Friday, October 29, 2010

By Any Other Name

It all adds up to one thing: peace, silence, solitude. The world and its noise are out of sight and far away. Forest and field, sun and wind and sky, earth and water, all speak the same language.
A quote by American writer Thomas Merton, 1915-1968
found in the visitor's center at Devil's Tower
Photo taken through the window at the visitor's center

It was a beautiful place, but I'm not too fond of its name. Devil's Tower is just not some place I want to spend a beautiful October morning.

So, even though Devil's Tower is the most recognizable of the names for America's first national monument, I guess I'd prefer the Lakota's "Bear Lodge" or perhaps the Cheyenne's "Grizzly Bear's House."

In fact, early maps assign the name "Bear Lodge" to the unique rock formation. Following an 1878 military expedition led by Col. Richard Dodge, the name Devil's Tower appeared, and that's the name given to the monument in 1906.

Maybe it's because they had a "devil of a time" traversing it, I don't know.

This upthrust rock in Wyoming is the stuff of legends - literally.

An Indian Legend

One day, an Indian tribe was camped beside the river, and seven small girls were playing at a distance. The region had a big bear population, and a bear started to chase the girls.

They ran back toward their village, but the bear was about to catch them. The girls jumped up on a rock about three feet high and began to pray to the rock, "Rock, take pity on us; Rock, save us."

The rock heard the pleas of the young girls and began to elongate itself upwards, pushing them higher and higher out of reach of the bear.

The bear clawed and jumped at the sides of the rock. The bear continued to jump at the rock until the girls were pushed up into the sky, where they are to this day in a group of seven little stars (the Pleiades). The marks of the bear claws are there yet.

We walked the trail around the base of the tower near Hulett, Wyoming, after having our photo taken by a couple from Australia.

We took a more leisurely approach than a group of climbers who planned to conquer the summit.

It was a beautiful view - whether looking up to the rock or down in the valley surrounding it.

It truly seemed a sacred spot. All along the way, visitors had left prayer cloths and bundles in the trees.

Not everything at the Tower can be seen. On the north side of the Tower, away from the noises of the visitor center and the road, the wind whistled through the pines ...

chipmunks and squirrels chattered ...

and the deer fed on grasses.
Few human noises intruded on the quiet solitude of the pines.

See how nature - trees, flowers, grass - grows in silence;
see the stars, the moon, the sun, how they move in silence.
A quote by Mother Teresa
found on one of the monument's placards

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I see my fair share of critters around the County Line.

But we had a whole new menagerie of critters on our recent trip through the Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota and the sand hills of Nebraska.

Nearly 1,500 majestic bison roam the prairie of the Custer State Park.

One scene reminded us of home. The bison "babies" had been weaned from their mothers, a process we will do with our cow-calf herd in early November here on the County Line.

We got a "taste" of bison at our lunch stop at the Blue Bell Lodge.

Randy had the BBQ buffalo sandwich. I had buffalo stew in a bread bowl.

The weirdest encounter was with burros who had no intention of moving off the 18-mile Wildlife Loop road in Custer State Park.

People literally were weaving around them on the road to continue their journey. They reminded me of cattle who sometimes have to be nudged from a feed bunk with the fender of the pickup.

The wild burros (who didn't appear so wild anymore) trace their roots to a herd that once hauled visitors to the top of Harney Peak. At the rate they move these days, it would take awhile.

I had rolled down the window to get a photo of two small burros running and playing on a pretty fall day.

I did get the photo. But I also got an unwanted "kiss" from a slobbering burro.

It was a little too up close and personal for me. However, Randy got his laugh for the day.

We didn't see mountain goats in the wild. But one little one did "climb" up on a rock outside of Mount Rushmore. Mountain goats aren't native to the Black Hills. Introduced into Custer Park in 1924, a well-established herd now lives in the Needles-Harney Park area, though we didn't see them the day we were there.

We also saw pronghorn antelope while on the Wildlife Loop.

We saw deer quenching their thirst at the Niobrara River at Valentine, Nebraska. (Not that we don't see plenty of deer around here. I just hope I don't see them jumping out of the ditches in front of my car.)

Our trip to the Badlands led to a sighting of bighorn sheep.

It was like our own little version of Wild Kingdom ... without the television screen.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Eye of the Needle(s)

The Eye of the Needle - Needles Highway, South Dakota

If Doane Robinson would have gotten his way, our drive down the Needles Highway in South Dakota would have been "decorated" with giant stone carvings of Buffalo Bill Cody, George Armstrong Custer and Lewis and Clark.

I'm glad Robinson didn't win the battle with sculptor Gutzon Borglum. The natural beauty was stunning, just as God made it.

Doane was the superintendent of the South Dakota Historical Society in the 1920s. He was the impetus for bringing Borglum to the state to carve the faces of Western heroes into the rocky hills of South Dakota. It was travel and tourism before every state had a department for that.

Borglum had other ideas ... a little idea that eventually became Mount Rushmore.

Still, Borglum embarked on a site-searching trip to find rocks massive enough to support a giant sculpture. He examined the Needles, as Robinson suggested, but found the rock too brittle for carving and the spires disproportionate to the human form.

I kept thinking about the Mount Rushmore park ranger telling us about those "brittle" rocks as we drove through the tunnels carved into them, complete with signs warning "Watch for Falling Rock."

Ah, well ... living life is a risk.

Randy drove while we traversed the hairpin curves along the narrow roadway. (Thank you, Randy!) This flatlander tried to appreciate the scenery even though we seemed dangerously close to the edge at times. I was thankful we were visiting during the off-season and weren't dodging other sightseers as we negotiated the peaks and valleys of the drive down Highway 16A. (I told you last week I had the song "Autumn Leaves" stuck in my head. That soundtrack continued along with a new one, "The Long and Winding Road." Yes, that is just how my brain works.)

We saw our first glimpse of the Cathedral Spires formation through the beauty of fall foliage.

We stopped for a closer look down a walking path just off the highway. A "cathedral" does seem an appropriate place for appreciating the wonder of God's creation.

There were amazing sights around every corner.

It made us feel rather small in the scheme of things. We could see why it was called Needles Highway with the many points of this formation.

I lift up my eyes to the hills - where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip- He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber or sleep.

The Lord watches over you - the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm - He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going, both now and forevermore."
Psalm 121

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


"... let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away."
Gutzon Borglum, Mount Rushmore sculptor, 1930

I love photos. I'm sure that will come as quite a shock to all of you. But as much as I love photos, they can't always convey the magic of seeing something in person.

I've seen photos of Mount Rushmore. Actually seeing Mount Rushmore was monumental - pun intended.

Mount Rushmore was one of the stops on our vacation last week. As I looked at this monument carved out of the Black Hills of South Dakota, I kept thinking about what a genius sculptor and artist Gutzon Borglum had to have been.

He didn't have any computer models. He didn't have modern equipment. He didn't have state-of-the-art blasting tools. He used a protractor ... yes, a protractor ... to figure out the measurements and dimensions.

I saw a jetstream slice through the clear blue sky while I listened to a park ranger tell the story of Mount Rushmore.

And I realized that while Borglum didn't have modern contraptions, he had something much more valuable: He had vision.

He could "see" through the layers of rock. And he had the skill and determination and intestinal fortitude to make it happen.

As with many monumental projects, not everybody was on the same page at first. In 1923, Doane Robinson, the superintendent of the South Dakota State Historical Society, had envisioned a massive mountain memorial carved from stone so large it would put South Dakota on the map and bring tourists by the carload. Robinson was dreaming of Western figures such as Chief Red Cloud, Buffalo Bill Cody, Lewis and Clark and other Western heroes.

But Borglum didn't share that vision. The outspoken sculptor told Robinson that his life's work would not be spent immortalizing regional heroes. Instead, he insisted the work demanded a subject national in nature and timeless in its history.

By selecting four presidential figures for the carving, Borglum wanted to create a reminder of the birth, growth, preservation and development of a nation dedicated to democracy and the pursuit of individual liberty.

An avenue of state flags frames the walkway toward the memorial.

The selection of the four presidents was not without controversy either. Washington and Lincoln were obvious choices, and they were carved first and second, respectively.

The park ranger leading our tour said he's often asked, "Who are the other two guys?" While I find that a sad commentary on American's grasp of their own history, I guess grade school children aren't celebrating the birthdays of Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt by coloring their faces and making paper cherry trees. On the other hand, when I was a grade school student, we did pay homage to Washington and Lincoln when we celebrated their February birthdays (individually - I might add.) Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, was another obvious choice for the monument, though his face might not be universally recognized.

Teddy Roosevelt was the most controversial of Borglum's choices. The president was a personal friend of the sculptor, but, as our park ranger said, Roosevelt was a champion of the American west and he - like his compatriots in stone - left the president's office better than he found it.

In 1927, with the help of more than 400 workers and several influential politicians, Borglum began carving a memorial to the history of America. More than 450,000 tons of rock were removed from Mount Rushmore to bring out the four presidential faces. Although nearly 90 percent of the rock was removed with dynamite, the remaining rock was removed by drilling with jackhammers and wedging the rock off the mountain.

The monument was finally completed in 1941. Borglum's son, Lincoln, did the final work on the monument after his father's death in March 1941.

The detail is remarkable. The closer you get to the monument, the more details you see. How did Borglum know what pieces of rock to remove to make the eyes stand out in each president's face? Genius ...

Today Mount Rushmore is visited by some 3 million visitors a year from across the U.S. and the world.

I was glad to visit the monument in the off-season and avoid some of those 3 million visitors.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Windshield Time

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving.
-- Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu has a different vacation plan than that usually embarked upon by the inhabitants on the County Line.

Randy usually has a travel itinerary with every "i" dotted and "t" crossed, but we took a more leisurely approach to a week-long vacation this past week. The wheat was planted. The milo was harvested. The cattle will stay in their summer pasture homes until the first of November.

Randy was ready for an adventure. (I was ready after working feverishly to get everything done my Type A personality thought I needed to do before leaving.)

We traveled through the sandhills of Nebraska to Mount Rushmore. We visited Devil's Tower in Wyoming. We traversed the Badlands of South Dakota. All in all, it was 1,800 miles of windshield time.

So, today, I'm giving you just a glimpse of what's to come as we discovered some of America's beautiful scenery.

Traveling is not just seeing the new;
it is also leaving behind.
Not just opening doors;
also closing them behind you, never to return.
But the place you have left forever is always there for you
to see whenever you shut your eyes.

-- Jan Myrdal

Jan has it right. It's there whenever you shut your eyes ... or look through 437 photos. (I promise I won't show you all 437 here. But do come back for some of my favorites!)

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Recurring Theme

I just noticed something. My recent bar cookie recipes seem to have a recurring theme ... chocolate and caramel.

But it's hard to argue with those two ingredients, so there you have it. You will just have to cope with this redundancy.

This was my first time to try the recipe for Oatmeal Carmelites, but I'm sure they will also be a recurring theme on the County Line.

I love using bar cookie recipes because you don't dirty as many pans and they are accomplished quickly. That has been a priority this fall as I delivered meals to the field during wheat planting and milo harvest.


Oatmeal Caramelites
1 1/2 cups softened butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 cups flour
2 cups quick oatmeal
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pkg. (12 oz.) chocolate chips
1 cup nuts (I used pecans this time, but walnuts would also be good)
1 1/2 cups caramel syrup
6 tbsp. flour

Cream together butter and brown sugar. Mix in 2 cups flour, oatmeal, soda and salt. Press half of the crumb mixture into a 9- by 13-inch pan, which has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Then sprinkle chocolate chips and nuts over baked crust. Combine caramel syrup and 6 tablespoons flour; mix well and drizzle over chips and nuts. Sprinkle remaining crumbs over topping.

Bake at 350 degrees for another 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Autumn Leaves

As the leaves' color turns from green to shades of yellow, red and brown, the classic song, "Autumn Leaves," drifts through my mind. Actually, it's getting rather annoying ... the song, not the leaves.

My daily walks are punctuated with the colors of fall and the aroma of leaves as they make this transition from summer green vibrancy to autumn hues.

I found some new glimpses of fall when I went to the dentist. Yes, it seems an unlikely place for an autumn reverie. However, I wish I could have taken a photo of a squirrel that was just outside the window: I was otherwise occupied with my mouth pried open at the time.

The dental trip involved a new crown and a hefty bill. But, I decided I'd cheer myself up with a visit to the Dillon Nature Center in Hutchinson.

And, as the credit card commercial goes, that part of the trip was priceless.

The trees were just beginning to turn, so I'd love to return in a couple of weeks.

But it was a beautiful day, just enough nip in the air for a sweater as I wandered the grounds at the nature center.

This quote from Eric Sloane was perfectly illustrated:

A few days ago, I walked along the edge of the lake
and was treated to the crunch and rustle of leaves
with each step I made.
The acoustics of this season are different,
and all sounds, no matter how hushed,
are as crisp as autumn air.

And, just so I'm not alone with the acoustics of a song that won't leave my head, here's Nat King Cole's version of the classic "Autumn Leaves." Enjoy!