Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Fireworks for a Pacifist

We live in an era where certain American holidays call for visible patriotism. Independence Day (now celebrated as the "Fourth of July") is most often celebrated with extravagant fireworks (whose beauty I ever enjoy) But, as much as their beauty, it seems that spectators celebrate the "bang" of the fireworks -- the "bang" that reminds us of the storied might of our nation's military.

But, for those of us who are basically pacifists, celebrating the "bang" of Independence Day is uncomfortable. But what alternative might we have that celebrates the beauty of our independent nation while downplaying its "bang?"

Several days ago, I ran to grab my camera when I caught my wife creating bubbles from a bottle of children's "bubble-stuff." I have watched kids of all ages play with this stuff for decades, but on this occasion the sunlight was just right, and the bubbles took on a vast array of colors, and as they floated through our back yard, in and out of our evergreen trees, I was taken by their beauty -- as beautiful as any fireworks display, but much more peaceful. To me, that day, these simple bubbles represented the beauty of our nation, its diversity and freedom. But they also reminded me that freedom is a fragile thing, and I need to cherish it whenever possible.

My appreciation of this independent nation called the United States is based not on its "bang" in this world, but on the delicacy and beauty of its society and citizens who exhibit a variety of colors and sizes while moving gently through my life.


Friday, May 22, 2009

The Joy of the Journey

Most of the world we live in (at least here in America) is in a hurry to get somewhere. To that extent, many of my friends have difficulty understanding why I use my GPS system(s) not to find the fastest way to get somewhere, but to find the most interesting way to get somewhere. In the car, I use a Magellan Crossover, which has the marvelous ability to "recalculate" my route when I am lured into making an unprogrammed turn.

I try, from time to time, to address (either in writing or in conversation) the joy of the journey. Sometimes, I stumble across someone who has expressed it quite well themselves. Here's one:

What geocaching means to me.

Geocaching to me is much more than just going somewhere and finding something that somebody else has hidden. Sure, that's the nuts and bolts of it, but to me it involves so much more than that. I love seeing nature's artwork, rocky landscapes, leaves covering a trail, a quiet stream meandering nowhere in particular.

I geocache because I want to experience these things as much as finding the cache itself. Many times I do not find what I set out for, but in the end I always come away seeing and experiencing a new place that I had not been to before.

I enjoy the feeling of finding something that most people do not even know is there. I enjoy the excitement of feeling as if I am involved with a hidden culture that exists outside of conventional society.


Is where you are going today more important than how you get there? Are you so blinded by the destination that you can't see the beauty, the marvel, the people along the way? Travel is fun. Geocaching is fun. But getting there is more than half the fun.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Geocaching...and Indian Wars

One of the activities we pursue is geocaching. For those not familiar with geocaching, it is the location of hidden (not buried) treasures using longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates and Global Positioning System receivers. More people are familiar with Global Positioning System receivers (GPSr) as the navigational devices found in newer automobiles. Geocaching utilizes the same GPS satellites that orbit the earth, and our GPS receivers monitor our precise location based on signals received from the satellites. People who hide geocaches publish the coordinates, as well as some information about the hide and the site, and once you find the cache you log your find with the person who placed it. It's a wonderful way to learn about an area, its history and geography.

Before heading out to find geocaches in a given area, we download the coordinates and pertinent information for the sought-after caches into our hand-held GPS receiver, and off we go. Sometimes, we also load the coordinates into our car's navigation system, so that we can get to the general area as quickly and expeditiously as possible.

On a sunny and pleasant day about three weeks ago, we set out to southwestern Wisconsin in search of a series of caches near Browntown-Cadiz Springs State Recreation area.

The day was pleasant, and our caching was successful. The most interesting cache was in commemoration of four young men who died in Wisconsin's Indian Wars.

The story behind the cache was this:
On June 14, a party of six militia volunteers headed south from Fort Hamilton to hoe corn and were attacked by Indians. The men labored in a farm field claimed by Omri Spafford, near the Pecatonica River. A Kickapoo war party surprises the party and murders Omri Spafford, Abraham Searles, James McIlwaine, and an Englishman nicknamed "Johnny Bull." Two men, Francis Spencer and Bennett Million, escaped death by dashing across the Pecatonica River. Million jumped into the river and managed to find refuge in timber, then raced back to Fort Hamilton. The Indians chased him several miles, perforating his hat with bullets, but he finally reached Fort Hamilton

Spencer could not swim so he skulked along the banks. An Indian mounted one of the plow horses and chased him, but Spencer shot him before he was overtaken. Spencer gets lost, and is found days later hiding in a pig pen near the fort. He avoids going any nearer because he mistakes as hostile Indians a company of Sioux, Menominee, and Winnebago Indians led by Col."Billy" Hamilton. Fright, starvation and exposure made a physical and mental wreck of him and his hair turned perfectly white.

Under orders from Colonel Henry Dodge (lead miner and smelter, war hero, and future WI. State Governor), militia company detachments are sent from Fort Defiance and Fort Jackson to Fort Hamilton. The next morning, June 15th, survivor Bennet Million guides militia volunteers back to the Spafford Field massacre site. There, they buried the mangled dead and search for Francis Spencer, to no avail.

On June 16th, Members of a seventeen-man Kickapoo war-party murder Henry Apfel not far from Fort Hamilton. Col. Dodge and two men from Mound Fort arrive at Fort Hamilton. There, he organizes the command to pursue the Kickapoo. Dodge and twenty-nine volunteers catch up with the Kickapoo war party and kill or wound them all, scalping eleven who resisted on the bank of a pond in a horseshoe bend of the Pecatonica River. Three militia volunteers are wounded in the Kickapoo's opening volley; a fourth is seriously wounded in the ensuing hand-to-hand fight at the pond embankment. Col. "Billy" Hamilton arrives an hour after the fighting ended at the head of a party of Sioux, Menominee, and Winnebago Indians. The native volunteers are thrilled at the scalps the militiamen show them, then set upon the bodies of the Kickapoo and mutilate them beyond recognition.

The location of Battle of Horseshoe Bend, is now known as Bloody Lake . The site is now preserved as part of Black Hawk Memorial Park. Visitors to the park may view the commemorative concrete marker dedicated in 1922 by the Shullsburg Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the people of the town of Wiota.

We forget that not all wars fought by our Americans were on foreign soil, or on our own soil against foreigners. Some, in the earlier days of our country, were fought against those men who lived here long before western Europeans arrived.

We found this cemetery in the middle of a corn field (fortunately, it was too early in the year for corn to be growing). We wandered through the cemetery in silence, reading the headstones and trying to imagine what life was like in those days.

Welcoming spring to the Rotary Gardens

One of our favorite places to spend a quiet afternoon is the Rotary Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin. And today, being the first day of 2009 that the temperature has hit 70 degrees, we did just that.

I thought you might enjoy one of the photos I created on that visit.