I am writing this in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday, December 12th. Our flight takes off tonight at 10 p.m. for Dallas-Fort Worth, followed by a layover and connecting flight to Kansas City. This will be a brutal 28 hours in transit, on par with the 24-36 hours that some of our friends have had to endure as they traveled home from Chile to Colorado, Oregon, Minnesota, or Canada. Not exactly a silver lining.

Santiago is one of the largest cities in the Americas. It has not changed since our arrival on the 9th, but our impressions of it have. Two full days and two half days were barely enough time to take the pulse of the 2 or 3 Barrios that we have wandered about, but it was enough time for us to adapt and become charmed. Our travel was exclusively on foot, averaging nearly 10 miles each day. It was good to walk after the more sedentary experience aboard ship. This morning our friend Kris posted a Latin phrase, “Solvitur ambulando” which loosely translates into “It is solved by walking”. That describes our experience of the last few days.

We made Wednesday into a walking tour. Nothing in depth, no museums, no cultural centers, virtually nothing inside… just walking and taking it in…

A literal highlight of the experience was ascending Santa Lucia Hill, enjoying its gardens, pathways, and the spectacular view of the city from the top. The Andes Mountains were barely discernible rising above the urban haze.

We peeked inside the 18th century Colonial era church, Iglesia San Agustin, which is one of the oldest buildings in Santiago. It has successfully withstood a number of devastating earthquakes.

We wandered by the Presidential Palace…

The Municipal Theater…

Through market lined boulevards…

…and throngs of humanity.

We returned to Food Park Tepeyak and tried out different vendors. The food was excellent and I enjoyed the candid sight of Christine consulting “Mr. Google” to translate a menu.

After siesta time we returned to Barrio Brasil where we intended to take in a splurge dinner at a highly regarded restaurant. It was closed. However, as we continued walking we were drawn to an unusual edifice bearing the name, Ocean Pacific. A seafood restaurant that also serves land proteins (after all, this is Chile!).

In English, a rugged looking gentleman in sailor’s attire bid us enter, We did, and it just got better and better. The “sailor” was Rikardo and his smile only hinted at his larger-than-life personality. He was assisted by the equally charming Mercedes who apologized repeatedly for her poor (it was excellent) English.

We placed ourselves into their capable hands and allowed them to virtually select our wine, main dishes, and sides. It was a fun experience that included camaraderie and excellent cuisine. This was beyond any expectation that we had held for a final meal in Santiago, and a real silver lining to the intended but closed first choice.

In retrospect, these 4 days have been filled with “silver linings”. One must just be open to seeing them.

Our “hotel”, turned out to be a less than distinguished apartment. However, it was clean and the location could not be better. No air conditioning, but there was a fan and the evenings cooled quickly from 90 degrees to the 60’s. The desert-like dryness rendered the daytime temps very tolerable.

Traffic was constant, but drivers obeyed the pedestrian signals so negotiating intersections proved safe. A feature of some of the signs is that the “walk” figure becomes an animated running figure when the signal nears the end of the cycle. It made us smile.

We found that the city gave us helpful people at the right moments. A history professor, a taxi driver, a protester, and even a pedestrian who cautioned me to keep my camera secured.

Even the police and military personnel proved friendly to us.

The food was good… the beer was good, and so was the wine.

These and other “silver linings” more than eclipsed any thoughts that we originally held of “dark clouds” in this city.

This may be my final post from this journey. Like virtually all large cities Santiago’s first impression can be overwhelming, impersonal, and uncaring. However, under the examination of opened eyes and an open mind one becomes aware of children laughing in the parks… toddlers testing the limits of their parents’ resolve for their safety… teens happily jamming to their tunes… lovers (young and old) holding hands and exchanging an occasional kiss. There are “suits” hustling to and from work, partially eaten sandwiches in hand… and beggars with hands out in search of coins for their next meal or next bottle. Vendors eye pedestrians with anticipation for the potential customer and suspicion of the possible thief. Life lived by millions, played out one person at a time.

Once again in a far-away place we have found what is familiar.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Ask any experienced mariner to list the 5 most iconic sailing experiences in the world and I daresay that “Rounding the Horn” will appear on every list… perhaps at the top.

Cape Horn is the southernmost point of Tierra del Fuego, Chile, and is deemed the place where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. It is legendary for presenting navigators with precipitous waves and gale force winds. The 40th southern parallel has often been referred to at “the roaring forties”, the 50th southern parallel as “the furious fifties”, and the 60’s as “the screaming sixties”. Understandable since there is little in the way of land mass to abate the prevailing winds that circle the globe. Cape Horn is located 56 degrees south. There are no land masses to resist the winds until Antarctica, 500 miles to the south. That “gap” between continents has the effect of funneling and further concentrating the winds. Compounding this is the rise in the sea floor that similarly magnifies the already steep prevailing waves. It is not uncommon for “rogue waves” of 90 feet or more to catch a ship unawares with dire consequences.

King Neptune gave us a taste of the Cape Horn “experience”…

We encountered driving rain and sleet interspersed with moments of breaking clouds and the hint of blue skies above. Winds were fickle, often changing direction and at times whipping the wavetops into a foam that was then driven as streaks across the water.

We never felt threatened but the likes of Joshua Slocum (first solo circumnavigation 1885) and Richard Henry Dana (“Two Years Before the Mast”, 1840) were near in my thoughts.

The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 eliminated the route of the Horn for all but adventurers and the largest merchant ships. United States WW2 battle ships (Iowa Class) were designed to (just) fit the canal with only inches of width to spare.

Incredibly, there is a landing dock at Cape Horn lighthouse with a visitors center.

A monument is in place given to the memory of mariners who have lost their lives attempting the passage. The gleaming steel sculpture is in two pieces that when viewed create the image of a soaring Albatross. Keepers of the lighthouse sign on with their family for 12 month tours of duty.

The following day, November 28th, we reentered the Beagle Channel and made our way down the “Avenue of Glaciers”. The entire day was a procession of one majestic ice cliff after another.

Chile and Argentina’s Southern Patagonian Ice Fields are the second largest contiguous non-polar ice mass in the world. Over 4,700 square miles are situated in Chile and nearly 1,000 in Argentina. The Ice Field feeds hundreds of glaciers. Our passage took in close views of 5 of these, and culminated in the astounding Garibaldi Fjord and Glacier where our ship spent the better part of 2 hours within feet of the cliff walls and glacier.

The ship sent out a tender and crew to “capture” some of the ice that had calved.

One chunk weighed over 700 pounds and is currently on display shipboard.

Perhaps the adventurous can convince the Ship Steward to shave a bit off to cool a gin and tonic. There are some small pieces of debris locked in the blue crystalline ice… they have been there for over 15,000 years. It’s about time they were liberated.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Glaciers are considered one of the most accurate long term indicators of climate change. During our 2017 visit to Juneau’s Mendenhall Glacier we saw incredible evidence of that glacier’s retreat. Similarly we learned from the Park Rangers at Glacier National Park that by the year 2025 the Park’s last glacier will be gone. The Southern Patagonian Ice Sheet is also in decline.

To use a metaphor… Huge oceangoing ships require many miles to arrest their speed or change course. A Captain must begin executing the change far in advance of the distant threat to navigation. The magnitude and inertia of climate is like that of a ship. If one waits to act until the dangers become obvious or acute, it will already be too late.

One of the featured shore excursions that Viking offered as an option was a trip to the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego (National Park of Tierra del Fuego). We have learned that the ship arranged outings can often be duplicated through the local vendors at a fraction of the cost. Most passengers prefer the ease of just “letting Viking do it”, but for us there is an added element of adventure in striking out on our own.

The Viking arranged tour of Parque Nacional cost $100 US per person. We were able to take a local bus to the Park, pay our admission, and be free to explore without adhering to a group schedule for $25 US each.

In one sense this park is not to be compared with “Yellowstone”. There is a humble visitors center and cafeteria. But with the exception of the one gravel road into the park and one trailer with bathroom facilities, there are no visitor conveniences.

In another sense this National Park compares quite favorably with Yellowstone. The scenery is spectacular!

Christine and I spent a couple of hours hiking together. She then returned to the visitors center to relax with her book which gave me license to pursue a hike at my chosen speed. 10 miles and I had covered enough of the trails to give me a deep sense of accomplishment.

The Park was established in 1960 and contains 243 square miles of pristine Patagonian and subarctic forest. This is the region of the southern terminus of the Andes Mountains. The scenery is breathtaking!

There are 20 species of land mammals and 90 species of birds that call the Park home. There are no animals that might be considered a threat to humans, however a number of “exotic” (non-native) species have been introduced to the Park and become invasive threats to the native flora and fauna. These include the Muskrat, European Rabbit, and North American Beaver.

Due to the extreme southern latitude, tree line is only 2,000 feet above sea level. The demarcation between forest and tundra is striking.

The southern Park boundary is the shoreline of the Beagle Channel. At lower elevations nearing the Channel the climate is moderated by the water. Average winter temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The Summer average is 50 degrees. Average annual rainfall is a very wet 28 inches. There is no dry season.

Our good fortune provided us with a day that was sunny and mild. My hike took me to the terminus of National Route 3 that connects the southernmost part of a Patagonia to Buenos Aires which is 3,094 km to the north. Antarctica is a little less than 1,000 km to the south.

I continued on to the southwestern park boundary which is (literally) a stones throw from Chile and is marked by a navigational beacon.

The Beagle Channel extends east to west for approximately 240 km. The Channel is named after the HMS Beagle which in 1833 explored these waters with its equally famous passenger, Charles Darwin.

For the 10,000 years preceding Darwin’s visit the region had been home to the indigenous Yaghan people. Their adaptation to the environment is nothing short of amazing. It is believed that their base metabolisms were significantly higher than those of most northern humans. They fueled themselves with a calorie dense diet that was high in fats from the sea lions that they hunted. They smeared their bodies with animal fat for further protection and constantly maintained open hearth fires which at night gave the shores of the Channel the eerie appearance of being a land on fire. Thus the name, Tierra del Fuego.

The Yaghan had also learned that clothing was both impractical and dangerous. The constant rains meant that clothing would remain wet and contribute to hypothermia. Naked skin dried quickly and therefore to the amazement and consternation of the European settlers and missionaries the Yaghan spent most of their time naked.

It is estimated that there were over 3,000 Yaghan at the time that missionaries arrived in the 1880’s. The virtual extinction of the tribe soon followed due to European borne diseases, the overhunting of traditional Yaghan food sources, and the intolerance of Yaghan customs and traditions.

Hindsight allows us the luxury of an “enlightened” perspective. We may be critical of the intolerance of the settlers and missionaries. However, to have suggested at that time the error of European ways would have invited expulsion from the community, or worse. Such has always been the way of the embedded social, economic, and cultural traditions of those who are power.

I find myself wondering what traditions and values that we hold sacred today might become the subject of ridicule by future generations. Could they include…

The huge factory fishing vessels that deplete ocean stocks?…

Our stubborn dependence on fossil fuels?…

The establishment of global supply chains that have the unintended consequences of eliminating varietal diversity and of being a vector for the transmission of blight and disease?…

Or…

The suggestion of any of these things invites reproach as an attack upon the social, economic, and cultural traditions of those who are in power. Perhaps therein lies the answer to my question.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. Many of you live outside of the United States. Today in the States is our holiday of Thanksgiving… Christine and I wish each and every one of you, regardless of your country of origin, our best wishes. We hope that you and those who you hold dear in your heart may find a moment today to give thanks for the blessings of your life. You are among the blessings that we celebrate in our life.

This is our third day in Buenos Aires, and our last night at the Recoleta Grand Hotel. Tomorrow we board the Viking Sea where we will make our home for the next 3 weeks. However, we are not through with Buenos Aires as the ship will remain in port for two more nights.

We now know that there is much of this city that we will not see. A few days is hardly enough time to explore the varied neighborhoods of this modern capitol city. We will continue our explorations, but it is doubtful that we will spend much time in any museums or galleries. The weather is fine and the streets are alive!

Shortly after leaving the hotel this morning we stopped to look at a map. Our quest was Cementerio de Recoleta and to seek the grave of Evita Peron. Seeing us, a nice lady and her 11 year old daughter stopped to offer their help. Miai speaks a little English, and relied upon her daughter to lend a hand with translation. Their kindness lead to a 15 minute visit and recommendations for places to buy custom made leather goods. Christine and Miai exchanged contact information. Miai is leaving soon for the States where I hope that she is afforded the same level of hospitality that she extended to us.

A short stroll brought us to the Recoleta park grounds and Cemetery. Today is Sunday so booths featuring local artists and their wares lined the sidewalks for hundreds of yards.

We took in an outdoor cafe for a leisurely lunch in the cool shade of an enormous rubber tree. This one’s limbs extended dozens of yards from the center and required the assistance of iron crutches to keep them elevated above the ground. One such support was supplied by a sculpture of Atlas the Titan. I took a moment to briefly relieve him of some of his burden.

Nearby were street performers giving impromptu Tango lessons. We could not let the opportunity pass. Taking turns we each enjoyed moments of imagined celebrity in the arms of a young Latin dancer. Fortunately, still images are much kinder than any video would have been. Ah, to be young again!

I have always been drawn to cemeteries. I have often wandered among the graves and imagined the life stories that must have been, but are now compressed into little more than a “Born on… Died on…”

The famous Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris France is home to such notables as Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and of course Jim Morrison of the Doors. It is a small city with tree lined boulevards and family tombs that are like small mansions. Cementerio de Recoleta is its equal on a slightly smaller scale.

Here is a place where The “Who’s Who” of Argentine society is now the “Who Was”. The tombs are among the most elaborate that I have every seen. Many are adorned with beautiful entries, stained glass windows, and doors with artistic brass engravings. One even featured electric coach lights above the door. Much as I looked, I saw no door-knockers.

Some of the tombs extended two or even three stories below the ground. Just inside the doors and “reception” were narrow stairs that gave access the the lower levels.

The grounds were the final resting places of Presidents…

Generals…

Liberators…

Giants of business and finance…

…and of course,

Evita Peron.

All of their celebrity is eclipsed by the tombs of two teenage girls. 19 year old Liliana de Szaszak (1944-1970) died tragically in an avalanche in Austria. It is reputed that her dog, Sabu, was so attached to her that he died in Buenos Aires at the moment of her passing.

Ruffian Cambaceres (1883-1903) was found dead in her bedroom of a suspected heart attack. On the night of her internment a watchman overheard sounds within the family mausoleum. Investigation the next day revealed that the coffin had moved. When the lid was opened scratches were found on the inside surface and all over Rufina’s face and neck. She had been buried alive.

Christine and I once visited an ossuary in Rome Italy. At the entry was a skeleton constructed from the bones of one or more of the departed. It was clothed as a monk and held a sign that declared, “What you are I once was. What I am you will become”.

The cemetery at Pere Lachaise and the one we visited today are final resting places, but they are also monuments to our arrogance. They are displays of wealth, status, and notoriety. They are fictions to a belief that we as legends live on forever.

Many of the tombs have become metaphors of the death and decay of those who are within. Fallen plaster, rotting caskets, dust, rust, and tarnish. Death is the great equalizer, and on that happy note…

Peace Everyone. Pete

During a recent camping trip I had occasion to watch a solo ant crawl zig-zag across the top of our small folding table. He touched a banana peel that I had placed on the table but did not seem overly interested in it. As I finished my banana, I resisted the urge to squash him. He presented no threat to me and I was certainly more a guest in his world than he was in mine. I continued to watch as he descended to the ground and then disposed of the peel.
Within 5 minutes the ant returned… at least I presumed it was him since one ant looks pretty much the same as another to me. This time he was closely followed by scores of his nestmates. A solo insect explorer was one thing, an armada of invaders was another. With a spritz of Raid and the wipe of a damp cloth I rendered the tabletop a less hospitable environment for further ant incursions.
I had just witnessed one insect on a mission of exploration communicate his discovery to others of his kind and then rally their support in furtherance of a greatly expanded enterprise. On a very small scale I had just watched a parody of humanity’s habits of exploration. Curiosity has driven us to extended our reach across every continent, into the depths of the oceans, and now out into the solar system… perhaps one day into the vastness of “Space, the final frontier… to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before”. Forgive me, but I am a lifelong “Star Trekkie”

Will we know life when we see it? NASA continues to struggle to develop a definition of life, fearing that we won’t know it when we see it:

“There is no broadly accepted definition of ‘life.’ Suggested definitions face problems, often in the form of robust counter-examples… defining ‘life’ currently poses a dilemma analogous to that faced by those hoping to define ‘water’ before the existence of molecular theory. In the absence of an analogous theory of the nature of living systems, interminable controversy over the definition of life is inescapable.” (Cleland, Carol E.; Chyba, Christopher F., Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere, v. 32, Issue 4, p. 387-393 (2002)).

As a child attending Catholic parochial school I was taught that humans were the sole form of intelligent life in the Universe. It has taken millennia for us to abandon the notion that earth was the center of that Universe. In my own lifetime science has moved from ignorance of the existence of other solar systems to an understanding that planetary systems are as numerous as the grains of sand upon all of the beaches of the world. Why should only one very tiny blue grain of that sand be selected by a Creator to host life?
The problem is that any attempt to define life necessarily derives from our limited frame of reference. We won’t necessarily know “life” when we see it if it isn’t “life as we know it”. I suspect that theologies which have historically taught that life only exists on Earth will struggle to adapt if/when there is an extra-terrestrial discovery of “something” (microscopic or otherwise) that is arguably “life”. If such a discovery forces us to accept that life exists beyond the confines of Earth then a likely response to protect our assumed uniqueness will be to say that our intelligence sets us apart as favored “in God’s eyes”.
Unfortunately, we have not done a very good job at acknowledging intellect when we encounter it in our own world. Examples abound that run contrary to our species-centric prejudices: Birds that make tools; Apes that learn language; Elephants that self-identify in a mirror, create art, and decades later remember distinct encounters with individual humans; Sea Mammals that have complex languages, show empathy for humans in distress, and pursue sex for pleasure; Orcas that elevate post-menopausal females into leadership roles because of their stability, maturity, and experience, thus enhancing the general welfare of the group (BTW, only 5 species are known to experience menopause, Humans and 4 species of whales); and of course a lone ant that happened to walk across my camp table.
We have often chosen to ignore or dismiss the existence of intellect in our own species based solely upon skin color, theology, or national origin. We remain poor stewards of our own environment, and we decimate our numbers in conflicts that prove that we do not learn from history. If an extraterrestrial species ever visits Earth it is entirely understandable that it may conclude Earth to be devoid of intelligent life.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS: I have been generally absent from social media and my “Thoughts” since August. That does not mean that we have been idle or that I have not been thinking. We are making progress on the pursuit of our plans for a Colorado vacation home, I have returned to more serious bicycling, and we have been planning for more “next things”. We depart in November on a 30 day trip that will include a 3 week cruise around the southern tip of South America. A week in Cozumel off the Yucatan Peninsula has also been scheduled for February. Stay tuned for the travel commentaries to come.

The Beartooth Highway spans a little over 70 miles from Red Lodge Montana in the east to just beyond Cooke City Montana in the west. It is there that it enters the northeastern portal to Yellowstone National Park. Its journey is split between the States of Montana and Wyoming as it serpentines across the boarder 3 times.

Built in early post-depression America it was a marvel of engineering that sought to flex the muscle of America’s emerging optimism, the despair of the late 20’s and early 30’s becoming more a scare than an open wound. It has been declared “America’s Highway”, a pre-Interstate Highway conquest of terrain and climate.

The Beartooth retains much of its rugged individualism. It is closed in the winter, is subject to late Spring and early Fall snowstorms, and in mid-season frost heaves occasionally pock and fold the pavement.

It is not a road of commerce as vehicles longer than 30 feet are discouraged by the daunting switchbacks that demand white-knuckled attention to steering and brakes.

Interspersed along its path are US Forest Service campgrounds. These are primitive affairs offering only pit-toilets, picnic tables and fire grates (no water, no electricity, and no cell service) yet they fill quickly in mid—season. They attract a certain type of camper who wishes to flirt with the edginess of the wild, yet have the security of a shared encampment. Cautions of bear activity abound and are not mere words. Many campers, and the camp hosts walk about with cylinders of bear repellent holstered like a six-shooter. I count myself among them.

What a rare bear encounter may do in one paw-swipe, swarms of mosquitoes (the little blood sucking bastards from hell!) invariably do a drop at a time. These mosquitoes are a hardy lot as they seem just as active at 40 degrees as at 80. Oh well, another predator, another spray.

Most folks don’t linger on the Beartooth. It is a passage experience with occasional stops at overlooks that flood the senses with Nature’s proudest sights, and smells.

The day visitor tends to embrace “the other Beartooth”, to be found in Red Lodge on the east and to a lesser extent at Cooke City to the west. For those desperate for a tourist fix mid-route there is the Top of the World Store which features a single gas pump, a concentrated assortment of souvenirs, and a few shelves of snacks and booze.

Cooke City is a city in name only that is narrowly spread for a few blocks on both sides of the Beartooth.

Eateries/bars, souvenir shops, sporting goods, lodgings, fuel, and a couple of minuscule casinos are its main offerings. It attracts visitors from beyond America’s borders.

At mid-day many of the restaurants present waits of up to an hour for a table. I found an exception at the east entry to town.

The Antler Lodge features a newly opened restaurant and bar, yet to be discovered. 15 craft beers on tap and gourmet burgers… I saw an “appetizer” of onion rings, enough to feed two lumberjacks. They were at about 50% capacity when I lunched there. That should change as the word gets out. While the restaurant is new, The Antler Lodge itself is one of the oldest traveler rests in the region.

Log construction, lots of trophies adorning the walls, and a welcoming hearth room make this an original Beartooth experience.

The “town” of Red Lodge is a much larger and more vibrant big brother to Cooke City.

It is more accessible and features stores and shops that serve the needs of a general population as well as the tourist trade. It’s a fun visit, but for me only as a punctuation mark to the experience of 4 days camped at 9,000 feet on the Beartooth.

At camp last night I engaged a couple of my generation in some fireside chat. The conversation took a turn to “the young people of today”. The couple launched into an opinionated slog that the youth of today are lazy, lack ambition, lack morals, and in spite of those deficiencies, generally worthless. The wife offered as proof, “I worked retail.. I know”. Rather than engage into controversies I held my tongue and shortly thereafter excused myself.

I have heard it said that “youth is wasted on the young”. Perhaps youth may reply that “retirement is wasted on the old”. In either case is seems that some of my generation are jealous of the world that waits to be explored by the young…perhaps regretting opportunities missed in their own youth.

Many who read my “Thoughts” have expressed that they are traveling with me vicariously, taking in as a virtual experience what they can not in everyday life. Similarly, I take vicarious pleasure in visiting with young people… tasting the thrill of a seemingly limitless horizon of possibilities.

The camping couple have apparently missed the joy of knowing my children and youth like them. Hard working, moral, bright with optimism for their future and the future of the children that they bring into this world.

In that same vein I wish that the couple could have met my server at the Antler Lodge Restaurant.

Sarah is a recent college graduate who bubbles with excitement as she shares that she will soon be off for a year in Austria. She has hired on for the year as an au pair to a family with two small children. She will assume the role of nanny and English teacher to the children for 18 hours each week, living with the family and taking intensive German language classes throughout her tenure. Beyond that graduate school awaits Sarah.

Bright, personable, hard working, and ambitious. She is “the youth of today” who hold America’s future in their hands. It is the duty of the older generations to give them an America worthy of their talents and ambitions.

Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. In Red Lodge I came upon an unusual fossil shop. I was fascinated by the mounted trilobites and crinoids. Is it possible that I may be bringing a souvenir back home?

I awoke at sunrise to a 32 degree morning brushed with heavy frost. Fortunately, my trailer has an adequate heater that kept things above 50 overnight and when turned up it gave a toasty 68 degrees that made for a comfortable breakfast.

Still in my bedtime “scrubs” I wandered toward the outhouse but was stopped dead in my tracks by the explosion of light and color radiating from Beartooth Lake and 10,000 foot high Beartooth Butte in the background.

Reversing course I grabbed my camera and headed through the woods down to the shore. Glorious!! The snowcapped Butte was a beacon of light. Its mirrored reflection on the lake doubling the effect and elevating beautiful to breathtaking.

On the distant shore two elk played in the water, while the herd sunned and grazed on the slopes above.

They were only discernible to the naked eye through focused attention and were barely captured by my camera, the lens and zoom pushed to the limits.

I stood to take the scene in for nearly an hour. While my legs were idle, my mind was not.

What I am about to share is not meant to proselytize. This is merely an expression of my own beliefs which are neither superior or inferior to anyone else’s. I was raised a Catholic in a Catholic family and provided a Catholic education. While I self identify as “raised Catholic”, that provides no more insight into who I am or what I believe than does my identification as a Caucasian, second generation of immigrants. Who I am and what I believe continue to be a work in progress.

At two significant moments in my life, separated by 41 years, Catholic clergyman have admonished me to unconcern my self with dogma and “the rules” and instead listen to my conscience. They each tasked me to honestly follow the guidance of my conscience. I try and mostly succeed.

I find it impossible to listen to my conscience without also exploring some of the larger questions that have been pondered for millennia. Among those questions is whether there is a Creator, and if so does that Creator (“God By Any Name”) intervene in our daily lives.

We are (perhaps) unique in the animal kingdom as having a “free will”. We are burdened by innate physical urges to satisfy hunger, procreate, protect, survive… just as other animals, but we have the capacity to intentionally override those compulsions. Humans can starve themselves to death just to make a point. They can choose to be celibate. They can choose passive resistance. They can choose to end their own life. We can make choices in ways that no other creature can. We can make good choices and we can make really bad choices too.

If the Creator intervened to rescue us from our bad choices then our free will would be a fiction. I have made my share of mistakes (as the song goes, “Mistakes, I’ve made a few, but then again too few to mention…”) and I have usually had the good sense to discern and make other choices that resolved matters. Some folks avoid the mistakes in the first place, while others never abandon their bad choices. I don’t see an active hand of the Creator in these matters, except perhaps in the voice of conscience.

Life by its very definition is a lottery that sooner or later ends in death. In a river a salmon spawns thousands of eggs from which a few will survive a gauntlet to the sea, returning later to repeat the circle of life. My daughter gave birth to very tiny naturally occurring quads, one passed at 7 weeks and the remaining 3 thrive on their way to adolescence. In the last year we have lost good friends to accident, disease, and intention. All were good people in the truest sense of the world. I don’t believe the Creator actively chooses the fate of salmon, children, friends, or World Series victors. Nevertheless, I find that my senses are inadequate to fully explain all that occurs with me and around me.

My parents gave me an excellent start in life. I was well fed, well clothed, and well educated. They provided me with a model of parenting from which I could choose how I would later parent. Christine and I have strived to do the same for our children. My parents are not entitled to credit for my successes, or blame for my failings. They are entitled to my gratitude for the start in life that they gave to me. The same goes for the Hand that gave me breath and free will.

I am grateful for my life, for my humanity, and for this day. But the life that was breathed into me did not include a parachute to rescue me from my free will.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Comment:

Nice Post Peter Michael. Who do you think has been posting the suggestions to your conscience all of these years?

Sincerely, God

It was a good day for a hike. Breakfast eaten, dishes done, and camp made “ship shape” I drove to the Second Creek trailhead.

With my camera, Camelback (water), and trekking poles I began my ascent. 10,600 feet to about 11,600 feet. For a local this would not qualify as much of a climb. As a non-acclimated flatlander I found this to be challenging enough. Snow banks became plentiful as I reached and then continued above tree line.

The sapphire blue sky was pierced by a full sun that baked the skin and pained the eyes.

Step into a shadow and the temperature seemed to plummet. Amidst the trees, sweatshirt on… in the open, sweatshirt off.

The vistas did not disappoint and my 3 hours spent hiking provided ample opportunity for pictures and thoughtful rumination.

There are populations that make their homes above 12,000 feet, principally in the South American Andes Mountains and the Asian highlands of Tibet. However, over one-third of the world’s population lives less than 300 feet above sea-level. Far less than 1 percent live above 10,000 feet. This is the study of hypsographic demography.

As I periodically stopped to catch my breath I began to consider how quickly the air thins as elevation increases. Humans are not well designed to flourish above the clouds… there is a reason that the salinity of our blood closely matches the salinity of the oceans. We are physically happiest at the altitude of the seas from whence we emerged eons ago.

So here I am loving the mountains, the dry air, the smell of pine, the big brown bear that wandered through my campsite… yet I will never achieve the full aerobic capacity that I enjoy at 900 feet back in Kansas City.

The world is approximately 8,000 miles in diameter. Depending on the scientific discipline, the Earth’s atmosphere may be deemed to extend upwards to about 60 miles. Of course no human can survive at that altitude. Mount Everest (29,029 feet) is the highest point on Earth, not even 4 miles in elevation, and yet the fittest human can only briefly survive at that extreme.

Our inclination to be species-centric burdens us with the illusion that we are masters of vast (near endless?) realms and inexhaustible resources. However, if the Earth were reduced to the size of a 3 foot diameter ball, then the corresponding atmospheric equivalent of 10,560 feet (2 miles) above sea-level would be 9 thousandths of an inch (0.009”)! To put that into perspective, that is roughly the thickness of two pieces of ordinary copy paper.

The reality is that we are fragile creatures living within an incredibly thin envelope of breathable air. Borrowing upon an ancient proverb, “It’s an ill bird that fouls its own nest”… or perhaps more to the point, it is an ill fated humanity that chooses to break the wind that it breaths.

Peace Everyone.

Today began a solo camping trip that will extend through the end of July. Day one was a hot 400 mile slog west down the non-inspiring lanes of I-70. My first real destination is Denver, 600+ miles from home. An overnight in Goodland is a prudent alternative to a 12+ hour marathon drive while towing a trailer.

These days most folks only see a hint of Goodland as they zoom past the outskirts on the Interstate. Not much there except that a sharp eye might catch a glimpse of a very curious piece of art that towers in the distance.

I am camped at the Goodland KOA, located on the east side of Goodland, along less traveled US-24.

One might say that this is the backyard of Goodland. One might also incorrectly assume that there is not much to see here. Back to that piece of art…

In 2000, Canadian artist Cameron Cross approached the trade group, Sunflowers USA, with the idea of recreating VanGogh’s painting, “3 Sunflowers in a Vase” in Goodland. The proportions would be breathtaking; the painting would be 24 feet by 32 feet (VanGogh’s original was not even 2’ x 3’), and it would sit upon an 80 foot tall easel, the largest in the world. $150,000.00 was raised and the completed work was dedicated in 2001.

Continuing my 2+ hour sojourn I came upon a number of other notable finds:

In the 1950’s and early 1960’s Studebaker Motors of South Bend Indiana produced the “Hawk” in a number of variant forms. It was a design ahead of its time and from a styling and engineering standpoint it rivaled Chevrolet’s Corvette and Ford’s Thunderbird of that era. This lonely (1956?) model sits waiting for a tender heart and deep pocket to restore it’s former glory. Price unknown.

A few blocks later I encountered the equally forlorn (1951?) Hudson Hornet.

This was a low slung beast of a car weighing in at nearly 2 tons, and featuring what was then the largest 6 cylinder engine in the world. Capable of speeds in excess of 100 mph and featuring excellent handling, the Hornet was perhaps America’s first muscle car.

Known for it’s sturdy strength, if not its speed, was the depression era McCormick-Deering 10-20. This example likely dates to around 1928.

There was more…

How about a 28hp 1948-53 Allis-Chalmers WD in tricycle configuration parked next to a 1955 Ford Sedan Delivery Wagon…

Finally, central Kansas is known for its ability to produce food. Signs along the highway tout that each Kansas farmer feeds over 155 people.

Walking down a dusty road I found evidence that production (in this case corn) far exceeds the ability to market or deliver that commodity.

Literal mountains of grain lay near concrete silos already filled to capacity. Some of the grain was covered against the elements, but some was not.

Tariffs? Over-production? Distribution problems? I do not claim to know, but over 40 million Americans live in poverty… 1 in 8 Americans are deemed “food insecure”. There is something wrong with this picture.

Peace everyone. Pete

We landed back in Kansas City the evening of May 21st. Our daughter Alexis and her children were at the airport to greet us and drag our weary bones home. The flight home began with our arrival at Manchester England’s airport at 4:00 a.m. with a 6 a.m. international departure for Brussels Belgium, a layover, an 8 hour cross-Atlantic flight to Washington Dulles, another layover, and finally a flight of nearly 3 hours to Kansas City. The marvel of it all is that we arrived home by 8:30 p.m. on the same day that we departed. However, the effect of crossing 7 time zones meant that our bodies had been without any meaningful sleep for over 24 hours.

The cross-Atlantic segment was made a bit more pleasant as we secured a class upgrade. Bigger seats, two meals and a snack (with real plates and cutlery!), an “open bar”, and expanded entertainment options. I binged two movies, “Glass”, and “Arctic”, both of which I recommend. I started to watch “Aquaman” but soon found the premise and the acting to be all wet.

It didn’t take long for me to fall into the old routine. Up early the next day and mowed the lawn. Sifted through the pile of mail, sorting the “junk” from the important… I find it remarkable that even after 6 weeks the stack of “real” mail is pretty small, yet a few days of junk mail probably required the killing of a tree.
Our first priority was to glory in time with the grandchildren. Over the next few day we unpacked, did laundry, stocked the refrigerator, visited the barber, did some landscaping, enjoyed time with friends, took in a movie, and took our grandson Kane to a Kansas City Royals baseball game which was his birthday present that had been delayed by our travels.

On the road my possessions are contained within a backpack. It takes a house to contain them when we are not traveling. On the road the scope of our experience expands to cross states, countries, and continents.

Here in Kansas City most of what matters occurs within a few miles of our home. We miss our family and friends when we travel yet find and embrace new friendships as we wander. Paradoxically, I tend to be silent and a bit introverted here at home yet compelled to reach out with my “Thoughts” on a near daily basis during our journeys.

We were gone six weeks. Our 2018 Europe trip took 13 weeks, and our 2017 trip to Alaska and the Yukon was 12 weeks long. We have come to the conclusion that 6 weeks is long enough for any single journey. On the road I don’t eat or exercise as well as I should. The scale tells the disappointing tale upon my return. The grandchildren miss us, and we miss them. Nevertheless, before we landed my thoughts had already turned to considerations of our “Next Thing”.

Late last year I found a company in the Netherlands that provides on-line tools for converting a blog into a book. I spent about a week rearranging and modifying content from the posts I had written during our 13 week journey. The result was a 202 page full color coffee-table book that reads like a personal diary. We bought 6 copies, one for each of our children’s homes, one for my Mother, one for Christine’s Dad, and one for our home. I was very pleased with the results and will likely do the same thing with content from this most recent journey. The cost is not insignificant, but in the case of our children and grandchildren I consider the books to be an investment. I hold a special hope that our pursuits in retirement may become a model for our children as they journey through life, and a spark to ignite the imaginations of our grandchildren.


Since childhood I have embraced the notion of a “Next Thing”. Initially this was a product of daydreaming and an active imagination, but as I matured, the pursuit of the “Next Thing” became conscious and directed. “Next Things” excite the imagination and engage the spirit.

My life has been a series of these “Next Things”, some relatively minor and lost to a memory that fades with the passage of time. Others have been monumental. It has been my good fortune that fate gifted me a partner who embraces these things. Christine’s encouragement and participation have been a priceless part of the planning and execution of our “Next Things”.

We retired in the Spring of 2015. Retirement came easier for Christine as she naturally fell into the cadence of being the matriarch and grandmother extraordinaire to our family in Kansas City. For me, finding a new purpose was a bit more challenging. “Next Things” became central to my new purpose. “On the road” I find joy in sharing the sights, experiences, and my thoughts with others.

Don’t put off until tomorrow the things you may find you are then unable to do, and whatever you do in life may you always Have Fun, Do Good, and for the sake of those who love you, Be Safe!

-Peace Everyone. Pete

PS. We gratefully acknowledge the following: The many people who provided for our needs in the restaurants, hotels, and Bed & Breakfasts that hosted us. The brief encounters that became friendships were like the blossom of a flower, enjoyed in the beauty of the moment but soon to be a memory when the paths of life took us in different directions.

Our thanks to the staff of Andersen Boats and the many volunteers of the Canal and River Trust who as a labor of love maintain the remarkable canal system of the United Kingdom.

Our special thanks to Kris Ashton, Tom Shillington, Nanci Burns, and Huw and Nina Thomas who were each a treasured part of this adventure.

Thank you to those who follow us. You continue to give me a venue for expression that I would not otherwise have.

Lastly, we thank the ancient hands that created the towns, churches, castles, and monuments that are found throughout the United Kingdom and the Channel Islands. What they raised for either war or the glory of God has become a treasured heritage.