By Erich Eipert
This story has a dejecting part as well as something heroic and uplifting. Let’s get the cheerless part out of the way first.
Litter on roads
I don’t think about litter much until I’m on foot and see great quantities of it hidden in the grass of the roadside ditch. Or drive past piles of filled plastic bags after a cleanup effort. There’s a surprising amount of rubbish out there. I seldom see anyone throw anything from a car window like in the old days, yet somehow the garbage accumulates. Maybe litterers are more active after dark. A study or two has probably addressed this, but I’m getting off track. I can understand drinkers who drive, and underage occupants, throwing out their empties, but who and what accounts for all the other trash? Fortunately Washington state, where I live, isn’t the worst place when it comes to offenders. I suspect the reason has nothing to do with the intellect-challenged “Litter and it will hurt” signs along the roads. But again, I digress.
I’m beginning to think the answer to the question posed in my title is “no.” At least in the West within a thousand miles of LA. After leaving Movie Flats in the Alabama Hills, the lovely but surreal setting of the Trona Pinnacles became my next camping destination. The pinnacles are located on the playa of Searles Dry Lake in the Searles Valley, just one valley west of Death Valley National Park in this harsh basin and range country. If you read my earlier post on the Bennett-Arcan wagon train party’s 1849 escape from Death Valley, it might interest you to know that another party became trapped in Death Valley about the same time. The Jayhawkers abandoned their wagons as well and walked out by way of Searles Valley. They acted to save themselves from a situation of their own making, so they were only heroes in a limited way. Yet even this marginal heroism beat what followed after this place too became a popular filming location, like Movie Flats. The cameras here weren’t shooting good guys shooting outlaws and Indians. The cinematography was of a different type.
Riding off into the sunrise at Movie Flats
I just spent a couple of days camping in and hiking through hero country. No, it wasn’t a battlefield. And yet it was. If that sounds contradictory, it should become clear shortly. It is a princely place if you’re drawn to southwest high desert country like I am. This tract of land is situated near Lone Pine, California and is in the Alabama Hills, a name which has nothing at all to do with Alabama. The area has it all: sun, sagebrush, cactus, canyons, and jumbles of huge golden boulders. If that isn’t enough, topping it off is the grand mountain vista backdrop of Mt. Whitney and its surrounding high Sierra peaks. I’d better confess right here that I’m not the first to notice the ultra-western-ness of these features. The Hollywood movie industry noticed it 90 years ago. Continue reading
The author just doin’ nothing in Death Valley
I recently spent three weeks camping in Death Valley National Park. There, when not hiking canyons, I basked in the pleasant—well, hot—temperatures and eased into a languid “I kind of like just doin’ nothing, it’s something that I do” sort of existence (description courtesy of a Robert Earl Keen song—Something I Do). Continue reading
Western history photos in Wall Drug Backyard
I’m on a vacation driving trip so I’ll keep this short. As I write, the driving happens to be across South Dakota, a state that is a mecca for highway billboards. You know—the tourist-trap type informing you of the mystery spot or the fun cave. Drive the state east to west on I-90 and it won’t take you 300 miles to become aware Wall Drug has 5 cent coffee, free ice water, and homemade pies and breakfast rolls. Wall Drug has been in business so long that its signs have become icons and there are many, many competing signs along the route. But I digress. If you’re like me, by the time you finally reach exit 109 and the town of Wall, you’ll be torn. Should I get sucked in by the advertising or do I drive on? Continue reading
Richard Rowland Kirkland memorial at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Photo by Eipert.
I have some ready excuses for not posting in weeks. One is that I’ve been busy trying to finish “Guy Going Under,” my cave adventure/mystery novel. I have to say heroic effort was required at times for me to sit behind the keyboard when spring and summer weather was waiting right outside the door. A second excuse is that I’ve been traveling. One of the places I recently visited was Fredericksburg, Virginia, the site of a Civil War Battle fought in and around the city on December 11–15, 1862. The battle there is noted for being one of the most one sided of the war. Continue reading
Oops – this ball got through the Seattle defense
Sports is not a topic I ever expected to touch when writing about heroes. After all, every daily newspaper already has an entire section dedicated to the topic. The unique sport I want to talk about is seldom, if ever, reported on by the media for it is not a glamorized-on-TV sport and has no well-paid stars. I find myself compelled to write about it because I just returned from a tournament featuring some very good teams and find myself highly impressed. The game is something even most sports nuts probably haven’t heard of. I hadn’t either until I became involved with it as a volunteer a couple of months ago. One thing which makes it unique is none of the players saw the action, and neither did a substantial part of the audience. Continue reading
Joseph Stalin: Moscow Metro mosaic (beggs-Flickr)
Sasha Zaichik is the protagonist in this short novel, Breaking Stalin’s Nose, by Eugene Yelchin. Sasha is less a hero than an innocent victim, for what else can you call a ten-year old who’s been brought up with nothing but lies in a cynical, totalitarian state that maintains itself through fear and terror.
At first glance Yelchin’s novel looks like a book for children, but don’t be fooled—it carries a message that resonates with readers of all ages. I’m talking about the human toll of Stalin-era Communism in the Soviet Union, but it could apply to any dictatorial government or ideology, past or present. Think Nazi Germany, Maoist China, North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, the Taliban, etc. Continue reading
Operation “Macarthur” / US Army Center of Military History
I Pledge Allegiance: Vietnam #1, by Chris Lynch, as you might expect in a series, builds the background for what follows—the experiences of four friends: Morris, Ivan, Rudi, and Beck. This first book depicts the perspective of Morris. The setting is Boston in the late 1960’s when the Vietnam War is raging, the draft is national policy, and every young man of a certain age is (or should be) worried about being sent to Vietnam. Morris continually dreams the same dream. He is in Vietnam in a vicious firefight and his three close friends are there too. They’re all shredded to bits. They might die in different ways and in a different order, but they all always die. The four friends have stuck together through all their school years and by this time have become close. When one has a problem, they all have a problem. Continue reading
Kate Shelley: train rescuer Part II
An Iowa trestle from the author's childhood: bridge across Pittman Creek near West Point, Iowa - photo taken by Mary Eipert shortly before demolition of bridge
For those who took an interest in the story of Kate Shelley, I’d like to share a few more interesting tidbits. According to the accounts I’ve read, after the death of her husband and son Kate’s mother not only lapsed into poor physical health, she also lost her spirit. I suppose that means she broke mentally and could no longer adequately care for and raise her children. This placed a terrible burden of responsibility on Kate, her oldest child, and Kate sacrificed her own childhood and later independence in order to fill this void and take care of her family. She was not recognized for this heroic act. Continue reading
Kate Shelley Bridge - 1900 replacement of original trestle. Flickr/David Wilson.
You won’t find a better example of real-life heroism than the story of a brave fifteen-year-old Iowa girl named Kate Shelley. I can picture what this girl went through because I grew up not so far from the Des Moines River, and near a railway with a high, scary trestle that I crossed a few times.
Although I’ve disliked the cold ever since my army infantry training days, I do like to read about it. The setting is one reason I picked up Revolver, by Marcus Sedgwick. A turn-of-the-century gold field and the environs of an iron mine in the frozen north of Alaska (OK, that north isn’t really frozen all year round but it always makes for a more dramatic description) provide the setting for this adventure novel. While this sounds like the very ingredient of a riveting Jack London story, I should warn you at the outset to be prepared for something slightly different. Continue reading
Treasure Island stands out as a classic of young adventure fiction for good reason. Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale has survived the test of time because it is fast paced enough for the modern reader, packed with action and heroism that the young readily take to, and populated mostly with characters who leave little doubt about whose side they’re on. I say mostly, because one exception added a new element to this type of adventure fiction in the 1880’s—moral ambiguity. But more about that below. Continue reading
I swear we’re going to get serious about highlighting young heroes again. And soon! But who can let this holiday pass without touting this animal hero. Since I can’t do better than the original, I’ll let the song lyrics do the talking.
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
had a very shiny nose. Continue reading
NASA/courtesy of nasaimages.org
A recently featured post here, the rat as hero, seems to have opened the door to other unlikely heroes. Here’s a hero even farther out. Please take this adjective farther very literally because I’m talking comet. This past week a small comet defied what astronomers expected would be certain destruction in a close orbital encounter with the sun and re-emerged to continue on its way. Understand, a comet isn’t sentient so it can’t possibly be considered a hero in the same sense as a human. But this is certainly as close as a dirtball can come to being a hero! Continue reading
Throughout human history distinguished warriors have been honored as the quintessential heroes and no discussion of heroes can pretend to be complete without including them. I’d planned to begin posting the stories of several young war heroes very soon but a news story that just broke, Marines promoted inflated story for Medal of Honor recipient, has prompted me to jump in with this commentary. What follows should be a very disturbing story to anyone who has put their life on the line in the service of their country during war. It concerns the young marine hero of a deadly Afghanistan ambush and the intrusion of politics into a process that needs to remain above reproach. Continue reading
“rats might be capable of heroic acts in the cause of other rats”
When I began this blog I hadn’t considered heroism as anything but a human (or possibly primate) trait. Sure, I knew there were plenty of animals touted as heroes. On the fiction side dogs have been the stars of top rated TV shows in decades past. I’m talking Lassie and Rin Tin Tin (new book: Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, by Susan Orlean @2011). They saved their masters week after week. And animated animal heroes have been around the best part of a century. Many, such as Mickey Mouse and his friends, even became a part of our popular culture. The animated hero list now takes in ants, mice, dogs, woodpeckers, roadrunners, magpies, crows, ducks, spiders, horses, pigs, flying squirrels, moose, monkeys, owls, to name a few. Continue reading
Adventure and bravery come in many shapes and forms. The following real-life account of a girl following her dreams is a contribution passed on to me by Marie Murphy of Running Springs, California at the recently concluded ‘49ers Encampment in Death Valley National Park. The young adventurer Marie describes is her grandmother.
Maria Guadalupe DeLarios was born in the beautiful exotic fishing village of Veracruz, Mexico in 1898. She was orphaned as a child but was blessed to be adopted by a wealthy family with whom she lived until she reached the age of sixteen. Guadalupe always loved to dance and sing and expressed her desire to become an entertainer and work on stage. However, the theatrical profession was not considered a proper one for women. So, at the age of sixteen, amidst threats of losing her inheritance, she followed her dream and boarded a stagecoach for her long trip alone to the United States. Continue reading
Here’s another 19th century young western hero, but a fictional one this time. The book is Payback at Morning Peak by Gene Hackman. Okay, I’ll admit that I picked up the book out of curiosity to see if the former actor can write.
Northern New Mexico and central Colorado provide the setting for this novel. Jubal, a 17 year old boy, is out hunting when he hears shots and sees smoke at his family’s farmstead. He returns to find his family under attack by a gang of lawless rowdies. To his horror, he finds his father gagged, trussed up, and suspended over a roaring bonfire. Seeing the indescribable agony his father is experiencing in being roasted alive, Jubal knows he must reach inside himself and shoot his father. Jubal’s mother is already dead and his sister is dying. Both have been brutally raped. Continue reading
Death Valley is nothing if not a historical and geological theme park. Because of its many short-lived mining booms, it has left behind an abundance of interesting and compelling characters. The recorded history began with the first sizeable group of wagons that traversed the valley, and it is from this party that a couple of young heroes emerged. Continue reading
Today the word hero is in danger of losing its meaning because of overuse and commercialization. Now the term is more about marketing and flattery than anything heroic. I believe heroism requires personal risk and an act of courage in the interest of others. It is more than someone simply doing his or her job competently, even in the face of difficulty. With this ideal in mind, I aim to highlight some young heroes worth reading about.
Before doing any actual acclaiming of young heroes, perhaps a little explaining is called for. The logical place to begin might be the definition of the word hero, if for no other reason than to remind ourselves what the word is supposed to mean. The Dictionary.com definition below is representative of various dictionaries (for female heroes, sometimes called heroines, substitute the appropriate pronouns). Continue reading