On the way into Rawlins, Wyoming earlier this week, one of the campaign vehicle’s water pumps went out. No small repair job, because you have to take out part of the engine to get to it. As we were checking service stations, we heard of a local pastor who was also a “wrench,” Wyoming for: “mechanic.” When I called Pastor Randy Golden of The Church on the Rock, he said just the night before he’d been reading int he Book of Luke about how you were supposed to “help your brother.” Bring the van over, he said. He and his father-in-law fixed it the next day, for free. Later, during a Bible study at his downtown storefront church in Rawlins, Pastor Randy said “people who are comfortable in their faith — are often missing opportunities to witness.”
I met with Lauren Lambertson at the Bureau of Land Management in Rawlins, Wyoming. The Rawlins Field Office manages 4.2 million acres. Ms. Lambertson said a good percentage of the Federal land in this area is leased to local farmers for grazing their cattle. Cows, for instance, are allowed on a plot of land for so many days a month. However, complications have arisen. Some parcels are overgrazed. It’s hard to police the vast amount of land, said Ms. Lambertson. And with the overgrazing comes soil erosion and other eco-system damaging problems.
I met with an absolutely fascinating teacher in Rawlins, Wyoming today. Dave Chladeck teaches at a Cooperative High School here for students struggling with regular high school – because of pregnancy, drugs and alcohol, attention deficit disorder… Before, virtually 10 out of 10 of these types of students who would initially drop out — never graduate. Now it’s close to 4 out of 10 thanks to the program. Chladeck, who has taught at this school for five years, said he attributes a lot of the success rate to using a “Boys Town Discipline.” Patterend after the Boy’s Town model out of Nebraska, acting out students aren’t merely given short, sclolding reprimands (“Ralph Knock It Off!) ; but are rather engaged in (sometimes lengthy) dialogue about what might be causing the negative behavior, how it could be averted in the future, and so on. Chladeck said he doubted initially that this would work, but he said it has been marvelously. And what’s more, many of the students’ self esteem levels seem to be building in kind with the approach.
Liz had taken the kids to a Lewis and Clark presentation at the Rawlins, Wyoming Library and I was out about town walking Jonathan in his stroller. As I came around the corner, there it was: The Daily Times. Publisher Dave Perry was standing behind the front counter when I walked in. I told him I was running for president. Not being a household name, yet, Perry looked at me a bit askance. Since I didn’t have any news clips with me, I handed him a campaign button and said: “I really am running for president.” He smiled, looked up and replied: “Well of course you are, you have a button.” Later that afternoon during an interview, I told Perry we travel looking for things we think are worthwhile. When we find them, we tell others about them with the hopes of planting seeds. I used the example of a stone that just went up in front of St. Joseph’s Church here with the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. “If displays of the Commandments are being taken from public venues, what’s keeping us from displaying them as prominently as possible in private venues (like church front lawns, homeowners’ front lawns),” I told Perry. What’s more, I added I would talk about what we saw at St. Joseph’s in Rawlins all over the country.
In Rawlins, Wyoming, I met with Terry Weickum, who is running for county commissioner. He had run for city council previously, and lost by 8 votes. He said he’s quite studied on the issues of the area and likes to shoot from the hip, so to speak. “Trying to be ‘politically correct’ kills me,” he said. He is running as a Republican, but if he’s elected he said that’s where partisan politics will stop. He said if he hears a good idea, whether it comes from a Republican, Democrat, or whoever, he’ll get behind it. “Congress should run that way as well,” he said with conviction.
In Rawlins, Wyoming (pop. 9,000 ), I interviewed Dan Mika who runs the Parks Department and is on the Tree Advisory Board for the town. Mika said in Rawlins he tries to be ‘hard on grass.’ That is, he said the area topography is high desert and he is adverse to putting in grass lawns which often lead to waste and is quite damaging to the eco-system. He said the waste includes using water to merely keep the grass green and the use of chemical fertilizers, weed killers and pesticides are major sources of ground water pollution. I also met with Mark Williams, a fire expert with the Bureau of Land Management here. Williams majored in Ecology at the University of North Dakota. He said while there are some good parts to the recently passed Healthy Forest Restoration Act, it tries to prescribe a uniform forest mangagement plan for all forests in the country. He said species diversity, and so on, is different for different forests in different parts of the country, and management should be tailored to fit each specific forest region. He also said the continual building of new roads for logging, etc., are also creating ecological problems. For instance, dirty pick up trucks coming from other parts of the country have seeds of weeds and other non-indigenous plants that start to alter, and damage, the existing local eco-system.
After being interviewed by the editor of the Intermountain Catholic newspaper, we headed to Heber City, Utah where we attended a seminar by a professor from Bellerman University. Fr. George talked about the rather famous, late monk and author Thomas Merton and his efforts at promoting peace. Merton was adverse to weapons, and especially nuclear weapons. Fr. George said Merton noted that war propaganda most always has it that: The enemy’s bombs are always from “Hell,” while our bombs are always the instrument of “Divine Justice.” And as far back as the 1960s, Fr. George said Merton noted when a society was rife with all kinds of sin (drugs, violence, illicit sex, rampant materialism…), it goes into denial. And part of this denial is not being able to face the “evil” within, so the society picks a scapegoat without and calls it “evil” — so it has something to fight and get it’s collective mind off it’s own problems. Sound familiar?
We stopped back in Wendover, Utah. Our story had run in the Wendover Times, with our proposal about the U.S. Department of Peace — right next to an Associated Press article about government scientists just performing an underground nuclear test at the Nevada Test site. The article noted that anti-nuclear groups criticize these type of “subcritical experiments” as contrary to the spirit of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And more, just prior to the start of the Iraq War last year, I posed this to ABC News out of Toledo, Ohio: “What if we let the U.N. weapons inspectors into, say, Montana? What would they find? Some 2,000 weapons of mass destruction aimed all over the world?” Double standard?
We stopped back in Winnemucca, Nevada, where we met with the mayor. He said when he first became mayor 18 years ago, most streets were gravel, the downtown was a hodge-podge of residential trailers and mercantile buildings and the city government was, oh, lacking in a bit of efficiency. Now he said the streets are paved, there is a solid, consistent downtown mecantile section and a much more well-oiled government. He said a key has been having a dedicated Planning Commission, improved camaraderia between the mayor’s office and city council and good, old-fashion volunteerism throughout town. Later I was invited to Winnemucca’s Senior Center where I was introduced by the director, then I went table to table shaking hands and passing out literature. I said part of how we viewed “social security” was not just about a fund, but also about reestablishing the elderly as esteemed members of the community, as it was in the “old days,” and as it is still in other cultures. I said that in the old days, young children used to gather around pot belly stoves in General Stores watching the seniors playing checkers and telling stories. Not anymore. However I said, wouldn’t it be great if Senior Centers started reviving this a bit with, say, weekly story telling nights the town youth could attend. At one table today I met a retired social worker who has two daughters living in Fairbanks, Alaska. I gave him some extra campaign fliers to send to them. “You mean you’re not going to campaign in Alaska?” He asked. I said Liz and I would like to, but I pointed to our three young children and said of the Alaskan Highway: “Three hundred miles between ‘potty stops!'”
We’ve started to head back east and stopped first in tiny Lovelock, Nevada where we passed out a few flyers. Here we learned that the Humbolt Trail came through here bringing 165,000 emigrants in the 1840s and ’50s as part of the Westward Expansion. The emigrants named this particular valley area the “Big Meadows” and stopped here for water and grass for their oxen, before heading across the “dreaded” 40 mile desert, the most difficult leg of the trip to California. Having just been through that desert ourselves on the way back east, we stopped for some yougurt at the Safeway Grocery. Then, instead of grass for the oxen, we got some petro for the “average Joe” mobiles at a gas station that had, perhaps, the oddest name for a gas station that we’d encountered in the country: “Two Stiffs Selling Gas” is the name. I inquired inside and was told in the early ’30s a father and son started the “filling station.” Thier last name: Stiff. Well, of course.