Wilderness Adventure Day 1 – The Yurt

The Yurt

I arise at 6:30 a.m. to start the day. We are headed off today for a vacation of camping in a yurt by Hooker Lake in far northern Minnesota. The yurt is located right on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) so our hope is to also make a day trip by canoe into the BWCA. My hubby loves the solitude of the wilderness.

“Moo, moo” is the sound that reaches my ears as I exit the house. “Why, little one, are you standing in that pasture all by yourself?” I question the wayward bovine out loud. I sigh! I am in my pajamas, and this is how the day begins. I scan the fence line but do not see any wire on the ground – just a calf stuck on the wrong side. I shuffle out into the pasture, drop down the fence opening and shoo the wayward animal back to the others. I call to Claire, the dog, to get her to continue on with me to the barn to feed the cattle but she just sits on the sidewalk and gazes after me. Oh well, she will have to do her business at the kennel.

A ping and a plunk echoes through the air as we pull away from the garage, on time, no less. What was that? I step out to investigate. The tennis ball that dangles from a cord and descends when the garage door opens has caught on the bike rack on the back of the car. It has been catapulted across the garage as the cord popped with the tension. This is not the first time this has happened, but all is well otherwise and we are off.

Our drive to Grand Marias up Hwy 52, then I35, and State 61 goes without incident. We arrive around 3 p.m. We turn north on the Gunflint Trail and wind our way 28 miles until we arrive at Lime Grade Drive, a narrow gravel road through the forest. After a couple of miles, the GPS tells us to turn right on Little Ollie Drive. I thought we were already on it. After wandering onward for a few more miles down this shale path, we arrive at Little Ollie Bed & Breakfast tucked back in a pine and birch forest. It reminds me of the enchanted forest with trails coursing through the yard. We approach an enclosed porch that seems unoccupied, and our knock goes unanswered. Since silence is the only response we receive, the front door of the Bed & Breakfast seems like it might be a better choice. At least it has a doorbell. I push the button a couple of times before I hear a soft sound of footsteps.

A slightly bowed elderly lady pushes open the door, “If you had come around to the back it would have been so much easier,” she says.

There wasn’t any sign directing customers to the back and I would never have guessed that I was supposed to go down the hill and around the back of the house but OK. She leads us through the first level of the house and slowly down the basement stairs into the company office.

“I have no help this year,” she shares, “and I can’t afford to hire anyone with Covid shutting us down last year. We have no money, and my husband had a stroke recently. But you don’t need to know all that,” she finishes.

What a bummer! I am perplexed. Why is this elderly woman trying to run a Boundary Waters Canoe outfitting company in this situation especially when the internet advertising seems to indicate a host of services available? It just seems rather sad. It is a good thing we didn’t plan on hiring a guide to accompany us on our adventure into the Boundary Waters. Oh well! Our primary goal is to rent her yurt in the woods by Hooker Lake and we were hoping, maybe, to have her haul a canoe for us – not guide or supply us for a BWCA venture.

After we settle our bill, discuss weather, and plans, we climb back into our Subaru and head out to the yurt. A yurt is a round canvas structure much like a tent but large enough to stand up in and move around comfortably. It was often used as a primary residence by nomads in Mongolia, Russia, and Turkey.

“I don’t know if you can drive to the yurt,” she informs us. “It’s really rocky and muddy since we had lots of rain.”

The path to the yurt

Hmmm… I really don’t want to walk in and out a ½ mile every time we want to leave.

“I will take you and your things with the pickup, and you can see what you think,” she continues.

We follow the diminutive lady who can hardly see over the steering wheel in her pickup with our car as we turn down a beaten path. It doesn’t look so bad to me – a little rough, a few rocks to dodge – that’s all. Finally, she pulls over at a bend in the path.

“I think we should stop here and see what you think.” As she and I stroll along the barren wheel track path with foot high grass growing in the middle, she points out the mud puddles, the rocks and the rough terrain. It only looks like a normal farm field drive to me, but we agree to ride in with her to test it out. She seems so worried for us. The old battered pickup bounces over the obstacles and we are jerked this way and that. Soon through the trees, we spy a small wood shack that is identified as the sauna. Just a little farther in tucked into the birch and pines is the yurt. And to the southwest just visible in the distance is Hooker Lake.

Our guide gives Dave some instructions on firing the woodstove for heat, lighting the gas cooking stove, and the use of the water and then she roars away in her pickup that has seen better days. I am getting the very distinct feeling that she is not really prepared for us to be using the facilities.

“I’m going to walk out and get the car,” I holler to hubby. My walk provides a chance to survey the rocky route up close. I am pretty confident that I can traverse this with limited difficulty. My car has a smaller wheelbase than her truck allowing for sneaking between some of the rocks that she has been bouncing over. I think I maybe have some better springs and shocks as well as the road is not nearly as rough in my vehicle and soon, I am back at the yurt. That was a piece of cake!

One wall of yurt

Our temporary home has two sets of bunk beds and a futon with a bunk over it along one circular side. There is a table and chairs in the middle of the structure. The wood cast iron stove, the gas cook stove, and a stainless-steel cart for holding water containers and dishes lines the other ½ circular side. The center top sports a clear dome through which the sky is visible, and the lighting always seems to give the impression that the light is on.

Soon, it is time for supper. The menu is brats and mashed potatoes rehydrated from dry flakes. Neither one of us is into making a fire outside tonight so we decide to heat things on the stove. Dave turns on the gas to the burner marked RF and holds a match over the circle. Several matches burn themselves out or try to burn his fingers without the burner lighting. All of a sudden, there is a huge whoosh and a ball of flame shoots up. Both of us jump back startled.

“Are you OK? The back burner just lit,” I repeat several times to Dave.

“It couldn’t have,” he keeps reiterating.

Finally, he decides to test my theory and turns the handle marked RF but holds the match over the back burner. It lights instantly. He does the reverse with the RR and the front burner lights. Well, that’s a wee bit of a safety hazard.

The wind dies down to a perfect calm by 9 p.m. A loon’s call echoes in the distance. In the stillness, we read by the light of the lantern.

Looking towards Hooker Lake

Rain-Soaked Challenge

Raindrops splatter on the windowpane and slide down the glass. The sky is dark and lowering. I sigh. Not another rainy day. Yesterday, the water poured from the sky all day leaving an inch of water in the rain gauge. I was hoping for a better day today, Friday, as the lawn is growing lush and green heralding the need for a mowing. I wanted to get the mowing done before Saturday as we are going into the Memorial Day weekend. Oh well, it may just have to wait until tomorrow.

 Surprisingly, by noon, patches of blue sky with peaks of sunshine begin to appear and a renewed hope rises within me. I know the yard is slightly damp yet and our trails through the woods are probably soggy, but I am going to give it a try. With a roar of the engine, I am off and soon going around and around shaving that lush green grass into a mat of fresh smelling clippings.

The last part of the task is to clip the overgrown trail through the woods. I make my first pass from the house winding through the trees down to the gravel road. The last fifty feet of the trail is downhill and culminates in a steep headfirst dive to the road ditch. Sliding down the hill sideways is not my idea of fun so the wise thing to do is to avoid that. My plan is to turn around and go back the way I came before the steep descent. Even then, I am uncertain of being able to ascend back up the incline I came down. The X540 John Deere that we own has rear tires with lug tread but even with them, I have learned it tends to be extremely helpless on an upslope. I hold my breath as I back around and head out of my precarious position. Just a few spins of the tires and I am wheeling along back towards the house. Whew! Made that one.

Bluebells

The next section of trail winds through the forest on the north side of the gravel road. Hubby and I have built a 20-foot bridge over the road ditch which extends from the ditch to the woodland opening. The bridge is just wide enough for the tractor, so precision is required with a little speed to make the slight incline at the other end. The hope is to not end up in the ditch here either. Traveling this portion goes off without a hitch. I do have a little problem with spinning on the trail which should have been my first clue that this whole operation is not a good idea today but hey, I am not one to give up what I have started. Use of the differential lock seems to overcome most of my difficulty. About ½ mile along this trail, we have installed another bridge that straddles a large washout. It lies at the bottom of a V slope in the trail. I know that if I descend into the V that I will not get out either way with it being as wet as it is so I turn around and head back. Without a problem, I am able to mow back to the road at the beginning. Now all that is left to do is mow the last section of trail that comes in from the opposite way to the V.

My confidence growing, I speed to the opposite end and begin again. I can do this. As I approach the treacherous section again, I am apprehensive. I have to be careful and not let myself get down into the valley or I am done. Falling into the wash would be disastrous as well. I roar up a little incline and position myself to turn around but there is not much room, and the terrain is inclined. Turning around requires backing uphill with the tractor. Not only do the back tires want to spin, the front tires do not want to turn the machine to bring it back around to the path. They just slide further off the trail. Between accidently hitting the forward foot pedal instead of the reverse more than once, I am soon helplessly positioned off the path and stuck against a tree with the mower. I have dug a big hole with the back tires and wedged the front against a log. Oh No! Frustrated, I sit there. I am in the middle of the woods. No one else is around and we have no other vehicle to pull with that will fit down the path. I have no idea how we are ever going to get this out of here. I might just as well walk home. It is 3:30 in the afternoon. I was doing so well and now I am dead in the water.

“How late r u going to be?” I text Dave.

“Not late. Around 4:10.”

“I will wait for you then. I got the tractor royally stuck in the woods.”

Right on time, Dave’s white pickup rolls up the drive.

“How are we going to do this?” I question him.

Confident, he replies, “We will take the tow rope and a Come-Along. Hopefully, we can find a tree nearby to pull from.”

This is a solution that has not ever even occurred to me. It infuses me with optimism.

Soon we are hiking up the path carrying two sets of tow rope and the Come-Along. My heart sinks just a little when I realize how few sturdy trees there are close to our predicament spot. There is no tree to be able to pull backward or forward from. The only available tree is about 25 feet away and off at a 45-degree angle. We come up with a plan to hook onto the front frame of the little tractor and to try and pull the front end around onto the trail. Within just a few minutes, my competent Hubby is slowly ratcheting the front around to face the trail.

“Now get on it and see if you can drive it out,” is the command.

I have my doubts, but I stomp on the differential lock and push the gas pedal to the floor. With a roar, it rises up out of its hole. Hurrah! I am off.

Irises

Since, I was almost done anyway, I decide to finish that last pass on the path and make a couple of passes along the side of the gravel road. That should only take fifteen minutes or so. I have just about reached the hardtop road when the mower abruptly and unexpectedly stops and the engine stalls out. The engine starts without a problem but each time I try to engage the mower, the tractor stalls. So now what’s wrong? I might as well give up. I turn around and head the tractor for the house. But on one last thought, at the end of the drive, I stop, get off and peer under the mower. Ah! There is the problem. A 5-6” diameter rock is wedged between the mower blade and the deck. I knock it out and climb back into the seat. With a screech, the mower whirls to life without killing the engine. Soon I am done.

Dave is laying on the lawn soaking in the sunshine when I return. Claire dances around him waiting for flying toys.

I sprawl beside him and kiss him on the cheek, “What would I do without you? I had no idea how we were ever going to get that tractor out of there.”

“Oh, I had time to think about it on the way home,” he responds.

Life is so much easier to tackle when one has someone to help shoulder the challenges. This year we will have spent thirty years helping each other deal with life. It reminds me of the Bible verse, “Two people are better than one because together they have a good reward for their hard work. If one falls, the other can help his friend get up. But how tragic it is for the one who is all alone when he falls. There is no one to help him get up.”  Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Whoopie Pie for Santa Claus

“Should I make whoopie pies for you for Christmas?” questioned my husband.

            My mouth began to water before I could even answer. “I would love that.” My mother made these special treats for us at Christmas time while growing up in Pennsylvania. Here in Minnesota if one mentions Whoopie pies, he is met with quizzical looks. So, what is a whoopie pie? It is two round mound-shaped pieces of cake with a sweet cream filling sandwiched between them. According to “What’s Cooking America?”, they have their origins with the Amish in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This dessert springs from my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.

            Hubby was trying to explain this foreign delight to his employee, Alex, just a few days before Christmas. But an explanation of its goodness does not begin to compare with the actual taste of the completed dessert. “Can you spare a whoopie pie to give to Alex?” he questioned.

            “Of course!” I packaged one up to be delivered to him on Christmas Eve.

            Alex decided that he would save the scrumptious sweet to share with his wife at home. However, his just-turned-three-year-old son and six-year-old daughter needed to be picked up from Grandma and Grandpas before heading for home. And then the questions began, “Dad, what’s that?”, “Can we eat it?

            Alex scrambled to come up with a plan that would leave the whoopie pie for him and his wife to enjoy. A brilliant idea occurred to him. It was Christmas Eve after all.

            “How about we save the whoopie pie to put out for Santa Claus tonight?” He encouraged the young ones with a laugh.

            As bedtime approached, Son and Daughter excitedly helped carry the whoopie pie, some other cookies, and a glass of milk to the coffee table by the Christmas tree.

            “Time for bed. Santa can’t come until you are asleep.”

            Both excited children were soon tucked in bed and the adults sat talking in the kitchen. As the minutes ticked by, Alex realized that his young son had not appeared in the doorway as was the ritual that occurred on other nights. That’s strange. I better go check on him.

            The room was quiet as he approached it. Peeking into the dimly lit room, he noticed Son perched in the corner of the room with his feet tucked under him. Brown crumbs stuck to his cheeks and littered the floor around him.

            “Did you eat the Whoopie pie?”

            A vigorous shaking of the head back and forth followed the question. “No, I didn’t eat it.”

            But the evidence said it all and Alex knew he needed to have a discussion with the child about not telling the truth. A smile was poking at the corner of his lips, though, and he needed to escape the room.  His wife would have to have this discussion. He had an overwhelming desire to laugh. How his son had gotten the goodie, he did not know. What he did know was his well laid plans for Santa and a taste of the whoopie pie had been derailed by a small child.

Sedona, AZ: ATV Riding, the Pink Jeep, and Travel Home

            Friday, September 20, 2019  

            Hubby gets up at 5 a.m. and leaves the hotel. I am awake anyway so I might as well get up. I wander over to the conference early and eat my breakfast alone outside on the patio. Our scheduled adventure for today is an ATV ride at 1 p.m. I had a little panic attack this morning while looking at one of the maps. I see an Arizona Off-Road Adventure company located close to Camp Verde. My ticket has an address in West Sedona. Did I make a mistake? If we show up at the wrong place, we have thrown away a bunch of money.

            I head back to the hotel room after the next to last lecture and meet Hubby in the hallway on his way back to the room as well. We hurriedly throw together a lunch as the GPS says it will take us a ½ hour to our destination. “The traffic is terrible this morning,” is Hubby’s report for the morning.

            We arrive with time to spare and my anxiety about showing up at the wrong place is not justified. We sign the usual, “This is a dangerous activity and we are not responsible if you die” paper before being fitted with a kerchief to cover our mouth and nose, a helmet to protect our brains, and googles to protect our eyes. Now we look like bandits. We settle down to wait for other people to arrive before being taken to a small track outback to practice driving. “For how many people is this the first time they have driven an ATV?” asks our instructor. All four hands in our group go up. Well at least we are not alone in needing to look like beginners.

            “Who wants to go first?”

            “I will.”

            After some instruction on how to push the throttle and how to apply the brakes, I am off. Slowly I crawl around the track. They purposely made it with deep holes and rocks and short turns. Turning the machine seems to be my biggest problem but I make it around without any significant problem. Hmmm! Maybe I can drive this thing. Everyone else takes a turn before we are ready to leave. Hubby does his trial run without any problem either so soon we are piling into a van to be hauled to the Coconino National Forest. Contrary to my preconceived notion, national forests in Arizona do not necessarily contain trees. This one has short scrubs, mostly dirt, cacti, and stones.

Me and my machine

I am a little apprehensive but also a little excited. This has the potential to be smashing fun. We are soon lined up behind our guide. We will be riding 25 miles of dirt trails covered with rock and holes and twists and turns. It takes a little getting used to the throttle which needs to be operated with one’s right thumb. The temperature is only about 80 degrees but the helmet with the face kerchief makes for a smothering sensation. I soon ditch the kerchief over my face. It doesn’t seem that dusty. As I get more used to the machine, accelerating in short burst is a thrill. We travel down a forest road first and then turn onto a path through the “forest.” It is more like a cow path through a dry and barren land. We eventually climb higher on the Sawtooth Ridge and stop for a break. We gaze out over a vast valley below to the red rock formations miles away. Then we begin our ascent back down and back to our starting point. The last few miles takes us on the gravel forest road, and we step up our pace. With the wind in our face, we throttle the machines and sail towards the drop off spot. Whee! A little taste of risk-taking enhances the thrill. Our ride takes about three hours and before we know it, we are back to the truck and heading back to Sedona.

Sedona area landscape

Our plan for the evening is to watch the sunset from the airport above Sedona so we pick up some Subway sandwiches to picnic there. The person working in Subway is sullen and inattentive. I think she would just as soon have not been there. This is our second attempt at buying Subway in Sedona and neither one has turned out particularly well. The last time, the bread on the sandwiches was hard and the cookies stale. This time the sandwiches were good, but the cookies were still stale. Time to give up on Subway here.

The drive up airport road is one of twists and turns. It cost $3 to park in the parking lot there but the view is awesome. We wander down a trail along the ridge and settle ourselves on a bench there. Hubby sets up the camera to get some pictures. The wind is getting cool as the sun goes down. We keep expecting the rocks to turn red with the sun sliding below the horizon but the color changes little. Hubby is somewhat disappointed as the hype has been great that it is such a spectacular view at sunset. It is still a great view. It just doesn’t meet what we have been told to believe. Oh well, time to get back to the hotel.

Sunset over western Sedona from airport

                         Saturday, September 21, 2019

Today is my last day of the anesthesia conference and our last day in Sedona before we fly back tomorrow. Hubby left early to explore so I thought I would get up and visit the Pink Jeep concierge desk at the hotel before the conference starts. We made a last-minute decision last evening to see if we could get reservations for the Pink Jeep trip to the Honanki Indian ruins in Boyton Canyon. I walk up to the concierge desk, but no one is staffing it.

“When does the concierge desk open,” I ask the hotel desk attendant.

“They don’t start until 8 a.m. on the weekends.”

Well that’s weird. Why would one have less coverage on the weekend when it is busier than during the week? Oh well, I guess I will have to come back between conference sessions.

When I return at 8:30, a gentleman is available to help me. And I am in luck. They have a 2 p.m. time slot for the venture we are looking at. That should be perfect. I can attend the whole conference on the last day, maybe get in a nap, and still make it to uptown Sedona by 1:30 p.m.

            I arrive back to an empty hotel room as Hubby has not yet returned. I spend a few minutes gathering our things together for travel home tomorrow before he appears.

            “We have to go right now,” he announces.

            “Why?” I ask. I was planning on a nice little nap. “Don’t we at least have time to eat?”

            “There are thousands of cars today with a two- mile backup on route 179. I don’t know why it is so busy, but it took me ½ hour to travel just a few miles.”

            “Well, let’s at least try to eat first. We still have an hour and ¾,” I implore.

            We hurriedly eat our usual cold cut tortilla lunch in the hotel room and set off on this beautiful day. Traffic is slow but there are no extended periods of traffic stoppage. I try to relax. We will be just fine. The sun is shining brightly with no clouds in the sky. The temperature is about 80 degrees. We have had no cloudy or rainy days since we arrived here.

            We reach Uptown Sedona where the Pink Jeep headquarters is located with time to spare. The next order of business is finding a parking spot. The town is flooded with people. I don’t know if this is business as usual for Sedona or if this is extra ordinary. We decide to try out some back streets and do find one parking spot in front of some mailboxes in Lot B. Is this a legal parking spot, we ask? We look high and low for any signs indicating our car will be towed if we park here. There are none. Next we need to figure out how to get across the street. The one thing the designers of round-abouts forgot to address was pedestrian crossing. When there is wall to wall traffic with no breaks in the continuous flow of speeding vehicles, how does one get across? Soon I notice that some traffic control people have been called into service on this busy Saturday. One activates a traffic signal that was dark and dormant and another stands at the next round about up the street and stops traffic periodically to allow safe crossing.

Us in front of the pink jeep

            We have arrived with an hour and a half to spare. We do some shop browsing before settling down in the waiting area of the jeep company. At 1:45, we are given some basic instructions on our trip. The most humorous one is the instruction on how to fasten a seat belt. Then we are assigned to our driver. There are six of us in the open-air pink jeep with overhead roll bars. And yes, the jeeps are pink. The first part of our journey is on a hard-top road. It then turns into dirt as we again enter the Coconino National Forest. The roads are of the same status as the ones we traveled on the ATVs. They are strange uneven rock underlay and are full of potholes. We bounce around as we wind through more red rock country with tall mesas off in the distance. After about an hour ride, we arrive at the Indian ruins. The sun is hot as it beats down on us. We have a fairly short walk through the “forest” to the ruins. A slight breeze blows and we get intermittent shade from the scrubby trees. One lady in our group is almost 80 years old resulting in a rather slow walk for the rest of us not-quite-as-old folks. There are some rocks and tree roots to stumble over and a short section of natural stone steps to traverse.

            We are told the walls built of stones mortared together with mud that connect directly to the cliff wall are left over homes or community buildings from a people that lived there in the 1400s. On the cliff walls, in some places barely visible, are various sketches and drawings made by these people. It looks like a rather unique place to live – hidden up against the 1000-foot-high cliff walls.

Indian ruins

            A lady in our group is unable to take the pictures she wants as her batteries have reached their useful life expectancy. Noticing her predicament, my always generous husband offers her his backup batteries. She graciously accepts. Hopefully, his will last until we get home as they are rechargeable.

            We soon return to our pink jeep. There are two elevated seats along each side and one in the back. Hubby and I squeeze into the back seat for the ride back. It is a little like riding in the back of a school bus, but we enjoy the cool breezes as we head back to town. There, we decide to eat in a restaurant along Sedona’s Uptown streets. There are many to choose from. First, I remind Hubby that we were going to stop at the chocolate shop. I saw a tasty looking bar there earlier that reminded me of the peanut butter bars I used to love. They have a peanut butter core covered by chocolate. My mouth has been watering all afternoon. The chocolate covered orange sticks are attracting my hubby. As we check out, the smiling young lady with flowing long pigtails greets us cheerfully, “Thank you for coming back. I gave you a 20% discount for stopping again.” She remembered us from earlier even with the multitude of people flowing through the shop.

            Hubby’s mouth is watering for a hamburger, so we pick a restaurant called the Cowboy Café. The waiters are dressed like cowboys with one even having a gun on his hip. I am not sure if that is just for looks or if it is actually loaded. Afterall, Arizona is an open carry state. I about fall over after previewing the menu. I was hoping for a reasonably priced meal, but this is anything but that. It looks more high class. We finally decide to order a plate of appetizer for us both. It includes rattlesnake sausage, buffalo skewers, breaded fried cactus, and some type of spicy “bread.” Each item comes with a sauce. I keep forgetting that we are close to Mexico and finding food that is not spiced up is a challenge. We will need to get out the Gaviscon tonight.

            By the time we finish eating, it is time to head for the Red Rock Rangers station where they are holding a View The Stars Party. The hour-long astronomy presentation is following by star viewing through several different telescopes outside in the dark. The sky is cloudless and the stars shine brightly. The air is cool enough to require the addition of a sweater. All the rocks and things to trip over are lined with red lights which supposedly does not affect one’s night vision. I soon realize that I will have trouble navigating in the dark as my balance since my stroke in February seems to be dependent on having visual orientation. Hubby’s primary interest is photographing the stars and the milky way. By 8:30, we are both tired and head back to the hotel.

The night sky from the Ranger Station

            Our last evening is spent packing up and getting ready for a quick departure in the morning. Our flight is not until 12:15 (noon) but we have a two-hour drive, a need to return the rental car, then catch the rental car shuttle to the airport and get ourselves through security. We get all this accomplished with two hours to spare to eat a leisurely breakfast. “Traveling would be so much fun,” I comment to Hubby,  “if there just weren’t any people.” Take a deep breath, I tell myself, and take it one step at a time. Maybe by the time we are too old to travel, we will have this travel thing figured out.

            The first segment of our journey to Chicago from Phoenix goes quite smoothly. There are some thunderstorms in the Chicago area with rain pouring down on arrival. This leads to some turbulence and rather panicked instructions to stay in our seats and buckle up, but we arrive a ½ hour ahead of schedule. We have a three-hour layover here so there is no need to hurry. Our text message from American Airlines gives up a gate number of L1A. We settle in to wait. I spend the time catching up on my writing and do some reading.

            At 5:58 p.m., our cell phones ding to tell us that our flight has been moved to gate L3. We gather up our luggage and move a few gates down. The board still says this flight is on time for takeoff at 8:45 p.m. At about the time the electronic board indicates we should be boarding the plane, the cell phone asks for our attention again. Time for takeoff has changed to 9 p.m. Five minutes later, the next message says the gate has changed to H3A with the takeoff time still being 9 p.m. We get up and begin our walk across the airport this time to a different wing. We have no more started our walk than the next message informs us the gate has been changed to H1B. Seriously people! Is it that hard to figure out what you are doing? And now departure time has been changed to 9:30 p.m.

            My head is spinning, and I am beginning to doubt that we will be arriving home tonight. Finally at 9 p.m., another arriving load of travelers deplane and we almost immediately begin boarding. Maybe there is still hope. Once everyone is comfortably seated, the captain announces, “We will be pushing away from the jet bridge in just a few minutes but expect a 40-minute wait for takeoff.” I groan. But as promised, by 10 p.m., we are airborne and headed for Rochester.

            We walk into the house at midnight. “Kitty Kitty Where are you?” Several times while in Sedona, I wondered if I had put her food out and I couldn’t remember but I convinced myself that I couldn’t have possibly forgotten something so important. I look up at the shelf where I put her food so that I could just set it down before we left. OH NO! The bowl of food still sits high up on the shelf. I never gave her the food on the way out the door six days ago. Poor Snowflake. She greets us with her usual “Meow Meow Meow Meow!” She does not seem any the worse for the situation. I am not sure if she is protesting that we left her alone or that she is starving. I quickly feed her, but she doesn’t seem particularly over hungry. She is just happy we are home and wants us to know it.

“Educated” by Tara Westover – A Review

A Mama Swan and her cygnets (young)

            I am always looking for new books to read. I especially love non-fiction novels about the lives of others. I want to know how they dealt with the experiences in their lives and how it worked out for them. I came across a book entitled “Educated” by Tara Westover. It is a New York Times best seller. My curiosity was triggered, and I bought the book.

            It is a story about Tara Westover’s life growing up in a Mormon family in Idaho. Even by Mormon standards, her father especially, is an outsider in his own faith tradition. Eccentric might be another term that one would use. Tara and some of her other younger siblings are never sent to school and their so-called “homeschooling” is basically no schooling. Her father believes school will contaminate his children to the world- a world in which he sees himself as God’s prophet.

            There are so many psychological and religious issues in this story that I can relate to on so many levels from my own personal experience. Although, I grew up Mennonite and not Mormon and the religious beliefs are different, the cultural dynamics are similar.

            First, Tara grows up in a family where the father is the ruler and women are seen as needing to always be submissive to men. This is a standard Mormon belief as well as one of many evangelical Christians, but her father uses that belief to control and to manipulate his family into a separate kind of lifestyle ruled by paranoia of everything “out there”, religious superiority, and an expectation of family loyalty. He does this through demanding an adherence to a distorted preaching of his faith as the one and true faith, by shaming his children if they so much as show any interest in how others live and attempt to copy that behavior. I couldn’t help but make that connection to my own father. Though my father was not nearly as off-center as Mr. Westover, I recognized the same behavior from my childhood. The result is the child feels alone and unable to connect with anyone often for life.

Socialization is important for all

            Tara finds herself alienated from everyone in her world except her family. She sits alone in Sunday School and of course, she has no friends for two reasons. She feels different from everyone else and her father makes sure that she has no time or opportunity to cultivate friendships with others. He stresses that girls she meets are not good enough for her. Her father uses his faith to condemn them as not living the way a person of God should live. She, therefore, feels guilty for even wanting to associate with such “wicked” people.

            Tara, even after she leaves home and goes to college, finds herself unable to fit in and at odds with pretty much everyone. I don’t think she, for many years, recognizes that this is a result of the socialization or lack thereof from her home life. It is deeply and complexly rooted in the emotional, psychological, religious, and cultural dynamics of her early years. I find it interesting that she titles the book, “Educated,” as if obtaining an education is what moves her to a place in society that she is accepted as “normal” by others. The lack of education is a handicap and with certainty will keep her a captive in her father’s strange world, but it is not what makes her feel alone, strange, and like she doesn’t belong in the new world that she explores. Getting educated will not fix what is broken inside of her from her childhood. It only gives her a better platform from which the self can say, “Now I am somebody.” I did the same thing. I went to school and got a master’s degree and a job that is viewed with respect and awe. And while working in it, I feel strong, accepted, and like I have worth. But outside of it, I still feel friendless and different from everyone else. I watch Tara as the story progresses feeling this total alienation from others and struggling with it. From my own experience, I have learned the feeling never goes away. One simply has to learn to be comfortable with being alone and knowing that this is who I am.

            A part of her psychic also does the same thing that I did with my family even after leaving. It longs for the love of one’s parents and siblings. Tara, like me, keeps coming back to the family trying to convince them of reality and what is right. Even though on a logical level, one comes to understand that one’s family is mentally unhealthy, there is this deep seated need to stay connected to them. Afterall, if those who bore you and nurtured you in childhood don’t love you, then why would anyone else especially God. Tara loses herself and becomes mentally unstable for a year after she realizes that her family does not want to know the truth that one son has been viciously abusing other members. Her parents are not interested in addressing the problems in the family and the highest value of loyalty makes everyone choose to accept “the delusion that they are one big happy family” which will allow them to remain part of the family. Tara realizes that the family “truth” and loyalty are more important than loving her. This is devastating to her.

What really destroys her is that her mother betrays her in this battle to expose evil. Her mother one minute acknowledges to Tara that she knows about and will speak to her father about Shawn’s unacceptable behavior. But when there is an actual confrontation, her mother turns against her and sides with her father. Her mother tries to destroy Tara’s reputation and character.  For the mother to stand against the patriarch of the family requires too high of a price. It reminds me so much of my own mother who swung from seemingly being rational to total denial and perpetrating vicious attacks on my character. It leaves one very confused and in the case of Tara, she cannot concentrate enough to even study. She falls into a deep depression. She had this deep-seated hope that her family would change because of her speaking the truth. But her family, like mine, was incapable of changing. Denial is a powerful substance that keeps the system stable no matter how dysfunctional. Only the individual has the power to change and often doesn’t because of these pressures from different aspects of society to conform, especially the family of origin and one’s religious community.

If you enjoy exploring the complex dynamics of families, “Educated” is a compelling read. My books “If You Leave This Farm” and “No Longer a Child of Promise” also explore many of the same dynamics. My third book, “Once An Insider, Now Without a Church Home” explores the same dynamics and pressures within the evangelical church as found within the family. One is only a friend and a member as long as one follows the dictated expected behavior and norms.

I appreciate all those who have the courage to write their stories. It helps me to know that I am really not alone and that I don’t need to be ashamed to share my own story.

                                                                                                Amanda Farmer

www.farmgirlwriter.com

www.calvinism-faith-crisis.com