Thursday, October 30, 2014

Amazing.

It struck me this morning that the S.O. and I have now been living in this tiny fiberglass box for almost a full month -- and we're both still breathing. I believe he was less optimistic than I was; he expressed his astonishment after the first two weeks. I wasn't quite as surprised. After all, we manage to make it through long, cold winters while cohabiting in a house with less than 600 square feet of living space. We're used to tripping over each other. Of course, back up on the tundra I've got the Woman Cave and the museum to escape to occasionally and the S.O. has his shop and other places to go and things to do so it's not like we're stuck with each other 24/7.

Here at Montauk it no doubt helped that for most of the month the weather was close to perfect. When we weren't having to fulfill campground host duties, we could go exploring the local area, wander around the park, or just sit outside, people watch, and enjoy the fresh air. I'm not sure we would have done quite as well if it had rained more, especially once we realized just how damp it gets in the Guppy when conditions are wet outside. Between the condensation and various seals leaking, things got rather soggy and neither of us was in a particularly good mood -- although the S.O. was probably more irritable than I was. He slept on the side of the bed that turned into a swamp when the window above it leaked. That problem seems to have been solved, although we won't know for sure until there's another heavy rain. In any case, I think we've figured out some of the things we'd have to do to make even longer stays in the Guppy possible. The S.O. has been compiling a list of things to do; I've got a list of items to add to the basic supplies and equipment. Neither list is especially long, but we did manage to overlook some obvious things before we hit the road, like a camping ax and disposable gloves.* Live and learn.

 

*That combination does make it sound rather like a person is planning a career as a serial killer, but the ax is for firewood and the gloves are for connecting and disconnecting the hose from the black water tank.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Montauk State Park, Missouri

CCC-constructed picnic pavilion (aka shelter)
This feels a little weird. Usually if I spend more than five minutes in a park I'll do a post. All it takes is a ten minute walk in to see a waterfall and I've got half a dozen photos and several hundred words of verbiage up. Not this time. We've been at Montauk State Park for exactly 4 weeks today and I've yet to do much more than gripe about the fact some guys think Busch Lite cans are flammable. Not one word about the history of the park, where it's located, or the plethora of cultural resources, e.g., numerous structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Montauk State Park is located in the Missouri Ozarks at the headwaters of the Current River. The river is formed where Pigeon Creek and the discharge from Montauk Spring merge. The Montauk Spring has an impressive discharge rate -- approximately 43 million gallons per day -- so the river is a real river from its start, which is an interesting contrast with my memories of the North Platte in Nebraska. The Platte is called a river as long as it's still in the state, but by the time you get to where it's flowing in from Wyoming you can step across it without worrying about getting your feet wet. But I digress. Montauk Spring is one of those interesting springs that bubbles up through sand. When there is a lot of water flowing through the aquifer, it can look like it's boiling. Missouri's been in drought for several years now so the boiling is now more like a gentle blooping, but you can still see the sand at the spring bubbling as the water flows up through it. The water is amazingly clear.
Fishermen downstream from the ruins of a low water bridge.

Since we arrived here, I've had several people ask me about the origins of the name Montauk. According to the park website, the area was named by settlers from Suffolk County, New York. It may be an old Indian name, as some people guess, but if it is, the Indians were from Long Island. The abundant water from the spring meant this area provided an ideal location for a flour mill. Several were built along the river; most burned down. The Montauk Mill constructed in 1896 survived; it operated for 30 years until the state purchased the land in 1926 and created a state park.

Montauk State Park is one of the oldest state parks in the Missouri state parks system. It is also one of four "trout parks" in Missouri. The other three are Bennett Spring, Roaring River, and Meramec.

The trout parks, Montauk included, are interesting from an organizational perspective because they involve cooperation between two separate state agencies: a cold water fish hatchery is co-located within or adjacent to each park. The hatcheries are operated by the Department of Conservation; the parks are operated by the Department of Natural Resources. Of the four trout parks, Montauk reputedly has the best fishing because, among other reasons cited, the river is managed in a way that keeps it as close to to a natural stream as possible. The park is large enough and the river contains enough bends that there are approximately 3 miles of river along which a person can fish. One section of the river is fly fishing only, but most is open to any lure or bait, artificial and live.
Rearing ponds at the hatchery

Most fishermen (which includes men, women, and kids), however, seem to congregate as close as possible to the upper end. This is despite the fact that when the fish are planted the plantings occur at multiple locations. You know, it's not like they open a door at the hatchery and tell the first 500 fish on any given day to "Go, swim free. You're on your own now, No more pellets; it's time you go looking for lunch instead of having it come to you." Nope. They load the fish into a truck and dump them in at a variety of points along the river. Nonetheless, based on the herd behavior of the people fishing and the way they seem to enjoy being shoulder-to-shoulder upstream from the campground, I'd guess that the fish that get dumped into the river at the locations farthest downstream from the actual hatchery are the ones that live the longest. There's a white board at the Lodge where successful fishermen can record catches they're particularly proud of; I noticed the other day that the most recent entry was an 8-lb trout. Obviously, not all the fish end up in a landing net right after being released.

Looking down the center of loop 2 on a day when the park was full.
There is more to Montauk SP than just the fish, of course. The park sits in a hollow in the Ozarks. The scenery is gorgeous, especially at this time of year. There's an abundance of wildlife. There are hiking trails. The park is lucky enough to have a naturalist who seems to have a gift for presenting interesting programs and connecting with any kids who are listening. The campground is a good one and has a nice playground for families camping with small children. There are numerous picnic tables scattered throughout the park, and there are two picnic pavilions (aka shelters). Two other playgrounds are located near the picnic shelters. It's a great family park.

As for the campground, the sites are almost all large enough that even someone with a leviathan of a Class A motorhome or a super-long travel trailer can park and not feel crowded. Although I've talked with campers who have been coming here since the 1960s who can recall when the campground was basically an open field and access was via the low water bridge shown above, the campgrounds now enjoy mature landscaping and the amenities campers today expect: electrical service and access to a showerhouse. (The only full service sites in the park are the campground host spaces.) The park has two showerhouses, both of which include laundry rooms with coin-operated washers and driers. The campground has four loops, one of which is basic, one has 30 amp electrical service, and two have 50 amp. Construction of a 5th loop is scheduled to begin in 2015. Whoever picked out the trees when they designed the campground loops knew what he or she was doing because there's a variety of deciduous species: maples, river birches, sycamores, sweet gums, oaks, etc., for shade along with smaller flowering trees like dogwoods and redbuds for visual interest.

Campground host site, Loop 2. 
In addition to the campground, there are a motel and rental cabins available for people who prefer more creature comforts (or less work) than a typical RV or tent provides. A number of the cabins were constructed by the CCC in the 1930s, but there are also newer units. The motel (aka The Lodge at Montauk) includes a full-service restaurant, a snack bar, and a store that sells fishing tackle, souvenirs, and a few basic groceries.

Montauk SP shares a boundary with Ozark National Scenic Riverways. OZAR begins where Montauk ends on the Current River. A number of interesting historic sites within OZAR -- the Susie Nicholls farm, the Welch Hospital ruins -- are within a few minutes drive of Montauk, as well as several locations for launching canoes or kayaks if a person is interested in floating the river.

People fishing from the remnants of the other low water bridge in the park.
Overall Montauk is a great place to camp if crowds don't bother you. This park is popular. Anyone coming here during the "on" season hoping to commune in silence with nature is doomed to disappointment. The No Camping Vacancies sign has gone up by the fee booth pretty early each weekend we've been here. During the peak months, reservable sites are often reserved many months in advance, and the first come first served sites tend to fill up remarkably fast. On Fridays and Saturdays RVs will be circling like sharks before noon hoping to see someone in one of those sites pull out. Even the basic sites fill up fast with people who still enjoy tent camping. It's a good thing most campers leave sites clean because when there's maybe a 10-second gap between one camper leaving and another one backing into that space, there's no way the hosts or regular maintenance are going to have time to check the site for trash. The park does hope to eventually complete a back country hiking trail that would include two hike-in camping sites, but that trail's development is probably several years away. In short, the park is awesome, but if you're looking for solitude, look elsewhere.

The incredibly onerous burdens of being a campground host

No real news or opinions, just a photo to illustrate just how much we're suffering here in Missouri.This campground hosting business is hard work.
The S.O. fishing.



Friday, October 10, 2014

Whatever happened to the Scotch?

Okay. So we're now in Missouri campground hosting at Montauk State Park. It's a lovely place. The park is situated at Montauk Springs, the headwaters of the Current River, and is in the Ozarks. The campground nestles next to the river and is nicely laid out with "mature" landscaping. Lots of humongous shade trees, relatively level ground, actual concrete pads on which campers can park their motorhomes or trailers. The campers run the gamut from young families with multiple small children muddling along in a humble pop-up or in tents to retirees with high dollar 5th wheel trailers or fresh off the assembly line Leviathans. There's a motorhome parked not far from us that I'd be willing to swear I saw on HGTV on a show dedicated to million dollar RVs, but there are also RVs that come close to being Randy Quaid specials. I guess our Guppy falls closer to the Randy Quaid end of the spectrum, but it's not alone in being an older model.

But, as usual, what I start off writing about isn't actually what's on my mind. What's actually on my mind is what's with all these trout fishermen who don't seem to have gotten the memo about the way trout fishermen are supposed to behave. I've read the Robert Traver books (Trout Madness, Trout Magic). Trout fishermen are solitary souls who stake out their piece of the river, focus obsessively on catching fish, and then go home (or back to their tent) to brood silently, thinking about the perfect fly and sipping Glenfiddich or some other single malt Scotch whiskey. They do not gather in herds around a campfire to consume massive amounts of Busch Lite (in cans, no less) and then fill the fire ring with the discarded cans of their horrible cheap beer.

Maybe I should assume it's all the guys (and gals) with their spin-casting rods. People who spin cast instead of fly fishing do tend to be a bit more casual in their outlook. At any rate, I don't see too many of them walking around looking like photos from an Orvis catalog. The fly fishermen get totally tricked out in waders and special vests and go stalking toward the river with their beautifully crafted wooden landing nets dangling on their backs; the spin casters amble casually by with a rod in one hand, a cheap landing net and small box of lures in the other, and maybe a pair of rubber boots on their feet. They're casting from shore; the fly fishermen are wading out into the middle of the river.

Of course, the fly fishermen have to get into the middle of the river in order to have space to whip all that line around. I took a fly fishing class in college -- I didn't learn much from it -- once the instructor got us to spread out along the banks of the Pilgrim River, I'd make sure I was as far away from him as possible, find a comfortable place to sit, and then read for an hour -- but I did figure out that fly fishing is a whole lot of work for not much fish. Spin casting, on the other hand, you can do from a lawn chair, which, in fact, is what a fair number of campers at this park do every day. There are several very nice areas set up for use by disabled fishermen, but if there's no one around who happens to be in an actual wheelchair and needs the space, anyone with a lawn chair can take advantage of the concrete piers.

In any case, from the perspective of a person who's getting to pick the beer cans out of the fire rings, it feels like there is something seriously wrong with the typical fisherman at this park. He or she is drinking the wrong beverage, and they're drinking it in much too social a setting. They need to do more silent brooding and less cheerful, hops-laden socializing. Either that, or someone needs to teach them all the difference between a campfire and a trash bin.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

All politics are local

We're now barely a month away from the November general election and I'm noticing the same thing here in Missouri that I noticed in 2012: if I use yard signs as evidence, people care the most about what's happening closest to them.  I see a lot of yard signs for local offices and almost none for state-wide or federal office. Who's running for U.S. Congress here in Farmington? If I relied solely on yard signs, I wouldn't have a clue. I haven't seen a single sign promoting anyone for Congress. I also haven't noticed much advertising on television, and what there has been hasn't been for anything happening here in Missouri. The political ads airing on the St. Louis stations all seem to be for candidates running in Illinois.

Although you know what's weird about those ads? I've yet to see one that's for a candidate. We keep seeing ads bashing the heck out of some guy running for Congress -- or maybe Senate. I'm not sure because the ads talk a lot about what a disaster he'd be if he got to Washington, but they never come right out and specify that he'd made a lousy Senator or a lousy Representative. The only thing that's sort of clear is he's running for office in Illinois. I have not, however, seen an ad actually talking up either the target of the attack ad or the guy who's running against him. It's bizarre. Makes a person wonder if the ballot will have a line for a candidate named "Not That Guy,"

I will say, however, it's nice to be here in Missouri during these last few weeks before the election. No matter how annoying political ads might get, we can ignore them all. They won't be pushing any candidates we care about. If we were still up on the tundra, the mailbox would be filling up with campaign literature and every other commercial on television would be telling us that Governor Snyder walks on water. Down here? From our perspective, it's a non-issue. We still have to fill out our absentee ballots and get them in the mail, but from our perspective the election is already over.

I kind of wish we could plan on a similar escape from politics in 2016, but given the hype and speculation already swirling around potential presidential candidates, I'm thinking the only way to escape politics then might be to plan on spending half the year in some other country.

Monday, September 29, 2014

On the road again

The Guppy has now been thoroughly road-tested. We loaded it up a couple days ago and hit the road. The trickiest part in loading things up turned out to be something we'd never considered in the past: emptying the refrigerator in the house. We've had two refrigerators get fried by power surges in the past two years so even though there is now surge protection on the outlet, we decided not to take any chances. We did not want to come home in a few weeks to a freezer full of melted ice cubes and fermenting condiments. It's amazing how much stuff can be in a refrigerator even when it's is a small one.

The Guppy performed about as expected, right down to producing a number of annoying or mysterious noises. A few things that we didn't expect to slide around did, stuff we were worried about shifting stayed right where it had to been stashed weeks ago. I did figure out we need to invest in another roll of nonslip shelf liner. It worked great in the cabinets, but I think I want some for padding between things like the pizza pan and a cookie sheet. Metal pans aren't going to break if they bounce around, but they definitely made a lot of noise when the Guppy was rolling over rough pavement. Other than odd bangings and clankings from the kitchen area, though, the only worrisome noise seemed to come from the right front tire. The S.O. thinks that tire might be permanently out of round, i.e., it's got a flat spot because the Guppy spends so much time just sitting in one spot. He's going to swap that tire with the spare and see if the noise goes away. That's assuming the spare still holds air, of course.
Heading south on US-45 south of Bruce Crossing, Michigan

In any case, we've been talking about tires in general being an issue since we bought the Guppy last year. The tread still looks good on all of them, but we also know they're all real old. The previous owner put so few miles on the Guppy that he never felt the need to replace any tires; he put less than 1,000 miles on it in six years. Our concern, of course, is that even though the tires look good there's dry rot. We're not seeing any, but you never know.

Until we hit the road, we weren't real sure just how terrible the fuel economy would be. It was, as it turned out, every bit as bad as predicted. Dragging my car behind no doubt hurt. We did not stop at every gas station we passed, but it was beginning to feel that way. It probably didn't help that I'm used to doing long drives in the Focus. Its fuel tank is about 1/3 the size of the one on the Guppy but it can go about three times as far on that one-third the fuel. Every time we had to stop to refuel, I'd have a "What?! But we just did that!" reaction.

On I-39 near Mendota, Illinois
And now we're in Missouri spending a few days annoying the Younger Daughter.We start our first campground hosting gig on Wednesday. It should be interesting, although from what the Kid says, the most interesting part might be just getting to the park. I've driven the roads in Missouri, I've been fairly close to where Montauk State Park is located, I know that in general Missouri has remarkably good roads, but the Kid keeps looking at the Guppy and making dubious noises. She's making state highway 32 sound like a goat trail barely wide enough for a Vespa to handle. We shall see. . . .

I do not know how much time I'll spend in the blogosphere once we're at the park. I'm hoping hosting duties keep me busy enough that I can ignore the Internet a lot more than I do now.

And, yes, for those of you who worry, we will check all the gas fittings before turning on the propane when we reach the park. From the way things were bouncing around on the way down here, it's easy to see how fittings could work their way loose over not many miles on the road.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Valar Morghulis

A few days ago there was a post up on The Pump Handle reporting on the Institute of Medicine's report, Dying in America, that critiques end of life care and suggests ways to improve it. The post linked to to an essay by Ezekiel Emanuel in The Atlantic on the topic of old age and death. The essay has the rather catchy title of "Why I Hope to Die at 75."

As it turns out, Emanuel doesn't really hope to die at 75. He's just decided that once he hits a certain point in his life, he's going to refuse all medical interventions other than palliative care. I get it. I've worked in nursing homes. I know that despite all the hype about "60 is the new 40" and ads showing geezers having a good time, aging in general sucks. You get older and it's inevitable that you're going to start falling apart. No one has the energy at 80 that they did at 50. You're more susceptible to injury. Your skin turns crepe-y, you bruise easier, it takes longer to heal. A fall that would have been nothing when you were in your 20s can put you in the hospital when you're in your 70s. Old people look frail for a reason -- they are frail. They break easy. Your bones start losing calcium; if you're unlucky you end up with osteoporosis and discover that all it takes is a sneeze and you've got broken ribs. Everyone says getting old beats the alternative, but some days you've got to wonder if that's really true.

And then there are the cognitive issues. One of the most depressing aspects of getting older is witnessing friends and acquaintances slip over the edge into Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. Alzheimer's gets a lot of attention, but it's not the only way to slide into senility. When you're in your 30s or 40s and you hear people talk about "hardening of the arteries" you may think "that can't possibly be a real thing." Well, it is. It's what cholesterol build-up does; the fat narrows the arteries, makes them stiffer, reduces blood flow. Reduced blood flow means less oxygen to the brain. Less oxygen to the brain means you get more forgetful, less agile mentally. The next thing you know you're one of those dithering old people who can't remember where they left their coffee cup or wants to tell you the same lame jokes over and over and over. . .

Not all geezers go senile, of course. One of my favorite people of all time, the philosopher Marjorie Grene, was still going strong in her 90s. She could argue circles around scholars a third of her age. But Professor Grene was an exception just like my own mother (who is now 92 and still sharp as the proverbial tack) is an exception. Based on my personal family history, I don't think I'm at much of a risk of losing my ability to think before other stuff fails, but you never know. The fact no one I'm closely related to has ever shown signs of Alzheimer's doesn't mean I can't be the first in the family to go senile.

Anyway, the more I see of the prospect of getting to be my mother's age, the less attractive it becomes. It has to suck to outlive all your friends. It's like signing up for a tontine where the only pay-off is you get to attend everyone else's funerals. So I'm thinking along the same lines as Dr. Emanuel. Once I hit my sell by date (which I'd mentally set at 75 long before I read the essay), it's going to be palliative care only. No trying to delay the inevitable in a way that enriches pharmaceutical companies or helps a surgeon buy a new Mercedes. After all, in the end it doesn't really matter what you do -- you're still going to die.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

More stuff accomplished

The pattern is called Blizzard, at least according to last year's Quilt a Day calendar. It is a a fairly rare type of quilt for me to make -- it's not a scrap quilt. Thanks to the Thelma stash, I had enough yard goods in a dark blue print to make a full-size quilt It is a large quilt because every quilt I make is intended to go on a bed. My sewing is utilitarian, not artistic. I machine pieced and hand quilted, as described in a previous post.

Until I went looking for the link to that previous post, I did not realize I've been slowly hand-quilting that sucker for almost ten months. Holy crap. No wonder I'm now looking at this particular quilt and thinking I'll keep it for us instead of giving it to someone at Christmas. Ten months! Granted, it's not like it was continuous. I didn't drag it along if we went somewhere, and I didn't work on it every evening we were home, but, still, ten months. If you figure two hours each evening 5 or 6 evenings a week when we were home, that's more hours than I care to think about. I could have written The Great American Novel in that amount of time, assuming I had any talent for writing fiction, of course.

I had actually been thinking that I'd finished this one a little faster than usual for me. Time is indeed relative.

And now I have to figure out what to do next. I'm currently in the unusual position of having no quilts in progress, either denim or more traditional. Maybe I'll focus on making a Christmas wall hanging or two instead -- I do have some Christmas prints, and a wall hanging would be small enough that I could machine quilt it if I wanted to. If I'm even semi-ambitious I could actually finish one in time to give it someone this year.

Or maybe not -- we're going off to play campground hosts soon, the departure date is now less than a week away, and I'm not planning to drag a sewing machine along on this trip. Maybe I would if I had a specific project in mind, but I don't. I may knit by the campfire, but I won't be quilting in the Guppy.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The guest cabin is done

Guest cabin right after dragging it home.
I spent part of yesterday doing some cleaning in the guest cabin, the formerly ratty travel trailer we bought last year. It's a 17-foot long Nomad that will wander no more, at least not in the foreseeable future. We put it up on blocks, the S.O. did a lot of repair work to the interior (there was extensive water damage and rot in the front end, and one back corner wasn't in real good shape either) and a permanent connection to the septic system, and we now have warm weather guest quarters. As long as the garden hose is connected, it has cold running water and a flush toilet. If a guest shows up who wants to be able to cook or to heat more than a couple cups of water at a shot, there's a small gas range, although we're not sure if the oven works. The S.O. had the propane connected just long enough to determine that the oven lights -- he did not keep it on long enough to determine if the thermostat for it also works and would shut things off after the oven reached the required temperature.

At one time, the trailer also had a gas furnace and a gas hot water heater, neither of which are functioning now. We have no plans to replace either. The guest cabin is meant to be temporary quarters during the months when we don't have to worry about water lines freezing. If it's warm enough that we're not worried about water lines bursting, it's warm enough that a person can manage with just an electric space heater to chase the morning chill away.
The interior at time of purchase. 

As for the hot water, when the bathroom is just a half bath (toilet and sink), we figured that any guests we have can get by heating water in an electric kettle to wash their face or rinse out their coffee cup.

We still need to do a carport-type roof over the trailer because that flat roof isn't going to handle Michigan winters very well if we're not here to shovel off the snow, and it would also be nice to replace the dead built-in refrigerator (currently serving as storage space for paper plates and napkins), but for now the trailer is basically done.

I'd also like to do a small deck, something big enough to maybe hold a lawn chair or serve as a convenient place to hang the solar shower, but that's a project the S.O. and I can talk about next summer.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pulitzer Project: The Way West

A few months ago when I mentioned that The Way West was coming up next on the Pulitzer list, BBC commented that I'd enjoy reading it. He was right. There are some dark themes in the subtext of The Way West, but overall it does qualify as "light reading." I breezed through it pretty quickly.

The book has a sticker on the spine indicating that the library that provided it through Interlibrary Loan considered it a Western when they cataloged it. Technically it is -- it's the story of a group of people who decide to emigrate from Missouri to Oregon in the 1840s. Along the way they have all the usual adventures and mishaps typical of pioneers who decide to travel by wagon train: encounters with various Native American tribes, wagons breaking down, people dropping dead from fever or snake bite.

As might be expected, there's a potentially volatile mix of personalities in the wagon train company. The group's self-appointed leader, Tadlock, is a bit of a bully, a bigot, and remarkably inflexible, one of those people who's convinced he knows it all so he resents the hell out of having to listen to advice from the "pilot," the experienced mountain man they've hired to guide them from Independence, Missouri, to the Dalles on the Columbia River. He's also not real interested in listening to the company as a whole; he's pretty much a "my way or not at all" type of guy. It takes a few hundred miles, but eventually Tadlock's personality forces the group to think about a change in leadership.

There's soap opera material -- a married couple that's unhappy in the bedroom so the husband strays and in the process "ruins" a naive teenage girl. There's the usual colorful character, what I think of as the Festus type, the fellow who gets written into scripts for comic relief, although he's missing from the cast list for the movie version. No doubt the script writers tweaked another of the supporting characters to incorporate occasional humor just as they turned Mercy McBee's naivete into what one movie review described as Sally Field's on-screen debut as a tramp.

Although a goodly number of various characters are introduced, the narrative pivots around two men: Lije Evans, a farmer who mixes personal ambition with a desire to be part of something bigger, and Dick Summers, the mountain man. Summers is described as one of the oldest characters in the book -- he's 49 -- and there's a lot of concern expressed by the men organizing the wagon train company that Summers is too old, too much of a geezer to stand up to the rigors of the trip. Once the trek actually begins, of course, it's obvious Dick is one of the few people with the stamina and the smarts to make it all the way to Oregon.

Lije and Dick are among the handful of characters in the book who have actual first names. Most of the others are referred to only as "Daugherty" or "McBee." As the novel progresses, we view the action primarily from the perspectives of Lije and Dick, although there are occasional insights from supporting characters. Lije is looking forward to a new life in Oregon; Dick is looking back at his old life as a mountain man.

Overall, The Way West is an enjoyable read that manages to avoid sentimentalizing the hardships of pioneer life. Life isn't easy, but that's just the way it is. The characters who do muse about tough times also acknowledge they had a pretty good idea of what they were getting into before they headed out on the Oregon Trail.

I have not seen the 1967 movie based on this book. It starred Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum, Richard Widmark, and Sally Field. Based on the Wikipedia summary, the movie deviates wildly from the book -- about the only plot points they seem to have in common is there's a wagon train going west and a married man cheats on his wife. I liked the book so I think I'll pass on seeing exactly how it got mutilated for the big screen.

As far as where this book ranks in the overall list of Pulitzer winners, I'd put it in the middle of the pack. It's not up there in the top tier, but it's definitely readable. Some of the language is a little dated (the infamous N word gets bandied about a fair amount, which is a tad odd considering there are no black characters in the book), but not to the point where it slows a reader down. So would I recommend this book to anyone else? Yes, especially if a person likes historical novels or Westerns.

Next up? The Town by Conrad Richter.