Dirt Rich

Dear Will:

You could have called them a bunch of dirt farmers and you wouldn’t have been far from wrong. At the end of the 19th century, dirt was about all you would have found in that part of the Big Horn Basin. That, and maybe enough sagebrush to support a couple of scrawny cattle. Maybe that, but not much more. However, if you were a child, newly arrived from Morgan, Utah, peeking out of a tent at that patch of nearly-nothing, perhaps what you would have seen was an endless horizon, full of promise, stretching west to a tomorrow so brimming with life that only a child could have believed it possible.

My grandfather, Lloyd Taggart, was that kid. Only nine at the time, he was sent with his parents and siblings and maybe 200 others to establish a so-called “Mormon colony” in northern Wyoming. In that mix was an eight-year-old charmer named Louise Welch. Over time, love grew where perhaps crops could not, and by 1916 the two were married, united in their commitment to build a life together in the Big Horn. Raised by family-first pioneers, Lloyd and Louise before long had a brood of their own, with nine kids crammed (somehow) into a two-bedroom home in Cowley, a town built on such prime real estate that to this day its population has never topped 1,000—even if you include those scrawny cows.

I don’t mean to pick on Cowley. My mother was born in that two-bedroom sardine can, and her eyes would twinkle when she remembered the place. The point is that Lloyd and Louise didn’t exactly get a running start in this three-legged race of theirs. But when they settled, at last, in nearby Cody, the two of them established a presence there that from my distant perspective seems incomprehensibly larger than life. Lloyd built a hugely successful construction company that laid down roads throughout the state, including, most notably, in and around Yellowstone Park. Louise, meanwhile, was an originating member of Cody Play Readers and of the Cody Music Club which, I’m stupefied to report, is still around today. And somehow in the midst of all that they acquired and ran the Two Dot, a 170,000-acre cattle ranch north of Cody on Pat O’Hara Creek (you know the place). All that—and so much more that you wouldn’t even believe a fraction of it—while raising those nine precocious kids.

How does that happen? How do two pioneer kids go from next-to-nothing to something-almost-unimaginable? You can bet that grit and industry were big contributors, but I have a hunch that more than a little of their ultimate prosperity and happiness sprang from their loving partnership, built upon a sure foundation of faith in God. You see what needs to be done and get busy doing it, day after day until your legs ache and your back buckles and all you have left at sundown is the strength to fall to your knees and thank your Maker for being part of it all. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” said Jesus, “and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). That’s not a surefire guarantee of success, but I believe it is a promise that when you put first things first, you somehow find a way. Paul said as much: “All things work together for the good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).

Thus when your church asks you to start over on a dusty, waterless plain, you do it. And when that same church asks you to preside over a fledgling flock of believers—for over 29 uninterrupted years—even though you’re trying to build a construction company and run a cattle ranch and help build a hospital and a bank and serve on the boards of a variety of local businesses . . . (hang on . . . gotta catch my breath) . . . well, you do it is what you do. And all the while, you follow that ancient credo: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). And thus—somehow—it works out.

I suppose that what I’m saying is that, if you should ever feel like your life has been dumped and scattered, leaving you to more or less start over without much more than a canvas tent to your good name, perhaps you should invite God to look over your shoulder as you to peek out of the tent-flap at the horizon ahead. There’s no telling what you might see. Nor what you might accomplish together.


P.S. My grandmother, Louise Welch. is the taller girl on the right, standing between her father and the horse. I told you she was a charmer.

I’m Sick of This. Fortunately.

Dear Will:

I am so sick of this.

We are entering Week Whatever of quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I’ve had enough. Every day looks like the one before it: Get up. Walk the dog. Stare at a computer screen for nine or ten hours. Scrounge up some dinner. Watch something. Read something. Go to bed. Some nights we order take-out. Woo hoo.

What I wouldn’t give for a hot meal prepared by a real chef, eaten on an actual plate in a corner booth, maybe with some live music thrown in. I want to go to the theater, like we used to. Maybe catch a movie. Go to a game. It’s gotten so bad that the highlight of the week has become the weekly trip to the grocery store. It’s just about the only reason I have to get in my car. But to do that I have to strap on a mask and snap on some rubber gloves. I look like a scrawnier and somewhat less malevolent version of that bad guy in The Dark Knight Rises.

I play along, but never with enthusiasm. Only learning more about this strain of the coronavirus has kept me from defying local restrictions in protest. Even though I have multiple relatives who are medical professionals, I’m not dumb enough to think that their training somehow suggests that I have a natural instinct for these things, so I’ve turned to those with unique expertise to help me understand how this virus spreads or how best to mitigate its impact on society. In the early days of this crisis, this simulation helped me grasp the unambiguous power of social distancing. And this post from Dr. Erin Bromage, an immunologist from UMass Dartmouth, gave me much better insight into how COVID-19 spreads from person to person.

In my eagerness to get back to the life I prefer, I found one of Dr. Bromage’s examples particularly sobering. He describes an actual case in which an asymptomatic person (someone not too different from me, I suppose) had dinner with nine friends at a restaurant. Unfortunately, that person was an unwitting carrier of the coronavirus. Within a week, roughly half of the people at the infected person’s table had become sick, along with five others at adjacent tables. As I read that, I thought: “Wow. I wouldn’t want to be that guy.”

I am thrilled by recent announcements that some of the restrictions where I live are beginning to loosen. Even so, I can see why gathering with a couple of hundred friends at church for hugs and hymns might still be one of the worst ideas around. But gathering with a dozen or so in someone’s backyard might be just the thing I need right now to satisfy my growing desire for fellowship and collective worship. By all means, let’s take some baby steps. But let’s make sure they’re in the right direction.

Something my brother-in-law shared with me a few weeks ago continues to reverberate in my quarantined brain. That he’s a doctor merely adds gravitas to an already persuasive idea. “Don’t change your behavior to avoid getting sick,” he told me. “Assume that you’re already sick, and change your behavior to avoid infecting others.” When I start to feel like I’ve had about as much mask-wearing as I can take, his words compel me to put one on anyway.

This idea—that “I’m not doing this for myself; I’m doing it for others”—is at the heart of the aggressive precautions advocated by epidemiologists. It’s not a question of “rights” but of what’s right. As a Christian, I have always believed that at the heart of Jesus’s teachings is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you; or in scriptural language, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” It is a universal ideal, as Jewish and Buddhist and Hindu and Islamic as it is Christian. It is an expression of our best selves, woven into the very fabric of civil society. Do I like working from home? Not really. Do I enjoy wearing rubber gloves at Albertsons? No way. But am I willing to do it? For you? Absolutely. And I’m inexpressibly grateful to all of those taking similar precautions to keep me and my family from coming down with COVID-19.

I guess what I’m saying is that, sure, I’m sick of this. But even more, I’m grateful not to be sick of that.


Peter and Nacho Work from Home

Nacho and Dragon

Dear Will:

Thanks to COVID-19, I’ve been working from home now since the first week in March. I share my remote “office” with wife, my son, and Nacho, our mongrel pup (who has been working from home pretty much since we adopted him in December).

I brought you a Thing.

As I have adapted to this new way of doing business, I have tried to pick up some best practices from anyone with recent work-from-home (WFH) expertise.

I can make the Thing squeak. [Squeaker-squeaker-squeak . . . SQUEEEEAK!] I can do this over and over and over and over and over. And over. [SQUEEEEAK!] Perhaps you have heard.

With these simple techniques you too can maximize both productivity and well-being while under quarantine. Based on my observations, I’ve come up with the following 11 WFH Tips and Tricks.

I chewed the Thing A LOT.  My slobber makes it slimy. (So slimy.) And look! NOW your bare foot has noticed that I brought you a Thing!

  1. Don’t be discouraged by early failure. Keep trying different approaches until you achieve success.

I brought back the Thing. You and I will now play the game where you keep throwing it away and I keep bringing it back. For about an hour.

  1. Stay active. Physical activity is good for both heart and mind.

[PANT PANT PANT] I am still worried about the Thing. I will torment it with my powerful head-shaking submission move. It is terrified by my jangling collar! Fear the Fangs of Death, Thing!

  1. Sometimes it helps to step away from difficult problems. Return to them later when you can attack them with renewed vigor.

I have made you safe from the Thing. I brought you the Thing again so that you can see that you are safe from the Thing.

  1. Take time to share your successes with others. Don’t let isolation rob you of a well-earned celebration.

I placed the Thing on your keyboard so that you can see that I have made you safe from the Thing. Now you must try to extract it from the Fangs of Death. For another hour.

  1. Look for assignments you can really sink your teeth into. With the right attitude, just about any assignment can be fun.

[PANT PANT PANT] I could really use a nap. This nook by your chair where you usually put your feet looks like the best spot.

  1. Take an occasional break from whatever it is you’re working on. Choose a favorite place where you can let go of the tensions of the day.

I see that you have stepped over me to use the bathroom. I shall interrupt my nap to supervise. Good job!

  1. Make sure others feel supported in their work. And of course give praise where praise is due.

I have found another Thing! [Squeaker-squeaker-SQUEEEEAK!]

  1. Don’t hesitate to take on new assignments. Variety is its own reward.

I must disembowel this other Thing. I simply must. I shall lie down on your foot so that you can observe my surgical prowess. Look how much stuffing I am pulling from the body of this other Thing!

  1. Conquer difficult challenges with tenacity. Persistence pays off every time.

I placed my front paws on your laptop to let you know that it is now time for you to rub me the way that I like. And take me for a walk.

  1. Follow your impulses. When you have an itch, scratch it. Who knows where it might lead?

[PANT PANT PANT] I shall now chew on my stick which you say is gross and disgusting whenever you accidentally step on it.

  1. When you love your work, others will notice. Even if they do not fully understand it.

I brought you a Thing. . . .