Monthly Archive: June 2010

A Mother’s Calling

Just out of Baggs, WY, I crest a long hill in the early morning light. Almost immediately the topography changes. It is greener and there are yellow flowers along the road and valleys as far as I can see and in the distance, mountains loom. It is the kind of morning that greets me every day. Fresh air, sun, music from the side of the road as crickets and birds sing their songs. This morning would be different though.

Violet Kaylor is driving a lonely stretch of Hwy. 13 north of Craig, CO. It has been a long trip for her. She is from Hartselle, AL and left on Sunday June 20th headed for Mile Post 114. Her son was Jon-Eric Loney. An Army Corporal, he was 21 years old when he died on November 28th, 2006 in Iraq. We move forward to a meeting in the Colorado countryside, towards each other for a brief time in our lives.  I see a black, Dodge Charger with Alabama plates approach and slow. It stops. It is Violet. We walk together and she tells me about her son. Infectious, generous and just a really good son. It is quiet too, as we walk. I ask Violet to look around…..There are sheep grazing and lambs feeding and a creek runs nearby. A sheep wagon sits on the side of the hill. It is a beautiful place. A soothing, calm place to put her sons flag. It has always been an honor for me to serve this country 30 years ago and it was an honor to walk this mile for Jon-Eric with his mother. I cannot imagine her sadness and yet I see her love for her son. It was important for her to be here at Mile Post 114, to see her sons flag be placed and then to take him home. We embrace and words of gratitude are shared. Violet slowly drives away and I resume this journey. Life often brings us circumstances and people who change our lives, that somehow enrich it in a way we can’t explain. I would spend the better part of the day thinking about this Mothers Calling and its effect on me. Thank you Violet Kaylor and thank you Jon-Eric Loney for this mile in Colorado.

Prison and Prairie

I walk through the front door of the Wyoming Frontier Penitentiary. Established in 1881 and closed in 1981, it cuts an imposing gothic like figure on a side street in Rawlins, WY. Romanesque in structure, it is eerie. I close my eyes, listen to the wind outside and imagine…….walking through the door that every inmate did. He could have been a cattle rustler, a thief, a murderer. Processed in a small room, his picture is taken. He is shuttled to the next room. Dimly lit, this room is cold and it is where he would have been strip searched then hosed down and de-liced. It also had a punishment pole. Handcuffed to it the worst offenders would be beaten with rubber hoses. A sliding window would have been opened in the door so that other inmates could hear the screams. This was 1910. Taken to A-block and put in #12 on the ground floor. His room, a mere 5×8. A wooden bed, a straw mattress, a wool blanket and pillow, a sink and toilet. There was no hot water. He would have taken cold showers every day….for years. The south facing cells were coveted. Sun would often filter in and somewhat warm the inner, dark cell block. The windows were high which allowed those inmates on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th levels to see out to nothing but a vast, empty prairie, yet it would be their lifeline, their hope. At the far end of the block still sits a barber chair, confined to a larger cell. It looks lonely with its leather aged and fading, cracking like the walls surrounding this place. On the north side of A-block there is little light. The cells are dark, pitch black in most cases. Standing in them you can see out but for someone walking by, you are invisible, swallowed up in darkness. The odor here is strong. 100 years of human sweat, blood, urine. Many of the old mattresses still remain. It is cold. He must have spent many nights praying for the sunlight. Praying to get sent to the infirmary where it would be warmer. Praying for a release so he could return to the prairie and the endless skies of Wyoming. In the  silence I hear the voices and catch whispers. I see the shadows dancing….To the “yard” I would walk, following him. A baseball field long overgrown with a rusty backstop. Endless games won and lost. Guard towers in each corner watching, waiting, anticipating perhaps, that jump for freedom. I follow him. To death row. 15 would die in this place. 9 by hanging and 6 by the gas chamber. I cannot comprehend the feeling of despair, anguish and desperation in that room as the clock ticked down. I follow him. To the cafeteria. Huge ovens and old stoves, murals on the wall and no matter where I stand, the bighorn sheep eyes are still watching me. I follow him. To C-block, more modern now, more light and warmer. There are stories of escape and recaptures. I hear the whispers and know I must go. Down the dark walkway again past those cells that reach out to tell the story of those they kept within. I leave him then. I walk out into the sunlight and see the trees and flowers and feel the breeze and know it is time to move on.

Fathers Day and Antelope

My mornings here in Wyoming have become much like every other morning. I awake at 5:30. My mind begins to buzz with the expectation and excitement of a new day. What will I see? Who will I meet? The skies are blue, the sun is just beginning to come up. I realize it is Fathers Day. I am fortunate. I am still here. Alive. I will receive a gift from my daughter, a framed quote she wrote:”My Father didn’t tell me how to live; He lived and let me watch him do it”……..My son calls. I am lucky. I can still hear his voice. He is a young father now and makes me proud. My day of running  begins. 30 miles, 30 flags. Some of the flags today bear the names of sons. Some of fathers. We move down the highway together. For the briefest time there is no wind. Crickets chirp. Birds sing methodically. The sun warms my skin. I smell sage.  On the hills of sage I see numerous antelope and they snort and run as I draw near. Sons and fathers. I think that somewhere a family is sad. Today there will be no sadness on this road. There is to much beauty in this place. Enough, today that I share it with each name. What I see, they see. What I hear, they hear. Our senses are one, joined in a way I can’t explain. The prairie has power. Immense power and it pulls me down the road to another day done. The sun sinks low. The antelope seek their beds for the night. I dream and await tomorrow…………

Sweetwater Junction, Handcarts and Little Friends

It is a long, desolate stretch of highway, this ribbon of asphalt called 287 which goes from south of Lander to Rawlins, WY. As I trot along I often think about what I can write about at night. Often there is to much. Sweetwater Junction is one of those stops in the middle of these high plains with views of the Wind River Range. It is the home of the Mormon Handcarts in this area. I thought pushing a stroller loaded with 50lbs. of gear was a chore. It pales in comparison to what Mormon Settlers did 150 years ago. They actually pulled handcarts that weighed 60 lbs. from Iowa to Salt Lake City loaded with provisions and clothing. I was told it was cheaper than rail travel to get them to their final destination. They had basically 12 oz. of flour a day. The equivalent of 2 to 4 slices of bread in addition to whatever else they could muster up. When these supplies ran low the men would give their portions to the women and children. I was astounded by their efforts. A few miles up from this camp the settlers would dig down about 2 feet in the sloughs to find ice even in June and this would help preserve their meat. The California Trail, Orgeon Trail, Mormon Trail and the Pony Express Trail all traveled this route I was on today. In an area I had secret reservations about crossing, I saw tremendous beauty and solitude. I discovered when I stopped in Jeffery City that it at one time had 5000 residents and a uranium mine which, when it closed in the early 80s took most of the residents with it. Now, vacant gas stations are next to the highway along with long ago, boarded up buildings. The wind creaks the sign from an old Sinclair Station, sage blows across the asphalt, the sun beats down, the sky is blue. In such space, freedom is magnified. Further up the road I spot a young ranch mother and her two children. They had raced their four-wheeler through the field to get ahead of me. I stop and meet the little ones. They are pure, Wyoming. Dressed in jeans, long sleeve shirts, cowboy hats and each with huge belt buckles. The little girl wears her grandmothers Miss Wyoming buckle. Mom is as pleasant as her children and just as beautiful in her own quiet way. It is obvious she has done great things with them and felt it was important for them to meet me. I was flattered by their sudden appearance and so thankful for it. Thats what Wyoming has been like. Intense, open space with chance encounters that brighten my day.

The Winds…………….literally

The Wind River Range flows like a wave off to my right. Snow covered in June and yet down this low there are shades of green and brown as summer fills the mountain air of thes wide open plains. I have been fortunate to see the Tetons and now the Winds. Today I experienced the Winds in a new form. In my face, 35 mph for 10 miles….oooookkkayyyy. This isn’t quite fun. Did I say that? My speed pushing the stroller drops to a turtle-like 3 mph and I wonder if I will make my pickup time. Lander has been a nice town to visit. Pummeled by rain and floodwaters a week ago I see a town come together. Neighbors helping each other sandbag the rising river. I would not expect such weather in an area such as this but Mother Nature is not choosy. Rolling through town I take a picture of the 1905 Coulter building and spy my barber shop, Crazy Beautiful. Okay I admit it was at one time a barbershop and now a salon but for a shaghead like me passing through it would do. Coincidentally Army Sergeant Major Michael Millette flag would have been placed out front but now sits in a vase in the window of that salon, out of the elements. As I leave town I look at my small medicine bag dangling in the wind from my stroller. Given to me a few nights ago it contains a rattlesnake rattle for protection, an eyes stone to watch over me, a travel stone to get me from ocean to ocean and a healing stone. I feel secure and safe in a deep way. Running into the wind the gusts push the stroller side to side and nearly bring me to a standstill. What do I do? I keep my head down and ask for a little help and recieve from the previous 1305 flags a push from 1305 hands….