“If You Don’t Know Where You Have Been, You Can’t Know Where You Are Going”

I have always been a history buff, especially interested in the foundation of the country. My first interest was piqued when my folks took me to Fort Ligonier. I remember the day because I had a plaid sport coat on with a bow tie when we visited because we came right from church. In those days, you got dressed up for church and when I got to the famous French and Indian War fort, my dad bought me a tri- cornered hat and I was so proud wearing it around. I learned about the conflict and saw many relics of the period which made history come alive for me as a young lad.

Fast forward, my grandparents knowing my interest, took me to Gettysburg to get another take on local history. Again, I was enthralled with the Civil War conflict and again I got a hat- a Union officer’s hat- which again, I wore everywhere. I vividly remember the tour we took and the views from Little Roundtop, and Big Roundtop and the strategy of the Union and Confederate forces was explained in great detail. Much of it was lost on me until many later visits to the battlefield and an increased understanding of the conflict and the importance of the Gettysburg Address and the resultant emancipation proclamation.

In an effort to pass this on to my son Jack, my wife and I made it a point to take him not only to Gettysburg and Ft. Ligonier, but also to Williamsburg and eventually Washington DC. As a young kid, he complained a little about the mid summer heat in Williamsburg, as I explained to him the significance of the House of Burgess and the freedom speeches of Patrick Henry. It was a little lost on him but I continued during his formative years to explain what the wars were and why they were significant.   You see, where we live in Western Pennsylvania, history is alive everywhere you look. From the blockhouse at Ft. Pitt at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, to Forts Ligonier and Necessity just east of us and further east- the famous battlefields of the Revolutionary and Civil War. We visited all of them and history came alive for Jack and also my wife who was forced into learning about American history because of her marriage to me. LOL!! I can remember the guide putting them to sleep after a 3 hour tour in Gettysburg driving my car, and also me putting them to sleep on visits to significant sites rambling on to them about the particulars of the places we were about to visit.

The final visit with Jack and Janet before he was off and on his way in life, was during a college tour in Lynchburg, Virginia. I took them to Appomattox Courthouse where the armistice was signed by U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee ending the Civil War. We toured the quiet little farm house where the two famous generals met to effectively end the war on paper. Quiet, peaceful, and beautiful, the park is remarkably well preserved. I made it a point to venture out back to the slaves quarters to specifically show Jack the difference in living between the main house and the stark quarters where black slaves were housed to serve the owners of the farm at the time. When you read about the history of slavery on those walls, you get an understanding of the sadness that prevailed in those quarters and the atrocity of treating people differently because of the color of their skin. This was not lost on Jack because he was old enough to appreciate it. I explained to Jack and to Janet that Robert E. Lee went on to found Washington and Lee University whose founding precepts were to foster unity among the divided country. Lee was a reluctant warrior as a West Point graduate , and had no choice but to side with his home state of Virginia. But in later years, he did a lot to foster unity which he is not credited for in many accounts. Grant was the executor of Lincoln’s emancipation and, as President, he was intimately involved in crushing any further insurrection in the south and stopped continuing atrocities on the recently emancipated black citizens by the Ku Klux Klan. U.S. Grant is a hero to the black cause in America not only as a general in the Civil War but as President. Again, not always given the credit he deserves. Why the vandals tore his statue down recently in San Francisco is a mystery to me other than writing it off to random violence or people who don’t know the history of the man.

I think history is important. And it can’t be whitewashed. We have to teach our young people the good and the bad of American history so that we can learn of our mistakes and not repeat them. I can see the argument for not memorializing certain combatants in unrelated places but the battle fields and museums must be preserved to be a teaching vehicle for generations to come. Erasing history in those venues does a disservice to understanding where we have been so that we can know where we are going. The Jewish nation is a good example by their preservation of the concentration camps of World War II. When you visit Dachau, or Auschwitz, you understand the inhumane treatment of German and Polish Jews, and see first hand the evil of the Third Reich. That history should never be repeated and the preservation of those sites is essential to an understanding not only of Jewish culture but German history as well- good or bad.

I read a lot about history and am happy that I was able to at least pass some of that interest on to my wife as well as to my son. This is a good book by the way for anyone interested. I am hoping he will take the baton from me and perhaps make history come alive for his children someday. I would be happy to tag along. Maybe with a tri-cornered hat much to the horror of my prospective grandchildren in the future. LOL. Thanks for reading.

Resolutions- 2020

So I was thinking the other day as we turned the corner on the new decade. How easy it will be to type 2020. Or write 2020. Tap tap. Click click. It was a kind of foreshadowing of how good I am hoping the New Year and the new decade will be. Lots of good things happening and surprises for sure for all of us. I was in our local park the other day on January 1 and chuckled a bit at all the Resolutioners that were out and about. You know, the ” this year I am going to get in shape, eat healthier and feel better about myself” crowd. They were out in droves walking and running around the lake and I even saw a guy in a canoe with full winter garb paddling furiously. Now don’t get me wrong, I always admire anyone who makes a change in their life as it is not only good for them but very admirable to see the commitment. The parking lots were full and the enthusiasm and some times expressions of pain, were abundant in the faces of those folks who were undertaking the process of getting in shape for the New Year. My advice to anyone who wants to start an exercise program is to start slowly. Ease into it so that you won’t get burned out and sore. Every day is an improvement and if you stick with it, good things happen with your health and mental state of affairs.

No matter what you do, cycling, walking, running,skiing,hiking, or any kind of activity that gets you outside is great. Take my old neighbor here. He got into running and now he is hooked, entering races, and leading a healthy lifestyle all because of a New Year’s resolution. I have made a couple of resolutions in my day as well. I started to write this blog a number of years ago upon the suggestion of my wife. I also made the choice to eat more healthy and try to reduce some cholesterol issues by quitting sweets,unhealthy snacks, and sticking basically to chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables. As a result, I lost 12 pounds and had one of the best riding years I have had in 2019.

But really, what does it take to make a resolution? What do you want to change? How do you want to change? These are questions that pop up in your head anytime you want to do something different in your life. I speak of all the Resolutioners pounding around the lake on January 1 making the commitment to improve their health in 2020. But are there other things that we all should do to make a change? Personally I hope so. I would like to see people try to be more kind. Social media these days is dripping with sarcasm and vitriol for anyone who differs in opinion. It is easy to sit behind a keyboard and type some God awful things these days. It is sad. We are all Americans and this country was founded on discourse and discussion. Just because someone’s opinion is different than yours does not make them a bad person. I hope we can make an attempt to be more forgiving and kind especially in the election cycle ahead. I hate to say this but there is really nothing we can do about the political climate aside from casting a vote if we are honest with ourselves. Any change is really made at a grass roots level with all of us being more tolerant, kind and concerned for each other as Americans and as friends. I am hoping a lot of people in this country make that change. I am going to try to do the same in my own little way. We come into situations in our lives every day where we can help people if we look for that opportunity. John Guest, the famous evangelist, once said that ” you don’t have to go to a foreign country to evangelize or be helpful. You can serve people right in your own neighborhood. Your mission does not have to be in a foreign country.” I agree with him. If you make yourself available to people, you can be kind and helpful. What you say or do may move mountains for that person and you might not even realize it. People like to have kindness afforded to them. If we do it a little bit, we all can make a difference one person, one household, one neighborhood at a time.

So as 2020 (tap tap) evolves, maybe we all extend some grace as we have been extended grace. Look out for your family, friends and neighbors. After all, what is really more important than that? Thanks for reading.

” Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace.”
– 1 Peter 4:10

More Cowbell

Well folks, back in the saddle again and commenting on a unifying item called the cowbell. In World Cup ski races, you can hear the cowbells clanging and ringing on he sides of the race trail as the racers scream by at top speeds. The Swiss have a habit of bringing monster cowbells that sound more like a clanging gong than a ring of a standard bell found on the necks of the bovine community in Switzerland.

I came prepared this past weekend with my official Swiss cowbell that I bought on my honeymoon some 31 years ago in Zermatt. This tradition of cheering on the competitors is also used in World Cup Mountain Bike racing and last weekend the alpine sound greeted the downhill competitors as well as the cross country competitors as they made their way down rock strewn and root infested Snowshoe, West Virginia. I rang my bell for reigning World Champion Nino Schurter as he climbed the summit of a grinder right before a treacherous rock garden. I rang for the rest of the field and was joined in a chorus of bells of all shapes and sizes. I rang for all American competitors as I hoped that the home squad would make a good showing on American soil. This is the World Cup Finals after all in Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia. How much more American can you get than that? Kate Courtney- our former World Champion for Cross Country, dug deep and finished 5th in the XC race which guaranteed her a victory in the overall season title. ” USA, USA, USA,” went the massive crowd chant along with an assembled thousands of ringing cowbells.

As I thought about the event on the way home which included some great riding at places like Tea Creek and Silver Creek Backcountry trails nearby with my band of traveling mountain bikers, I thought of what the cowbell meant in the melee of the excited fanfare. I thought about how I had not been to a World Class event in some time but looking at the athletes, soigneurs, photographers, team mechanics, nothing much had changed. The gathering of the mountain bike tribe was still pretty much in tact even though some of us had aged and many new youthful faces had emerged. The vibe that Snowshoe created was energetic and supportive of cross country races and downhill alike. But the thing that really struck me was the unity of the crowd, cheering on their favorites and taking in the brilliant sunshine ringing their cowbells enthusiastically regardless of age, faith, race, creed, color, Democrat, Republican, whatever. We are all mountain bikers and we love our heroes as well as the tribe we ride with. All joined together as one unified throng of thousands, ringing our cowbells and smiling. Everybody should take a lesson from the mountain bike tribe. We have a lot more in common that we think. Thanks for reading.  Click on the follow button and join in the fun as I continue to muse about things in later life.  Thanks.

The Bike and the Box Turtle

So, I am pounding up the Bathtub Trail, kind of clearing my head on a solo mountain bike ride this week and I come upon a box turtle right in the middle of the trail. I did something unusual- I stopped. I checked him out and marveled at the way the color of his shell blended in with the rapidly changing leaves all around me. I looked at the texture of his shell and thought to myself, what a wonderful Creator who weaved this beautiful ecosystem we have to enjoy right in my own county park. As I made my way up the trail, I noticed the diversity of the leaves that were beginning to cover the ground. Flaming red maple leaves, brilliant yellow oak leaves, multicolored ash, chestnut, and other species of deciduous trees that spread their foliage like a patchwork blanket before me. Fall has arrived and I am contentedly happy.

Usually I try to ride for a good workout and push myself, even on solo rides. But this day was reserved for more pleasant riding, kind of like mobilized hiking enjoying the natural world all around me. At this time of year, the trails are usually dry and you can pretty much ride as fast as you can and feel “in the zone” as you rail the corners and pound up the hills. This is the time when most of us are in peak shape and the euphoria that you feel after a fast paced ride is intoxicating. But, there are days in the fall when I like to just ride the bike for relaxed transportation in a world that is peaceful, welcoming, and shelters you from the pressures of the real world. The changing leaves are all around and along with the shorter evenings, the cooler temperatures, and the smell of the tannin in the leaves displays something that Western Pa. has in it’s bag of tricks to entice travelers and natives alike. If you are out in it, close your eyes and take a deep breath of that musty, woodsy, cool air into your lungs. Only at this time of year does it smell like that. Summer fragrances, winter blasts of cold air,spring evening smells, are all good eye closing intakes, but the fall air is the best.

The mountain trails in our Laurel Highlands are coming alive with color, and arm warmers, vests, tights, are all practical wear as the cooler temperatures welcome in the coming winter season.

But back to the box turtle. Instead of using him as a speed bump, I took the time to examine him and notice how he fits in. The diversity of the changing flora seem to welcome him as part of their patchwork of color. The buck are starting to surface and as they stare at you with their fully grown racks, they are part of this diversified animal kingdom that makes up the forest in the mountains and parks of Western Pa. Turkey, grouse, groundhogs, raccoons, birds of all species, including the majestic osprey and red tail hawk, are busy preparing for the long winter ahead. Bald eagles are visible in the mountains and their wingspans continually amaze me as I stop to take in their flight pattern in the ridges to the east. I see open chestnut pods releasing their treasure to the scurrying squirrels and chipmunks. Acorns,and seeds of all kinds are being scooped up by very busy little rodents who take great chances using the trails full of hikers and mountain bikers. The come perilously close to losing their life as they dodge the knobby tires of the many bikes on the trails.

But as my mind wandered, I thought about how all of this fits together. The trees, the leaves, the animals, all form the ecosystem that we call the forest. As I ride along, not in anaerobic debt, I take in the smells, the sounds, and the sights of a changing natural world. Yet it is one entity created out of a patchwork of diversity. Kind of makes you think doesn’t it? Enjoy the fall. Thanks for reading.