Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Calling all carnivores!

If this doesn't put you off beef for good, there's no hope.

No matter which way
the wind is blowing in Dalhart, Texas, you can smell it. The locals call it "the smell of money," when really it's just the smell of cow butt. I call it "the smell of death."

Twice a year for the past 20 y
ears I have driven through Dalhart on my way to and from New Mexico, and I have never grown accustomed to the stench and the sheer size of the dung heaps that lurk on the edge of town. As you head west out of Dalhart on Highway 54 you can literally see a murky dome of methane looming ahead. Warning: ROLL UP THE WINDOWS and PUT YOUR AC ON RECIRCULATE!!!

And as you get closer to the cloud, you'll start to see brown dots on the horizon. Those dots are cows -- tens of thousands of heads of cattle -- as far as the eye can see. They are crammed shoulder-to-shoulder into two massive feedlots on either side of the highway. You've never seen anything like this anywhere.

Regardless of my revulsion, this is an amazing vista. (The above picture doesn't do it justice, so I've added a Google Earth image of one of the lots.) These are huge bovine concentration camps the size of small towns where the cattle gorge themselves, poop a ton, eat some more, get fattened up, and then get loaded onto semis or box cars and transported up to Liberal, Kansas, where they're slaughtered and turned into Happy Meals.

And the frontage road leading to the larger Cargill feedlot is called "Farm to Market Road." Doesn't that sound quaint? As if these places can be considered "farms." How would you like to be the guy who drives around every day and picks up the dead cows who have keeled over in the heat? There's not a lick of shade for miles.

Bovine growth hormones! It's what's for dinner.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The sound of the sun!

Albuquerque, NM -- The sun sure is intense here. So, dude (or "vato" as they say here), WE'RE GOING SOLAR!!!

That's right, we're running the show on rays. And sunshine never sounded so good!

I can't think of a better place to kick off the new solar-powered show. The indigenous Zia people of New Mexico regard the sun as a sacred symbol. And with good reason. The sun regulates all life on our planet.

The Zia sun symbol is a red circle with groups of rays pointing in four directions, and it's so important to New Mexico, that you'll find it on the state flag.

My buddy Paul Pavlik who used to work with me on the Navajo reservation about 20 years ago designed a portable so
lar generator that consists of a 3.5 foot/80-watt solar panel and a large tool box housing a 12-volt battery, charge controller, and an inverter. Pretty slick little system, although the box weighs a ton.

In front of an energetic crowd of about 300 at the Lomas-Tramway Library last week, we set up our solar panel and plugged 'er in. All went smoothly.

We've used it three more times since then and it's been an instant hit with the fans. And I somehow feel a bit better about running on smog-free and cost-free energy.

I hope a few years from now we'll all look back, shake our heads and say, "Remember when 'going solar' was such a big deal and we all thought we were so cool? And, look at the size of those panels! I carry one in my wallet, now."

Look for more solar shows and my new solar-powered school assembly this fall.

Life lesson...

The other night we helplessly watched EMTs attempt to resuscitate a man who fell with a heart attack in the parking lot of our hotel in Albuquerque. They worked for nearly an hour, but could not revive him.

The whole scene played out just a couple hundred feet from where the girls were playing in the pool. Lyda was very concerned and we assured her that the paramedics would help him and take him to the hospital. But when the ambulance drove off with out him and his body lay in the parking lot for another hour with a sheet over it, we distracted her from the scene.

Terribly upsetting for all of us. We don't know who he was or where he was from. And the scene seemed so lonely, as there were no family or friends around him. We prayed the whole time for peace for him and his family.

It was a stark reminder of the fragility and temporary nature of our lives. We're all hugging a little tighter these days.

Tempus fugit. Carpe diem!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Anything Goes in Liberal

The Munchkin girls at the Land of Oz!

As a lover of words, I'm particularly fond of a good oxymoron now and then. Here's one of my favorites: Liberal, Kansas.

Now, that's not a di
g on this fair city. It's just the truth. You'd be hard-pressed to find many Obama-mamas in this agricultural hub of 20,000 in southwestern Kansas.

This is the home of International Pancake Day every Fat Tuesday, which includes a
friendly little competition between Liberal, and Olney, England, with women running down the streets of each town flipping pancakes. It's been going on for more than 60 years, and organizers say it's the only race of its kind on the planet.

Also, in Liberal you'll find the Land of Oz where a real-life "Dorothy" will take you on a tour of Auntie Em's farm house. (This was a big hit with Lyda and Willa and the big dude from Arkansas who was on the tour with us.) There's the Mid-America Air Museum (the fifth largest collection of civilian and military aircraft in the US), two massive cattle feedlots, and the National Beef Packing plant (the town's largest employer). Sorry, we ordered the vegetarian pasta.

And then today when I ordered two veggie burgers at the local Burger King, the guy at the counter asked, "So, are you a vegetarian?" But his bug-eyed face was screaming something like, "Wow, I've never seen one of you in real life!" When I acknowledged that I was, in fact, a functioning herbivore (actually pescatarian, 'cause I do like fish), he suspiciously asked, "Are you from around here?" When I told him I am from Kansas City, he sort of nodded as if that explained everything. And that ended our brief exchange.

I have driven through Liberal at least twice a year for the past 21 years. I've seen it add a few new hotels, but not change too drastically. That's why I like it. It's an oasis, and it's about half-way between Kansas City and Albuquerque -- two of my favorite places. And the kids here can rock with the best of them.

So, how did this glowing crimson beacon in a historically red state get it's blueish name? Legend has it that one of the early settlers, Seymour Rogers, was known to be "mighty liberal" with the water from his well to those passing through. (He sounds like a socialist to me.;)

Next stop: Hooker, Oklahoma -- Home of The Horny Toads. I'm not kidding!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Summer Tour Here We Come

The "Let's Stick Together Tour" is heading to New Mexico. As we prepare to depart on our annual Southwest summer tour, I thought it would be appropriate to mention some of the cool things we saw and did this spring.

Hershey's Chocolate Factory: Hershey, PA

Willa dons her hat to work
on the Kiss assembly line.

StinkFest 2009: Brooklyn, NY (Kindiefest from now on)

I think I frightened Stefan Shepherd when I gave him a big hug.

Jeni with Audra Rox and Marty Beller from TMBG.

World's Largest
Porch Swing: Hebron, Nebraska.

That's Jeni giving it a go. Does it really count as a "porch swing" if it's not on a porch?

Eitzman's Farm: On the Kansas/Nebraska border...

Here are the girls riding in a tractor with farmer Harlan.

And here is Jeni's favorite picture from our spring tour...