Friday night we spent in Charlottesville, VA. It is the home of the University of Virginia, and so Saturday morning, we visited what we would call “the campus” but that word is not used at U of VA; instead it is “the grounds.” The center of the grounds is the “Academical Village,” designed by Jefferson – consisting of “the Rotunda” which we were able to see inside, and emanating from it, on both sides, a long, columned, covered walkway, lined with rooms, which are student housing for seniors (“by application” we learned). Each room has a fireplace, and outside each door was a stack of firewood and a metal ash bucket. It is incredibly old-fashioned, charming and beautiful. The Rotunda, especially the large room at the top under the dome, is exquisite. The entire grounds of the University are a marvel to behold, architecturally. It manages to be monumental and very human and cozy at the same time. Well worth a visit.

University of Virginia Quadrangle

Smokey Mountains

Our ultimate destination (we blush to confess) was the Walton’s Mountain Museum in Schuylar, VA, dedicated to the 1970’s TV series, The Waltons, of which we have become ardent fans, via Netflix. Saturday was a high-brow/low-brow day! The museum was delightful in its own, funky and unpretentious way. Housed in a former elementary school building in a tiny village, being there is like looking at a somewhat elaborate family scrapbook, and I guess for many people, like us, the Waltons have become family. You get to learn just about everything you might want to know about Earl Hamner (the creator of The Waltons), his family (the inspiration for the Waltons), and the actors who portrayed them for ten years on TV. We were not disappointed.

Display at Waltons' Museum
Saturday evening, we drove on to Buena Vista, VA where we stayed in a motel of a vintage older than The Waltons, but not, unfortunately, correspondingly priced. It was ok. We took a long walk around Buena Vista, which has seen better days. Southern Virginia University is there, which has the unique claim to be a college which “preserves the culture and values of the Mormon Church” but is not supported or in any way under the control of the Mormon Church. Mmm…interesting!

Sunday we drove (mostly via Interstate) through West Virginia, which was in full Spring beauty. Our “church” was a Guilford Community Church tape which turned out to have two 1987 services on it: one led by Larry in which the theme was the healing power of laughter, and another led by Shirley about thanksgiving. Wonderful! We hoped to find a Road Food restaurant in Charleston, WV (there were two listed in our book and both sounded worth a visit), but one (Southern Kitchen) had closed permanently, and the other (Blossom Dairy Bar) is closed Sundays. Disappointment! We kept going, and ended up driving along the Ohio River, crossing over into Kentucky and staying near Maysville, KY, an historic old town with some very attractive features. We saw a lot of economic blight driving through West Virginia, but Maysville seemed to be more vibrant.

Monday morning we drove through many back roads of northern KY, and it was really lovely. Then we worked our way over into southern Indiana, got on I-65 and hightailed it to Bartlett, IL, which is where we are now. My brother Stewart is having a tooth extracted today but we got to see him last evening and tonight we’ll see most of the larger Crockett family at a meal. By the end of the week we’ll be in Columbia, MO, chez Shay. Stay tuned.

Love, Larry and Ellen

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