Saturday, April 27, 2013

Westward Expansion - Days 10 and 11

The past couple of days has been possibly the best days of our trip thus far, for a variety of reasons.  We are currently here in Cody, Wyoming, the heart of the Wild West and a small little town of about 8,000 people.  The wide open spaces are just as described, a bit barren and a lot windswept.  We all agree that Cody is a wonderful, homey little community with very friendly folks and a place we could imagine living in...if it weren't so darned far from everything else and if it was a bit greener.

Traveling off season has been a bit peculiar for us.  For example, we are staying in a large lodge that during peak season has two floors full of rooms along with outbuildings with additional accommodations.  Tonight we are here with 2 other couples in the whole hotel, and they lock up the lobby at 8:00 PM and go staff on site.  However, traveling off season has its perks as you don't wait in line for anything, you have unobstructed views of places like Mount Rushmore, and the rates are far, far lower.  The downside is that this is a summer extravaganza town, and many of the attractions are closed until Memorial Day.  The trade off is worth it for us, as this is the month Dominick is normally quite slow in auto detailing, so we lose less income being gone this time of year, the same as with late fall.  Homeschooling allows us to go on a trip when it hurts our family the least, financially speaking.

We have laughed each day as God appears to have smiled on us, weatherwise. When we left Sioux Falls for Cody, we had a huge snowstorm we were driving through.  We were all a little disappointed as we were hoping to catch sight of Devils Tower, but the snow flurries were so bad we saw a sign along the road which indicated which way to look and we couldn't see a thing.  Hoping we might still learn something from the Visitor's Center, and not realizing they were closed, we kept driving and entered the National Park where the conditions only got worse.  Dominick was considering turning around and giving up when we came to the parking lot.  As we got out of Jorge, we were stunned to look behind us and see the sun peaking momentarily through the clouds, allowing us an uninhibited view of Devils Tower for about 10 minutes.  It was so unusual, as we looked off in the distance and in all directions the snow was flying, but right where we were, it had abated and sunlight cast down upon us.  Knowing we had just minutes to take photos, we all rushed out with cameras and walked in all directions capturing what we could.

Five minutes before we got out of the car, this is what it looked like...

Quick!  Take a pic!


Still a little hazy because it is technically still snowing a little.

Kenny and Matthew rushing to see it.

 I was so glad we had the chance to catch a glimpse of it.  Matthew decided he'd like to come back and try to climb it one day...I told him I'd sit at the bottom and cheer him on :-)

Then we were off...

Part of what has made the past couple of days so enjoyable was the two places we visited which surprised us with their terrific exhibits.  Yesterday, after pulling into town, we visited the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, where we spent about four hours looking at all the exhibits.  This place was FANTASTIC!!!!  It houses the largest American gun collection with over 4600 firearms, dating back to the 1600's.  It has a wonderful Western Art Gallery, a Plains Native American Exhibit, a wildlife exhibit, and the most interesting of all, the exhibit hall dedicated the Buffallo Bill's life.  We didn't expect to enjoy it as much as we did, but the exhibits were so well done and creative, and the Center has obviously done a good job of keeping current as their displays were filled with modern technology such as Q Codes for smart phones to look up more information while standing right there, etc.  We learned so much about Buffallo Bill, aka William Cody,who was a character in history that neither Dominick nor I knew much about.  His life was so varied, and Joshua said he appreciated that they didn't try to present him as perfect, but talked about his troubled family life, his mistakes, and did justice to the whole man.  What an entrepreneur he was, who died virtually penniless but had lived a life few ever would.  The exhibits in all areas of the Center appealed to all ages, and though we all found the firearms exhibit the least interesting, one could see how a historical gun buff could get lost in there for hours.

Ready to go learn about Buffallo Bill!

This was so intriguing to everyone, a hologram of sorts displayed on a mist you could put your hand through or walk through.

There were three or four different saddles displayed for you to sit on and feel the differences between various styles.

Kenny's pullover for the day matched the carriage!

The exhibits really appealed to all ages, something that doesn't always happen at museums. Information was shared in story form, and the kids all spent more time reading the signs than they ever had before at any other museum.

Olesya and Kenny look as interested in the prairie dog tunnels as Lewis and Clark were when they spent all day trying to capture one to send to Thomas Jefferson!

Again, great exhibits for younger and older students.

We lucked out and were there on a day when they also had live Birds of Prey out for us to see and learn about.  This was awesome, and the volunteers taught us a lot about predators that we have in our own area:

Seeing a Golden Eagle up close is very impressive.

A turkey vulture is...well...ugly and bald.  It was interesting to seethe girls' reaction when we explained what "carion" was :-)

At the end of our visit, the kids hit the very large gift shop.  So far, they have all spent very little other than purchasing sunglasses for themselves, and Olesya bought a wolf statue.  Joshie has saved over $600 from his winter working with Dominick the past two years, and does not yet want to make any big purchases.  He brought along $50 to spend, but hasn't seen much he liked...until now.  He was trying to decide between two stuffed animals, and spent 20 minutes or so looking at them, holding them, and trying to pick one.  Finally, I looked at him and said, "Josh, if you like them both so much, why don't you get both of them?  You have enough money, and it wouldn't be wasting it if you really want them."  His face burst into a huge grin as he said, "That's a great idea...I think I'll do it!", and off he went:

It's so funny to see him at 10 years old still loving on stuffies and unashamed of it.  Josh is a complete contradiction, as he is a little old man stuck in a young boys body, and yet there is this part of him that is so sweet and tender, still younger in some ways than others his age.  Definitely not immature, and maybe just confident enough to be who he really is.  Pictures like this are what every mom dreams of who has a kid with Reactive Attachment Disorder.  Josh is going to make a very, very loving husband and father someday.

Today, after sleeping in, we went for a leisurely drive to the next town over, where we visited the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, which explained the lives of the Japanese Americans who were held at the Heart Mountain Internment Camp during WWII.  This is a new facility, and though relatively small it is marvelous, and like the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, the weaving of story with exhibits had us moving much more slowly through the museum than we otherwise would have.  

Wow, did we learn a lot!  Every single one of us talked later about how it brought it all to life in a new way, how they felt the injustice of it all, and how they had no idea the scale of what had been done to our Japanese American citizens.  We spoke in the van at length afterward about what it would feel like if we had been in their shoes, and how very real that all feels today when one considers our recent history and the plight of Muslim Americans who were immediately under suspicion after the events of 9/11.  With the Boston Bombing last week, we wondered aloud if something like Heart Mountain could ever happen again in America, and sadly, we all recognized that fear causes people to act in ways they otherwise might not, it brings out the very worst in people...and yes, we actually could see it happening again.  

We talked about the contradiction between "America the Great", and indeed how great a country it is, and "America who has failed from time to time" and not lived up to what we are called to be by our Founding Fathers.  Angela was deeply moved by the statement at the end of the museum which reminded us that the Constitution is just a piece of paper and is worthless if not backed up by those who wish to uphold it.  It is sobering to think how quickly the Constitution was set aside by Americans as they rounded up innocent people and imprisoned them for over 3 years.  Josh's indignance was evident when he said, "So how was that different than Hitler and the Jews other than we didn't torture or kill them?  We were no better."  I am glad they are all learning to evaluate things independently, as we talked about understanding things from the "middle" allowing one to actually take in and process both the positives and negatives from either side, rather than having a knee jerk reaction based upon party line, patriotism, etc.  In asking them all what true patriotism really means, we had some very deep thoughts expressed by each of the kids as we talked about Guantanamo Bay, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pearl Harbor and more.  Are those who protest wars unpatriotic?  Are those who call our government out when an injustice is done patriots?  Are soldiers patriots who fight in wars that may have fuzzy logic applied to our engagement?  These are tough, tough questions to ask at any age, and field trips to places like Heart Mountain help stir those conversations at deeper levels.

The exterior of the Center.

Kenny looking at racist cartoon art from none other than Dr. Seuss.

Olesya and all the kids were floored to learn how many young men still served in the war, despite what their country had done to them and their family.  The military division which was comprised of the Japanese Americans ended up being the most decorated in military history.

When viewing a mock up of a typical barracks home for 7-8 people we all agreed that though it wouldn't be desirable, our family would be able to handle it well.

Man, was this one overlooked by an entire country, or what?

Oh's still happening in Guantanamo...

We never learn, do we?  As Angela reminded us all, history always repeats itself.  In this case, the skin color is different, but the action is the same.  Out of sight, out of mind, as long as it doesn't affect us we simply don't care, even though we fail to recognize that at any time, it COULD be us.

As many wonderful things as we have seen, the best times have been nothing splashy.  Playing cards in the hotel lobby and "closing it down", doing laundry at the laundromat as we all folded clothes.  How I love that as everyone else sat there around a table, yet again playing cards, the moment they saw me up to move laundry or take it out to fold I had no less than two kids offer to help immediately...boys and girls alike.  What a gift something as simple as "teamwork" is in a family!  

We have a real system down now for loading and unloading the van at each stop, and are quite speedy about it now. I go in and get the registration taken care of,  Dominick finds the luggage cart while the boys open the back and start grabbing luggage.  Olesya cleans out the day's garbage out of the van while Angela organizes everyone once Dominick gets back and they pack it all on the luggage cart.  We have one cooler, one large plastic tub on a rack at the back of the van which holds snacks,  dirty laundry, extra drinks, you name it.  We also have  four large suitcases, 6 backpacks, a "game bag" with cards, Quirkle and Rummikub, and that's about it.  A lot to move in and out, but we do it in less than 10 minutes.  So far, Kenny has only lost the boys' room toothpaste, but he has almost left his camera two or three times in various places, his jacket, rechargeable batteries...hmm...oh yea, and we have had to pull him back out of the street twice when his lack of awareness would have gotten him hit by a car.  Not bad for 2 weeks out!  Thank goodness we have many sets of eyes on him :-)  I'll tell you though, you can't find a more helpful soul.  I am also treated to all three of the boys almost never failing to open the van door for me, which I find to be quite sweet.  The girls and I are still enjoying our much cleaner room, and wondering just how bad it will be at our next stop, when we actually have a family suite to share.  We have vowed that we will not let them get away with keeping their room so shoddy when we are stuck with them!

Tonight, as we were sitting in the lobby and Dominick and the kids were trying to teach me how to play "Scum", a card game, the receptionist was puttering around picking things up for the evening when she came over and tapped me on the shoulder.  I looked up and she said, "That's a nice collection of kids you have there!".  We all laughed at how she worded it, not because we were offended but because it was sort of cute and we knew she meant it kindly.  At a restaurant tonight our young waitress obviously couldn't tell we were a family and asked if we were all from the same place.  Angela and I seem to be the ones who find this the most interesting, and we have noticed that on this trip, for some reason, people are having  a harder time figuring us out. Is it the kids' ages?  Is it that we are out during a time of year when kids are usually in school?  Is it that we don't match and are in Caucasian Territory with little color around us? I have no idea, but something has definitely made it even harder for people to figure us out...even when everyone is saying "Mom and Dad".  

It's been a lovely, educational time so far.  We have learned a LOT, and have a list of things to read more about once we get home including Buffalo Bill, Harry Truman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frederic Remington (Matthew really liked his work), and we want to learn more about the period of Japanese Internment.  One thing we have learned though, is just how much we enjoy each other even though everyone is gradually growing older.  I am grateful, grateful, grateful to be so enjoying this stage of life with our kids, as many I know really suffer during these ages. I know we still could, but for now I'll take what we have and squeeze it for all its worth.  

Tomorrow, on to Yellowstone, geysers, a bear or two we hope as they are Angela's favorite and we'd love to see one in the wild, and who knows what all else!!  It's supposed to be stormy, so we'll just have to see what happens. The past two weeks weren't quite as removed from "real life" as we had expected, but this week should be  more so and it will be nice to just tune out, and tune in to simply being together, playing together, and loving one another as we explore a beautiful landscape...even if it is snow covered!!


Anonymous said...

There is a great book about Japanese Internment camps written by a fellow Kaz mom named Cynthia Kadahota. It is called Weedflower. It might be a nice way to learn more about what the camps were like.

Enjoy the rest of your trip!

Anonymous said...

There was a camp (Utah, I think) with a room per family--oh, make that a stall--an old racing stable. There was at least one camp in Colorado. I think it was in Otero County.

May you see lions and tigers and bears, oh my--or bisons and elks and bears, oh joy, oh LaJoy.