Friday, June 29, 2012


This week has been one of old friends. Vivian and I have been in South Dakota all week, first staying in Brookings and visiting with a friend of hers from their junior high school years. Over the intervening years, Vivian has kept in touch with her, and both she and her husband have remained our good friends.
I, myself, have not been so faithful to my past friends as has Vivian, but I think that there may still be hope even for me. After Brookings, we drove down past Sioux Falls to the little community of Springfield. On a ranch near that town lives a man with whom I have had far more adventures in the past than any other friend (except, of course, with my life friend and companion, Vivian). There, Vivian and I looked up this best mate of mine from times past, and with whom I served in the Peace Corps in the beautiful, intriguing, confusing, frustrating, peaceful and chaotic country of India.
Together Jim and I tried to learn the mystifying language of the Punjab with its four pronunciations for the letter “d” and the letter “t” (and some others as well). I can still remember sitting in language class, and having just attempted to say the word “dog” for instance (if I may transliterate and put in English for the sake of clarity).
The teacher barked at me, “It’s not dog, but dog!” (at least that is the way it sounded to me).
I held my mouth and tongue a little differently and tried again. “Dog,” I said.
“Not dog – dog!
Usually this went on a few times until I either happened to get it right or until he just got frustrated with me and moved on to the next student. I never knew which of these it was, but either one was acceptable to me; as long as he left me alone.
With Jim I tried to introduce new innovations and farming methods to the Punjabi farmers, Jim being much more successful in this than I was.
The most significant thing that I did with Jim, however, was to take multiple trips up to the refreshing and imposing Himalayan Mountains, visiting the hill stations of Simla (They now call it Shimla), Mussoorie, Dharamshala (the “Dh” is pronounced like one of the four “d’s”), and others. Jim and I walked the trails of the mountains, not scaling the peaks, but climbing the river valleys next to the cascading waters. And we rode the mountain trains (see the post, The Cog Train, in the archives of this blog).
It was great to catch up with Jim, to meet his wife and to learn of his family. It had been forty years since we had seen one another.

June 27 is my wife’s birthday, so for that special day I took her to Vivian, South Dakota. I thought that this was very significant and quite a meaningful gesture, and was glad that she had not been named Paris.

Later on that same day, we arrived in Union Center. Union Center is a small town on the prairies of South Dakota and so named because the Farmer’s Union Co-op was centered here. These South Dakotans are a commonsensical lot. This was the place of some of Vivian’s happiest memories, and the people of this place have truly been our close friends for many years. We are here until Sunday afternoon. In Sunday School on that day, we will tell of our work of the past nineteen years in Latin America and also in the Pacific. I will also be speaking in church, and Vivian and her friends from way back have a special musical number. Then, after church: potluck.
We have already done a lot of visiting, and I did not know that just talking could add so much to one’s waistline. I may have to go buy some new pants after the potluck because I plan on visiting a lot. Oh, and the arm? It's doing much better.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Little Cormorant Lake
This morning Vivian and I arrived in Brookings, South Dakota. We left our little farm in Wisconsin on last Saturday morning, waving good-bye to Nathanael and Levi as they sat on our front porch. We then drove most of the day to arrive in the evening in Audubon, Minnesota, which is in the Detroit Lakes region of the northwestern part of that state. This is very pretty area of rolling hills, filled with farms and woods and dotted with lakes. We stayed with some friends who live on Little Cormorant Lake. They took us on a motor boat ride around the many arms and bays of the lake, showing us that it really was not as “little” as its name would have us believe.
There would have been an opportunity to water ski on Sunday afternoon; something that I have not done in years and would have liked to do again, but I am somewhat hindered on this trip by a broken arm. About a week and a half earlier, my foot caught on the ground while carrying something over my head and I and fell hard on my arm, breaking the ball part of the ball and socket joint of my left shoulder. The ball is called the humeral head, since it is the top part of the humerus, and the doctor called the break a “convoluted fracture” (I think this was the word that he used), since the ball has several small cracks in various locations. However, despite the break’s convoluted nature, everything about the bone is basically in place, and it will just take some time to heal.
I did not at first know if I would really be up to this trip, and the first night, when I could not find a comfortable sleeping position that would not pain me too much, I was wondering if we should have even started out on this journey. But I asked God to help me to get some sleep since the next morning I was to speak at church, then soon found that my pain had lessened and I fell off into a pretty good, although somewhat light slumber.
The next morning I made that speaking engagement at Audubon Bible Chapel, a small and warm church in the small and warm town of Audubon. They had a special music Sunday. Despite the fact that they are not a large church, they have a wealth of musicians. As Vivian and I sat down in the second row, I was happy to see that the entire first row of the church (where no people ever sit anyway) was filled with instruments: several guitars of various styles, a violin, a mandolin, and even an accordion. An electric piano was set up in front, and a steel guitar, made entirely from scratch by the musician himself.
We sang songs like Victory in Jesus and When the Role is Called Up Yonder, songs that I have not heard sung in church for a long time, and with an occasional breakouts by different members of the band. Then they made Vivian and I feel very special by having the group do a medley of songs that they had picked out for us: Life’s Railway to Heaven, Precious Memories, and I’ll be Somewhere Listening. They made us feel like honored guests, but really, it was we who felt the blessed ones as we worshiped with them, and just by being in their presence.
It may only be a personal preference, but I have always felt that if you want to see the best expression of the body of Christ, you will not necessarily most likely find it in large church congregations with huge facilities and multiple programs to meet every need of their people, but in small groups of believers whose single most important purpose is to meet together to worship the Lord.
The next day we drove only through a corner of North Dakota on our way from Minnesota to South Dakota, stopping only once in that state to take a little advantage of their low gas prices (at least relatively speaking). The guy at the next pump was getting into his car when he saw the sling on my arm. “What happened,” he asked me as if I were an old friend. “The wife give you a kick?”
“I’m getting slow,” I replied. “I used to be able to dodge her when she kicked at me so that she would miss, but this time she caught me right in the upper arm!”
His laugh told me that this was the kind of answer he was looking for. “Have a good one!” he called back as he sped away.
All of you also have a good one, and we will see how this road trip progresses.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Bullfighting used to be a very popular sport in many Latin Countries. I am not sure if it still is. I think in many counties, laws have been passed to prohibit this sport.  Quite honestly, when I went to see a bullfight, it did seem to me to be a little cruel.  This impression that I had was not because I come from a background where I would be inclined to squeamishness.  Having been raised on a farm, I know what it is like to slaughter a cow.  We usually butchered a cow every year for meat for our family.
But bullfighting is different.  It is done for sport.  As I have said, to me it was a little gory to watch.  The bull, after having been tortured with knives and points stuck into him to make him bleed, then has a man on a horse push with all his weight on the end of a spear into the bull’s shoulder to increase his pain. It is after all of this that the bull is harassed to a frenzy by a man with a red cape.  The man is called a matador, which is fitting since the meaning of the word is “killer”.
The matador’s last deed in the bullfight is to draw his sword and thrust it into the bull’s shoulder at just the right spot so that the blade will reach the bull’s heart to bring him the defeat.  I think the thrust is also supposed to cut the bull’s spinal cord.  I must say, the first time I saw it I was a bit aghast.  The bull, once he has had the fatal blade pierce him, stands where he was stuck, spits up blood until he finally collapses.  It is then that the crowd cheers and the matador bows amidst a of shower of roses thrown by those in the adoring crowd.
A more humane sport but by no means tamer is “Torro Coleado”.  This was a sport that was at least in Venezuela, and most popular in the llanos, or the “plains” region of that country. It is like a rodeo event.  The bull is let loose on the track and a vaquero on a horse rides up alongside of the bull and grabs his tail.  The object of the sport is to twist the tail of the bull to the point where the bull is thrown to the ground.  This, like most rodeo events, grew out of practices that the cowboy had to perform in his daily work.  In Torro Coleado, the bigger the bull, the more points earned.  They throw some pretty big bulls; up to 1300 pounds.
There is something of the machismo mystique involved with these sports.  Manly power over the beast.  Of course, there are many who would not agree that this shows machismo.  They would say that there is a good bit of cowardness involved, at least in the traditional bullfight. When we lived in Latin America and I heard someone talk of a bullfight, I used to relate to them something that I was forced to do at one time and which I told them was the ultimate macho experience. Usually when I told it, they laughed at the story and agreed that this was indeed something that demonstrated great machismo.
As I earlier said, in all my years of growing up on the farm, we always butchered out own cows.  None of us really enjoyed it but it is one of those tasks that, if you wanted to eat, had to be done.  Initially, to kill the cow we would fire one shot from a gun to the middle of his forehead.  This was the most humane way.  The cow would instantly fall to the ground and we would then cut the jugular vein in his neck to drain out all of the blood. 
One fall day when I was a young man we were all set up to butcher a steer that we had raised.  My Dad was there and my brother-in-law.  As always, Dad fired the shot into the head of the steer and the steer instantly fell to the ground. However, this time and for whatever reason (perhaps his scull was very thick or the caliber of the gun too small), after falling down, the steer quickly got to his feet again and began to run away.  That was not supposed to happen.  When I saw what had transpired, one of my first thoughts was that the steer, now very frightened and angry (and very much alive), would take off running down the road and it would be an all day job just to chase him down and get him back home.
I was holding the knife used to cut the jugular, and without too much thought of what I was doing, took off running after the steer.  I caught up to him after a couple of hundred feet and jumped on his back.  With one arm I held on to the running steer and with the other arm, I reached around with the knife and stuck him in the neck.  I went right for the jugular, as the saying goes.  But this time it was not an expression; it was literal.  The steer continued to run and I hung on tight to stay on his back. With my free arm reaching around his neck, I continued to cut until finally he collapsed.  I brought the steer down.
It was an act that I know none of the matadors of Spain or Latin America had ever done.  Nevertheless, I received no fanfare for my own act of machismo.  Maybe my Dad and my Brother-in-law cheered, I don’t remember.  But they didn’t throw roses.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Today I stopped at a local repair shop to look at a job that I was asked to do. While I was there, I got talking to the young man who was taking care of things. I eventually asked him his name.
“James Cook,” he said.
The significance of his name did not dawn on me immediately because I was trying to connect him with a local family, but suddenly a wonderful realization came over me. “You have got a great name,” I told him. “Are you a descendent of Captain James Cook, probably the greatest explorer of the English Royal Navy?”
He gave a somewhat uncertain answer, so I told him that if I had a name like that, I would not hesitate to connect myself with that family. I also told this young James Cook that this day, of all days should be a very special day to him, and that I even considered myself fortunate to meet him on such an auspicious day.
By now I could tell he thought I was a little strange, but I had piqued his curiosity. “Why today?” he asked.
“Are you aware that today is the day that Venus makes a transit across the face of the sun, and that this happens so rarely that the next transit of Venus will not be until the year 2117?” (I had read this fact last night so I happened to know the date)
He was not aware of this, and quite frankly, I don’t think that he really cared. Also, it was obvious that he did not see the connection between his name of James Cook and the transit of Venus, so I thought it my duty to tell him.
I continued, “On the day of the transit of Venus in the year 1769, Captain James Cook of the HMS Endeavour was on the island of Tahiti in the South Pacific, making careful observations and diagrams of the transit of Venus. His ship was one of several teams sent to various and far-flung corners of the globe to make these observations. At that time, mathematicians were trying to work out how far the earth was from the sun. By using triangulation and taking all of these measurements from various points of the earth, they came up with a distance that was really quite accurate.”
James Cook of the repair shop did not know any of this, and by now he seemed pretty interested.
“They still even call the place in Tahiti, Point Venus, where Captain Cook set up his observatory,” I told him.
 Photograph by David Cortner, Galaxy Picture Library/Alamy

I don’t know if this young man was beginning to think that this should be a special day for him, but if my name were James Cook, I would have considered it a special day for me.
I continued, “I think that you should tell all of this to your boss. He might give you the day off with pay!”
This, he did not think was likely. “I don’t even get paid for Christmas day,” he said, “so I doubt if my boss would give me a paid holiday for Venus Transit Day.”
Probably not.
Nevertheless, meeting James Cook on this day made it a rather special day for me. This evening, my sons Matt and Levi and I tried to view the transit, looking at the sun through our welder’s helmet. I must say that even when I put on my glasses, I could not tell for sure if I could make out Venus across the face of the sun. However, it was a very nice evening to be looking at the sky.
And at the sun, 93 million miles away.