Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Vigorous Life

I had a great hike with my dog, Faith, this morning. At the University of the South, a Perimeter Trail offers some outstanding bluff views above valleys to the north and west. At Green's View, an up and down hike leads through Skake Rag Hollow and a foot bridge to the northeast leads to the Piney Point path which skirts Saint Andrew's-Sewanee School. It was a morning hike where in some places only the deer had traveled since the recent snows. The following excerpt from TR's Autobiography often revisits me when I'm in the midst of a vigorous challenge. I thought you might like it:

"I once made a speech to which I gave the title 'The Strenuous Life.' Afterwards I published a volume of essays with this for a title. There were two translations of it which always especially pleased me. One was by a Japanese officer who knew English well, and who had carried the essay all through the Manchurian campaign, and later translated it for the benefit of his countrymen. The other was by an Italian lady, whose brother, an officer in the Italian army who had died on duty in a foreign land, had also greatly liked the article and carried it round with him. In translating the title the lady rendered it in Italian as Vigor di Vita. I thought this translation a great improvement on the original, and have always wished that I had myself used 'The Vigor of Life' as a heading to indicate what I was trying to preach, instead of the heading I actually did use."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happy 152nd Birthday TR

Theodore Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858, in New York City, New York. On October 27, 1880, TR married Alice Lee. On October 27, 2010, I had the pleasure of performing for the United Way in Rockford, Illinois and for students at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Happy birthday, TR!

I haven't written here in months. I've had a summer and fall that has been delightfully Rooseveltian in its pace. I've had 65 shows in 18 states in 120 days. I've visited another two dozen sites for research and marketing. Old and new friends have sustained me along the way. Jenny and Sam make it all worth while.

In the weeks ahead, I'll perform in Michigan, Alabama, Illinois, Tennessee, California, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Florida. I'm having a bully time. The credit goes to the man. Happy birthday to that man in the arena, to the man who used the bully pulpit to call us to be our best, to pull our own weight, to be good husbands, fathers and sons, good wives, mothers and daughters. Bringing him to life is a very important thing. I hope to do it better and better every day, and I hope to see you someday soon.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Notes from the Ozarks & Commemorating the Big Burn of 1910

I'm just a little road buzzed after a quick out and back to Branson, Missouri. I had a chance to perform at an intimate fundraiser for Congressman Roy Blunt, the next Republican Senator from Missouri. In the audience was former Attorney General John Ashcroft and his wife. Yakov Smirnoff, the Russian born comedian who reminds us how blessed we are to live in America performed a little earlier in the evening and General Ashcroft and Congressman Blunt both made insightful remarks. I was happy to support a good man in the arena.

I finally banged out a bit of promotional text for a return engagement at Red Rocks Canyon outside of Las Vegas. I thought I'd share it below. As noted, I'll talk about the fires of 1910, subject this year of a great book called Big Burn by Timothy Egan. The fire fighters of the Bureau of Land Management like fire fighters throughout federal, state and local agencies have already begun their hot and dangerous summer fire fighting duties. I once asked a Black Hills forest ranger how long he had been doing his work, and he answered "Thirty-eight fire seasons."

In 1910, two forces of nature swept across the American West. Fresh from his safari in Africa and triumphant tour of Europe, former President Theodore Roosevelt toured the West by train. Meanwhile, in July and August of 1910, tens of thousands of acres of forests burned in hundreds of fires, most started by lightning strikes and others by train sparks. On August 20 and 21, 1910, hurricane force winds combined force with the fires, killing an estimated eighty-seven souls, destroying over three million acres of forests in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, including several small towns and over one third of Wallace, Idaho. The primary heroes of the fire were the men of the National Forest Service, dozens of whom died fighting the fires. Created just five years before by Theodore Roosevelt and administered by Chief Forestor Gifford Pinchot, the predecessor of the United States Forest Service was the front line of fire fighting in the American forest.

On July 3, 4 and 5, Theodore Roosevelt will come to life at Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area in the person of Joe Wiegand, an actor who tours the country performing as the great conservation President. As Theodore Roosevelt, during performances at the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center Wiegand will salute the men and women of the Bureau of Land Management and others who fight fires throughout the nation. Performances are free and open to the public and Wiegand will take questions from the audience in character as TR.

Hour-long performances on July 3 are at 1:00 P.M. and 3:00 P.M. Performances on July 4 and 5 are at 11:00 A.M., 1:00 P.M. and 3:00 P.M. When he’s not performing, Wiegand will greet visitors from noon to 4:00 P.M. on July 3 and 10:00 A.M. until 4:00 P.M. on July 4 & 5.

Wiegand’s performance is sponsored by the Red Rocks Canyon Interpretive Association. For more information, visit the organization’s website at

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh, Shenandoah!

It’s 1:00 AM on Wednesday and I’ve just made it back to the cabin in Sewanee, Tennessee. Jenny and Sam are sleeping. The golden retriever, Faith, came out when I arrived and now she’s back to bed too.

The last couple of days have been so fascinating and yet so typical of how friendly people and interesting places continue to reveal themselves along the TR Tour.

On Sunday afternoon, I got in my car for a quick ride to Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Most of the 650 miles each way were through the Shenandoah Valley on Interstate 81. I’ve taken this route at least a couple dozen times each way over the last several years. To get from Sewanee to the northeast, the quickest route begins by heading southeast on I-24 to Chattanooga, briefly traversing Georgia’s northwestern bump and passing by a too often missed monument to New York men who fought at the Battle of Chickamauga. I-75 runs up through Knoxville and then it’s I-81 all the way.

With the American Legion Keystone Boys State program and Shippensburg University as my destination, I spent most of my travel time listening to news and talk. Public radio and religious programming are my usual choices. During weekday travel, I’ll take a sample of the Beck, Limbaugh and Hannity programs, to balance my NPR tendencies. Chicago’s WGN Radio 720, home to the Cubs and, recently Blackhawks games, is a favorite, especially for its program Extension 720, hosted by Milt Rosenberg each weeknight (games allowing) from 10 PM to Midnight. A University of Chicago psychology professor, Milt has been hosting the most eclectic, yet in-depth, scholarly and serious discussion of art, culture, politics, religion, history, books, food and more for at least a few decades now.

I have been known to leave it on the oldies station for a while and croon along. Anyway, radio helps the travelling pass and safely so. When a rolled over truck left I-81 like a parking lot for two hours in the middle of the night, I switched to one of my current reads, Ruddy's book on TR's views on history. Made Shippensburg in plenty of time to enjoy an afternoon hike in the invigorating summer heat.

The American Legion Boy’s State program was begun by the Legion in 1933 in my home state of Illinois. Legionnaires were responding to the summer camps being sponsored by the Communist Party of the USA, which was attempting to radicalize and recruit the unemployed urban youth in the depths of the Depression. The Legion program spread to all forty-eight and eventually all fifty states. Years later, the American Legion Auxiliary began the Girl’s State Program. Today, American students from overseas participate, too. At Boys State and Girls State, top high school juniors from throughout a state gather to participate in a weeklong residential program dedicated to teaching civics and citizenship in such a way to produce good citizens committed to making positive contributions to their communities and their country. There are two parties, campaigns for office, speeches, laws, trials and sports and plenty of food and speakers.

Performing Monday night for a few hundred of our young leaders was inspiring for me. Their energy and enthusiasm, their good questions and their rowdiness were exhilarating. It brought back great memories. My own experience as a youngster at Boys State and at Boys Nation made a huge impact on my life. The American Legion stands for God and Country. I hope when my ride is through, I can say that I have stood for the same.

After bunking in one of the Ship’s dorm rooms, I woke with the morning light and headed for a makeup with the Carlisle Breakfast Rotary Club. My host, Kevin Colgan, is retired Army, a former computer science faculty member at the Army War College. A majority of the club appear to be retired military. The good spirit and patriotism were palpable and sincere. The program talked about a developing bike path and linear park extending along an old rail bed and right of way from Carlise to Newville. The spokesman was a retired military man who was a picture of fitness. He could have kept up with TR on a point to point hike.

Mr.Colgan allowed me to ride along after breakfast while he picked up two small families, two wives and three daughters newly arrived from Italy and Estonia. Their husbands have just begun a one year program at the Army War College, joined by 38 other international military officers and their families. In August, another 140 Americans join in. Issues of strategic leadership are thoroughly discussed and debated. The Americans are mostly Colonels in the Army, but many are State Department or Department of Defense personnel or officers from other branches. Fascinating really. A brief visit with The Reverend Mark Scheneman at St. John’s Episcopal Church and I was back on the road for points south.

The Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Presidential Museum in Staunton (pronounced Stan-ton), Virginia is something I had driven by so many times, and finally my schedule had me there at a decent hour and I pulled in. Set along a hill in the beautiful old red brick town, the birthplace and museum are both excellent and the people a charm. Of course, the election of 1912 is the primary lens through which the Wilson and T. Roosevelt relationship is viewed. The literature on Roosevelt and Wilson is rich. I admit to having previously felt some hesitation at visiting the opponent’s camp!

As luck would have it, a small crew were readying Wilson’s 1918 Pierce-Arrow limousine for transport to Kansas City for a brief visit to the World War One Museum there. I think the adults had as much joy as the children hearing the old motor struggle to life and seeing the car roll out of its glass-doored garage and down the old streets of Staunton on the way to the flatbed. After a couple hours of reading, studying and enjoying the docent’s tour of the house, I asked if I might say hello or leave my card for the education or museum department of the museum.

A great gift followed for me when I had a chance to meet officers and staff of the museum and library, some guests from DC and Augusta, GA, and finally to perform, after being invited to do so, for twenty public school teachers in the middle of a three year summer immersion and discussion of history and teaching history. How cool was that? Wish I could have bought half the books in the gift shop. here I come for some good used editions.

Long ride tonight. Thank goodness for coffee.

So, the adventure continues. I get ready to hit the rack with a smile. Hope to see friends and make new ones in Branson, Spearfish, Medora, Dickinson, Las Vegas and Colorado Springs in the days ahead. I’m so glad the girls join me for this road trip.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Man in the Arena - 100 Years Ago Today

On April 23, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt spoke at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. His speech, titled Citizenship in a Republic, made headlines around the world. A small portion of that speech has become one of the most famous of TR's quotations.

This is for my friends who are men and women in the arena today.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ohio - Cradle of the American Presidents

New Philadelphia, Ohio, nestled along the swollen Tuscarawas River, enjoyed a sunny and warm afternoon. I had a great audience tonight, a mix of college students, seniors and families. A young girl who sat in the front row went home with a teddy bear.

A week ago, I was performing in Captiva, Florida, a beautiful island betwixt the Gulf of Mexico and Roosevelt Channel, off shore from Ft. Myers. Wife, Jenny and daughter, Sam went along. In late March, 1917, T.R. had his last great hunting adventure on and about Captiva. With his host, J. Russell Coles of Danville, Virginia, T.R. harpooned devil fish, giant manta rays, in the Gulf waters. Weeks later, the United States was entering World War I, and T.R. would be busy in the war effort until the time of his passing, in January 1919.

Sam joined me in Vero Beach and Sebastian, Florida, where we enjoyed the people and the critters at the Pelican Island Wildlife Festival, a fantastic celebration of T.R.’s naming Pelican Island our first federal bird sanctuary in 1903. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service employees, with the support of local volunteers, do a wonderful job in an amazing ecosystem.

Between Sunday noon and Tuesday afternoon, I made the long trip from Vero Beach to Sewanee, Tennessee and on up here to South Central Eastern Ohio. Tomorrow, I’m going to see some of the beautiful countryside hereabout.