We’re heading back to Oregon today. We’ll need one motel stop in Santa Nella, California, then make it to Gold Beach by tomorrow night. It’s been a great trip and I’ve been able to do lots of magazine work thanks to my laptop and the ability to keep in touch via internet with editors, writers, and staff for both the print issue and internet site. We’re in pretty good shape going into the two-week print issue deadline period.
We logged about 6500 miles on this three-week trip. The energy show was a big success, and the get-togethers with Lenie’s relatives and my daughter Annie’s family were very enjoyable. But I’m anxious to get home. I’m not a natural travelling kind of person, preferring instead to stay at home and enjoy my place in the Oregon mountains.
My magazine batteries have been thoroughly recharged from the energy show in Wisconsin. I have a better understanding from meeting many readers first-hand of how important BHM is to a lot of people, and I’ll do my best to keep the quality of content high. Plus, I have a lot of thoughts I need to explore in future writing. For example, I can’t get the plight of Bradford Metcalf and thousands of other prisoners out of my mind. Every time I drove by a prison on this trip, and there are many prisons in this “land of the free,” I thought of all the average Americans who are locked away on convictions that I believe are not justified. I travel freely for 6500 miles and they languish in prison.
BHM, in my mind, is basically a magazine about freedom, garnished with lots of self-reliance information. But it’s freedom we are all really after. Hard core criminals and violent people need to be locked away, but not Americans who have technically violated laws but who are really no threat to society. Sixty percent or more of our prisons are loaded with drug offenders. Our prisons, in my opinion, are the modern gulags. But how do you get reform for a prison system that is now the livelihood for hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats and guards who administer them. This giant bureaucracy makes its living by incarcerating their fellow countrymen. Unbelievable!
We arrived at my daughter Annie’s house in time to celebrate her 25th birthday at the 29 Palms Inn in 29 Palms. Both Annie and I, as well as Jake and Robby, had their grilled salmon, which was as good as any I’ve ever had. Annie is tall and pretty and married to, as she likes to say, The Man, a tall, handsome Marine Corps sergeant named Erik Tuttle. They were high school sweethearts and now have two little grandkids, Olga and Gavin, for Lenie and I to enjoy.
Keyboardest and singer Beverly Derby and trumpeter Bill Church performed at the Inn, as they have done twice a week for the several years we have been coming here to visit, and they sang happy birthday to Annie with the poolside crowd joining in. Very nice! Beverly and Bill are an extremely talented duo and I bought a copy of the lone CD they have produced as a present for Annie.
Annie will ultimately take over the editorial duties of Backwoods Home Magazine, after I am so old and senile I sound like an idiot when I write my libertarian editorials. She is a very good thinker and writer, also libertarian, and keeps a sewing and knitting blog, as well as an online store. She’s the perfect person to eventually succeed me.
Annie and Erik have already packed much of their belongings in anticipation of their early August move to Erik’s new station at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. I think they’ll enjoy the break from the 107-degree heat here and the endless miles of desert, but they’ll have to get used to North Carolina’s summer humidity.
On the way here we visited Meteor Crater in Arizona and the Grand Canyon, two sites everyone should see at some time in their lives. Meteor Crater was caused by an iron-nickel meteor hitting the earth about 50,000 years ago. It is 4000 feet wide and 700 feet deep.
Grand Canyon gives you instant religion. Even an agnostic like me is left wondering about this majestic unfolding of the earth’s crust. Its oldest rocks are 1840 million (1.8 billion) years old. (The earth is only 4.5 billion years old.) But the Canyon carving itself, which was created by the relentless flowing of the Colorado River, is only 5 to 6 million years old. The Colorado drops about 4600 feet as it travels the 277 river miles through the canyon. The canyon width ranges between 8 and 16 miles. Words cannot describe its immensity. I’ve posted a few photos, but they don’t do it justice either. You just have to come here to understand.
We’ve travelled 5419 miles now. I’m ready to drive the final 1000 miles home tomorrow. Time to do some salmon fishing in the Rogue River, and catch some blacks in the Pacific. Not to mention do deadline for next issue.
Every time I drive through Indian Country of the Southwest, I am struck by how desperately poor most of the Indians appear to be. Their culture seems to have imploded ever since their first contact with European civilization back in the 16th century. BHM has done articles about how the diseases of Western Civilization killed as many as 95 percent of the indigenous populations of the Americas, but we’ve never explored the cultural and psychological shock that seems to have devastated the remaining Indian populations even to this day.
Maybe I’m not even stating the phenomenon properly, but it is evident that most Indian populations of the Southwest do not fare well
financially compared to Americans descended from either European, Asian, or African stock. Rates of alcoholism and drug use are also much higher in the Indian communities than in the other communities. We’re entering Navajo country now, and their overall poverty is evident. Maybe that would be a good topic for Silveira to explore with O.E. MacDougal, perhaps getting Jackie Clay’s input as well, as she is part Indian.
We made it to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest of Arizona, both of which are stark but magnificent. The trees that have turned to stone are 225 million years old, which is the very beginning of the rise of dinosaurs. It would be another 40 million years before dinosaurs would come to dominate earth and then reign supreme for 120 million years until a meteor the size of Mount Everest would hit on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and wipe them out and lead to the rise of mammals and finally humans. How’s that for a quick history lesson.
We’ve got another week of travel to go, then we’ll be back in Oregon and go right into two weeks of deadline for the next issue. Thanks to my laptop and the fact every motel you stop in has free highspeed internet, I’ve been coordinating things with various writers and my staff back in Gold Beach. While in Rush, Colorado, Don Childers and I even worked up a tentative cover he will paint for the new issue. It will be of the totally self sufficient house of one of Don’s neighbors. I toured it and took a lot of photos, so I’ll have to write up the text for it when I get back along with my other jobs.
We’re still in Albuquerque having the car oil changed since we’ve traveled 4400 miles so far and the recommended oil change for this Toyota Sequoia is every 5,000 miles. While surfing the net in the Toyota waiting room, I noticed that my editorial from the current issue, titled The parasitic nature of bureaucracy, is now the lead article on the BHM website. Google ads are flowed automatically beside most of our articles as a way for us to help pay the expenses of the website, and if you go to the editorial you’ll notice that the Google ads don’t distinguish between the political metaphor I used and real human parasites. But the ads Google automatically flowed are hilarious, and they have the effect, I think, of elevating my metaphor to the hilarious absurdities of America’s bureaucratic problem. We’re real close now to launching both Jackie Clay’s and David Lee’s weblogs. Technical considerations had to be ironed out. Annie is now in the process of teaching Jackie to be a technical wizard on the World Wide Web. David Lee will have no problems with the technical aspects as he writes about his unusual building techniques. You’ll be able to ask both Jackie and David questions and they’ll answer them in their blogs. I’m glad to be out of Albuquerque. The city that was about 30,000 when I visited it in 1964 is now 1.3 million. A traveller at the motel where we stayed had something stolen out of their vehicle, so it sounds like the Albuturds Silveira and I encountered back in 1964 are still on the loose. It’s also 94 degrees as we leave town. The surrounding countryside is a big desert. What a stark contrast to all those beautiful lush open spaces we passed through in North Dakota and Montana.
We traveled about 435 miles today, stopping by a New Mexico field to catch giant grasshoppers. Otherwise the boys passed the time in the car playing on their DS, which is a hand-held game system. The game they played was Age of Empires, in which they battled each other utilizing the armies produced by their different civilizations. Very realistic game. Their armies depended on the crops their villages grew, the size of their natual resources including gold mines, and their skill at raising and commanding an army.
It was 96 degrees as we pulled into Albuquerque, New Mexico just before 7 p.m. I told my kids to enjoy the cool weather because in a few days we’ll be at Annie’s house in 29 Palms, California, where it will be 10 or 15 degrees warmer. How do people live in this heat?
It never gets above 70 degrees in Gold Beach, Oregon, where BHM is located, and never above about 80 degrees a mile and half inland where I live. I’ll take my six or seven months of Oregon rain a year over this heat. A lot of people can’t stand so much rain, and they move out of Oregon a year after moving there. It took my body about a year and half to acclimate, as I seemed to get frequent colds, but then I got used to things and have lived happily ever since. Despite the rain, coastal Oregon is not muggy like it has been in so many places during this 4500-mile (so far) trip.
When BHM’s senior editor, John Silveira, and I were 20 years old we hitchhiked through Albuquerque as part of a 9000-mile plus hitchhiking trip across America. It was just a little city then, but now it is huge. We had some problems back then with thugs who threatened to kick the crap out of us. Luckily we got out of town, the heat, and the potential trouble intact. We subsequently ended up hitchhiking through Watts in L.A. the evening of the Watts riots. We survived that too and ended up at John’s sister’s house in San Diego.
The trip just ended with Don Childers was really enjoyable. We reminisced for three days. Without Don the magazine would have been impossible. He was still working for Navy contractors in Oxnard and L.A. when I recruited him to help me with the early issues of BHM. He came over after work or worked with me on weekends. I’ve included a few more pictures of us talking.
Holy hailstones! Second day we were here the sky ruptured and let loose an avalanche of huge hailstones. While out for a walk, we saw thunder in some distant rain clouds so headed inside. Then, within about 15 minutes, it started raining, then thundering, then the hailstones as big as golf balls began. We found a rug on on the porch and covered the car’s skylight with it so it wouldn’t get smashed. I was out just a few seconds when a big hailstone hit me on the top of my head like a hammer. I went back in and got my hat but still had to cover my head with my hand.
One of the skylights in Don’s living room was broken and the house sprang about eight leaks in various rooms. The hail must have done a lot of damage to the roof. We all scrambled for pots to catch the leaks as the lightning and hail went absolutely nuts for about a half hour. Then it was all over and the sun came out after a little while. What weather!
Later in the day I learned from some of Don’s neighbors, Jack and Marilou Dody, that this is “extreme weather country.” In the winter, Jack said, the temperature can suddenly drop 50 degrees when a front comes whistling through. He said this area was one of the last places of the western prairie to be homesteaded, and that the government gave away 320-acre parcels, rather than 160-acre parcels. The grass supports only one cow and calf per 40 acres.
Kansas is full of beautiful flowing wheat fields. Pretty as heck but the wind blows a lot. A mere 435 miles and we made it from from Abilene, Kansas to near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Don has 40 acres on this flat, fairly treeless grassy plain at 6,019 feet about 40 miles east of Colorado Springs. Wonderful reunion with Don, as I haven’t seen him for about 7 or 8 years when he flew out to Gold Beach to help us work on an issue. He hates to fly so I don’t expect he’ll fly out there anymore. He doesn’t appear to have aged at all. It’s nice to have a real home to stay in for a few days, rather than a motel room, with real home meals and a big breakfast rather than the little free breakfasts that most of the motels give you. The town here is called Rush, and it consists of a cafe, post office, tiny school, and a garage that is usually closed. No gas station. Rush is mainly composed of ranches and homesteads like this. You can see just about to the horizon in all directions. Don’s always got something new going. He has a big fake rock in front of his house that’s made out of styrofoam and stucco. With his artist touch he made it look like a real granite rock. He tried selling them but the materials to make the fake rocks cost so much he couldn’t make enough money per rock. The rock pictured cost about $200 and weighs about 50 pounds. The real thing would probably weigh a ton and half. It’s 90 plus degrees right now, but Don and his wife, Nancy, don’t mind that so much. It’s the long winters with near zero temperatures and cold wind coming across the high plains from as far as you can see that bothers them. They’re thinking about moving to a more temperate climate. They live in a 2600-foot new doublewide trailer with attached garage. Beautiful house whose appraisal dropped from $230,000 four years ago to $170,000 today. Such is the state of the real estate market out here. Their water is delicious; it should be bottled. It’s almost as good as my spring water back home in Oregon. Our next stop from here is 29 Palms in the Mojave Desert of Southern California, where my daughter, Annie, lives with her Marine Corps husband, Erik Tuttle. Don has a connection to 29 Palms stemming from 1945 when it was strictly a Naval Air Station. His Dad was a civilian who used to build ground targets for Avenger dive bombers to blow up. Don said once his father sent an assistant out to check on a target, then told a pilot he knew to buzz him as a joke. The pilot dove on this poor hapless assistant while he was attending the target, then pulled up of course. The assistant actually defecated in his pants, according to Don. Now that’s a cruel joke! Don also liked to explore some of the old abandoned gold mines in nearby Joshua Tree National Park, as my family does. He said as a young boy (he would have been 14 in 1945) he climbed down an old rusty ladder into one of the shafts. About a yard or so from the bottom, he decided it was too dangerous and began to climb back out, but his elbow hit a spider web about as big as a banjo string. “I looked into this hole,” he said “and I saw the web spinning inward to where there were skulls of small animals. I dove upwards out of the hole and got the heck out of there.” Now Don can be prone to exaggeration on occasion, but he swears this is a true story. We’ll spend the next couple of days swapping stories and remembering the early years of Backwoods Home Magazine.
Many of you may not know about Don Childers, Backwoods Home Magazine’s cover artist and inside-article illustrator since our first issue in 1989. Don worked with me at no pay for the six months it took to create that first issue. Some of his friends told him he was a sap for doing so, but Don and I had worked together previously at Vitro Labs in Southern California as a writer-artist team for four years and he knew my intensity and determination could lead to something significant being created. In the end he got a six percent ownership in the magazine, plus regular on-the-side work creating art for BHM ever since.
Don was an artist of some note long before I met him, but much of his art was confined to drawing military equipment. He has several paintings hanging in museums, and others, mainly of cutting edge technology jets and missiles, hanging in the homes of admirals and generals. He spent many years as an IPB (illustrated parts breakdown) artist for defense contractors, and often incurred the wrath of fellow IPB artists because he could do IPB drawings twice, sometimes three times, as fast as the next artist, and his quality was always better. Vitro teamed us up when they had an especially important writer/artist type of task to do for a Navy customer. We worked very well together, and Navy big shots liked our approaches to projects. One such big shot, Roger Jones, one of those rare bureaucrats who was a credit to a government bureaucracy, suggested we quit Vitro and come to work for him at the Port Hueneme Naval Air Station near Oxnard, California. As much as I liked Roger Jones, neither Don nor I were ready for long-term commitment to government work.
I was astonished the other week when I realized Don was now 76 years old. I think of him as my age, even though he is 13 years my senior, and I think of myself as young and full of energy. Don’s age does not reflect his mental outlook on life, that’s for sure. He still gets as excited about new ideas as he ever did. I have a vision of his death: As they are about to close the coffin on him, he’ll reach out a hand and say, “Wait! How’s this for an idea?”
Don has on-again, off-again brilliance. Sometimes he envisions how a cover of an issue of the magazine should be and he’ll draw it up perfectly. Other times he’ll lay an egg, and I’ll just say, “That stinks!” Don has a “tell” when it comes to his art: If he knows he’s hit paydirt with a drawing, he signs it before he shows it to anyone. If he knows it’s just a so-so drawing or painting, he doesn’t sign it.
He is a very patient man. I remember once, just prior to the publication of the first issue in 1989, we were both working late at night in Ventura, California, trying to get the layout and art done correctly when my brain must have short-circuited. I ripped the keyboard away from the computer and stormed outside the building with it. Don quickly gathered his art supplies to drive the few files to his home. As he got in his car, I swung the keyboard over my head by the cord and smashed it against the ground. “Take that, you son of a bitch!” I yelled.
“See you, Duff,” Don said and put his car in reverse and backed out. He knew the best way to handle me was just to leave.
So I grabbed the smashed keyboard and put it under the back of his rear tire. “Back over the son of a bitch!” I demanded.
“You might want to get some sleep too, Duff” he said, and drove away.
Don never got crazy and mad like I did. He was a good anchor for my living-at-full-intensity style. This was before Lenie came along and
really provided anchorage or me.
Don is always full of ideas, not just for the magazine but all kinds of little inventions that he would sketch up or booklets for various cartoons he would undertake with other people. He never really made much money in those other endeavors. That may be why some people thought he was wasting his time during the early stages of BHM. They saw me as just another crazy guy with a crazy idea who wanted his talent for free. Six percent ownership looks pretty good to them right now.
I think people with dreams and a work ethic like Don are very important for the world. Most people are content to only dream, but Don must act on his dreams and ideas. Like me, he simply has no choice.
We passed the 3000-mile mark last night as we headed into Osceola, which is south of Des Moines in the middle of Iowa. Mile after mile of corn with an occasional hay field. Very beautiful! Just before we hit Iowa, we stopped in Madison, Wisconsin, to visit with Lenie’s
cousin, Sue Center. She just retired as the law librarian at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Her husband, Bud, is a lawyer. Lenie has a lot of successful professional people on her side of the family. I have a few, but we mostly have rabble-rousers and revolutionaries. I have a relative who was hung as an IRA terrorist many years ago, before anyone coined the word “terrorist.” Back then they were called freedom fighters, but that was before the Twin Towers came down. Funny how your perspective changes. Irish freedom fighters used to raise money in this country so they could blow up British buildings, but now the Irish don’t do much of that sort of stuff. They found prosperity by educating their people so that Germans and others located businesses in that once wretchedly poor country to take advantage of an educated work force. Now everyone is prosperous and happy and explosive-free.
From Madison we went to Dubuque, Iowa, a town of about 50,000 on the Mississippi River that is a little depressed looking but nice nevertheless. The big attraction there is the National Mississippi River Museum, which is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, where we toured the William M. Black, a 1934 riverboat steamer. Very interesting tour of the pilothouse, engine room (huge steam generators), crew’s quarters, galley, etc. This particular steamer was a dredge that took a 31-foot wide by 9-foot deep bite out of the river bottom. It sucked the mud up like a vacuum cleaner with two huge pipes, then spat it out on the shore with another huge pipe. It operated 24/7 on the river back in the 30s and beyond.
As Mark Twain wrote extensively about topics based on the Mississippi, I had my photo taken with his statue on the museum grounds. The guy who gave us the steamer tour had his hair curled and mustache trimmed so he looked a bit like Mark Twain. I don’t think anyone will ever shave their head and put on a goofy grin to look like me. But at least I got to hang out with Mark for a brief sit.
States like Minnesota and Wisconsin are fairly densely populated, not with big cities but with many many small towns. Iowa was too but not
as dense. Now we’ve made it through Missouri and as far as Kansas and the countryside is starting to open up. I miss my fairly unpopulated
Water quality and taste of water also vary all over the place. Duluth has delicious water, but most other places have this bland or poor
tasting stuff. I have a spring at home and the water is very tasty and pure.
We had a bit of a scare today. Lenie had some jaw pain, tingling in her fingers, and chest discomfort so we stopped in an emergency room
hospital in Bethany, Missouri where they did an EKG, brain cat scan, chest x-ray, and blood work to make sure nothing was going on.
Everything checked out fine but she needs to have a full medical and cardiology checkup when we get back home. She too has heart disease
in her side of the family. It took a couple of hours at the hospital and it was a good wakeup call for us. No one is immune from potential
heart or stroke problems, and you might as well get it checked out. Heart attack and stroke prevention are a lot easier on you than the real thing.