Monday, July 14, 2014

America: The Movie

           On July 3, the family rolled into Missoula and settled into the middle of middle American vacation culture, a KOA Campground.   Everyone’s needs are met.  A little grass, a few trees, cable television, reliable wifi, clean bathrooms and showers, efficient laundry facilities, putt-putt, swimming pool, hot tub, buffet breakfast each morning, and ice cream social at night.  People in tents, people in cabins, people in the full range of travel trailers from pop-ups, bumper pull, 5th-wheel, and luxury bus.  KOA is more expensive than our usual choices, but every so often, we need to splurge and calm everyone’s anxieties and frustrations.   The staff was extremely cheerful and helpful, and omnipresent.  So many 60-plus aged people in yellow shirts walking around, driving around in golf carts, I felt there was a machine in the back office producing these folks.  Or maybe it was more like Agent Smith in The Matrix.  Yellow shirts just replicate wherever needed at that moment.
Getting Ready to Celebrate
            Don’t get me wrong.  We stayed there five nights.  I was very happy there.  The boys were happy, and Knightsmama was happy.   Our joy began the instant we stopped at the registration desk, and the staff asked, “Would you be needing a ride to the Fourth of July celebration? We will have a couple of busses available to help people get to the fireworks.”
            “Sure.” I said.  “How much would it cost?”
            “Nothing.  It’s free.  We are just trying to keep an accurate count.”
            “Where do I sign?  There’s four of us.”
I love Fourth of July Celebrations.  I tend to dislike crowds, except on a few particular occasions.  Fourth of July is one of those occasions.  I love sitting among a bunch of folks—on blankets eating picnic dinners or in lawn chairs guzzling water to stay cool, it doesn’t much matter.  I prefer the wicker basket, crisp gingham table cloth, chilled white wine, fried chicken, German potato salad, and a symphony playing Gershwin and Broadway standards.  But I’ll enjoy danged near anything.  Usually, though, the only problem is getting there and getting home.  I hate sitting in traffic.  I love my fellow citizens, but there are just so many of us, with motors running.
            In Missoula, the Fourth of July celebration occurs in the parking lot in the mall, which is sort of close to the Clark River winding through town.  Two rented school busses dropped off the KOAers.  The yellow busses had “Hellgate” painted on the sides.  For some reason I thought about Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.  Perfect, all of us mortal muggles about to duplicate the journeys of Odysseus and Dante.  No fear.  We just went to the mall. 
Where Are We Going?
            When we arrived, the Missoula City Band, a kind of pops symphonic band of maybe 50 citizens, was playing off in the corner of the parking lot.  The Boy Scouts had set up a couple of trailers along the edge selling hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, sodas, and water.  They were also passing out flags.  When I purchased some popcorn, I nabbed a couple of Old Glories on a Stick.  It was about 9:00 when we arrived and the parking lot was filling up.  We found an open section about fifty yards from the stage, set up our chairs, and enjoyed the music as the sun settled behind the Montana mountains.  It gets dark late here, so we got to hear a lot of music, by what I am guessing is volunteer band.  That is not a veiled criticism.  The Missoula City Symphonic Band, including musicians of all ages it appeared, was tight and peppy. There was some speechifying and thank you’s, the inevitable television news hosts fulfilling their roles as civic representatives, and the band conductor with bad jokes.  But I greatly enjoyed the music.  We got to hear “America, the Beautiful”; The Armed Forces Anthems (appropriate veterans standing while their anthem played, receiving applause from the audience in gratitude for their service); Stars and Stripes Forever; He's a Grand Ole Flag; My Old Kentucky Home; When the Saints Come Marching in; Alexander's Rag Time Band; The Entertainer; and more.  I had smuggled in a couple of cans of Big Sky Moose Drool Brown Ale, so I sat backed, sipped, waved my little flag, and soaked in a sweet evening celebrating the founding of this nation.  And then, the band stopped, and the fireworks began and blasted away for a good long while.  It was a great show.  A terrific evening.  Sentimental as all get out, I suppose, but, really, can we be cynical about all this?  I love my fellow Americans!
So, having said all this, let’s be clear.  I am a corny, patriotism-loving American.  I think we are a great nation.  I think the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution are exceptional documents.  I honor the honor and talents of the men and women who serve in the armed forces.  But I am also a liberal academic.  I do not watch Fox News.  I watch MSNBC, Jon Stewart, and Stephen Colbert. 
And today, July 12, when the family began discussing movies that our boys might want to see in Bozeman, on this beautiful Saturday afternoon, and Knightsmama read out loud that America:  The Movie was playing, oh, I just had to go to Bozeman and see that movie while the boys watched their movies.  22 Jumpstreet for Dr. J. and How to Tame a Dragon II for Captain Crunch.  (Knightsmama got her bangs trimmed.)
America:  The Movie is a new political film written by Dinesh D’Souza, another academic who has become over the years one of the leading voices of the Conservative Movement in the United States.  Over the years, I had seen his name on books and heard references on this or that television discussion.   In ordinary times, I would not seek out his work, but I had an open mind, generally, toward him.  For some reason I thought he was one of the more intelligent of the conservative pundits—like William Buckley, George Will, or David Brooks—and not one of the agitating entertainers, such as Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, or Sean Hannity. 
Peace, America
I am on this long trip, living with restricted time and access to information, so forgive me for quoting Wikipedia.  D’Souza has said that his brand of conservative belief is “’conserving the principles of the American Revolution’” and is a blend of classical liberalism and ancient virtue, in particular, ‘the belief that there are moral standards in the universe and that living up to them is the best way to have a full and happy life’”  I agree with that.  I really do, and could have phrased my values in very similar terms.  “He also argues against what he calls the modern liberal belief that ‘human nature is intrinsically good’, and thus that ‘the great conflicts in the world...arise out of terrible misunderstandings that can be corrected through ongoing conversation and through the mediation of the United Nations.’” Well, according to D’Souza, I am not a Liberal, because I do not believe people are intrinsically good.  I have no idea what they are intrinsically.  I know that some people turn out to be mean and cruel, and some people turn out to be kind and loving.  Often these contradictory behaviors are displayed in the same person, but in different times and places.   
My point is that I showed up at America: The Movie.  I am not a fan of D’Souza, but in me lives a strain of conservative thought that predates the current Conservative Movement. 
First, just let me say that the movie is a mess.  It is really three movies in one.  It is a “what if,” an argument against a liberal interpretation of American history, and a political campaign film.  None of these are connected in any cogent manner.  Each is a mini-film contained in the larger film.  The movie begins with the first theme portrayed in historical re-enactments, asking the simple question, “What if there were no America?”  It foregrounds the question by having General George Washington lead a charge into battle and being shot.  All of a sudden, the force and energy depart from the American Revolution.  Sad music.  Downcast looks.  Lady Liberty crumbles, as does Mount Rushmore.  So in the middle of our CGI despair no one bothers to notice that the movie ignores at least two questions:  “Why would George be so stupid to lead a charge and make himself vulnerable? “ And “With so many Founding Fathers why would the death of George Washington so quickly end the revolution?”  Did everything that “America:  The Reality” really depend of one man?   But no matter.  Here I am quibbling over the presentation, not the substance.  The substance—what would the U.S. be (and thus what would we, the audience, be) if the U.S. had lost the revolution?—I think can be answered by looking at Canada and Australia, and the home country, Great Britain?  We would not be the complicated—United through Diversity—country we are now.  Maybe we would be what the Tea Party and Right Wing wish we could be.  A country run by Conservative White People.  
But the real answer is impossible to postulate and any attempt is simply fantasy.  Thus it is a stupid question for substantive political discussion.  It is the stuff of an easy Freshman Composition or Freshman American History course created merely to sus out if students had read their assignments.  It’s on the level of “If you were to direct a movie of The Adventures of Lewis and Clark, which actors would you chose to portray the main characters, and why.” 
            The second part of the movie, the longest, is an interesting argument with one portion of the Liberal Left.  At its core, I believe, it is a worthwhile argument to engage in.  For some time now, there has existed in the United States a fight over who will tell our history and what that history will be.  Are we the good and great nation that is the beacon of freedom and prosperity for the world?  Or are we a nation created and built upon a great deal of greed, cruelty, and theft.  I could present the debate this way:  Are we the Rebel Alliance or the Galactic Empire?  Luke Skywalker or Darth Vadar?  Do we use The Force for good or evil? 
            Good, Conservative Republicans, of course, believe they are part of the Rebel Alliance fighting for freedom, equality, and the American Way.  Good, Liberal Democrats also believe they are fighting for freedom and equality, but they recognize that in our four hundred year history, we immigrants to this continent have made some gigantic mistakes.  Several times in America: The Movie, D’Souza identifies what really angers Conservatives about the Left.  The Left attempts to shame good, old typical Americans.  The Left has the audacity to say that we good citizens have what we have because of some misdeeds by previous and current Americans.  And because, in the minds of good Americans, there is no difference between us and George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan (I think these are the main heroes), Texans in the Alamo, Union Soldiers, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates.  “Criticize the actions of previous Americans and you criticize me”—or so this seems to be the thinking.  (I wonder what Southern Tea Partiers think of this?  No where is the “Southern Way of Life” defended. And Lincoln is praised repeatedly.)
            D’Souza identifies five arguments that the Left makes to force us to feel shame about ourselves as Americans.  1.  The “genocide” of Native Americans.  2. The “theft” of New Mexico, Arizona, California from Mexico.  3.  The slavery of Africans.  4.  Our imperialist behaviors. 5.  The cruelty of Capitalism.   Personally, I think all these are very interesting areas of discussion.   In my travels through the U.S. this year, I have forced myself to confront many of these issues.  At this very moment, I am in Montana visiting many sites associated with Lewis and Clark.  In two days I will visit the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn, and a day or two later, I will visit the site of Wounded Knee.  On this journey, we have visited Plimouth Plantation, Minute Man Statue, Independence Hall, Seneca Falls, Newport, Stonewall Inn, Mount Vernon, Harper’s Ferry, Vietnam War Memorial, Dealey Plaza, a mission in Santa Fe, Mesa Verde, Hoover Dam, Alcatraz, and Fort Clatsop.  You cannot tell me our history is not complicated. 
Lewis and Clark Pointing the Way
for Americans into Indian Territory
            I watched this movie and witnessed the tricks with which D’Souza slyly slips out of the ropes of history.  I should say that the kind of arguments he makes are impossible to make clearly and substantively in a movie.  This is the stuff of books, many books, and scholarly articles.  Movies, as a visual medium, are inherently emotional.  If not, they are boring and people won’t pay to cover the multi-million dollar cost of making the movie.   The arguments D’Souza wants to build cannot be constructed in the five to ten minutes he allots to each one.  So, the person paying attention (and not watching just to feel his or her emotions tweaked) gives up, sits back, and lets the simplicity wash over.  Really, should Native Americans feel better about their lot because disease killed more of their ancestors than bullets?  Should we absolve everyone in the Mexican War because today some Mexican-Americans in the Southwest would rather be Mexican-Americans than Mexican-Mexicans?  Should  African Americans forgive their ancestors’ enslavement because some slave owners were Black and many whites were indentured servants?  Should we ignore the fact that the U.S. has been involved in many ignoble coups d’états and wars such as Vietnam and Iraq because, well, we should not hurt the feelings of our soldiers by telling them that they fought in something fraudulent and perhaps illegal.  Should we not criticize capitalism because, well, I can’t make a hamburger at home as cheaply as a fast food restaurant and because I want an Iphone with all the goodies?  These, in essence, are D’Souza’s refutations. 
            But his real argument is:  aren’t you good Americans, hard working and all, tired of a bunch of liberal academics and general lazy bastards telling you that your peace and comfort has come at a price to others.  Mr. Montana rancher, aren’t you angry that someone points out that the land you own once was home to the ancestors of the Native Americans now on a reservation?  Mr. Welder, you celebrate capitalism, don’t you, even though you are un-employed because your employer moved his shop to Mexico?  That’s capitalism, remember, rah, rah.  African American business woman, now that you are a success you have forgotten, haven’t you, that it took three generations out of slavery for your family to become middle class?
            The last third of the movie transitions from our history lesson and begins an out and out attack on the Left and the Democratic Party and, drumroll, The Sixties.  Remember The Sixties.  The community organizer Saul Alinsky is identified as the source of all this evil unleashed upon us good Americans.  If you don’t know him, he wrote a book, Rules for Radicals, which supposedly became the Bible for all those troublemakers who have wanted to make you feel guilty for being a “have.”   But that is just supporting material.  I can’t help but believe that the real reason for this movie was to begin the campaign for 2016.  We all know that Obama is bad, right?  So now we have to show that Hillary is going to be worse.  Otherwise, why dramatize Hillary Clinton as a high school student meeting a left-leaning Methodist Preacher?  Why have Rand Paul discoursing on the dangers of the current state surveillance?  
            You know, I could go on.  I have gone on, and even cut many words from this blog.  (Difficult to believe, I know.)  So I will make two last points.  I think D’Souza is correct in saying that Academia is primarily Left leaning.  It might be an interesting discussion to figure out why.  Part of the answer might be that education and facts have an effect on one’s thinking.  Another part might be that for various reasons, a certain kind of person, one who is not an American Go-Getter, began finding the comforts and joys of talking about ideas appealing.  Whatever.  I also think, after watching my teachers and colleagues for over forty years, that often my Liberal friends have shamed, called stupid, and otherwise rudely treated their Conservative and Christian students.  Some teachers possessed real missionary political agendas.  And the result of their missionary zeal was the same as all such efforts.  Some students were converted, and some grew tired of the oppression and now they are voting Republican.  
            My second last point is History is a Bitch.  This is where I think I separate myself from both my Liberal and Conservative friends.  History doesn’t always take you where you want to go.  D’Souza and his ilk want to point out that the Sixties were the beginnings of everything bad.  But before that there were the fifties (Conservatives blacklisted innocent Liberals).  Before that the thirties (Some Liberal over-reach?), and so on.  Where does history stop? 
O'er the Land of the Free
And the Home of the Brave
If one is going to “fix” the present, by returning to a moment in the past, somebody gets screwed.  Liberal friends, the same holds true for Native American history.  It wasn’t like there was a moment when everything was perfect and everyone agreed on where boundaries should exist.  And I am sorry, but it wasn’t like Africans or the Aztecs lived sweet lives without cruelty and war.   At what point do I get to stop feeling guilty and trying to right the wrongs of my ancestors?  At what point must I stop complaining about being on the losing side of some past conflict?  While I disagree with D’Souza and believe that the facts show that each of his five dreaded points are historically true,  I don’t know what, today, we are supposed to do about it.  Give back all lands to Native Americans?  Return Arizona to Mexico?  Shoot, we can’t adequately repay our veterans for their service, today. How are we supposed to make reparations to each person who has found an ancestor wronged by the American political and economic machine?  
            This is the thing.  D’Souza never says what Obama and Clinton and all the dreadful Liberals want to do to us because they believe we are all guilty of something.  I certainly don’t know either.  But I don’t think that white washing history is the start.  D’Souza says that Conservatives don’t believe that people are inherently good; then, why are they insulted when someone points out that our ancestors weren’t perfect? 
            Oh.  By the way.  Don’t go see America: The Movie.  I recommend America: The Nation.  


Soundtrack.  Jesse Colin Young:  "Get Together."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Vibration of One Person Believing


On July 3, the Caravan of Wonder moseyed its way south from Coram, Montana through Big Fork, along the eastern shore of Flathead Lake, through Polson, where we ate lunch in a Wal-Mart Parking lot and resisted the rusty, flaky appeal of The Miracle of American Museum, and finally into Missoula, where we enjoyed the luxuries of a very well maintained KOA Campground.  We usually avoid the pricier campgrounds, but every so often we need pools and hot tubs, reliable wifi and such.
At the KOA in Missoula
            At the campground, Captain Crunch made friends with a girl his age, who was camping with her mother and a family friend. They were visiting from Spokane.  The dad had remained at home to tend their horses.  The family friend was a young woman whose husband is deployed in Afghanistan.  So we were in heaven.  Captain Crunch had a friend; Knightsmama had women to drink wine with, Dr. J. had wifi; and I had some time to write the fifth essay for the class I am taking.  We have been reading the Journals of Lewis and Clark.  I don’t have much faith in the essay I wrote—it is rather difficult to believe that one has said much of importance, let alone with sense and accuracy, when one has two weeks to read a book, locate several other books and articles, and find something to say that is not out and out theft.  If you care, that essay is located here.
            A piece of unplanned luck occurred, however, as we enjoyed the Fourth of July weekend in Missoula.  Nearby is a little state park called Traveler’s Rest.  The park is lucky to have a really dedicated group of citizens that support it.  It really is a tiny park, no camping or anything like that.  It sits on the West Fork of Lolo Creek, a few miles south of Missoula.  It includes a rather large open field with a DAR plaque, and a quite adequate museum with interesting and well-organized displays concerning Native American and Western cultural practices.  The heart of the park, however, is a field out back, smaller than a football field, behind the buildings alongside the creek.  It is there that Native American Tribes camped, and where Lewis and Clark bivouacked both on their way west, September 9 - 11, 1805, and again from June 30 - July 3, 1806, on their way back east.   Did you notice the date?  We were visiting July the Fourth,  two hundred and six years and one day later.
Kinghtsmama and the Major Dude Join
the Lewis and Clark Expedition
            Until recently, people didn’t really know exactly where this camp was situated.  Everyone knew that the expedition had traveled through the area, but, you know, people didn’t leave signage everywhere they camped, and it has been two hundred years.  What is more, it is not that the Lewis and Clark Expedition achieved instant iconic status in the American imagination.   For centuries, this land was owned by ranchers who did what ranchers do—let the land feed their stock until they sold the stock to feed us.
            But as time passes, sometimes certain historical moments begin to rise in the collective imagination.  By the 1960’s, Traveler’s Rest—this is what William Clark called it—made it’s way generally on to a list of national historic places.  I say “generally” because no one knew exactly where it was.  We sort of knew—you know, like, “It was over there along one of those creeks.” 
            Now, I don’t know the full story.  Maybe one day I will do enough research to get the full story. But you know how it is, and I am guessing, but several imminent historians like David Lavender and Stephen Ambrose write books like The Way to the Western Sea (1988) and Undaunted Courage (1996) respectively, and the bicentennial of the expedition begins to loom, a concerned group of local history junkies start talking and organizing, and then before you know it a hydrogeologist and history buff, Robert N. Bergantino, starts reading the journals very carefully.  In 1998, he writes up a little paper, that I guess he distributes among like-minded buffs.   It is still unpublished, as far as I know.   Then by 2002, somebody gets a grant to pay for an archeological study that really nails some things down. There is a report if we can find it: 
Hall, Daniel S., William A. Babcock, Susan L. Knudsen, Jamie R. Lockman, Noel L. Philip, Frederick R. Higgins, Natalie R. Morrow, and William Eckerle. 2003. Travelers Rest National Historic Landmark: Validation and Verification of a Lewis and Clark Campsite. Report prepared for Missoula County Office of Planning and Grants, Missoula, MT.
I haven’t found it.  Instead, I am relying on a National Historic Landmark Nomination, NPS Form 10-900, OMB Number 1024-0018, which you can read for yourself and more carefully than I have.
West Branch of Lolo Creek
            But the short of it is that they found some small but significant evidence that Lewis and Clark had camped in this one particular area beside the creek.  This evidence included a button and a blue bead.  It included some basic evidence of kitchen set up and a latrine, arranged, significantly, in the manner recommended in military manuals of the day.  And remember than both Lewis and Clark were Captains in the Army and most of their men were sergeants or privates.   The fact that everyone loves to repeat is that samples were taken from the latrine and these were analyzed.  What did they find?  Raised levels of mercury.  Why is this important?  Well, we know from the journals that one of the most important medicines that Lewis and Clark gave their men was Dr. Benjamin Rush’s Pills, which contained very high levels of mercury.  For the scatological among you, these pills were nicknamed “Thunder Clappers” because of the great rush of diarrhea they produced.  For the prurient among you, these pills had many uses but one important use was as a cure for syphilis, which the Lewis’s and Clark’s journals report several men suffered from due to their liaisons with Native American women.
            So now nine hundred words into this post let me get to my point:  One of the themes of the Caravan of Wonder that has textured our daily observations is that often it is the determined work of one person, a lone citizen, maybe two, and sometimes a small group, that has enticed, persuaded, a community, a state, a nation to understand the significance of a natural or historical site. 
            Now, of course, I am writing here only of recent history.  I am speaking here only of the history of the invaders, the Europeans and, later, the Americans.  I think some would argue that things were just Hunky Dory until the White Man showed up.  There was no need to protect or preserve natural sites in State and National Parks because they were not under threat from a rapacious greed that wanted to turn every rock and tree into profit.   And the truth is I have not attempted to learn all that much about what history was preserved by Native Americans and shared among themselves. 
            One example:  was anyone protecting, studying, discussing the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde before Richard Wetherill and his brothers learned of them from an Ute and then later stumbled upon them in 1888 and began collecting and cataloging artifacts?  Well, the Ute said that the place was sacred and nobody went up there.  But Wetherill went and he even brought a photographer and professional explorer types.  Sure, together, they did a great deal of damage.  And, sure, it can well be argued that there was a higher ownership than theirs.  But by 1906, the land belonged to the United States government and was, generally, protected.
The Caravan in Joshua Tree NP
            Or what about James Larkin White who “discovered” and promoted Carlsbad Caverns.  In 1898, the sixteen-year old Larkin was out riding his horse and noticed the black plume of bats, and soon went exploring.  The rest of his life was spent working in the cave (mining guano), exploring and mapping it, conducting tours, serving as park ranger, and selling paperback copies of his story in the café 700 feet below the surface.  In 1923 Carlsbad became a National Monument, and in 1930 a National Park.  When White died in 1946, “The Discoverer of Carlsbad Caverns” was engraved on his tombstone.
            How about Meteor Crater in Arizona?  At first, scientists did not know what to think about it.  Was it the remains of a volcano?  Or, as a few thought, of a meteor.  At the turn of the century, Daniel Barringer, wealthy mining engineer, thought it was a meteor and thus, most likely, the sight of a great deal of iron, just waiting to be mined.  Well, there really wasn’t much iron to be mined, but Barringer kept arguing that the hole was caused by a meteor.  Basically, the scientific community scoffed.  Barringer died in 1929, but the land remained within the family.   Finally in the 1960’s science caught up with Barringer’s hunch, and everyone now  agrees that that great big hole in the ground west of Winslow, Arizona, is where a meteor hit the earth 50,000 years ago.  The property still remains in the Barringer family, so it cannot be designated a national park, but it is a National Natural Landmark.
Meteor Crater
            So the list is long.  How about Minerva Hoyt, a wealthy socialite, who fell in love with the desert and desert plants and devoted her life to preserving them.  In 1936, due to her efforts, Franklin Roosevelt set aside 800,000 acres for Joshua Tree National Monument.  In 1994, it became a National Park.  Or how about William Gladstone Steele?  We looked at his photograph in the visitor center at Crater Lake.  He is called “the father of Crater Lake,” which, of course, is unfair to The Klamath Indians who have always told stories about the volcano that exploded and collapsed about 10,000 years ago.  Most likely their ancestors were there when it happened.  At 16 years old, back in Ohio, Steele read a newspaper story about Crater Lake.  He made it to Oregon to see it in 1885 and began writing and promoting the idea that it needed to be protected.  Steele was by no means a perfect man, by today’s standards.  He treated Native Americans poorly, and respected the profit motive more than the usual nature lover.  Yet his efforts led to the Crater Lake being named the sixth National Park in 1906.
William Gladstone Steele
            I think my favorite might be Galen Clark, who moved to California during the Gold Rush.  He was ill with tuberculosis and decided to head into the Sierra Nevada.  He found the Mariposa Grove of the giant Sequoias.  It was his lobbying that led President Lincoln to sign the first Yosemite Grant, which allowed California to protect the trees.  Sure he built a small hotel, promoted it, and brought in visitors.  But he also struggled to manage the park in a gentle respectful manner.  He fought the exploiters.  He is said to have been a poor businessman and found himself in later life strapped for money.  John Muir said of Clark:  “Galen Clark was the best mountaineer I ever met, and one of the kindest and most amiable of all my mountain friends.”  That’s good enough for me.
            And, of course, we have John Muir.  I remember a summer car vacation I took with my father in 1977, when he was 66 and I was 24.   We visited many of the places in the West that the Caravan of Wonder is seeing.  At Yosemite, I purchased a cheap paperback John Muir book on Yosemite, and read it, off and on, during the trip.  One night I sat in the restaurant of Old Faithful Inn by myself having a beer or something reading John Muir and watching Old Faithful.  I experienced that scene in a haze of romanticism, and I cannot shake that even now.   I wrote a little bit about the complicated life of John Muir in another blog post.  But everyone’s life is complicated.  Back there in the haze of the past, we have people like John Muir loving a place beyond reason, and promoting the protection of that place with great fierceness to other people like Theodore Roosevelt.  And then in 1906, Roosevelt returned Yosemite to the United States Government.  Individuals can change the world.

            Muir, Clark, Steele, Hoyt, Barringer, White, Wetherill.  And many many more.  As a twenty-first century intellectual guy, I am supposed to be wary of “The Great Man” theory of history.  It is the theory that says all history is made by these few dominant personalities.   Presidents, Kings, Generals, the best painters and writers.  You know, from Abraham to Caesar to Napoleon to Sitting Bull to Martin Luther King, Jr.  The rest of us are unimportant.  Well, I sort of subscribe to that, but I also rebel.  On this trip, I have visited a great number of graves and monuments and museums to pay homage to men and women who have done truly amazing things.  But I have also learned about so many other people who just had a conviction about something nearby, something they loved, something they wanted to build or protect.  That is the life most of us live, or could live.  Like those folks who discovered mercury in the latrine at Traveler’s Rest, and established, for certain, one exact spot where the Corps of Discovery laid their tired bodies.   Here we were on the Fourth of July.  That seems worthy of celebration.

Soundtrack.  The United States Marine Band:  "The Stars and Stripes Forever."


The Corps of Reason: Lewis and Clark's Decision Making

          Probably the most well-known book about the Lewis and Clark Expedition is Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1997 volume Undaunted Courage:  Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West.   Ambrose originally wanted to name the book “Of Courage Undaunted,” that phrase originating from Thomas Jefferson’s description of Meriwether Lewis.   (Ambrose 15).  The phrase, while poetic and heroic, partially distorts the characters of Lewis and Clark and those under their command.  It highlights their adventurousness, their strength of spirit, their American individuality, with the moody shades of Romanticism.  What is lost in Ambrose’s title is Jefferson’s full description of Lewis, his care of those under his command, his commitment to order and discipline, his knowledge of Native American cultures, his scientific understanding of plants and animals, and his “sound understanding” and “fidelity to truth” (qtd in Ambrose 8).  In other words, Jefferson selected Meriwether Lewis to lead the Corps of Discovery as much for his scientific knowledge and rational intelligence as for his bravery and manly skills of hunting and woodsmanship.   The expedition was, therefore, more a project of the Enlightenment than a demonstration of Heroic Romanticism, expressed as American individualism. But that is often not how the expedition is viewed.  As James Rhonda writes, “Lewis and Clark, . . . in . . . lecture halls, are occasionally brought out, more to add a dash of color and adventure than to suggest something of substance”  (146).  In this essay, I will offer a few instances of Meriwether Lewis’ and William Clark’s process of rational decision making as counter examples to their images as undaunted explorers.
            In his letter of instruction to Lewis, Thomas Jefferson makes quite clear the purpose of the expedition:  to find a passage from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean “for the purposes of commerce.” (qtd in Brandt xxviii).  However, the details and tone of Jefferson’s orders make equally clear the scientific and cultural significance of the effort. Jefferson lists the kind of geographic information that should be collected, the ethnographic background of native tribes that is required, in addition to a full range of biological and zoological and geological information   As this point, it was facts that were considered most important. Jefferson goes so far as to suggest the keeping of journals, who should keep them, and how they should be preserved.  If at all possible, danger should be avoided:  “In the loss of yourselves, we should lose also the information you will have acquired” (qtd in Brandt xxxi).  Donald Jackson says that Jefferson’s instructions “barely conceal his excitement at realizing that at last he would have facts, not vague guesses, about the Stoney Mountains, the river courses, the wild Indian Tribes, the flora and fauna of untrodden places” (139).
            Second, Lewis’ preparations indicate a thoughtful leader seeking education and scientific skills, not an impetuous, proud thrill seeker.  One of his early acts was to enlist his friend William Clark in the venture as a co-captain of the expedition.  Much is made of this unusual decision.  In most cases in military operations, clear lines of command are established.  Co-leadership is considered confusing and disruptive.  If the expedition had failed, scholars would now be indentifying this situation as one of the causes.  Instead, observers consider Lewis’ decision to invite Clark as a wise assessment of the portfolio of his own skills and talents. We do not have documentation about how Lewis arrived at his decision, but general consensus is that, in some form, Lewis cataloged the skills and education needed for command of the expedition, measured his own against that list, and realized his old friend Clark possessed those talents that he was lacking.  He carried out a rational assessment, and finding himself lacking, sought a logical means of correcting that lack.
            In addition, Lewis did not just rush into the adventure.  Much of the first six months of 1803, Lewis spent in Harper’s Ferry and Philadelphia making preparations, purchasing weapons and foods, learning how to use recommended scientific instruments, and taking medical lessons from Dr. Benjamin Rush, the most highly regarded physician of his day.  He was also carefully identifying men who would join the journey.  Similarly, from June, 1803, to May, 1804, Lewis and Clark traveled down the Ohio to St, Louis and environs, where they completed the selection of their company and trained them for the adventure ahead.  Unlike some previous expeditions into the Great Plains by others, Lewis and Clark’s, as one supported by the American government, was organized as a military unit, which insisted on a great deal of order and discipline.  This is reflected both in how work was organized, but also in how Clark and Lewis approached their duties in the collection of scientific information
            In the early days of the journey, which headed up the Missouri River on May 14, 1804, unruly behavior became an issue.  On the 17 a courts martial was held for three men who left camp without permission (Bakeless 29).  On June 29, another was held for two men who were drunk on duty (Bakeless 31).  On July 12, still another court for a man who slept while on sentinel (Bakeless 37).  In each case, the men were found guilty and given lashes, of varying numbers, relative to the crime.  The reports of these events occur in the journals and official records of the expedition in a passionless and perhaps pitiless, but joyless, manner.  Whether today we believe in the method of punishment, the documents indicate that the commanders were enacting military code without favoritism or emotion.  Clark and Lewis were not leading by dash and verve and a cult of personality; they were attempting to lead fairly and without prejudice, by the book.
            Another example of their attempts clearly to provide order to the expedition is Captain Lewis’ “Detachment Orders” of May 26, 1804.    The men were now 12 days into their journey, and we might suppose that the captains were discovering unforeseen problems with order communication among their company as they made their way up the Missouri, against the flow of the river.  This set of orders focused on the rolls of the three sergeants. One at helm, one at center, and one at bow, each sergeant has specified duties and is excluded from other duties assigned to privates.  Also noteworthy, each sergeant is expected to keep a notebook detailing “passing occurrences, and such other observations on the country, etc., as shall appear worthy of notice” (Brandt 26). 
            In a expedition as long as Lewis and Clark’s and with a record as full, the number of examples of their dedication to rational, patient, scientific principles rather than rash hyper-masculine domination is numerous and too lengthy for a essay of this nature.  Three more examples will suffice:  their dealings with the Sioux, their first confrontation with the Rocky Mountains, and their return trip over the Continental Divide. 
            If there ever were an incident in which Lewis or Clark could have demonstrated their commitment of courage and heroic action, it was on September 28, 1804, when a few Sioux warriors became belligerent. The Sioux, of course, were a fierce tribe and the dominate one in the region. At this time, during the turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries, there was a “sustained movement by the Sioux that resulted in the disposition or subjugation of numerous tribes and made the Sioux a major Indian power on the Great Plains during the nineteenth century” (White 321).  In other words, they were not easily intimidated. Grabbing the towropes and refusing to let the boats leave shore, the warriors began demanding more gifts than they had yet received.  Both Clark and Lewis responded.  Clark drew his sword, and Lewis manned the swivel gun on one of the boats.  The Sioux responded by readying their bows and arrows.  It was a moment of decision for both Lewis and Clark.  Should they fire?  Should they accept fire?  Stephen E. Ambrose enjoys writing a six paragraph fantasia about what violence might have occurred, and credits the Sioux chief Black Buffalo with defusing the crisis.  “Luckily for them, one of the red leaders stepped forward to avert hostilities” (171). But Clark’s journal entry for the day hints at another contributing factor: “I threw a carrot of tobacco to 1st chief.  Took the port fire from gunner. Spoke so as to touch his pride.  The chief gave the tobacco to his soldiers, and he jerked the rope from them, and handed it to the bowman” (Bakeless 76).  My reading of the incident highlights William Clark’s presence of mind and skill at communicating by action and by words.  Even at the height to tension, Clark searched for the reasonable, peaceable solution, rather than impulsively acting when strength and determination had already been demonstrated..
            After a winter in the Mandan village, still on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, Lewis and Clark and their men were ready to find the source of the Missouri and the passage across the range to the Columbia River.  John L. Allen points out that up until their crossing of the Rocky Mountains, the expedition had actually been working from pretty reliable information supplied to them by previous French, British, and American explorers and trappers, and by Native Americans.  In analyzing the exploration process, quoting from John K. Wright’s “Geographical Lore of the Time of the Crusades,” Allen categorizes three levels of information Lewis and Clark possessed: 
We can divide a region into zones of first-degree knowledge, obtained “through active, commercial, diplomatic, ecclesiastical, military, and scholarly enterprise”; second-degree knowledge, derived from travelers’ accounts and/or fairly reliable hearsay; and third-degree knowledge, acquired only through rumor and conjecture. (14)
As the expedition, continued west, it moved from the region of first degree and even second degree knowledge into the third degree.  As Allen writes, “The section of the journey from the Great Falls to the Three Forks did still more to erode confidence in the Indian lore” (30).  Passages in the journals from late July to mid-August, 1805, portray both Lewis and Clark as careful, thoughtful men, measuring what they had been told to expect against what they were seeing. For instance, Lewis writes on July 27,
We are now several hundred miles within the bosom of this wild and mountainous country, where game may rationally be expected shortly to become scarse and subsistence precarious without any information with respect to the country, not knowing how far these mountains continue, or where to direct our course to pass them to advantage or intercept a navigable branch of the Columbia; or even were we on such as one . . . . (Bakeless 217)
Instead of wild and careless actions, instead of randomly choosing one route and committing to it come hell or high water, Clark and Lewis continue to employ methods they had developed earlier of  exploring various options carefully with small parties of men, analyzing the information they gathered, and making the best decision they knew how to make.  On August 8, after determining which of three forks of the river to follow, and after consulting Sacagawea who originated from this region, Lewis “determined to proceed tomorrow with a small party to the source of the principal stream of this river and pass the mountains to the Columbia, and down that river until I found the Indians” (Bakeless 223).  Four days later, Lewis was able to identify a tiny trickle of a stream as the source of the great Missouri, and over the ridge what he mistakenly  thought was the source of the Columbia. “In his search for the Shoshones, Lewis was no longer guided by the Mandan-Minnetaree information but followed his own geographical intuition and awareness.  The distinction between real and perceived zones of knowledge had been made at the top of Lemhi Pass, and the expeditions entered a new operational zone” (Allen 31).  Certainly it was a zone requiring courage, but more importantly it called for organized field work, careful observation, and calm reasoning. 
            A final example of Lewis and Clark’s decision making occurs in 1806 on their return trip.  It is a moment where their assessment of a situation failed them, where their determination outstripped their reasoning.  Indeed, eventually their courage was daunted, and they were forced to re-evaluate their situation.  On March 18, 1806, the expedition abandoned Fort Clatsop and began moving east.  In May and June, they camped among the Nez Perces.  For a while, Clark served as local doctor, and the men traded goods, collected horses and foodstuffs and waited for snows to melt on the mountains so that they could continue their journey home.  By mid-June, Lewis felt a particularly strong urge to get moving.  He tried to persuade members of the tribe to accompany them, but “They declined going until the latter end of the summer” (Bakeless 325).  By June 10, Lewis felt “ourselves perfectly equipped for the mountains,” so they headed into the mountains without any Indian guides.  The trails got steeper and strewn with fallen trees, then covered in snow, and impossible to pass.  Finally, Lewis evaluated that the going was so slow, the temperatures so cold, and the grazing for horses so scare that the troop had to turn back.  “This was the first time since we have been on this long tour that we have ever been compelled to retreat or make a retrograde march” (Bakeless 328).   The corps moved down the mountain out of the snows where better grazing was available.  Ten days later they were joined by some Native American young guides who led them through Lolo Pass in only a few days.  
            Much speculation has occurred concerning Lewis decision to proceed.  Was it simply impatience or was he actually concerned about the amount of time that he and Clark would have to perform further explorations on the other side of the mountain?  “And for what was he taking such a rise?  To get home a little earlier?” (Ambrose 369).  Whatever the case, it serves as an example of how easily it was to make errors in judgment in this trek from St. Louis to the Pacific and back.   A rash determination, a too large dose of “undaunted courage,” could have led to disaster and death at many, many stages.  Instead, however, order, discipline, rational evaluation of evidence, and logical decision making prevailed throughout the journey.  Although the temptation is great to credit the Romantic image of courageous American individualism as the source of the expedition’s success, I would argue it was calm focused rational Enlightenment-influenced thinking that proved to be the determining factor.
              




Works Cited
Allen, John, L.  “An Analysis of the Exploratory Process:  The Lewis and Clark Expedition
             of 1804-1806.”  Geographical Review 62:1 (Jan. 1972).  13-39.  JSTOR
            http://www.jstor.org/stagle/214058  Accessed 04/07/2014.
Ambrose, Stephen E.  Undaunted Courage:  Meriwhether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson,
and the Opening of the American West. New York:  Simon and Schuster.  2005.
Bakeless. John.  ed.  The Journals of Lewis and Clark.  New York:  New American
Library.  1964.
Brandt, Anthony.  ed.  The Journals of Lewis and Clark.  Washington, D.C.: National
             Geographic Adventure Classics. 2002.
Jackson, Donald. Thomas Jefferson and the Stony Mountains: Exploring the West
from Monticello.  Urbana:  U Illinois P. 1981
Ronda. James P.  “Dreams and Discoveries:  Exploring the American West, 1760-1815.”
             The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 46:1 (Jan 1889) 145-162.  JSTOR
            http://www.sstor.org/stable/1922412  Accessed 04/07/2014.
White, Richard.  “The Winning of the West:  The Expansion of the Western Sioux
in the Eighteen and Nineteenth Centuries.”  The Journal of American History
65:2 (Sept 1978):  319-343.  JSTOR  http://www.jstor.ore/stable/1894083
Accessed 04/07/2014.

            

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lost Weekend in San Francisco

At various moments over the past year, I have mentioned the odd, persistent, and troublesome relationships within Time that I experience on this trip.  One, we are experiencing this moment in the Caravan, now, on July 2, 2014, parked in the Sundance Campground in Coram, Montana, a few miles south of Glacier National Park.  It’s the timelag of the adult schedule versus the kid schedule. The adults rise and shine before the kids. We naturally wake earlier; we naturally have more we want to accomplish in a day.   I am at the kitchen table writing this blog post.  Knightsmama is sweeping the floor of the Caravan.  The boys are refusing to wake, but soon they will be up and wanting breakfast and complaining about another day of going to see things.  And the irony is that they will be doing something they want to do.  Yesterday, at Glacier, everyone decided that they would return to the park and rent some little motor boats and putt around on Lake McDonald.  The original plan was kayaking; that is, until the boys saw the motor boats.  Sometimes as much as Knightmama and I want to pretend we parent a cute hippie, environmental, REI family, our boys insist on returning us smack dab into the middle of middle America. Noise and machine power.   So be it. 
John Muir
            But back to timelags—the current one being demonstrated in the fact that I have the one and only table covered with the computer, screen, keyboard, and mouse, and the boys will not be able to sit at the table for their breakfast.  Usually, I would pack up the electronics and make way for them.  But today, I am committed to getting a blog post written while they head off to Glacier for family fun, and I don’t want to pack up, twiddle my thumbs, and then unpack and get started again.  Especially since Captain Crunch can turn breakfast into the longest meal of the day, reading whatever he is reading on his Kindle.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t mean to complain that I have children who read.  But, geez, he can pause eternities between spoons of Cheerios.
            But the real timelag I am confronting today is the gap between this day, in Montana, and four weeks ago is San Francisco.  I haven’t written about the four days between May 28 and June 1.  On the 27th of May we departed Yosemite and made our way to Pleasanton. Along the way, we stopped at the Oakdale Cheese Factory, on the recommendation of some very nice trailer neighbors at the campground in Groveland.   Pleasanton is actually a goodly distance from San Francisco—an hour or so, if memory serves, but campgrounds, like everything else in the Bay Area, are expensive. The further you get away, the better the price.  I think Knightsmama found us a dandy spot at the Alameda County FairGrounds.  Pleasanton also turns out to have a lovely, little downtown with a cute bookstore, a brewpub with a slightly upscale eatery attached, and a creperie, which we all enjoyed.  The town also has an extensive system of bike paths, which, to my regret, I did not exercise.  An added bonus was that the weekend we were camped there the fairgrounds sponsored a Goodguys Car Show, which gave Dr. J. hours of entertainment looking at automobiles and one day without parents watching the races.
            When we left San Francisco, I think we felt several layers of emotions.  First, I don’t think we felt we were finished with the city.  We recognized that there is much, much more to see and do.  I have felt the same way about Philadelphia and Boston.  But I think we were ready to leave and get on with the trip.  This last portion of the Caravan of Wonder, since we hit the road again at the end of March, has, emotionally, been primarily about National Parks and the landscape of the West.  Las Vegas (three nights), Los Angeles (six nights), San Francisco (five nights), and Portland (three nights) were the only significant cities on the itinerary.  Well, I guess we can include Victoria (one day) in this list.  I mean, we have stayed and will stay in or near many towns of some significant size—Missoula and Bozeman are coming up—but a real city is a complicated place, with congregations of many people, many peoples, of great traffic, and transit systems, museums and city parks..  Cities are places where the things to do and see are the province of institutions, places with cultural cache and thus places with cultural baggage.  I guess I am thinking of the difference between Culture and a culture. Coram, where we are bivouacked at the moment, definitely has a culture that is nothing like a town in Ohio or Vermont or Texas.  But with respect to local artisans, I am not here to look at art or to muse about the rise and decay and possible rebirth of American Culture.  All I am saying is that driving the road here in Montana provokes a very different set of reflections than driving the highway through Oakland  on the way to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.  So I think when we left San Francisco, we were feeling that we wanted to return, see more, but to see it in its own context, not within some time warp between the magnificence of Yosemite and the glistening of Crater Lake. 
Skywalker Ranch
            But let’s go ahead and say it, the crazy conversation that is America today embodies this tension between stunning modern urban Cultural destinations, equally stunning natural resources, the calm but worried suburbs, and the sanguine Culturally forgotten backwater towns.   We have narrowed America to places where you have to live, because that’s where the jobs are or that’s where you can afford to buy a house with a decent local school; places where you have to visit because that is where the Cultural Institutions or Natural Protected Areas are;. and places where you might want to live, but can’t because there are no jobs or decent nearby schools.
            As you can see, I am rambling around again, exploring the various thoughts that wander their way into my brain as I drive or bike or sit drinking a local beer.  I want, desperately, at times to come to some meaningful conclusions about all that we have seen and done on this adventure.  Our few days in San Francisco illustrates the contradictory shockwaves of our mental and emotional stimulation.  What did we do the first day in the Bay area?  Refusing to release the comfort of Yosemite, we visited the John MuirNatural Historic Site in Martinez and the Muir Woods in Marin Country.  Even so, these two sites, in and of themselves, reflect the complicated reality that is this nation’s impure greatness.  John Muir, the Apostle of Wilderness, is most likely the most important thinker, intellectual, writer, activist, and interpreter of the Ethic of Conservation and the healing power of nature that this nation has known.  Yet he married into a wealthy family, and for many years becomes a gentleman farmer.  Because of his fruit farm and land holdings, he is a millionaire, back when having a million really meant something.  His complicated life is almost on the level of the Al Gore dilemma:  indulging in an electricity guzzling house while jetting around the world telling us the rest of us to reduce our carbon footprint.  In this way, Muir is similar also to his contemporary Samuel Clements, the homespun humorist who warned us of the Gilded Age while building the largest house in Hartford, Connecticut.  Similarly, William Kent, the man who purchased and protected the canyon of giant redwoods that is now named The Muir Woods, was the same man who spearheaded the dam building and destruction of John Muir’s beloved Hetch Hetchy Canyon to supply water to San Francisco. 
The Water Tower at Alcatraz
            And so my family visited both of these places on May 28, 2014.  We pull up in our Big Ass Truck burning diesel at 20 miles per gallon, 11 miles per gallon when we are pulling the trailer.  “Sons, I say, John Muir was a great man, a great environmentalist.  We can learn a lot from him.” I remind them that the film we saw at Yosemite noted that it was Muir’s camping trip with Theodore Roosevelt, the Captain’s namesake, that inspired the President to protect it. The boys frolic in the attic.  I yearn for Muir’s study, his “scribble room,” he called it. We admire the remaining groves of fruit trees, which if ripe we could have snacked on.  I stand under a redwood that looms over us, only a little more than a hundred years old, because Muir transplanted it here, and Knightsmama takes my picture.  His house, this National Historic Site, is right on the highway.  When we leave, first I visit the gas station across the street and fill up.  It is a complicated trip.
            We end up visiting Marin County three times.  This first, May 28th, in the Muir Woods and exploring Mt. Tam..  The second visit is two days later.  Francine Taylor Davis, our friend from Los Angeles, had arranged for her husband, Dane, to host us for a brief visit to Skywalker Ranch.  Skywalker was the brainchild of George Lucas, a beautiful place, more or less in the country, but close to both San Francisco and to the wine country.  Rolling hills, grape orchards, Tuscan inspired architecture, it is gorgeous.  Dane is an Academy Award winning sound editor, up at Skywalker on a project.  He arranged for us to tour the main building, its recording studios, its various labs in which graphics and sound are edited for “major motion pictures.”  I found the experience to be discombobulating and inspiring.  Everyone was so calm; everyone was so polite, so respectful of each other.  This is a world in which the most tedious minute detail is worried over again and again, where tight deadlines are always pressing, and where hundreds of millions dollars and, perhaps, one’s ability to get one’s next gig are at stake.  Yet never was there an inappropriate guffaw, an angry slashing tongue, the whine of a sensitive ego.  It was, simply, downright inspiring, and when I return to my job in six weeks, I hope to bring along a little bit the professionalism I witnessed there. 
The Dude at City Lights
            Our third day to visit Marin Country was our last day, June 1.  Because Skywalker Ranch was not previously on our must see list, we extended our stay one extra day.  We had been in the Bay Area four days and still had not made it to The Golden Gate Bridge.  So we forced ourselves to get a somewhat early start for us, headed into the big city and to the Bridge.  With apologies to whatever cynics exit out there, this bridge is as beautiful, graceful, structurally stunning as its reputation. It is a delight to approach and experience.  This isn’t to say that there aren’t many other wonderful bridges in this fair nation.  I am particularly fond of the George Washington Bridge in New York.  I like the Vicksburg Bridge over the Mississippi.  The old bridge crossing the mouth of the Columbia from Astoria to Washington State is pretty cool.  But there are structural wonders in these states that I think we all ought to see and experience:  The Empire State Building, the White House and Capitol Building, the Sears Building, The Gateway Arch, The Hoover Dam, and The Golden Gate Bridge.  Sure there are more, but these are among the standards, the undeniable wonders by which others are measured.  They are also reminders, when one gets down on one’s fellow humans, that we are not all always behaving like jerks.  We have, just to remain American, the plays of Tennessee Williams, the novels of Scott Fitzgerald  and Toni Morrison, the poetry of Emily Dickinson, the music of Charles Ives, Phillip Glass, John Coltrane, the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe and Winslow Homer  And we have these structures. Unlike a poem or novel, but similar to movies, they are the creation of a team and barrels of money.  The logistics are mindboggling, the cost staggering, and the original vision, startling. 
The Grants on Grant Avenue
            So we crossed The Golden Gate Bridge, all chilly, cloud encrusted and moody, and descend into Sausalito where we stroll sidewalks, sit on the banks of the bay watching the sail boats, and eat homemade sandwiches among the tourists and the homeless.  It is a sweet little town.  I am glad someone gets to live there.  Well, I feel the same about San Francisco.  I am glad someone can afford to live there.  But it ain’t me, babe.  Still, this last day, we made it back into the city, left the truck at the edge of Golden Gate Park, and hopped on our bicycles for a little exploring.  Eventually, we made it to the children’s playground where Captain Crunch got to run, climb, jump, and Knightsmama and I got to watch the parade of cultures.  I’ll tell you, if one were a White Supremacist, scenes like Golden Gate Park or Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty must make one itch with frustration.  So many non-Anglos enjoying life so much, so happily, so intelligently, so wealthy-ly. In our wonderful, little country.
            As you can see, our days in San Francisco were full, often with small pleasures.  Our last evening, we drove along the western shore and explored a little neighborhood away from the crowds and found a terrific Pho restaurant in a neighborhood I could imagine us living in, again, if I had $750,000 to purchase a fixer-upper.  On other days, we toured Alcatraz (Captain Crunch’s request), walked from Alcatraz to China Town (Dr. J.’s request), accidentally stumbled upon The Beat Museum and City Lights Bookstore (my request), drove by St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church (Knightsmama’s request). Knightsmama’s greatest disappointment was missing the special Friday service featuring the food pantry, as captured in the book Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles. That was the day our visit to Skywalker inserted itself into the schedule.  We had a tasty meal at Brandy Ho, recommended to us by the cashier at City Lights:  “The only place around here I can afford. . . .”  While the boys shopped in China Town, I enjoyed myself thoroughly, sitting on the curb, listening to Chinese classical music (I assume) played by some mature street musicians.  The boys got to experience a Taxi raced through crowded streets by the very agreeable Thai driver. 
A Nice Bowl of Pho
 One day, we left Dr. J. at the campground to enjoy the car show. The rest of us drove into the city to visit the De Young Museum and its American Art Collection, after which we did some crazy driving around town, the fog lowering itself on the city, to knock off a couple of wishes from my lengthy list:  the grave of Eric Hoffer and the house where the poet Robert Duncan lived with his partner, the painter Jess.  I owe Knightsmama and Captain Crunch my gratitude for their patience that evening!
            Of course, the list of things we did not see is staggering.  No Giants or Athletics baseball, no homage to Willie Mays. No Haight-Ashbury, Howl, or Kerouac sites.  No Jack London and Mark Twain sites.  No to the history of the San Francisco fire.  No winding.Lombard Street.  We did not even hop a trolley.  No Top of the Marc.  No Ghirardelli Chocolate.  Isn’t there some ice cream store I was supposed to visit?   I missed the entire great rock and roll tradition there:  The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company, It’s a Beautiful Day. Santana.   Does the Fillmore even exit?  Or like the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, is it razed? No drive by of Altamont.  No Anchor Steam Brewing.  Nada. 
            And with all that undone, still we were glad to leave and head back to Central California, to Sacramento, where we could ride our bikes and take a day trip for one last visit to the Sierra Nevada.  And now, here, with this timelag of a month, and the geographical distance from Montana looking back, the memory of San Francisco is all a little trippy.  How do we continue to do this, to needle ourselves with such a variety of stimuli, to process all that we ingest, and to leave our other unfulfilled dreams in the baggy for another day?  For experience junkies, for cultural gluttons, it is all a bit of a blurr.   A sort of Lost Weekend. 
            I have some thoughts I want to add here.  But I’ve reached a departure point.  If I don’t get to it soon, ask me about City Lights and the Beat Museum, about Robert Duncan and Eric Hoffer, and about Rod McKuen and Richard Brautigan.  There’s more to say, but we are moving on.
           

Soundtrack Double Feature.  The Animals:  "San Francisco Nights."
Scott MacKensie, "San Francisco."