Camp Bangladesh

title photo with view of Bear Lake
Ralph and Olga at "The Joint" in Randsburg, CA
Ralph and the bartender Olga at “The Joint” in Randsburg, CA in 2005. Ralph grew up and went to war (WW2) with her son.

I came across this piece that I wrote in August 1999, five years before my first blog. It brought back good memories. That summer, I played the role of scoutmaster for Troop 360, chartered by Community Presbyterian Church of Cedar City, Utah. Joining me as assistant that summer was my friend, Ralph Behrens. Ralph and his wife Pat were good friends of mine in Utah, and I often stayed with them when I would return to visit Cedar City. Sadly, both have died. 

We took a dozen boys that summer to camp along Bear Lake in Northern Utah. The camp week ran from Monday morning through Saturday, so we loaded up after church on Sunday. I drove a 15-passenger rental van with the scouts and Ralph followed with his pickup truck, the back of it filled with gear. We made the 330-mile drive to Logan, Utah, arriving at dusk, where we stayed overnight at the Presbyterian Church. Early Monday morning, after a stop for breakfast, we drove Highway 89 up Logan Canyon and across the mountains, before dropping down to Bear Lake. This was an incredibly beautiful drive and the lake before us as we dropped out of the mountains was so inviting. My story will pick up on our arrival at camp. 

I looked for the camp and it appears that it is no longer in operation. Probably because the Mormons pulled out of the Boy Scout program, there seems to be a consolation of councils in the West and fewer camps. This camp had a lot of strikes against it as it consisted of small spit of land between the lake and the highway. However, I am sure the land was very valuable as it had so much lakeshore footage. I have edited my story slightly. I’m also sure I have a few more pictures of the camp, but am not sure which of many tubs of photos they’re in. The one of my son preparing to scuba dive was in a collection of albums and the only one from camp that summer. 

Camp Bangladesh
August 1999


Camp Bud Schiele
Dining hall and waterfront at Bud Schiele

A lot has happened in the fifteen years since I was last in a scout camp. Back then I was the Camp Director at Camp Bud Schiele in Western North Carolina. With grounds manicured like a country club and lots of trees, it wasn’t a bad place to spend the summer. However, after eight weeks in an all-boys camp with very few females, I knew the summer was winding down when the camp cooks, who were older than my mother, started to look attractive. In order to see what improvements made to the scouting program, I signed this summer for a week at camp with our local troop. I knew a lot had changed. However, I wasn’t prepared for what I experienced, especially girl counselors.

Ralph's truck on the "Hole in the Wall" Road in Central, Utah
Ralph’s truck on another trip

Ralph and I and a dozen boys arrived safely at Camp Bangladesh on a Monday morning. It was supposed to be an aquatic camp, but it felt like an overpopulated refugee settlement on the eastern shore of Bear Lake in Northern Utah. Greeting us at the gate was Gilligan, looking fresh and neat from his recent cruise on the S.S. Minnow. He wore Navy khaki, we assumed, because he didn’t meet the six-foot height requirement for the Coast Guard (and would have been unable to walk ashore if his boat had sunk). Gilligan directed us to our campsite and told me to report to the pavilion and check in. On the way, I stopped at the head (euphemism for latrine), where I quickly surmised that the U.N. and International Red Cross Refugee Commissions hadn’t yet inspected this site.

At the pavilion, the powers that be lightened my wallet as Robyn gave the troop a tour of the camp. Robyn substituted for our camp friend Randy who was, we later surmised, in the bushes with a female staff member. We never saw Robyn again; some think he got lost in the sage brush. Unable to see over it, he may have traveled in circles till he passed out. As for Randy, he and the Misses showed up hand-in-hand halfway through the week. We learned then that Randy was quite a philosopher and explained all the world problems as “someone must be smoking something.” We all assumed he was the “someone.”

At the opening scoutmaster’s meeting on the first day, I qualified for the BSA’s “Safety Afloat” certification by listening to a lecture. Little did I realize the camp practiced another form of safety afloat. They kept most of their boats in dry dock. They reserved the fully functioning boats for staff use. Our troop re-christened the small sloop named the “Ark” into the “Love Boat.” They had suspicion as to what the staff did on the boat that they kept safely moored offshore and off-limits to campers.

I will forever remember the galley experience at Camp Bangladesh. They served dinner in two shifts (called watches). If you’re unlucky enough to be on the second watch, as we were, it was like eating in an emergency canteen following a Kansas tornado. Another unique experience was dining in this open-air pavilion during a thunderstorm. Paper plates and cups flew with the wind, ridding the camp of rubbish by sending it all to Idaho. I’m sure it was from such an experience that the shifts became known as a watch, for we watched our food fly away.

The day following, the camp staff must have had a knife sharpening contest. The cook took first place. That night we were treated to beef trimmings, trimmings so fine we didn’t even notice them. Even the camp’s sole vegetarian seemed satisfied. In all seriousness, the night with the gluey noodles made up for the undercooking of the previous night’s rice, things have a way of balancing out in the end. Quality aside, the real problem was with quantity and our neighboring unit leaders resorted to rattlesnake hunting to supplement their boy’s diet. Ralph and I, being more practical, took our boys for milk shakes at the ice cream stand on the south end of the lake.

Of course, what goes in must come out, which brings me back to the subject of the rotten white buildings dotting the landscape and were a contributing factor for the outbreak of constipation that struck our campers. The smell of these buildings was so bad that I stopped using flashlights and followed the stench from one to another on the path back to our site. People had reported several large skunks along the highway east of the camp . They all facing east, obviously running across the highway afraid another skunk laid claimed the territory when they meet their demise under the tires of moving vehicles. 

Our troop’s strawberry blonde commissioner was Ms. Pope. We could never remember her name, so Ralph and I started calling her Hillary, in honor of the First Lady. In addition to serving as our commissioner, she was also the commandant of the dining hall and ruled with an iron fist. Hillary was an electronic engineering technician student at Weber State (MIT on the Salt Lake). We found her knowledgeable about most everything except for the difference between a foot and a yard. If she gets that confused between volts and watts, we’re afraid she may be in for a real shock.

In addition to her commissioner duties and studying electricity, Hillary is looking for a good Mormon husband who will allow her to stay home and tend to a scout troop. If Robyn hadn’t gotten himself lost in the sagebrush, they’d made a cute couple. Of course, I’m sure Hillary would have wanted Robyn to grow up a bit, but until then they’d be shoe-in winners in a Dennis the Menace and Margaret look-a-like contest. However, I secretly doubt Hillary desires a husband. She really harbors ambition to be the first female Chief Scout Executive. I just hope she doesn’t get her sights on the Presidency of the U.S. of A, or our country will never be the same.

There were three classes of staff at Camp Bangladesh. The elite, like Hillary, wore Navy uniforms and look like they just walked out of a surplus store or off the set for a remake of McHale’s Navy. The second tier wear dark green sea scout shirts and various colored pants. Our favorite in this class was Hot Legs—the blonde lifeguard with a nice tanned body fitted into a red one piece swimsuit. When on duty, she looked more like a movie star posing than a lifeguard as she stretched herself out sunning on the pier. I never saw Hot Legs without large sunglasses. She wore them even when the sun wasn’t shinning. Our boys, seeing her without the glasses one day, reported that she had a serious case of raccoon eyes and better keep them on.

The bottom rung of the staff hierarchy was the kitchen crew. Without regular uniforms, their selection was based on their lack of speed and foresight. Or maybe they were pressed into service, like the British did to our seamen before the War of 1812. If that’s the case, they’ve decided as a group that indifference is a subtle way of protest. Or, maybe they really didn’t think we wanted nor needed anything to drink with our uncooked rice until the meal was nearly over. 

Speaking of drinks, choosing the beverages of one’s choice was another interesting experience. Any other camp would have put labels on the coolers, but that would be too much work for the staff of Bangladesh. We learned that the way to tell what a cooler contained was to look underneath at the color of the puddle on the floor. Since we were the only non-Mormon troop in camp, the dining hall didn’t serve coffee. Suspecting such, I brought my own stove and percolator and fixed coffee every morning. I quickly became popular and found myself having to go into town to buy more coffee midweek as all the neighboring Mormon leaders decided to forgo their prophet’s word of wisdom and have a several cups of Joe a morning with Ralph and me. 

Scuba divers on the dock waiting to dive
my son learning to scuba dive



Our patch for the week informed us we’ve been on an aquatic land cruise—I supposed it’s a land cruise because most that’s where most of the boats remained. But there were some good things about the experience. First, I wasn’t in charge and could blame everything on the camp director, Captain McHale himself. Instead, I passed the hours sitting in my camp chair or laying in my hammock, reading books.

Our boys averaged three merit badges and only one fight a piece and they all eventually got to sail on the one of the few fully functioning sailboats available for campers. I even spent a wonderful afternoon on a Hobie (that was reserved for scout leaders). For an extra fee, I allowed my own son to experience the underwater world as he took a scuba diving class.  Now that I’m home, I’m hoping to break my Valium addiction by the end of the year.

Afterwards:

Even though I put a light spin on this, from my experience of working within the Scouting program in the Southeastern part of the states, it shocked me the camp passed the Boy Scouts of America’s rigorous peer inspection program. The waterfront controls were lacking, and I spent less time in my hammock and more time playing lifeguard than I hoped.  

After this experience, I‘m not sure why, but we signed up for another year. In 2000, Ralph and I took the troop to a camp in the Ponderosa pines south of Williams, Arizonia. It was one of the best run camps I’ve seen. Sadly, there was no large lake, just a pond for canoeing and a swimming pool. But the food was great. After that camp, it shocked me to learn most of the boys preferred the camp on Bear Lake. But they cherished the freedom, and the lake was a great. 

A Four-Day Hike in the Sawtooth’s

Title Slide with view of Hell Roaring Lake, Idaho
Lower falls at Cramer Lakes

A car approaches from the north. I turn around and stick out my thumb. “Was this a good idea?” I ponder. I haven’t hitchhiked since the summer before, when I completed the Appalachian Trail. And now I could use a ride back to my car at a trailhead. Otherwise, I’ll have an eight to ten mile walk beside hot asphalt under an intense sun. But they’re few cars in this lonely country. The car rushes by, its wind providing a moment’s relief from the heat. With no clouds and no wind, it’s hot, even at this elevation. Heat rises from the asphalt, its waves blurring the scenery. I turn back and resume walking along the shoulder of Highway 75, south of Stanley, Idaho.

I hear another vehicle crest the hill behind me. It sounds like a truck. I turn around and stick out thumb. It’s an old jeep; this will be my ride, I’m sure. Jeeps always pick up hitchhikers.

I recall an autumn day on the beach, six years earlier. I’d been on a conference on Wrightsville Beach. A hurricane was offshore, and we had to leave the island. When I got in my car, I realized that I my gas gauze was on “E.” Shortly after cross the waterway bridge, the car sputtered and quit.

Out of gas, I crawled out of the car and hoofed it in the rain a mile or so to the closest gas station. They lent me a can and I purchased some gas and when I started back when one of those bands of blinding rain hit. About that time a jeep came by, without a top. He shouted for me to jump in, and I did. His windshield wipers worked overtime, but it didn’t make much difference for there was as much water inside the glass as out. I began to wonder if riding his open top jeep was a good idea. But it beat walking. The rain was so hard; I could hardly see my car parked on the other side of the road. I put the gas in and headed home. Thankfully, the hurricane turned and went out to sea.

This jeep in Idaho didn’t stop. “Son of a…” I started, and then thought better. I couldn’t believe he ignored me. I turned and continued walking south. A few other vehicles rushed by, but none of them stopped. Each time, I’d resume walking. Then I spotted a minivan. I didn’t expect them to stop but still stuck out my thumb. The driver flew by, then hit her brakes, pulled over to the side and began to back up. I ran up and noticed that there were kids in the back waving at me. This wasn’t who I’d expected to offer a ride, but I was thankful for not having to walk all the way to my car.

“I don’t normally pick up hitchhikers,” the driver confessed, “but the kids recognized you as the hiker on the ferry when we came back across Redfish Lake. Looking into the back seats, I smile. The oldest is probably eight or nine. We’d played some silly games on the ferry ride across the lake and they were curious about what was in my pack. I thanked her for the ride and told her my car was at Hell Roaring Creek trailhead, just off the highway about eight or so miles south. She then asked about the trip.

Hell Roaring Lake with the “Finger of Fate” to the right of center



“I started out four days ago, spending the first night at Hell Roaring Lake,” I began, “camping under the ominous ‘finger of fate’ peak. It’s a lone bent rock pinnacle could have served as a model for Michelangelo’s “Finger of God.” The lake was surrounded by dead tree trunks from winter avalanches. Many of those trunks were waterlogged, but the ones not provided plenty of firewood. Although open fires had been banned for the summer (Yellowstone and Hells Canyon were being consumed with flames while I was hiking) I counted four campfires along the lake. I was invited over to one’s family campfire. I joined them and was shocked to learn that one of men was a Forest Service employee.”

Trail high in the Sawtooths



“The next day I continued hiking deeper into the Sawtooth Wilderness area, climbing over a steep pass. There were so many lakes, I can’t recall them all,” I confessed. “Imogene, Virginia, and Hidden were some of them, each surrounded by rocky peaks sparsely covered with gnarly trees. After leaving Hell Roaring Lake, I was alone with only the pikas keeping me company at night. I ran into a group of smoke jumpers, hoofing it out after having extinguished a small lightning fire deep into wilderness. We talked for a few minutes, as I picked up my pace to keep up with them, but then they left the main trail and headed to their pickup point.” 

“It’s all beautiful,” I said, “but my favorite had been the Cramer Lakes, each with a waterfall outlet that spilled into the next lake.”

“We were there,” she said. “We took the ferry across Redfish Lake and hiked up to Lower Cramer for a picnic and a hike up to the falls.” 

I’d been looking back at her kids as I talked. Suddenly she yell, “Oh my God.” I turned around and looked out the windshield. There was that jeep, lying on its back in the edge of a field. The dazed driver stood. 

“I’ll check it out,” I said. “Park down the road a way.” 

Jumping out as she slowed down, I ran over toward the jeep yelling, “Are you okay?” Another car pulled up. The driver, shaken and with tears in his eyes, begged for a fire extinguisher. No one had one. Drops of gas dripped onto the ground and the fire was began to burn under the jeep and in the grass. Without a fire extinguisher or other equipment, there wasn’t anything we could do. I told them I’d get a ranger and ran back to the awaiting minivan. I knew a ranger’s station was across from the trailhead from where I’d left my car. We flew down the highway, turning off and leaving a trail of dust on the dirt road up to the ranger station. I reported the accident and the fire. The ranger called it in and got into his truck. 

High in the Sawtooths

Then the lady in the mini-van drove me over to my car. Rushing, I thanked her for the ride, I dropped my pack in the trunk and headed back to the accident site. There, I helped the ranger, and several other men dig a line around the fire. Luckily, as dry as it was, there was no wind, and the fire didn’t get out of hand. With everything under control, a fire truck arrived and hosed down the jeep and extinguished the grass burning inside the line we’d established. All that was left of the jeep, that I was so sure could have been my savior, was a charred pile of metal.  I got back in my car and headed back to camp. 

I think it was C. S. Lewis who said, “we’ll spend half of eternity thanking God for prayers not answered.” And I was thankful this jeep had not stopped to offer me a ride. 

Another story of a solo backpacking trip during my Idaho summer of 1988

Up North

Title Slide with photo of me along the shore of Lake Huron

I’ve been wanting to post something about my time in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but things have conspired to keep me from writing about it.  After a week of Continuing Education, I took a week of vacation to head further north.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Looking at the Presbyterian Church in DeTour Village, MI
Union Presbyterian Church, DeTour Village, MI

After finishing up with the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, I meet up with Bob, a friend of mine from my Michigan days. I had invited Bob along on this trip, as I have always enjoyed spending time with him. Professionally, he’s an editor and a saxophone player. He has incredible knowledge of plants, with a fondness of carnivorous plants. And he’s a storm chaser. Bob had a friend bring him up from Hastings, so he wouldn’t have to worry about where to leave a car. He threw his sax and his suitcase in my car, and we were on the road. As it’s over five hours, I wanted to get as much driving done before dark as we headed north. 

As the sun began to set, we could see we were entering a different climate zone, as farmland disappeared and hardwoods gave way to forest of paper birch mixed with pines and spruce.

We had a great conversation, talking about several topics along with listening to some Robert Raurk short stories from The Old Man and the Boy. We didn’t stop until after dark, picking up fast food at Burger King in Kalkaska, a town featured in two short stories by Ernest Hemingway. A hour or so later, we stopped for gas in Petoskey. These were our only stops and we arrived in DeTour Village a little after midnight. 

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Ship heading up to the Son
Heading toward the Soo

In a way, my time off was a busman’s holiday. The church in DeTour has a nice manse overlooking the St. Mary’s River. I agreed to preach (I reused sermons I’d preached in January) for the opportunity to stay in the Dmanse and to relax for the week. This meant that we had to get up early on Sunday morning. Knowing that I was arriving late the night before, some people in the church provided food in the refrigerator so that Bob and I could enjoy bacon and eggs with toast for breakfast the next morning. 

Church came early the next morning as we were both exhausted. I preached and Bob excited the crowd by playing a couple of songs on the sax. Afterwards, we had lunch and the Mainsail, one of two restaurants open this early in the season in Detour. Afterwards, we both retreated into our bedrooms and took a nap, before going out and spending some time exploring fins along Lake Superior.  These wetlands that were separated from the shore by dunes are diverse with plant life, most of which was left over from last season. Bob pointed out several carnivorous plants: pitcher plants and sundews.  While he continued to look around, I hiked out onto the rocks jutting into the water and discovered a nest laid by Canadian geese. 

We can back to the manse for a nice dinner of cabbage rolls made by another Bob, along with his wife Nelda, members of the church. As Bob had never seen “A River Runs Through It,” and there was a DVD of the movie in the manse, we watched it. 

Canadian Geese Eggs along the shore of Lake Huron

Monday, April 15, 2024

Monday, we set what would be our routine for the week. We spent the mornings in the manse. While Bob would work on his edits, I spent the time reading and writing. We’d take an occasional break to watch a ship make its way up or down the St. Mary’s River. Bob was especially excited when I pointed out the Arthur Andersen, the ship that was behind the Edmund Fitzgerald the night it sunk in November 1975.  On my first day, I read The Cellist of SarajevoLater in the week, I started reading Danielle Chapman’s Holler, along with sections of Augustine’s City of God, along with some writing.  The afternoons were reserved for hiking. 

In the afternoon, we spent time exploring some of DeTour and the trails nearby. Then, as the day sun dropped lower into the sky, we drove to Cedarville for the grocery store. We had dinner at Snows Bar and Grill, located above Snow Channel, along the north shore of Lake Huron. The place was wonderful. I had the walleye special and a Great Lakes Brewing CEO Stout while Bob had the UP special, a Cornish pastry. Afterwards, we went back to the manse and watched “The Jesus Revolution,” a movie I had brought along with me to watch in preparation of using it on a movie night at church. Bob, who is more familiar with contemporary Christian music, knew more about those portrayed in the movie than I did (Chuck Smith, Greg Laurie, and Lonnie Frisbee).  We discussed this movie several times over the week. 

Walleye Dinner
Walleye Dinner at Snow’s Bar and Grill in Cedarville, MI

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Hiking in Michigan's UP

Tuesday afternoon, we hiked to around Cranberry Lakes to Caribou Lake, a walk of about 6 miles which I had done before. The trail takes us through cedar swamps with high ground consisting of paper birch forest mixed with spruce. It’s too early for wildflowers, but lots of smaller plants under the canopy have begun to brighten up after the winter.

After our hike, we head back to Snows Bar and Grill, where I enjoyed a wonderful Pepper Jack Burger with an Atwater Dirty Blonde. The burger was great, but the CEO Stout of the previous night I felt was superior to the Dirty Blonde. As there were a set of movies that featured Sandra Bullock. Since we both like her, we watched “Two Weeks’ Notice.” We were surprised to see Donald Trump in the movie, as he was featured much in the news with the beginning of his latest trial, as well as we recalled Sandra Bullock’s refusal to back him for the Presidency. 

Cranberry Lake
Cranberry Lake

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Wednesday was a rainy day.  I still did a couple of miles hiking in the rain, coming home to a hot shower.  We stayed close to home for dinner, eating a great burger in the DeTour Bar and Grill, where we got into a conversation with locals.  We watched Sandra Bullock in “Ms. Congeniality” in the evening. 

The Arthur M. Anderson freighter
Arthur Anderson, a freighter built in the 1950s
and the last ship to see the Edmund Fitzgerald afloat in 1975

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Thursday morning, I received a text from my sister, telling me that our father would be having surgery. I called, but he was already being prepped for surgery for a blockage in his intestines. I talked with my sister and brother for a bit. Little did I know this event would change my plans for the next month. She later texted to say he came through the surgery and was doing fine. We went for an early evening dinner at Snows in Cedarville, followed by a stop at the grocery store there for food to serve that evening. A group of people from the church came over and we had desert and a Bible Study.  

a 1000 foot freighter
1000 foot freighter leaving Lake Huron

Friday, April 19, 2024

Friday, Bob and I spent the day on Drummond Island. After talking with my father in the morning, we caught the ferry over the island. David and Sandra, members of the church in Detour, picked us up and toured us around the island. Then they dropped us off at Maxton Plains for a hike.  

Hiking in Maxton Plains

Hiking in Maxton Plains
Bob hiking on Maxton Plains

I was hoping to make it to the cliffs along the northeast side of the island, but the recent rains had created ponds on the alvar surface. Alvar is limestone pavement. The glaciers of the last ice age had smoothed the limestone leaving only a minimal amount of topsoil. At places the pavement is like smooth finished concrete, allowing plant growth only in cracks. Unfortunately, for us, water takes longer to work though the rock, so the rains of Wednesday and Thursday have resulted in ponds which we have to work around. We make it almost to the cliffs, when we are blocked by a larger impoundment of water due to beaver activity.

Alvara pavement
Alvar pavement
Beaver dam
A beaver swamp blocking our path

As it’s getting late and we’re scheduled to be at a dinner at 6 PM, we hike back. This is my second failed attempt to make it to the cliffs, as I’d tried to find them when in the UP in 2021.

We were picked up at the trailhead by Dave and Sandra and taken to a home on the lake where a group from the Lighthouse Church on Drummond was holding a potluck. There were a few musicians present, Bob got to play the sax with them. I spent the evening getting to know new friends, especially Scott, the pastor. A former Episcopal priest, he’d been the pastor on the island for 10 years and joked about how he no longer dresses up on Sunday morning. Instead, he just finds a clean pair of jeans. We had a good time with everyone and caught the 9:30 PM ferry back to DeTour. 

Saturday, April 20, 2024

A ship going through the St. Mary's River, MI
A “Saltie” (grain hauler),
making it’s way up toward the Zoo

On Saturday, winter returned. We had several snow squalls. Bob was working on a project for a new client, so I left him and hiked out on DeTour Point, through a large Nature Conservancy protected area. At times the blowing snow, mixed with sleet, pelted against me. Then the sun would make a brief appearance before the wintry mix returned. I saw several ships, both salties (ships that travel across the oceans and enter the Great Lakes through the St. Laurence Seaway and the Wellington Canal, and lakers (ships that haul mostly iron ore, coal, and limestone and are too large to leave the Great Lakes Basin. I arrived back to the manse around 6 PM and grilled steaks for dinner. Then we began to pack up. 

Photo of shoreline along Detour Point
Between snow squalls
DeTour Point Lighthouse in fog
DeTour Point Lighthouse in fog

Sunday, April 21, 2024

The next morning, we had a joyful time at church where Bob again played the sax. We then went out to lunch at the Mainsail, before packing up and heading back south. I dropped Bob off in Hastings, then drove to friends in Portage Michigan for the evening. On Monday, I drove back to Virginia. 

An old laker heading south toward Detroit or maybe Cleveland

Previous posts on trips to DeTour Village

July 2021

September/October 2022

Photo of author of blog in a snow squall
Selfie during a snow squall

Goyhood: a wonderful read!

Title slide with copy of the book, "Goyhood"

Reuven Fenton, Goyhood: A Novel (Central Avenue, 2024), 276 pages. 

The story of twin boys is as ancient as Esau and Joseph. In this story, David and his younger brother (by forty-three seconds) Marty are raised by a single mother in a small town in Georgia. Together, they make quite a team. Then their lives change one afternoon as they come home on their bikes and discover a rabbi talking to their mother. She confirms their Jewish heritage. This sets them on divergent paths. Marty takes this revelation seriously (and changes his name to the more Jewish sounding “Mayer”). He becomes a model Jewish student. He receives a scholarship and heads to New York for more study. There, he marries the daughter of a leading Orthodox Jewish scholar, who provides for their needs. He spends his life studying and living as an observant Jew. 

David, on the other hand, becomes involved in all kinds lots of shady business deals. He makes and loses money, but mostly loses money.  Then he finds success. Now middle-aged, their mother’s death brings the boys back together.  She committed suicide and left behind another revelation in the form of a letter.  While there to morn their mother’s death, and with the revelation that he’s not even Jewish, David encourages Mayer to go on a road trip as the brothers become reacquainted. 

For Marty, who has lived his life in a sheltered Jewish enclave in New York, it’s a chance to really see the world, a sort of Jewish Rumspringa.  The travels and his brother’s experiences amaze Marty. Along the way, we learn more about both brothers as well as Mayer’s marriage. They have a few close run-ins with the law, and adopt a dog.

In New Orleans, David picks up Charlayne, an African American social media influencer he met on the internet. She’s planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail, and David suggests to Mayer they drop off her at Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the trail. Two white guys traveling through the South with a black woman sets up some interesting encounters such as one which happened in a fireworks store. They even hike a day with Charlayne, allowing David a chance to experience nature and to ponder the meaning of worship. Charlayne, who has dealt with her own grief, gives Mayer a copy of book she’s read multi-times, C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed, which opens his mind up to the thoughts of non-Jews on the subject of grief. 

David also arranges for him and his brother to attend a Jewish retreat in the mountains. This allows for more interesting encounters, from a phony self-centered musician who acts as if he’s unable to walk, to a woman rabbi. The whole concept of a woman rabbi is beyond Mayer’s comprehension, but she opens his eyes to possibilities beyond previously narrow life. 

I’ll save the ending of the book for the reader. This is a quick read, and there’s plenty of laughs along the way. I recommend reading the book. I read the book at a time I needed some chuckles, mostly while sitting in my father’s hospice room in the days before his death. But the book isn’t just humorous. Fenton explores the meaning of faith, belonging, race, and family. 

My one wish is that the book would include a glossary of Jewish words used throughout the book. Such words are sprinkled throughout the book and add to the story. While I knew some of the words, most were unfamiliar to me. I found myself googling some phrases. The word “Goy,” used in the title is a Yiddish word for a gentile or non-Jew.  

I received an advanced publication of the book for the purpose of reviewing the book. The book was published earlier this week.

A Tribute to my Dad

photo of sunrise and of my Dad

I’ve been quiet on social media lately, especially in blogland and on Facebook. Let me explain. I have also not posted any sermons recently as I have been away from the pulpit. This has been a time of reflection and change, which came to a head this past Monday, May 6, around 11:30 PM. That’s when my brother called from hospice to let me know our dad had died.


Dad paddling in the Okefenokee (2015)
Dad paddling in the Okefenokee (2015)

As you may imagine, I didn’t get much sleep the rest of the night, and was up way before sunrise to walk the beach (I was staying in Kure Beach). As the sun rose, I remember all those times being with Dad on the boat running out of Carolina Beach, Masonboro, or Barden’s Inlet as the sun rose. Dad’s timing always seemed perfect as we headed out toward the sun for a day of fishing. Of course, there were other days with rain or fog… But now, they’d be no more of those adventures.

On April 30, my father had his fourth intestinal surgery in twelve days. The first surgery was on Thursday, April 18. I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan at the time. My dad came out of the surgery doing well and things were looking up. We had several conversations by phone. He expected to get out of the hospital in four or five days. But before this happened, his intestines started to leak and there were infections. The next Thursday, he had the second surgery. They were not able to do everything, so they scheduled another surgery for Sunday and kept him sedated. There would be one more surgery for Tuesday morning, April 30. I arrived in time to meet the surgeon as he met with my brother, sister, and me. While he expressed hope, he also warned us that our father couldn’t survive another intestinal surgery. 

Dad shooting a basketball after his 25th Wedding Anniversary celebration
Dad, after his 25th Wedding Celebration (1980)

On Wednesday, they removed the respirator and Dad slowly woke up. Things looked even better on Thursday morning, May 2. I was there first thing that morning and when the doctors and staff made their rounds. They discussed moving Dad from ICU to a step-down unit that afternoon. Later in the morning, my brother came in to relieve me. I went out to have coffee with Billy Beasley, a friend of mine whose friendship goes back to my elementary school days. While there, I got an urgent text from my brother to come back, that Dad’s intestines were leaking. Over the next hour, we learned there was nothing more they could do. Dad understood what was happening and with my brother Warren and I on each side of the bed, sniffling, he told us not to cry. He later thanked us for being there and for being good boys. They moved Dad that afternoon to hospice, where he spent the next five days. 

Fishing off Jetty at Masonboro Inlet, Wrightsville Beach
Fishing at jetty at Masonboro Inlet (~2010)

Thankfully, the first two days, Dad did well and was able to see a lot of friends and family members. My younger brother was even able to make it in late Friday night from Japan.  One of the highlights during this time was one of the visits of the pastor of his church. He is relatively new and thank my father for all he did to support his ministry and how he checked in on others within the congregation. My father said, “that’s what we’re supposed to do.

By Saturday, May 4, Dad began to slip and mostly slept. Once, he woke up enough to say, “That was nice,” after I prayed over him. They had to keep increasing morphine to keep his pain under control. Although a strong man, fate took over. Yet, it took him a long time to give up. He would eventually stop breathing when alone (my brother was in the room but asleep). 

Probably ten years ago, my father had me write an obituary for him and my mother, Barbara Faircloth Garrison, who died in 2020. I pulled out the obituary from my files, updated it (mostly increasing the number of great-grandchildren), and began editing it with my siblings. Below is the final product: 

Mom and Dad in front of a camellia bush
Mom and Dad in the 1990s the (copy of photo wasn’t the best)

Charles Albert Garrison died on May 6, 2024 from complications following intestinal surgeries. Charles loved being on the water and never felt more alive than when he was out on his boat or fishing. He and his late wife were known for their love for each other and their hospitality toward others, including annual New Year Eve oyster roasts. 

a b&w photo of dad in a cap and gown in 1942
Dad at six years of age

Charles was born on December 29, 1936 in Pinehurst, North Carolina to Helen McKenzie and A. H. Garrison. He was an Eagle Scout and while a high school student played football, basketball, and baseball. In 1955, he graduated from Pinehurst High School and two months later, on July 29th, married Barbara Jean Faircloth. Their marriage lasted 65 years, till Barbara’s death in 2020. Together, they had four children: Charles Jeffrey (Donna), Warren Albert (Sheri), Sharon Kaye and David Thomas (Monica).

In 1962, Charles went to work for the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. He was employed by the company for the next forty years. He began his career in Petersburg, Virginia in January 1963. In 1966, he jumped at the opportunity to move to Wilmington, North Carolina where he could be near the ocean. He would live the rest of his life in Wilmington except for two overseas assignments in Japan and Korea. During his career with the company, he was an insurance inspector, an ASME Code Inspector for Boilers, Pressure Vessels, and a Nuclear In-Service Inspector. He retired from Hartford in 2002 but continued to do consulting work for another five years. He finally gave up working to care for his wife. 

Surf fishing at Cape Lookout
Fishing off Cape Lookout (Fall 2008)

Charles remained active throughout his life. In his younger years, he hunted and fished, played basketball and softball. Once he moved to Wilmington, he continued to play softball for a few years and limited his basketball to outside pickup games with his sons and their friends. He devoted as much time as possible to fishing. He often spent weeks in the fall of the year camping and fishing on Masonboro Island. Later, he would make a sojourner of a week or so to Cape Lookout, where he would camp and fish with family and friends.  

Mom and Dad with grandkids in the 1990s (notice the reindeers in the yard)
Dad with grandkids in the 1990s (notice the reindeers in the yard)

The church was always important to Charles. Like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, he was a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church. He served on many committees, especially the building and grounds committee at Cape Fear Presbyterian Church, where he remained a member for 58 years. Charles attended church every Sunday he was able. He and his wife made many friends at Cape Fear and often visited new families within the church. They also delivered tapes of the church services to shut-ins within the congregation. 

Basketball goal
Basketball goal (in need of a painting)

Charles was a craftsman and handy man. He restored a home in Pinehurst and added on to his home in Wilmington. In high school, he made his future wife a cedar chest which they used for the rest of their lives. An excellent welder, he built the basketball goal which still stands in his yard. His great-grandchildren now play basketball on this goal. He also welded a Christmas tree stand out of steel that would have survived a nuclear war (the tree might have snapped off, but the steel stand wasn’t going anywhere).  Charles was also known for his handmade wooden Christmas decorations including a sleigh and reindeer which populated his front year during the season. He also built many Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer door hangers and poinsettias holders which he gave away as gifts. 

Charles also served as a leader in the Boy Scout program when his sons were in scouting and helped coach baseball. Charles continued to enjoy attending the ball games of his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. He also served for many years as a Myrtle Grove Volunteer Firefighter and as a Gideon. 

Charles was preceded in death by his parents, a sister (Martha Kay), and his wife. In addition to his children, he is survived by his brother Larry (Louise), his four children, seven grandchildren (Craig, Kristen, Elizabeth, Jonathan, Clara, Thomas, and Caroline), twelve great-grandchildren, a niece (McKenzie), and many cousins. For the last three years he enjoyed the company of Ginny Rowlings and her family. They spent many evenings at the NC Symphony, concerts and plays and eating ice cream. 

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Cape Fear Presbyterian Church and the Lower Cape Fear LifeCare of Wilmington (hospice).  A graveside service will be held at Oleander Memorial Gardens on Monday, May 13, 2024 at 2 PM. The Rev. Aaron Doll of Cape Fear Presbyterian Church will officiate. Charles will be buried by his wife in a plot they picked out and where his body will lie in rest near the salt water he loved and where, at high tide, it might even tickle his toes.[1]

Paddling in the Okefenokee, 2014
Paddling in the Okefenokee, 2014

Some more “Dad Stories:

Four days in the Dry Tortuga’s

Lessons from Dad (with some great photos)

Lumber River Paddle (my last great adventure with Dad)

Fishing off Cape Lookout, 2020

Thanksgiving Day Hunt

Dad’s 85th Birthday (and my last time paddling with him)


[1] Some might wonder about this last line, so let me explain. My parents brought cemetery plots in the 1980s, after coming back from Japan. His mother (my grandmother) wanted to know why he wanted to be buried so far away and not with the rest of the family at Culdee Presbyterian Church in Moore County. My father told her that he wanted the salt water to tickle his toes during high tide. My grandmother didn’t think it was funny, but I Dad (and I) got a laugh out of it.

2024 Festival of Faith and Writing

Title slide. Blooms on a tree on the Calvin campus

I started this post two weeks ago, when I was in Detour Village in Michigan’s UP. Today, I am in Wilmington, NC, , as my father is recovering from four bowel surgeries…  I know this is a long post. If you find what I say about one author boring, just skip to the next. In a way, this massive data dump is my way of summarizing what’s in my journal. I placed photos of the books which I came away with from the festival.

Pre-Conference Workshop on Wednesday

Northern Red Oak
“I am the vine, you are the branches,” Jesus said.
“Cut off from me you can do nothing.”
Yet, the heavy oak branch,
sheared from its life source,
fallen from the empyrean, 
decomposes slowly on the forest floor 
in a bed of rotten leaves
from which trout lilies sprout. 

Wednesday at the Festival

I scratched out the above poem in a workshop by Paul Willis, a poet I first met at the festival nearly 20 years ago. He gathered us into groups of four and set us free in the nature preserve behind the Prince Conference Center at Calvin University. We were to quietly make our way through the preserve, taking turns leading and then pointing out something of interest. We would each make notes, and another person would lead the group. After 45 of so minutes of silence, we discussed what we saw. Then he gave us just a few minutes to take one of the things we’d written about and to create a poem. Hence, the poem I wrote about a large branch of an oak tree resting on the forest floor. 

New moon, a day after the eclipse

After seeing the eclipse in South Charleston, Ohio on April 8, I attended the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. This is my fifth time at this festival, which is held every other year. The last festival I attended was in 2012. And, because of COVID, this year’s festival is the first in-person gathering since 2018. Over the years I have heard a many great authors speak about writing and faith including Salman Rushdie, Wally Lamb, Scott Russell Sanders, Eugene Peterson, Kathleen Dean Moore, Thomas Lynch, Parker Palmer, Mary Karr, Debra Dean, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Craig Barnes, and Ann Lamott. Each year, the festival draws in around sixty authors and a couple thousand participants. While almost all the authors are Christians, the only requirement is that they write about faith. In addition to Christian authors, there have been Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and even atheists. 

Here are the authors I heard. There’s no way one can hear all the authors in three days. I tried to capture a bit of what I learned from them. I have listed the authors in order that I first heard them at the conference (in some cases I heard them speak twice): 

Thursday at the Festival

Margaret Feinberg  is a podcaster (The Joycast) and author of Scouting the Divine: Fight Back with Joy, Taste, a See.  Feinberg spoke on sustaining a writing life. She detailed two practices and drew from her own life and her book for examples: 

  • Cultivate a life of Adventure (or live a compelling life). She drew on her parents’ examples as well as on those who grow grapes. 
  • Cultivate a life of healing. Here, she drew on the work of olive growers.

Ruth Graham Born in an evangelical family, Graham now serves as a religious writer for the New York Times. Thankfully, she noted, the job of a religious reporter today isn’t focused on denominational meetings. She’s more interested in getting to the heartbeat of religious experiences. She told of a story she wrote for Slate, about a man from Dalton, Georgia, whose Bible leaked oil. She tried to tell the story, which she suggested was about a man who had a religious experience which got out of hand, in a way that is fair to all sides. 

Sara Horwitz Born in a secular Jewish family, Horwitz rediscovered the faith of her ancestors in her mid-30s working in the Obama White House. She first was on a team of writers for the President, and later became the speech writer for Michelle Obama, the first lady. Horwitz spoke about how encouraging everyone in the White House was to her desire to practice her faith (including turning off her cell phone on the Sabbath). She gave up an opportunity to help Michelle Obama with her memoir to write a book on her journey into Judaism. Religion, she said, should draw us out from ourselves and into something larger. She found freedom in the Jewish law which she interprets as a system of maintaining dignity in others. 

Marilyn McEntyre A popular podcaster and Bible teacher, Feinberg titled her talk, “Writing Through a Fog of Fear: Finding Life, Giving Words in an Alarming Time.” Acknowledging the challenges facing writers today, she spoke of our context while providing questions for discernment and strategies for publicly presenting our work. She began with two epitaphs: “Be not afraid,” -Jesus.  And “Be afraid, very afraid.” -Mel Brooks. 
Discerning questions: 

From where does my energy or sense of urgency come? 

  • Who would I most like to read this? If only one reader, who?
  • Who will take offense or be troubled? How can I address their concerns?
  • In writing this, what does it mean to me to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves?
  • We bring our own association to every word. But the same works for others. What words of ours will be their triggers? 

Strategies for speaking into fear:

  • Study your favorite risk takers (suggest reading Gaza Writes Back)
  • Have meta-conversations where you can. Talk about language behind our words to help people better connect.
  • Listen to the call of the moment.
  • What does it mean to be faithful? Do you put a name to what you are faithful to?
  • You don’t have to go into anger. You can model debate, hope. Let your style be modelling.
  • Be responsible to speak to the complication of the issue. What do we want people to hear? Honor complexity of beliefs. 
  • Don’t under-estimate the power of beauty.
  • Be surprising. Change up our writings with exhortation, humor, lament in the same piece.
  • Change genres. Try out new genres.
  • Offer authentic antidotes. Try following Jesus’ example and speak into issues. 
  • Stories are important. Stories help disarm.
  • Acknowledge the emotional weight (Susan Sontag writing on the pain of others)
  • Play with paradox. Be a gentle alarmist, a light-hearted doomsayer.
  • Be a prophetic trickster, a Riddler.
  • When you have the privilege from writing with safety, remember those being killed for their speech. We can speak because they can’t.
  • Write with others.
  • Pray for clarity, for when and to whom to write, for obedience, courage, and passion. 

Tracy Smith (keynote). Smith provided the Thursday night keynote address. A graduate of Harvard and Columbia, she also was a Stenger Fellow at Stanford. She has served as nation’s poet laurate (2017-2019), has been awarded the Pulitzer-Prize and has published poetry, a memoir, and non-fiction. Currently, she teaches at Harvard, and has recently published To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul

Her speak focused on reading certain poems and reflecting on how they came about and how they might be interpreted. In her introduction, her work was described like “Jacob wrestling with God” and how our “paradoxical wounds can heal.”  The poems she read and reflected on included: “Hill Country,” Weather in Space,” “We all Go Chasing All We Will Lose,” “Political Poem,” “The United States Welcomes You,” “The Fright of our Shared History,” and “Wade in the Water.” 

Sadly, all her books of poetry had sold out, but I came away with a signed copy of To Free the Captives and look forward to exploring her vision of a better world. 

Friday at the Festival: 

Mary DeMuth spoke on “stories as healing.”  Telling the truth, she proclaimed, is the key too both good writing and good living. She provided six things to consider if we fear sharing a story:

  • Discern timing. “Don’t vomit on the reader.” A story never told can never heal, but we should remember that our call is to first write, not necessarily publish.
  • Exactness is not the same as truth. We must remember that it is our story and no one else can tell the story in the same way as we can. Storytelling is an effective truth delivery vehicle. 
  • Expect opposition. While we should welcome helpful feedback, we also take a risk of putting our work out there. Sometimes, when you tell the truth, you engage is spiritual warfare. She finds having a prayer team helpful as they both pray against attacks but also help keep her humble.
  • Name our fear.
  • Expose evil but love your readers.
  • See the benefits (God gives us glory in our weakness).

If we don’t tell the truth, we misrepresent people.  Our job is not to enlarge villains but to enlarge Jesus. 

Matthew Dickerson and Fred Bahnson titled their conversation, “Ecology Imagination and why stories matter.” Dickerson part of the conversation was often based on Tolkien. I haven’t read Tolkien since college. Bahnson (I’ve read his book Soil and Sacrament), drew more from Wendell Berry and Barry Lopez, two authors I continue to read. Bahnson described how the richest life is found where rivers meet oceans, and how writers need to put themselves in such uncomfortable and risky settings to best flourish. 

Diane Mehtu spoke about Dante and Virgil (Dante’s guide through hell). This was a fascination lecture even though the presenter read from a paper. She uses powerful language. She presented the idea of the friendship of the two poets, who lived over a Millenia apart, and what she’s learned from repeatedly reading the Divine Comedy.  What made the lecture even more interesting to me is that I had been listening to an unabridged reading of Augustine’s City of God and had just heard Augustine dealing with Virgil. 

Karen Swallow Prior titled the lecture I attended, “Imagination: It’s not just Hobbits and Hobby Horses.” She questioned how we often consider imagination as something playful within our childhood and mostly individualist. This she challenged, suggesting that we often inherit language structures (language is based on imagination) without understanding how it came about. This she applied to evangelicalism, of which she was critiquing and suggests needs to embrace imagination to work its way out of its crisis. Another criticism of evangelism is that it tends to draw more on American ideals than the Christian faith and is a product of modernity and late-stage capitalism.  She also critiqued evangelism’s emphasis on the end times, suggesting that we don’t need stories about the end but about how to get there. The early Christians, who called themselves “people of the way” understood this. 

Yaa Gyasi (Friday evening keynote) This “conversation” between Gyasi and Jane Zwart focused on her two novels and how they deal with grief and loss. Gyasi was born in Ghana, but grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. Her experiences seem to provide her a unique perspective even though I haven’t read her books. Quote: “Prayer and writing comes from the same place.  From your pen to God’s ear.” 

Saturday at the Festival

Christian Wiman is a professor of communication arts at Yale Divinity School (and former editor of Poetry).  I attended his lecture titled “The Art of Faith, The Faith of Art.” Wiman read several of his poems  and reflected on the faith and art within them.  Sadly, I was running late and missed part of this lecture.


Danielle Chapman  I heard Chapman speak twice. The first session was a discussion with Jim Dahlman on Southern literature. While both have published books which I came away with, I questioned their representation as a Southern writer. But her poetry is engaging as is her memoir, which I have already started and will review.

 I later heard her talk on memory in non-fiction and poetry. 


Sonya Bilocerkowyez gave the best lecture I attended outside of the keynotes. Sadly, it was also one of the least attended lectures. An American-Ukrainian, she’s the granddaughter of Ukrainians who were displaced during the Second World War. She happened to be teaching in Ukraine in 2014, when the Maidan Revolution kicked out the Russian puppet government and Russia invaded the Dobast and Crimea. Afterwards, she published a collection of essays titled, On Our Way Home from the Revolution: Reflections on Ukraine. 

Her lecture was titled, “Whose Manuscripts to Burn? On the Role of the Writer during Wartime. Drawing on “cancel cultural” and “imperialistic language,” she spoke passionately about how Russia once again attempts to cancel Ukrainian identity. She credited her grandmother for teaching her an 1840 poem against Czarist imperialism.  

She made four points on the role of the writer in war:

  • The role begins before the war.
  • The role is to document.
  • The role is to save lives. 
  • The role is to free the land (Decolonization cannot be a metaphor).

Throughout her lecture, she drew on Ukrainian writers (such as Oksana Zabuzhko and Victoria Amelina, as well as those from Bosnia and Gaza.

Stacie Longwell Sadowski lead a lunch circle dealing with the use of social media for writers. As she and her husband maintain a site that encourages people to explore the outdoors, I joined her group and learned a bit more about what I am doing wrong Smiling face outline with solid fill. Actually, I did learn a lot from the luncheon circle. However, since I am not into monetizing my site, I’m not changing much. Check out her website, \Two Weeks in a hammock.  

Anthony Doerr

Anthony Doerr (closing keynote)  Doerr was the reason I decided to make the trek to Grand Rapids for the conference this year. I am still amazed five years after reading his breakout novel, All the Light We Cannot See. He began the final keynote of the conference, before a packed house, speaking about similes.  Doerr questioned if the age of similes is over. quoting polls and exposing outrageous similes he’d come across in his reading. He drew upon Homer and Superheroes and made fun of the mistakes he’d made in his slides. 

Doerr was by far the funniest speaker I had heard at the festival.  He was very free in his presentation which was given in Calvin’s fieldhouse. At one point, he pauses and looks up at the banners hanging around and says, “Calvin’s girls volleyball team must have really been good.” At another point, in this long diatribe on similes and metaphors, he pauses and looks around at the crowd and says what many were thinking, “You thought you were going to hear the bald guy talk about All the Light We Cannot See, didn’t you?” 

Then Doerr made a serious turn. His talk about similes was to point to the interconnectedness of our violent and conflicted world. He suggested reading as a way for us to get beyond our self-centeredness and to make connections with the larger world. Next, he called for leaders who could make such connections. Then he encouraged writers, who have the advantage of metaphors, to bring these connections out in our writing. He advised us to tell stories, which are needed to bring our world together.  It was a simple message that extended to 45 minutes through his humorous antidotes. When he was over, he received a standing ovation. 

After the lecture was over, I met Bob, a friend of mine from Hastings, and the two of us drove up to Detour Village in the UP, arriving a little after midnight on April 14th. More about that later… 

While away, I’ve been reading

Title slide with cover of three books that were reviewed
Lake Huron from the St. Mary's River in Michigan's UP
Looking toward Lake Huron from St. Mary’s River

I’m away for two weeks. I left early on Monday, April 9, and quickly drove across West Virginia and Ohio, to position myself in South Charleston for the eclipse. After 2 minutes of awe, I headed up to Michigan. I attended the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids (and will write more about it later). Then I headed up to Michigan’s UP and am in Detour Village for 8 days of reading, hiking, and discussions with a good friend.  These reviews are from books read so far during this trip: 

Freighter heading up toward the Son
Heading up to the Soo

Jonathan Healey, The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England, 1603-1689

Cover for "The Blazing World"

narrated by Oliver Hembrough, (Random House Audio, 2023) 19 hours and 42 minutes. 

A lot happened in 17th Century England. It was an age of conflict between ideals. 

  • Did the king rule because of divine right or at the consent of the population? 
  • What role would parliament play in a monarchy? 
  • What was the best way for the citizens to practice religion? 
  • And would England remain Protestant or would it resort to Roman Catholicism?  

These ideas were debated and fought over. It was a century of much bloodshed. From civil war(s) to frequent executions of those who challenged order (from a king, to dissents, to a few condemned for witchcraft), blood flowed freely through much of the century. By the end of the century, with the Glorious Revolution, the Stuart’s dynasty was out and England began to resemble the country we now know.  

While listening to Healey’s book, I couldn’t help but think of the parallels to the American Revolution. Taxation was an important issue to both revolutions. In England, only parliament could authorize taxes which curtailed the king’s power. But the king could send home the parliament if he felt things weren’t going his way. The king tried other ways to raise funds, which eventually led to a war between the king and parliament. By the end of the century, parliament had more power and no longer ruled only at the king’s behalf.  

Much of the middle of the book focuses on Cromwell. In a way, as the “protectorate” he became like a king. There is much to dislike about him, but the same can be said about Charles I, who lost his head after the first revolution. As a Puritan, Cromwell tried to push Puritanism on England. Not only did this create turmoil in England, but it also drove a wedge between the English and the Scotch Presbyterians and Irish Catholics. Cromwell’s armies killed large numbers in Ireland, and he also brought in Scots to replace the Irish Catholics. 

The religious issues were numerous during this era. The Stuart kings looked more favorably on Catholicism than most of their county. Mary’s reign at the end of the 16th Century, which she attempted to steer the country back to Catholicism and executed hundreds of Protestants, left a bad taste for such a tradition. In a likewise manner, the harsh Puritan rule left a bad taste and after the death of Cromwell, England was more than ready to compromise with a king and parliament. While the country maintained an established religion after the restoration, it became more tolerate of other traditions, including the Quakers, Dissenters, and even Catholics. Interestingly, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island and the Baptist tradition in America, played a role in England as he modeled more tolerance toward other traditions. 

While Healey mentions the Westminster Parliament which created the Westminster Confession of Faith, he says little about it.  Of course, after the restoration, it had little impact in England. However, the Church of Scotland adopted the confession and because of this, the confession has influenced Presbyterians around the globe. (For more information, see my review of John Leith’s Assembly at Westminster). 

I may obtain a written copy of this book and spend so more time studying it. I recommend the book because I think understanding the English revolutions helps Americans understand our own history. 

Steven Galloway, The Cellist of Sarajevo 

Cover for "The Cellist of Sarajevo"

(Riverhead Books, 2008), 235 pages, no photos. 

I enjoyed this short novel. Drawing on a real-life event during the siege of Sarajevo, Galloway shows us how people struggled to live in a city reduced to rubble and under constant mortar and sniper attacks from the surrounding hills. After a mortar kills civilians waiting to buy bread, a cellist decided he’ll play a concert every afternoon for 22 days to honor those killed in the attack. Will the cellist also become a victim to those attacking the city?  

Galloway uses three characters to tell the story. Each story of survival provides an insight into the tragedy of Sarajevo. 

Kenan walks every few days with a bunch of containers to obtain water for his family and an older woman in his apartment building. The city’s brewery is the source for potable water. To make the trek requires a difficult crossing of bridges and intersections that exposes individuals to guns of the snipers in the hills. 

Dragan is a baker. His wife and daughter fled the city, but he stayed behind. His home was shelled in the opening days of the battle, so he has moved into a small apartment with his sister’s family. He doesn’t get along with his brother-in-law, but he’s tolerated because he brings the family bread.

Arrow is a young woman who had been on the university’s rifle team. We’re not given her name, at least at first. Her father, a police officer, was killed in the opening battle for the city.  Because of her shooting skills, she’s recruited to serve as a sniper. She kills the men who have laid siege to the city. It was an uneasy transition, from shooting at paper to shooting men, but she’s a good shot.

After introducing Arrow as a sniper, she’s called on to protect the cellist. He has become a symbol of defiance and those laying siege to the city want him dead. Studies the cellist’s location, she attempts to get into the mind of the enemy sniper. She almost makes a mistake and the enemy sniper shoots at her, but misses. Then, she kills the sniper even though he hasn’t yet aimed his gun and is listening to the music. The psychological battle between the two snipers reminds me of Liam O’Flaherty’s short story, “The Sniper” which I first read in Junior High. 

In a way, Arrow becomes the main character. After protecting the cellist, she has had enough of killing. They assign her to a new group but refuses to kill the enemy civilians. She runs away. Her story ends with the city’s soldiers coming to kill her. At first, she thinks about killing them, but then decides against it. She doesn’t want to be a fugitive and waits. As they bust down her door, she speaks, “My name is Alisa.” While we don’t know what happens, I’m left with the sense she decided her death was preferable to continuing to kill. In this way, she becomes a Christ-like figure in a world of turmoil. 

All three characters reminisce about the city’s past and have hope for its future. I recommend this book and found myself constantly thinking about those in Ukraine who now live under such situation with the Russian invasion. 

John Lane, Gullies of My People: An Excavation of Landscape and Family 

cover for John's Lane's "Gullies of My People"

(Athens, GA: University of Georgie Press, 2023), 204 pages including source material and black and white photographs. 

Lane explores his family’s past while also learning about the gullies which washed away much of the Piedmont near his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The chapters of the book flip back and forth. In some he’s traveling to see where his relatives lived and farmed, often with Sandy, his older half-sister. In other chapters, he hangs out with geologists, studying the erosion of the soil, building their explorations upon the research of the Soil Conservation Service of the 1930s and early 40s.  And in others, he writes about his family’s and his own history.  Like the gullies, which can never completely heal, the hurts of the past still haunt the lives of the living. 

The Second World War creates a dividing line and hangs over the book like a dark shadow. The gullies in the Piedmont were well established before the war, driving many of Lane’s ancestors from the land and into the mills. During the war, Lanes mother, a young mill worker, became semi-famous as a runner-up to a beauty contest for women working in the mills. She would carry around the magazine article with her on the cover for the rest of her life. But her fame flamed out and after her first marriage (Sandy’s father), she struggled with alcoholism for much of her life. Lane’s father spent the war in the army. He served in Africa, on the second wave on Omaha Beach, and across Europe. He suffered emotionally after the war and took his one life when his son was still young. 

The war also brought an end to the Social Conservation Service work in the South. It wasn’t that there were more no gullies to study. Instead, the war took away the resources and the scientists became engaged in other activities. Interestingly, among the early soil scientists was the son of Albert Einstein. Lane even has a vision of Albert at the river site of his son’s laboratory on erosion. 

In addition to recollecting the memories of his family and learning about the erosion of the land, the book highlights the difficulties of memories. Lane even tells some of the family stories from the perspective of different people to show how such memories can manifest themselves differently.

Toward the end of the book, Lane allows his mother’s a chapter which he drew from her personal journal. In this chapter, we get a sense of her hard life. She died in 2004.

John Lane recently retired from Wofford College, where he taught environmental studies. 

From his other writings, I knew Lane and I share a common birth location. Both of us were born in the Sandhills of Moore County, North Carolina. Lane is a few years older than me. He was born right after Hurricane Hazel blew through the area (I was born two days after Humphrey Bogart’s death). Lane spent his earliest years in Southern Pines. I spent my earliest years a dozen miles away, along the Lower Little River, between Pinehurst and Carthage.

Both of us left the area before starting school. Lane’s mother moved him back to Spartanburg after the death of his father. My father moved his family away from our family’s roots after starting a new career.  Through this book, I learned of another connection. One thread of Lane’s family (the Mabes) is from Carroll County, Virginia, where I currently live.  And, on the eastern side of my property is a large gulley which I suspect washed out after the death of the chestnuts.  As I read this book and looked at the cross-cut of the gulley used on the title pages, I couldn’t help but think of my own gulley. 

Canadian geese eggs buried in the rocky limestone along Lake Huron's shore
Canadian Geese eggs along the shore of Lake Huron

Solo Backpacking in Idaho, 1988

title slide with photo of camp sign and the Boulder Mountains

Hunkered down in a storm

dead tree high in the Boulder Mountains
Dead tree (probably from lightning) in the Idaho high country

Looking back, it was foolish. Out west, in the summer, one should never climb high passes late in the afternoon. But the summer of 1988 had been so dry. Afternoon thunderstorms were infrequent. I didn’t give it much thought. but should have known better. Hiking alone and cross-country made my decision even more dangerous.

I could have spent a lazy afternoon sulfur springs by the old Bowery mine, reading, napping, and soaking. But instead, I decided to make it back early and spend Saturday night in Ketchum. Or maybe I would head north to the Stanley Stomp. After a week of hiking alone, a cold beer and real food sounded good. So, I set out up the climb up the backside of Ryan Peak. But at around 9,000 feet, I found myself huddled in my sleeping bag under a tarp weighed down with ice.

The Storm

The storm blew up quickly, not long after I left tree line. I still had 1000 feet or so of vertical to cover when I first heard thunder. I hasty retreated downhill, to where the stubby trees began. Soon, lightning popped around the dusty mountains, dry from the summer’s drought that had burned up much of Yellowstone.  I could smell the ozone.

Then came the rain. I pulled on my rain parka as hard pelting drops of cold water assaulted. Quickly, I strung a line between two trees. I threw my tarp over the line, and quickly tied off the ends to rocks and logs as the nylon sheet flapped in the wind. Securing it enough not to blow away, I climb under it. Stripping off my rain jacket and pulled on a sweater and slid into rain pants to warm my wet legs. I leaned back against my pack, while watching lightning bolts pop around me. Waiting, I ate a candy bar and wondered again, what I was doing this high up in mid-afternoon.

The storm didn’t last long. When it had passed, I heard more rumblings from behind the mountains, so I set about making sure the tarp was secure and all my gear dry. Fifteen minutes after the first storm passed, the second one hit. This time the sky dropped hail and sleet. I again retreated to my tarp, which was soon covered in accumulating ice. Shivering with cold, pulled out my sleeping bag and covered it with a ground cloth and crawled inside. I quickly warmed up. I began to ponder the danger of fire from lightning strikes. 

My plan had been to spend this week hiking in Yellowstone, but so much of that park was burning that I decided to stay in Idaho where I’d been running a camp for the summer. This was my one week off and I’d planned to spend it in the backcountry. 

At least, I thought, we’re getting some rain. Of course, it wasn’t enough to reduce the fire danger and the lightning made it move problematic. However, I shouldn’t have to worry too much for at this altitude, even if a fire occurred, there wasn’t much to burn. 

Preparing for evening

After the second storm, I walked to a nearby stream and filled a pan with water for noodles. Coming back, I set up my stove and fired it up. The roar of the burner drowned out any other noise as I boiled water. Before adding noodles, I poured off a cup for some tea, then added noodles and let it boil while I savored the tea. At this elevation, it seems to take forever to cook noodles. When they were done, I drained off the water, mixed in some powder milk and the package cheese mix and was soon devouring a pot of macaroni and cheese.

My week on the trail

I’d been hiking all week. The first four days I did a loop within the Sawtooth Mountain Wilderness Area. Then I came back to camp, picked up more provisions, and set out on my second leg of my journey. I was dropped off just north of Galena Summit. I hiked up Grand Prize Gulch. Mostly, I hiked cross country, following streams flowing from the north side of the Bounder Mountains into the Salmon River. 

West Pass, Boulder Mountains, Idaho
West Pass

After crossing the pass at the end of Grand Prize Gulch, I dropped down into the West Fork of the East Fork of the Salmon River, or at least I think that’s the name of the stream. It’s certainly not a very creative name, but most of the streams in this part of the country seem to have such names. It was also just a small creek. I followed it a few miles stopping for the evening. I set up camp under lodgepole pines. After dinner, I sat around enjoying a cup of tea while watching the light fade from the valley. .


Birds woke me the next morning as the valley filled with light. The sun rays seemed muted a bit with so much dust and smoke from the Hell’s Canyon fire burning to the west. After my usual breakfast of oatmeal and tea, washed down with a pint of Tang, I continued hiking downstream. Soon, I came to a two-track road that hadn’t been used for a long while since there were no tire tracks in the dust. The road was probably built for mining, but I had a suspicion it was now only used occasional, mostly in the fall by hunters. 

Bowery Hot Springs

I continued along the path heading for the hot sulfur springs at a place on the map called Bowery. I could smell the sulfur before I arrived. Once there, I shed my pack and took a leisurely lunch, eating crackers, with cheese and peanut butter while soaking in the creek at the confluence of the water from the hot springs. There, where the hot and frigid waters met, I found a place where the temperature was just right and soaked my body. 

After lunch, I explored the area. There was an old mine that drifted back into the hillside, from which flowed warm water. I took out my flashlight and looked inside. I knew better than to go exploring. Mines are hazards, not just from cave-ins or unmarked shafts, but also from bad air and gasses that might quickly cause one to lose consciousness. Unlike most mines, which are quite cool, this one was warmed because of the hot water. From the entrance, I could see the supporting timbers had rotted. 

Heading toward Ryan Peak

Lupine along a trail
Lupine, this photo was taken on another hike in Idaho

In early-afternoon, I packed my stuff back up and continued, following West Pass Creek. A few miles upstream, I came to an old mining cabin. The roof had collapse and the logs were rotten. Looking around, I found a rusty shovel and a pile of old tin cans. I kept hiking. About 3 PM, left the creek, cutting cross country, aiming for the saddle west of Ryan Peak. I spotted snowbanks, tucked in under the high peaks, shaded from the sun. While climbing up a draw and breathing heavily, I surprised a large elk. The beast turned to look at me, allowing me a good view of his large rack. Then he fled. 

Climbing higher, the trees began to thin out and the slope became steeper. With no trail and a steep pitch, I began to zigzag, crossing back and forth over a small stream of snow melt. The trees became shorter. In the draw, by the trickle of water, Indian paintbrush and lupine with their tiny purple flowers grew. Such discoveries had been set aside once the thunderstorms hit. 

Evening

That night, after the storms and dinner, a third thunderstorm moved through the area. I went to bed early, reading till the light faded from the sky, then falling asleep. I dreamed of fires. Every time I woke, I’d looked around for flames and sniffed the air for smoke. 

Morning

I was relieved when morning arrived. Everything was fresh and clean; the dust had been purged away and sage scented the air. A cool light breeze blew out of the north, gently flapping the tarp, helping it dry. I fixed myself a cup of tea and a bowl of oatmeal. After eating, I wrote of yesterday’s adventures in my journal and read some Psalms. Then I packed up, shouldered my pack, and continued the climb. 

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I took a break at the top of the pass, tanking up on water. Dropping down the south side of the saddle, I came upon the trail to Ryan’s Peak and followed it as it zigzagged through the sage, down into the valley. I passed a few day hikers, the first people I’d seen in almost 48 hours. They were  As they headed up to the peak, we exchanged a quick greeting. I didn’t stop until I was at upper stretch of the North Branch of the Big Wood River. These waters flowed into the Snake River and through Camp Sawtooth, my home for the summer.. 

I paused for a snack while watching a man with a fly rod cast into a pond behind a beaver dam. He didn’t seem to be having much luck. After a short rest, I continued, walking the dirt road toward camp. I was surprised the ground was so dusty. When I got back early that afternoon, still in time to get to town for the evening, I discovered that although those at the camp could hear the storms and see the lightning the evening before, the camp didn’t receive a drop of rain.

Boulder Mountains look up from Idaho 75, mountain reflecting in a small lake along Big Wood River.
Boulder Mountains looking from the west along Idaho 75

Easter Traditions

Easter Tradition title slide with photo of me and my siblings from the early 1970s, along with a photo of a jitterbug

I can recall many Easter traditions from my childhood. Of course, we went to church. That was true regardless of the holiday. If it was a Sunday, we were in church. We often had ham with pineapple baked on top for dinner. And sometimes we’d go for a ride around Greenfield Lake, looking at the flowers. I can only remember going once to a sunrise service before I could drive myself. I think it was too much to get a family of six up that early!.

Me (to the left) with my siblings in front of my Dad's Ford Torino in the early 70s
In front of Dad’s Torino, early 1970s
from left; Me, my sister, my brother, & in front, our younger brother

But two traditions stand out. The first, before Mom allowed us to ditch our new church clothes for play clothes, we had to pose for a family portrait. My parents made us stand at attention in front of some flowers, generally azaleas which often bloomed in Eastern North Carolina around Easter. But one year, Dad had a new yellow Ford Torino that was brighter than any of the flowers in the neighborhood. They lined my siblings and me up in front of the car. It must have been around 1971 or 72. 

Before church, we always received our Easter basket, even though we had to sit them aside until afterwards because my Mom didn’t want us to get chocolate on our new clothes. Of course, this didn’t keep me from trying to sneak a piece of candy or two into church. Each basket came with a small gift. I’m pretty sure Mom prepared the baskets for us kids. It included eggs which we’d dyed the day before, along with a variety of candy. My favorite were the malt balls covered with chocolate and hard candy. It’s still a favorite just in case anyone is reading needs a hint. 

While Mom handled the candy and decorating, I’m sure Dad picked out the small gift, at least for us boys. I have no idea what kind of gift my sister received, but the males of the family almost always received some sort of fishing gear. Over the years, there were packets of plastic worms and a variety of lures, but the one that I will always remember was a yellow jitterbug with silver strips on top. This was the Easter after my brother and I received a Zepco fishing rod for Christmas. I was in the second grade. My brother’s jitterbug black. They were both larger lures. When it came to fishing, Dad’s ambition was large.

Interestingly, I thought I remembered what happened to those two lures. My brother’s ended up on a powerline over my Uncle Frank’s pond and for years you could see it dangling there, beside other lures and tackle, looking like a trotline for a flying fish. He grew tired of me joking about his failure to catch flying-fish. But my memory tricked me. A few years ago, when I told this story, my brother insisted he still had his jitterbug. The next time I saw him, he even produced it. So, it must have been another lure that my brother sacrificed to flying fish. 

I never lost my jitterbug while fishing. It remained in my freshwater tackle box; its paint having flaked a bit over the decades. Someone broke into my car and stole that tackle box when I lived in Utah. I only hope the lure still catches fish.

A jitterbug is an ideal lure to catch bass. In the evening, as the air cools, the fish move close to the surface to feast on bugs. The lure stays on the top of the water, and waddles back and forth, much like giant water bug. The fish hears and feels this movement across the surface and strike, ending up on the wrong end of a triple hook. 

Recalling this tradition of receiving fishing lures for Easter, it seems this is an appropriate Easter gift. My favorite post-resurrection story of Jesus is him on the beach, roasting fish for the disciples who’d spent the evening on the water. A few of the disciples were fisherman and Jesus tells them that they’re to continue to fish, only for people. They’re to continue to cast out metaphorically onto the water.

the author fishing at sunset in the Quetico Wilderness in Western Ontario
Fishing in the evening in the Quetico. While I don’t think I caught this pike on a jitterbug, I do remember catching a few bass on such a lure while on this trip.

Two books which remind us of the reality of human depravity

Title slide with photo of the two book covers

The two reviews below may seem dissimilar. One is a novel set in  Africa, the other a non-fiction work on pre-World War 2 Europe. But both books remind us of human depravity. We learn how easy it is for a group of people to be victimized by others. It starts as they are demonized through language and rhetoric. And, if not checked, ends with violence and destruction.  Good people must speak up and defend those attacked when irresponsible people attempt to demonize one group of people for the purpose of gaining power. Even the Bible demands it, with laws which call for the protection of the vulnerable: aliens, widows, and orphans. 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half a Yellow Sun

 (2006, audible 2017), 18 hours and 10 minutes. 

This novel covers a lot of ground. It starts in the early 1960s, shortly after Nigeria received her independence from Britain and goes through the Biafra Civil War. It also the coming-of-age story of a young boy, Ugwu, along with two sisters of a Nigerian businessman (Olanna and Kaviene), a professor (Odenibgo), and a British expat author (Richard Churchill). Except for Ugwu, the professor’s houseboy, the rest of the major characters are educated individuals with status. All (except Richard) are from the Igbo tribe. However, their privileges end with when a pogrom against the Igbo people lead primarily by Muslims of Northern Nigeria. They all know victims of the violence, which led to the breakaway of the state of Biafra, which mostly consisted of Igbo people. A Civil War resulted from the breakaway, which ended in 1970. 

The first part of the book focuses mostly on the setting. Ugwu, though his aunt, becomes a houseboy for Odenibgo. It’s a new experience for a boy from a village who has never seen running water or a refrigerator. However, the professor is kind, referring to Ugwu as “My Good Man.” He also insists Ugwu continue in school. Obenibgo home is often filled with other professors, who discuss the post-colonial politics of Nigeria. His home life changes when his lover, Olanna, another professor, moves in with them. Ugwu quickly becomes a part of the family.  

Themes within the book

We also learn about Olanna’s sister, Kainene. Both live a different world, as they travel back and forth to Britain, where they were both educated. Kainene later becomes involved with Richard Churchill.  

Much of the book is also about the relationship between sexes and marriage. There is much infidelity but also there are examples of great compassion such as Olanna adopting the child of a former lover of Obenibigo. Interestingly, some of the sex is set up by parents, such as when Obenibigo’s mother uses a village girl to entice her son away from Olanna, or where Olanna’s parents suggest a relationship for her to enhance a business deal. Other times such trysts are based on revenge.   

Through the interaction of these characters, we learn of the failure of colonialism. Britain forced together different peoples and tribes to artificially create the nation of Nigeria. At least through the eyes of the Igbo, they felt the Britain favored the Muslims in the north, which set up the tension that led to war. The Igbo people are traditionally from the southern part of Nigeria. Because they are hardworking, jobs took them to other parts of the nation. This leads them to be demonized, especially by the northern Hausa peoples. The ethnic tension led to a massive killing that throws everyone’s lives into turmoil. 

Half a Yellow Sun Meaning

It’s well into the book that the reader first encounters the term, “Half a Yellow Sun.” It’s the emblem on the Biafra flag, which shows the sun rising, reflecting hope in the future for an independent Biafra. Excitement and hope build among the Igbo people. Sadly, the optimism shatters as Nigeria reclaims parts of the new nation’s territory. Few nations support the breakaway state. Both Britain and the Soviet Union support Nigeria, while only France and a few African nations support Biafra. Those through whom the story is told sees Britain as only looking out for its oil investments in Nigeria, some of which was in the state of Biafra. 

The character’s struggles

While most of the main characters in the book are from a privileged class, they, too, experience terror. They have family members brutally murdered in the pogrom. They also lose their privileged status when they are forced to flee the Nigerian troops. Even at the end of the book, things are left unsettled, as Kainene remains missing. This was true for many people in Brifai after the war. 

Warning and recommendation

The reader should be warned of the squeamish nature of some of the stories. The killings during the pogrom as well as the horrors of war. Ugwo is conscripted into the Biafran army and excels in making explosions and setting mines for the Nigerian army.  But he also experiences terror and extreme behaviors. 

Half a Yellow Sun provides the readers insight into the difficulty of the transition from a colony to an independent state. It also shows both the pride and the trouble of Biafra, through the eyes of the Igbo people. While there are difficult parts to read, the book reminds us of the danger of demonizing others. 

Personal connections

I have vague memory of the Biafran war. At the time (I would have been 10-13) our nation’s eyes were more turned to Vietnam. I appreciate this book and met the author in 2010 at Calvin’s Festival of Faith and Writing and purchased the book at that time. Somehow, I lost the book, so I listened to this on Audible. I have also read her novel, Purple Hibiscus.

 

Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin 

(New York: Crown, 2011), 448 pages with a few photos, notes and an index.

Franklin Roosevelt had a difficult time finding an ambassador for Germany in 1933. Normally, such a post would have been a plum spot for a key supporter, but with Hitler’s rise to power, no one wanted to touch it. Roosevelt finally asked William Dodd, a history professor whose academic work focused on the American South. Dodd had spent time in Germany during graduate school before the First World War.  In his early 60s, Dodd saw this as one last chance to have his family together. He and his wife, their adult daughter, and adult son, along with the family’s Chevrolet, moved to Germany. 

Dodd as an ambassador

Dodd was an unusual ambassador. While he was paid $17,500 a year, which was a great salary during the Depression years, he was not independently wealthy. Upon agreeing to the position, he announced he would live within this salary, something that went against the protocol where ambassadors to favored countries were wealthy and lived far beyond their salary. He also showed more loyalty to Roosevelt than to the State Department which caused him problems. Roosevelt wanted him to do what he could to tap down the Nazi rhetoric against the Jews and to discourage the rising militarism in Germany. His superiors at the State Department were often aghast as his avoiding Nazi Party rallies (which he said would be as inappropriate as a foreign ambassador in the United States attending the Republican or Democratic Conventions. 

Much of Dodd’s initial duties in Germany was to protest mistreatment to American citizens. This included many young men who were beaten for not giving the Hitler salute during a passing parade of Nazis. Eventually, the Nazis said foreigners did not have to salute. Still, still some overly enthusiastic Nazis beat foreigners who didn’t show the expected respect. He also had to protest attacks on American Jewish businessmen. 

At first, Dodd hoped either the army or the people in Germany would revolt against the Nazi party. By the “Night of Long Knives” (when Nazi leadership took out the SA and top army officials) Dodd had realized the outlook looked bleak. Most of Larson’s review of Dodd’s work comes in the first 18 months of his four-year tenure. 

Dodd’s daughter, Martha

In addition to informing the reader of Dodd’s duties as an ambassador, much of the story centered around his wild daughter, Martha. Before heading to German, she had an affair with the poet, Carl Sandburg, a family friend. In Germany, she also had an affair with the American author, “Thomas Wolfe.” Upon arriving, she was sought after and dated a Nazi leader. One German thought the Fuhrer could benefit from a relationship with her and set her up to meet Hitler. He kissed her on the hand!

At first, Martha admired the enthusiasm of the Nazis. However, she soon came to realize the hatred behind the facade and moved away from such entanglements. She also dated an attaché in the Soviet embassy. She even went on a trip, by herself, to the Soviet Union. After the war and her parent’s death, she was investigated for her involvement with the Soviets (who she saw as the world’s hope to defeat Germany). She fled American and lived the rest of her life in Prague. 

Recommendation

Reading the book, it is hard to comprehend the Nazi hatred. They used hate to seek power, not letting anything stand in their way. They even changed the phonetic alphabet (how you spell out words so there would be no confusion). Prior to 1934, D was for David and S for Solomon. Afterwards, because David and Solomon were Hebrews, the phonetic alphabet was changed to Dora and Siegfried. The Nazi movement reminds us that language and rhetoric matters. Failure to speak out or challenge such can allow hatred to consume a people. This book needs to be read!

This is the fifth book I have read by Erik Larson and I have enjoyed them all. The first book I read, in 2005, was The Devil in the White City. I later read Dead Wake, Isaac’s Storm, and Thunderstunk.