Friday, June 30, 2017

Since When is the Exclusion of Immigrants a "Christian Dream"?

Recently, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University and leader in the Religious Right, went on Fox News and proclaimed that The Toupee Who Shall Not Be Named is a “dream president for Evangelicals.”

Let that sink in for a minute. That a person who exemplifies the exact opposite of every Christian virtue - greed, arrogance, self-aggrandizement, bragging about sexual exploits, cheating people with less power in his business dealings, and on and on - is now a “dream president for Evangelicals” is astonishing to me.

I could just let that sit, and end this post. Because it says a lot.

But there is more. First of all, while there has been some condemnation of this statement from progressive Christians, there has been a deafening silence from Evangelicalism itself. I guess since Russell Moore, probably the lone voice of opposition to Trumpism within the Evangelical Industrial Complex, was effectively silenced, nobody is willing to speak up.

But wait, there’s more!

In identifying exactly why Trump is a “dream president,” Falwell went well beyond the usual suspects. Sure, he mentioned getting a Supreme Court justice, and fearmongered about ISIS. (And pretty much any GOP president would have given Evangelicals those things.) But he also said some other interesting things, most notably this:

That Trump is a dream president for Evangelicals because...wait for it...he’s going to build a border wall and crack down on cities who don't make the deportation of immigrants a law enforcement priority. That is what distinguishes him from the average Republican.

But this is just astounding to me.

Falwell just stated that excluding Latin American immigrants (most of whom are Christian) from the United States is a dream for Evangelicals.

As Wallis points out, this is only a dream for WHITE evangelicals. And the fact that it is is deeply troubling to me.

In fact, let me just be clear about this: the deafening silence of Evangelicals about obvious, open racism in this election is one of the reasons I have left Evangelicalism and will not be going back. I can no longer believe the Evangelical system is a morally appropriate place to raise my children.

I’m not saying that every Evangelical is racist (although many are in deep denial about their racist attitudes). Rather, there are plenty who openly say racist things and this doesn’t bother the others, as far as I can tell. In particular, immigration has been one area that attracted a lot of white Evangelicals I know to Trump. And not just in the usual coded language of “I’m fine with the legal ones…” but in the outright sense of “we have too many Mexicans already.” (It’s beyond the scope of this post, but a lot of people do not actually have any clue what our immigration laws actually say. If you are not educated, wealthy, or have immediate family here, there is NO legal path to enter the US from Latin America - or south Asia. Impoverished people seeking a better life - like my ancestors - have no legal way to come here.) Even those who claim to be open to immigration turn out not to be when you suggest we should relax our laws so that those who wish to come here seeking a better life can come legally. Then you hear “we have too many already.”

And then there is the argument that they are moochers off the welfare state - as if people who work long, hard hours at low paying jobs are sponging off others by expecting to be able to feed,  clothe, educate, and obtain health care for their children like the rest of us. I would really love to see those people making the moocher argument have to spend 60 hours a week doing field work - and then be told that their children shouldn't get medical care because they are lazy.  

The worst of all was the argument - which more than one person made - that Latinos are like the Amalekites and thus we are justified in building walls to keep them out. Of course, this assumes that (white) America is the new Israel (which is an actual White Identity belief…) and that Latinos are pagans intent on conquering us. But it also assumes that White American = Christian and Brown Latino = non-Christian in some way, which is ludicrous if you think about it. This also assumes that people seeking a better life for themselves and their children are somehow invading hoards. Unlike our own white ancestors, of course. It was fine that we came, but nobody else should get to, right? We got ours, too damn bad for you...

This is particularly bizarre in light of the fact that the immigrants that white Evangelicals seem so eager to exclude are overwhelmingly Christian. But apparently not the right kind of Christian.

It isn’t hard to see where this came from, though. As Mark Noll noted in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, it has been a long time since Evangelicalism actually had a coherent - and truly Christian way of looking at the world. Instead, it has focused on the pursuit of political power and exclusion of others. It is no surprise, therefore, that the vacuum of actual Christian values on the issue of immigration would be filled by another source of philosophy.

First, I should just note that neither Scripture nor historical Christian thought has supported the exclusion of immigrants on a racial or political basis. Christ himself said that our eternal destiny would rest in significant part on whether we accept and embrace immigrants and refugees. Ezekiel noted that Sodom was destroyed, not for its sex, but for its poor treatment of the poor and immigrants.

But it is pretty clear that there has been a tradition that considered White Supremacy and exclusion of immigrants to be a “Christian” value. That would be the Ku Klux Klan. The massive wave of immigration that brought my own ancestors to the United States in the 1880s resulted in a backlash from, um, earlier immigrants who didn’t like the newcomers. The 1920s KKK political platform differs from the Trump platform only in that Islam, not Catholicism, is the bogeyman. And now it is the Mexicans, not the Irish, that are feared.  

By the way, the KKK has always considered itself to be a defender of Christianity. But their religion has less to do with the teachings of Christ, and more to do with “Christian Identity,” which includes a belief in the superiority of the white race.

Joseph Mitchell, who lived through the 1920s in a place where the KKK was active, once described their platform as:

“The Ku Klux Klan stands on a platform of 100-per-cent Americanism, white supremacy in the South, deportation of aliens, purity of womanhood, and eradication of the chain store.”

The more you read about the KKK - particularly in that era when it attempted to go mainstream - the more familiar it looks.

So where did this come from? Well, a good theory is that because white Evangelicals identify strongly with the Republican party and with right wing politics, they have simply followed the changing trends within those groups.

Here is an example. As recently as the Ronald Reagan years, the GOP was pro immigration. And even in the recent past - say, 2007 - that was still the case within the mainstream of the party. People like my parents, raised overseas, and under no illusion that Christianity and America were the same thing, were pretty typical in the Evangelical circles were ran in. And I sure don’t remember hearing a whole lot of overtly racist stuff - except from my grandparents’ generation. Good god, they were and are bad. But it wasn’t a position that was considered particularly central to Christianity.

But something did definitely change in the last few years. Between Fox News, the Tea Party movement, the rise of Breitbart and the Alt Right, and so on, the focus and identity of the Right shifted dramatically. Even 10 years ago, I cannot imagine that any of the Evangelicals I knew would have been touting Milo Yiannopoulos. But here we are. Because Evangelicals were not used to actually thinking in a Christian way about immigration, the vacuum was filled by White Nationalism.

Another possibility is that this is primarily about politics. White Evangelicals overwhelmingly vote Republican, regardless of the candidate. (And that is why Bill Clinton was evil while Trump is good…) Non-whites tend to vote for, um, the other side. So it is crucial to keep non-Whites out of the country so that the “right” party can prevail.

Folks, that isn’t Christianity. That’s Republicanity. Political power of one party trumps (sorry) the needs and well being of impoverished Christians from other countries. I’m embarrassed.

The point here isn’t that all Evangelicals hold these values. I don’t believe that to be the case. And I know not everyone who voted for Trump did so because of his racism - many held their nose because they disliked Hillary more.

The point is that someone like Falwell can stand up and claim that an appeal to xenophobia - and Nativist policies - makes someone a dream president for Evangelicals - and Falwell knows he will not be challenged or suffer any consequences for doing so. (Quite a contrast from what would happen if he, for example, broke ranks on the nature of hell…) In fact, in light of the Russell Moore situation, Falwell knows that anyone who challenges him on the grounds that racism and xenophobia is incompatible with Christianity will be silenced.

And now, here we are. A significant Evangelical leader can say that exclusion of brown skinned immigrants is an “Evangelical Dream” - and he is, I am sadly coming to realize, probably correct.


Actually, the answer to my question is “at least since the founding of the Religious Right.” Falwell Sr., Bob Jones Sr., and Phyllis Schlafly were all pro-segregation and anti-immigration from the beginning, and as Paul Weyrich stated in his book on the founding of the RR, segregation in “Christian” education was THE reason why it was founded in the first place. Racism and xenophobia were part of the movement from the beginning. But at least in my experience, that part of the platform went underground for a few decades, until the rise of the Alt Right and Trump made White Supremacy socially acceptable again.


Falwell has been kissing Trump’s ass since the primary, by the way. And he will now be rewarded for his loyalty with a political position


I linked it above, but really, read Jim Wallis’ piece.


On an island in New York Harbor stands a beautiful statue, a symbol of freedom - and welcome to the poor and downtrodden. In the adjoining museum is a plaque - formerly housed in the base - bearing the words of poet Emma Lazarus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Once upon a time, most conservatives I knew said they believed this. Once upon a time, those who claimed to follow Christ acknowledged that He is the god of the outcast, of the refugee, of the immigrant (as the children of Israel were in Egypt…), of the poor and powerless. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Source of book: Audiobook from my brother’s collection

“In a distant and secondhand set of dimensions, in an astral plane that was never meant to fly, the curling star-mists waver and part…”

And thus begins the first book in the Discworld series, which comprises the bulk of Terry Pratchett’s large and delightful output. 

In the introduction to the paperback edition of this book, Pratchett explains that his inspiration for Discworld was pretty simple. He just took the ancient Indo-European cosmological myth, of the disc-shaped world supported by four elephants standing on the back of a turtle, added his characteristic sense of humor, and there it was. No maps, no logical plan for the world, no worries about continuity errors. Just a world that is both familiar and full of surprises, that entertains while telling us truth about ourselves and our own world. Pratchett admits with his typical self-deprecation, that a reader who has read some of his later books already knows more about what Discworld would become than he did when he started it.  

Back in the day, there was a video game called Gauntlet that my brother and I used to play. Really one of the first multiplayer dungeon games - it was a lot of fun if you had it on your own computer. At the arcade, it was a legendary money eater.

Anyway, it was hard not to think of that game with the sendup of stock fantasy characters in The Colour of Magic. There is a barbarian warrior, Hrun. Except he is dumber than rocks and all brawn - he makes Conan the Barbarian seem like a great orator. There is the wizard. Except the wizard is Rincewind, the least competent wizard ever. Not just that, but bad things keep happening to him. Except that, in another sense, he is impossibly lucky. Add to this a dragon riding young woman bent on solidifying her power over her kingdom at the expense of her brothers, a guild of wizards intent on determining the most pressing cosmological question: the sex of the Great Turtle on which the world rests, and a living wooden chest made of sapient pearwood, which is immune to magic, and intent on protecting the worst tourist ever, and you have, well, The Colour of Magic.

This book introduces a number of the places, people, and ideas which will recur throughout the Discworld series. We meet, for the first time, The Watch, who have a talent for showing up at brawls just as soon as the real fighting is over. The Thieves’ Guild and the Assassins Guild - crime is thoroughly unionized and regulated in this world. The Unseen University, where wizards are trained. (As it becomes clear eventually, wizards are far less competent than witches in the Discworld, mostly because their sense of self-importance gets in the way of actually doing anything useful.) The mystical significance of the number eight, which must never be spoken by wizards.

And, of course, the colour of magic itself. (Pratchett, being British, uses that spelling - as well as British pronunciations.) In case you wondered, the colour is the eight color in the rainbow - “octarine.” If you can’t see it, you probably are not magical.

After the introduction of the basic cosmology of the Discworld, the story opens in the middle, with the great city of Angk-Morpork in flames, and three figures fleeing the flame. One is Rincewind, who tells of what happened before.

Rincewind was innocently sitting in a thoroughly disreputable tavern, when a round foreigner with four eyes shows up - along with a mysterious wooden chest which walks on its own, and has a nasty tendency to eat anyone who messes with its owner. This chest, made of “sapient pearwood,” is given the name of “The Luggage,” and plays a key role in the story. The foreigner is Twoflower, who hails from another place on the disk, the Agatean Empire on the mysterious Counterweight Continent. Twoflower is an insurance actuary, and has put together a sum of money to go on the vacation of a lifetime, to see all the attractions of Angk-Morpork for himself - particularly all the “quaint” ones, which turn out to be all the sordid, dangerous, and barbaric parts.

Rincewind gets involved because he is fluent in many languages - about his only skill, considering he flunked Unseen University. He is able to find common ground with Twoflower, whose only prior means of communication was a “phrases” book. (This is pretty hilarious - particularly to someone who is pathetically monolingual like me.) Twoflower offers to pay Rincewind handsomely to play tour guide - a proposition Rincewind finds insulting yet lucrative. Rincewind pockets his advance fee and attempts to flee, but he is captured by the Patrician of Angk-Morpork, who threatens to prosecute him if he doesn’t agree to keep Twoflower safe. After all, can’t have an international incident leading perhaps to war…

Twoflower is the Ugly Tourist in all his glory, taking endless pictures (using a camera which is an artistic and sarcastic imp in the box…), carelessly flashing his cash, and generally getting into trouble. And yes, it is definitely his fault the city burns down.

The adventures eventually lead them to an enchanted upside down mountain that houses semi-imaginary dragons, and a young woman intent on coopting a strong man to serve as figurehead while she roles her domains. Later, Rincewind and Twoflower end up on a jet airplane in an alternate world, on a slaver ship, and on the edge of the rim of the Discworld itself.

And in the end, it all turns out to have been due in large part to a wager between two of the gods: Fate, and “The Lady.” Fate, like Death, is supposedly never cheated. But The Lady appears to be doing it, in the service of Rincewind, of all people.

The gods are, in Pratchett’s world, a great deal like the Greco-Roman gods, mostly more powerful - and capricious - than humans, but otherwise much like them. As Pratchett puts in in an aside on the Discworld cosmology:

Precisely why all of the above should be so is not clear, but goes some way to explain why, on the disc, the Gods are not so much worshipped as blamed.

This line gets used in other books, I believe, and it is one of Pratchett’s lines that I was most familiar with before reading this book.

I should also mention another great line. Hrun the Barbarian is generally pretty good comic relief, as is his talking sword that everyone hates because it won’t shut up and stop giving unsolicited advice. We first meet Hrun as he inadvertently stumbles upon the temple of Bel-Shamharoth (kind of the Discworld Cthulhu) the “Soul Eater.”

On the whole, the unpleasant carvings and occasional disjointed skeletons he passed held no fears for Hrun. This was partly because he was not exceptionally bright while being at the same time exceptionally unimaginative, but it was also because odd carvings and perilous tunnels were all in a day’s work. He spent a great deal of time in similar situations, seeking gold or demons or distressed virgins and relieving them respectively of their owners, their lives, and at least one cause of their distress.

This book was the first, and it doesn’t show quite the polish or the depth of subsequent installments. But it is still a lot of fun. My boys particularly loved The Luggage. They had already read the book before we listened to it, so they knew all the funny parts in advance. My older girls are getting a bit of the jaded teenager thing about Pratchett, so they weren’t quite as enthusiastic. To each their own…

I look forward to future installments in the Discworld universe - they make great travelling books because of the pacing and humor. 

Other Terry Pratchett books I have reviewed:

Guards! Guards! (unfortunately, an abridged edition…)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

Source of book: Borrowed from the library

When Oliver Sacks died a couple of years back, after a long and distinguished career as a neurologist, teacher, and writer, I realized that I had somehow missed ever reading his books, although I had run across his name from time to time as a source. Of his numerous books on the human brain and nervous system, I picked Musicophilia because, well, it had a music connection. 

In addition to his actual career, Sacks was a classically trained pianist of some skill. Not world class, but good enough to enjoy himself and learn the repertoire. His love for classical music comes out in this book. He may mention pop songs as they related to particular patients or case studies, but his references to classical works are detailed and knowledgeable. One might say he was a kindred spirit to those of us who love the great masters.

Musicophilia is written around a central theme: music and the brain. However, it is not intended to be a treatise, but a series of stories. You can tell Sacks has a personal connection with his patients, and even with those cases he reads about. He is thoroughly compassionate and genuinely cares about the details of their lives.

The book is divided into four sections. The first is entitled “Haunted by Music,” and tells of some genuinely spooky cases. The man who was struck by lightning and then developed a sudden passion for music - in middle age no less. The musical triggers for seizures - and the bizarre auras with musical components. Earworms. And musical hallucinations. These are all pretty fascinating. I found particularly amusing the woman who suffered from musical hallucinations, and mostly enjoyed them, but feared that she would develop more than one simultaneous tune. As she was an Ives fan, this was not a specious fear…

The second part, entitled “A Range of Musicality,” explores the topic of musicality. As a semi-professional musician, this was of somewhat personal interest. While I don’t think I have true perfect pitch, I have pretty solid pitch within the range of the violin, my main instrument. (Not as good in the bass range.) It is interesting the interplay between natural talent and acquired skill in this area. Indeed, I think one of the most fascinating ideas in this book is that, with very few exceptions, all of us have some musical deficiency, whether it is in coordination, pitch, memory, musicality, or some mental or physical component of music making. Those with few deficits - and proper training - become the great players and composers. Mozart probably was such a prodigy. Sacks contrasts Beethoven and Tchaikovsky for their very different musical gifts, which is an apt comparison. I myself am all too aware of my weaknesses as a musician - and Sacks is right that some of these are just the cards I was dealt. Obviously, we practice and work toward improvement, but it isn’t just effort that determines the highest level of musicality.

And then there are those who have more grave deficits, such as tone deafness. I have known people like this - and in some cases, the lack of skill was definitely not for lack of trying. Sacks, who is Jewish, though Agnostic, mentions a particularly excruciating experience he had with an acutely horrible cantor. When he mentioned this to the rabbi, the rabbi responded that the man was very pious and tried very hard. Sacks responded: “I said I had no doubt of this, but that one could not have a tone-deaf cantor; this was, to anyone musical, akin to having a clumsy surgeon.” I could not agree more!

I found this whole section to be delightful. Sacks gets it, because he is a musician. He too finds music to be magical, but knows that the performance of music conceals a lot of blood, sweat, and tears behind that magic.

I should also mention the chapter on Synesthesia. I have a couple of friends who have this particular, well, I’m not sure what to call it. It isn’t a deficit or a disease - rather, it is more of a hyperconnection of the senses, so that words, letters, and music have colors, tastes, smells, and whatever. It is different for each, of course, but the connection between seemingly unconnected things is fascinating. Almost like (or at least I have been told…) the effect of hallucinogens on the brain. I myself believe I have a mild form of it, as I do experience it occasionally. This book clarified that that I really do associate keys with colors and emotions. I remember the first time I realized this - the pianist at the church we were attending played the same piece in C major, then, after some other stuff to clear the brain, in B major. Holy cow, what a difference! And on a tempered piano, it wasn’t the intervals, but the key itself. This is more common in those of us with at least semi-perfect pitch - which she had as well. I never forgot that epiphany, and ever since have felt keenly the “color” of every key. (I’m not alone: Berlioz mentions it in his treatise on orchestration - and most composers have wielded keys to great effect.) Three of my favorite examples: Vivaldi’s Spring is in E Major. I have played a dumbed down arrangement in D Major. It seems so flat in that key. The sparkle is in the sharps - you can almost see the rich green of new growth. Then, there is my favorite Mozart piano concerto, the Bb, composed near the end of his life. The tune itself would be merely pretty in C, optimistic in D, romantic in E. But in Bb, good lord, it turns into the most poignant and melancholy melody - so delicious. And finally, the third movement of Sibelius’ 2nd Symphony, one of my favorites. After the skittering first section of the scherzo, the slow trio, meant to represent the soul of the oppressed Finnish people is played on oboe. In Gb Major. Dang. It would not be the same in any other key. But those flats. I’m thinking maybe crimson, faded crimson. Well, enough about that. See the clips at the end if you want to hear these.

The third section is entitled “Memory, Movement, and Music,” and delves into the brain itself, particularly into how music triggers many different areas of the brain, and thus can get around various deficits. Mentioned in this section is the way that dance can often bypass the ravages of Parkinsons, and how Tourettes can be alleviated using the right type of music. (Which varies by patient.) How aphasia can give an exemption to singing. And, for those of us familiar with the tragedy of Schumann’s hand, the many instances of Musician’s Dystonia. (Heaven preserve me from that one…)

The final section is “Emotion, Identity, and Music.” This section is pretty broad, ranging from Williams Syndrome and Dementia to musical dreams and depression. The emotional impact of music is very real to me. While I am not particularly prone to depression, I have had my moments of struggle. And music has been there for me. Overpowering emotion can really only be expressed or understood in those words that cannot be uttered. Sacks talks of his own experiences here, both physical (he had a serious injury to his leg) and emotional (several periods of deep depression), and how music affected him in those times. Sacks shows a lot of vulnerability telling of his struggles.

The section on dreams was interesting. It was not at all surprising that musicians tend to dream of music. And so have I. Particularly apropos was the fact that during stress, musicians dream of music gone wrong. I am not prone to the “speech in underwear” sort of dream - I dream of playing in rests, or totally botching an exposed section. Noooooo!

I really enjoyed this book, and intend to put several other books by Sacks on my list. He is a good writer, tells his stories well, and shows such a compassionate and human approach to the experiences of his patients - and that makes his writing compelling.


Ah, the music. I needed an excuse for these.

First, the Vivaldi. This clip cannot be embedded, so click the link. I have long been partial to Perlman’s version of this - he doesn’t take it too fast. I had the chance to play this with the Bakersfield College orchestra back in the day - I did the first two movements, while my brother did the third. 

Next up: Mozart. I had the chance to hear this live at the Getty Villa as a teen. My then violin teacher played with the LA Baroque Orchestra, and he smuggled me in. It was on period instruments, including a clavier. I have never forgotten that night.

Finally, Sibelius. I am citing the 3rd movement for the key, but you really should listen to the whole thing for the complete picture. Sibelius builds the entire symphony off of three ascending notes in the scale, finally resolving it at the very end by adding the fourth note. The second movement, which Sibelius hinted was inspired by Faust in his study, gives me such shivers. And that ending. Total genius. The endless ostinato in scales and that final resolution to the fourth note. I should mention that Leonard Bernstein, in his fabulous series of Young People’s Concerts, devotes an entire concert to Sibelius, and features this symphony. It is pricy, but the whole set is phenomenal, if you get a chance to buy it. Anyway, here is Lenny with the last two movements.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Zion National Park

This post is part of my series on the National Park System. One of my goals while the kids are still at home is to visit as many of the National Parks and Monuments in the Western United States as we can.

I have a particularly special relationship with Zion National Park. I believe I was age 11 or 12 when I first visited - very briefly. We were on our way home from the Grand Canyon, having seen first the south rim then the north rim, and we decided to drive through the park on the way to St. George. I don’t think we even had time to drive the canyon itself, so we saw the east part of the park and the tunnels and not a whole lot more. But it was enough that we determined to come back and soon. It must have been later that year or maybe the next spring that we planned a trip solely to see Zion, and hiked a few of the shorter trails.

That was the beginning of a love affair that brought us back to Zion at least twice a year. Living first in Los Angeles, then near Frazier Park, and finally in Bakersfield, St. George was all of six and a half hours away, and the park less than an hour from there. Often, we would leave at midnight, drive straight to the park for an early start, hike until mid afternoon, then soak in the hot tub at the hotel, hike the next day, and drive back the day after, for a long weekend of at least ten miles of hiking and exploring. Each time, we would try to take someone who had never seen Zion with us.

I remember that first time at age 12 ascending Angel’s Landing. We were fairly inexperienced at strenuous hiking, and we were so sore afterward that getting to the second floor at the hotel was painful. But the views were so spectacular, we purposed to hike that route as often as we could. Angel’s Landing remains one of my favorite hikes - and it has been both thrilling and terrifying to introduce the kids one by one to it.

(The last half mile is on a knife edge with sheer dropoffs literally 1500 feet straight down on each side. You have chains to hang on to - it isn’t for the faint of heart. The heights didn’t bother me as a kid. Watching my kids now, it is a whole different ballgame.)

I also remember the time when I was a teenager when we hiked the Kolob Arch trail in a day. The 15 miles wasn’t the problem - it was fairly flat. It’s that the whole trail was this deep soft sand. We were so dead by the end, then we had to hike up about 400 feet of elevation to the trailhead - and a summer thunderstorm blew through. Soaked, hoping not to get hit by lightning, and dead exhausted. Good times.

After I moved out in my early 20s, we had a bit of a gap in our visits. Life got busy, I wasn’t flush with cash, and I had a girlfriend who I couldn’t exactly take along, as much as I wanted to. (Both of our parents would have strongly disapproved of such a scandalous thing…)

After we got married, things were obviously different. We visited together during our first year of marriage. Of all the odd things to remember about that trip, I recall watching the Lakers and Kings battle it out. (The end of the 2000-2002 dynasty.) But also, it was Amanda’s first trip up - where else? - Angel’s Landing. (Her dad is a legendary hiker, but he cannot do heights at all.)

Our next trip was when our eldest child was a year old - and Amanda was six months pregnant with our second. (Yeah, our first three kids are ridiculously close in age. Crazy times.) I had Ella on my back in a backpack and Amanda was rather gravid. So naturally, we tackled a trail 10 miles round trip with 2000 feet of climb. Because we could. We both remember her blowing by some college aged guys who gave her dirty looks because they couldn’t keep up. I just about died hanging with her myself. (In fact, my knees hurt so much on the downhill that I worried I was going to have to give up hiking. Instead, I made a lifestyle change toward regular exercise, taking up first soccer then running and making sure I did it 3-4 times each and every week. It made all the difference in the world, and the kids and I hike 120-150 miles together each year these days.)

Since then, we have gone back more or less every other year. My oldest two daughters have been up Angel’s Landing with me, and all the kids have gone to the overlook just before the chains on their own two feet. Last year, in our most recent visit, the two of them went partway up the Narrows with me, which was a fun adventure.

So what is Zion? To put it one way, it is a gigantic fossil. The sandstone cliffs are 3000 feet tall - they are petrified sand dunes from the ancient past. Actually, the entire area is a remarkably intact section of the geologic column. You can go from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the formations on the mountains above Bryce Canyon National Park and traverse nearly a billion years in history.

The layers at Zion are particularly thick, and they are revealed by the action of the Virgin River, which has carved a slot through the sandstone, making a dramatic and unforgettable canyon. Even taking the shuttle through the canyon drive is a spectacular experience, but you really must get out and hike to get the full experience. Don’t expect solitude, but the spectacular views are worth it. Also, just like anywhere, the further you get away from the road, the fewer people. A short hike like the Emerald Pools (which you should do) will be crowded. The top of the overlook on the East Rim is less popular because of the long and strenuous hike to get there. Likewise, if you take the road toward the Kolob reservoir, most of those trails are empty during the week. The Kolob section of the park is also a great place to hike, with fewer people. The cliffs aren’t as high, but you get some excellent slot canyons.

Zion has always been a popular park, but the last decade or so, crowds have increased a lot. It is worth it to visit during the week, if you can - and definitely NOT during Spring Break. (They had record crowds, and despite an excellent shuttle system, parking was full by 8 AM many days.) The best times to visit are in Spring and Fall, but the park has its charms other times of the year. If you go in summer, hike early, and bring a lot of water. The sandstone concentrates the heat, and there isn’t much shade. I haven’t been there in the winter, but I think it could be interesting then as well.

If you have the time, there are also other places to see in the surrounding area. If you are there in the summer or fall, Kanarraville Falls is an amazing slot canyon we discovered last year. No technical skills are required. If you want solitude, get an early start. Snow Canyon State Park is also a delightful spot, with several short hikes with good scenery. It too is rarely crowded. Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Pipe Spring National Monument are all relatively close destinations. There is also a museum in St. George with dinosaur tracks that were discovered there. It’s a worthwhile place to visit.

Hotels in St. George are ludicrously inexpensive, which is why we don’t generally camp there. Good food can sometimes be difficult to find in smaller Utah towns - St. George is heavy on burger chains, for example. But there are some good exceptions here. We are particularly fond of the Mongolian BBQ place - a little hole in the wall that knows our family well. The Bear Paw Cafe is a good place for breakfast and coffee. Recently, a brewpub opened right by the entrance. Due to quirky Utah liquor laws, you have to have food if you want booze. But the food is solid, and the beer quite good, particularly after a hot hike. I’m happy to see places like these pop up. (One observation from our travels in small towns in flyover territory: brewpubs often have higher quality food - more imaginative and less 1950s - than other places. Yelp is your friend too. The 21st Century is looking to be a golden age for us foodies.)

 From 2004: The very small Ella and a younger, thinner me. The backpack finally died after the fifth kid, but I am still hiking with that hat and stick - both of which I have had since my teens. The hat was from a tourist trap near Zion. The stick is diamond willow from Alaska, which a friend brought back for me. I sanded it and give it a new coat of tung oil finish every few years.

 Amanda in 2004. She was 6 months pregnant with Cora here. This is at the entrance to Echo Canyon, on the East Rim trail.

Ella, Cordelia, and Amanda in 2006. Ted would have been an infant that year. 
This is the Virgin River on the Gateway to the Narrows trail. 

Cordelia, Ella, and Ted on the Emerald Pools Trail in 2009. 

Ted, Ella, Cordelia, and Fritz on the Angel's Landing Trail, 2011.
  Ella, Fritz, Amanda, Lillian, Ted, and Cordelia on the "Walter's Wiggles" section of the Angel's Landing Trail, 2013. 

Real trails have curves. These are the lower switchbacks on the Angel's Landing Trail, viewed from the bottom of Refrigerator Canyon.  
 Ella on the edge of the world. This is the sheer north face of Angel's Landing, 
literally 1500 feet straight down in front of her. (2013)

 Cordelia, Ella, and me in the Narrows, 2016. 

 A better view of Walter's Wiggles, 2016.

 Ella and Cordelia on the top of Angel's Landing, 2016.

 Trying to capture the scope of Zion with a camera is difficult. 
This is one of my favorite pictures, from 2016.