How Not to Write

Remember when your junior high or high school teacher assigned an essay? You needed to explain a topic, write a book report, describe a historical event, or whatever, but your first question was probably, “How many words do I need to write?” 300 words, 500 words, a kiloword, or just write until your hand cramped and you ran out of paper. Dedicated teachers tried to use such assignments to teach critical thinking, research skills, powers of observation, and perhaps even writing skills. Sadly, whether because of writer’s block, laziness, or competing priorities, some of us focused on how many words we put on paper to complete the assignment. This, in turn, incentivized poor writing skills. I owe my teachers an apology.

Trying to assemble as many words as possible as quickly as possible, we padded sentences with extra words and paragraphs with extra sentences. We gravitated towards a stilted style. Instead of writing, “I look forward…” we wrote “I will be looking forward…” (Hey, two more words!) And our writing often became worse in college and graduate school as we began to write in a defensive, bureaucratic, academic style. A few of us eventually rebelled: a friend once told me that if he ever started writing that way, I should please just shoot him and put him out of his misery! But more of us followed the path of least resistance.

Two workshops, one hosted by Concordia Publishing House and one by World News Group, helped me grow out of some of these bad habits. I learned to write in active voice and I tried to learn to write in a lean, to-the-point style. However, neither class taught a secret cure for writer’s block, nor did they add extra hours to each day. Time and creativity always challenge me. Dedicated writers try to overcome those obstacles by writing something, even if only a half page, every day. A tall order, but I need to get back into the groove.

Gazing at Grand Canyon

After leaving Durango, we made our final stop to see Grand Canyon from its South Rim. We visited the North Rim for the first time back in June, and were curious to see how the North and South Rims compare. We also hoped to see condors soaring over the cliffs; a goal that had eluded us in previous visits to the South Rim.

Late afternoon thunderstorm with fragment of a rainbow.

We have it on good authority (the National Park Service) that condors like to soar on the thermals near Grand Canyon Village, so we stayed there for two full days hoping to see those rare creatures. As luck would have it, we saw plenty of vultures, lots of ravens, and a few hawks or eagles, but no condors. We also have it on good authority (our daughter) that condors are huge, and that when they soar close to where you stand on the rim, they look like something out of Jurassic Park coming to eat you!

Colorado River as it looked when it was red.

Colorado River means “reddish river” (or something like that), and the name came from its red-brown water carrying mud and silt to the Gulf of California. Reservoirs created by dams along the river take the mud and silt out of its flow, so the river is usually rather clear as it flows through Grand Canyon. However, we happened to arrive right after a day or two of flash-flooding on upstream tributaries. The photo above shows the river as it probably looked before the dams were built; muddy and reddish-brown.

Most people probably visit Grand Canyon for the unrivaled views, but the area has wildlife, too. The photo below shows one of the elk we saw during our visit. And, like in Yellowstone, we saw our share of tourists trying to see how close they could get without being gored or kicked, and then blaming the elk for feeling defensive.

Young (?) elk near the rim drive along Grand Canyon.

So which has the better scenery, North Rim or South Rim? Having visited both this year, we don’t think you can go wrong either way. The North Rim is a little more difficult to reach, but has fewer crowds and spectacular views. The South Rim is more convenient and comes with more visitor services, crowds of tourists, and its own spectacular views. And if you want to hike, the Bright Angel Trail will take you from one side of the Canyon to the other, weather and strength permitting!

Classic view looking across Grand Canyon towards the Bright Angel Fault.

Riding the Durango & Silverton

We spent a full day in Durango, Colorado to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad up to Silverton and back. “Up” was true in two ways: 1) Silverton is north of Durango on the map, and 2) Silverton is also higher than Durango by about 2700 feet. The train was at least 15 passenger cars long, so we had two steam locomotives pulling us on the steeper parts of the route.

Cute tourist ready to board the train.

The Durango & Silverton traverses some amazing mountain scenery as it follows the Animas River upstream to Silverton. If you look on line you can find a list of movies (e.g., Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Support Your Local Gunfighter) that used this train as a prop or as part of the storyline. Perhaps the most spectacular part of the route is the “High Line,” where the track follows a ledge carved out of the side of the Animas River Gorge. A safety vehicle traverses the entire route ahead of each passenger train (out of sight of the tourists) to check for rockfalls on to (or from beneath) the track.

Engine 473 moving us along and above the Animas River Gorge.

Here is a look down into the Gorge. The Animas River suffered serious pollution a few years ago when an EPA mine reclamation project accidentally released a pond full of contaminated mine water into the river. Fortunately, the damage was temporary and the river appears to have recovered.

Animas River Gorge — note the narrow gauge track on a ledge in the upper left of the photo.

We used two engines to climb the steeper parts of the route. Until a few years ago the engines all burned coal, but have since been converted to burn bunker oil. This helps reduce the risk of fires caused by sparks and cinders, and even bunker oil burns cleaner than coal.

Double-header: two locomotives hauling our train up to Silverton.

Silverton was a busy mining town, and the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad originally built this narrow-gauge route to connect the mining district with the mainline railroad at Durango. This is why the distance to Denver is listed on the placard seen below. The mines are closed or idle, but now the town swarms with tourists as trains arrive each day from Durango. Things become really quiet here when tourist season ends and winter begins

Railroad station at Silverton, which is about 2700 ft higher in elevation than Durango.

The Silverton mining district sits in a beautiful valley south of Ouray, north of Durango, and amidst peaks of the San Juan Mountains, many of which go up to 13,000 or even 14,000 feet. Snow comes early in the high country, and the photo below shows snow from the night before our late-September visit.

San Juan Mountains overlooking the route from Durango to Silverton.

Driving to Durango

Time to pick the pace on our road trip across America! We apologize for the delay, which was much worse than the time it might take to follow Google Maps into the wilderness and back out again. Regardless, the next leg of our September – October trip went from Missouri to Southwest Colorado by way of Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. As it turned out, we followed the approximate path of old Route 66, and watched the terrain change from heavily forested hills of the Ozark Plateau to prairie and then to various forms of desert until we finally reached the rugged terrain of the San Juan Mountains.

Following old Route 66 (more or less) from Missouri to the American Southwest.

We spent one night in Amarillo, Texas while en route, and could not resist supper at a nearby steakhouse. This particular restaurant offers a 72 ounce porterhouse steak with all the trimmings, free if you can eat the whole meal at one sitting. We usually like a free meal, but this was a killer of a challenge, so we settled for the ribeye steak you see below. Notice that they serve it with a nice roasted pepper in case you want to spice up your meal.

Nice ribeye steak in Amarillo, TX.

Our next stop was Albuquerque, New Mexico. By good fortune, the annual Balloon Festival began on the weekend of our visit, and the weather was spectacular! We were too lazy to roust out of bed before daybreak to see the launches up close, but after coffee we went out to take in the view. The photo below captures some of the 500-600 balloons in flight. The next day we were able to attend church with family and friends before leaving for Durango, Colorado.

Balloon Festival in Albuquerque.

We arrived in Durango under cloudy skies and cooler temperatures (notice the elevation on the sign shown below), with tickets to ride the narrow gauge railroad to Silverton and back the next day (an all-day trip). The Durango & Silverton Railroad claims to be the most scenic historic railroad in the United States, and we will not argue otherwise. Watch for photos on our next blog post!

Arrived at the home of the Durango & Silverton Railroad.

Making Up Time in Missouri

After a few weeks hiatus it is time to resume the recap of our September/October road trip. Missouri was our next destination, but we lost at least two days on the itinerary due to delays in Ohio, so this next part of our visit was truncated. We still managed to collect a few photos, though, starting with some shots from the family farm in Southeast Missouri:

Recently mown hayfield at the family farm.

I worked on local farms for three summers during high school, mostly baling hay in fields like the one shown above. It was hot, dusty work. My father used to say, “everyone has to work for a living, but you can decide if you want to work with your back or work with your mind.” Hot, dusty work was a good incentive for pursuing an education!

Once baled, the hay had to be stored under a roof to protect it from the weather. Properly stored, a crop of hay could last for a few years. The barn shown below was one of several that held hay for later use feeding cattle.

Old but stout barn. I stacked hay in this barn during a summer job when I was in high school.

Some barns were painted, usually red. Others, like the one below, were allowed to weather to silver/gray as they stood the test of time. They almost all had corrugated sheet metal roofs, and those needed painting, too, if they were to last.

Hay bales used to be rectangular, and weighed up to maybe 100 lbs each, depending on size and moisture content. Over time, most of the farms switched to much larger round bales like in the photo below.

Another old but stout barn, with adjacent hay bales.

Turning away from farms and barns, you might like to see the one-room schoolhouse in which my father first taught. That was many years ago, but the school still stands and even has a new metal roof. A wood-burning stove heated the one room in winter, and most if not all of the students walked to class each day. Water came from a well outside, since indoor plumbing was not yet common in this area. We have come a long way in the past two generations; much further than many people realize.

Unfortunately, the schoolhouse was locked and I was not able to get any inside photos.

One-room schoolhouse where my Father first taught.

Thanks for Reading!

We started this blog almost two years ago, in November of 2020. It has been an interesting experience, with a few surprises along the way. First, we have had over 2500 individuals from 49 different countries visit this blog over those two years. Who would have anticipated that it would reach that many people? Second, out of over 200 posts in two years, visitors have sought out one post more often than any of the others by at least a factor of five. Judging by the number of folks who search it out every week, “The Sadim Touch” apparently touches on matters of interest in countries all over the world. Third, although the readership and level of interest for any given post is unpredictable, most of our followers are gratifyingly loyal.

Let me thank you for taking time to read this blog and share your comments. If you enjoy it, please refer a friend. And regardless, stay tuned for more posts about life as a contact sport!

Ambling through Amish Country

During our time in Ohio we spent a couple of days in Amish Country, which is what we call the area in and around Holmes County. South of Akron, this area has a large number of Amish farms and businesses, and makes for a fascinating visit. We also tried several restaurants that serve really good food ( it seems like all of their recipes start with a stick of butter). The farmland view below came from a balcony on a hilltop Amish restaurant.

Looking out across Amish farms and homes.

Lehman’s advertises itself as providing tools, utensils, and supplies that you need to live the simple life. The store has grown much larger than it was when we visited 20-30 years ago, but still carries food canning, curing, and drying supplies; wood-burning stoves; sewing and weaving supplies; bee-keeping and gardening items; and a host of other hard-to-find stocks. Look them up online and you can see some of their merchandise.

Entrance to Lehman’s hardware store, home of all kinds of tools and products for “simple living.”

We also stopped by an Amish grocery/bulk food store, and you can see one of my favorite shoppers wandering the store below. The shelves on both sides of this aisle held bags of spices, specialty flours, different kinds of beans, various types of noodles, and other such foods offered in bulk.

Bulk foods and ingredients in an Amish store.

The store carried fresh local produce, including the volleyball-sized cabbages and the softball-sized white onions seen below. They also offered homemade, hand-dipped ice cream, but we ate that rather than taking pictures.

Cabbage and other produce on sale in grocery section of Amish store.

Many of the parking areas and roads in this area had to accommodate horse-drawn buggies as well as cars and trucks. Most of the buggies carried headlights and taillights for travel at night, although the one below does not seem to have any. This made night driving on the back roads a little too exciting, as you never knew when you might go over a hilltop and find a buggy or wagon ahead. The Amish families typically do not have electricity in their homes, but we were told that they use solar panels to charge batteries for the buggy lights.

Parking for Amish buggies as well as suburban mini-vans.

The photo below shows part of a large number of Amish buggies parked near a benefit auction being held to raise money for a local family. You can also see two Amish girls on electric bicycles, one carrying a couple of meals, on their way up the street.

Amish transportation: count the buggies, but don’t ignore the electric bikes.

In addition to enjoying the relaxed pace of life and the Amish ambience, we also noticed the Lutheran church that Dorcas’s grandfather pastored. This was in the farming community of Mount Hope, in Holmes County, Ohio, right in the middle of Amish Country.

LCMS church in Mount Hope, Ohio. We need to edit out the phone lines, though.

Onward to Ohio

After a great visit with kids, grandkids, and friends from nursing school, we drove to Ohio by way of lower Michigan. Before leaving St. Charles, though, we experienced that rare (rare in California, at least) phenomena of water falling from the sky, otherwise known as rain. A thunderstorm swept through the area on our last night in St. Charles, treating us to lightning, thunder, and a short but heavy downpour. And we had a chance to hear frozen water, in the form of golf-ball sized hail, hit the roof and windows of our room. Rain makes a comforting sound on the roof, but hail of that size is another matter.

Nice poster to commemorate St. Charles, IL.

Our trek around the south end of Lake Michigan and then up to the Grand Rapids area continued the vistas of green, lush vegetation that began somewhere back in Iowa. Once out of the Chicago area, we saw lots of farms growing corn, soybeans, hay, and other crops, interspersed with mixed hardwood forests. Michigan is known for apples, and we saw farm-stand signs for apples and apple products. For some reason, though, we saw no orchards. Maybe the orchards are all along the older roads?

“Lighthouse” at point of entry to Michigan. Not sure why a faux lighthouse, but it was a nice park-like area.

We had a good visit with family near Grand Rapids and then headed over to northeast Ohio, stopping first at Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Relatively new, the Park includes stretches of the Cuyahoga River, historic farms, a covered bridge, mixed hardwood forests, sandstone cliffs, and running waterfalls. We caught up with Brandywine Falls, below, while it was flowing well because of rains across the area just a few days earlier.

Tourists in front of Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The Park includes striking rock formations, including sandstone ledges and cliffs, and what the locals call Icebox Cave. I wonder how many different states have at least one cool, drafty place called Icebox Cave? This one was gated off to protect the bat population that lives inside, so we settled for photos of the adjacent cliffs.

Sandstone ledges in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, similar to sandstone ledges at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois.

After leaving the Park we visited Amish country (covered in a separate blog post) and then stayed several days in Cuyahoga Falls, first for a high school reunion (the eastern-most destination of our trip) and then for dental work. Some people stop for major car repairs while away from home; instead, we met with a dentist and two different specialists over the course of a Friday and the following Monday. At least the car was working well!

While in Cuyahoga Falls we also had the opportunity to worship at Redeemer Lutheran Church, where we were married almost 47 years ago. That was special.

Redeemer Lutheran Church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Our hotel in Cuyahoga Falls overlooked the falls on the Cuyahoga River. Nearby is Portage Trail, a street named for the paths Indians took as they ported their canoes around the falls. This river caught fire at least 13 times between 1868 and 1969 because of industrial pollution. The 1969 fire burned down a timber railroad trestle and sparked an effort to clean up the river and restore it to its original state, to the extent possible. You can see the results below: a beautiful, clean river with trails, walkways, and a nearby river park.

Cuyahoga Falls on the Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. If you practice, you can type it correctly and not take a fall on the spelling. (I had to learn to spell Cuyahoga before I courted Dorcas.)

Our next blog post will describe Ambling through Amish Country.

Sprint to St. Charles

A previous post mentioned that we recently completed a 6300-mile, 17-state road trip. Before our memories fade, here is the first of a series of post to describe the major segments of our trip. This allows you to see some aspects of the travel without having to buy the gas, load and unload luggage, or get “rough under the boards” (one of our historic family expressions) from sitting too long in one seat.

As you might guess, our first segment was a three-day drive from Livermore to St. Charles, Illinois to visit family. We were on Interstate 80 from Sacramento almost all the way to St. Charles (near Chicago), with overnight stops in Salt Lake City and Kearny, Nebraska. We crossed the Sierra Nevada mountains on Donner Pass, named for the ill-favored pioneer party that mostly perished in the dead of winter without ever reaching the summit on their route west. And we drove through about 50 miles of thick smoke (from the Mosquito Fire to our south) before reaching the pass and then dropping down into Nevada.

Historic marker at an I-80 rest area in Nevada.

As we crossed Nevada, I-80 followed the Humboldt River valley for much of the way. We passed gold mines and traversed a few mountain passes (or summits) as we threaded our way through the Basin and Range Province on our way to the Salt Lake Valley. It was a long day of driving, but the weather was beautiful once we were past the smokey Sierras.

Information sign at I-80 rest area in Wyoming.

Our second day involved driving from Salt Lake City to Kearney, Nebraska. We went mountain climbing in our Honda Odyssey and crossed the Continental Divide three times in Wyoming. Our route also ran near Sherman Hill on the Union Pacific mainline; this is the highest point on the original transcontinental railroad, and it still demands a lot from locomotives moving freight (or passengers) from Chicago to the West Coast. After leaving Wyoming we followed the North Platte River to Kearney, and were dismayed to see the effects of drought along the way. The river itself is very shallow, and appeared essentially dry in some places. Rough for the wheat, corn, and soybean crops!

I-80 bridge from Iowa to Illinois, crossing the Mississippi River.

Our third, somewhat shorter day involved only about nine hours of driving rather than 10-12 or more. As we left Nebraska and crossed Iowa we gradually left the drought behind and saw more and more green landscapes. They say that water sometimes falls from the sky in this part of the country, so maybe that is why everything was so green. We also noticed there was much less relief to the topography, except for hills and bluffs near the rivers, and we encountered a lot more traffic than we ever saw in the mountain states.

By the time we arrived in St. Charles we were ready to take a break from driving, and we very much enjoyed our down time with family and friends. A future post will outline the next segment of our roadtrip as we drove to Northeast Ohio by way of Michigan.

Ruminating on a Roadtrip

General map of our roadtrip route.

We recently returned from a 6300 mile, multi-state road trip taken to visit family and friends, attend a high school reunion, and at times play tourist. It was a wonderful trip!

The yellow-highlighted map above provides a general idea of our route. We drove from Livermore to Illinois to see family and friends, then to Michigan to see more family, then to Ohio for the reunion and more friends, then back to Missouri to see family, and then to New Mexico for one more family visit. We left New Mexico to venture north into Colorado, enjoyed a ride on the Durango-Silverton narrow gauge railroad, and then spent a couple days in Arizona at Grand Canyon before heading home. We scheduled this trip tightly: the drive from Livermore to the Chicago area took three days and the drive home from Grand Canyon was 750 miles in one day. And we averaged 28 mpg in our minivan, driving up hill and down dale on interstate highways and back roads alike.

Now that we are home and (mostly) unpacked, a few notes and observations seem worth sharing.

First, a drive across the United States is educational. You can’t help but notice the size of the country, and how richly we have been blessed with beauty and natural resources. Yes, you see some junkyards and trashy places, but you also see awesome mountains, productive farms, wildlife, different weather, and many sorts of communities. People we met were almost always friendly and easy to visit with. Granted, we did not spend time in any big cities, but the country we saw was nothing like the murder and mayhem seen on the news over the past few years.

Second, we discovered that gasoline outside of California usually cost about two dollars per gallon less than what we pay in the Bay Area. This was no surprise. Folks in California are so used to paying more that they don’t often ask why, but it can be healthy to question California policies that drive energy prices. We also noticed a dearth of charging stations for electric vehicles, not only in remote areas but along interstate highways as well. In theory, this trip would be feasible with an electric vehicle, but only by careful pre-planning to avoid remote areas, allowing extra time for one or two mid-day charging stops, and allowing more extra time in case the charging station is already in use when you arrive. I don’t think an electric vehicle could have kept our pace or easily visited all the places we stopped.

Third, we took the opportunity to join some of our brothers and sisters in Christ for worship at Calvary Lutheran Church in Elgin, Illinois; Redeemer Lutheran Church (where we were married almost 47 years ago) in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio; and Christ Lutheran Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Each worship service had its own style, but they were all steeped in the Word, founded on Christ, and blessed by God’s grace. In two out of the three we were able to worship with family and friends; icing on the cake, so to speak.

Fourth, we saw a country and a people (yes, I refer to Americans as a people rather than using the politically preferred descriptions of us as warring tribes) that are very different from what we hear on the news, in opinion pieces and editorials, and from our politicians. This was both refreshing and reassuring. Frankly, I think our politicians, news reporters, and editorial writers all need to get out more. Traveling up and down the coast between Massachusetts, New York City, and Washington DC doesn’t count. They need to get out of their familiar haunts, out of their complacent bubbles, and out of their echo chambers, and get in touch with the populace they claim to know but so plainly don’t. It would do them good, and it would definitely improve their work if they are open to a dose of reality.

Finally, and as noted above, driving across the country is educational and enjoyable. Very different from flying over it, to be sure. If you get the chance to try it and don’t mind the time behind the wheel, go for it!