Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Santa Fe Trail Days

Photo Credit:  Larry D. Fenwick

What is it about human nature that sometimes causes us to be excited about distant places, while local sites and events inspire little more than a yawn?  I suspect all of us are sometimes guilty of that attitude.  I know that I am, and that is a shame.

Photo Credit: Lyn Fenwick

One of the things I have tried to do with this blog is to share the sights and history of Kansas, from the towering rock formations of northwestern Kansas to the nearly forgotten Beecher church.  I have urged readers not to hurry past road signs directing travelers to local features, intending to visit another time, if not ignoring them completely.

Some of these Kansas treasures are natural wonders, like Castle Rock, pictured at left.  Others are rich in history, like the Beecher church, that reminds us of the New Englanders that left their home to come to Kansas so that they could join other settlers in voting for Kansas to join the Union as a Free State.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

This weekend, from Thursday, May 27th, to Sunday, May 30th, the Larned, Kansas Area Chamber is hosting its 29th Annual Santa Fe Trail Days.  From Horse Drawn Carriage rides on Thursday to a Community Worship Service on Sunday, with an amazing range of events throughout those 4 days, the event calendar is crowded with activities.  You can go to MORE  INFORMATION @ WWW.SANTAFETRAILDAYS.ORG to discover more activities.

One of those activities, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 29th, is a power point talk and book signing by me, particularly including references to Larned that appear in  "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement."   

I will be speaking in several local communities in the following weeks, and for each location, I will include different information from "Prairie Bachelor," including various images in the power point presentation and readings related to the community in which I am speaking.  If you should choose to attend more than one, there will be new material in each book talk.

Photo Credit:  Larry D. Fenwick
Some of you may read this blog too late for the 2021 Trail Days events, but it will not be too late to take advantage of visiting the Santa Fe Trail Center or Fort Larned, both wonderful places to enjoy and to share with family and visitors, especially when you are hosting guests from other places.  It is a great opportunity to show off our home state.

Maybe I will see some of you at the Santa Fe Trail Center on May 29, 2021, or maybe I will see you at a different book signing, but don't forget that Kansas has many wonderful places to visit.  Thank you to everyone who is being so supportive of my book, not only local readers but readers across America and internationally.  Isaac Werner may have been a forgotten man for many decades, but he isn't forgotten now! 

Monday, May 24, 2021

A Kansas Notable Book!

 Exciting news!  I was just notified today that "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader  and the Populist Movement" has been selected as a 2021 Kansas Notable Book.  To be eligible for consideration, the book must be written by a Kansas author or be about a Kansas-related topic.  The selection is done by the State Librarian.

More details later, but I wanted to share the news!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Reflections on Integrity as Memorial Day Nears


 Remember the game of telephone (sometimes called Gossip) from when you were a child?  The players sat in a large circle or line, and the game started by the leader whispering a sentence into the first player's ear.  The sentence had to be long enough to transmit a significant amount of information but not so long as to be difficult to remember.  The player would then turn to the player next to him and whisper what they thought they had heard.  There could be no repeating.  The message would circulate around the circle or along the line until it reached the last player, who had to state the message aloud.  

The purpose of the game was to see if the message had changed as it went from person to person.  Sometimes the sentence would go around the room fairly accurately, but often it would have changed as it was repeated from person to person.  I often think of that childhood game when I hear someone repeat news they have heard, especially when I have already heard the news directly.  Too often, the details do not match.

Last week's blog included "truthiness," and how words come into our language.  This week's blog focuses more on how misinformation evolves.

    Truth:  the body of real things, events, and facts; Verity:  the quality of a thing that is exactly what it purports to be or is in complete accord with the facts.

When I was a little girl, just beginning to learn how to cook, my mother was teaching me how to prepare a cake mix.  As I added the eggs she told me that I needed to be very careful as I put the eggs into the mix, because (she said) egg shells are like glass, and if a shell got into the cake it could do serious harm (even death) to the person who swallowed it.  Whether my mother told me that just to make me be careful, or she meant it as a tease, I cannot say, but I took it seriously for many years.  Only when our beloved little dog didn't die after eating the Easter Eggs I had decorated did I realize that egg shells weren't killers.

    Honesty:  Adherence to the facts; a refusal to lie, steal, or deceive in any way.

Sometimes memory can shift in the process of telling something over and over, until the distinct memory of the event or information loses its original clarity.  In legal cases that last for months, and even years, with multiple occasions to relate events, it may be hard to retain the original clarity.  Yet, witnesses under oath are expected to be accurate.

    Oath:  a solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one's words.

In past times, when communities were smaller and local reputations for honesty were well known, people were aware that there were neighbors with whom they could do business on a handshake, and others with whom you had better get things in writing.  Sadly, today's world seems to place less value on honesty.  In fact, some would regard a person who would do business on a handshake a fool, and conversely, some see slick dishonesty as smart dealing.  To this perspective I offer one final definition:


     Good Character:  That which reflects notable or conspicuous traits of moral excellence.

With Memorial Day coming soon, my thoughts turn to service, integrity, courage, honor, and truthfulness.  Unlike the game I used as my first example, trying to get facts straight is not a game.  I cannot guess my mother's motive for her egg shell story.  As a lawyer, I place particular importance resolving the accuracy of testimony.  I believe that a lie is far more likely to trip a witness up than the truth.  As for an oath, I regard that very seriously, and from the looks on the faces of the young soldiers pictured above, it appears they do too.

This photograph is one of my favorites.  The veteran seated in the chair had marched on Memorial Day at our local cemetery for many years, and that year, although he could not carry a riffle, he managed to march in with the other veterans.  It was a windy day, as the photograph shows, and his unsteady marching had worn him out, but he took his place between the flag bearers for as long as he could.  Unfortunately, the minister delivering the program that morning had quite a lot to say.  When the older gentleman was asked by a fellow veteran if he was getting tired, he nodded, and pointed into the crowd to a chair, which was brought out to him.  While he did sit down for the rest of the ceremony, that old soldier did not leave his post.  I believe that Memorial Day was his last. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Sadness of Disrespect

Newspaper Rock
 A few years ago, we traveled to Utah, and high on my list of places I wanted to visit was Newspaper Rock.  It is no surprise to those of you who follow this blog that I am fascinated with words--with selecting the right word to express my meaning, with arranging words beautifully, with learning new words, with watching children learn to express themselves, with respecting words enough to care about grammar.  My professions reflect that appreciation, as an English teacher, as a lawyer drafting documents, and as a writer.  Seeing the early Native American petroglyphs was, for me, like the awe I feel entering a wonderful library.  (I don't remember a fence when we were there.)

Reading about the recent vandalization of the wonderful Birthing Rock, containing markings made by various Native American groups over the past 2,500 years sickened me.  Sadly, the disrespectful destruction of such cultural heritage sites is too common.  From the simple ignorance of just wanting to add their name to the carvings without understanding the cultural significance of the ancient place, to intentional destruction and vulgarity, these damages are happening too often.

Goblin Valley State Park

In late March of 2021, a Colorado rock climber proudly posted pictures of the drilling bolts with which he had defaced the sacred petroglyphs of "Sunshine Wall" in Moab.  When other rock climbers exposed the damage he had done to the carvings, he acknowledged the severity of his thoughtlessness.  "It's just poor education on my part, and I do take full responsibility," he admitted in a magazine article.  Although his thoughtless act is a bell that cannot truly be un-rung, he did meet with BLM authorities and filled the bolt holes he had made.

Whether on Indian Lands or in National and State Parks, many of our national treasures, whether created by man or by nature, are in remote locations, difficult to constantly protect.  A few years ago, a Scout Leader, with a group of men that included one with a video camera, entered Goblin Valley and managed to destroy an ancient rock formation by toppling the goblin off the rock on which it had balanced.  He posed proudly for the videographer as he was cheered for his strength by the other men  The photographer documented this video with these thoughtless words: "A New Goblin Valley exists with this boulder down here on the bottom."

Roosevelt & Muir
Whether it is disrespect, criminal intent, ignorance, or racial hatred, irreplaceable Sacred sites and  Nature's treasures are being damaged and destroyed.  Because many of these places are found in State and National Parks, it is natural to think of two men to whom we owe a great debt for the preservation of such treasures.

Speaking in Osawatome, Kansas on August 31, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt said, "There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.  The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value."  (Yes, it is true that Roosevelt did not always adhere to his own advice.)

The second man who devoted his life to preserving nature is John Muir, who believed, "In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks."  In speaking about our National Parks, he said, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity."

Unfortunately, so many of us have realized Muir's necessity that in seeking the experience of nature we threaten the very wilderness we seek.  We take with us the exhaust from our vehicles, the trash from our picnics, the diapers from our babies, and the other remnants of man that our good intentions leave behind.  

In 1903, when Roosevelt spoke at the Grand Canyon, he said, "I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is.  I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon.  Leave it as it is.  You cannot improve on it.  The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.  What you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and for all who come after you, as one of the great sights which every American if he can travel at all should see."  

Grand Canyon Skywalk
It seems that Roosevelt's wish that every American should travel to see the Grand Canyon is the one wish that has come true.  Roosevelt could not imagine today's number of visitors, nor all of the facilities necessary to accommodate the Canyon's guests.  Surely he would not have anticipated a permit given a tight rope artist to walk across the Canyon, nor the intention to reduce its size to accommodate drilling, nor a transparent horse-shoe shaped walkway to safely experience the sensation the tightrope walker must have felt, without the danger of falling.  The Grand Canyon Skywalk, with its glass walkway, now provides that very sensation of walking on air.

Muir's description that "Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn" seems not exciting enough to too many of us in our rush to be thrilled by disrupting the flow of Nature's peace with our dune buggies, carvings, hang gliders, wall climbing, and our sheer numbers.  

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Being Mindful

 Have you ever noticed how words that you have never noticed sometimes suddenly seen to appear everywhere?  Recently, in a zoom group I attended, one of the other attendees said at the close of our meeting, "I guess we all need to be more mindful about that."  Suddenly, I realized just how frequently mindfulness had appeared in conversations and interviews on programs I was watching.  'Is that a new term?' I wondered.  I reached for my trusty "Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary" that resides on a shelf arms length away from my desk, with its publication date of 1965.  

There it was!  " 1.  Mindful, bearing in mind; AWARE  2. inclined to be aware--mindfully / adverb --mindfulness / noun. "  What a great word; yet, it had not been part of my vocabulary.  Its meaning is clear enough, but I simply had not integrated it into my own use.

I consulted the internet dictionaries and found 'aware' as the predominate synonym, but 'attentive' joined the definition, as well as an examination of its current importance.  The idea of mindfulness has roots in Buddhist and Hindu thought, and includes 'acceptance' as well as 'awareness' in its meaning.

I learned that mindful and mindfulness were not new words, but the social movement of being more mindful, combined with the idea of gaining understanding, and through understanding, acceptance, is a current cultural phenomenon. 

On the other hand, new words are blossoming all around us!  Since I had used my old Webster's Dictionary to check the meaning of mindful, I chose to check the current Merriam-Webster Dictionary,  not for the meaning of existing words but rather for the addition of new words to the dictionary.  I discovered that for April 2020, 535 new words were added.  Not surprisingly, Covid related words topped the list.  These words included:  Self-isolation, Physical distancing, Contactless, WFH (working from home), PPE (personal protective equipment), Forehead thermometer, and Intensivist (physician who specializes in intensive care treatment).

Obviously, I am not going to include all of the 535 words added to the dictionary, but a few words did attract my attention.  Among them:  Deepfake:  an image or recording that has been convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said; Slow-walk:  to delay or prevent the progress of (something) by acting in a deliberately slow manner; and Stovepipe:  to transmit information to a higher level in an organization through an isolated and narrow channel of communication.

I noticed the number of new words that were somehow related to trickery or intentionally misleading your listener.  The word "Truthiness" was introduced by Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report  as satire, but it was quickly adopted as a way to describe how the very idea of "truth" is under attack.  The English language needed a word to describe the intentional manipulation of truth--a word for the kind of unprovable discourse that "doesn't measure up to the standards of evidence and research that are required for consensus and understanding."  In other words, intentionally misleading others has become so common that we need a word for the false truth being used.

On the May 2nd  CBS "Good Morning America" show a segment introduced a brother and sister who grew up with a father who taught them the joy of words, in one case having invented a word to describe the experience of getting squirted in the eye with juice while eating grapefruit.  His word is "orbisculate," incorporating the orb of the eye in his imaginary word.  They added his word to their vocabularies and discovered  that the word doesn't exist only when, as young adults, they could not find orbisculate in the dictionary.  To honor their father, and his gift of passing to them a love for words, they are trying to get the word into a dictionary.   

I had already written this blog, but since it had not yet been published, I decided to join their effort by using orbisculate in my blog.  Here it is.  Try not to orbisculate when eating grapefruit because the juice can sting.      

In conclusion, if you are eating breakfast as you read this blog, be careful not to orbisculate, and remember, we all need to be more mindful that "truthiness" is intended to deceive us, and truth is essential to everyone if reason and good judgment are to prevail.  Words matter!