Reunion, American Independence

Returned from a family reunion. 150 of the family’s 228 members there. We prayed, sang patriotic songs, worshiped, danced, feasted, burned fireworks, played soccer, football, Ultimate, golf and paintball. Kids played in the pond and creek. We recalled family members long gone and relished the love among those present. All this springs from traditional family bonds. That is worth preserving.

America’s founding principles are great. We are built on independence, capitalism and property, not dependence, central planning and communitarian control of property. Big government requires its subjects to be subservient, dependent. Ours was a Declaration of Independence, not Dependence! Yeah! Honor to the Founders and their inspiration.

Recession? What Recession?

We have a long ways to go. Standards of living in Ecuador, Brazil and Mexico are far below the lowered standards of living we are experiencing since the bubble burst.

I recall a nearly naked man in Brazil, living on the jungle floor outside of town. I recall a haggard 14 year-old man-handling an iron-wheeled wheelbarrow. In it were three buckets of water. The total weight approached 170 pounds. The boy weighed 80.  He pushed it 1/4 mile on an uneven surface to some bricklayers. He stopped every 40-50 feet to adjust his load. I recall the farm laborer, also in Ecuador, going home from work. He dozed precariously on a 2″x10″ plank on a metal rack above a pickup bed. The pickup jostled wildly. I recall the roadside homesteaders in Brazil, the saw sharpener in Brazil, the neighborhood in Marituba, in which, if you had a hammer, you were known as he who owned a hammer, the one to borrow from..The idle young men. The three room house with three light bulbs, dirty floors and one bed for three children. No one in the four families we dined with owned a car. The walking masses. The cowboys of Ecuador. The farmers drying lima beans on the roadway.

We must view the hardships of our recession comparatively.

Mapmaker’s Wife

The Mapmaker’s Wife

by Robert Whitaker

Finished Feb 24, 2007

About the French meridian expedition of 1750, to Peru. A dozen scientists went to Quito to measure a degree of latitude to determine the shape of the earth. They thought to be gone 3 years. It was an international story; the quest was hotly pursued by various scientists and mathmeticians. Jean Godin, the lowly assistant whose wife, Isabel to whom the book’s title refers, returned to France 40 years later. The travails suffered by the scientists while performing their measurements make Lewis and Clark’s journey seem like a stroll. Then there is the trip of Isabel and her party down the Andes and lost in the upper Amazon, near the Bobonaza river, 30 miles from Kapawi, where my tour group stayed in the fall of 2006. What an ordeal. She was sustained by God, and hope and the purpose of meeting her husband, Jean, after a 20 year separation. She had to make herself survive, to honor God for having saved her to that point. This realization came as she lay dying of hunger near the corpses of her two brothers who had succumbed.

Mr. Whitaker, the author, performed a substantial labor in the authorship of this book. The research on topics such as colonial history, European politics, botany, geographic study, and the history of science was detailed and extensive. The title was not indicative of the substance. The book was really two stories, one of the French expedition, and one of Isabel’s harrowing journey. The first story led to the second, tied together by Jean, the assistant to the expedition and husband to Isabel. The frequent side-trips into fields of science were interesting, and forgivable as such, though tangential to the main themes.

Had I read the hazards that Isabel faced in the Bobonaza region, near Kapawi lodge, I may have waived that trip! Bot flies, vampire bats, Jiborara Indians, rapidly rising rivers. Our days at Kapawi didn’t verify that the hazards were quite that extreme. But maybe we were there in the season when mosquitoes were less dense. We didn’t see the seas of ants described. Still her trials were without a doubt more severe than anyone could wish on their worst enemy.

I am sending this book to Carlos Lara of Cuenca. I was given my copy by Sister Suzan Strobel. She and Gary, her husband, were part of our travel group to Kapawi.

Logging in Ecuador

I traveled in Ecuador this year. My companions were botanists, mycologists, cellular researchers, artists, museum managers and business owners. I directed the following letter to Percy, a botanist from Peru. If you wish to see photos of the plant, bird and insect profusion at Bella Vista, you can google search “bellavistacloudforest”.


Greetings, Percy!

I have a question for you. Remember our walk in the cloud forest at Bella Vista? Halfway through, Tomas, our guide said, “we are moving into primary forest now”.  The term for this in the United States is “old-growth forest”, forest that has never been cut down by mass-scale techniques. He said that what we had been in was forested for cattle pasture right after WWII, cut right down to the grass, like so many pastures we saw on the steep hillsides as we traveled. I could tell no difference between the primary forest and the area that had been logged. There seemed to be an equal profusion of plants and types of plants, and that bird life was identical. Trees were tall, undergrowth was prolific, variety was immense. It felt like the forest was lurking over us, hoping we would slow down long enough for the fungus to digest us so that the trees could drink us like milkshakes. It craved nourishment. It was robust!

So how detrimental is clear-cutting in that biome? Is it proper to be concerned about soil erosion, especially in the first years? How much soil erosion would a logged area experience, in the first year or two, and then in year five after many plants would have set roots?

My main question has to do with “bio-diversity”. By logging, what is the detriment to plant life? How much variety of plant life would be lost if 10% of the forests in that locale were clear-cut every decade? Can you make any estimate of this? Do you suppose that any rare species were lost when the 1000 acre plot we walked through was logged 50 years ago? What is the likelihood? Does anyone know? Can any guesses be reliably made? Or is general alarm over logging the best , and only response, lacking good estimates?

In the United States much controversy arises when forests are clear-cut. They do spring back in time, though. Bill McKibben documented the recovery of the Eastern Forest in the past century. Millions of square miles are forested more abundantly than in 1830, due to changing economic conditions. People don’t have to log to plant corn to feed their family. In the cloud forest, plants seem to spring back with a vengeance. Tomas said that the trails we used had to be cleared with a machete every month or they would be lost to view.

So to put my question another way, how much variety of species is lost when forests are cleared for agricultural purposes, in the way we saw the locals doing it, a section at a time? How much is logging of the cloud forest, and the rain forest for that matter, a concern? Are there ways for landowners to do it without sacrificing too much variety over the long term?

My amateur perspective, is that the logging done 50 years ago had minimal long-term effect, and that future logging could be carried out in a minimally detrimental manner. If you can correct or substantiate my view, please let me know.


Ecuador rocks!

Ecuador Journal



Sept 17, 2006. Traveled from Bozeman to SLC with the Strobels. They generously purchased gas at Ennis for the Camry. I drove most of the way. They also purchased a meal for me at the Chuck-A-Rama in Bountiful.

I learned of Phillips Environmental products and Strobel’s microorganisms and the role they play in degrading human waste.

We discussed world travel, good places like Ireland and Israel and Australia and boring or less great places like India, Egypt, Morocco and Greece. He and Susan have been to jungles 8-14 times.

Costa Rica bananas. The organism Gary discovered that controls candida in the human gastrointestinal tract also helps against a major banana disease, sigatoka. A Dole executive expressed interest in Phillip’ products for their farm workers so they do not have to soil spinach fields with waste and the resultant E. coli. Gary asked if I’d like to go to on another, similar trip. Maybe he and Suzan would plan a trip for Bozeman Stake members to Costa Rica.


He asked what my post-business plans are. (Music, literature, research, political reform.) We spoke of FDA procedures and European approvals. Drug companies are abandoning infectious diseases for exotic, marketable enhancements, the kinds of products that are advertised in Reader’s Digest. Gary mentioned FDA, OSHA, and EPA with some disdain, as impediments to good business and opportunity. In China you just start your business without troublesome agencies hassling you – a good thing, he thought. The USA is starting to stifle entrepreneurs, China to free them. He was afraid of China’s possible imperial plans and tendency. An organism had been cleared by the FDA for use in human food but could not be automatically cleared for use in toilets. How ridiculous! Years and much trouble would have to go by prior to approval. He persuaded them to clear it.


He and Susan could see how justice could grow up out of local customs without the monopoly of a king or government. This is Benson’s theme in The Enterprise of Law, which I will finish reading on this trip. He mentioned Montana’s Vigilantes, and Meyerhoffer in Three Forks.


If I were running for president, I would promise that everyone would pay at most $30 to fill up with gas. Why should anyone have to pay $50 to fill up when they are only earning $50,000 a year? (Tomas in Quito told what riots erupted when the Ecuador government wanted to allow the price of bottled propane to go from $1 to $5 per bottle. Politicians have to find ways to privatize and allow prices to prevail in markets, but commodities that everyone interacts with daily are a sore spot. Even here, in the U.S., politicians are supposed to intervene when petrol goes to $3.00 per gallon. Lots of people don’t think prices should fluctuate.)


MJ and Jeff told of an exhibit at Boston Science Museum of body art. Dead bodies are plasticized. Some are in athletic poses. One was “Drawer Man”, and had his body sectioned so that you could pull out a rectangular solid right out of his abdomen and slide it back in. Some are cut in half. People will their bodies to the “artist”. MJ thinks he is weird. There are few human remains in the BSM, from the ancient past.


Jeff Cameron is a PhD student in plant biochemistry. He has seen chloroplast appendages with sulfur compounds attached that no one else has. He will publish. He is learning how redox works. Brian Phillips is VP sales and marketing at Phillips Environmental. His fiance is Pamela. She loved Cuzco, Peru. Bonnie Posselli is a landscape artist from SLC. Carlos is our tour organizer. He has three travel companies. Scott Strobel leads in his field of rNA research at Yale. His son, Ben, 17, is with us. John Tengelsen is taking a “year for himself”, taking botany and working in dinosaur digs. He wants to pursue life sciences. He missed it in college, he was so focused on engineering.


Gary thought buying a house in Brazil would be inferior to traveling to different locations. He praised a friend who bought a mountainside with 4,000 year old trees that were endangered. The Chilean government made other federal land housing the trees un-loggable and forbids cutting the species in any other locale.

Suzan spent one night in a room full of spiders and webs on one of their trips. This bothered her greatly though she is not afraid of tarantulas. Gary has 20 digeredoos. Players use them to tell stories. They come pitched. They cannot play harmonics. Gary joined the Church in Sweden on his way to Russia in 1960. He was horrified by Stalin’s Russia: “a total obliteration of the human spirit”. He recommends I watch more TV and videos for what can be experienced through them, and so that I might better write soundtrack music.


Gary recommends that I read Guns, Germs and Steel even though some of Diamond’s observations about Montana seemed uninformed, over-stated, not to point to a conclusion, and, by the report of one of Gary’s friends, the section on Easter Island had wrong conclusions. I could write an article titled Montana’s Great Disruption: How the Ranching and Mining Way of Life Disappeared. CRP and the Great Invasions from the West, Pressure from the East, (that is, from Washington, D.C).

Tuesday. Played frisbee with Ben and Jeff at the city park in Quito. This entertained other park visitors. We saw three transvestites on the airplane yesterday. Thin hips, broad bosoms, deep voices.

Today in the “cloud forest”, Percy, the Peruvian botanist, and Tomas, our guide, told us of a “living fossil”, a plant that is from 200 million years ago. Jeff, the PhD student from Missouri stopped frequently for pictures of fungi. Strobel collected samples. Each may yield 30-40 organisms of the type he is interested in. We watched youth not in school and women doing laundry by hand on our bus ride to and from Pasochoa Reserve.


Tomas told of the average wage of $320 per month. Minimum wage is $160 per month. Professionals make $700-800. Students train for medicine in Argentina and don’t come back. Tomas calls it a “brain drain”. The cost of living is high relative to their wages. The streetscape below is much more modern than below the Hotel Grao in Belem. Ecuador took the US dollar as their currency in 2000. Overall, it is a very good thing for the economy, reports Tomas. Problems with revolutionaries, prostitutes and laundered money coming in from Colombia are abetted by the currency, though. Agrarian reforms occurred in 1960 and 1974. Tenants got 12 hectares with free titles. I asked, but couldn’t find out who decided who got which piece, and who forced the landowner to do it, and how much was confiscated, how the program worked.


Cars that are imported suffer a 100% duty. People don’t complete their houses for two reasons: They build as they can afford materials, and they don’t have to pay taxes if they are incomplete. I hear, on the street, standard Nokia cell phone ring tones, just like mine.

Of the 130 office spaces in Ed. Rio Amazonas across the street from the Hotel Mercure, 60 are still lit. It is 6:30 p.m. Many workers are working late. Carlos, our Cuenca guide, estimated that many people work 50-60 hours a week if they are trying to “get ahead”. The temperature in Quito ranges from 58-72 degrees most of the year. The day is 12 hours long, with a 3-5 minute variation depending on the solstice.

Percy claims to be ½ Inca. The Inca are spiritual. He once collected 20,000 plants for Washington University in St. Louis over an eight year period. I asked him how to save the rain forest. He said to “get involved!”, but didn’t elaborate. He complains that the big environmental outfits spend their money on offices and ad campaigns.


Strobel knows someone in Indonesia who knows the traditional names for hundred of plants, no Latin genus names, and what they are good for. No one has cataloged them. I may like to engage in this work, or fund and organize an effort to do so.


September 20, 2006. We took a bus ride to and past the Middle of the World Monument, then to the edge of a volcano crater. A house and 10 acres on the valley floor of the volcano, was for sale for $40,000. Tomas, the guide, thought it was a good deal and he coveted it. We drove up here, to the Bella Vista Lodge, stopping in at a private reserve where the owner tends 2,000 kinds of orchids. We saw hundreds of orchids/epiphytes from a trail that only covered a couple of hundred yards. On the bus ride I questioned MJ, the museum exec from Boston Science Museum, about the propriety of museums holding objects “out of place” like Norman conquest shields that might be displayed anywhere except in SE England. She knows that this is debated in other museums, but BSM is not that kind of museum.


At this lodge we reveled watching and photographing hummingbirds, dozens of kinds. Tonight the moths are plentiful and fantastically various. Lunch today was trout. A slice of tomato excelled for taste. Tomatoes, (Solanacaea) are indiginous to the Andes, as are potatoes, from the same family. Tonight we had spinach soup and tomato/squash dish. Fabulous. Our hike today, including the un-environmental slosh ½ mile up a stream course, was strenuous, punctuated by many discoveries.


I asked Percy if preservation totally precludes oil drilling and production. He didn’t say. He said Shell likes to be known as a “green” company, but they only partially succeed, in his estimation. I captured a beautiful beetle today. We saw the volcano Cotapaxi in full glory today, from afar. The ravines we drove through, and hiked through were extremely steep. The highway is a recently completed marvel. Its construction is anything but environmentally benign.

Residents, on the floor of the volcano, where Tomas pointed out the $40,000 house, haul their potatoes and corn via donkey up to the parking lot where our bus stopped. Such a long, ascending way to walk!


Percy named a dozen plants within the cast of a yard. “It’s like the plants talk to me.” He asked Strobel if he thought he, Percy, was crazy for saying the plants talk to him. Strobel said, “no”.

At dinner John, Bonnie and I wondered out loud if the rising generation , the ones we know in the US, would be wise and resilient. We decided they are smart, wary, spoiled and that they probably would rise to challenging occasions, in spite of their obvious softness. Bonnie said, “I hope they can save the earth. We sure messed it up.” Many assumptions and judgments lie within those words.


Half of our hike (at Bella Vista) was in secondary forest, regrowth from the clear-cut that had occurred in 1950 to make pasture. I couldn’t tell the difference between it and the primary forest that we hiked through on the second half of the hike. I’m sure the plant diversity was less, but who knows by how much? Both halves were lush, varied and tangled. I suppose species variety would suffer if , say, 50% of every valley was logged, but how much is anyone’s guess. Tomas says if workers don’t hack the trails clear every 15-30 days, they disappear. We were careful not to pluck plants, (I stole a few leaves and slipped them into the pages of my notebook), except for Strobel’s collections. But all around us leaves were falling, branches tearing off. What would it have hurt if we had taken a few bushels out? We hastened erosion by walking in creeks. You cannot steady yourself without rubbing moss and epiphytes off secropia or bamboo. We got here in a diesel-belching bus on a dirt road that was built by heavy equipment and chain saws. Environmental morality is a hard thing to make absolute. Our footsteps crush rumeria and Deadman’s Fingers.


I woke up in this “cloud forest”, in an Austrian-looking lodge of Bella Vista. Had breakfast. Watched a toucan from the balcony. Watched the stars last night, punctuated by lightning, the camera flash of heaven. The jungle on our walk yesterday had a solemn, reverential, temple-like feeling to it. Today: bus ride back to Quito, through Quito, to the Old City, past a cathedral 160 years in the building and not yet complete, and to the Companion of Christ church, begun in 1605. It, too, took 160 years to build. Spain seized it when the Jesuits got too powerful. Had fabulous “locro”, which is potato soup, for lunch. We bought “fair trade” items. I shopped for shoes with my elementary Spanish. They didn’t have any in size 13. John and I bought pan pipes and T-shirts. We decided to vote for Cynthia for president. The election is in 22 days. Tomas says interest rates go up prior to elections and things get tense because so much can change with property rights and taxes when governments change. They kick out presidents who don’t fulfill campaign promises. Susan and Carlos think that is good. I disagree. More stability is needed. Percy seemed taken in by the mural in the church. It illustrated and labeled various sins and their punishments. Sinners were being punished in hell. We Latter-day Saints have a more psychological view of hell, and much less reliance on it as a behavior modifier than that Catholics do. The mural showed a beast taking a bite out of a man’s side, and a man drinking acid.


September 23, 2006. Today is Gary Strobel’s birthday. I think he is 67 or thereabouts. I swam down the Kapawi River. It is 5-6 meters deep and slow-moving. It harbors leaches on the bottom, according to Percy. On our raft ride, Scott was asking permission for 15 Yale students to collect if they came here. Juan Carlos said “sure”, but Jorge said to ask the president of the federated native communities.


I talked to Atoaldo. His name is Incan and he is a royal descendant- a warrior, according the English teacher here. This being descended from the Inca thing may be a little hard to believe since, when the Spaniards came, the Incas had had such a savage civil war that there were 15 women for every man, so there is at most 50% Inca even in that first generation, probably much less now, four hundred years later! And to cast them as the hapless victims of Spanish aggression is far-fetched, both because of the civil war wherein they wiped themselves out, and the fact that 60 years prior to that, they had been the imperialists, coming in and conquering the Canarys. Atolado initiated the conversation by asking, “What is your name?” as we passed on the boardwalk. It was daring of him, inasmuch as he had had only one English lesson. We pieced together a conversation in Portu-Spanish and a little English. The teacher , a young fellow from South Africa, was very happy when I reported this to him.


The bird of the Kapawi Lodge logo is ancient, dumb, and not tasty. We saw some as we swam in the river.


Today’s hike included edible and medicinal plants, vines, and stories about a man and his wife and the vine to heaven, and an explanation of how poisonous darts are made. (The process is so toxic that they keep children out of the vicinity because of the fumes that are created. They can self-regulate without even needing the oversight of Congress! Incomprehensible!) We located ginger and an onion-smelling leaf for culinary use, learned how to mark trails and point out overhead fruit to others by means of pointers, saw tree frogs, learned how to bang on flared tree bottoms to direct rescuers when you are lost, and had “walking trees” pointed out to us.


I searched the library. No Bible. No Bible! I can’t imagine any collection of books, or any place that is self-contained like this little village without a Bible. I left my triple combination in Quito to save weight, expecting a general interest library to include a Bible, and some Shakespeare. I’ll have to rely on memory.


I am out of touch with my standard life, wandering in a strange land, sweltering, straining into the unfamiliarity, hiking. Psychologically uprooted. The biological input is tremendous; plants, birds, butterflies, spiders, beetles, ferns, fungus. The lodge is rustic in the extreme. Scott and Ben’s cabin has a tarantula on the ceiling just outside the screen. Gary and Suzan’s cabin had a bat trying to escape all night, banging their bed nets. I am cut off from all things familiar with the exception of a few friends. My routine in business, church work, recreation, study, music and correspondence with our children, working with Melani, all are worlds away. I feel like I have been dropped into a different universe. No phone, computer, internet, radio, newspaper. No duties except the duty of common courtesy. No service to render. No To Do list. Few indulgements, though the food is exotic and mostly very tasty. Wet boots. A language barrier with the locals. No purpose except to observe, memorize, and ask questions. So many “Wow!” moments.


Last night’s hike was great. 2 guides, Jeff and I went. Large spiders, frogs, mating walking sticks. The others’ lanterns were powerful. Jeff is prepared for everything. He is an experienced jungle explorer, having toured Madagascar two years ago, this month, with Strobel.

I don’t understand the prohibition on plant collection. The plants regenerate instantly. They abound. If millions of collectors came here and used the same trails, it may necessitate a permit system but a few hundred in a summer can do no harm. Paranoia, innumeracy, a misplaced pride of ownership, lack of real property rights, fear of offending your constituents (if you are a regulator), and threats to your prestige all play into the prohibitions.


I was a little queasy getting to Kapawi. Even commercial, large-plane flights strain me. It turns out that we almost had a runway collision with a single engine plane as we landed. Luckily that pilot noticed and vacated the strip just in time.

I so wish my daughters could be here. They would be so fun to watch and be entertained by, observing their wonder and pranks.


There is a bird here at Kapawi that I call the goat bird. I base this on the bleating sound it makes. No rain so far. That could make the strain even more.


September 24, 2006. Sunday. This is the first Sabbath since my 18th year that I have been unable to attend a Sacrament Meeting with the Saints. I regret it. I am almost always edified there. Today the activity was hiking leisurely through the jungle, and besides identifying the plants, hearing Jorge describe native ways, such as how to build a blow gun. Then we had a picnic lunch. Then we visited the Ishwipo village. Five families live there. The head man hosted us. We were handed manioc beer by his wife. It had been pre-chewed by her prior to fermentation. I was glad to have the excuse of my religion that forbids the taking of alcoholic beverages! The formalities of the occasion were precise.


The head man had a red and yellow headdress and thin-walled, long funnels penetrating his ear lobes. I don’t think he left his chair, rather a throne, at all while we were there. He had a shotgun within easy reach. A blow gun completed his arsenal. A log drum hung at an angle. A very crude violin that was incapable of music dangled. It looked like a block of wood carved with a machete. The beds slanted. He was father of 15. A perpetual fire smoldered. He gave us a very long explanation of the source of fire when all Brian wanted was to know how they normally start fires. Some of the tubs were plastic and some of the clothes were American cast-offs but otherwise the mode of life was ancient and backward. The foods were chicken, manioc, palm hearts and bananas and other fruit. They had an air strip. Carlos Fida, our trip organizer, who has been to many native villages in his career, said he has never seen any village so pre-historic. This one was 600-700 years more ancient than other ones he has seen.


Carlos says he doubts very much that transferring Kapawi Lodge to FINEA, the federation of native communities, or the Ashuar people themselves, will work. Kapawi is already going downhill from what he saw a few years ago, in terms of maintenance. Conodros Travel Company has split it off from their Galapagos operation, though they continue to subsidize it. This operation will need expert business management. It needs marketing, accounting, legal skill. Carlos predicted that within a couple of years after the transfer, some disgruntled neighboring tribe will set fire to the place. It will be sad evidence that communal ownership is doomed.


Today Percy found a 300 million year old, “living fossil”, a cycad. Until today it was not even known to exist in this entire region. The specimen itself was probably 400 years old. It was only 8-9’ tall, rather slender like a type of Arizona cactus.

Meeting Paul D’Angelo has been a pleasure. He is evangelical, a libertarian and a reader. He perceived similar interests in me and broached the subject. Our interests include fatherlessness, Marvin Olasky, Leon Kass, C.S. Lewis, welfare problems, love for God, book clubs. We will correspond a little from our homes.


Looking through the library books of plants and mushrooms, I saw many that we have stopped to name from our various hikes. That makes me feel like I am gaining some familiarity.

I have prayed.

A summary of our time at Kapawi:

Day 1: Arrive, canoe to sand bar, night hike.

Day 2: Clay lick boat ride, Easy hike, Swim down river.

Day 3: Hike, Picnic lunch, Ishpigo village, boat home in the rapidly falling darkness and beautiful sunset.

Day 4: Fly to Quito


Next day.

We visited a high mountain area where, if the clouds had lifted, we could have seen Antisana volcano. We were at 12,500 feet. As we drove, John and I conversed about taxes, health insurance for employees, environmental policy, his family and mine, church topics, and his quest. It was cold up there. The hacienda we visited was very interesting. Humboldt lived or stayed there. We saw a somewhat rare purple-headed hummingbird.


Employees of Kapawi pay 9% deduction to central government social security. Rent at the hip clothing store, where the dimensions might have been 15’x30’, was $800 per month. Tomas said police bribes are common with street officers, less so with officers higher up the chain of command. Public schools are of low quality. Public hospitals, too. You have to push to get prescribed generic drugs instead of name brands. Tomas and his wife make $2,000-2,300 in a good month. They pay $371 for two kids in private schools and $160 for a nanny for the baby. They have a 10 year mortgage on their house at 9.5% interest. He made a large down payment. His wife is a website designer for a university. She can’t afford the new computer that would be needed to do a home business. His income fluctuates based on tourism demand, and the tips. Average wage in Quito is $400 per month. The laptop computers John and I saw in Guayaquil were $3,800! That must reflect high import tariffs. They are a serious impediment to economic development.


September 27, 2006. Just arrived in Guayaquil after descending the Andes from the highest point of 14,000’ at the pass. Now we are at 18’. We passed banana, rice, cocoa, mango, teak and sugar fields. houses were on stilts. A black laborer slept on a 2”x12” plank on a pickup truck’s roof rack as the driver jostled their way at 45 mph toward town. The sleeper could fall off! The National Forest of Cajas was spectacular in craggy beauty. Cold. We heard of some of Percy’s trials with plant collection permits. One time 3 policemen stopped him and threatened to prosecute. Percy threw the leaves in the river, saying, “There are your plants. Go get them.” One officer tore off his shirt and wanted to fist fight.


Percy’s family owns 4,000 acres, and a couple of smaller pieces of land in Cusco or Lima. But the title is insecure. It all depends on who is in power in the government. The Amazon Indians don’t really own their land. According to Percy, it seems more like they have a “lease” to it. I asked who will inherit his mother’s land. I understood him to say he would. That was when he clarified the uncertain status of the title. Uncertainty of this kind is another roadblock to economic development.


Cuenca City manages Cajas Park, an arrangement that goes back only about 6 years. They are much better managers than the central government was, according to Carlos, our guide. Cuenca is the only city in Ecuador that treats its sewage water before discharging it in the river.


Our guide, Carlos, father of an eight month-old boy, was very proud of Cajas. He had a health-food approach to clearing up some problems he had. We talked about Marathon Biological, weed problems in general, and the 100,000 introduced goats in the Galapagos. 20,000 have been shot by government snipers, to try to rid the islands of them. They are eating the food the highly profitable – from a tourism point of view – turtles need.

Guayaquil is the “economic powerhouse” of the country. Pudginess is more common here. So are the women who wear scanty tops. One of the books I read prior to the trip called Quito the conservative, Catholic area, and Guayaquil the modern, less religious region.


Collecting was approved in Cajas. We saw a “living fossil”: Merlin’s Grass.

Our bus stopped at the roadside and we got a cocoa pod. The beans reside in a white pulp that is very tasty. From Quito to Cuenca, (a couple days back), we flew over the volcano Cotopaxi. The view was stunning. Before leaving Cuenca for Cajas, we bought pastries at a bakery and visited the gallery of a famous artist. One of his works, The Tree of Life, looked like it could be based on Lehi’s dream. Perhaps the artist is LDS.


The cathedral at Cuenca was immense and grand, gilded, with huge arches. Beggars plied their spots. MJ bought lemon hand cream from the cloistered nuns, through a wooden portal which keeps the parties to the transaction from seeing each other.

We are flooded by sights and sounds and new experiences. It can be overwhelming!


September 29, 2006. How does Jeff have all this money? He is a PhD student at Washington University in St. Louis. It must come from his parents. His dad is a consultant to some billionaires, mostly from the high tech fields, who roam looking for opportunities. Jeff is very interesting, funny, knowledgeable and curious.


We ate at the Blue Snail last night. Four waiters hovered. Carlos bought the appetizers.


Yesterday we toured the Dry Forest Cerro Blanco. It is owned, funded and operated by Holcim Cement company, the very company that is so berated in the Gallatin Valley for proposing an environmental tragedy like burning tires in their kiln. The Dry Forest is proof that conservation can prosper in the hands of the private sector. The orchid reserve, Bella Vista Hummingbird forest, Kapawi Lodge and Cerro Blanco were all privately owned. Cajas was managed by Cuenca, and it thrived compared to the treatment it had under central government management. I discussed this with Gary Strobel. He agreed that the private areas we had visted were exemplary. I was trying to point out that private efforts can often be better than government parks and conservation measures. He mentioned a couple of fine private reserves in Madagascar that were in great shape. He thinks the National Parks in the U.S. are in good shape because, “taxpayers demand Congress to keep them good”. He says the Soviet Union in the 1960’s was the worst thing he’s seen, apparently referring to environmental degradation as well as other aspects of society and the economy. It entailed a “complete crushing of the human spirit”. He properly attributes that to lack of incentives (profit motive) to provide excellence. His sentiment apparently applied to nature conservancy, social observations and the economic realm equally.



Random Thoughts “Inspired” by a trip to Las Vegas

Vegas Trip


One reason I don’t gamble is that I’m afraid to embarrass myself sitting at a machine
trying to figure it out.

The lady at her table in the buffet room at Sunset Station has a Keno easel, meaning, I guess, that she is playing Keno through a “runner” while she stokes up
on biscuits and gravy. How did she learn about that? Did she feel
silly asking for help her first time? Doesn’t she have to see the
facial features of her opponents to win? Or, is that only in the
movie The Entertainer? She munches so serenely, looking into the
distance. She must be a seasoned gambler to maintain such composure
in the middle of a Keno struggle! I envy her stoicism.

I can tell I am in the heart of this casino’s demographic slice. Paul Simon’s “Slip
Slidin’ Away”, and Little River Band’s “You’re Still the One” are the background music.

This buffet prides itself on having every possible breakfast food. Not so. At home we have exotic amaranth seasoned with Brasilian Stevia, an herbal sweetener.
They do have grits. I try some.

The pleasures of Las Vegas, like those of skiing are for soloists. People range from
machine to buffet to machine to buffet, frequently alone, unconnected. Skiers are lone actors, too. Their selection of runs is highly individualistic. Brotherhood is fleeting, easily shucked when a buddy needs to eat or chooses another run. It is hedonism with occasional hollered greetings at passing acquaintances. Little
self-sacrifice is called for on a ski hill.

Style is uncomfortable. Girls must show their extra 10 pounds between pant and shirt, the place where accretion is most likely to begin. What a shame, you have
to show your first ten excess pounds. That’s also the last ten
pounds to go, when losing weight. The designers zeroed in on the most
troublesome region for a girl. How thoughtless. Boys must wear
stocking caps even at 72 degrees. Maybe that’s why head shaving is also cool.

In a buffet it is hard to abide Thoreau’s advice to “eat to live, not live to eat.”

Kids are rare around here.

I could tell I was being led to the SHOT Show, (the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show), when, ahead of me in traffic was a dually Dodge with Texas plates.
One occupant wore a cowboy hat, another a camo cap. “This is my group”, I thought.

The food at
the Aladdin Buffet:
Lamb, stuffed pork,
(that’s the dish, not me and all the other patrons), primavera,
sauteed vegetables, prime fresh pineapple, strawberries in
vinagarette, shrimp with red sauce, crab legs, crème puffs,
tort, Asian chicken stir fry, Viet noodles and tofu, red potato,
pecan pie, apple crisp, fish wrapping a crab stuffing. Wow!

I saw a man at the gas station wearing red and white patent leather wingtips. Anyone wearing those should not have to subject himself to the ignominy of gassing
up a car.

A Week on the Yellowstone

A Week on the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers

June 3, 2004

Henry David Thoreau wrote “A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers”, a dry read. When an admirer puts his book down, one who has begun fully expecting to enjoy it, one who has eagerly read Civil Disobedience, Walden, and An Ode to John Brown, when such a one abandons the book on rivers, something dire has happened. As I now remember it, the tedious part was the botany; what was missing was his opinions about people and life.

My title is a lie. We, Mike Jones and I, will voyage only three days. We won’t navigate any waters. We will pass by two rivers, coming within their view. We count that. Our travels are for botany, history and scenery. And friendship.

So far the botany has been mundane. My favorite so far is a little purple flower, having four petals, growing within 3/8” of its root. It appears to grow out of moss. I spied it at 12,200 feet. Its 1/8” long leaves seemed fat and fleshy, in their miniature way. Sedum leaves were the closest thing in my experience. At 9,000 feet, on our descent, I picked  yellow-blossomed flower, whose leaves and odor were that of the carrot family.

We drove from Bozeman to an “emergency” stopping place south of Livingston. We smelled antifreeze and the temperature gauge registered higher than I remember being normal. We discussed water pumps, thermostats, radiators and hoses. We decided to continue. We thought we could buy a thermostat in Gardiner and a 9/16” wrench to carry with us. In Gardiner we purchased gasoline from Jim Blatter’s convenience store. Gardiner has no auto parts store. When we discovered this, though our fears had melted. The temperature indicator seemed to stay at a point just below midpoint.

I saw new country nearly all day, from Gardiner on. The Lamar Valley is where wolves can frequently be seen. We saw one. Just his head was visible. Then the wolf got up and moved. He was one half mile away. I was surprised by its darkness. Was he surprised by my lightness? (He surely didn’t care one whit for me.)

Park workers shad stopped traffic so they could load up an elk they had to kill due to its having had its hind quarters eaten out. Other mega-fauna we saw include deer, buffalo and marmot.

At the Beartooth Highway summit, I don’t remember seeing any shrubs, just grass, moss and lichen. At slightly lower elevations low shrubs ventured, then fir, Albicolus Pine, Limber Pine and juniper. Presently we are camped among Lodgeploe Pines here at the Greenough Campground. The campground is nearly empty. Our nearest neighbor, a retired motorsports dealer from northern California, came and greeted us.

The birds make our place happy with their half-dozen sounds. Nearby there is a 20’x15’ boulder whose passable routes have been slickened by use. It exists to give children a sense of mastery. I miss having my children here, so that I might watch them use it.

The views of rock faces, pinnacles, snow drifts, mountain ranges, gorges, gravelly mountain sides swooping 2,000 feet, partly frozen lakes, the subtle danger of driving narrow, curvey roads, and the marvel of road double backs all combined to inspire awe.

I mentioned to Mike,” I”d like to see a fast forward movie of this area being formed, really fast.”

He added, “Yes, me too, and from a safe distance!”

One pinnacle reminded me of the Matterhorn: Pilot Peak. We think we identified Lookout Mountain. I saw a tall, thin waterfall.

I have lately noticed that I have a short attention span. I carve my day into vignettes. I rarely do a task that requires two or more hours. I do email. Then I scan internet news. I read Epstein. I write Parley. I call people for a few minutes each. I read a magazine. I mow for 45 minutes. I go to a store. I review Portuguese for a few minutes. These are all short 20-45 minute activities.

Anything that requires more time gives the impression of bogging me down.

What would happen if I require of myself, or allowed myself, projects or sessions of productivity that were 2 hours long? Or a half-day? I could read and write. I could compose music. I could research. I could call and mail people about a single purpose, bundling the contacting.

A novelist cannot write a novel in ten-minute segments. How can my purposes be met dealing in snippets?

That is partly why I got unsettled that Sunday in Salem, Oregon years ago. I had no series of engagements to occupy me. I quickly ran out of the few activities that were available to me which seemed fitting for the Sabbath.

I have noted that I don’t watch television. The twenty-eight hours other men spend every week watching, I fill with other things. Neither do I watch videos. Most of my time is spent communicating with others. These others are:
My wife- in person
My children- through phone calls with Jessica and Emily, emails with Parley, and visits to Abe.
Bishop and Greg- in meetings, a little by phone and email
Governor’s Council members- in meetings, by phone or email
Roger and Anne Koopman- during this primary election season
My parents
My siblings
Missionaries- from our extended family, 3rd Ward priests- and former University Ward members
My employees- informal questions they pose, assignments I give them, questions I ask them, sit-down “short visits” and reviews
Bill Slingsby and other contractors
Customers- with problems and concerns or questions, or selling them what they want
Suppliers- straightening out mistakes they or we made, negotiating price, asking them for special items
Advertising salespeople- asking them questions to better understand their proposal, the validity of their claims, evaluating their price/viewer-reader.
Calling church members to positions
Stewardship interviews with auxiliary leaders
Attending bishopbric training meeting

All of the above are face-to-face, telephone and written communications. I ought to be concerned that my voice, words, praise and training are uplifting and purposeful.


Preston Thomas Commemorative Trek

The Preston Thomas Trek

November 11, 2003

Tom Burnett and Mike Jones

Journal Entry: November 10, 2003

     Mike Jones and I just arrived in Wamsutter, Wyoming. The motel is dark and filthy, but we are both grateful to have lodging out of the wind. The owner is a stubby, gregarious woman in a flannel shirt. She lacks several teeth.

    “Plug the heater in, turn it on, and keep the bathroom door closed so my water don’t freeze!” she said.

Driving here, we watched the landmarks of the Mormon Trail pass by: the Platte, the Sweetwater, Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate, Martin’s Cove. We stopped at the Historic Trails Museum in Casper. It is closed on Mondays. We enjoyed tail winds from Bozeman to Billings. Those same west winds blasted the passenger side of the car from Billings south to Rawlins.

My Journal Entry: November 11, 2003
With excerpts from Preston Thomas’ Journal of November 22, 1853
He penned his entry upon arriving at Green River, in the vicinity of present day Rock Springs and Green River. His previous journal entry was dated November 7, 1853 when they were apparently on the Platte River. I have sometimes preserved Preston Thomas’ phrasing, spelling and punctuation, and sometimes altered it.

    Brave of heart, we walked at first where shallow snow alternated with patches of mud. The BLM land was free for the walking. Using it seemed more authentic. But after a mile, we climbed the fence and walked on the freeway shoulder. Packing the muddy boots seemed imprudent. We knew we could not make twenty-two miles with the extra weight.

    “The morning after we left the Platte, a mountaineer and a Snake Indian followed after us and overtook those who were behind and gave them some information in regard to the road to Green River. The distance they said was some 250 miles. They further said  there was no grass or as good as now, (none),  and not a single stick of wood upon the whole route. They had just passed across from there and they were nine days in crossing. It was the damdest hardest road they had ever traveled in their lives and no money could induce them to return that way. This very unfavorable account of the road to Green River completely discouraged some of the party.”

    We verified that not a single stick of wood could be found, not a tree of any species, not any bush other than sagebrush. The only trees we saw were the carefully tended cottonwoods of Cottonwood Corner. That was the name of the convenience store where, in the morning, we pitched our tents so they would be waiting for us after our walk. (We drove back to Wamsutter, parked and walked from there to Cottonwood Corner.) The two cottonwoods gave us anchor points so the wind would not rip our tents away and send them to Cheyenne.

    At the seven-mile point, we stopped at Red Desert, a convenience store, where the surly owner, Marvin, warmed some Schwann’s Ham and Cheese sandwiches and chimichangas for us in the microwave. We talked of business and ranching. He has 70 head of cattle on 13 sections, (nearly 8,000acres). Grass is scarce.

    Tractor-trailers pound this road. Interstate 80 is a main arterial for the nation’s goods. Counting both eastbound and westbound lanes, an average of 7 semi-tractors pass every minute, day and night. The freeway, defined by streams of headlights 30-40 miles into the distance, is the very definition of a straight line. No waterways cross our route.

    “The road we found to be pretty good but the scarcity of grass and water and the want of wood for fires caused us to suffer and our mules and horses intolerably.”

    We faced wind all day, especially forceful the last five hours of our nine-hour walk. At the half-way point, we used Lance Armstrong’s gooseflight technique. Instead of walking abreast, we took turns in the lead. The wind originated directly in the west and our route was due west, so the person following close behind had an easier time. We estimated wind speeds of 20-40 mph all day. At times it blasted harder than average, arresting our progress. We leaned forward and put extra effort into the next step to regain momentum. Perhaps our twenty-two miles was like thirty-three miles without wind. We could not understand each other’s words if we spoke from a distance greater than one or two feet.

    Our packs added to the wind resistance. My orange pack extended above my shoulders a few inches on each side of my head. It held extra long underwear, socks, pants, water, apples, granola bars, an emergency kit my employees gave me and two books, The Aeneid, and O Livro de Mormon. I read from each while walking. Stock would have tired rapidly pulling high-profile wagons into that relentless wind, in the same way that our fatigue was worsened by our packs.

    The last antelope we saw were fifty miles north of Rawlins, about eighty miles from where we are now. A roadside sign extolled “Wyoming Wildlife”. It seemed an oxymoron. While walking we saw a crow, flocks of tan birds that might have been sparrows, and the carcasses of a bird and a mouse. Carcasses of jackrabbits, plentiful on other Wyoming roads, were scarce on our twenty-two mile portion.

“I continue to hunt but without success- saw only a single sage (grouse?), and a mountain rabbit I killed.”

“We ate the last piece of our antelope and we had nothing but one sack of flour containing 100 lbs. and a little salt. I immediately put all upon half rations, from during today I hunted faithfully. I found both buffalo and antelope but could kill none, reason was, I had a very poor gun, it was one belonging to Franklin Coats, and was entirely too small for buffalo.”

“The night we lay at or near the top of the Divide, then fell a deep snow which greatly impeded our progress. After this the weather turned intensely cold and on the second night after, my splendid mule, “Texas”, was frozen to death. This was a severe loss to me and I felt somewhat sad at his loss. The saints whom I came with from Texas purchased him at a cost of $125 and gave him to me and he had served me faithfully for so long a journey. I could but feel sorry for his loss, but his value, though very great to me I cheerfully parted with as I have for the sake of this kingdom suffered so many sacrifices in friends and relations in Missouri, and in lands, in homes and farms, in silver and gold, in toils and sufferings, that now there is hardly any sacrifice that I know of which the Lord might call me to make, which I would repine at.”

I kept looking at the landscape wondering where “Texas”, the splendid mule, might have frozen. His bones may still be visible if the site could be known, for the arid climate and lack of scavenging wolves might have left them dry and ignored. We crossed the Divide at 3:30 p.m.

On the drive from Bozeman, I told Mike that I hoped he fared better than Preston Thomas’ faithful companion, “Texas”.  We jokingly wondered if we should introduce ourselves as Preston and Tex.

If the temperature had been twenty to forty degrees colder, travel or camping would have been much more bitter. We estimated the temperature to be 28-30 degrees.

“Since that time, (here he refers to the day, November 7, when they left the North Platte Fork), we have had three snowstorms and some very severe cold weather.”

“Upon this trip my heretofore indomitable spirit almost failed me beneath my accumulated sufferings and three times when lying down at night I prayed to the Almighty that I might never awake to see another morning so great were my sufferings. My feet were badly frostbitten; my old boots were entirely worn out. I had a new pair but they hurt me so that I could not wear them. The snow was deep and I was obliged to walk with all the brethren save little Thaddeus Crandall, who from long sickness has been confined to the wagon and is now barely able to drive the team. This we have been compelled to do from the weakness of our team.”

We were relieved to reach Cottonwood Corner. That is an understatement. Barbara, the manager, with whom we had conversed that morning, had a daughter, Hillary. Hillary was on shift when we arrived. She said she had been waiting for us to arrive before shutting down the store. We bought food, ate and warmed up. The Dolly Madison Pie, sandwich, nuts and juice I purchased was fabulous compared to what Preston ate upon his arrival at Green River.

“Thus from day to day we have struggled through the snow with not half enough to eat. Upon reaching Green River we found good grass. It was early in the morning but we camped and turned out our mules and boiled a little rice, all we had left. We then raked up a little corn which lay scattered upon the bottom of our wagon, it having been spilt in pouring out of the sacks in order to feed our mules.”

Hillary and her boyfriend, Trevor, suggested we stay in the back room, near the pot-belly stove. We consented, not even feigning resistance. The tents we had set up were left to make their whipping sounds in the wind where they could not disturb us. We slept on either side of a pool table. It was better than Preston’s buffalo robe, I am sure.

A few days later: “At Yellow Creek, some 75 miles from Salt Lake City, I left the brethren with the wagon and started to go in ahead in order to send out some help in order to get our wagon over this Big mountain. All day I traveled along upon my little Cherokee Pony. Just at dark I reached the Weber River. After traveling down the valley some two miles I turned aside and camped in a little kanyon some distance to the right of the road. Solitary and alone, I camped where I had good grass for my pony, good wood and water. The night was clear and beautiful and I felt very happy alone as I was. I ate my small loaf of bread and rolled up in my buffalo robe and slept as sweetly as if I was in Eden.”

Trevor told us of an oil field worker who had frozen to death nearby, last week. Co-workers found him frozen, beside his pickup truck, a mere three hours after they parted company at the end of the work day. The snowstorm that accompanied that cold spell caused 400 auto wrecks between Evanston and Rawlins. He said all these things to impress upon us the inadvisability of sleeping in the tents. He told us much about the oil and gas business. He is an electrician.

The travails of Aeneas to found Rome against the elements and the odds seemed parallel with Preston’s odyssey. What Preston Thomas did redounds today. Mike and I calculated his posterity could number 26,000. He started with 21 children. If each of them had 7 children and succeeding generations had fewer and fewer until, in the generation that I am part of, each had 4 children, that is how you can arrive at the 26,000 figure. Many of these thousands believe in the cause of the restored gospel Preston espoused at the age of 30. The 1853 trip was in his 40th year.

My eyes got wind-burned late in the day. A “glory”, sun behind a cloud with rays streaming down, inspired my last minutes of daytime. Then, the sun behind the distant mountains in the west-southwest shone a conduit of orange, like a pipeline. This display lasted five to ten minutes, coming from the direction of the Salt Lake City Temple. It seemed to beckon me, as the hope thereof, for the actual temple had not yet been built, might have beckoned Preston Thomas. Poor Mike, limping behind me, was too lame in his feet and legs to lift his eyes from the path and be cheered by the scenic displays. We walked one and one-half hours in the dark.

The next morning we hitched a ride with trucker Dee Luce and his wife, Carmen Asher, back to Wamsutter. We are most grateful to them. Our walk was to take two days and end at Bitter Creek, but exhaustion overcame ambition. Our hostess at Wamsutter inquired about our walk. Heading north, we stopped at Martin’s Cove. Feeling somewhat revived by mid-afternoon, we walked 5 miles around the site, scaring deer and thinking about exhausted, cold, hungry pioneers that did and did not perish there.