Saturday, August 27, 2016

Savoring Those Zen Moments

I had a zen moment when I was sitting on a bench beside the Missouri River the other day.  I had been running errands and took the time to sit by myself beside the river.  For the fifteen minutes or so that I sat there, there were no diesel locomotives blowing their horns as they passed by just fifty yards away and hauling nearly a hundred hoppers, the empty ones taken north and the ones full of coal taken south.

I had left my phone in the car and had no inclination to check it for text messages or for posts that someone made on Facebook. It was enough to sit there and absorb the moment while studying the trees that weren't killed off during the last flood and while remembering how much shade used to be present before a few of the trees were cut down.  Although it was hot and humid, those things were not unbearable and actually typical for this time of year.

I used to make a habit of walking beside the river on those afternoons that I taught downtown. Regardless of the season, I did some of my best thinking while sitting on a park bench--often thinking of what went well in the class that I had just finished teaching and what I needed to do in class the next time.

I think that there needs to be more zenlike moments in our lives--that is, times when we are able to concentrate with few distractions and without sitting in front of a screen or holding one up to our faces.  Once, when I was waiting outside of a restaurant one summer evening, an elderly man walking by congratulated me for not staring down at a cell phone. All of the seven or eight other people waiting outside were checking their phones for something or other.  My phone was left in the car. (I probably shared that story once before.) It stands to reason that I am not one who plays video games very often.

Is it an age thing? Are those people my age more content to sit quietly and observe the world around us?  I think we have come to appreciate those moments because they can occur infrequently and may not ever come again.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Fort Phil Kearny

One way in which I have learned to appreciate the region that I call home, that is, the Great Plains, has been to study its history.  I had the good fortune of taking a class from Craig Miner, the author of West of Wichita: Settling the High Plains of Kansas, when I was an undergraduate. I later studied with L. G. Moses, author of Wild West Shows and the Images of American Indians, 1883-1933, and whose graduate classes emphasized Native American history when I was at Oklahoma State University. I have also, of course, pursued my own reading into the history of this region, and these histories make up a significant number of the books in my collection.

About ten years ago, the students in my second-semester composition class were researching one of the soldiers buried at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery. Through my assigning this topic and conducting research as I refined the assignment, I came to learn about such things as the Kidder Massacre, Beecher Island, the engagements with the native tribes outside of Fort Wallace in 1867, the massacre of the Cheyenne at Sappa Creek, and the Grattan Massacre.  All of this research eventually led to the Fetterman Massacre, which occurred outside Fort Phil Kearny in December, 1866.

When my wife and I were in Wyoming recently, we spent part of a morning at Fort Phil Kearny and the site of the Fetterman massacre. The land around Fort Phil Kearny is as pretty as Bob Drury and Tom Clavin describe in their book The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend.

For those who wish to pursue their own research and who wish to learn more about Red Cloud's war, for example, I have to defer to the excellent books that have been written.

Highs and Lows of Wyoming

When traveling west across Wyoming on I-90, it is distressing to see the amount of environmental destruction around Gillette.  One of the largest strip mines in the US is visible from the highway. The coal used to power the energy plants in and around Kansas City comes from Gillette, for example. Gillette provides about a third of the coal used in the US. Some of the people that my wife and I came into contact with during our trip said that Gillette has been losing population because of the decreased demand for oil.  Hydraulic fracturing is another energy industry around Gillette. Dick Cheney, the vice-president under Bush, Jr., and the former CEO of Halliburton, the company that patented the process, was partly raised in Wyoming.

It was equally distressing when traveling south from Gillette, through Thunder Basin National Grassland, to discover that the Forest Service allows the grassland to be destroyed by the drilling for oil and gas and the extraction of coal. I was expecting to see miles of undisturbed grassland. I had even convinced my wife to alter our route so that we could travel through the grasslands instead of passing through Casper.

Despite these low points, we were fortunate to spend two nights in Buffalo, Wyoming, which is approximately halfway across the state. Our hotel room looked onto the Bighorn Mountains. On our second day in Buffalo, we drove the Cloud Peak Skyway, US 16, from Buffalo to Tensleep. That route offers a lot of mountain scenery--something that makes the trip across Wyoming worthwhile.  It wasn't until we returned home that I discovered that a high school classmate of mine lives outside of Buffalo. My wife and I have since talked about moving to Wyoming, probably somewhere within sight of the Bighorn Mountains.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Devil's Tower

During my trip in June to some of the western states, I managed to see Devil's Tower in eastern Wyoming for the first time. Although I had been to the Black Hills on two other occasions as an adult, it was the first time that I got a bit farther west to see Devil's Tower.  Many people probably associate the monument with aliens because of its appearance in the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.