Day 6a – Heartland

Sean’s Journal: Hi, Dad. Thanks for your update on my sweet sisters and the new house. I look forward to helping you put the finishing touches on our new home when I return. Vince, thanks for your perspective on the extremes of our American society. I hope things simmer down and our national leaders can reduce the divisiveness we feel. 

This morning, I traveled through Badlands National Park. I can see why they call it Badlands. The mountains look like a coarse saw blade, all jagged and pointy. The government shutdown has cramped my style a little, but the scenery is great. Some of my favorite movies have had segments filmed here: Armageddon, Dances with Wolves, How the West Was Won, and Thunderheart with Val Kilmer. Thunderheart is a fictionalized account of the Wounded Knee incident that occurred in 1973. It is one of those movies that seems all-too-real and not “Hollywoodized.” I am often saddened as I learn more about the historical struggles of Native Americans. If I recall, you’ve had some positive experiences with the Navajo Nation in Arizona where you grew up. Tell me more. 

The Not-so-Badlands

I’m taking Highway 83 south through Nebraska to get back to I80. I passed through a couple of cool Nebraska towns: Valentine and North Platte. In North Platte, I drove past the fire station where some firefighters were standing outside taking a coffee break. Thankfully, there were no fires to put out. I hung out with them briefly and asked what motivated them and how they felt about America. They felt committed to the safety of their community, but they are really frustrated by the government shutdown that is affecting local families. They think Congress should be able to disassociate the country’s routine operating budget from the building of a wall.    

This is going to be a long day of driving. I got some snacks along the way. I passed one large open area where there was a radio-controlled model airplane show going on. Apparently, this is a big thing in Nebraska. It’s a good way for Americans to get happy. I watched for a while. Very cool. It was getting late in the day when I decided to pull off the highway and into the town of Holdrege, NE. As I looked for a place to eat, I saw a family on the front lawn of their home all working to plant little pine trees. I had to stop. I asked them about what makes Americans happy. In unison, they replied, “Trees.” These were my kind of people. They went on to say that they had plenty of cornfields (which was obvious), but that Nebraskans needed to add their own trees. This was their family project for the evening. There was one of those cool, red, Nebraska barns behind their house.

This is Vince & Marie’s small barn at their Owl’s Nest among the pine and juniper trees they love.

So, this long day is making my journal entry long, but hopefully meaningful for you as it has been for me. This may turn into a Day 6a and a Day 6b, depending on what lies ahead this evening. My destination is Lincoln, NE. I’m going to stay at a convenient campground between here and there. So, goodnight dear family and my traveling buddy, Vince.

Vince’s Response: Wow! What a day. You’re “on the road” and doing your thing by learning what makes Americans happy. As you know, my son and I traveled that I80 route through Nebraska about three decades ago. It sounds like many things are the same—in a good way. The one thing I will comment on this evening is your curiosity about my experiences with Arizona’s Navajo Nation. 

I feel that I have a real affinity for Native Americans owing to three interactions I’ve had with the Navajo people and their culture. First, my maternal grandma loved everything Navajo: rugs, pottery, and especially turquoise jewelry. She was a beautiful lady who had a great Arizona suntan and very dark hair that she often wore in a long braid hanging down her back. I think she looked like a Navajo chief’s wife. She loved the Navajo people.

Secondly, during the summers, my dad hired a cool Navajo man named Don to help with the big summer projects on our small 20-acre ranch in Phoenix. He was about 40 years old and had experienced some challenging situations back home on the reservation. I was just a teenager, but he and I would talk about life. I would cheer him up and he’d do the same for me as I struggled with being a teenager. We formed a true man-to-man friendship.

Later in my life, after Marie and I moved back to Arizona for a time, my youngest son and I would travel to Chinle on the reservation to do community service projects sponsored by our church congregation there. We had many positive shoulder-to-shoulder interactions with the Navajo people. The highlight of one trip to Chinle was to have one of our friends give us a personal, official Native American tour of Canyon De Chelly National Monument. Google it. This is one of the most beautiful, serene, and spiritual places I have ever visited. So, thus my affinity for the Navajo people. We’ll share some more about your evening and the new day ahead. That’ll be Sunday.

Bookends: (1) Pray for our government leaders. (2) Discover Native American cultural treasures. (3) Plant trees!        ­­­­