Going East To Go West

If you’ve lived on the Pacific side of the US for long enough you begin to think you’re in the West.  You’re not.  The west is here as you cross the prairies, the mountains and the deserts.  As I left Oregon for Idaho and headed for the Sawtooth and Ketchum I listened to On the Road written by Jack Kerouac in the early 50’s.  He describes leaving New Jersey and heading west to San Francisco via Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado.  I’m going the same way but west to east.  I’ll be passing through some of the same cities he did but not hitchhiking!

The book is terrific and so is the reader!  I think the individuals who narrate audio books are very talented.  They modulate their voices as different characters speak and have such animated and amusing deliveries that I laugh out loud.  It’s wonderful to have them as companions.

My destination today was Ketchum.  A beautiful town with beautiful weather today–warm and sunny.  A dear friend welcomed me into her home.   I left Baker City in Oregon at 6 a.m. leaving behind the Powder River and the Geiser Grand Hotel.  Much of the road I followed was the Oregon Trail.


What brave and strong people those pioneers were.  I’m not sure most of us could make the journey today.

I was interested in the wheat fields which are being mown and baled.  My grandfather, Troy Deneen Smith, arrived here in 1912 in time for the harvest.  He was about 27 at the time.  Kerouac describes seeing the “boys” along the roadside waiting to be chosen for a farmer’s crew.  Hard to make a living–hard work!   Tomorrow I drive north to the town where my grandfather spent the rest of his life–Mackay. 

I close with a picture of a beautiful painting seen today in the Gail Severn Gallery in Ketchum. ” Light on Silver Creek” by James Cook.

First Day

I left this morning with everything from ear plugs to travel candles to enhance my stays at the multiple motel rooms where I’ll be staying  for the six weeks.  Thoughtful gifts from dear friends and a wonderful gift On The Road in audiobook format from Ken.

I spent most of the day with Guido Brunetti, Commisario of the Venice Police Dept. listening as he solved another fascinating mystery written by his creator, Donna Leon.  Brunetti makes Venice live as you follow him through a story as tangled as the twining calles of Venice.  He is an urbane, witty, and kind man–a very different detective than those featured on American TV.  It was great fun to listen as I drove along.

I made good time stopping to view the Stewart Range and enjoy the sun.  I got to Baker City at 4:30; took a walk along the Powder River and had dinner at the Geiser Grand Hotel.   Tomorrow I head to Ketchum staying the night with friends.  Then on to Challis and Mackay to see the place where my paternal grandfather spent most of his life.  Last summer my brother visited there with his son and found the ranch where Troy Deneen Smith spent his life.  I’m looking for clues as to why he might have left his baby son (my father), and his young wife in Kansas City and moved to Idaho in 1912.

Who are you?

I recommend a fascinating article published in The New Yorker August 15 & 22 pp. 64-75 by Elizabeth Kolbert entitled “Sleeping with the Enemy.”  She describes in great detail the work of Svante Paabo who heads the department of evolutionary genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.  He has been working for years trying to untangle the genetic details of 50 thousand year old bones by extracting DNA from them.  He is attempting to discover what happened genetically speaking which allowed our genes to prevail and those of the Neanderthal’s to die out.  You can read the details for yourself but what I found interesting in light of my genealogic research is that he believes that our team intermarried with the Neanderthals and we, thus, carry some of their DNA around with us.

A year or two ago my brother and I submitted our buccal cells to a DNA lab for analysis under the aegis of ancestry.com.   After six weeks or so the reports came back.  Since that time more sophisticated DNA testing has come on-line but the reports we received were interesting.  Our paternal line goes back to “The Artisans–R1b” an ancient haplogroup which came to Europe from west Asia about 35,000 – 40-000 years ago at the dawning of the Aurignacian culture.  A culture known for its subtle technological progress and its decorative beads and jewelry.  Some anthropologists believe that the Aurignacian culture was responsible for the cave paintings in France, Spain and Portugal.

My DNA produced information about our maternal line  The results placed the women in my tree in “The European Travelers”–haplogroup J.  These folks emerged around 50,000 years ago in the Near East around the time the first modern humans left Africa.  About 10% of today’s European population belongs to this group even though they did not arrive until the end of the last major ice age, about 10,000 years ago.  The “European Travelers” ushered in the rise of advanced farming and herding techniques.

Aside from all this providing scintillating dinner table conversation, why did we do it?  Our father fervently believed that he was part Cherokee.  We grew up believing that we were Cherokee–or part Cherokee–even though there was not a scrap of evidence to validate Dad‘s unwavering belief.   We have never met a soul who was a relative of Dad’s except for one moment 58 years ago when we were passing through Vinita, Oklahoma from Kansas City on our way to visit family in California.   My brother and I remember Dad introducing us to a middle-aged woman he called “Aunt May.”  We remember her as someone who fit our idea of an “Indian”–dark hair, dark complexion, dark eyes.  Aunt May said little; we drove away never to hear another word about this remarkable occurence.  How I wish I could have a “do over” and ask her “Who are you?”  I would really like to know.

Pella Iowa

I was startled to see Pella Iowa mentioned in Maureeen Dowd’s colume last Sunday in the NY Times.  She was in Pella covering the  Republican contenders for the party nomination  in the  2012 election.  I was especially delighted to learn that she had witnessed Mitt Romney‘s hair move!

I’m going to be spending the night in Pella which is near Oskaloosa and Rose Hill where my great great grandparents Calvin Jones Jackson and Eliza Hood Jackson raised their family.  My father was raised by their daughter, Alice Lillian Jackson Sherer.   I decided to stay in Pella because it had a motel.  I never dreamed it was the city of choice for the Republican contenders to delight and entertain their Iowan supporters.

I begin my big trip soon and have plotted an itinerary that takes me from Seattle via Mackay Idaho, Pella and points south over a 6 week period.  I will need to call upon all my resources to complete this adventure and am both anxious and excited.  I hope to learn a lot about my parents lives and am open to new experiences.   I hope you’ll follow along with me!


I read in yesterday’s Seattle Times a full page story on the U.S. ATF’s gun-running sting dubbed “Fast and Furious” which has come under criticism.    The ultimate goal of the operation based in Phoenix was to identify the higher-ups in the Sinaloa (Mexico) drug cartel.  I was surprised to see a big photo of the border crossing from Hidalgo, Texas to Reynosa, Mexico.  Why was I surprised?   I’m going to be there in October!

The cartel is based out of Sinaloa, Mexico.  I know where Sinaloa is because I lived there.  It’s on the Baja side (west coast) of Mexico.  Hidalgo and Reynosa are on the Gulf of Mexico side and I’m going there–at least to Mercedes, Texas which is in Hidalgo county.  Mercedes is about 30 miles from Reynosa across the river.

The photograph suggests that the gun runners cross into Mexico with the guns they purchased in the U.S. at Hidalgo and then head west across the entire breadth of Mexico with the guns.  That would be quite a trip!  There are many pipelines into Mexico and this may be one of them.

My dad grew up on a ranch in the Rio Grande valley and went to grade school in Mercedes!  Reading this story makes me ponder the changes in one hundred years since my dad was a school child in Mercedes.  He would be startled and saddened to learn about the carnage which takes place in Mexico over drugs, money, and power.  He always spoke warmly of the Mexican cowboys who worked on the ranch.  My time in Sinaloa made me equally fond of Mexicans and I’m sorry that many Americans have negative impressions of our neighbors.  I wonder if most Mexicans view us with equal distain.

Buc Trimmer

This past Friday the final space shuttle, Atlantis, lifted off.  I was sad.  “An end of an era,” I thought.  Talking about the lift-off with my son he recalled watching the last of the Apollo missions.  They concluded in 1972 when he was a 10 year old in 4th grade.  He says he remembers that the teachers were glued to the TV but the kids didn’t really get the significance of the moment.

I distinctly remember how thrilling the lunar landings were–especially the first one.  I was proud of my country for this stunning achievement.  I found it impossible to believe that a living person was walking on the moon.  Though I saw the pictures it didn’t seem real.

The Apollo missions followed by the shuttles were part of my youth and beyond.  My dad was an internal auditor at North American Aviation, later Rockwell, and now Boeing.  My brother-in-law was an engineeer on both the Apollo missions and the shuttle program.  Dad did such a good job that he was awarded the Buc Trimmer trophy which now lives in my house.  I am very fond of Buc and proud of my family’s role in the space program.

Getting Ready

My long-awaited trip to find the places and maybe people that figured in my father’s life is not far off.  I hope to be underway early September.  Must turn my attention to plotting the route and stops along the way.  The research still teases and troubles me.  Still so many unknown facts and mysteries.