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Where the Buck Stopped

January 6th, 2009

A few weeks ago I was quite disillusioned with the breadth of political and bureaucraftic corruption taking place in recent years.  I still feel quite strongly about taking a stand for what you believe in of course.  And our obligation as citizens to Vote.

Coincidentally I saw an email about Harry Truman the other day.   In his day, Harry Truman was not a popular President- he was criticised and made an object of ridicule in the news media.  Of course he was also tasked with making the kind of decisions regarding war that we hope no one will ever entertain again.  Yet he made them with courage and conviction.

History has shown with the passage of time that President Truman’s legacy has only grown.   His reputation has also grown, with the appreciation we feel for someone who led such a humble life, especially after leaving office.  I think I would have enjoyed meeting him.  In some ways I feel like I already know him, or at least can identify with him, in part because he hails from Missouri.

It is also because I had the chance to wander around Wake Island on a transitory visit once.  Wake Island is a spartan and tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  It is also a very historical place that saw pivotal warfare during World War II, and ultimately where President Truman journeyed to that historic meeting with General Douglas McCarthur… only to relieve him of command six months later.

You may also have read the excellent biography of President Truman written by David McCullough.   (Side note: I haven’t read very many Presidential biographies, but some of our more ambitous blogging friends have chosen to undertake that effort in total…  It’s neat to read where Ed at Riverbend Journal shares his thoughts about a George Washington biography for example.)

My distinct impression about Harry Truman is that he was one of the hardest-working and more principled leaders (and politicians) our country has produced.  And that he was quite a simple man in terms of needs and behaviors.

I don’t know who wrote the following description below, but it’s fairly accurate according to Snopes… (Side note 2:  How did Snopes become the WWWebs leading authority for getting to the bottom of urban legends, myths, scams, rumors and half-truths anyway?  It’s a controversial “first place to check” for many half-truths or fact-checking.  Although it can be useful for those questionable emails that too many people send out.)

My point for this lengthy post, is that what you can read below about Truman is an incredibly stark contrast to what we have seen in recent years throughout the political landscape.  As a President, politician, and simple man…  I thought it worth sharing here:

Harry Truman, from Missouri, was a different kind of President.  He probably made as many important decisions regarding our nation’s history as any of the other 42 Presidents.  However, a measure of his greatness may rest on what he did after he left the White House.  Historians have written that the only asset he had when he died was the house he lived in, which was in Independence Missouri .  On top of that, his wife inherited the house from her Mother.

When he retired from office in 1952, his income was a U.S. Army pension reported to have been $13,507.72 a year. Congress, noting that he was paying for his stamps and personally licking them, granted him an ‘allowance’ and, later, a retroactive pension of $25,000 per year.

After President Eisenhower was inaugurated, Harry and Bess drove home to Missouri by themselves.  There were no Secret Service following them.

When offered corporate positions at large salaries, he reportedly declined, stating, ‘You don’t want me.  You want the office of the President, and that doesn’t belong to me.  It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.’

Even later, on May 6, 1971, when Congress was preparing to award him the Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday, he refused to accept it, writing, ‘I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any award, Congressional or otherwise.’  (President Truman passed away just over a year later).

He never owned his own home and as president he paid for all of his own travel expenses and food.
Modern politicians have found a new level of success in cashing in on the Presidency, resulting in untold wealth.
Today, many in Congress also have found a way to become quite wealthy while enjoying the fruits of their offices. Political offices are now for sale.

Good old Harry Truman was correct when he observed, ‘My choices early in life were either to be a piano player in a whore house or a politician.  And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.’

President Truman died on the morning of December 26th, 1972 in Kansas City, Missouri, just over 36 years ago.  A write-up by Mary McGrory in the Washington Star the next day remembered him in a simple and profound manner.

“He was not a hero or a magician or a chess player, or an obsession.  He was a certifiable member of the human race, direct, fallible, and unexpectedly wise when it counted.   He did not require to be loved.  He did not expect to be followed blindly.  Congressional opposition never struck him as subversive, nor did he regard his critics as traitors.  He never whined.”

“He walked around Washington every morning- it was safe then.  He met reporters frequently as a matter of course, and did not blame them for his failures.  He did not use the office as a club or a shield, or a hiding place.  He worked at it… He said he lived by the Bible and history.  So armed, he proved that the ordinary American is capable of grandeur.  And that a President can be a human being…”

May we always be so fortunate as to find such men- and women- as our nation’s leaders.

Building Character, Helping the Community

November 22nd, 2008

It was a big day for our Cub Scouts and the annual Scouting for Food campaign.   This is a national community stewardship project to help alleviate hunger in local communities, with all levels of scouting participating.  In our area, around 25 of our cub scouts collected over 5,700 food items from a couple of nearby small towns.  Thanks to generous donors and more kids in our pack, we beat last year’s collection by almost 2,000 items, mostly canned goods, and brought it all in to a local food pantry.  This one day of food collection provides almost 50% of their annual operations supporting families in need in the local area. 

Cub Scouts and Scouting for Food Campaign

 

We covered half of a small town this morning with our vehicle, and it only took about 90 minutes going from house-to-house. There are a lot of generous people out there, and most of the bags were heavy with food. The bags from what just our family collected almost covered the entire back floor of a pickup truck.  Lots of other vehicles were full of food too.  It was a chilly morning for the kids!

 

 

 

 

Scouting for Food

 

 

  

Equally important however, the boys were learning about helping other people, and “doing good deeds” with their labor.  Last week they walked through towns and neighborhoods placing empty bags on doorknobs.  And today they walked back to every one of those houses, brining back a lot of canned goods.  And when we pulled up to the food pantry, all the scouts pitched in to unload the vehicles.  What a great way to help the local community- and to share food at a time when many people are struggling.

 

 

After the food drive we had a neat “Raingutter Regatta” which is a balsa wood sailboat race in 10 foot gutters- real rain gutters!  The kids built and decorated their sailboats at home in preparation for the race.  Today they raced each other down the raingutter by blowing on the sails.  Some of them were very creative with the little boats, and everyone had a lot of fun.  I’m a den leader for the 2nd grade scouts, and I was very proud of them today!

Cub Scout Raingutter Regatta

Kids and Nature Just Go Together

May 14th, 2008

A nice day today, without rain.  Started cloudy and cool and then warmed up beautifully.  We walked to make the bus for school through the wet grass, with the yellow lab running around us.  As we waited, playing catch with a newspaper, the lab decided to find a comfortable spot in the tall grass and settle down.  He’s becoming more independent as well as comfortable with the world around him.  He was happy just to lay here in the grass and wait until the walk home.

Yellow Labrador Retriever in the grass

In many ways the seven year old is the same.  I find myself looking for opportunities that our son can use to stretch his own independence.   The boy runs around finding interesting things to play with in nature, climbing trees, riding his bicycle, collecting rocks.  When he comes home from school he loves to watch one particular cartoon, and will sit in front of the tv if allowed.  But he loves being outside as well, and comes out pretty quickly to play and follow me around.  He watches and helps me with various projects when he can.  

After the windstorm the other day, we worked together staking nine little trees.  It’s not always my nature to think of ways to involve him, but I’m getting better.  I’m a “do-it-yourselfer” most of the time, and just move from one project to another trying to keep up with things that need done.  But as our son grows I want to share knowledge and find opportunities to involve him and help him learn.

I’ve been watching an interesting show tonight on PBS about kids growing up while living closer to nature versus in a suburban environment.  Did you see it?   Paraphrasing one of the themes:

“The kids growing up over the last twenty years see nature as an abstraction. Something “out there” apart from their own lives.  And that fosters a disconnection with the natural world.”

One of the reasons I love living in the country is to be able to maintain that connection with the natural world.  To live it, touch it and be part of the changing of the seasons.   We thought it important somehow that our son have the opportunity to experience this lifestyle, while balancing the modern world’s tools of technology and communication.

What young child isn’t fascinated with tadpoles?  He loves to play by the water, and always seems to find neat stuff.

Boy finding tadpoles at the pond in spring

But that’s also the challenge in many ways.  As a society we have evolved and are continuing to change very quickly. Kids today are challenged to adapt and are faced with countless choices involving what I call technological literacy.  Certainly basic reading and math literacy is critical as a foundation, but I also believe that technological literacy is something that can empower and leverage an individual’s life and choices in a myriad of constructive ways.   I think that tech literacy must reach a point where a child recognizes the benefits as well as learns the limits of the technology they will use in life, and that it’s really just another set of tools.

Personally I have run the gamut of being an early adopting tech addict years ago, to managing thousands of the most advanced computers and communications equipment in the world, and now back to being a simple user of technology in a way that expresses creativity and helps me keep up at home.  I feel like I’ve come full circle, and have heard the same from others.  I’m still tempted by new-fangled gadgets, but weigh the cost of owning and using them not only in dollars, but also in time.  Time seems to become more precious in many ways, and I am thankful to have time to do what is necessary each day.

But I always come back to nature, or what I see as “real” with the world around us.  Perhaps as a way to find a centered place within, and a foundation of being well grounded. I fear losing the connection with nature and what is real.  Somehow the spirit of the living and the energy that exists in nature are like healing waters that a metaphorical fountain brings forth.  When we work and take part in the natural world we touch our roots, and renew the bonds of life that exists between the human species and the living world.  

So where our son is concerned, a lot of it has to do with me. I have always sought a rural lifestyle, and a chance to learn and practice basic skills of living and self sufficiency.  I like that about living here.  But at times I wonder if the boy isn’t missing out with many of the various activities that a suburban lifestyle might offer.

We do try to involve him in typical activities such as baseball and scouting.  And he has the run of ten acres of land, joining more land in the area.  But driving to town takes a few gallons of gas round trip, so it’s not something we do routinely without a reason.  There are no nearby places to go and interact with others unless we get in the car and make the trip.  So he does miss different aspects of living in society such as a suburban area with parks full of other kids.  For all those who live in this area, it’s just the way it is.

Thankfully he has a full school day and a district that believes strongly in physical activity.  They usually have three recess periods to work off excess energy (or catch up on work not quite finished).   By the time he gets home he needs a break, but is then ready to head outside and play again.

I know as he grows up he will have the opportunity to experience far more than we see here at home anyway. In that regard I’m not worried about what he may miss for a few years.  To see him run and play, discovering new critters, finding cool rocks or snail shells to collect, shouting and screaming at imaginary creatures, all are things that I believe help create a balance and ability to find a centered place within himself which he will carry for the rest of his life.

Blowing Dandelion seeds in the wind

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s where I am.  I have this sense that he needs this in his life, and that many years from now he will reflect on it and find satisfaction and strength in his experience.  Certainly all parents must make choices that they believe best for their children.  There are times in our lives that we are fortunate to have the ability to make certain choices, where others may not.  For however long we are here, I am thankful for our experience. 

Fairy Rings and Fungi

April 3rd, 2008

The oddities of nature amaze me.  Or maybe they’re not oddities, but I am amazed anyway.  I’ve been watching a fairy ring in a field for a year or two.  I didn’t recognize the green dark ring at first, but then found the strange, dark fungi hidden beneath the grass.  Since I first noticed it, it hasn’t become much larger.  Which makes me think it grows very slowly. 

 Fairy ring in pasture

It was interesting to read Fun Facts about Fungi and how fairy rings grow.   They also describe one in France that is over a half mile in diameter and maybe 700 years old!    Our little fairy ring is about 20 feet in diameter, and probably at least that old in years.

 Unknown Fungi in pasture

What kind of fungi is this?  I’m not really sure.  I thought maybe a puffball, but it’s flat along the top.  We’ll keep checking on it through the years.  

It’s colder and rainy again today, and the spring season is beginning slowly.  But when we get a day or two of warming weather it’s time to think about Morels…  we haven’t found any on our property, but maybe some day.  Folks guard their secret morel sites carefully.  They are really delicious!

Our Nature with Trees as Inspiration

April 1st, 2008

It seems to me that among the many things we have in common as humans on this great planet earth, is a desire to share our interests and creativity with each other, even when we do so somewhat anonymously :)   Technology has leveraged this ability for so many of us, and allowed amateur journalists and photographers to start their own published works.  Why do we write or take pictures, and share our thoughts with other people we may never meet as more than mere pseudonyms? 

Perhaps it is more than that… we are sharing our nature with each other, and our love for the larger Nature of the world around us.  Inspiration comes in many forms, but today it comes from Trees.  

Festival of the Trees

When I submitted a post on The Tuning Fork Tree for the wonderful Festival of the Trees this month, I didn’t have any idea that it would be hosted half a world away in Sao Paulo, Brazil! 

But it’s true- this month the Festival of the Trees is hosted by Alive Trees in Our Lives … soon to include an english translation if it’s not there quite yet.  Being ever curious however, I found a little help from Alta Vista Babel Fish, pasted the link to the site, selected Portuguese to English, and then translate!  Isn’t technology wonderful?  Then I was able to read not only the wonderful festival post, but also to discover more about Alive Trees in Our Lives and their mission:

“To promote and to develop action and projects that value the trees, creating a culture of encantamento, recognition and preservation, always with much joy, creativity and integration.”

 Would encantamento be charm or enchantment?  It missed that word, but when you visit the Alive Trees site you get the idea, and then understand that the Trees and forests are the inspiration and mission.  What a joy to find themes of Nature shared here and there.  But then again, we really are on the same journey, aren’t we?

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