The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering September 11 - The power of books

We all have our memories. On September 11, 2001, I was working at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site on the Montana/North Dakota border. I was on the later shift that day, so I was in my car about 8:45 a.m., listening to NPR's Morning Edition. Some guest was speaking, when Bob Edwards interrupted almost apologetically, saying something like, "It seems that another airplane has hit the Twin Towers." When I got to the fort, all the other rangers were upstairs, gathered around the one television set. And there it was, buildings on fire and if I recall correctly, one of them about them about to collapse.

Through the day, we were quickly informed that the National Park Service had put every monument, park and historic site on high alert, because no one knew what would happen yet. By then, we were joking a bit about how they should send the president and other important folks to Fort Union because a) we had a 14 foot wall around the whole thing  b) we were so isolated no one - not even visitors - could find us.

We carried on as everyone did all week. My position at Fort Union was such that I worked a week on and a week off. I happened to share a house with the chief ranger, an old friend. He had no television, so our news came from the radio and that TV at the fort. On Saturday, I drove home to Valley City for my off week. The very first thing I did after getting home was go straight to my fiction bookcase and pull out one of my favorite books, "The Lawrenceville Stories," by Owen Johnson. I just stood there and held the book, because books comfort me.

That was it. I felt better and reshelved the book. I looked through the mail then. At the time, we were Newsweek subscribers. I picked up the issue that had come when I was over at Fort Union, ruffled through a few pages, then set it aside. Nothing in that issue had any relevance to what had just happened that week. We were in new, uncharted territory and last week's news was less than useless.

For the next month, Fort Union did as all government facilities did and flew the flag at half staff. Some of us chose to put a piece of black tape on our badges. I did.

Here was the worst part: as one of our daily duties, the first ranger on site had to raise the flag. No biggie, except that month, we had to raise it to half staff, which is done properly by raising the flag to the top of the pole and then lowering it to half staff. On the mornings I was on first, I had to do that. It's a hard and sad duty, and remains my strongest memory of September 11.

Books to comfort me, and flags at half staff.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Time flies

I realize it is bad form to begin a blog with an apology, but I have one. At the end of April, we moved from Wellington (Carbon County), Utah, to Idaho Falls. "A simple matter," you say, and you would be right. We were smart enough this time to hire a moving van for the job, and boy, that helped. Now if only I could have gotten Amber and Tyler to write the rest of my book, too.

We love Idaho Falls. The idea to move started percolating last October. I was wasting time one morning on the Interwebs and came across an article called, "Ten greatest small cities to live in."  Number 2 was Idaho Falls. I have no idea what Number One was, because I stopped at Number Two. And then when I looked at available real estate, that cinched it.

We'd been thinking about moving for a while. Carbon County, Utah, is a good place, but we needed something a little larger. Besides that, our children who lived in Utah all bailed out and went elsewhere. Why stay there? Maybe this brands me as hopelessly shallow, but it's such a treat to have 22 movie screens to choose from, versus four, and cool stores with stuff in them. Huckleberry lemonade doesn't hurt, either. Doctors and dentists are plentiful, and there is the beautiful Snake River flowing along. On a clear day, you can see the back of the Tetons in Wyoming, and Yellowstone's West Entrance is two hours away.

Probably my favorite guilty pleasure has been the hot springs in the area. We're not all that far from Yellowstone, and the thermal activity in this area means opportunities to sit and soak the old bones in hot water. I enjoy stuff like that. Some of the hot springs are sulfurous, but I don't mind smelling like a boiled egg.

It's hard to move and write. I had the best of intentions to put my shoulder to the wheel and power through a bunch of chapters, but we discovered an unexpected bonus in living barely off I-15: visitors. We've had more company this summer than we had in at least two years in Utah, and it's been such a pleasure. Since we have twice the house now (four bedrooms, three bathrooms, huge family room), it's a good place to welcome guests.

What I'm saying is that Martin and I are no experts in retiring. We moved around so much that there never was a place designated as Home for All Generations. Our kids were a bid wary at first, but the ones who have seen our new area are pleased. I guess we're better at re-retiring.

But the book is done, and will be out November 11. It's called Softly Falling, and is the story of the winter of 1886-87 in Wyoming Territory, when the range was overstocked and unfenced, and the blizzards never stopped. Although Cedar Fort is the publisher, there is no mention of Mormons. I had asked the publisher is it was ok to not write about things LDS, and that suited him fine (and allows for a wider readership). The theme is one I enjoy: ordinary people finding themselves in extraordinary situations. Lily Carteret, daughter of a British remittance man (read: lifetime loser), has come to Wyoming after her father's glowing accounts of his ranch. She arrives to find there is no such thing. In a bit of stupidity, he has gambled away the ranch to the foreman of nearby Bar Circle Dot, one of a series of ranches owned by a consortium of British and Scottish wealthy men. What's a girl to do? Lily is resourceful. Stay tuned.

Just out is Book Two of the Spanish Brand Series, called Marco and the Devil's Bargain. It's the further adventures of Marco Mondragon and his clever wife, Paloma Vega, this time involved with a mysterious physician and a smallpox epidemic.

And that's the fun of writing: Put your ordinary people in the middle of a mess, and see what happens.

Next up? A short story for the Timeless Romance Anthology, which will be out January 15. Another short story to Harlequin (now HarperCollins), for next year's Christmas anthology. A third installment in Spanish New Mexico with Marco and Paloma. Something else for Cedar Fort; not sure what.

I shouldn't have saved this for last, but I have a new and wonderful website at Tamara Cole is the web designer and she is without equal. Take a look at the site. Be sure to click on the cat, the photos, and even the paper clutter in the garbage can. We're still getting out the kinks, so if you see something that doesn't work, please let me know at

And now it's back to making hand cream. I'll be selling books and hand cream at the annual Heritage Festival in Fillmore, Utah, the weekend after Labor Day. Stop by, if you're in the neighborhood. The Oct. 9-11 I'm writer in residence at an ANWA Retreat in Anacortes, Washington. Then on Sept. 24 or so, it's off to Kanab for a writer's conference. Then I'll stay home and write, because that's what I do.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Writer's Life for Me, or, Muchas gracias, Tamara and Dave Brown!

Ah yes, I am the worst blogger ever. I wait too long between blogs because I'm busy writing, or living, or doing something so fabulous that it has taken me this long to put it into words.

I got lucky in early March, but the story begins last fall, when Tamara Brown posted a comment on Random Natterings and invited me to come to Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, to present a bookclub talk. "Are you serious?" I responded in an email. She was. Tamara and Dave Brown ranch south of the southwesterly part of New Mexico, in Chihuahua. The ranch has been in the Brown family for many moons, and now I need to explain something about Colonia Juarez and the Browns and the other  people I met a month ago.

In 1885, the Mormons in Utah Territory were in terrible turmoil. The federal government had effectively shut down the territory over the issue of polygamy. Many church leaders were in prison or hiding. To avoid some of this terrible strain, groups of Mormons went north to southern Alberta and settled. Others went south to Chihuahua, Mexico, with the blessings of Porfirio Diaz, Mexico's long-lived president/dictator. Browns were among those who went south, along with Whettons, Cardons, Bentleys and most well-known, Romneys. Through some trying years, they dug in, starved, hung on, and created a lovely society in Colonia Juarez (located some 100 miles into Chihuahua's interior, not the Juarez next to El Paso); nearby Colonia Dublan; Colonia Diaz, quite close to the SW New Mexico border; and three or four mountain colonies west of Juarez and Dublan.

With stately brick homes, and beautiful apple orchards, and ranches, the hardworking Mormons turned that bit of Chihuahua into Victorian Utah. It was lovely and prosperous, and came to a crashing halt, starting in 1910, with Mexico's ejido revolution. Diaz had been in power too long and landowners owned huge ranches, with little for the commoners. The old man was exiled, and Madero installed as president. Madero was weak, and other guerillas rose to denounce him, including most famously, Pancho Villa. The Mormons in the colonies were told by church leaders in Salt Lake to remain strictly neutral, with the result that they were preyed on by all factions and all sides.

It finally became too dangerous, and in early August, 1912, the women and children were evacuated. The men followed a week or so later with whatever colony horses and cattle they could take. A small percentage returned, and only the colonies of Juarez and Dublan remain today.

I wrote a novel ironically titled Safe Passage, about those dangerous times in 1912. Tamara thought I ought to take a look at the colonies today, and I did. Tamara and Dave met me in Deming, NM, and I went across the border with them. Tamara's from Arizona, and Dave was raised in the colonies. Like many colonists, he has dual citizenship, and he's completely bilingual. Mexico is home, even though the last ten years have been frightening, with drug lords battling it out for control of Chihuahua. Some of the colonists have endured kidnapping and there have been some tragic deaths of members caught in the crossfire. But they're brave folks and they endure. The Browns and others bailed out for a time until things quieted down a bit, and now they're back. The future remains uncertain.

I won't deny that I was a bit uneasy to make this visit, but I reasoned that the Browns would take good care of me, and they did. So did Dave's sister Vonnie Whetton, directora (principal) of the elementary school in Colonia Juarez,which is run by the colonists for their own children and other children as well. There is also the well-known Academia Juarez for kids 7-12 grades, with its excellent reputation for education probably unrivaled in Mexico.  The deal in Chihuahua these days is to travel during the day, and stay indoors, or in the colony, at night. People go about their business, and trust in the Lord, a combination that has worked well in the colonies since 1885.

The Browns and Vonnie Whetton took me through Colonia Dublan, and then a lovely hacienda, built in 1902, that has been restored by one of the Whettons. The colony itself is in a lovely valley, which was pink with peach trees in bloom. The next day, Vonnie invited Tamara and me to her elementary school, where the 90 students, K-6, presented their weekly assembly, complete with a 6th grade color guard bringing in the Mexican flag to a drum accompaniment. The children sang a verse of the "himno nacional," and then a pledge of allegiance, and then their school song. I was touched and delighted and honored. We visited the classrooms briefly, and then paid a quick visit to the nearby Academia, built in 1904.

Vonnie became my guide. She drove me around town, then took me to nearby Hacienda San Diego, where an important part of Safe Passage takes place. I had written the book using a lot of Google Earth, and pictures of Chihuahua, including San Diego ranch.  And there it was, sadly crumbling now, but still impressive. The area is the cradle of the Mexican Revolution. Madero himself gathered troops there at San Diego. I was delighted to actually see what I had written about. I'll never forget Hacienda San Diego, with its imposing house, stone corrals, and stone outbuildings. I never thought I would ever be there, but thanks to Tamara, I was.

We went next to Mata Ortiz, a small town renowned today in Chihuahua for its pottery. In 1912, when my story takes place, it was called Pearson, named by "Lord" Pearson, a British entrepreneur who ran a lumbering business and a sawmill. It was from Pearson that the Mormon women and children gathered to take a precarious train ride to the border and safety in 1912. The depot is still there.

That night, I spoke in the old elementary school to a wonderful group of 38 ladies. I talked about Safe Passage, and other of my books,which many of them had read. I don't think Colonia Juarez gets a lot of visitors. It's not a tourist area, and people don't really go there unless they have colony connections. What I really wanted to do was have the ladies tell me about their lives in that unique place. It was calm and dark and quiet at night, and I could have stayed much longer. I felt like I came to the colony knowing no one, and left with many friends. It's that kind of place.

So this is one perk of being a writer: sometimes you get really, really lucky, and meet wonderful people. I'll never forget my visit. I'm smiling as I write this, because it was an honor to accept Tamara's kind invitation, an honor to rub shoulders with brave people living good lives. I told Tamara in an email later something like this: "I think I left a piece of my heart in Colonia Juarez. No need to send it to me. Just leave it there, please."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hard lessons in snow, that white fluffy stuff

So so late to write my blog. Mostly I have fun, briefly, on Facebook, between writing bouts. The one nice thing about my sporadic blogs is that you know when I'm not writing one, I'm writing something with more length to it. I just finished a 15,348 word short story called "Break a Leg," for Heather B. Moore, and her partners in crime (Tee hee, Heather). Heather et al. have been producing quarterly anthologies. Heather asked me to participate in an anthology of Western short stories. I know that she,Sarah Eden,  Liz Adair and Marsha Ward are participating (maybe others, too). I believe this will be out in June or July. "Break a Leg" is set at Fort Laramie, a venue I know well, in 1882, when things were slowing down there and boredom threatened (as well as fort closure). With a title like that, you know an actor is involved. This anthology will be available in ebook format, and perhaps paperback. I'm not sure. I've already agreed to write a Regency short story for a 2015 edition.

Right now, I'm reading for research for my next novel, and it's painful. I just finished The Children's Blizzard, a horrendous history of the Jan. 12, 1888, blizzard that struck the Great Plains as children were either in school, or just starting out for long walks home. Some 250-500 people perished, many of them children.

Author David Laskin did a good job. He starts out with several chapters on the many immigrants who came from the Ukraine and south Russia, home to many Germans from Russia who now/still populate North Dakota. The book bogs down a bit there, but moves on to more chapters on the infancy of weather forecasting, then under the control of the U.S. Army's Signal Corps. We meet, in particular, 1st Lt. Woodruff, a West Pointer from the Fifth Infantry who left his regiment to become a "weather indicator," as meteorologists were called then. He was worked in St. Paul, Minnesota, and noted a huge storm headed to the Great Plains. Trouble was, no one then had the scientific weather knowledge to truly grasp just how terrible this was going to be. And communications being what they were back then, the word got out just before the storm hit, which gave no one time to shelter, after an abnormally warm (for the plains) day.

What Laskin describes, from Woodruff's notes and others' information, is a polar vortex, which made its appearance in our own land not so long ago. Luckily, eastern Montana and what is now North Dakota escaped most of the 1888 storm's fury because it struck in the early morning hours when people were home anyway. As it roared east with inadequate warning, the storm landed with ferocity on what is now central/eastern South Dakota, western Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa.

Country schools were just that: schools in the middle of farming communities with their 160-acre farms. A walk home of a quarter mile to a mile was nothing to these children. When the storm it, they were frozen, blinded by flour-fine snow, and beaten down. Some survived through sheer luck or amazing courage. Others tried, and died. Some died with their teachers, who did their best to shelter them. Others died with fathers who had come searching. Others died alone. It's hard to imagine a more tragic set of circumstances.

When I moved to North Dakota in 1997, I heard of Hazel Miner, a 16-year-old student from Center, North Dakota, who sheltered her two young sibs under her own body during such a blizzard and died saving their lives. This one happened in 1920. Compound that by hundreds, and you have the Children's Blizzard of 1888.

I think one reason this book was so hard to read is because, for just a few desperate moments, I had a similar experience. I will never forget my own terror.

It was in 2001 or 2002, and I was working as a seasonal ranger at Fort Union Trading Post NHS, smack on the North Dakota-Montana line. It's an isolated place, about 24 miles from Williston, ND. The fort has white palisaded walls and sits on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River. There is a long, sloping walk from the fort to the first parking lot. The other lot is even farther away. In the winter when there are few visitors, we tended to park in the closer lot, which was still not close to the fort.

I usually just worked there in the summers, but Richard Stenberg and I had been put in charge of an Elderhostel program, which meant I had to make some winter planning visits to Fort Union from my Valley City home, some 370 miles east. That day in November, I was at the fort for a meeting scheduled in Williston later in the morning. It was snowing hard when I left the fort and headed to the parking lot. We usually took the back gate, because it was a shade closer to the parking lot than the more-impressive front gate.

I couldn't see anything because of the snow. The path from the fort's "back door" starts out as gravel, which I could feel under my feet, even through the snow. I had made this walk hundreds of times. I knew that in a bit I would come to the wide concrete sidewalk that winds up to the fort's front gate.  Sure enough, I soon felt the concrete and knew I was on the actual sidewalk.

I knew how it sloped toward the parking lot, but by then, it was getting harder to feel anything but snow under my feet. I followed what I thought was the sidewalk, and discovered, to my irritation and then terror, that I was walking on grass and had no idea where I was. I was as lost as if I had been in the middle of a great plain.

I couldn't see the white-walled fort, and wasn't even sure of its direction anymore. Snow can be really disorienting, as I discovered. I took a few more steps. Grass under my feet. I truly panicked. There I was, between the fort somewhere and the parking lot somewhere. It was cold, but not horribly cold, and I couldn't see a thing. Where was the parking lot?

I stood there a few moments and forced myself to remain calm. When I could breathe regularly again, I turned around and tried to retrace steps I couldn't see anymore. Suddenly, I felt the concrete of the sidewalk again. I had not followed the contour properly. I continued down the sidewalk, and in minute or so, felt the curb drop-off to the parking lot. By then I could see dark shapes of cars of other employees. I was safe.

I cleared off my car and just sat in it for a while, relieved beyond words. Surprisingly, as soon as I negotiated the park road to the main road, visibility increased hugely. I made it safely to town. When I returned later that afternoon, all was clear. That is the fickle nature of snow and storm in the Dakotas.

My "ordeal" lasted only a few minutes, but I have never forgotten that feeling of utter terror. And reading about children who wandered the prairie in a polar vortex for six of seven hours makes my heart just ache for them and their families. Because the day had started out strangely warm, many had not even bundled up as usual. I can barely wrap my mind around the set of circumstances they faced.

My next novel will be about The Big Die-off, that winter of blizzards in 1886-1887 which was the beginning of the end of the open range in Wyoming. My heroine is a school teacher from England quite unfamiliar with winter on the high plains of eastern Wyoming, an area I know well. I have another snow story about that, but it'll keep. When I write about that 1887 winter, some of what you read will be firsthand experience. It cuts almost too close to home.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Don't judge this book by its cover

Happy New Year first. That's more important than anything that follows in this blog. We have a shiny new year in which to be tried and tested and occasionally found wanting, I am certain. There will also be moments of near-nobility, I am equally certain. Our New Year's Eve followed its typical pattern. We watched The Sting (always on NYE), ate popcorn and were predictably in bed by 10:30. We can only assume that someone rang in the new year for us. Whoever you are, thanks!

Harlequin strikes again. Right before Christmas, my editor forwarded this cover for my book that comes out in mid-March. I stared at it, shook my head, and wondered what on earth? No one on the cover resembles anyone in the story, which is about a dour and extremely veteran frigate captain who has been granted shore leave for the first time in forever, now that Napoleon is on Elba (we know how that turned out, eh?), and peace might actually be breaking out. He and his young son are headed home to Scotland for Christmas. Enter Mary Rennie, who is a nice lady on the verge of spinsterhood, who has been sent by her relatives to track down four fruitcakes that were mailed to long-ago friends. One contains a little ring that Mary's cousin threw into the batter because it was a paltry ring from her fiance. One thing leads to another, and Mary has to find that ring. And so on.

I have no idea who these people are on the cover, and so I emailed my editor. She put on the sad face (via email from London), and couldn't imagine why I was disappointed. I replied that the cover bears absolutely no resemblance to anyone in the story, not even any characters I might have written and then edited out. This email was met with the note that everyone in England is now on vacay and won't return until January 2.

It does matter a bit, because my captain has a peg leg. The guy on the cover has both legs, and even more, looks as though the only trouble he has ever encountered might have been the occasional bad hair day. Sigh. At least my other publishers like to work with me and get covers that actually have something to do with the story.

I shouldn't be such a complainer. I was whining about this to Diane Farr, a lovely writer, who told me that Signet once put a homely lady, a guy and a dog on one of her covers.When she complained that there isn't even a dog in the story, the editor replied, "Readers like dogs, so we put a dog on the cover."

My daughter Liz came up with the perfect solution. "Mom, just ask them to send you the cover first, and then you can write a novel to fit the cover." I call that brilliant, and I will suggest it to my editor when she returns from vacation. I should have known that a perfect cover, such as the one for last year's Her Hesitant Heart, was a one-time event. Oh well. You'll still enjoy The Wedding Ring Quest. Appropriately enough, the ebook comes out on April Fool's Day.

I just read a wonderful book, Michael Zuckoff's Frozen in Time. It's a true story about crashes, death and survival on Greenland's forbidding ice cap during World War II, and a 2012 expedition to locate one of the crash sites. I couldn't put it down, so it was a good thing I had just emailed Book Two of The Spanish Brand series to my editor at Camel Press. I recommend Frozen in Time heartily. I've already loaned my copy to a friend, and it'll make the rounds. My son Jeremy sent me the book for Christmas. We send each other books for Christmas. I usually read the ones he sends me, then send them back to him so he can read them and keep them. I may hang onto this one. It'll go onto my shelf next to another book called Frozen in Time, this one about the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845 or so, when three Royal Navy ships are trapped in the Arctic in pack ice. It's also paired with a recovery story, which is astounding.

So it goes. We're well-rested on New Years Day (refer to first paragraph), and thinking about turkey for lunch.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Grapefruit Moon, One Star Shining

Author Anne Gracie gets full credit for this column. She's a Facebook friend (and a writer I admire), and she posted the Tom Waites song with the lovely photo of our current huge worldwide moon. She'd noticed it while coming home from dinner in the city. Anne lives in Australia. The comments that popped up were from all over the world, of course, as we all admired the same moon.

I've been admiring that grapefruit moon from my hemisphere. I was coming home from a booksigning on Saturday. It was still light out, but right after I passed Soldier Summit (at 7,000+ feet the highest point on the trip), I noticed the moon peeking coyly between two mountains. It was pale then and not in charge yet, because the sun as still up, but there it was, ready for an entrance. Made me smile.

I woke up early this morning, because the cat must've pushed open the door, and decided I needed a visit. The cat and I got up because that grapefruit moon was so bright and irresistible - in charge now and hugely visible.

And all over the world, we're watching. Last night, our bookclub commented on "A Christmas Carol," our reading for the month. We also had our Christmas potluck. We do a good one. It's not one of those you-bring-this-and-I'll-bring-that kinds of potlucks, but a true take-your-chance potluck. The carnivores ruled, with several kinds of meat. I made cheese grits and hot sauce - total comfort food - and an angel food, raspberry, powdered sugar, Coolwhip, sour cream thingee.

Then we watched the Gorge C. Scott version of "A Christmas Carol," my personal favorite.

I was thinking about Jacob Marley this morning. When I read Anne Gracie's comment about the full moon, and saw the posts from literally everywhere, I couldn't helping thinking about Marley's "Mankind is my business." With Marley, is a lament, because he never thought about anything except making money. After his death, he learned, to his horror, that mankind should have been his business. Mankind is most emphatically our business; we ignore that to our peril.

There we are, all admiring the same grapefruit moon. We're all involved in this world. Do something nice for someone today, ok?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

In praise of bold travelers

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving. I never fail to think of my father on Thanksgiving: He loved pumpkin pie, and he had a pilgrim story from Bangkok, Thailand.

Part of Dad's Korean War was spent in Bangkok, back when a lot of us called Thailand, Siam. He was part of a squadron of Navy airedales who took a carrier-load of planes to Thailand. Essentially, they began the Thai Air Force. At the time, Dad was a chief, which meant he knew everything about his job and could do anything. He was always that way, though. (If you sense some daughterly admiration, you're on the money.)

In that hot and moist climate, Thanksgiving was still coming anyway. One of the Thai workers who spoke English asked Dad about Thanksgiving, so Dad gave a lengthy explanation about pilgrims and a first hard winter in a tough place for beginnings (New England), and the Thanksgiving feast the following year, when the toehold had turned into survival and there was food.

After Dad's explanation, the man just shook his head sadly. "We can't have Thanksgiving here."

Dad asked him why not, and the Thai said, "No pilgrims ever came to Bangkok."

Thanksgiving came anyway, of course, as it does anywhere Americans gather. We're grateful for that toehold in a new world, for subsequent survival, and eventually, our nation. It's as meaningful to me as the Fourth of July, as I praise bold travelers.

The extreme isolation of such people in a new land came home to me 12 or so years ago. It was early December, and I had gone to Charleston, South Carolina for Jeremy's graduation from the Border Patrol. The newly minted agents flew out that same day, so I had a few days to kill in South Carolina. What I did was point my rental car south.

First stop was St. Augustine, Florida, for a spot of research at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. It's a wonderful, well-nigh indestructible fort built by Spanish engineers (they were good), to maintain power in their toehold of Florida. Eventually, the English came into possession, then the Spanish again, and finally the Americans. During our Indian Wars, it housed some Plains Indians, sent there to be reprimanded for objecting to folks taking their land.

After that, I drove back to St. Simons Island, Georgia, where I used to live as a kid. Superb area. I also visited Fort Frederica National Historic Site. It was a fort built by Georgia's colonizer, James Oglethorpe, between 1736-1748, essentially as a buffer zone between those Spaniards I had "visited" earlier in the day, and the prosperity of the English colonies in the Carolinas.

It's another great historic site, with a moat (now a gentle swale), and buildings made of tabby (stone mixed with shells). Nothing is restored, but the stabilized ruins are impressive. I walked through the town, and past the fort, and stood looking at the water. It was a cold day, for Georgia, and no other visitors were in sight. I watched the water quite a while, as the soldiers most certainly would have done.

It came home quite forcefully to me that these little toeholds on the edge of an amazing continent had to be a bit frightening, in that if trouble came, there was no help in sight. You were it; do your best.

And so I praise bold travelers. Without them, we wouldn't be gathering families and friends today and gorging on turkey and cranberries and three or four kinds of pie (or more), and the "inside of the turkey," as my daughter Sarah called stuffing, when she was a little girl. I always take a moment to remember what it felt like to stand alone, gaze across a portion of the Atlantic Ocean, empty too, that day, and honor that kind of courage.

Thanks, you men, women and children. I praise you today.