Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Jim and Jan's Christmas Letter for 2019

Volume XLVI                                                                                                                               December 25, 2019 
Christmas 2019
Dear friends,
 Each year I seem to begin with “I can’t believe that I have been writing this Christmas Epistle for such and such a number years.  Writing Roman numerals this large is getting to be a challenge. I hope  XLVI is correct for 46.  Another challenge is finding something amusing or entertaining to say about the state of our world at present.  I guess I will settle for a strange congruence since I wrote the first of these letters in 1973 and Watergate was an item mentioned. It was sad then and remains sad now. So here’s my funny for 2019.    Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding people that stops facts from penetrating. The Bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future. 

Now down to what’s what for this past year.  Jim and Jan still do most things together. We work at the Warren County History Museum, we support the Friends of the Library, we  attend meetings of the Warren County Democrats, we shop together,  share the cooking, and read widely and avidly.  Jan is a life member of the American Association of University Women and spends mucho time on  Equal Pay,  Voter registration,  and STEM projects. If she  hadn’t taken a tumble on the way to the Monmouth College Christmas Concert the other night  and sprained her wrist, the entire year would have been hunky dory.

 Jim continues to try to keep up with the theatre scene, write in his blog, and work with Rotary.  He has found a new to him detective series by Louise Penny and has been trying to read all the earlier ones. Two major projects this year have been organizing an open house  for our 60th  (can you believe it) wedding anniversary  and taking a Road Scholar Small Ship Lewis and Clark cruise on the Columbia River.   You can read more about our trip and see pictures right here on the blog. Look in the archive of posts on the right and open Novembr. From there you can find post number 1 and go through the whole trip.  Monmouth is still our home, but we did also manage a three month getaway to Tucson last winter.  With a bit of luck we shall head back to the Southwest shortly after Christmas.  

Break time for a  theatre funny:  “ If the police arrest a mime, do they tell him he has the right to remain silent?” 

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far far away, the  Helsinki Finns (son David     daughter-in-law Lotta, and our two granddaughters Frida and   Selma) continue their life abroad.   We saw David briefly in Minneapolis last summer, but have not seen Lotta and the girls for over a year.  Both the young ones are growing  like weeds.  Frida is 7 and  is now in school. She is taking music lessons and has just passed her first swimming test. Selma is 4 and goes to what the Finns call  Paivakotti.  She loves to dance and sing and draw.  
We are  looking forward to a visit from all of them in Tucson in February.  Lotta continues her therapy practice and David continues to work for the Kone Elevator company, which was mentioned in a recent article about life in Finland in the New York Times.  He will also be participating in a  low-residency New York University MFA  program in poetry beginning in January.   

Time for another intermission:  Did you know that the term “piker” meaning cheapskate or cheater grew out of people who tried to evade the cost when they came up to a pay station on the first toll roads? 

Back to business. The Brown family of Amy, Todd, Taylor, and Mikel all still hang out in Iowa.  Todd, on the left,  had had a good year until two herniated disks put him in the hospital for emergency back surgery.  Up to that time he had been given more supervisory duties at his work, went on a major fishing trip with friends that netted the family and us some delicious salmon fillets, and rode his Harley to the Sturgis SD Motorcycle Rally.  Amy, on the right) remains the caregiver for all humanity and she has had a workout this year with Todd’s back, Jan’s fall, and various friends with problems. School for her this year has blessedly been an upper as she has a smaller and better class.  She is also taking a couple of continuing education classes to keep her certification up to snuff. 

Grandson Mikel,on the right,  is a senior in High School  and will be doing his final year of baseball this spring and summer.  He is still working part-time  at the Play Station and somehow he and Mom and Dad have also  been doing the “looking at colleges” dance.   Mikel’s current interest is in the wildlife and environmental management area. I think he would make a wonderful park ranger.  Grandson Taylor, on the left, has finished his formal education for now and is working full time as a nationally certified Paramedic in a small town near Des Moines, while also doing some hours with some old friends at the Hiawatha, IA,  fire and rescue department. He is a busy young man with a crazy schedule. The picture was taken at a Cubs Spring Training game last March.

For my final funny of the year let’s ask this question.  Why do they lock gas station bathrooms?  Are they afraid someone will clean them? 

Thanks once again for reading our letter this year and for many of you over many years.  May you find great joy and blessings in the promise of this Christmas Season even in these troubled times.  Think about keeping only cheerful friends; grouches tend to pull you down to their level. 
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Jim and Jan De Young

Monday, December 16, 2019

Alexander McCall Smith--The Peppermint Tea Chronicles

It is hard not to love Alexander McCall Smith's works.  They are copious, erudite, humorous, gentle, and above all full of the power of human love. The Peppermint Tea Chronicles is a  part of the 44 Scotland Street Series and it is a far reaching tribute to the great city of Edinburgh. The book is listed as a 2019 publication, but there is a tiny note that it has been excerpted from newspaper columns that first appeared in The Scotsman newspaper,   As such the chapters are brief and do sometimes seem like the kind of snippets that may get carried on in next week's column.  Yet the overall unity remains strong because the character traits can be filled in from previous books.

Most of the familiar denizens do appear--some more extensively than others.  The reader can slide into their lives as smoothly as slipping on a pair of old slippers after a hard day's work. The most delightful sections are those featuring young  Bertie Pollock and his friend Ranald Braveheart McPherson.  Complications ensue when a circus performer manages to give the two boys a dog.  This adventure dovetails nicely with the attempts of Angus the painter and hustband of Domenica to give a dead cat a decent burial.

The narratives are simple but showcase Smith's almost superhuman  breadth of knowledge.  The man seems to be completely at home with the comic book Popeye the sailor as he is with the details of Scottish Art History or the daily routine in medieval monasteries,  Needless to say there is plenty of fun and good natured humor throughout.  I loved his send up of golf and sports science. “You get a place on the course if you can count up to eighteen.”  Also  delightful was a riff on why the people in Scottish paintings look so alive.  It is because they are freezing while posing for the artists in icy cold Scottish manor houses or castles.

Every Smith volume is sprinkled with messages for contemporary life and this one is no exception. At the ending party we are immersed in an atmosphere of quiet unity and contemplation where the world of conflict, chaos, and anxiety is pushed aside to reflect on the fact that "all folks really want is the same thing, love, understanding, and gentleness. Angus recites his final two part celebratory poem  and the book is over.  Love remains the anchor, the "ultimate virtue--love in all its many aspects. Love that works its way unseen into the fabric of all we do."

I do love his work.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Chap XI The End of the Journey at Fort Clatsop

Chap XI The End of the Journey at Fort Clatsop

After making the decision  in the Middle Station Camp  to cross over to the south side of the river a scouting party, with the advice of the local Clatsop Indians, selected a site on a spit of land that was not far from the ocean and just off of Young's Bay on what is called today The Lewis and Clark River. They made camp there on December 10th and commenced the building of a stockade and living quarters for the group. They were able to move in just before Christmas of 1805.  The fort was to be the Corps of Discovery's  home until they left for the return journey to St. Louis on March 23, 1806

Today the camp area is operated by the National Park Service as a National Historical Park. There is a visitor center, several walking trails, and a reconstructed replica of the original fort.

The plan for the fort was simple. There was a central courtyard with living quarters flanking both sides. As the diagram shows, the enlisted men lived on the left side and Lewis and Clark and Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife Sacagawea with their baby boy lived on the right side.

Here is the entry gate into the courtyard.

Here is the courtyard itself.

One of the enlisted men's bunkroom

Charbonneau and Sacajawea's room

Lewis and Clark's sleeping room

The Orderly room also may have been where York slept.

There is an interesting statue of Sacajawea on the grounds. 

In some ways she has become the most memorable person in the expedition. Clark saw her as a significant contributor. The native tribes who encountered saw her as a symbol of peace since a woman would never be a part of a war party.  She literally kept the party alive since her knowledge of native plants and roots helped to feed the men when game was not to be found. Since she was a Shoshone who was kidnapped as twelve year old, she was able to recognize landmarks in some places that no one else in the party had seen.  She was able to translate from Shoshone to French which her husband could then translate to English for the rest of the party.  And finally she had been able to negotiate with her Shoshone brother to help secure the horses necessary to cross the mountains.  Without that single contribution the expedition might have had to turn back or even worse perished in the mountain winter.   

Major cooking and other activities were often apparently done outside of the compound.

Unfortunately, the winter on the south side of the Columbia river did not prove any more pleasant than on the north side. It rained constantly and there was a continuing battle with fleas and other insects. Sickness, ranging from intestinal problems to venereal disease, was a constant threat. The entire party was more than eager to start on their return journey as early in the spring as possible.  

And thus ends our journey on the Lewis and Clark trail. It was full of natural beauty, we learned a lot, and we met a marvelous group of fellow Road Scholars. As our ship left Astoria in the early evening of Oct. 10th the sun was setting in a final farewell. The white spot on the picture is a reflection off the dining room window  not a flying saucer. 

 By morning we had docked back in Portland and after our last shipboard breakfast we were on our way to the airport for our flight back to Chicago.  If you would like to know more about the trip or Road Scholar in general, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at

Chapter X The Dismal Nitch and Middle Station Camp

The Dismal Nitch and Middle Station Camp

Here we are at the Dismal Nitch.   All along this shoreline was a series of little coves  called nitches. This one was simply chosen as a campsite and later an early settler put his name to it as Megler's Cove.

It sure looks benign today.   But on Nov. 10, 1805 Lewis and Clark were trapped there on  what was then a rocky shore with steep hills behind them at least four miles from the ocean.  A huge winter storm had roared in from the sea and for six long cold cold days they were pounded by rain, thunder, lightning, and waves.   

The crew took advantage of a lull in the storm and low tide on Nov. 12th to move their camp a short distance down the shore to a slightly more sheltered part of the cove at the mouth of a creek (now called Megler's Creek after an early settler). The Corps of Discovery  continued to hunker down there until the weather cleared on Nov. 15th. As Clark's journal noted: "About 3 o'clock the wind lulled and the river became calm, I had the canoes loaded in great haste and Set Out from this dismal nitch where we have been confined for 6 days."   And thereby hangs the name as the nitch became dismal. Below is the creek as it looks today.

Dismal Nitch is now a pull-off pocket park on the coastal highway and from it you have a nice view of the river and can walk a short distance down the shore to look at a  bronze monument of Lewis and Clark on Dismal Nitch.  

The relief is marvelously detailed and I wish I had a better picture of it. The section below shows Lewis's dog, York, Clark's slave, Clark (standing with rifle), Lewis (with his long staff and Tri-Corn hat, and Sacajawea with her baby. There are also members of the expedition in the background.

A section to the left illustrates attempting to charge  through rapids or waves in a canoe.

At the bottom we get a plaque saying we come in friendship and another with  an image of President Jefferson who sent the explorers on their journey..

From the dismal cove the party moved on downstream again until they reached what is now called Middle Village/Station Camp.  This was a Chinook Indian settlement for generations and a major salmon processing center in later years.  The Chinooks were the major controllers of the mouth of the river in terms of fishing, trade, and general commerce. The Lewis party camped here for ten more days after their debilitating experience at Dismal Nitch. 

The major Lewis and Clark event at the site was that this was the camp where the party debated on whether the north side of the river was going to be workable for their winter camp.  Finally a memorable vote was taken to leave the northern shore and try to find a better site on the south side for a winter haven.  The decision was made by vote and each member of the party had one vote. This became the first time in American history in which a black man (Clark's slave/servant  York), and a woman  (Sacajawea) voted on equal footing with every other member of the Corps of Discovery. A simple rock commemorates the decision.

We now will joint the Corps of Discovery as they moved to the southern shore of the river and where they built Fort Clatsop as their home for the rest of the winter of 1805.

Chapter IX Arriving in Astoria "Ocian in View, Oh the joy!"

                                          Arriving in Astoria  "Ocian in View, Oh the joy!"

Well here we are in Astoria. at the mouth of the Columbia River and the final destination for Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery in 1805. During the night we ran all the way downriver and past Portland and by morning we were docked at a pier close to the downtown.

The river is more like a huge lake now and it clearly is a sailing heaven.

And a new sight-- ocean going vessels anchored. in the bay.

To get you further situated to what Lewis and Clark found, let's go to the highest hill in town that is made even higher by the Astoria Tower.  It is modeled after Trajan's Column in Rome and like the one in Rome depicts the history of the area in a series of pictures moving around the outside.

There was no elevator so we did not choose to make the climb, but our young tour photographer did share some photos from the top.  You can see the Pacific and the treacherous shifting Columbia Bar that protects the mouth of the river and has always been a challenge to sailors.

I discovered you could see almost as much from the parking lot as from the top of the tower.  Here is the same view from ground level.

For some a map view can help envision the lower river.  The town and tower are on the south side of the river at the bottom of the map.  The pink color highlights the continued danger posed by the shifting sands of the bar at the mouth of the river.  This channel has been named "The Graveyard of the Pacific" and over 2000 vessels have sunk and more than 700 people have lost their lives since the 1700's.     


 The magnificent Columbia River Maritime Museum, which was literally at dockside for us,  is packed with displays on the nautical history of the river from ancient times through WWII and the present.  

 Several other rivers flow into the Columbia from the south. Looking again from  the Astoria Tower parking lot,, you can see them clearly.

Our morning tour took us over the Astoria Bridge to the north side of the river.  This bridge replaced a ferry service when it opened in 1966.  It is four miles long and has a central span that allows even the largest ships to pass under it. 

Here we are heading up to the highest part of the span.

We still have a long way to go.

We are heading now for Dismal Nitch.  If you want to know why it was dismal and why it was a "nitch"  you will have to take a look at the next chapter.  


Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Chapter VIII Multnomah Falls and Portland

 Multnomah Falls and Portland

Around mile 138 we made a short stop at the beguiling Multnomah Falls. It is now owned by the Forest Service and according to one of our guides it was the most often visited site in Oregon until the opening of an Indian Casino a few years ago. 

There is path up to the bridge in this picture and another even steeper one that can take the most hearty visitors all the way to the top of precipice. 

Native Lore says that it created to win the heart of a young princess who wanted a pleasant secluded place to bathe. The lower pool certainly fills the bill. 

The favorite activity of couples is to pose with the falls in the background. 
There is no evidence that the Lewis and Clark party ever saw the falls even though they are quite close to the river bank.


Just a reminder that our cruise did actually start and end in Portland, but I have re-arranged the parts of this report to follow the first journey of the Corps of Discovery down the Snake and the Columbia to the sea.  Our stay in Portland was short.  We arrived on the afternoon of Oct. 3rd. and had an introductory get acquainted dinner that night.

The following morning we had a major orientation meeting with the Road Scholar Leader/representative Roger Dammarell. 

Lunch was high in the sky at a rooftop restaurant

This is the Willamette River not the Columbia.


I tried not to look down but it was compelling.

 Although neither of them had any Lewis and Clark connection, the rest of the afternoon was taken up by visits to the acclaimed Portland Japanese Garden and a Rose Garden.

You can't have a Japanese garden without a Koi  Pond

Or a bridge over untroubled waters.

                                                                                Or a display of  Bonzai trees.

The roses were not at their peak in October, but some blooms were still going.


 Later in the afternoon we were transported to our ship.  If you need some reminders on the nature of the vessel,  you can click back to Part I.

We set sail for the upper reaches of the Columbia just as the sun was going down


That takes care of Portland. We returned to Portland on a long overnight cruise from Astoria on Oct. 11th.  Luggage was out before breakfast and shortly after we were on our way to the airport and back to Chicago.

Lewis and Clark camped in four different locations as they passed through what would be the Portland area in 1805, but to my knowledge nothing exciting broke the drive downstream.

And so on to Part IX and X that deal with the final leg of the journey and a cold damp winter by the sea.