A fellow camper at Stockton Lake mentioned in passing that the nearby town of Stockton was the world’s largest producer of Black Walnuts. I was somewhat skeptical since Stockton has fewer than 2,000 residents and is remote from any major highway system. With some free time on my hands and the promise of air conditioning in my SUV on a humid 90+ degree day I went into town to explore.
It did not take me long to find the tall silos that marked the location of the Hammons Products Company. Founded in 1946 by grocer Ralph Hammons, the firm is now operated by his grandson, Brian Hammons.
I entered the company offices which were clearly purposed for business and not itinerant campers like me. I was disappointed to learn that tours are available only once each year in September. However, the receptionist invited me to view a brief promotional video in their company conference room. I eagerly accepted. At the conclusion of the 5 minute video the Company’s President, Brian Hammons entered the room and introduce himself. He graciously took time from his day to tell me more about Black Walnuts and the Hammons story. Brian Hammons is center in this image from the Company’s website, https://black-walnuts.com
Indeed, the Hammons Company is the worlds largest producer of Black Walnuts, processing over 25 million pounds each year! Brian was quick to point out that English Walnuts are distinctly different and that production of the English variety exceeds 500,000 TONS annually! He then went on to distinguish the two varieties and highlight the virtues of the American Black Walnut:
1. Black Walnuts are thicker shelled and only 7% of the fruit is edible nut while 45 % of the thinner shelled English variety is edible nut.
2. Most Black Walnuts are sustainably harvested in the wild unlike the plantation grown English Walnuts.
3. Black Walnuts are universally acclaimed as superior for their deep, rich, and bold flavor. They are also nutritionally superior to their English cousin.
While only 7% of the walnut seed finds its way into the mouths of hungry consumers, the other 93% is processed into environmentally friendly abrasive products that are sought commercially for such varied purposes such as polishing delicate musical instruments, water filtration media, surface “sand” blasting , and oil field machinery maintenance.
Most remarkable for me was the method of harvest. Each year in the Fall, over 200 gathering stations are set up across 15 States. Thousands of gatherers comb the forests and hand harvest the wild Black Walnuts, delivering them to the gathering stations where the green outer covering is hulled. The remaining intact nut is then delivered to the Hammons factory in Stockton Missouri for further processing.
While Black Walnut production is firmly tied to its early American roots, the Hammons Company has reached out into the 21st Century. Improvements in processing methods have increased efficiency. Selective improvements in Black Walnut plant varieties are creating trees that bear fruit with thinner shells and proportionally greater nut meat to shell ratios while retaining the unique taste profile. Thus the potential for enhanced profitability is attracting landowners who are seeing financial rewards in planting these improved cultivars.
I really appreciate the time that Brian took today to educate this wandering (and wondering!) camper.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS: Here are a few of the products that are supplied by the Hammons Company. If you look closely you will see one of my favorites from Kansas City’s own Boulevard Brewing Company!
Omitting the British canals of the Roman era and those of the Middle Ages associated with the construction and support of castles and monasteries, the dawn of the “modern” UK canal system dates to the mid 1700’s. It coincided with the Industrial Revolution, but whether the Industrial Revolution gave birth to the canals or the canals were the progenitor of the IR is in the realm of what came first, chickens or eggs.
In any case, by the end of the 18th Century construction of a remarkable system of connected waterways was well underway. It was the 18th and 19th Century equivalent of the United States Interstate Highway system. At its zenith the canal network of the United Kingdom extended to over 2,000 miles of inland waterways providing the efficient transport of coal, raw materials, and manufactured goods throughout the realm. It was a technological tour-de-force in its day and remains a marvel in the 21st Century with parts of the system declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Steam rail service in the late 19th and early 20th Century became the chief rival of the canal system. Train operators undertook to purchase segments of the canals and then raised canal fees to a level that made them uncompetitive. The death knell for the canals was struck in the Great Winter Freeze of 1962-63 when the entire system closed due to ice. Rail service had won its century long battle for supremacy.
However, visionaries and conservationists believed that like the mythical Phoenix, the Canals might rise again… not as networks of commerce but purposed as a recreational windfall. In the 1960’s the Inland Waterways Association was founded to pursue the concept of national waterways conservancy. This effort was eventually undertaken by the management of British Waterways. By an act of Parliament the ownership and management of the canal system was placed into the hands of the newly formed Canal and River Trust, a not-for-profit that has now been responsible for the restoration and maintenance of the system since 2012.
About 40 years ago I was captivated by an article appearing in National Geographic. It vividly described in words and images the history and resurrection of the canals of Great Britain. I knew that some day I would undertake to navigate those watercourses. “Someday” is April 12th, 2019. On that day Christine and I will take the tiller of a 61 foot long, 7 foot wide “Narrowboat”, the Salten Fjord. She will be our personal magic carpet upon the waterways of England for three weeks. The first 10 days we will be joined by our Kansas City friends Tom and Lissa Whittaker. The final 5 to 7 days will be with our Canadian friends Tom Shillington and his wife Nanci Burns.
Narrowboats are… NARROW! Here is a diagram of the Salten Fjord’s interior:
I have borrowed liberally from internet images to present an overview of the canal experience that we hope to embrace.
The interiors of the vessels provide accommodations for sleeping, cooking, bathing, and relaxation. These boats are powered by small inboard diesel engines that are designed to propel the narrowboat at the canal speed limit of 4 mph. Interiors are comfortable if not spacious.
The canals wander across country, connecting villages and cities alike. England is not flat. In order to accommodate the undulating landscape engineers of the 18th and 19th Centuries had to devise systems of locks to climb hills and descend valleys, hundreds of locks. Most are human powered by the narrowboat operators (us!). In some locations there are “flights” of locks, as many as 21 in a 3 mile stretch!
Where the hills were too daunting tunnels were dug, the longest of these being over 3 miles long, pitch dark, and taking over 3 hours to transit from end to end.
In the pre-diesel days of the 1800’s men would hire themselves out as “canal walkers” to propel the vessels through the tunnels using their feet against the tunnel walls and ceiling!
The Anderton Boat Lift, constructed in 1875, still lifts narrowboats 50 feet from one waterway to another. Its 21st Century equivalent, the Falkirk Wheel, looks like a huge Ferris Wheel and lifts boats nearly 80 feet to the connected canal.
Finally, there are the cast iron aqueducts that carry narrowboats in 200 year old cast iron troughs 175 feet above the valley floor below.
Travel upon the canals of the United Kingdom is essentially safe, but not entirely free of peril.
This is our “Next Thing” for 2019. We hope you will travel along with us through my “Thoughts”.
It has been nearly 10 years since I last held a sailboat’s tiller or adjusted a main sheet. Today Craig from the nearby town of Stockton took me out on the lake in his homemade 14 foot gaff-rigged catboat.
It was a dangerous passage, not in the sense of sailing conditions or personal risk, but because I felt perilously close to being once again bit by the urge to sail. My thoughts processed through the possibilities… we have an empty garage bay… a small sailboat would be easy to take out when the whim strikes… Christine’s Highlander has a hitch and tow package… is it legal to tow a camper that in turn is towing a boat? OK, that last one is a bit over the top, but I have actually seen it done… most recently while traveling from Kansas City to this campground.
The idea of another sailboat is appealing but not practical, especially with the evolving plans that we have for the rest of this year and 2019. There may come a day for another sailboat, but not right now.
Before I get to next year: Once the celebration of Christine’s father’s 100th Birthday is in the books we will be packing “Rigel” for a 5 week outing that will take us to Michigan and the shores of Lake Huron, Ottawa Canada, and then on to New England. Highlights will be a visit with my mother as we pass near Chicago, camping on Huron’s western shore, and then on to visit our Canadian friends Tom and Nanci who we met while walking from Porto Portugal to Santiago Spain last April. Of course, New England is its own special highlight. We camped there in 2016 and knew that return trips would be a must.
Later in 2019 we hope to travel back to Canada and camp in the remote Province of Labrador and Newfoundland. Nanci and Tom have expressed an interest in a one-week Fall cruise from Montreal to Les Îles de la Madeleine. It is an idea that intrigues us. The “cruise ship” is actually an ocean going ferry with spartan accommodations by typical cruise ship standard. The destination is an island archipelago located where the Atlantic Ocean meets the St. Lawrence seaway. These small islands sit upon an ancient salt dome. European explorer Jacques Cartier landed there in 1534, hundreds of years after the Mi’kmaq First Nation people had made the islands a seasonal hunting ground. Some modern inhabitants trace their ancestry to sailors marooned as the result of the hundreds of shipwrecks that have occurred on the islands shores.
Well, I have danced around and thus avoided talking about what I consider the most captivating “Next Thing”. It will take place in April, 2019 and it deserves a separate post. However, I will leave off with a picture that more than hints at what is coming.
Yesterday I mentioned my challenges with relaxation and solitude. That remark drew thoughtful comments from good friends. Before I delve further into that… first about today.
Within a radius of 5 miles my bicycle carried me to a number of remarkable (and memorable) sights. The Stockton Dam, constructed in 1963, featured a state of the art hydroelectric turbine. The original turbine now stands on display. In 2009 one of its huge blades failed, breaking off from the unit and then discharged into the lake. It was retrieved, welded back in place, and the turbine was restored to service in 2010. However, the handwriting was on the wall and a new more efficient turbine was installed in 2013.
Near the sight of the turbine monument are huge rock cores that were excavated at the time of the dam’s construction. These cores provided engineers with valuable information regarding the stability of the underlying strata to support the dam structure. Moreover, the cores gave geologists a remarkable window into Earth’s past. The cores exposed layers of rock that date back 450 million years, a time before vascular plants and vertebrate life forms existed. The cores could not only be examined on the surface, but the holes that the cores left were large enough in diameter to allow geologists to descend the 200 foot depth and closely examine the strata in-situ.
Perhaps the most unexpected encounter on my exploration was a small out of the way cemetery founded by Issac Lyons Hembree (1796-1865). He had settled 1600 acres of Missouri wilderness in 1852 and determined to be buried in a place where he could watch over the work in his fields below. His gravestone is weather worn, but a bronze emblem gives testament to his service in the War of 1812. Other monuments to his descendants speak to service in the “Indian Wars”, and most poignantly to the service of Thomas Wilson Hembree, USN, who died on December 7th, 1941… “a date which will live in infamy”.
I had the good fortune at camp to meet Katherine, a retired educator originally from Kansas City. She and her partner moved to Stockton Lake, attracted to the natural beauty of the area and the favorable cost of living. Initially there was some concern whether they would find acceptance in the rural society. Those concerns were quickly forgotten as they not only were embraced by their neighbors, but Katherine’s partner was elected Mayor of their town.
Katherine introduced me to her neighbor Craig, a 59 year old retired hydrologist. Craig found a new passion in retirement, hand building wooden boats. He brought to camp a kayak and a gaff-rigged catboat. They are both sea-worthy works of art. Tomorrow, weather willing, Craig and I are going to sail the catboat together.
Back to my starting reflection: My friend of 50 years, Maxine, suggested that I sit beneath a large tree and with the aid of a magnifying glass (or bifocals) engross myself with the close examination of the wonders to be found in a square foot of the ground. She touts this as a meditative exercise to embrace both solitude and relaxation. I intend to take her up on this suggestion. However, my first impulse was the thought of what others might think of a 66 year old white haired guy playing detective with blades of grass. Mind you, as an adult I have hugged trees in order to “feel” the life of those stately creatures… I have laid upon the grass to contemplate the endless universe above and the 8,000 miles beneath that separates me from those on the other side of the world. In these and other similar actions I have found a tension between my proper “adult self”, and the childlike wonder that occasionally motivates me.
Childlike wonder reveals what adult propriety suppresses. We knowingly smile at a child’s play with imaginary friends. We gently discourage a child’s “overactive” imagination… and eventually we drive that free spirit into compliance with the norms that we ourselves were taught to observe as the price of our adulthood. What if the unfettered imaginations of a child or an adult nearing the end of life, are able to perceive what we have become blind to? “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” (attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche among others)
Today was a journey not measured in distance but certainly as experienced in its depth.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. Perhaps tomorrow will be about “The Next Thing”.
My dear wife has released me to a week of solo camping. I am on the shores of Stockton Lake, an Army Corp of Engineers impoundment that covers over 39 square miles and features over 300 miles of shoreline. In spite of those numbers this lake ranks only 5th among the 7 largest Missouri lakes, all of which are man-made. The lake provides flood control, supplemental water for the city of Springfield, and generates up to 52 megawatts of hydroelectric power. All of these practical considerations are probably secondary (or absent) in the minds of the thousands of sportfishing enthusiasts, boaters, hikers, and campers (like me!).
Christine is busily preparing to host her father’s 100th birthday celebration at our home in two weekends. We are expecting 50+ guests. As a hostess she shines. No doubt I will be helpful nearing the event, but for the next week I would only have been in her way and suffering cabin fever. We have come to recognize that we are on slightly different wavelengths when it comes to travel and being away from home. Typically, it takes Christine a couple of weeks more than me to be “ready for the road”. Conversely, it takes me a couple of weeks longer than her to be ready to “head home from the road”. Last year we found that sending me off for an occasional solo week did much to synchronize our travel libidos.
I am ever looking to the future with visions of “the next thing”. We returned home on June 22nd from a 13 week journey that took in 16 countries and covered over 22,000 miles. On June 24th I began talking about Fall and Spring plans. Initially it drives Christine crazy, but it doesn’t take long for her to get caught up in my enthusiasm for our next “adventure”.
Over the next few days I will speak to those plans and whatever other random stuff come to mind. I will also focus on the pursuit of two things that I am not very good at, relaxation and embracing solitude.
Evelyn Evans taught high school English and more importantly she taught life. She took the time to give me and other of her students a glimpse into the potential that she saw within us. Another of my high school teachers once took me aside and expressed his opinion that I might be better served in pursuing a “technical education” … college was probably not a prudent option for me. Mrs. Evans looked beyond my struggles with spelling, penmanship, and adolescence to express a different opinion. There are only two assignment artifacts that I have retained from those days, not because of the content of my classwork but because of the content of Mrs. Evans’ written comments to me. Her words mattered and it is not hyperbole for me to express that they may have changed the course of my life.
Each of us has the potential to give the gift of “words that matter” to either encourage or discourage. Be mindful in the exercise of such an awesome responsibility.
Peace Everyone, Pete
PS: There was also Mr. Robert Dreher. He was a successful attorney in Carbondale Illinois who taught a “Survey of the Law” general education course at Southern Illinois University. On the first day of class he confidently strode to the front of the auditorium and announced to the assembly of over 100 students, “I’m Robert Dreher, I’m a LAWYER… you may call me Mr. Dreher or Professor Dreher. You may NOT call me Doctor Dreher… because I’m a LAWYER.” Mr. Dreher, though short and portly, wore his three-piece suit with the strength and dignity of a medieval knight in armor. The large cigars that protruded from his vest pocket were like a coat of arms.
At mid-term, we were required to submit an essay to him. The day that the papers were to be returned to us Mr. Dreher began his lecture by first asking, “Is Peter Schloss here?” (we had never spoken). I raised my hand and he then asked me to see him after class. My heart was in my throat for the next 50 minutes. After class I walked up to him and asked, “Professor, you wanted to see me?” He looked me in the eye for a moment longer than was comfortable and asked, “Have you ever thought about becoming a lawyer?” “No sir”, I replied… To which he responded, “You should”. That was the extent of the “conversation”. Words that matter.
There are many great nations in the world today, but perhaps only one whose people are self burdened by the sobriquet of “Greatest Nation”. There are also a few nations whose people wish to have that burden. So it is and so it has always been.
That burden has been borne by Rome, Macedonia, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, ancient China, and a host of other notables whose accomplishments are recorded in the annals of time and the ruins of tourist destinations. During their reign as “The Greatest” was there ever a time when their citizens imagined that they would not be the greatest? Could Romans imagine a world without Rome? Could Britains imagine a day when the sun did set on The Empire?… Spaniards and Portuguese contemplate a North or South America where they held no territory?
Humans have a wonderful instinct for the moment. We identify events and we memorialize them with monuments and sometimes holidays… we teach them to our children and they become part of our culture. The year 1066, December 25th, July 4 1776, December 7 1941, June 6 1944, and yes 9-11. Dates and events that remind a people of an important moment in time.
Humans are good at recognizing the crossroads of history, but poor at recognizing historical trends within the times that they live. There is typically no one day that marks the apex of greatness nor the moment of decline. With the benefit of telescopic hindsight those “events” can be identified, described, and written about… that is the purview of historians. Books that chronicle decline take hundreds of pages to describe the erosion from “greatest”, and notwithstanding that the decline occurred, the books often generate controversy among peers as to when and how.
It is perilous for a citizen to warn of decline or the loss of greatness during the time that the mantle of “greatest” is worn by fellow citizens. At best the cryer is marginalized, at worse vilified… sometimes even prosecuted. Yet their cautions to fellow citizens were proven in time. Warnings are threats to the status quo. Cautions threaten both the entrenched brokers of power and the population that is ever eager for the assurances that they remain “The Greatest”.
No doubt there were Romans, Britains, Spanish, Portuguese… who saw their leaders redefine “truth”… who recognized the concentration of power into the hands of a few whose agenda was the pursuit of personal goals and an abandonment of the nation’s interests… who saw their people equate military might as the sole measure of greatness, abandoning maintenance of infrastructure, and neglecting the care and education of their people… who recognized that fear mongering was merely a ploy to divert a peoples attention from the real ills of their time… who saw their one nation becoming a house divided.
The inertia of greatness may well be the ultimate cause of the decline of all great civilizations. When confronted with a peril to navigation a small boat can alter its direction with ease, but to change the course of a great ship much effort, distance, and time is required… if the peril is not recognized in time then disaster is inevitable.
Fortunately, all this is about history and boats. Nothing here is relevant to the place and times within which we now live.
We are grateful for the contribution of so many people to our journey. I told Christine of my intention to name those we met and those who have followed us. She replied, “How are you going to do that? You would have to name everyone on Facebook plus everyone who has subscribed to your posts!” Of course, she is right. I launched my “Thoughts” posts in February 2018 in anticipation of the start of our travels in March. As of this writing there have been over 16,000 visits to my posts. I really can’t select individual “followers” of our journey without risking offense to others who I inadvertently omit to recognize. I trust that you know who you are, and most of all I hope that you know that you are loved by us and that we know who you are. Thank you so very much for your replies, “likes”, comments, and even just silently staying with us.
For those who became a part of our journey, I want to recognize you individually and express our love and appreciation. It is likely that I will forget to mention someone. I apologize in advance for any omissions:
Beginning March 24th, we were guests for 3 days in Puerto Rico of hotelier Eddie Ramirez and his wife. It turned out that he had walked the Portuguese Camino in 2016. He arranged for us to receive Pilgrim Credentials issued by the Asociaciόn de Amigos del Camino de Santiago de Puerto Rico for our Camino. We were reminded by Eddie that, “In life there are no coincidences.
From March 27th to April 10th we sailed aboard the Viking Sea from Puerto Rico to Barcelona Spain. We met many wonderful travelers and we were wrapped in the luxury of a voyage at its most elegant. This would be in stark contrast to the rest of our journey. Aboard we enjoyed the services of an extraordinary professional staff and we were entertained by very talented young people.
Our needs were meticulously attended to by Augistino and Noni, who were our cabin stewards from Indonesia.
Among the shipboard travelers that we met were Mary and Gary Oesterle from near my hometown in Illinois. We greatly enjoyed their company and we look forward to continuing our friendship into the future.
We arrived in Barcelona on April 10th and during our 3 days in that wonderful city we connected with Neus Santacana and her family. Neus had spent time with us in the 1990’s as a high school exchange student. We met her in Spain during our 2013 Camino and we were thrilled to see her again.
On April 13th we were in Madrid for 3 days. We received a text message from Ron and Lena Meck asking where we were. We first met them during our 2017 journey in Alaska. It turned out that they were also in Madrid! It made for a wonderful chance reunion that I am sure will be repeated in the future, where is to be decided. “In life there are no coincidences!”
On April 16th we traveled by night train from Madrid to Lisbon. In the dining/bar car we met a wonderful young couple, artist Morgane Xenos and restaurateur Jerome Bollom. They had known each other since childhood and it was in adulthood that they discovered that they loved each other. We talked of life from both sides of the mirror, sharing laughter seasoned with wine and olives. Later we would rejoin them in Lisbon. They are special people. We suspect that we will meet again.
On April 19th we toured the Cathedral in Porto. The briefest encounter with two young University of Porto students, Mafalda Lemos and Rita Nogueira, proved to be one of the sweetest and most memorable of our journey. They thought that we were Canadian because we had such big smiles! They had taken our picture and were selling memory booklets at the Cathedral. Understanding that we could not carry the booklet in our backpacks they took it upon themselves to personally package and mail the book to us in the States. They have followed us on Facebook every day since. We hope that they will visit us some day in Kansas City. The world is in good hands with young people such as these!
Our 11 walking days on the Portuguese Camino began on April 20th. Each day included pleasant and memorable encounters with “Hospitaleros” (folks who provide accommodations), wait staff, merchants, and of course Perigrinos (Pilgrims walking the Camino). All contributed to our experience, but some are worthy of special mention.
April 20th was our first day on the Camino and with it came friendship with Kirsti Sergejeff and Sirkka Vikman, two Perigrinas from Finland. We would see them on occasion throughout the Camino.
There was Dortha, an expat from Poland now a citizen of the US residing in Maryland where she is employed as a scientist. Her Camino was cut short by very serious foot blisters that required medical attention. I regret that our last exchange of “Buen Camino!” was a parting without a real prospect for continued communication.
There was Jim, a respiratory therapist from Maine. Jim was tall… how tall was Jim? Tall enough that his feet always hung out over the end of the beds on the Camino. We encountered Jim throughout the Camino as he pursued his search for a bed that fit.
The walk on April 21st brought an encounter with a troop of Portuguese Scouts. These boys and girls ran to us offering a free meal for us to carry with us. They were thrilled to be with us in a picture that I would post the next day on my website.
April 23rd was the day more dear friendships were created. We met and shared dinner with Irène Lässig and her sister Manuela Joseph, women from Switzerland. We shared the Camino with them over the course of a few days and felt a bond that was out of proportion to the time spent together. Irène reflected that perhaps such friendships had their start in another life.
The four of us went to dinner that evening at a charming restaurant near our lodgings in Balugães Portugal.
The owner of the restaurant, Edwardo, projected a strong sense of admiration for me as I sat at table with 3 lovely ladies. He declared me his “Amigo!” and brought me a snifter of his best house brandy, thereafter holding court at our table in Spanish that Irène could thankfully translate.
That same day we met 3 gentlemen from Germany at our lodging. One of them, Sven Münster later befriended Christine while she waited alone for me in Ponte de Lima Portugal. She had gone forward by taxi still recovering from a migraine that resulted from choking on a large insect that decided to fly down her throat. Our path pleasantly intersected with Sven’s throughout the rest of our journey on the Camino.
April 27th was the day that we met more German pilgrims, lots of them! They became the voice of the Camino for me, albeit in German. I pressed my resources from high school German class to the point that I found myself dreaming in the language! There was physician Reiner Vogt and his wife Ina Massing who manages a firm specializing in prosthetic limbs. Faris Abu-Naaj is an internet expert who would later lead a group of people struggling with obesity on a Camino pilgrimage. Stanislaw Mowinski, a German citizen originally from Poland, would stay in touch with us and rejoin us for an afternoon in Berlin.
Then on that day there was Grzegorz Polakiewicz. “Greg” spoke no German, but what made his friendship with all of us remarkable is that he was walking his second Camino with one leg and assisted only by his two crutches. Discussions at table, interpreted by “Stanley” resulted in arrangements for him to travel to Germany where Ina and Reiner would arrange for him to receive a prosthetic leg. I would have called this encounter an amazing coincidence, but I am reminded, “In life there are no coincidences!”
On April 30th a random comment to us from a Canadian couple turned into a nonstop conversation that seemed to transport us across 10 kilometers in the blink of an eye. Tom Shillington and his wife Nanci Burns were our doppelgängers from Ottawa Canada. Each topic revealed a new thing or experience that we had in common. It was uncanny. It is a friendship that extended through the end of the Camino and that we hope will endure long thereafter! (Tom, please see my “PS” at the end of these Acknowledgements.)
I don’t play the guitar and I don’t speak or for that matter sing in Spanish. Yet on May 4th in Santiago we were watching an evening performance outside of the Cathedral by a very talented Mariachi band. As I was videoing the performance one of the guitarists gave me a sly look. A few minutes later he grabbed my smartphone and thrust his guitar into my hands. Overcome by the “moment” I began my one (and probably only) stint as a Mariachi band member. The guitarist continued to video, capturing my “moment” about 2 minutes into the video. Christine laughed so hard that she almost passed out. This is a link to that most memorable performance.
Our walk on the Camino ended on May 3rd and we departed Spain, bound for Ireland on May 6th. May 8th and we arrived in Waterford Ireland for our pre-planned meeting with longtime friends from Wales United Kingdom, Huw and Nina Thomas. It had been 11 years since we last embraced but the bonds of friendship melted away the years that parted us. We spent the next 5 days on a wonderful tour of Ireland with these dear friends.
Upon parting with Huw and Nina we continued our wanderings through Ireland and Northern Ireland, departing for Scotland by ferry on May 18th. Our next memorable encounter was with a most remarkable family in Glasgow Scotland. It was there in a restaurant that I was approached at the bar by Garry Clifford, his oldest son Sean, and their friend John Curran. After a brief conversation they treated us to drinks… for the rest of the evening! Garry’s wife Kathleen, Sean’s wife Julie, and John’s wife Carol completed this impromptu gathering of Scotland hospitality at its best. Within 24 hours we were all Facebook friends and the 6 of them have since followed our journey. We look forward to the day that Garry and Sean may stop in Kansas City as they pursue their dream to cross the USA on Harley Davidsons. Of course, we hope to welcome the rest of this wonderful crew into the hospitality of our home!
On May 20th we traveled by train to Fort William in Scotland’s northwest Highlands. Our host in an Airbnb adjoining her home was Shana. I mention her because she graciously met us in the rain upon our arrival at the train station and drove us to her home. She did our laundry, twice! She prepared a traditional Scottish breakfast for us on the day of our departure together with sandwiches for later in the day. We met her mother and her son. Her hospitality made us feel that we were much more than boarders.
We were in Edinburgh on May 28th when we had a prearranged meeting for lunch with “Mickey” Ferguson, the granddaughter and daughter of longtime friends from the legal community in Kansas City. She and her boyfriend, Ben Wright, are students at the University of Edinburgh. Mickey is studying archeology and is looking forward to participation in excavations this summer. Both of these young folks impressed us as smart, talented, and very personable. I will say again that the world is in good hands if left with young people such as these!
In 2013 we walked the French route of the Camino de Santiago. In the course of that 820km pilgrimage we met many like-minded people and established a number of enduring friendships with folks from around the world. Among them was Jacobien Ubbink of the Netherlands. On May 29th Jacobien invited us as guests into her home near Amsterdam. We met her family and enjoyed her personal guidance through the sights of Amsterdam. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to spend time once again with this good lady.
We learned on May 31st that while we were touring the Rijksmuseum with Jacobien on the previous day another friend from the 2013 Camino, Henk Kaspers, was at the museum as well. It saddens us that we missed this opportunity to see this good man and his wife. This same missed opportunity occurred during our April 7th tour of the German Reichstag in Berlin. We learned the following day that another dear friend from the 2013 Camino, Gabi Pfauth, had been there that day.
During our 2013 Camino we met a pilgrim from Colorado, Kris Ashton. A friendship of such proportion developed that over the next 5 years she and Christine would refer to each other as “sisters”. That friendship expanded to Kris’ husband, Dennis Waite. We have since spent time with them in Colorado and as recently as this last February they were guests in our home. Kris and Dennis visited Fort William Scotland mere days after we were there. On May 30th, while hiking on the Isle of Skye, Dennis became the victim of a tragic accident, falling to his death from a trail. The loss of this friend and the devastating impact on his wife Kris profoundly directed our thoughts over the remaining course of our journey.
On June 4th a dear friend from my journey through adolescence passed away after a lengthy illness. Dean Ortinau welcomed me into my new high school as a mid-year freshman transfer. He was an established “native” of my new community and welcomed me as if we had been friends throughout childhood. Our adult friendship built upon those early roots.
In the passages of Dennis and Dean I am reminded that life is temporary, life is a lottery. Don’t put off until tomorrow the things that you may then find you are no longer able to do. They never did.
During a 1991 vacation in France we met an extraordinary young lady who was then 14 years old. We maintained contact with her and were thrilled to again see her over a quarter of a century later. On June 1st Bryony Ulyett greeted us as we exited our train from Amsterdam to Brussels Belgium. She gave us her weekend, accompanying us in our visits to both Brussels and Antwerp. Friendship is timeless.
During the 1995-96 school year we hosted an exchange student from Slovakia. Svetlana Rosinova went on marry Milan Rosina, make their home near Bratislava, and bring 2 darling children into the world. She also established herself as a psychologist treating troubled children. On June 4th she and her husband welcomed us as guests into their home. She still refers to us as “Mom and Dad” and we in turn feel great pride in the accomplishments of our Slovak daughter and her family. We look forward to the day that they may visit us in Kansas City.
On June 7th we arrived in Berlin Germany where we were greeted by our first high school exchange student “son”, André Lieber. André spent the 1992-93 school year in our home. He now works for the German Ministry of Finance and is fluent in 6 languages which include Japanese and Chinese. André met his Japanese wife Asuka while they were both studying Chinese in Beijing. They have established their home in Berlin where they are raising their 2 children who primarily speak Japanese to mom, German to dad, and are learning English. We remain “Mom” and “Dad” to André and will forever treasure the time that we spent with him and his family in Berlin.
On June 11th we exchanged a tearful farewell with André and his family in Berlin for a joyous 4-day reunion with our 1994-95 high school exchange student “daughter” Hege in Oslo, Norway. Hege remains as full of joy and childlike wonder as she did nearly 25 years ago. Moreover, in her husband Jan-Cato she has succeeded in finding a soulmate who has the same zest for life. She and her husband, together with their 3 children, have established their home 40 minutes outside of Oslo. They are both elementary school teachers and we are left with no doubt that they are held dear in the hearts of their students and co-workers. As I am writing this I am receiving text message updates from Hege regarding their travels on vacation in the United States. We eagerly look forward to their arrival in our home in just a few days.
I have left for my final recognition the most important person on this Journey. On June 19th, while traveling in Iceland, Christine and I celebrated 41 years of marriage. We have known each other for better and for worse, while richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. Through it all we continue to love and cherish each other as we once promised 41 years ago.
Upon his return to Ottawa Canada from the Camino and European Journey with his wife Nanci, my friend Tom Shillington sent me a message. He cautioned that returning home after such a journey is like rising to the surface from a deep-sea dive. One risks suffering “the bends” if one does not take time to “decompress”. I now reply: Tom, the time that I have spent recounting the people that we met and the friendships that we made is therapy. I highly recommend it my friend!
Our non-stop flight from Iceland to Kansas City touched down in KC the evening of June 22nd. Three days later and I am still catching up on mail, bills, time with family, and reacquainting myself with the marvels of my own bed and shower. My backpack and assorted items from the journey remain piled on a chair in our bedroom, demanding my attention. Perhaps later today, but first these closing “Thoughts” from the journey.
March 5, 2017 was the day that I “met” Carmen. She was the telephone agent for Viking Ocean Cruises. We talked for almost an hour, first about the details of booking a transatlantic repositioning cruise that would take us from Puerto Rico to Barcelona Spain, and then about life and family. We became Facebook friends and Carmen has followed our wanderings ever since. April 11, 2017 was the day that we booked the cruise and thus took the first tangible steps in translating a dream into a reality.
Christine and I have mused about an extended trip abroad since the early days of our marriage. Contemplation became earnest with our retirements in 2015 and the structure of such a journey began to take form in our discussions. With the completion of our goal to camp in 49 States, 8 Canadian Provinces, and the Yukon Territory it became our “next thing”.
August 31, 2017, we purchased one-way travel aboard an Icelandair flight from Oslo Norway to Kansas City, with a one-week stopover in Iceland. This secured the bookends of our journey. We now knew the date of our departure from Kansas City to Puerto Rico, March 24, 2018, and the date of our return to Kansas City, June 22, 2018. On October 22, 2017 we purchased Eurail passes that would allow 60 days of open rail travel throughout most of Europe. Except booking accommodations for our arrivals in San Juan and Barcelona the pages of our storybook journey would remain mostly blank until we were actually on the road.
Friends provided us with insights into their own travel experiences. We listened, learned, and a plan developed. Neighbors Charlie and Mary, and my friend Hugh provided us with insight into Ireland. Moira and Gene lent us maps and advise on Scotland. Cal and Nancy shared their own plans for walking the Camino Portuguese. We would miss seeing them in Porto by only a couple of days. Kris and Dennis provided us with details from their own experience walking the Camino Portuguese and their plans to walk the Highlands of Scotland. We would miss seeing them in Port William Scotland by less than a week. We will now miss seeing Dennis ever again in this lifetime as he tragically perished on May 30th while hiking in those Highlands.
One can pour over maps, talk with friends, cruise the internet and thus come to understand and anticipate the places and things that will unfold in the course of a trip, a vacation, or a journey. However, trips and vacations are primarily about places. A journey is also about people. There are no resources to anticipate the chance interpersonal encounters of a journey. Preparation for those encounters is a matter predetermined by one’s own interpersonal skills. Like flowers on the tundra which must adjust their lifecycle to fit within an abbreviated growing season, a journey compresses the time within which relationships can form. Our journey was filled with new relationships and the brevity of the encounters did nothing to diminish the depth and richness of the experiences. In another post to follow I intend to acknowledge as many of those relationships as my memory will allow and to extend my gratitude and affection to those who allowed us into their lives and thus became a part of our life “story”. But first…
For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed watching people. I love to be invisible to those around me and become a part of the wallpaper of a place. I imagine what they see as they cast their eyes about. I wonder who they are, where they have been and where they are going. I look for answers to those questions in the clues of their dress, gate, and facial expressions. If their eyes should pass across me I wonder how I appear to them. I ask myself the question of what they see when they look into a mirror and if there is a disconnect with what I and others see when looking at them.
By the numbers we have been outside of the United States and “on the road” for 91 days, traveled nearly 22,000 miles/35,200 km (a distance that nearly equals the circumference of the Earth) through 16 countries, and visited as many capitals. We have been exposed to media within those countries and the opinions of those who we have encountered. As citizens of the United States we have been a magnet for the expression of those opinions. We have had the opportunity to watch our Nation from abroad through the eyes of others. As a temporary outsider I have found myself wondering what the United States sees when it casts its eyes around the world. As a temporary outsider I wondered about the United States, where has it been, and where it is going. I have looked for answers to those questions in what the United States projects on the world stage, in the consistency of its policies, the effectiveness of its institutions, its reliability as an international friend and partner to its allies. I have asked myself the question, “What do the people of the United States see when as a country they look in the mirror.” Is there a disconnect with what those outside the United States see when they look at us? Our journey gave me pause to ask these questions and then to answer them for myself. I invite similar reflections from you.
This was our last touring day in Iceland. Heavy rain kept us and my camera in the car much of the time as we made our way back to Reykjavík. However we did take the time to visit Iceland’s Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) National Park and get soaked in the process.
The Park was founded in 1930 on the millennial anniversary of the first Althing, an annual gathering to review and declare law for the coming year. These gatherings occurred at the Löberg (Law Rock) from 930 until 1271 when Iceland voluntarily placed itself under the rule of Norway’s king. The Löberg is still venerated today as the birthplace of Iceland.
The Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It straddles the only place where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge rises above sea level. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is the longest mountain range in the world at over 25,000 miles (the second place Andes are less than 5,000 miles long). It is formed from the boundary of two huge tectonic plates that separate the Americas and Europe/Africa. These plates continue to diverge at the rate of approximately one inch each year.
We stood atop and within the fissures, and viewed a waterfall created by one of the ridges. One nearby ridge once serving as a place for meting out ultimate justice.
June 22nd is our 91st and final day of this journey. This will be my final post until we are home. There will be at least one concluding post to this sequence that I have been composing in my thoughts. Until I share those thoughts with you…