Saturday, March 28, 2015

Game camera photos

I bought a cheap, little game camera to put in the woods out where we go.  It doesn't do well with motion (because it's cheap), but it works well enough during daylight hours for what I need.  The trouble is that it's a big file that looses any gain in the file size by not having a fast enough aperture to stop motion.  In the night, very few shots are any good, because the aperture is open so long that moving shots are just a long blur.  Some of the ones where coyotes are running by look like it's 10 feet long with a long glowing line in it where its eye is shining back at the camera.  In any case, Here are the best of the photos I've gotten over the last 6 weeks.  There are scads of night-time photos of possums, armadillos, racoons, skunks, cattle, squirrels, deer, etc., but the following are the ones that excite me.

This is a great shot of a coyote. 

And here is another.  

Feb. 21 was a busy night.  Here is a coyote, looking around for action;  
And then a bobcat is poking around the area a couple of hours later;
          and 40 minutes after that it is eating a small mammal.

This is a nice daytime shot of the bobcat.  Most of the bobcats we see out there are like this one, bigger than a house cat, but not by a huge amount.  However, a couple of times we've seen a big bobcat with bulging muscles, and at least twice this size.  And, of course, I am dying to get a photo of the black panther, which is unknown to science.  We have seen them 3 or 4 times, all in daylight, but never gotten a photo of it.

This an awesome action shot.  For some reason the image is nice and clear even though the coyote was in full gallop and only has one paw on the ground.  My guess is that the snow put so much light into the lense that the camera was able to function with a very fast shutter.

This photo is interesting because the coyote is so big and black.  An old male?   It looks to me like its face is black because of mange, which can be a serious problem in Texas, but mainly when it's hot.  It looks nice and buff, and healthy though, so maybe that's not why it's black.

This is a photo from an earlier time when I was using an old camera, trying to find a good spot to put the new camera.  Mostly, I got nothing with this camera location, but this deer came by one foggy morning.  There is my old camping trailer, with a view of its awesome camouflage, custom applied by none other than yours truly.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sacrament Meeting Talk - 01-18-2015

   I was assigned to speak in the Plano 7th ward back in January.  It was my very first talk outside my own ward, in my capacity as a high councilor.  I prepared ahead of time and had about 35 minutes worth of material.  Well, obviously that was too much, but I enjoyed writing about it.
   When I arrived Bishop Schroeder came up to me and told me he had arranged for a youth speaker and one other adult speaker, as well as a musical number.  However, all those had cancelled.  He advised me to speak for as long as I wanted and he would take up the rest of the time.
     I smiled and told him not worry.  I had enough material to take up all the time.  So I spoke for 35 minutes, or perhaps a little longer.  It was quite well received considering that it was so long.
   He also gave me a copy of the program.  The program had a typo.  It said "Brother Earl Ashurst  -  Stale High Councilor".  I thought it was funny, so I started out saying, "Hello, my name is Earl  Ashurst and I will be your stale high councilor for today - at least according to your program.  I like that (big smile).  I was going to introduce myself as your dry councilor, your minister of somnambulation, but this is much better.
Side note:  Bishop Schroeder fell ill suddenly a couple of weeks ago, and died two days ago.  He was a nice man.  He was 51 years old, I believe.

My names is [me] and I am one of the 13 high councilors in the Plano, Stake.  I bring to you the love and concern of the Stake President and his councilors.  They are good men, who have jobs and lives of their own, but they are anxiously concerned about every member of the church in the Plano Stake.  President Wilding tirelessly attends functions of every kind throughout the stake and you have probably seen him pop in at unexpected times.  It is a pleasure to work with such men.
My purpose here today is to continue the theme already presented in this meeting: My assigned topic is Family History.  I intend to share some stories of my experience with it, including my failures.  We can learn from failures, and I’ve made my share.
When I was a young man, about 137 years ago – approximately  -  the church was encouraging everyone to build a 4-generation chart of their family.  My older brother had done one, and I mostly copied his, as any young man with better things to do, would do.  However, I dutifully talked to my grandparents to make sure I had it right.  On my Mother’s side of the family, I found what many other descendants of the pioneers find – that somebody has already done the pedigrees - far back, and well.  I felt there was nothing left for me to do, there.  That is an illusion, but it is how I felt. 
But on my Father’s side of the family it was virgin territory.  He is not LDS and nobody had done anything in the way of genealogy.  That sounded like a bit more fun  - but not enough to actually do anything about it at that time.  I was still a young man, after all.
So I finished high school and went off to BYU.  I served a hitch as a U.S. Marine part way through my college work and came back to BYU as a married student.  I finished up my degree in Zoology and chemistry in December, 1975 and headed off to Arizona for my first job as an agricultural biologist.  At that time, they didn’t pass out diplomas when you finished your degree in December, so when I got a fat letter from the Y in the mail, I thought it would be my diploma.  To my surprise, it was a copy of my transcript and a notice that I needed two more hours of coursework before I could expect a degree.  Any two hours, in any subject would do the trick.
Well, I was disappointed, to say the least.  I was living out in remote NE Arizona about 30 feet from the edge of the Navajo Reservation, and there was no way I was getting back to Provo for a 2 hour class. 
But wait!  There are correspondence classes.  I called BYU and they told me that even correspondence classes would do, as long as the class I chose was a credit class of at least 2 hours.  They sent me a course book and the Religion Department had a class in Genealogical Research that was 2 hours.  It sounded kind of interesting, so I sent in my registration and fee.  My only hangup was that it required a fair amount of time in a genealogy library and I was living in Sanders, AZ which had a permanent population of about 100 and no library, grocery store, theater, or much of anything else.  In fact, it had a post office, a trading post, a high school, and a small LDS chapel – that’s it.  The stake center and the genealogy library were in St. Johns, which was 60 miles south.  There was also a stake center in Gallup, NM, which was 60-some miles to the east, and there might have been another in Holbrook, AZ, which was 60-some miles to the west, although I think their stake center was probably in Snowflake, which 60-some miles further west
So I picked our own stake center and started driving down to St. Johns every Wednesday after work to do my assignments in the genealogy library.  I found that the other patrons were all older women.  I never saw a man there at all.  As you might imagine, they were all interested in what I was doing, which made my natural bashfulness even more intense, and I kept my head down, did my work, and left without saying much.  I am pretty sure I did tell the lady helping me that I was working on a class from BYU. 
Mostly I was retrieving microfilm records from the county courthouse in Paris, Kentucky where my great-grandparents were born and I found many good marriage and death records, which, when combined with census records let me build up my pedigree back to the revolutionary war.  So that was fun. 
I was able to tell my coworkers that I was spending my days off doing research in Paris.  They didn’t believe me, though.
What I could not find was any birth records in Paris, KY, so I was using estimates based on census records for birth dates, and that isn’t very accurate.  That bothered me.  It still does.  I’d like to find better dates.  Later, talking to my grandfather’s brother, I discovered that there was a family cemetery in Paris that had all the dates I needed on the tombstones.  I decided that someday I would go find that cemetery, and I had a strong feeling that I should hurry.
So, I finished my class and graduated from BYU.  About that time, I got a call from the High Priest’s group leader, inviting me to talk about genealogy at a stake meeting of the high priests, down in St. Johns.  I was surprised by that, but I don’t turn down church assignments so I agreed, even though I felt woefully unprepared for it.  I did my best to prepare something, but I was still a rookie in genealogy, after all.  I went, knowing that my talk wasn’t very good.
When I got to the meeting in St. Johns, they had me sit on the stand and the Stake President introduced me, saying that I was in St. Johns working on a doctorate in Genealogy from BYU!  That was a shock!
As I sat there waiting my turn, I debated how to handle this turn of events.  Clearly those ladies at the library had been busy speculating, and the rumor mill had churned up a doozey.  I wasn’t sure what to do, but as I stood up I decided the only thing I could do was set the record straight.  
So I got to my feet and thanked the stake president, but then said I wasn’t working on my doctorate, only a bachelor’s degree.  And my degree wasn’t in genealogy, it was in Zoology.  And I only took one class in genealogy, so I was pretty much a beginner.  I think I also mentioned that I hadn’t seen any of them at the library, which is why the confusion.  I then gave my talk, which I soon realized anew wasn’t really what they expected, needed, nor deserved.  I gave a poor delivery, but I don’t think any of them were paying any attention to me after that, anyway.   It was a long drive back home that night.
So what do we take out of that story?  Clearly the brothers in the church in the St. Johns stake were not anxiously engaged in Family History work at that time.  If they had been, one or more of them might have actually shook my hand and talked to me.  As I’ve grown old in the church, I’ve seen that   that pattern is pretty much the norm.  The genealogy library serves church members but only a few of us actually use it and there are usually more non-LDS patrons than LDS, which is fine with everybody.  Nowadays, genealogy is done more and more on personal computers, at home, and I think that the library may become a thing of the past.  Not yet, but someday.
Well, in Ecclesiastes 3 we read:  To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”  At that time, 1976, there were only a handful of temples in the world, and those ladies in the libraries were keeping an adequate supply of names available for temple work.  Things are different now.  We have 144 temples operating today and more in the works, bringing the total to 170.  They continue to announce more nearly every conference.  We have a greater need for names, nowadays, and the internet makes genealogy easier and faster.  We continue to generate sufficient names that any time you go to the temple, there are names waiting which need the work done for them.  Everything is speeding up, and we need to be keeping pace with that increase.    All of us.

I keep honeybees as a hobby, and I like to tell people about honeybees.  I harvest several gallons of honey each summer and a few more gallons in the fall, which I mostly give away to my family and a few select friends.  I am fascinated by the way the bees work and what they do.
BUT,  Did you know that there are literally thousands of different kinds of bees in the World?  Thousands!  And   They all make honey.     But we only know about a few of them:  European honeybees, African honeybees, and bumblebees are the only ones known by most people.  Three kinds of bee,    out of the thousands.  Why don’t people know about any of those other kinds of bees?
The answer is very simple.  Bumblebees are big and loud and colorful, so we see them and notice them. 
Honeybees make honey for us, so we know about them. 
   But what about the rest?     Most bees make exactly as much honey as they need to survive.  And no more.  You could open up a leaf-cutter bee cell and get a tiny amount of honey, but you would starve to death trying to get enough to put on single bite of toast.  It’s the same for all the other bees.  They make enough for themselves.
Only the honeybees make enough honey that we can have some.  I build wooden boxes to hold the honeybees, and they are happy to live inside them because I build the box to the size they prefer.  If they don’t like my box, they will fly away and find a better place, but I make my boxes the size they like, so they stay.  When they fill the hive up with honey in the spring, I add another box and when that one is filled, another.  As long as nectar is flowing and they have more room, they will keep making and storing honey.  By the end of the year, they will have made enough for themselves to last through the winter, plus several more boxes of honey that I can have.  Each box yields about 3 gallons of delightful, sweet honey.  It’s a perfect food.  It’s hard work for the bees, and it’s hard work for me to harvest it, but I love doing it.  And the reason we know about, and adore honeybees is that they make more than they have to.  Of all the thousands of kinds of bees in the World, only 3 or 4 kinds make more honey than they have to.
We are like that too.  We can get by doing just enough to survive.  We can do that and be forgotten.       Or we can do more than we have to, and we will be remembered when the Lord calls the roll of his faithful. 
What we are asking you to do is to be involved in some part of the family history work.
The easiest thing to do is indexing.  The stake presidency is asking each of us to spend one hour per month doing indexing.  That is not a big thing.  Many of you are diligent in doing it.   In case you don’t know why we ask this, let me tell you what it is.  Indexing is simply building a file of references, so that other people can find what they are looking for.
I have an old-fashioned index here.  I found this in the courthouse in Paris, KY when I finally got out there.  Somebody had taken the time to go through the wills filed at the courthouse and write down each surname he encountered.
here is the name, Ashurst
In this column are First names and page numbers.
This piece of paper is the result of many long, hard hours of going through those records.  But once I found it, I was able to go straight to the records I wanted instead of having to sift through books and books of old, dusty records.  It was great.  Now that we are doing this via computers, it is much easier.  But, we need to build this kind of index for all the dusty, old books of records people have stored all across the globe.  And that is what indexing is.  We do indexing a little bit at a time, and when we are done,    many, many people can go straight to the record they want to see.  Indexing is pure service.
Greater love hath no man than this, that he index my family’s records so I can find them when I finally get around to doing my geology research.

Now, let me go back and recap.  To get my degree I did some pure research of old records and built up a pedigree of the Ashurst family back to the Revolutionary War.  That was in 1976.  I sent copies of my pedigree to Salt Lake.  I left copies in the Arizona State genealogy library in Phoenix, and later in the courthouse in Paris, Kentucky.  I gave copies to my grandfather’s brother.  Of course, I also gave them to my siblings and my children.  Many, many people have taken that beginning and used it as the basis for their own research.  I constantly find where it has been copied or referenced.  That gives me a great feeling, although I don’t feel like I get much credit.  It only happened because I was negligent in finishing up my degree. 
But remember that I did not find any birth records.   I still needed to find the family cemetery in Paris.

I told you I would tell you about my failures.  I let a lot of years pass without getting to Kentucky.  I worked hard and built a career.  My wife and I raised six wonderful kids and kept them happy and fed and clothed.  But I had this nagging thought in the back of my mind that I should get myself to Kentucky and find that graveyard!
I knew I should make it a priority, but I was living on the West coast, and we had some financial setbacks.  I just couldn’t find the time and money to make that long trip.  Finally, in about 1987 I was working for Ross Perot’s company on a high priority project in New Jersey.  We lived in Washington state at that time, so I was a continent away from home.  I was out there for 3 months straight, working terribly long days, 110-120 hours per week, week after week.  Finally it started to slow down and I had a chance to take a weekend off.  I talked to my wife and we decided that it was time to make that trip to Kentucky.  A trip back to Washington meant so much flying time that we’d only have a half day together anyway.  So, Instead of going home that weekend, I caught a short flight to Kentucky, rented a car, and drove out to Paris.
I parked in front of the courthouse and walked in the door, not really knowing what to do.  I had no idea where the old family farm was located, except that it was near Paris, and I didn’t know how to start.
  Two women were talking behind a circular desk with a sign that said, “Information” so I walked over there.  As I waited for them I noticed a map of Bourbon County on the wall and I was startled when my eye fell on the name:  W. ASHURST!   It was like I got poleaxed!  William Ashurst was my grandfather’s grandfather!  What I was looking at was a copy of an old map dated 1877, and it showed all the names of families living in the rural farms.  It was the key to what I needed!  Now I knew how to proceed.
When the women finished and one of them asked how she could help me, I asked first thing if I could get a copy of that map.  She told me it had been used as the inside cover of a book on architecture and that I could get a copy across the street, which I did soon after.  She also showed me where they kept the old records and let me into a back room where I found a lot of the records I had painstakingly searched on the poor microfilm copies when I was doing my original research on my family.  Actually handling those old, original records was a hoot, but I didn’t find much new.  I confirmed that in Kentucky they didn’t record births.  They just didn’t bother.
I did find some interesting court records such as the Wills I already showed you the index for.  I spent my first day in the courthouse and nearby public library, which had a genalogy section.  The next day (my last), I headed out to find the family farm.
I bought a current map of Bourbon County and laid it next to my new book on Architecture (with the map inside) and pretty quickly got the road located where the ancestral farm was located.  I was on my way, at last.
As I turned onto the Clintonville Pike road where the old farm is located, I noticed a sobering sight.  There was a little triangle of land where several roads came together that was too small for a business, and was obviously used mostly for temporary parking.  In the middle was a big old chestnut tree and under the tree were tombstones.  Hundreds of them, leaning on the tree trunk, and on one another.  Someone told me they were from farms nearby as farmers got tired of plowing around them.  He said there are family graveyards on every piece of ground and most of them are for people nobody knows, so they get plowed under pretty often  When the farmers got tired enough to do something about it they loaded the stones up and piled them there, or hauled them to the dump.  I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
It took me a while to locate the exact farm where my ancestors had lived.  When I did, I knocked on a farmhouse door and a nice young couple came out.  I confirmed I was in the right place as they looked over my maps.  When I inquired about the family graveyard the man told me that the corporation that currently owned the land had instructed him to remove the gravestones and haul them off.  He said he had pled with them not to do it, but they had insisted and he had taken them to the dump, about a year before.
For eleven years I had had the strong feeling that I should go find that cemetery, but I had waited one year too long!  There is no other way to explain except to say that I failed.  My only hope is that someday I might discover that somebody else recorded the information on the headstones.  So far, I haven’t found a trace.
The couple who lived there did tell me an interesting thing.  They said there was another graveyard just over the hill, away from the road, and they pointed out the track to follow.  I went back there and found a slave graveyard.  At that time, I had no idea such a thing existed, although it is logical.
I knew from census records that my ancestors had been slave owners.  I wasn’t very happy to learn that, but you can’t do anything about what your ancestors did.  You can learn it, but not change it.
I located the graveyard because in the middle of rolling hills of beautiful blue grass farmland there was a grove of tight-packed saplings growing in a square.  That was it – just a square of young trees.  I walked over to the edge of the square and sat down on a log to think.  At first, I thought it was another cemetary where the stones had been hauled away.  But as I sat there I began to see the pattern of it.  There were stones, but they were simple blocks of uncut limestone, unremarkable in every way except that they were laid out in a regular grid.  They were about three feet apart from each other in both directions.  It took me a while to figure out what that meant.  When we bury people, we dig a hole six feet deep and about 2 X 8 feet long, so we can lay them to rest lying down.  With stones 3 feet apart, it meant the slaves were not given the space and/or time to do that.  They dug a hole just large enough for a body that was folded up.  It must have sucked, being a slave.
I wandered through the yard and I found a few stones that had 2 or 3 initials rudely carved into the limestones, but most had no marks that remained.
I actually had a very spiritual experience as I contemplated that slave graveyard.  Those people had some severe trials, but I felt like they had found peace there.  It is a nice location, near the top of the hill with a view across the countryside, not to where most folks live, but across the back country and trees and grasslands.  It was quiet, and nice.
The last thing I found there was in the SE corner, at a low point where it wasn’t visible from very far away.  There were a few modern stones standing upright – 3 or 4 of them.  Most were small-ish, but one stood out above all the rest.  To begin with, it was 5 feet tall, and very ornate, with carvings – which alone would make it stand out in that place.  But the inscription is what made it unique.
J. H. Simonds
Born Nov. 22, 1830
Died  Feb. 8, 1860
(that means it was placed near the beginning of the Civil War when slaves were still in bondage, and  J. H. Simonds was less than 30 years old.)
And then this verse
Why do we mourn departing friends,
Or shake at deaths alarms?
Tis but the voice that Jesus sends,
To call them to his arms.

I’ve always like that verse.  I have no idea who J. H. Simonds was, or even if  J. H. was male or female, although I always think of her as a woman.  It piques my curiosity why such an ostentatious gravestone got to be in such a place, and why J. H. was that well thought of.  There has to be a story, and I wish I knew it.
I am sad to report that  the slave graveyard is also gone, now.  I haven’t been back, but recently I got onto Google Earth and looked at the satellite images of that hillside.  There is an unbroken field there now, so the slaves of the ancestral home are now in the same state as the family who owned them, sleeping in unmarked peace.  But they are not forgotten.  I remember them, and I think of them often.

So, what should you get out of that experience?  Well, obviously, DO NOT put off doing things the spirit tells you to do!  Don’t be like me, having years of strong feelings that I should journey to ancestral home, only to arrive too late to accomplish my main purpose.  Now, I had a great experience on that trip and I am very glad I went!  But I still have no birth dates for my Ashurst ancestors.

Well, we’ve discussed indexing, and genealogical research.  Those are two legs of a 3-legged stool.  But why do we do those things?   My close friend recently said genealogy isn’t doctrine, it’s a hobby.  True, so why does the church encourage us to participate?  The answer is temple work.  We are trying to perform temple ordinances for every person who has lived on Earth.  That is the third leg of the stool.  It is also is a very big slice of pie to swallow at one time.  Too big for me!    Fortunately I don’t have to do it all alone, and neither do you.
Here is an engineering question for you:  How did they dig the Panama Canal?
Answer:  One shovel-full at a time.
True, they had some awesomely big shovels, but they still dug it by moving a shovel-full at a time.  Move enough shovel-fulls and you can bridge a continent.
We don’t have to do all the temple work there is to do.  But if each of us does something, we can perform huge tasks.  We can’t do everything, but each of us can do something.  And that’s what we are asking you to do.
Try out indexing.  It is given in small batches and they are simple to do - Easy; fast; instant gratification.
Try your hand at genealogy.  It is a hobby that is encouraged by the church and can become a fascinating journey into history. 
Or write some history.  Just start writing down what you remember about your parents and grandparents.  I recently did that and got a surprise.  My mother told me that she met my father at a dance.  When I wrote that down and sent to my siblings another version of the story came out.
My father confirms that actually they met when he was washing a car just off main street, and it being a hot day he had his shirt off.  My mother whistled at him!  I was shocked at this turn of events.  My mother whistled at a man?!?  Really?
And take time to come to the temple.  It is a  wonderful place to spend a couple of hours.
God bless you all.  You are wonderful people, and you are doing good works.  Remember that we know about honey bees because they do more than they absolutely have to.  Bee like honeybees.
And I say this, …………………………

Sacrament Meeting talk - 03/15/2015

March 15, 2015
I spoke in the Plano 3rd ward today.  The YM/YW just completed a TREK where they pushed handcarts over the north Texas plains on the National Grasslands.  It has been rainy and cold, so the ground was already muddy, and they got hit by a pretty substantial rainstorm on the 2nd day of the Trek. 
There were three youth Speakers who were on the TREK who spoke first, and they used most of the meeting time.  I had prepared the following talk, which would take me about 12.5 minutes.  I had pre-marked some of the stories to leave out if time ran short, but I had to cut out almost all the pioneer stories to make it fit in the remaining time.

I bring you the love of the Stake Presidency as I speak today on assignment.  My topic today is How our Pioneer Heritage influences our future Pioneering.   My personal heritage is that I am descended from pioneers.
My grandfather grew up in a tiny Utah town, and as a young man worked in his father’s mercantile store.  I was very lucky to see him and my grandmother almost every day, either at our house or theirs.  Grandpa was great about taking me and my cousins with him when he was going to cattle auctions, or out to work on his farm.  During these trips, he loved to tell us stories of his youth, just as I’m doing right now. 
The cool thing about him was that he was the 13th child of his parents, so they were fairly old when he was young.  Most men his age had parents born in Utah, after the trip across the plains to Utah, but both his parents were born in the Nauvoo area. 
I want to tell you about my grandpa and his parents – my great-grandparents.
Grandpa’s  father, my great-grandfather, was 7 years old when the Saints were forced to leave their homes in a bitter-cold morning in February 1847.  He crossed the Mighty Mississippi on the ice when the river froze solid – a very rare occurrence indeed on that wide, strong river.  As a youngster, he probably helped keep watch on the livestock, and he would have been called in to help in the brutally hard work of getting wagons and livestock through the Iowa mud in that wet spring, as they struggled to join the other Saints in Winter Quarters.
All the journals that talk about crossing Iowa mention mud in almost every entry:
·        Bro Smith’s wagon got mired in a mud hole and we had to call on 25 or our brothers to push it through.
·        Bro. Smith’s team of oxen slipped over the bank.  We had to get the yoke off them before we could pull them out, but one of them died of exhaustion and we left it in that hole.  Brother Stevens gave him a milk cow to help pull his wagon.  [My great-great-grandfather Stevens loaned the milk cow to one of the brothers in his company in exchange for a bucket of corn.  When they got to Utah, he didn’t get the cow back.  He never mentioned it, but it was recorded in someone else’s journal.]
·        Brother Wilson was so deep in the mud that he lost his boots and we were unable to find them.  He walked barefoot for 3 miles to camp.  The next morning when he woke, there was a pair of boots just inside the flap of his tent.
Great-Grandpa’s family stayed at Winter Quarters until the very end, raising grain to support that great migration.  They finally joined a company of pioneers to make the journey to Salt lake in 1851, among the very last of the Saints from Nauvoo. 
We sometimes don’t appreciate how long it took to get the Nauvoo Saints to Utah.  A few got there in 1847, more went in 1848, but very few went in 1849 because the way was choked with gold miners joining the California Gold Rush.  More went in 1850, and the last of them in 1851.  So, it was five years total to make the trip.
My great-grand mother was only a couple of months old when they had to leave Nauvoo, and was only 20 months old when they arrived in Utah, so she had no memories of it at all.  Many babies were buried along that trail, but she was one of the lucky ones, and she grew up in a rapidly growing Salt Lake City and was relatively pampered.  Her father was a talented stone carver, and worked on many buildings in Salt Lake, and later on the new statehouse building in Fillmore for that one year when Brigham Young thought the capitol of Deseret ought to be in its geographic center.
Now, back to Great-grandpa.
 Great-grandpa’s family lived for a couple of years in Utah Valley south of Provo, before Brigham Young told them to sell their place and move to Southern Utah to colonize the territory.  They were assigned to Cedar City, but when they arrived in Fillmore, they sent back word that they were needed there due to some troubles with Indians and they received permission to help build in Holden, a tiny little town just north of Fillmore.  The Saints built a log fort in Holden that was essentially a square of small rooms with dirt floors, and very few windows.   
As the family grew, they were able to get a 2nd and then a 3rd room in the fort as other families built better homes, but they stayed in the deteriorating old fort for many years.  When they finally started work on a wood-frame house, his mother moved in as soon as the floors were laid, excited to be up off the dirt at long last.  She gave no thought to the workers building walls and raising ceilings about her.  She would have been happy with a tent as long as it had a wooden floor!
Great-grandpa was about 17 when they arrived in Holden and started looking for a job because he was considered old enough to be his own man at that age.  He had a horse and he got a contract to carry mail between Fillmore and Cedar City – some 60 miles away, making the round trip twice a week.  That contract brought cash into the area, which was in short supply in Utah all the way up to WWII.  He built his mail contract into a freight-hauling business, and built that into three mercantile stores that were still thriving when I was a boy, although he was gone by then.  He met Great-grandma when her family spent that year in Fillmore, and they were sealed in the brand-new Manti temple.  They built their own home in Holden and raised a large family.  While the mode of travel was via stagecoach, their home was a waystop and they often served meals to 20 people or more at a time.
So, my grandfather (their 13th child) grew up in Holden and helped his father.  He drove freight wagons and tended stock, but his older brothers got the best jobs in the stores and he settled into farming and raising calves.  He loved calves.  He’d go to the auctions around Utah to buy and sell them.  He’d buy little calves just weaned from their mothers, and he’d raise them until they were fat and big enough to be sold.  Sometimes I would go to his house and grandma would send me out to the barn, where I’d find him sitting on a feed sack, just talking to his calves.
Both he and my other grandfather told me that at the time they married they owned a team of horses and considered that they were set for life.  A man could always earn a living if he had a good team.  Both of them earned their living in that way for a while (in different states), but after about 10 years tractors became available and the teams disappeared from almost all the farms.

So how does our Pioneer Heritage influence our lives?  I think we have some important life lessons we can understand better by examining their examples.
1.      The LDS people from Nauvoo were all converts to the church, and they made important decisions about their lives when they made the commitment to join the church.  At that time, joining the church meant moving to the frontier.   That pushed their faith into the middle of a lot of other aspects of their lives, including politics, marriage (some spouses weren’t willing to do it), what they did for a living, etc.   It is that fact that makes it so we now have an LDS faith, AND an LDS culture.  Those two things are separate, but we have trouble separating them in our minds.  For example, we men wear a white shirt when fulfilling priesthood responsibilities.  It has nothing to do with our faith – you can’t find any reference to it in scripture, but it is important in LDS culture.  We never even think about it, because our faith and our culture are so closely tied together.
2.      The pioneers made serious sacrifices for their faith. Today, we don’t have to move like they did when we join the church, but we still have to make some difficult life-style commitments like they did,  such as:
a.       Paying Tithing
b.      Giving up habits in violation of the Word of Wisdom
c.       Time.   We attend a huge number of Meetings, etc.  We spend so much time together that we sometimes get accused of being stand-offish.  We don’t mean to be.
d.      We accept LDS cultural roles and mores.
3.      Service.  We are still encouraged to perform service, just like the early saints were.  Service is an act of sacrifice that builds spiritual strength.  The pioneers are great examples of service because they were completely isolated from all other help as they crossed the plains.  They had to help each other or they wouldn’t have made it.
a.       There are two major examples of pioneer companies who got caught in big winter storms while still traveling across the Western Plains.
                                                                                       i.      The Donner party (not an LDS party) got caught by an early snow storm in the Sierra-Nevada mountains.  They were a band of small groups who acted independently – every group for themselves.  Their story is marked by selfishness.  Almost all of them perished, and the few survivors got through only by committing cannibalism.  Their very name is INFAMY!
                                                                                     ii.      The Martin-Willy Handcart company (who were LDS) got caught by an early snow storm in the windswept, high plains between Wyoming and Utah.  They were in worse trouble than the Donner Party because they had nothing with which to build shelters out there.  But they acted as one large group and helped each other in everything.  Many of them perished, too, but most made it through to Salt Lake, and the difference was that the LDS saints helped each other in every thing.  If one of them had any food, then everybody got something to eat.  They were able to reach out to the Saints in Salt Lake who went to extreme lengths to get them home.
4.      The LDS Saints were asked to do extremely difficult things.  I have read about the brother of one of my ancestors who was assigned to relocate seven times after they reached Utah, each time leaving a new-built home behind.  Each time building a new home in a new place where President Young felt the need for a community of Saints.  Great-grandpa’s family only had to relocate once, but even so they left a wooden home to live on a dirt floor.  The early Saints worked hard to build better lives for their children than they had for themselves.  So why did they do that?  It wasn’t that it was comfortable, nor that they themselves prospered so much.  But their faith was great, in part because of the sacrifices they made.
I love reading about the pioneer Saints.  I like reading their daily journals and picking out little details about their travels. 
For example that last Nauvoo party to travel from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake in 1851 had the assignment to pick up any iron scrap they could find along the way.  They arrived in Salt Lake with their wagons full of iron wagonwheel rims, rusty nails, broken braces, and parts from abandoned wagons.  It was junk, but iron and steel were in short supply until smelters could be built, so it was valuable to them.
It is good, and proper for us to remember those people who were pioneers, and what they did to establish the church in the tops of the mountains.  Their lives even impacted our music.  It helps us gird up our loins and thrust in our sickle with all our might in building up the church in Zion.  The World has need of WILLING men, who wear the worker’s seal.    As we put our shoulders to the wheel, we grow in faith, and No toil nor Labor do we fear.  And we, too, sacrifice to become a Zion people.
And, I say this . . .

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The worst thing that happened when I was in the marines.

A couple weeks ago, we were in the mountains in Utah having a fun family reunion.  Every evening after the young kids were down for the night the boys built a huge fire in the fire pit and the adults and older kids pulled folding chairs around it for a gab session.  On the last evening, we were all relaxed and let some of the not-quite-old-enough kids sit in.  My granddaughter, Winnie, came and sat on my lap and asked me a few questions about small things.  She is turning into a young lady and I was aware it may well be the last time she would crawl into my lap to talk to me.
After a bit, she asked me to tell her about the worst thing that happened to me when I was a marine.  I don't have to think very hard to identify the worst thing. The experience is difficult for me so I wasn't very comfortable with her request, but since she asked so nicely I decided to do it.  The other people around the fire were chatting about this and that, so it was just her and me involved in our conversation.  This is the story I told her:

I almost killed a man one day.
When I was in the marines, every low ranking marine had to serve 30 days on mess duty every year.  Shortly before I got married to Liz, my turn came up and I was assigned to work in the salad room.  We started early in the morning and worked until late at night, cutting up vegetables, shredding, mixing and doing whatever the day's menu called for.
  There was a particular cook who took a dislike for me, and he harassed me every chance he got.  He'd pinch me, call me names, accuse me of being homosexual, or try to start a fight with me.  I just walked away from him each time and that seemed to make him mad.  I didn't worry about him too much, but I avoided him whenever I could.  TROUBLE was written all over him.
  One day, we were especially busy in the salad room, with a lot of vegetables to be cut into small pieces.  We often had recruits who were going to be discharged from boot camp, working wherever they were needed and that day a lot of them were in the salad room with me.  They were using all the paring knives and other small knives, and when I got out a sack of carrots to cut them up, the only knife left was a huge, thick-bladed knife with a curved blade about 20-25 inches long.  I have no idea what the knife was intended for.  It was too big for normal cooking chores, and was really more like a sword than a knife, except that it had a plain, wooden handle. But because it was the only knife left, I was using it to cut the carrots into thin discs.  The curved blade actually worked nicely as I rolled it over a bunch of carrots.  The salad room was square, with counters all around the walls and we were standing shoulder to shoulder around the room, working steadily.

Vtg VILLAGE BLACKSMITH Large Butcher Knife Meat Cutting Blade #3290 19-1/2
  As we worked, that troubled cook came into the room for something.  He was carrying a steak knife in his hand, which was odd, but I really didn't give him any thought.  He got whatever it was he was looking for and as he passed behind me he stabbed me in the small of the back.  It wasn't a bad stab, not very deep, but it hurt a lot!  I yelled and lifted both hands above my head, turning to see what was hurting me.  As I turned to my right, I saw him grinning at how clever he had been and my mind instantly realized that I had the perfect weapon in the perfect position to cut him in half.  I focused on the point where his neck met his right shoulder and I knew I could hit him squarely and take his head off.  I pivoted on my feet and started to swing at him, but then pulled back.  All the young marines in the room had seen what happened and they gasped as I started to lunge at him.  He saw me too, and we both knew that if I'd swung at him he'd have been dead.  That cook's eyes were big, wide open, and full of fear!
  Instead, I turned back around and went back to cutting carrots.  He came back at me and stuck his knife in my butt, leaning on me and pushing it in.  Ignored him for a couple seconds then growled at him to, "Get the *@!* out of here!"  He leaned on his knife a bit more before hustling out.  I was surprised, I expected more trouble from him, but I just didn't care what he did at that point.
  Some of the young guys ran out during this time and brought back a senior cook, who questioned them about it.  He had the whole story before he got to me.  When he asked me about it, I was still cutting carrots and still mad and all I could say was that he better keep that guy away from me because I didn't want to kill him.  He took care of it, too, because I never saw that guy again.  My time on mess duty was almost over, (I think I had one more day left) so maybe it's just that I went back to my normal duties after that, and then I went home to get married.  I didn't eat at the mess hall much after Liz and I got married.

  Winnie was pretty wide eyed by my story, but she didn't understand it all.  I didn't want to go into it too much, especially the part about the cook being a repressed homosexual making trouble in his frustration.  Then she asked me, "But why was he like that?"  I was pretty tense, so all I could say was, "Because he was an asshole!"  I might have been a little loud.
  All of a sudden, everybody around the fire burst out laughing.  That was the first I realized they were all listening.  Winnie buried her head in my shoulder, shaking.  Laughing, or crying?  I don't know.
  The laughter lasted quite a long time.  Somebody said Winnie just learned that her perfect Grandpa was human after all.  I was pretty embarassed.  As the laughter continued, it actually became quite helpful for me.  I unwound a bit and laughed, too.  I've always hated remembering that episode, so I haven't shared it much.  I didn't like that he'd put me in that situation, and I didn't like that I came so close to killing him, nor that I really wanted to.  In hind sight, I wish I hadn't shared it with Winnie, but I have to admit that I feel a lot better having gotten it off my chest.  Now that all my kids and some of my grandkids know about it, maybe it won't haunt my dreams anymore
  BTW, it isn't like I've had PTSD or anything over it.  I think about it occasionally, maybe 3 or 4 times a year, and then I will lie awake at night until I get up and read or something to take my mind off it.

  Moral:  Be sure you really want to know before you ask a marine about the WORST thing that happened to him.  Lots of us have much worse stories than I do.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The news

  1. Monday was the last day for me selling Medicare insurance in 2012.  Last year the company made a big deal out nobody got Christmas Eve off, and then they let us all go on Dec. 28.  This year they started letting people go as soon as the Annual enrollment period was over (Dec 7).  I felt bad to be let go, again, but I can go back again next year if I want to.
  2. Last year was a bad year for me in the medical dept. and I had to go on antibiotics 3 times, which messed up my intestinal fauna - those little friends who keep everything working properly and clean down there where the sun don't shine.  So I was searching for ways to re-establish active colonies.  I took probiotic pills every other day to keep the colony alive, but it didn't seem like it was quite enough.  I discovered that some probiotic pills only have 1 culture, some 3, and I knew the normal person has hundreds of different critters at work.  Then one day I noticed a weird bottle in the dairy section at the grocery store and that's how I discovered Kefir cultured milk smoothies with "10 +2 live & active cultures".  They made an immediate difference, so it was effective.  My favorite flavor is pomegranate, but sometimes they don't have it.  So I recently bought some blueberry flavored Kefir.  It upsets my stomach for some strange reason.  Well, it's the Christmas season and I love eggnog, and I discovered that eggnog will dilute the flavor and make it so I can finish off the bottle.
  3. After I had a policeman come over and run his lights in front of the house, we went a whole week before one of my strings of Christmas lights was cut again.  I fixed the string, but didn't put it back by the sidewalk.  Instead, I strung it up in a bush, which doesn't seem to offend the neighbors as much as the ones by the walk.  That was about a week ago, and today I noticed that one wire has been cut in another string.  I have soldered those strings of lights together so many times now that I must have mixed up the connections, because the entire string still works with that wire cut.  Strange.  Strange that the lights work, and strange that the miscreant stopped after cutting only one wire.  Maybe this one really was a rabbit.
  4. Our Christmas tree was getting old and the pre-wired lights were burning out.  There were sections here and there with no lights at all.  And, it was only 9 feet tall, which Liz always thought was inadequate for our entry.  The base was 3.5' wide, which is a tight fit in the nook at the base of the stairs, so a bigger tree was out of the question.  But the lights were a real problem.  I was moaning about the sheer drudgery of cutting out all the old lights and putting in new ones, and Liz and I were having our typical, oft-repeated discussion of why I'd like to use never-ending LED lights and how she doesn't like the color of them.  The result was Liz looked online at new Christmas trees and we discovered that Sam's had a new slim tree that is 12' tall and only slightly bigger at the base.  So we bought one.  BONUS:  It came with a wireless remote control.  Very cool, and I was able to astound the missionaries by turning it on with a wave of my hand.  They figured it out when I turned it off by snapping my fingers, though.

5.  Ruth got the old tree, and by using just the top sections where only a few lights are out, made it work in her apartment where it looks fantastic.
6.  Did you know that if you mis-spell dairy as diary, your spell checker won't catch it?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Battle of the Lights

A couple of Tuesdays ago I was home (I have Tuesdays off) and the LDS missionaries stopped by.   We chatted for a bit and they asked if they could help me with anything (I think that makes me officially one of the elderly members of the ward).  That caught me off guard and I said they could set up the Christmas lights on the little stakes along the sidewalk and in front of the house.  Then I realized I shouldn't have said anything because the poor guys were wearing suits.  They insisted though, so they set them up while I put lights in the bushes.  That took about a half hour, and then they left and I went in the house and did something else for a while - perhaps 1.5 hours.
So imagine my surprise when I peeked out there and one of the strings of lights was out.  I went outside and found that the end of the string of lights nearest to the Crazy Chinese Lady neighbors had been cut and pieces of wire were all over the ground.
  I removed the string of lights and took it inside to solder the wires back together, then re-installed them outside.  Everything looked good again, and I went back in the house.
A little while later, Liz got home from work and we went out to look at the lights.  The two strings along the sidewalk were out this time.  Both had been cut neatly, right next to the stakes so that 6" of the 3 wires were laying on the ground, still twisted together.  The two missing sections were directly across the sidewalk from each other.  I checked the wires to see if there was any sign of gnawing like animals would do, but the cuts were clean, diagonal, single cuts on each wire.
We were amazed, to say the least.  We get along with our neighbors, and I've had the same setup at Christmas every year for the 10 years we've been in the house.  So what set this off?

It was a several days before I had time to fix the wires again, and by the time I set them out, it was Tuesday evening – a week after the first cuts.  Again, within an hour the wires were cut on the two strings along the sidewalk, in the exact same places.  Liz threatened to call the police, but left for a church meeting before she could.
I thought about it for a while.  I didn’t want to have them actually do anything to anybody over a $3 string of lights, but I also didn’t want to have to worry about my wires getting cut faster than I could fix them.  So after thinking about it for a while, I called the police and they sent an officer right over.  A big, burly, officer who looked like he might have been a marine, or Delta Force. Somebody you wouldn't argue with.
The officer looked the damage over and declared that it was rabbits.  Rabbits?!?  Really?  He suggested I set up a game camera, so I would learn about rabbits.  (I have a couple of them, so I did set one up and got NO photos of rabbits.)  Meanwhile, I explained why I didn’t think it was rabbits, so he said he would put my views in his report and if it turned out to be kids or neighbors that would come into play.  That’s when I surprised him.  I told him I didn’t care about a report, I just wanted him to turn on his flashing lights for a few minutes.  I figured that if it was a neighbor, they had to be watching (judging by how regular they cut my wires).  So if they saw the lights, it would communicate that I didn’t appreciate the wire cutting, and that I had official backing.  He was happy to do that, and even joked that his lights were the best Christmas lights in town.  I agreed.

Next day, I fixed the lights again, and they’ve been on every evening since then.  No worries.  Liz is convinced it was the Crazy Chinese Lady, but we have no evidence so I am willing to consider it no-harm, no-foul from this point on.
Merry Christmas everyone, and a big thank you to Officer More.  Your lights are awesome!