I hope your Fourth of July was an especially good one. It was delightful to be out and about with things approaching some semblance of normal. It appears, though, that some modest precautions may still be in order for the foreseeable future. We have an epidemiologist neighbor, a researcher at the University, who has helped track the COVID situation in the state and advise state and local authorities on it. His take is that things should be generally okay through the summer in this part of the country. He has some concern about a potential flare-up in the fall as the new variant continues to thrive and people relax or disregard reasonable standards of prudence. State- and nation-wide, the vast majority of illnesses and deaths are attributable to the new strain. Please continue to take care.
It wasn’t my intention to turn this month’s newsletter into a medical journal or a travelogue, but I must mention one of the nicest outings my family has taken for a very long time. So -- please indulge me (or just go ahead and skip to the puns at the end of the letter). In June, the four of us – our daughter Karen from Springfield, Massachusetts, daughter Laura from Omaha, and Nita and I met at the Denver airport. The flights had been meticulously planned so all of us would arrive within minutes of one another. But, takeoff delays in Lincoln and Omaha caused three of the four of us to arrive late … really late. So – Karen, who got there first and picked up the rental car, had a nice time orbiting the terminal until the plane got in. I didn’t want to ask her how many times she drove past that Bronco statue at the airport entrance.
Karen was interested in seeing some of the sights in Western Nebraska that she had never been to or had seen only briefly years ago. She enjoys the history of the region, also. So, we drove first to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and spent the rest of that day and much of the next taking in the national monuments at Chimney Rock, Scottsbluff, and Agate Fossil Beds. All were fascinating places. Of all the sites along the Oregon Trail written about in the dairies of the 300,000 or so travelers who journeyed along it, Chimney Rock was most often mentioned. The National Park Service runs a very interesting gift shop there that has sold Battlefields of Nebraska and Boots and Saddles: Military Leaders of the American West for quite some time. Boots and Saddles was available on the shelf when we visited, but they were sold out of Battlefields of Nebraska. I asked them to order a new supply quickly because there was no telling what our bank account would look like when the trip was over. Meanwhile, Laura and Nita selected items to put into a wagon bed of the size most often used by travelers on the trail. Each replica item had the actual weight of a real piece inscribed on it. There was not a lot of room in the wagon and of course weight was a major consideration – too much and the teams of horses, mules, or (most often) oxen could not pull the stuff for much of any distance. Travelers in later years recalled abandoned items all along the trail that had been discarded because loads were too heavy. Nita and Laura did a good job of selecting necessary items that did not overload the wagon. I think, though, that the diet would probably have become repetitious in a hurry.
At Scottsbluff, we drove up the winding trail through the tunnels to the top of the bluff and got the great view of the Platte and surrounding area. The trail runs between that bluff and another facing it, through an area known as Mitchell Pass. Historic Fort Laramie stood not too far to the west as after the wagon trains made it through the pass.
Agate Fossil Beds is a different sort of neat place. It is decidedly off the beaten track but there is fascinating stuff to be seen there – fossilized remains of dinosaurs and all kinds of other prehistoric creatures. Nita and I had been first seen it years ago (no, the animals were not alive at the time); this was the first visit for Laura and Karen. We may try to go back again at some point. The weather was extra warm that day and we didn’t feel like trudging out to some of the more distant digs.
We left Agate Fossil Beds for Estes Park, Colorado, and Rocky Mountain National Park. Both are two of our favorite places in the world. Thanks to Karen’s good work, we stayed for the first time at a private residence rented by the owner. It was the first time we have done that, and our experience was a good one. The place was about half way up a hillside not too far from one of the entrances to the park. One entire side of the house was essentially glass, so we had incredible views of snow caps and pine forests. I think we could learn to adjust to that. Lots of wildlife – elk and deer, mostly – wandered through the grounds in the evenings. One afternoon when Nita stepped out onto the deck there was a fawn resting in the shade of a pine tree about forty feet away. We went for two long excursions into the national park (you need to reserve entrance times now, by the way). Great time as always. One of the jaunts was along Trail Ridge Road to the Continental Divide. The major excitement was that for the first time ever, we saw Big Horn sheep in the park. Their alleged presence had become sort of a standing joke in our family. Over the years we have been to the park many times, but we had never seen a Big Horn sheep. My daughters had begun to doubt their existence, thinking perhaps that Disney had animated a few replicas and scattered them somewhere in the park. (Although we had never seen the replicas, either.) This time we hit the jackpot. On our last day, as we were leaving the park, we came across an entire flock of them. The alpha ram with an impressive set of curled horns was on one side of the road and perhaps 15-20 more were on the other side near a small watering place.
During the days we didn’t venture into the park, the girls enjoyed shopping in the town and we played miniature golf –sort of a family tradition – at a course we have been going to for years. In the evenings we played cards: hotly contested games of pitch and Dammit (don’t ask; it’s a game Karen brought with her from her days in Las Vegas). In short, a wonderful time. Please excuse the digression.
I suppose I should include a few short words about writing, since that is what this website is supposed to be all about. As I mentioned last time, the first draft of what is prospectively titled “Glory in the Shadows: America’s Forgotten Military Leaders – Cold War to the Present Day” (or maybe “Cold War to the War on Terrorism: -- we’ll see what sings best with publishers) has at long last been completed. Brigadier General “Chip” Franck, USAF-retired – a friend from our days at Strategic Air Command and later a professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy, has been kind enough to take on the task of fact checking and offering comments on the manuscript for me. When Chip finishes, the next step will be a final editing scrub (to make shur the speling is gud and the gramer are correct). At that point, it will need to have an index built – I hope to use the guy who did the first two books in the series – and then at long last it can be sent to prospective publishers for their consideration. (Unless, of course, after reading the manuscript, Chip politely suggests that I may want to consider resuming my attempts to pitch for the Chicago Cubs.)
While work goes on with the manuscript, I have been fiddling a little bit with some prospective pieces of fiction. It’s too early and the stories are mostly too fuzzy to comment on right now.
Wait a second, though: here is a story that just occurred to me – it is a tale of adventure, romance, and the tragedy of a lost love. Let me know what you think of it:
General Sir Reginald Faversham Drysock, a brilliant young brigadier, was stationed at an isolated outpost deep in Africa. When his fiancée, Lady Magnolia Shrillwhistle, came to visit him she was tragically kidnapped by a passing band of Bedouins who took her to Casablanca and held her for ransom. Drysock set out immediately on a near-sighted camel named Maury, traveling across hundreds of miles of trackless desert in an attempt to rescue her. His quest was delayed when, due to Maury’s near-sightedness, they took a wrong turn at Marrakesh.
In the meantime, while Magnolia waited for his arrival, a Norwegian sardine fisherman whose boat was blown far off course by a storm in the North Sea happened to come ashore in North Africa. Hearing of Lady Magnolia’s tragic circumstance, he sold his entire catch of sardines and purchased her freedom. The Bedouins were enthralled by the taste of sardines, which had not previously been a standard part of their diet. So overwhelming was their response that the fisherman decided to stay and open a chain of drive-in sardine restaurants (later expanding the menu to include elk meat and frozen tundra salad). Lady Magnolia, grateful to him for her freedom, and taking note of his growing affluence, began a romantic relationship with him. (Drysock had been on the road a long time.) She and the fisherman fell deeply in love, had eleven children, and lived happily ever after.
When Drysock finally showed up, he was understandably distraught at having lost Magnolia. He resigned his commission and soon after fled to the United States where he joined a little known religious sect that believed there is a divine presence everywhere in the universe except maybe for a small part of southern New Jersey.
So, that’s it. What do you think? I hope in a subtle way it captures the adventure, the romance, the tragic sense of loss that so often distinguish the really great works of literature.
And, as if the story was not enough to send you on your way, here are a couple of TRULY AWFUL PUNS.
I was robbed by six dwarfs today.
A man was injured in a peek-a-boo accident...
He’s in ICU.
Best wishes for a great summer.