Tag Archives: History

The glorious picture of Yosemite

Yosemite valley

Look closely and you can see Bridalveil Fall, and behind it Half Dome


“Pursuing my lonely way down the valley, I turned again and again to gaze on the glorious picture, throwing up my arms to inclose it as in a frame. After long ages of growth in the darkness beneath the glaciers, through sunshine and storms, it seems now to be ready and waiting for the elected artists, like yellow wheat for the reaper; and I could not help wishing that I were that artist. I had to be content, however, to take it into my soul.”

These words are naturalist John Muir’s, but if I were more eloquent, they could have been mine. The vistas at Yosemite National Park seem to prove the existence of God. I couldn’t preserve it, especially with my little phone camera, so I had to be content to take it into my soul.

We visited Yosemite earlier this year for one reason: El Capitan. It’s the sheer rock face on the left in the valley view above, and it was made famous (to me anyway) in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

Trekkers: Can’t live with ’em, can’t understand ’em.

Shake your head if you must.

el capitan

El Capitan is nothing if not imposing. That’s our little truck there at the bottom right.

The scene to which I’m referring occurs early in the movie. Capt. Kirk, Dr. McCoy and Spock are camping at Yosemite. Having been there now, I can imagine Star Fleet officers stationed at headquarters in the San Francisco area taking shore leave at nearby Yosemite. Very little else about the 1989 movie makes any sense, but this does.

While free-climbing El Capitan (which is rich with irony—a Star Fleet captain climbing El Capitan), Kirk loses his grip and falls (foreshadowing?). Spock, who is hovering nearby wearing jet-powered boots, catches him before he smashes at the bottom.

It’s a great scene that puts one of Earth’s natural wonders in the spotlight. So when I had the opportunity, I had to see it myself. “Because it’s there!” (That’s Kirk’s line in the movie for those of you who don’t memorize such trivia).

As you might expect, seeing Yosemite in person is nothing like seeing it in a movie. Set in the Sierra Nevada mountains, it’s remote, but it was worth the trip. It’s a beautiful and wild place, and surprisingly busy in mid-April. I can’t imagine how crazy it must be there in July.


Even crowded, the meadow near the foot of El Capitan in the Merced River valley is wide open and relatively quiet. This is a good place to take in the majesty around you. Unless you intend to free-climb El Capitan. Good luck to you.

For a review of The Wild Muir, a book of Muir’s adventures stories from which the opening quote is taken, check out my author blog.

Spirituality quest on the banks of the great Columbia River

Columbia River Gorge museum

Columbia River Gorge Interpretive Center Museum

Spiritual thoughts on a Sunday. Not to imply spiritual thoughts should be limited to Sundays …

spiritual quest

I found this deep-thinking museum label at the Columbia River Gorge Interpretive Center Museum, a grand building on the Columbia River near Stevenson in Washington State filled with historical information about the residents through time of the Columbia River Gorge (and some interesting tidbits about explorers Lewis and Clark and about the Oregon Trail).

The label above is a description accompanying the Spiritual Quest Gallery on the top floor of the museum where the Don Brown Rosary Collection, the world’s largest of its kind, finds its home. Brown was a resident of Skamania County, Washington, in the early part of the 20th century. Nearly 4,000 rosaries are displayed along with other religious artifacts identified with Pacific Northwest history. It’s a bit like walking through a bead store until you realize every single string of beads is a rosary.

Here’s the biggest rosary on display.

large rosary

And here’s another set of rosaries that are probably apt for Memorial Day weekend.

patriotic rosaries

I don’t know what drove Don Brown to make his life’s work about collecting rosaries. I’ve read that collections of anything are manifestations of something one was lacking in a past life. Maybe Don Brown should have prayed more in a past life. One of the lines in the museum display card attempts to define it: “Deep within each person is a spiritual longing. It is a thirst unquenched, a hunger unfulfilled, a vision only partly seen.”

Cool and collected, Titanic exhibit impresses

I was Mrs. Peacock.

Not the Mrs. Peacock who was strangled with the rope in the library in a game of Clue, the real Mrs. Peacock was drowned with a child in her arms on the Titanic.

“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” uses a clever method to invest the viewer. Each ticket to the exhibition is a copy of a real passenger ticket on the doomed steamship.

Going in, I knew the odds were long that I would survive, as Mrs. Benjamin Peacock was traveling in third class. She, her 3-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son were leaving England to meet her husband in Elizabeth, New Jersey. A mechanical engineer, he had immigrated the year before. Mrs. Peacock, pregnant at the time, had fallen ill when they were due to sail, so she stayed behind and booked passage months later on the Titanic.

Benjamin Peacock never saw his wife and daughter again, and he never met his son. They all drowned when the unsinkable ship hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912.

The exhibition at the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas features actual objects — dishes, luggage, floor tiles — fished out of the sea, refurbished and displayed in all their eerie glory. One enormous multi-ton hunk of the ship fills one room.

Observers employ all their senses. One reads the history. Recordings whisper and shout the stories of the doomed. One room is dark and cold, like it was that night on the deck of the ship. Actual samples of a perfumer on the boat are displayed in such a way as to be able to inhale their scent.

As I completed my journey through the artifacts, I was sad, yes, because Mrs. Peacock, her children and 1,500 other souls perished, but I was enriched because I was impressed with the effort required to rescue and display the artifacts.

“Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” is worth the time and money away from the gaming tables because unlike so much else in Las Vegas, it’s real. The victims are not forgotten.



This monument of classical Greek columns, supporting nothing but the sky, rises out of nowhere in the middle of the Florida Everglades as a tribute to Barron Collier, a New York City advertising mogul and real estate developer.

Collier, namesake of the county in which this monument stands, moved into Southwest Florida a century ago and built the Tamiami Trail, an alligator-infested highway that crosses the expansive wetlands that comprise the southern half of the state.

The iconic, perfectly symmetrical architecture is juxtaposed with the surrounding wilderness of mangroves, palm trees and saw grass. I caught a glimpse of it today when I attended the Jammin’ in the Hammock Bluegrass Festival.

A hammock, in ecological terms as it is surely defined here, is a stand of hardwood trees in the midst of a wetlands. Bluegrass and the music for which it is named, as defined here, is native to Kentucky and Appalachia.

All these things — a New York real estate mogul, Greek architecture, bluegrass music and the Everglades — came together under sunny skies this afternoon.

The seasons come, the seasons go.
We get a little sunshine, rain and snow.
Just a way that it was planned to be.

Is the end of the world upon us? I take comfort in small things

Is it possible universal fears of Armageddon change over time?

I’ve been traveling the past few days and taking the opportunity to visit with friends and acquaintances with whom I don’t get to associate on a regular basis.

Strangely, after chatting about kids and jobs, many discussions have veered into talk of doomsday.

(Maybe it’s me that’s obsessed with doomsday, not my friends, so this phenomena might not be strange as much as I’m making fertile ground for such talk. Let’s just state, for the record, that I believe change is constant and doomsday in some form is not only possible but inevitable. Remember the Roman Empire? They were once the world’s superpower and look where they are now — the stuff of Hollywood. Even their numbering system has been reduced to trivia questions. What is D + MIV?)

In any case, the theories on the end of the world or, at least, the end of America that I’ve heard in the past few days include: currency devaluation, governmental debt, political discord, the end of Big Oil, zombies (go figure, he’s a fan of “Walking Dead”) and yeti terrorism.

OK, I made that last one up. My nephews are obsessed with Big Foot so they’re the only ones terrorized by tall, hairy cyphers.

No one I’ve chatted with is afraid of a worldwide contagion (unless it causes zombie-ness) but let’s add that to contemporary doomsday fears.

Interestingly, I ran across a relevant program during a visit yesterday to the local historical society. The typewritten program was for a high school symposium in 1970 titled “Society Today … Tomorrow?”

Note the ominous addition of the question mark at the end.

HS 10

Among the discussion groups outlined in the program was “The People Crisis: After 200,000,000 … What?”

At first, I thought 200 million was a reference to the worldwide population. In fact, 3.7 billion human beings populated the earth in 1970.

Instead, the discussion group pondering our future in 1970 was discussing the U.S. population which had just crossed the arbitrary “200 million” mark in 1968, and China has just begun “encouraging” its citizens to have only two children per family.

My mother said she remembers this was a hot topic in schools during that time frame (she was a high school teacher in the ’60s and distinctly recalls students coming to class braless, gasp, so overpopulation wasn’t the only hot topic back then). In fact, when she became unexpectedly pregnant with my brother (her third child), she felt guilty for contributing to this serious societal concern.

Overpopulation is less “hot” today — shall we say lukewarm? One of the conversations I was party to this week centered around the continuing wisdom of investing in farmland which can be used to grow food for the world’s growing population. Google “is the United States overpopulated?” and the top two returns in order are “The United States is already overpopulated” and “Overpopulation is NOT the problem.” (“The United States is already overpopulated” brings you to the webpage for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, so consider the source.)

For the record, 313 million people live in the United States today. I would side with the “overpopulation is NOT the problem” camp if I had to choose.

Ultimately, that program from the symposium in 1970 comforts me. If overpopulation was the end-du-jour of the world and now ranks a distant 10 or 12, then surely today’s Washington gridlock will someday (soon) be the stuff of historical documents.

Unless the U.S. debt gets us first.

Descendents share more than a name

When [Abraham] was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the Almighty God. Obey me and always do what is right. I will make my covenant with you and give you many descendants.”

~ Genesis 17:1-2

I thought of this ancient promise to Abraham this weekend as I enjoyed the reunion of my mother’s family.

Twenty-three of us gathered together, all descendents of my maternal grandparents. As I created a group on Facebook to share photos, I pondered for a moment on how to name this group and finally settled on my grandfather’s name: Harold Kulland Family Reunion.

Perhaps ironically, however, only six of those in attendance actually carry his last name. As I made the mental count, I realized how endangered that last name really is; only one child in the fourth generation — those among my grandfather’s great-grandchildren — carry that name.

It didn’t begin that way. In fact, my grandfather looked to have more descendants than Abraham. Abraham had only one son with Sarah; my grandparents had three sons.

I think of poor Charles Ingalls. He had a handful of daughters, and his only son died as a child. His only grandchild didn’t procreate, and his line ended. If it hadn’t been for his daughter Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books and her ownership of the Ingalls name, he would be lost to the oblivion.

Though my grandfather had three sons, one died before having children, one had two daughters and the youngest son is the only one to bear sons. One of those grandsons has not yet had children, so there may yet be more Kullands in my grandfather’s line; the other grandson has one son who, barring the adoption of a new or hyphenated name, carries the Kulland name.

My grandfather had brothers who had sons, so the Kulland name is certainly not endangered. And at the moment, Harold Kulland’s memory and name live on in a lively way among his descendents, who shared memories, devoured Chex mix, posed for pictures and enjoyed each other’s company this weekend. And they hope to do it again sometime soon.

Calling 1998

This archaic bit of technology reminded me of old times the other day when I was traveling through Union Station in Chicago.

public telephone

What’s that, say you teenagers? It’s what we used to have on nearly every street corner, in the rear of many stores and in the entryway of most restaurants, back before we carried our phones with us everywhere we went.

There are about 300,000 pay phones across America, say phone industry officials, but the national total is tiny compared with the all-time high of 2.6 million in 1998, just before cell phones took off, according to a recent story about pay phones in the San Francisco Chronicle.

That silver snake-like thing? It’s a cord, a device to keep you tethered to the phone while speaking (or listening). No privacy for you, no siree bub. That big black U-shaped thing? It’s the handle connecting the speaker for your ear with the mouthpiece. And those finger-sized buttons. Yes, they are buttons big enough to actually press the correct numbers.

Oh, how quaint.

And if I had composed a better picture, you could see the coin slot on top — for collecting money for every call. “Changes may apply” never goes out of style.