Two days ago, a dear 2nd cousin of mine was severely hurt in a fire. Today she is in a trauma ICU on a long road to recovery. She is a beautiful young lady with a beautiful spirit deep inside. And she is constantly on my mind and in my heart. Her mother, my 1st cousin, is one of my best friends in life who has been a wonderful source of encouragement and inspiration to me. Many times she has been my personal cheerleader when no one else is around; always just a phone call away. So, today, I am reposting this story with some revisions to hopefully portray the strong yet gentle beauty that both these cousins have lovingly revealed to me:
Time frame: late 1980’s. While attending college in Minnesota I embarked on a quest to find my cousin, Kathy whom I last seen at age 10. I had told my roommate about her and she encouraged me to try to find her. We last saw each other when we were 10 years old when she, her mom, and dad came to visit us in Wisconsin. When we were five, my mother took a photo of us in the kitchen. When we were 10, we visited on the front lawn on a warm summer evening and I piled kittens on her lap. I thought those kittens were so cute but I am not sure she liked having them all on top of her. While I grew up on a farm in the Midwest, Kathy lived in southern California. Kathy’s parents divorced when she was 11; she could not return to visit her Wisconsin relatives. She also couldn’t travel easily because she had cerebral palsy and used a wheelchair. My immediate family never traveled as far as California. We lost contact with Kathy during the years following the divorce. Although I only met my cousin just a few times in my life, I often wondered about her.
Determined to find Kathy, I met with my grandmother who had written her occasionally and she had written back. But, time again passed so my grandmother could only give me Kathy’s last known address. To make things more complicated, my cousin had married acquiring a different last name. My grandmother couldn’t remember her new last name. Not wanting to give up, I wrote Kathy a heart-felt letter using the wrong address and the wrong name mailing it with a stamp and a sincere prayer. I needed to believe that God would answer my prayer.
Weeks and even a month passed. One day, I arrived at my apartment and found a letter from California. The return address contained an unfamiliar last name but as soon as I saw “Kathy”, I knew it was from my cousin. I could hardly believe it. Eagerly, I opened the letter and found that Kathy had poured out her soul in that long, detailed letter. She described some incredible events in her life. She unexpectedly gave birth to a baby girl.
Doctors told her that she couldn’t get pregnant. Sometime later, Kathy began experiencing extreme pain and was taken to an urgent care clinic. She was misdiagnosed as having a kidney stone or perhaps a bladder infection. The very next day and while on medication for a possible bladder infection, she returned to the clinic due to increasing pain. She was found to be in labor and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Kathy and her husband were shocked and amazed for the unexpected and miraculous birth of their daughter, Kristie Lee.
Through the years, Kristie would be an inspiring source of joy to her parents, relatives, friends, and to all who truly get to know her. She would prove herself to be intellectually brilliant, artistic, and to have an eye for beauty she discovers in nature. She also possesses inside her soul a quiet and tender spirit which you might not see unless; you truly take time to know her.
Later Kathy told me that she and her husband tried to revisit her urgent care doctor who had treated her. With her newborn daughter in her arms, Kathy wanted to show him her beautiful but misdiagnosed “kidney stone.” They were promptly told that the doctor was no longer at that clinic. Can you imagine the shock and surprise of everyone in that waiting room?
I wrote again and we began corresponding; by letter and by phone. We became more than cousins but friends who could talk about anything. While Kathy told me about her married life and cute stories of her young daughter, I told her about my job working with adults with developmental disabilities, family in Wisconsin, and my personal life. We shared about our common faith in Jesus. While Kathy had married, I had remained single which enabled me to do some limited traveling taking in time and limited budget considerations. At this point though, most of my solo journeys were short excursions to Wisconsin to visit family and friends. I had made occasional trips to Iowa too. Like I said, limited traveling.
Several years later, Kathy invited me to visit her in California and I was terrified, “I actually have to get on a plane?” Later and with lingering fear I was up for the adventure of traveling cross country. My first journey to San Diego was a direct flight taking about a three and half hours across mostly sunny skies; I watched from my window the changing view of cities, forests, and mountains. Farms resembled quilt blocks of grassland and crop fields.
When the jet journeyed downward, the rising topaz-tinted desert appeared on one side of the plane and the deep-blue ocean on my side. Sun rays brightened the clear sky and glimmered on the ocean’s surface making the scene sparkle like a sapphire gem. This picturesque view showed me God was there and was blessing my journey. Apprehensive though, I braced for the final approach as the jet glided towards land and jolted as it touched ground.
At the airport gate, I gathered my belongings, and walked through a curving tunnel. With nervousness, I rounded the last corner stepping into the terminal. The afternoon sun glistened through the airport’s vaulted windows and in the midst of a blinding glow; I glimpsed my cousin in her wheelchair. After 17 years we had reunited. I hurried to give Kathy the warmest hug I could.
“Welcome cousin,” she said in such a warm voice that I forgot my shyness. Kathy, a sensitive and loving person and we soon felt like sisters and even best friends. During this visit I became acquainted with Kathy’s husband and her daughter, Kristie. While I visited that first time, we managed to visit both Disneyland and SeaWorld. Surprisingly, Disneyland was a disappointment especially for Kathy. Many exhibits and attractions would advertise that they were “handicap accessible” but they really weren’t so; at least not for someone who is in a wheelchair. We did find one interesting attraction that was truly accessible; the Mark Twain Steamboat ride. Kathy was easily able to maneuver onto the boat and find a safe place to park her chair. We all enjoyed the gentle and scenic excursion along their recreation of “Mississippi River”.
Disneyland did have a few other attractions that interested young Kristie and one include “It’s a Small World after all”; a small boat ride through a series of scenes depicting children of all nationalities. Also, I still remember the Alice in Wonderland Teacup for Two Ride. This amusement ride is comparable to the Tit A Whirl which you might see at county fairs. Kristie and I climbed aboard our little teacup and waited for the rid to begin. She notice a turning wheel in the center of our teacup, “What is that for?”
“I don’t know,” I answered and then tried turning the wheel. We found out that the wheel caused the teacup to spin. So I instructed Kristie, “Oh! That makes us spin around. Let’s leave it alone.”
Four year old Kristie did not leave the wheel alone; she did the exact opposite by turning and cranking that wheel as hard as she could. By the way, Kristie is no weakling; when she cranked that wheel, she made it spin faster than any other teacup on that ride. I was convinced we were the fastest spinning teacup in all of America. I became dizzy as the world blurred around me. Finally, our unstoppable teacup came to a halt as the ride ended. I have never forgotten that ride or the adventurous spirit hidden in Kristie.
SeaWorld proved to be interesting as all wildlife exhibits and presentations there were truly accessible for Kathy; this made our visit more enjoyable for all. While there we saw two orca whales, Shamu and Baby Shamu who we learned was just a few weeks old and shared the same birthday as Kristie. We could see Mother Shamu teaching Baby to swim and turn in the large pool. Another highlight was seeing the splashing, playful dolphins. As I held Kristie in my arms, one eager dolphin flew in the water to our side of the pool showering us in a huge spray of water and parked itself next to Kristie. Kristie was soaked from head to toe but she delightedly reached out to pet the friendly animal. Over the years, I would also see that Kristie held a special love and fondness for animals and somehow they were attracted to her. She had rescued a number of cats and dogs who became pets. And when one passes away she deeply grieves and suffers a broken heart. At such moments, I realize that she has the softest heart of anyone I know.
Over time, I visited my cousin Kathy and her family as much as I could. We went on adventures together forging new memories and deepening our friendship. We also shared bus-related misadventures and trips to the beach on warm, sunny days. In one bus related mishap, Kathy was stuck, mid-air, on a broken bus lift and we waited hours under a steamy summer sun for her to be rescued. In another misadventure, we boarded the wrong city bus but did not realize this until the bus turned onto Eucalyptus Street heading in the wrong direction. We then got off the bus as soon as we could and endured a long walk home in the dark as no more buses were available that late in the day.
Also taxis were not an option as I was not strong enough to transfer Kathy into a car seat. During this time, accessible transportation options for my cousin were very limited. To keep ourselves calm, we kept up a steady conversation and prayed for God to keep us safe. Kathy’s courage inspired me to remain brave. Today, I don’t remember what our conversation entailed; I just remember the long walk along those California streets in the darkness like venturing through a dimly lit tunnel. Also, Kathy at this point used a manual wheelchair so I pushed her along until we were safely home. I have no doubt that Jesus was watching over us during that journey in the darkness.
Some years later, we camped on Mount Palomar where the sun-filtering forest surrounded us like a colorful, woven blanket handmade by God; it was a quiet refuge from the demanding world far below. We basked in nature’s peacefulness venturing through the woods, picnicking, and relaxing around a campfire. We visited Mount Palomar Observatory and stayed up late looking through large telescopes, set up in a mountain meadow, to view stars, planets and nebulas. Kathy’s husband and I took turns pushing Kathy’s wheelchair through the long grass so she could gaze through as many telescopes as she wanted. It was a special evening of admiring God’s glowing creations, glittering like jewels embedded in the deep night sky.
The tranquil, emerald-colored mountain was a vivid contrast to the traffic-filled streets, and the sun-scorched climate of Kathy’s everyday life. Years later, she and her family moved to Washington State where they were amid perpetual greenery. Kathy’s daughter, Kristie, who is an artist and nature lover often shoots photos depicting nature’s inspiring beauty. She once asked me, “Do you remember how green it was on Mount Palomar? Well, it’s like that here but it’s everywhere.” The experience of Mount Palomar affected us all and remained a cherished memory in our hearts.
Over the years we’ve all persevered through life’s heartaches and disappointments praying and encouraging each other. In the same year, Kathy’s father passed away, my mother unexpectedly died; together we faced each family holiday with grieving hearts and feeling the emptiness of our parents being gone too soon.
We also encouraged each other in new aspirations. Kristie has grown up and continues to bravely forge out a new life of her own; life is not always easy but she courageously endures and keeps pressing on in sheer determination. She is an example of strength and bravery like I have never seen. In recent years, Kathy, growing in confidence and a desire to do more in her life, took on the tasks of completing her college degree and exploring professional work opportunities. She has earned one college degree and is working on another. We all have met unseen challenges and continue to endure the next chapters of our lives.
Several summers ago, I visited Kathy in her Washington home and we again indulged our adventurous spirits by hiking around woodsy Lake Padden. It was a long, winding journey with a paved trail circling the shimmering lake. The thick green forest surrounded us like a warm and familiar cloak. I instantly remembered Mount Palomar where we had camped, hiked in the mountains, and gazed at the stars. Kathy now used a motorized wheelchair and could easily propel herself up and down the sloping hills of that curving, woodsy trail. However, I worried about the battery losing its charge as we wandered along. This had happened before with one of Kathy’s previous motorized chairs. Thankfully, that had been a lighter wheelchair; I just needed to switch the gears to manual and push her home.
But now if that battery died, I realized I wouldn’t be able to push her back home again. Not this time as the chair was much heavier. But Kathy knew her wheelchair and her battery readings better than I; she was confident and eager to continue our trek. We finished our journey and with a beaming smile, she exclaimed, “That was my first rolling hike.”
When I think of Kathy and her family, I remember the love and friendship we all share; I also am reminded of God’s words about treasures in heaven when in Matthew 6:20-21 of the Holy Bible we are told, “but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there your heart will also be”. I went on a quest to find a lost cousin. In return, I had found a new sister and a lifelong friend. I also treasure the friendship I share with her daughter, Kristie. Each friendship is an unseen treasure granted from God in heaven and a precious gift instilled in my heart.
Learning Something New
The love of picturesque walks in nature is shared by my friend Cindy who lives in Wyoming. I went to visit Cindy and her daughter Briana and they introduced me to a new sport: geocaching. Geocaching is a high-tech sport requiring the use of the Internet, and a handheld global positioning system (GPS) device. It often involves long walks, detective work, and a sense of adventure to find a hidden container known as the cache. I enjoy adventures; they add spice to everyday life. So, with this sense of adventure, my friends take me on several geocaching hunts. In doing so we embark on several hikes in the Wyoming wilderness finding that the true reward in geocaching is enjoying the walk and discovering scenic places while finding a secret container.
The Appeal of Geocaching
The desire to track and find the hidden cache is appealing challenge; like a treasure hunt and I am hooked. Since then I have found hidden caches in Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin. I have now added the states of Washington and South Dakota to my list of geocache finds. These Cache containers can be hidden in easy to access locations requiring short walks and little effort while others are hidden in remote places requiring long hikes and an adventurous spirit. These latter are my favorites as I take time to enjoy the journey and the hunt.
A Light-Hearted Adventure
In Wisconsin I go geocaching with my niece, Amber, sharing adventures in tracking down the hidden containers. Amber has sharp eyes that will pierce through the darkest, shadowy places finding the elusive containers. We discover our first cache on geocaching.com entitled “Trout Haven”. I record the location coordinates in my GPS and we follow its direction to a little-known wilderness area containing a small creek flowing beneath an old, dilapidated bridge, long grass, and trees. When we arrive, we spot two other people there and assume they are fisherman.
Next day we return when no one is around. My GPS indicates the cache is near a certain large tree. I circle the tree plunging unknowingly into a deep, soggy, marsh where thick, tall grass blades surround me like a small forest of young saplings and I am soaked to my ankles. Caches are often hidden so they are protected from nature’s elements. Knowing this, I climb back to dry ground focusing on a different side of the tree. I and Amber search in crevices and hollowed out areas. I look closer at the base of the tree noticing something hidden under a loose slab of tree bark. Peering closer, I spy a camouflaged peanut butter jar; we find the cache. We discover later that the “fishermen’ had been geocache seekers also and we still laugh about this.
A Wintry Hunt
Amber and I reference the geocaching.com site again embarking on another hunt in a park for a cache known as “Broken and Twisted”. A wintry chill fills the clear, blue sky and the snow is deep. I park my car where it will not get stuck resulting in a longer walk to the cache. We follow the direction my GPS indicates forging a new path through the heavy blanket of gleaming white snow and into the quiet woods where dark trees, motionless as statues, stand stripped of their leafy crowns. The snow makes the trek difficult but we will not give up. We trudge further into the woods finding ourselves underneath a large, arching, twisted branch.
My GPS reads, “00.00” feet meaning we are near the elusive cache Amber’s piercing eyes are at work as she searches upward into the dangling, broken tree limb, “I see it” and promptly reaches for a small object lodged high in the tree branch (this time a black 35 mm film container). Then I realize I had forgotten a pen as this cylinder container is too small to have one but it does have a small log for recording our visit. My niece is not happy with me. Oops.
Nature’s Unseen Choir
I engage in plenty of geocache hunts where I am unsuccessful in finding the hidden container; I revisit the same places to try again and I know the extra walking is good exercise for me. One place I return to find hidden caches is a wilderness area near my home in Minnesota; eventually, I find the caches. For each visit I endure at least 30 to 40 minutes of fast-paced walking beneath a long canopy of green foliage circumventing a quiet lake. I see red-winged blackbirds fluttering and swooping between the trees while ducks float in the lapping water. Sounds of singing birds fill the air. In the evening frogs and crickets announce their presence with their chorus of croaks and chirps escalating to an incredible ear-splitting crescendo; I marvel at the melody of this unseen choir.
Geocaching has Interesting History
Geocaching is a new sport gaining popularity and is now in its 15th year. According to a “History of Geocaching” website, geocaching began in the year 2000 with a single hidden container near Portland, Oregon and one posting on the web; then new containers have been hidden in California, Kansas, and Illinois. The next secret container resides hidden in faraway Australia and from there it branches worldwide. This new game is based on using the global navigational system developed by the US Dept. of Defense using orbiting satellites.
Getting Started in Geocaching
Geocache sites are registered at geocaching.com and other websites. A geocache seeker must register and log on the website to access the most current information about hidden cache sites. This is important because geocache sites are sometimes temporarily disabled or permanently removed. For each hidden cache, the seeker obtains the longitude and latitude coordinates inputting them into his GPS device. Handheld GPS devices can be purchased at department stores, sporting goods store, and online. I had purchased mine from Amazon.com.
As a geocache seeker, I recommend double checking the coordinates to ascertain they have been entered correctly into the GPS. The geocache seeker will have an inaccurate reading if off by one digit resulting in failure to locate the hidden cache. I realize this mistake once when I find myself standing on the banks of the Minnesota River with my GPS indicating for me to continue trekking deep into the flowing current. Later I check my GPS entry against the website confirming an error.
Being Prepared for the Adventure
The hidden cache is a container usually full of trinkets, log book, and a writing utensil; some caches are too small to contain trinkets or a pen. The cache containers range in different shapes and sizes. A good idea is maintaining a small geocaching backpack or bag (I use a slightly oversized camera bag) with supplies including pen or pencil, tablet to write down extra clues from the website entry, trinkets, camera, and extra batteries for the GPS. Wearing hiking shoes and other appropriate apparel is wise along with having a cell phone. As in any sport, being safe and prepared enhances the geocaching adventure.
Finding the Cache
When a cache is found the geocache seeker records his registered geocache name and date in the log book as proof he has found the cache. He also has an option to make a trade with the selection of trinkets in the cache. The basic rule is to trade fairly or trade up. If a geocache seeker selects a trinket then he also adds a trinket of equal or higher value. In this manner, there is always a small “treasure” to be found by the next geocache seeker. Back at home, the geocache seeker logs back onto the geocaching website recording his progress and adding notes about his geocaching adventure. His entry becomes available for others to read.
A Breath-Taking View and Nourishment for the Soul
Several summers ago, I had returned to Wyoming to revisit my friends and we embark on several geocache hunts. One memorable experience involves climbing a small mountain to its peak and finding an old fire lookout station. This climb is a workout in maneuvering uphill over rocky and treacherous terrain and I realize that my Wyoming friends are in better physical shape than I. Even so, I am elated to be with them and eager to reach the top.
With joy and a sense of accomplishment, I made it to the peak with my friends. After viewing the old lookout station we search for the cache by checking for crevices in nearby rocks, looking under loose stones, and around trees. Cindy finds the cache and we all enjoy the scenery; a breathtaking, high-altitude, panoramic view of the hunter-green, forested valleys below and the distant, tree-topped mountains surrounding us. With longing, I gaze around letting the scene nourish my soul. This is the joy and the adventure of geocaching. I enjoy more scenic walks and discover new places in nature which I would never have known if I did not participate in the fun and the adventure of geocaching.
Lost in Wyoming (Part 3)
Well, I am still on my journey to visit my friends living in Wyoming. So far, the weather has been warm and beautiful with no hint of foul conditions along the way. It seems that God has seen fit to bless my little excursion as once again I drove along Interstate 90 with optimism and confidence. It never occurred to me that I would have any sort of difficulty. I had it all planned out in my head to drive into Buffalo, pull up to my friend’s house, and surprise her at her doorstep. I was sure I knew the way and so now set off without delay. A part of me knew that there is always some danger when on such a long journey but it seemed to me that things were going so very smoothly; I had no unusual fear or foreboding as I cruised along enjoying another day of glorious sunshine to light the way.
I had now crossed most of South Dakota and was edging closer to the Wyoming border. I remember seeing sunflower fields which also brightened my long journey and the scenery was changing as the flat terrain became hilly. And those hills became steeper and steeper as I drew nearer to the mountains. I stopped at a scenic outlook at one point to study the hills a bit and to gaze at the distant mountains now on the horizon. The slopes were rugged with blunt shapely edges as if God, the Creator and Artist, had reached down taking clumps of earth to hand sculpt these towering and protruding hillsides. I thought of a potter working with lumps of clay in his hands to lovingly create an awe inspiring masterpiece. No two hillsides looked the same. The grass is also different as it is a softer green than the vibrant hues you may see in Minnesota and Wisconsin. I stopped in scenic Rapid City for lunch and to gas up.
I am now seeing tourists’ signs for the Wall Drug Store/Wax Museum, the scenic Badlands, and Mt. Rushmore. All of these are very fine places to visit and see. Once again, I experienced a flood of memories as I recalled my mom and dad on our trip years ago visiting all those places. I also remembered touring through caves then also. Soon I was approaching the Wyoming border and a certain gas station with a long row of gas pumps. I never counted them but it was much more than usual as the store itself looked tiny compared to the elongated row of pumps. I don’t recall the name of the station but I do know there used to be this informational sign which warned drivers that this gas station would be the last one they’d see for many miles. As you might imagine, that piece of advertising worked as every car, truck, motorcycle, and camper pulled off to fill their gas tanks. And you probably guessed; it worked on me too as I didn’t relish becoming stranded in the middle of nowhere. Another factor in my decision making at this point was that now, according to my cell phone carrier, I was in a dead zone where my phone would not work. So if I have car trouble at this point, I couldn’t call for help.
Soon I had crossed the border cruising up and down the steep, wild hills of Wyoming. The country side itself emitted this wild and untamed sensation as for miles there was nothing but wilderness. I was seeing a lot of brush and clusters of trees; and very few farms or other housing. And the towns now seem very, very far apart. According the latest US Census, Wyoming is the least populated state of the US. And, apparently according the same census report, South Dakota is the fourth least populated state. As I continued along, I learned to recognize the bluish green sage brush along the way because my friend had pointed it out to me on a previous visit. Also there were these long, tall and strategically placed wooden fences all along either side of the interstate. These were not meant to pen in herds of animals. No, they had a very different purpose in which they were used to block snow from blowing across the highway as was explained to me. Now, I have never driven this way during the winter months and so I have no idea how well they worked. However, I am guessing that they are somewhat successful and make a noticeable difference in protecting this road because there seems to be quite a number of these long wooded barriers in place. And why would someone keep building and installing these fences if they didn’t work?
But as for fencing in the farm animals? Well, a lot of Wyoming is open range so the animals are free to wander. Many farmers and ranchers here do not use barbed wire fences, electric fences or any other type of fence to pen their herds of animals. This is so different from where I grew up in Wisconsin! There are some barriers in place such as these metal, gaping grates built in some driveways and some roads to keep the animals from crossing. And I think the interstate highway is somehow guarded too from wandering herds of animals although, I am not clear on that.
One time on a previous visit, my friend and I were sightseeing along a dirt backroad when we came across a dairy cow with a tag in her ear just nonchalantly standing in our way. We came to a complete halt as she was in no hurry to cross. I rolled down my window and kindly called out to her, “Hey Milking Cow Number 33, could you please move along?”
My friend who was driving burst into laughter but my remark had very little effect on the cow as she just stood and stared at us. Slowly though, she did decide to meander along.
One difference I noticed on my current trip was an increase in mining in this state. Companies hungry for new fuel resources were hard at work digging up this beautiful and pristine land. I saw a number of mining sites along the way. To me they were unsightly eye sores searing scars in the midst of Wyoming’s natural and wild beauty. From what I understand now, most of those mining operations have ceased and moved to other locations in their hunt for more fuel resources.
I hope those mining companies had plans in place to restore the land as much as they could to its former natural beauty but I don’t know if that was the case. And I do understand that mining is an important industry as we need to wisely use our own resources instead of depending on other countries. My father had worked in an iron mine near Black River Falls, Wisconsin while I was growing up. That mine is closed now and the land has been restored and even renovated into a beautiful county park known as Lake Wazee and is a serious tourist attraction. That lake is actually the former mining quarry and the water is as pure and clean as can be. It is about 355 feet deep at its deepest point and attracts boaters and scuba divers. There is also a camping area, beach and a swimming area. It costs a small fee to visit and there is a nearby sports store to rent or purchase water sport equipment and supplies. I enjoy visiting the park and walking along the wooded trails that surround the lake.
But as I drove along the Wyoming highway today, the coal and methane mines all were in full operation with plenty of huge trucks and heavy equipment transporting along the roads. As I drew nearer to Buffalo, the roads became more hilly and steep. I was nearing the mountains. As I reached the top of one steep hill I glanced in my rearview mirror and my heart pounded wildly in fear. For the first time on this trip I was meeting terror head on.
I saw a huge mining truck reach the crest of the hill I had just crossed. Most of the time large trucks move at a slower pace especially on steep grades. However, this driver knew how to shift and keep his vehicle clipping along at a very face pace. Several minutes earlier when I was atop that previous hill that truck had been many miles behind my car. It never dawned on me then that he would catch up so quickly. From judging how fast he had climbed that hill, I knew he would catch up to me in no time. That driver was in a race and this highway was his racetrack.
Now in full panic mode, I frantically wondered what to do. I was sure he would collide with me as I mentally envisioned that I and my car would become flatter than a pancake. What should I do? No room to pull off and no other roads to turn onto. I was afraid of speeding like he was. The road was curvy as well as hilly and I knew I could lose control. I checked the mirror again. That speeding missile on wheels was temporarily out of sight as it had dipped down between the two steep hills. And here I was a moving target about to be plowed and pummeled to death. I knew he’d be behind me in seconds. Should I move into the other lane? That seemed like a good idea but then I thought no. He may already have seen me (since I had also spotted him) and therefore may already be prepared to go around my car. If I moved now into the other lane while out of his eyesight, it could potentially goof him up. He may have already moved into that lane but I couldn’t tell. So, with a pounding heart, I stayed put in my lane driving as fast as I dared with white knuckles glued to the steering wheel. I prayed for God to welcome me into his beautiful home in heaven for I was preparing to die. I didn’t know if I was making the right decision. I didn’t know if I would be alive in the next few seconds.
Suddenly, the hugely ominous truck loomed behind me and I felt my heart nearly jump out of my chest. He was still in my lane. This was it, I thought; will I live or die today? I gripped the wheel tighter than ever and continued to drive faster as I tried to keep some cushion of space between the truck and my car. Then, much to my relief, the roaring monstrous vehicle swerved into the other lane and flew passed me. That driver did not slow down for anything and was soon out of my sight. This road continued to be his one truck racetrack. I heaved a long sigh of huge relief. I continued to breathe deeply trying to calm my beating heart and my shaking arms. I was so thankful to be alive and safe. It was God’s will for me to live a while longer and to continue this journey.
Soon after that I reached Buffalo, Wyoming. I was so overjoyed that my long drive in the car was soon over. Feeling very confident again, I drove through the streets as I pictured myself showing up unexpectedly on my friend’s doorstep. Oh yes, I thought, I know the way to go; just turn here, then here, and then one more turn and in a few blocks, I will pull up in front of her house. Except… That didn’t happen. I pulled up to the wrong house and was baffled. What happened? I was sure I knew the way.
Oh well, I was certain I was close so I drove around a few more blocks. I was positive that I’d recognize the right road and then find the right home. After all I prided myself with having a photographic memory. I just needed to spot the right old house, turn at that corner and just drive a few more blocks and I would be there. Yeah, right. Well I drove and drove in circles. Obviously, I didn’t have such a great photographic memory. Perplexed, I knew I would have to stop somewhere and dig out her address from everything out of it. Her address wasn’t there. I had left it sitting on the table at home. I then checked my gps device to see if I had entered her address there. I had done no such thing; so much for careful planning and paying attention to details. Now I was 1300 miles away, lost in a city I did not know and my larger than life self-assurance had finally deflated.
“Well,” I thought, “I will just have to call my friend and her daughter and admit I got lost.” I flipped open my small cell phone, dialed her number and listened. It was not a smart phone, by the way, just a very basic cell phone.
“Sorry, that number is no longer in service,” answered a female robotic voice.
I didn’t have the right number. I couldn’t believe it but I thought of the next step. I simply called my cell phone carrier’s directory to retrieve my friend’s number that way. However, to my stunned surprised, my carrier didn’t have a listing for her for two reasons; her cell phone number is with a different carrier and she didn’t have a land phone. Therefore, my carrier had no listing for her. I also tried calling the regular phone directory and they also had no listing for her as she seemed to have a private listing.
More perplexed than ever, I wondered what to do. I thought about booting my laptop computer to contact her through facebook but I didn’t think I would pick up a signal to connect to the internet. But, with a start, I thought of someone who could do that. Picking up my phone again, I called my cousin living in the state of Washington, “Hi, I’m lost in Buffalo, Wyoming and need your help.”
My cousin sounded incredulous, “What do you want me to do?”
“Go on Facebook, send a friend request to my friend and her daughter, and see if they answer.”
“Okay,” replied my cousin who was eager to help.
She logged into her computer and into Facebook. I gave her my friend’s name and her daughter’s name and she sent the friend requests. Then we waited and waited. No one answered her requests.
“Shoot,” I said feeling more deflated, “neither one is on the computer right now. What could they be doing? They both know I am arriving today so they must be home.”
My cousin had the next brainstorm, “Do you want me to search for her in the white pages?”
“Okay,” I said a bit more hopeful.
She went to work entering my friend’s name and searching through the pages, “Well, several entries have come up but it is hard to tell because only the initials are used.”
I thought about it, “Can you just read each entry and I will see if one of them sounds right?”
So, carefully and concisely, my cousin read each entry to me. By process of elimination, I was able to determine which one might be my friend.
Kathy clicked on the entry I indicated and found an address. She read it to me and I entered it into my gps unit.
“Thanks for helping me, cousin,” I replied, “and I will let you know if this worked.”
“Okay,” answered my cousin, “I will talk to you soon.”
So off I went again to find my friend. I followed all the instructions supplied by my gps device and soon I was indeed pulling up in front of a familiar house. I knocked on the door, and much to my elation and relief, my friend answered the door. And was surprised to see I have arrived. Excitedly we hugged and then I exclaimed, “What have you been doing? I actually got lost and couldn’t get hold of you. So my cousin tried contacting you through Facebook for me.”
“Oh?” My friend and her daughter looked at each other and then me trying hard to not laugh. Then they explained, “We fell asleep!”
Curious now, they jumped on their computers, logged in and checked their Facebook messages. They had indeed received my cousin’s message requesting to be friends and explaining that I needed help.
We all laughed and began planning the next few days. We all liked hiking and geocaching so we planned several of these along with some sightseeing.
One of the biggest highlights is that we hiked to the top of a certain mountain where an old fire lookout house still remains. We had engaged in a geocaching hunt and the cache was hidden near the old building. We searched under rocks, around trees, and around the old building. Due to the steepness and rocky terrain, it was a challenge to safely maneuver around. Numerous times, I grasped the edge of rocks, tree limbs, or small boulders to keep from slipping. My friend found the cache this time. But even more thrilling than finding the hidden “treasure” was the treasure of seeing the mountainous beauty and just being with my friends. We don’t get to visit each other often enough so when we do, we cherish that time. Just writing this account now, I am once anxious to be on that long and wondrous journey again to visit my Wyoming friends.
From trying to remember my grandmother’s story and researching about a historical event which took place in 1911, I’ve attempted to piece together the story of my grandmother’s birth. At best, this would be a piece of historical fiction based on a true story and not a true biography because I am not 100% sure of all of the details. This story of a true disastrous event occurring so close to my grandmother’s birth is a part of my family’s history.
Timeframe: October 1911. Place: a small farm in Oakridge rural area south of Black River Falls, Wisconsin. My great grandfather Albert watched the hard rain pound the house and ground around him. It has been raining for weeks and flooding was a mounting concern. He had another worry, Bessie, his wife and my great grandmother, was pregnant with their first child; very pregnant. The rising Black River perhaps already cut him off of the main town of Black River Falls as he possibly wouldn’t consider traveling across that long iron canopied bridge stretching across the swollen waters. He devised a plan to head south; perhaps all the way to LaCrosse roughly 50 miles away. His mode of transportation was a horse drawn vehicle so it may have taken several days of hard driving in the rain across wet and slippery roads. In the drenching rain, Albert hitched his team to and helped Bessie to safely climb inside. They endured a dangerous and harrowing journey as they traveled southward to trying to stay ahead of the rushing river. Little did they realize at the time, they would be traveling along the crest of the Great Flood of 1911.
In the meantime the Black River was swelling; it originated in Taylor County and passed in a southwest direction through Clark, Jackson, and LaCrosse counties emptying into the Mississippi River. According to a New York Times article, it was believed that the concrete dams in place could hold back any amount of flooding water. On October 6th, at 4am, the first dam north of Hatfield gave way and racing water flowed around the dam and then continued along the river’s path. By 10:45am, the second dam closer to Hatfield broke sending even more rushing water towards Black River Falls. Word of warning was sent the residents of the doomed town that a raging flood raced in their direction. At first the villagers and business owners did not believe they were in immediate danger but much to everyone’s shock and dismay in about an hour’s time, the unimaginable wave of torrential water arrived with disastrous results.
The water came in great torrents and the Black River Falls power plant was first to be struck and damaged leaving everyone in darkness by nightfall. The huge wall of water took out the iron canopied bridge, businesses, and houses carrying them downstream as seen in photos posted by The Merchant General of Black River Falls. The flooding water cut through the banks carving out the ground and destroying three blocks worth of downtown business and residential buildings all along the river’s edge. According to a news report from Clark County, A number of lumber and sawmill businesses were swept away along with a shoe store, a jewelry retail store, an iron works business, a hotel, a sash factory, and hardware store. Also destroyed was the county poor house along with many homes. Barely enough warning was given for Black River residents to evacuate although without their possessions. They just kept backing away from the rushing water and climbing to higher ground. Black River Falls had become nearly an island cut off from the surrounding countryside. The raging flood also destroyed many farms in its wake and families were stranded on rooftops (New York Times, 1911). Although the loss of animals and property were enormous, no resident lost his or her live that fateful day (Rupnow, 2011). After nearly wiping out Black River Falls, the torrential river raced towards more communities down the river and LaCrosse was in its path.
Albert, my great grandfather and Bessie, my great grandmother, must have been terrified of the pounding, rushing water as they continued their harrowing journey. While Albert held the reigns and drove the horses, I can imagine my great grandmother praying for their safe arrival in LaCrosse. I’m sure she cried out in pain, knowing she was close to giving birth.
As predicted, the flooding, raging river propelled its way into LaCrosse damaging the city’s power plant. Somehow, through fear and determination and by God’s loving grace and protection, great grandfather Albert and my great grandmother Bessie reached Luther Hospital of LaCrosse. No doubt, a huge sense of relief showered over my great grandparents as caring doctors and nurses aided them.
On October 7,, 1911, one day after the Great Flood of 1911 struck and devastated Black River Falls, Wisconsin , a baby girl was born, a baby named Annetta; my grandmother. While she grew up on a small farm in Oakridge, the city of Black River Falls was rebuilt as residents determined to remain and rebuild their lives (Rupnow, 2011).
Many years later she moved to Black River Falls as a teenager to attend high school. She married and raised a family. She worked as a school bus driver and later as a store clerk. She may had other jobs that I am not aware of. Today Black River Falls continues to be thriving small town in rural Jackson County Wisconsin; it is also near where I lived and grew up years later. I spent many Sundays visiting my grandmother in her tiny apartment not far from the banks of the usually gentle flowing Black River.
Reference Links about the Great Flood of 1911 which struck Black River Falls Wisconsin:
From New York Times, 1911:
From Leader Telegram, 2011
Clark County History Bluff: