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Location: DownByTheRiver, Central Iowa, United States

Husband of the world's most wonderful wife, father of the world's four most brilliant children, grandfather to the world's eight most beautiful granddaughters and two handsomest grandsons

Sunday, October 23, 2005

A Soldier Marries

The RRR tells a story from the past. Because it's about a wedding it may seem strange that so much of it is about men. But there was only one woman that day... at least that I could see.

We turn back the calendar to this day in 1971. It was nine years since an unknown rock group from Liverpool called the Beatles had been the opening act for the angrily androgynous Little Richard on his British tour. Richard Nixon was president of the United States. Men had already walked on the moon. The rock concert at Woodstock was a fading memory. And the RRR, dressed in a borrowed suit stood shaking like a leaf in the wind at the front of a Baptist Church in northwest Iowa.

It was 20 minutes past 2 in the afternoon. The wedding had been supposed to start at 2 sharp. Pastor Ben, the gentle silver haired preacher, waited patiently with us in his office at the front of the sanctuary as it got later and later. My best man, younger brother "Pablo" practiced standing with his hands casually behind his back so the huge bandage on his injured thumb wouldn't show. He checked and re-checked that he had the ring. I paced the office.

What was going wrong? Had She changed her mind and disappeared? Was She ill? At about 2:15 I couldn't stand it anymore. I KNEW there had to be some sort of tragedy. I opened the exit door to the outside from the pastor's study intending to walk around to the front of the church to see what the hold up was. In front of me blocking the door stood my father's friend Roger. A WWII Navy vet and a blacksmith, he was as solid and immovable as an oak tree stump. "Get back in there." He stated flatly.

"But something's wrong, they're 15" late!"

Roger folded his massive arms across his barrel chest. "Everything will be fine. GET... BACK... IN... THERE...!" He had been a combat veteran fresh from the war, waiting at the front of a church 25 years before. No young groom with cold feet was going to escape past him.

I got back in there.

At twenty minutes past 2 the organist paused and the music at last changed to our cue. We went out and stood at the front of the church. The bride's maid was escorted to the front, but I didn't see her. Her daughter the flower girl, insufferably cute must have scattered rose petals, I didn't even notice. I was looking at my mentors and role models. My father who raised me to work hard, shoot straight and tell the truth. His father, my grandpa, hill billy, hobo, cowboy, horse whisperer, farmer, fisherman. Uncle Elmer, the ex-marine who was in some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific. Uncle Dale, toting his 8mm camera that recorded the only pictures we still have of that day. He flew C-47 Sky Trains in WWII. His son, cousin Jim, recently returned from the war I had been in three weeks before, a hot-shot helicopter gunship pilot. My grandmother's brother who fought in the trenches in France in WWI. My soon to be brother-in-law Richard, husband of the bridesmaid, father of the flower girl, and veteran of the Korean War. The men of the church and the relatives who had watched me grow, advised me, taught me. Strong, brave men. God fearing, proud and hard working. Brothers in arms.

Then the music changed, the congregation stood and in walked my future father-in-law escorting the most beautiful woman in the world, his daughter, to give away to this stranger. Walt had his problems. A marriage that wouldn't work, a career as a preacher that dissolved when the marriage did. He lived in a shack without plumbing on a bluff over the Missouri River. He roofed one house at a time with Teutonic deliberation and precision for small pay. He wandered the west in a Jeep station wagon toting his roofing tools and ladders from one job to another. He wore an ancient suit and a look of pride and carried himself with dignity.

But when he turned the corner to the center aisle and started down, matching his speed to that off the Wedding March, I wasn't looking at him. My bride, wearing the dress she and her sister had stayed up three days and nights sewing, clung to his arm and walked towards me, her face glowing with love and happiness. She had already put up with more than most women would have stood for. In the rage and shame of a boy turned into a man overnight in battle, I had tried to break off our engagement seeing myself as too tainted and unlovable to be a husband and father. She would have none of it. She told me I'd have to come home and take the engagement ring off her finger myself. I'd come home. And now I was ready to put another one on the finger with it.

"Who gives this woman to be wed?" Pastor Ben asked.

"I do!" Walt exclaimed and strode to the back of the church and sat down under the balcony. His hurt pride wouldn't allow him to say "Her mother and I", nor to sit by his ex-wife at the front. I looked into my bride's eyes and saw that same stubbornness and pride that would carry us through 34 years to this day and I saw all the love a woman has in her heart to give. I took her hand in mine and we turned toward Pastor Ben to recite the ancient ritual.

34 years today. Tonight she woke me up to go to work and gave me a slice of fresh baked bread and told me she loved me. You can guess, Ranger Readers, that I consider myself the luckiest man in the world. You guess right.

Friday, October 21, 2005


This is one of the appearance and size that Mrs. RRR accidentally stepped on in The Basin. Note: She was wearing sandal's!

A Good Mystic Is Hard To Find

Today's thought from Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and mystic.

"When I am liberated by silence, when I am no longer involved in the measurement of life, but in the living of it, I can discover a form of prayer in which there is effectively, no distraction.  My whole life becomes a prayer.  My whole silence is full of prayer.  The world of silence in which I am immersed contributes to my prayer."

page 93, Thoughts In Solitude

That's why the RRR takes long float trips down quiet rivers and hikes in the desert.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Carmel Mountains Deer

This is a doe and fawn of the rare type seen by Mrs. RRR and I on our trek to the Window.


Here it is, and note from dictionary.com that it is referred to as a "hog".

collared peccary
A small wild hog (Tayassu tajacu) with a range from the southwest United States to northern Argentina, having a gray and black coat with a white band from the back to the chest. Also called javelina.

The Window

Wednesday I returned home from working an unexpected night shift in the Big City. Fall is in central Iowa. The leaves are changing colors and falling. It was about 70 (f). The house was filled with the wonderful smell of the steak and onions Mrs. RRR had simmering in the crock pot. I fell asleep to the smell and awakened to her arriving home. We had steak and sweet corn from last summer's garden and Mrs. RRR's homemade whole wheat bread with jam made from Elder Raymond's peaches.

After our devotions we packed up Bay Toe Ven and drove over to the woods below the dam for a walk through the fall colors. Bay ran back and forth, sticking his nose into clumps of grass, flushing pheasants from their hiding places, chasing fat squirrels up trees and, like us, staring dumbfounded at the graceful beauty of white tailed deer. And that took Mrs. RRR and I back to August and the Deep Desert...

We had awakened to the slow creep of sunlight into the Basin. With mountains between us and the sun it was light hours before it actually rose above the peaks. The scenery was every bit as spectacular as the moonlight the night before had predicted. We crawled out of the tent to find ourselves in what appeared to be a giant volcanic crater. It is not, of course. The basin is just the lowest area in the center of the Chisos mountains. Straight to the south from our campsite was a low pass through the rock Basin perimeter called the Window. We wanted to go see it, but first had the daily issues of housekeeping. Around the tent and the campsite I saw dozens of small, cloven hoofprints. I knew we had night time visitors and from the smell what they were, but I figured the revelation could wait. We breakfasted and broke camp and drove up to the Lodge area of the basin to register. We discovered that while a week's access to Big Bend is only $14, each night in the basin campground would cost us $10 more.

More importantly we got a couple of maps and very best of all, six wicked looking long steel tent stakes like giant nails. One for each corner of the tent and one for the guy rope on each end. Those six stakes would earn the 75 cents each cost over and over for the rest of the trip. The literature had the usual terrible warnings about the danger of the desert and suggested never walking between noon and 4 p.m. We returned to the campground and decided to pick a much better spot and stay one more night and walk the Window Trail that day. We picked one with soft grass to put the tent on and Mrs. RRR went to use the restroom while I set things up. From 100 feet away I again heard her imperative calling of my name and then, "what IS that?". "That" was a javelina or peccary. The maker of the hoof prints had returned.

The guide books will tell you the javelina is not a pig. Stuff and nonsense. It is a pig. A hairy pig to be sure. And one with the scent glands of a skunk and a long sharp tooth sticking out of the side of each jaw like a javelin, hence the Spanish name... but a pig. It has the nose of a pig, it roots like a pig, squeals like a pig and even tastes like a pig. It is a pig. They are only dangerous in groups and this one was alone, so I walked over and squatted down and looked him in the eye and we silently communicated, one omnivorous predator to another. He wandered away.

At 1 p.m., the worst possible time for desert heat, we started down the trail. We each carried a walking stick. Hers is four feet tall and made of a sapling, with a tiny compass in the top. Mine is six feet and made of white wax wood from China, the source of spear shafts and kendo sticks for maybe 30 centuries. We each carried that day and every day a soft sided 2 quart U.S. Army canteen on a strap over one shoulder. Mrs. RRR wore her new hiking boots, I decided to stick with my New Balance 608's to see how they handled the desert. I returned sold on them. My leather boots never got out of the car and I'm wearing the same 608's as I write this. We both wore hats to keep off the sun, hers a desert hat of the French Foriegn Legion type and mine a surplus U.S. Army bush hat such as is worn by the troops in Iraq. We both wore heavy jeans to ward off thorns. She wisely wore a loose, cool, long sleeved cotton shirt, I a tee-shirt.

It didn't take us long to discover that speed across the desert slows down much as time on a slow river does. One to one and one half miles an hour is it. And the fuel is water, a quart an hour. This was a 3 mile hike and we could easily have used another quart each. The trail took us down a canyon towards the Window. We were roughly following the arroyo, Spanish for dry stream bed. Some few mesquite trees arched over the trail providing shade. And cactus. Cactus everywhere. The Prickly Pear were blooming with lovely red fruit. Mrs. RRR stopped to pick one and quickly dropped it. They are covered with tiny, hair like thorns that embed instantly into the skin. That brief touch buried hundreds into her thumb and forefinger. Out came my Swiss Army knife and its tweezers and I plucked them out, stopping often to wipe sweat from my eyes. Oh yes, more vital equipment for the desert, a large handkerchief or bandana. Mine was the triangular one issued by the Army. I wear one in hot weather knotted loosely about my neck, in cold weather tucked in a pocket. I've used them for almost everything from dishcloth to hotpad to makeshift shirt sleeves.

I didn't get all the thorns naturally and even now months later a small piece of prickly pear thorn will occasionally work itself out of my lower leg where it broke off after penetrating my jeans those months back. We began to see Octillo, or octopus cactus because it has long green arms like an octopus reaching up to the sky and many other types. And the insects and other bugs. Scorpions and their relatives with their hooked stinger tails and evil dispositions. The heat grew as the sun pounded down into the canyon. We stopped to rest in the shade of a wild olive tree by a damp place in the arroyo and I looked down the stream bed and touched Mrs. RRR's arm and pointed. It was a rare deer. A sub-species of white tale that lives only in Big Bend and on a mountain in Mexico. Few people ever see them. His antlers were still covered with velvet. He was pawing at a damp spot in the arroyo to find water. The sunlight beamed down through a break in the trees and spotlighted him. I was delighted.

We left him alone and quietly continued downward. We owed the ease of our travel to the CCC. During the Great Depression the Civilian Conservation Corps built trails all through the Basin and the rest of Big Bend. Our speed of 1 1/2 mph would have been cut to half that if not for the steps they chiseled into the rock and the switch backs they made. Always ahead we got glimpses of the notch in the rock wall below which rested the Window. At last we heard something. Water running! We backtracked a little and found where the tiny thread of water was running over the rocks. As we continued on it would sink into the sand for a while then emerge again. The canyon got narrower and deeper. The trail became toe holds blasted out of the face of the canyon wall. Then ahead of us, an opening maybe 10 feet wide and 20 feet high. The true widow. In dry weather like this, a perch overlooking the splendid view of the desert floor hundreds of feet below. During and right after a rain it is the head of a waterfall and the area where we stood would be a roaring torrent. A cool breeze blew in the Window. We sat and sipped from our canteens and wondered at the beauty. After a long rest we headed back. The trip up the canyon took even longer as we were climbing. When we returned to the campsite the sun had already dipped behind the mountain peaks to the west. I made us supper and we sat at the picnic table sipping our coffee, still under the spell of what we'd seen and experienced.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Moon

Mrs. RRR and I drove south west from Dallas, leaving the Famous Country Western Singer's ranch early in the morning and driving on and on. The heavily loaded Green Hornet hummed along, its new engine and transmission (courtesy www.cncmotors.com) performing flawlessly. At 60 mph, 50 miles per gallon. At 70 with the airconditioning on, 41 miles per gallon. And south west. And south west. On and on. First through the oil fields that fed the Bush fortunes. Then on. And the earth grew browner, the vegetation more dispersed. We saw more and more cactus. Some I recognized, some I didn't.

On toward evening we got to the north entrance. Closed. "Continue on or pick a camping spot and register in the morning" the sign said. We continued. We got to the park headquarters at Panther Junction about an hour before dark. Closed. We drove up into the Basin. An alpine region in the only mountain range in America completely enclosed in a National Park. We found the campground. Maybe one in ten campsites were taken. Fierce warnings to conserve water. No electricity. We sat up the tent by flash light. The ground was gravel and rock. The French Foreign Legion tent uses 16 wire stakes. Three went in without bending. The clang of the Swiss Army entrenching tool driving them echoed off the cliffs. I had the feeling I was desecrating the silence like shouting obscenities in a temple. Finally I found rocks and tied off the guy ropes (8) and built cairns around the end ones.

Suddenly Mrs. RRR called to me in the voice she uses for genuine emergencies. "Get over here NOW and bring your flashlight!" She had accidentally stepped on a tarantula the size of my hand. It spun in a circle around the two broken legs she'd stepped on, looking for an enemy to bite. Mrs. RRR whom I'd promised I would keep safe, was less than impressed. I stomped it out its misery, shuddering at the bulk of it under my foot. Tarantulas and one of the more impressive of the bugs God made. I didn't like having to kill it, but could hardly have left it alive under those conditions. It was no surprise to me to find it was the first one seen all summer in the Basin. Somehow it only made sense that Mrs. RRR who has seldom camped and was a total stranger to the desert had stepped on it in the dark. She quickly retreated to the tent and unrolled the self-inflating mattresses and the sleeping bags while I puttered about stashing gear and neatening the camp.

My attention was drawn to Casa Grande, the towering mountain that looms over the east side of the basin. There seemed to be a city behind it. The night sky had that much glow. Soon the whole mountain was outlined in white light. I stood awestruck as the white turned to silver. Then a brilliant silver sliver of light rose above the exact center of Casa Grande. And grew bigger and rose higher. My mouth hung open. The full moon in a glory I've never seen rose majestically above the mountain's flat top. The whole basin was illuminated. The silver light showed the ring of cliffs and spires. The feeling I was in a temple returned. But now I was not the interloper, I was part of the worship. The flattened tarantula was no sign of what was to come... this was. I knew what I'd come to seek was there to be found.

I crawled into the tent and zipped up the netting, but left the flaps open. All through the night I would awaken from a dreamless sleep and watch the full moon slowly treading its path out the south facing tent door, then snuggle back up to Mrs. RRR and sink back into nothingness.

I Just Keep Trying

The RRR sputters to a stop describing his time in the desert. I've been trying since August to put into words the experience that Mrs. RRR and I shared in the Deep Desert of Big Bend Texas. I have a draft of a blog going into camping gear, plans, maps, etc. and it just keeps getting longer, then I revise it in disgust and start over. It's too much to tell, I guess.

So Ranger Readers will start getting one experience at a time..