Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Colin Jude: World's Youngest Bodhran Player

My grandson, Colin Jude, appears to be the youngest bodhran (Irish drum) player this side of County Kerry.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Carolan's Adventure in Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness

For a day, my daughter Carolan was seemingly lost in "The Bob"--Montana's great and huge Bob Marshall Wilderness (a roadless tract of more than a million acres). This is the story as I know it right now. I'll add or change things as I find out the whole story.

I think it was this past Tuesday, August 23, 2011, when I talked to Carolan as she drove from Kalispell east on Rt. 2 to Hungry Horse, Montana. When she turned south onto the Forest Service road going past Hungry Horse Reservoir I said goodbye to her. At that point it was probably 1 PM.

Carolan then drove down the East Side Forest Service road of the long Hungry Horse Reservoir to the Spotted Bear Forest Service Cabin--I'm guessing she got there by 3 PM and talked to the people at the cabin about meeting up with her friends on a trail crew (I believe that 4 of her old friends are on that crew: Evan, Elisheba, Mark, and Barry). A ranger suggested a short cut for her to get to the crew: instead of walking the trail along the South Fork of the Flathead to Black Bear Cabin and then heading west on the south end of  Picture Ridge Trail, she should immediately get on the steep northern head of Picture Ridge Trail near Sarah Peak and locate her friends' camp site just down that trail ("just down that trail" might be a 7 to 10 mile hike!). This would involve a vigorous uphill hike, but would save her maybe 8 miles and lots of time--possibly 2-3 hours. Beware of shortcuts! I believe we first learned that when we read fairy tales as children!

Meanwhile, the ranger sent a radio message that the crew on Picture Ridge Trail (east of Swan Peak and Inspiration Point) was going to get a surprise visitor. That visitor, Carolan, never showed up that night and was presumed lost in the wilderness. Every crew in The Bob heard that radio message--not just Carolan's friends. Would the idea of being "lost" embarrass Carolan? I don't know. Of course she never was totally lost; Jim Bridger and Broken Hand Tom Fitzpatrick were never totally lost. And anyway, The Bob is one of America's largest wildernesses, and anybody, even Bob Marshall himself, could be disoriented for a while in this huge area.

After talking to the people at the Forest Service cabin, Carolan drove her car down to the Meadow Creek trailhead and began her trek, hiking over the wooden pack bridge (see image above) that spans a deep, beautiful  gorge.  After walking a mile or two, she crossed over the wilderness boundary into The Bob. She finally came to what appeared to be Picture Ridge Trail (but things are rarely marked in The Bob--that's just accepted by everyone who goes there) and headed up, only to find it impassable because of fallen trees. Somehow, trying to get through the trees, she lost the trail and found herself hiking downhill--which seemed wrong to her. Finally she came to a river (South Fork of the Flathead) and crossed, with the water up to her belly. She was carrying a heavy backpack, with food, water, sleeping bag, and tent, and trying to keep from being swept away by the deep and rushing water. For the first time in a while, she was felt a twinge of fear and tried to think of what to do if she was swept away. Her first thought was to find a way to wiggle free of her pack. Luckily, she didn't need to do that, and was finally able to reach the other shore. Carolan started thinking about how alone she was and how close to disaster she had just come.

On the other side of the river, Carolan bushwhacked farther, not seeing any clear sign of a trail, and came to an area with steep cliffs on both sides--an impassable area. At times she was wading on the edge of the river, steep cliffs above her, and deep blue water below--a very dangerous situation.

After an hour or so, Carolan went back, retracing her steps, recrossed the South Fork, again up to her belly in the wild rushing water, and hiked all the way back to where she first got disoriented. This time she located Picture Ridge Trail and, very late in the day, raced up that steep and demanding trail. As it was getting toward sunset, she felt exhausted by all the hiking and all the danger and uncertainty of the day. She hiked until it was almost dark, but there was no sign at all of her old friends. Then, she made the decision to hike back to her car. So in the twilight, and then the dark, she hurried down the trail back to the Meadow Creek trailhead.

What to do now? Carolan decided to drive until she saw a place to camp. But after a while, seeing no place to camp and getting a bit freaked out by all the events of the day, she decided to drive back to Hungry Horse and get a motel.

It's a long, dark drive along the Hungry Horse Reservoir, but she had driven it many times. After about an hour and a half of driving, she got to Hungry Horse and located a motel. When she knocked on the door and awakened a caretaker, she got the bad news that a room would cost $120 per night--money that she didn't have. Carolan turned down the offer, and as she returned to her car the lady said, "I'll pray for you!" but at that moment, exhausted and discouraged, Carolan needed a room at a fair price, not a prayer.

Carolan then decided to drive all the way back to Kalispell and try to get a room at Motel 6. Finally, around midnight, she was able to secure a $60 room. She flopped onto the bed and fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.

The next day, renewed and re-energized, she drove back to Spotted Bear then Meadow Creek, where she notified the rangers that she was not indeed lost. And then Carolan headed down the east side trail of the South Fork of the Flathead (keeping away from the unmaintained west side trail), hiking some 10 miles or so to the Black Bear Cabin. There, she met her old friends, who rejoiced that she was OK, and not indeed lost in  a million-acre wilderness.

And that is the story, as I have understood it, of Carolan's 2011 adventure in The Bob.#

There are a number of Youtube videos that show the South Fork of the Flathead.

Here's  a beautiful one:

Here's another Youtube video of the South Fork of the Flathead. This one has some views of the steep and dangerous cliffs that Carolan encountered:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Colin's Tricks: Gestures and Signs

My grandson Colin only speaks a few words that I can clearly identify--his words for Daddy, Mommy, and Grandma, sounding like /da da/, /ma ma/ and possibly /na na/. Sometimes he seems to call me, his Grampa, something like /ah jah/. Amazingly, he has a larger repertoire of gestures, including a couple that are very close to American Sign Language (his own dialect of ASL!). The video above shows many of these gestures and signs.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

New Poem for my Grandson, Colin Jude

Colin's "Word" for Love

     “Gefuehl ist alles. Name ist Schall und Rauch.” (Goethe’s Faust)

     --for my Grandson, Colin Jude

Feeling is what Colin Jude does.

He loves his Grandma Linda,

Curls his head into hers,

Leans into her body.

Colin at age one has just a few words,

Thinks that the names of things just might be smoke and mirrors.

Has not yet learned their precision or treachery,

Their poison or their poetry.

But he knows love.

I watch him lay his head on a pillow

Next to me, his Grampa. He snuggles

Head to head, feels the warmth and pulse

Of our lives together.

This baby, this toddler dances to my pennywhistle,

Pounds on my piano,

Plays—then prances—yes stands

Upon my bodhran, my Irish drum.

Cuisle mo chroí, pulse of my heart,

Mein Schaetzchen, mein Herz,

My heart, my heart!

[Bob Coughlin--August 16, 2011]


1. The quote from Goethe’s Faust could be translated, “Feeling is everything. The name of things is but smoke and mirrors.”

2. “Cuisle mo chroí” is Irish Gaelic and means “pulse of my heart.”

3. “Mein Schaetzchen” is German for “my little treasure; “mein Herz” means “my heart.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Full Tilt Boogie: My Grandson at One Year

In a few days, my beautiful grandson Colin will be one year old. Yesterday and over night, Colin stayed at our house while his Mom and Dad went to a wedding. I'm so glad they trust Colin with us. All in all, we had a blast. And after a short rest--give or take a week--I'll be ready to do this again.

Colin has 2 speeds: full-tilt; and deep sleep. When he is up, he is up, alive, and at top speed. When he is asleep, the 4th of July fireworks wouldn't wake him.
Colin seems to be interested in everything and curious about everything. I take this to be a sign of intelligence. Of course this could also be taken as a sign that he will drive his parents and teachers crazy. Colin particularly loves music. He loves when I play guitar and claps his hands and dances along with my playing. He also likes my penny whistle playing and squealed along with a tune I played yesterday. He loves to sit at the piano and pound on the keys. Yesterday, he tried to use the piano as some sort of giant drum. He is already a master of the bodhran, my Irish drum. He plays it with the tipper or beater (a wooden drum banger)--which he also bangs on the piano and his doggy "brother," Sandy-the-Dachshund. He also likes to use my bodhran as a foot stool--and so far, the drum skin has withstood his jumping up and down on it.

I love this little guy. He has made my life so happy!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Trying to Imagine Carolan's Life in the Colorado Mountains

I think a lot of failures in life are failures of imagination. That goes for my own life too!

Each day I try to imagine what my daughter Carolan's life is like--partially because it is so different from the mainstream and partly because she is so far away. Some time every day I try to look up the weather in a location near her. It's impossible to find a weather station at 11 or 12,000 feet off a trail in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains or the San Juan Mountains--so I look for the nearest town. Today, minutes ago, I checked the weather in Creede, Colorado, maybe 10 to 20 miles from her crew's tents (which I believe are near Trout Creek and the Continental Divide Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness and Rio Grande National Forest of Colorado). In Creede, at a measly 8820 feet above sea level, it was 40 degrees and clear, heading to 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Where Carolan lives, it might be much colder. I'm guessing it fell well below freezing last night at 10, 11 or 12,000 feet.

I also spend parts of my day looking at contour maps of Colorado, trying to imagine what the trails look like that she is working on. It doesn't look dramatically steep from the maps as I read them (though the elevation is impressive). I think she is currently below tree line, probably cutting, with her crosscut hand saw, downed aspen and ponderosa pine from long-neglected trails. She's also probably dealing with (moving or pulverizing with her "double jack") huge rocks on the trails as well as fixing trail drainage problems.

I know that Carolan and her crew wake up early, do stretching exercises, eat breakfast, and are soon at work. They probably spend some of their time every day locating and then filtering drinking water. Whatever they are doing, it's a long, hard day of work--maybe 10 hours of heavy physical labor, about 2 miles above sea level. With this intense level of work, do they have time to admire the beautiful mountain lakes and creeks? The stunning serrated peaks? Do they ever stop to marvel at the herds of elk and the other exotic wild animals at the top of the Rocky Mountains?

Every day these thoughts challenge my imagination.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What Does the Weminuche Wilderness Look Like?

My daughter Carolan is working this hitch (with her Southwest Consevation Corps crew) in the Weminuche Wilderness in the Rio Grande National Forest. She's somewhere near Trout Creek and the Continental Divide. The nearest town (which is not really very close by) is Creede. I located a Youtube video in the Weminuche/Riuo Grande area:

As you will see, this area is wild and beautiful!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reek Sunday and Lúnasa in Ireland

A week and a half ago, on Sunday, July 31, thousands of pilgrims climbed the holy mountain called "Croagh Patrick" in County Mayo, Ireland. This last Sunday in July is called "Reek Sunday," and the holy mountain is popularly called "The Reek." Untold thousands climbed the mountain that day (estimates go up to 20,000!)--some climbed barefoot or on their knees. Legend has it that St. Patrick himself fasted on this mountain in the fifth century. I will climb this mountain next summer.

The very next day in Ireland and throughout the Celtic world, Lúnasa was celebrated--a pagan feast named after the Celtic god Lugh. The festival is still celebrated in places with bonfires and dancing, and god knows what else!

The Irish (like many others throughout the world) can hold together both their modern religion alongside the ancient pagan religion. A good trick that we humans are capable of! I know the Austrians could do this too when they celebrated Sonnwendtag, summer solstice, with bonfires atop the alps. I was involved with this back in 1968 on a mountain top outside the village of Matrei-am-Brenner.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Irish-Americans and the Famine in Africa

Irish-Americans should immediately respond to the terrible suffering caused by the famine in Africa--especially in the area called the Horn of Africa: Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and parts of Uganda. I say this because of our own heritage and experience with the Great Famine that led to the death of a million Irish and the emigration of another million--including strands of my own family. Much of the world (including many Englishmen) did virtually nothing to help the starving Irish. Some saw the famine almost as the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith. It was no invisible hand! The famine was man-made--we have learned. The potato blight might have been caused by mother nature (though even that is arguable); but the famine was man-made. And it could have been addressed and relieved by human action.

The Irish diaspora is spread wide around the world, with lots of Irish in England, Scotland, Australia, Canada, and the United States. These folks should open up their pocket books and help the starving in Africa.

We won't forget the "Drochshaol," the Terrible Time, the Great Hunger, and how so many in the world stood by idly as men, women, and children died by the hundred thousands.

It's not hard to find reliable institutions that will help address the famine in Africa. I have sent a donation to Catholic Relief Services,

 Above, the Cleveland Irish Famine Memorial, on the East Bank of the Cuyahoga River, the area known as The Flats. Part of this memorial was designed by Lakeland Community College librarian and friend, Paula Blackman. Here's a link to a story on this memorial:

Innsbrucker Reunion: Herr Gerrity und Herr Coughlin

Mike Gerrity, Terry Morris, Linda, and I met for dinner last week at "11th Street Dockside" restaurant in Port Royal, South Carolina. I met Mike either at Notre Dame in 1966 or in Salzburg, Austria in 1967. We "studied" together (along with 34 other Notre Dame guys) in Salzburg and Innsbruck, Austria. Mike is a translator of German and Russian (and probably a half dozen other Slavic languages). He has the most interesting curriculum vitae that I know of (I think mine is pretty interesting too--but I wasn't ever (officially) a garbage man). Mike has worked on the hotline in the White House, has been a medic in the army, has picked up garbage in Berwyn Heights, Maryland, and for more than 20 years has translated the most complex scientific documents from Russian and German into English. Mike and his wife Terry are two of the best trivia players I know--and really, two of the smartest people I've ever known. They are also plain old-fashioned wonderful people and I am so privileged to know them.

Carolan's Southwest Conservation Corps Crew in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

Carolan writes, "It's from our most recent hitch on the Black Canyon Trail in the Sangres. Left to right, Sierra, Eric, me, Danielle, Baryl, Marcos, Evan.  Brandon must be taking the picture."

Carolan's next hitch is in the San Juan Mountains, not far from Creede, Colorado, up Trout Creek Trail in the Weminuche Wilderness (Rio Grande National Forest).