Lewis & Clark Caverns, Yellowstone National Park, and Our Public Lands

Entrance to Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, Montana. Merriwether Lewis’ and William Clark’s expedition never visited these caves: they were not discovered (by whites, anyway) until the later 1800’s. But the expedition did pass nearby, a little further south along the Jefferson River, so the caverns were later named for these intrepid explorers

Billings, Montana, Friday July 21, 2017

In my especially idealistic early adulthood, I often lamented how a certain coffee chain, with its weirdly militarist logo of a two-tailed mermaid with a star on her head (the old logo was much better), seemed to crowd out much of the market for charming coffee shops serving Italian style preparations while playing quality music. The more I traveled, however, the more I’ve come to appreciate their ubiquitous clean bathrooms, unlimited wifi, comfortable chairs and tables to write and read at, and dependable coffee.

Especially this morning. I woke up disheveled and a bit cramped: I camped out in the car last night on a pull-out near the road block at the very top of the pass on Beartooth Highway, which runs through the mountains of the Shoshone and Custer-Gallatin National Forests. There’s construction on the road and I made it there too late to get through; they close the top of the pass during the night so that the construction zone can be navigated safely. My decision as to where to spend the night, therefore, was made for me: every campground, lodge, and hotel I passed was full. It was too windy to set up my tent in the dark, so I re-made the nice cozy nest in the backseat that I had made the night before to spend the night in Yellowstone. I went to bed to a spectacularly clear and starry night, and I woke up to this:

View from Beartooth Highway at the top of the pass on Hwy 12 through Shoshone and Custer-Gallatin National Forests, very near to where I spent the night

So I drove another hour or two until I came to Billings. I found the nearest Starbucks, took a baby-wipe-and-sink bath, brushed my teeth, changed into fresh clothes, ordered oatmeal and coffee. Now, clean and comfortable, I’ll tell the story of my last two days on the road.

After enjoying my cold beers and a little rest at Lochsa Lodge in the early evening following my Wendover Ridge Hike in the Bitterroot Mountains on Tuesday, July 18th, I drove to Butte, Montana, where I found a cheap but perfectly acceptable motor inn which had, most importantly of all, a bathtub. The hot bath finished the restoration that the Lochsa River had begun, and I awoke the next morning ready for a long day.

On Wednesday morning, July 19th, I headed for the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park, and on my way, noticed signs for the Lewis & Clark Caverns. I had heard of them a few times before and that they were well worth seeing. So I followed the signs, and I’m so glad I did. Here’s (some of) what I saw:

The limestone and minerals that make up most of the Caverns are colored in shades of white and gray highlighted here and there with shades of yellow and pale rust. The Paradise Room, the lowest, largest, and most colorful cave in the system, is richly hued mostly in shades of pink and purple. The lighting is carefully designed to show the colors as they would appear in daylight.

In the first of the caves, we noticed that most of the small stalactites and some of the smaller stalagmites were broken. This mangling of this natural wonder occurred in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, when the Caverns were managaed and shown to tourists by private entrepreneurs, who charged high prices and allowed visitors to break off pieces as souvenirs of their visits. This is yet one more of the hundreds of examples to show how important the National and State great public parks are. Unfortunately, profit motives and human psychology very often result in short-sighted decisions that cause long term harm, and the tragedy of the commons is revealed in the way some individuals rob the wider community of the opportunity to enjoy the riches nature has to offer unless the people unite to protect, defend, and steward them. Government, in this case as in many others, provide an invaluable check and balance to the self-centeredness and destructiveness that form parts (but only parts) of human nature.

So I’m with Ken Burns in his belief that the National Park System (and by extension, every state and regional park system) is America’s best idea. Yellowstone, Niagara Falls, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Virginia’s Natural Bridge, and countless others of the most awesome, most beautiful, and most rare of the landscapes built by the forces of nature, were despoiled and marred by humans seeking to profit off these womders regardless of whether their efforts served to protect or destroy them in the long term. Much of the damage is still being repaired if it can be at all, and some of the damage is ongoing and still unresolved as in the case of the great Yosemite Valley in my own California, where heavy car traffic is causing pollution, overcrowding, and wildlife destruction.

Early Wednesday evening, I arrived at Yellowstone National Park, the first National Park in the world (way to go, America!) and explored many of its wonders, stopping along the way to inquire at every campsite I passed whether a site had opened up. At long last, late in the evening, one did, a tiny RV site where pitching a tent is not permitted. So I slept in the car. I felt better about that anyway, since as I was about to pull in to park, I watched a tall, thin man in a black shirt and a long black pleated glossy skirt walking slowly and deliberately backwards through my site, like a scene out of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. I am pretty broad-minded in my opinions of human behavior since I consider the variety and creativity in the human species among the most interesting and often delightful of natural phenomena, but this was a little weird. I let him do his thing undisturbed.

Once he left, I created a cozy sleep space in the backseat with my sleeping bag and camp sleeping pad additionally padded at one end with my coats, towels, and sweaters, then sipped from the large bottle of ale I brought with me, leaning on my rental car and looking at the brilliant stars showing between the black silhouettes of the trees. Eventually, a sustained rustle of a large creature of some sort sent me scurrying to my backseat nest. I didn’t fear bears here, since the large number of other campers and their fires would keep them at bay, but the strange man had left me just a little spooked, rather to my surprise. So I laid there in the car drinking more of my ale and thinking about the amazing sights I had seen that evening, only a few of which are pictured below:

Fountain Paint Pot, with intense blue above the white surrounded by brilliantly colored microbes and minerals. The water is incredibly clear and you can see the deep opening in the earth from which the water wells up

The sun sinking low over Artist’s Paint Pots, Yellowstone

Old Faithful geyser erupting just after sunset

The next morning, I explored the park. I saw wonder after wonder after wonder! Here are some of them:

Looking at the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone from the top of Lower Falls. I see where the park got its name

Looking at the Lower Falls from the side of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I didn’t get any pictures that turned out of the osprey’s nest on a tower of rock near the cliff side, where the mother was guarding and feeding her two young. It was a beautiful sight to see her swoop gracefully through the air and quickly return with wiggling prey. A nature videographer on the overlook kindly let me get a few good views of the action through his camera.

A view of Yellowstone from the road between Tower / Roosevelt Junction and Mammoth Hot Springs

Roosevelt Arch at the north gate of Yellowstone; I was here last this January and the backdrop was white where it’s now green. I took a brief trip to Gardiner to get water and a few supplies and to find a nearby campground to return to that night, still having no luck in Yellowstone. No luck here either. I shrugged my shoulders and returned to the park. Something was bound to work out… the spirit of adventure was and is strong in me, and I don’t care much where I sleep

A hillside clothed in brilliant grasses and wildflowers across from the similarly garbed Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone NP

The trail up Mt Washburn, a 3-mile hike which climbs 1,400 feet

See the animals dotting the side of Mt Washburn? I saw so much wildlife up here: elk, horned mountain sheep with their young, birds, and chipmunks.

At the summit of Mt Washburn. My elation is pretty evident in this photo

The setting sun from the trail as I descended Mt Washburn

From the base of Mt Washburn, I readied myself for the drive of undetermined length from Yellowstone, Hwy 212 towards I-90 en route to my next destination via Cooke City-Silver Gate. When I was in Yellowstone in January, I saw a lot of buffalo, but hadn’t seen any at all  this trip. But as I drove in the dark, my headlights picked up a dark shape off to the side with two glowing eyes. I stopped and put on my hazard lights as a fuzzy, light brown, charmingly ungainly creature appeared, followed by a mother buffalo and two more calves. Over the next fifteen minutes or so, I watched a small herd of buffalo wander onto the road then mill around. Two young males found this a perfect place to tussle and push. Bison social hour was finally ended as an impatient motorist finally decided to clear the road by driving slowly at the herd, honking, until they took fright and scampered off the road. A little further on, I came across another car with its hazard lights on and its bumper caved in. The driver ruefully confirmed that he had collided with one of the herd, but the stricken animal was nowhere to be seen. Buffalo are hardy creatures, I hope that one recovers from the impact. Later on, my headlights picked up elk, two waddling fat little creatures (marmots?), and a red fox.

I drove on, winding up and up and up, until I reached that roadblock I told you about. I gazed at the bright, bright stars awhile, then curled up to sleep.

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Bitterroot Mountains and the Lewis and Clark Wendover Ridge Hike

A view through the windshield of Petty Creek Rd / Rte 489 between I-90 and Hwy 12, Lolo National Forest, Montana

Powell Campground & Lochsa Lodge, Lolo National Forest, Monday, July 17th, 2017

After lingering over breakfast this morning with my sister Bonnie, cousin Beth, nephew Cory, and cousin Mo, I realized there was no way I was making it from Spokane to Yellowstone today. So I thought: why not camp near Lochsa Lodge and do the Lewis and Clark Wendover Ridge ‘Death March’ hike, which friends of mine will be doing later this week, on the way? I’ve left plenty of time in my itinerary to go spur-of-the-moment adventuring. They’ve told so many tales of joy and hardship on this hike that my curiosity and spirit of competition just can’t resist the challenge. So, I make my decision. I stop at Superior Ranger Station off I-90, discuss my plans with the two oh-so-kind and helpful women there, and get directions. The ranger here who knows the trails, as well as the ranger she conferred with by phone at Powell Ranger Station, both warn me that the trail is extremely rough and in parts nearly impassible, not having been maintained in any way in at least two years. Sounds to me right now more like a dare than a warning.

I head south on Petty Creek road, a beautiful drive through a pastoral valley, and over the ridge to Highway 12 and a short drive back west. I was here last in snowy, frigid January. It’s very different today.

Lochsa Lodge, Clearwater National Forest, Idaho

I was in these mountains last when on a delightfully nerdy literary-historical retreat to celebrate my 40th birthday in my own way. Rather, it was just one, a newer one, of my own ways. I delight in parties, too, and in camping, and in going off on solitary adventures in which I also meet new people. On my actual 40th birthday, I went camping with a tiny company of closest family and friends, foregoing the usual New Years celebration with dancing, drinking, and light carousing. But I was feeling a little more pensive this time around, and wanted to go off and do something on my own as well. So I went here on a retreat a few weeks later which took me to Lochsa Lodge, right across the campground from where I am now, and made those very friends who will be doing the Wendover Ridge hike in a week or so. The thermometer never topped freezing when I was here last; now, it’s green and lush and warm. The campground is teeming with fat little chipmunks and birds, and the hidden animals are no doubt likewise well fed in all this abundant growth.

My tiny tent at Powell Campground, Clearwater National Forest, Idaho

The little orange tent is set up, a little green plastic doll shoe in the corner. I’ll be sleeping in my niece Savannah’s cast-off tent, very lightweight and very small. It’s sufficient for these summer days: it’s 8:30 as I write this and I don’t need sleeves yet. I’m using this little castoff tent since I’ll be flying to Scotland at the end of this trip, and have no room in my luggage to take a good tent with me across the sea. It’ll go to a thrift store when I reach Chicago.

I hike trail 25, which runs north and south. I know that if I can’t find the trail or lose it, I could never get too lost: to the north is the top of the ridge, to the east, the West Fork of Wendover Creek and the road that runs along it, to the west, the other road and the steep hillside.

Whitehouse Campground, Lolo National Forest, Idaho, July 18th, 2017

This morning, I hike from the Lochsa River to Wendover Ridge, the steep 7 mile hike that those same friends I made during that January retreat call the ‘Wendover Death March.’ It follows the route (more or less) that Merriweather Lewis and William Clark took over Wendover Ridge, on a trail used by the Nez Perce, with a Shoshone guide. I’ll tell you the story tomorrow.

Trail marker for Lewis & Clark 25: 7 miles to Snowbank Camp on Wendover Ridge

Cafe at Park & Main, Butte, Montana, July 19th, 2017

From here, I’ll tell the story of yesterday’s hike in captioned photos, with this introduction: relaxed from a hot bath last night, with that satisfying feeling of combined mild soreness and strength the day following strenuous exercise, a warm bowl of oatmeal and berries in my belly, a second hot cup of very creamy coffee, and the open road and adventures yet to come before my mind’s eye, I feel as happy as a person can be.

This sign, not far from the trailhead, tells a bit of the Lewis & Clark story on this route

I climbed the steep first section of the trail, at times clambering over fallen trees and pushing through soft, lush, lower overgrowth, until I reached a fire road. I turn right, misreading the map, which is partially obscured where it portrays this section. The trail follows to the right of be road, no the the left of another, and I chose wrongly. I go half an hour out of my way before the sign for the Wendover Creek West Fork alerts me I’m too Far East. No matter. It’s a lovely warmup to the rigors of the next section of the hike. I go back to where I had turned onto the road and find the partially obscured trail marker which sets me on the right path again.

The butterflies are out in force in Clearwater National Forest

Ah-hah, there’s the trail marker, off to the left among the tree. I was too far off to the right to notice it when I made that wrong turn.

Yes, there’s a trail under there

…. and under all that too. The trail’s overgrowth and fallen tree debris get thicker and thicker the farther I go. I should have worn pants, however warm the weather

I dub these ‘Jazz Hands Ferns’

A chipmunk tail, cleanly severed, draped decoratively on a stump. Creepy.

Hanging mosses drape a grove of trees

Another winged beauty

Thimbleberries, with a lightly sweet and tangy taste. The ripe fruit turns bright red and soft, and lifts easily off the underlying structure which it covers like a cap, or thimble. They grow plentifully along one of my favorite hikes in the Oakland hills in California

Stunning view from the side of the ridge somewhere in the vicinity of the trail. At this point, I turned back about an hour ago. I believe I nearly reached the summit but I could not find the trail, try as I might, among the loose litter of needles in a large grove on a particularly steep section. I was nearly out of water and it was very hot: I’m still recovering from a chest inflammation and laryngitis following a particularly nasty chest cold and needed more water than usual. But the deep breathing of clean, dry, deliciously scented mountain air and strenuous exercise of the day invigorated me, and I felt better and better as I went along, nearly recovered. Still, it seemed prudent to turn back while I still had a little water, since I had hiked a long, hard distance already.

A little brook that feeds into Wendover Creek’s West Fork. Farther up, I found a large, muddy spring bubbling up over a large area; I discovered it as my shoes squelched right through it under its obscuring blanket of happy leaves. I searched and found a section where it filtered through a little patch of sand and tiny rocks. I tipped one canteen and pressed it gently on its side into the sand, so the water flowed into it nearly to the top. Then, I poured it into my larger canteen through my cotton shirt, filtering out most of the silt. The water was cold and minerally and incredibly refreshing. I filled the larger canteen with filtered water, and the smaller with unfiltered. My water worry assuaged, I continued with renewed confidence. Not finding a better route down, I decided to follow the water, which I knew must inevitably lead to Wendover Creek. It was steep and required lots of sliding and Tarzaning down the slope from the overhanging strong but bendy branches

This is what a tired and very happy hiker looks like

I tore up my legs a bit on this adventure: I recommend pants despite the heat. Oh well.

One more of Nature’s winged jewels

The hike accomplished, I bathed my stinging legs and hot head and arms in the Lochsa River. What a glorious day. I finished it with two cold beers at the Lodge, a little rest, a nice drive to Butte, Montana, and – oh, the joy – a hot bath and a long sleep. The hike took 8 1/2 hours all told, including the hour-long accidental detour.

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Before You Can Be With Others, First Learn to Be Alone, by Jennifer Stitt

In 1840, Edgar Allan Poe described the ‘mad energy’ of an ageing man who roved the streets of London from dusk till dawn. His excruciating despair could be temporarily relieved only by immersing himself in a tumultuous throng of city-dwellers. ‘He refuses to be alone,’ Poe wrote. He ‘is the type and the genius of deep crime … He is the man of the crowd.’

Like many poets and philosophers through the ages, Poe stressed the significance of solitude. It was ‘such a great misfortune’, he thought, to lose the capacity to be alone with oneself, to get caught up in the crowd, to surrender one’s singularity to mind-numbing conformity. Two decades later, the idea of solitude captured Ralph Waldo Emerson’s imagination in a slightly different way: quoting Pythagoras, he wrote: ‘In the morning, – solitude; … that nature may speak to the imagination, as she does never in company.’ Emerson encouraged the wisest teachers to press upon their pupils the importance of ‘periods and habits of solitude’, habits that made ‘serious and abstracted thought’ possible.

In the 20th century, the idea of solitude formed the centre of Hannah Arendt’s thought. A German-Jewish émigré who fled Nazism and found refuge in the United States, Arendt spent much of her life studying the relationship between the individual and the polis. For her, freedom was tethered to both the private sphere – the vita contemplativa – and the public, political sphere – the vita activa. She understood that freedom entailed more than the human capacity to act spontaneously and creatively in public. It also entailed the capacity to think and to judge in private, where solitude empowers the individual to contemplate her actions and develop her conscience, to escape the cacophony of the crowd – to finally hear herself think.

In 1961, The New Yorker commissioned Arendt to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi SS officer who helped to orchestrate the Holocaust. How could anyone, she wanted to know, perpetrate such evil? Surely only a wicked sociopath could participate in the Shoah. But Arendt was surprised by Eichmann’s lack of imagination, his consummate conventionality. She argued that while Eichmann’s actions were evil, Eichmann himself – the person – ‘was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous. There was no sign in him of firm ideological convictions.’ She attributed his immorality – his capacity, even his eagerness, to commit crimes – to his ‘thoughtlessness’. It was his inability to stop and think that permitted Eichmann to participate in mass murder.

Just as Poe suspected that something sinister lurked deep within the man of the crowd, Arendt recognised that: ‘A person who does not know that silent intercourse (in which we examine what we say and what we do) will not mind contradicting himself, and this means he will never be either able or willing to account for what he says or does; nor will he mind committing any crime, since he can count on its being forgotten the next moment.’ Eichmann had shunned Socratic self-reflection. He had failed to return home to himself, to a state of solitude. He had discarded the vita contemplativa, and thus he had failed to embark upon the essential question-and-answering process that would have allowed him to examine the meaning of things, to distinguish between fact and fiction, truth and falsehood, good and evil.

‘It is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong,’ Arendt wrote, ‘because you can remain the friend of the sufferer; who would want to be the friend of and have to live together with a murderer? Not even another murderer.’ It is not that unthinking men are monsters, that the sad sleepwalkers of the world would sooner commit murder than face themselves in solitude. What Eichmann showed Arendt was that society could function freely and democratically only if it were made up of individuals engaged in the thinking activity – an activity that required solitude. Arendt believed that ‘living together with others begins with living together with oneself’.

But what if, we might ask, we become lonely in our solitude? Isn’t there some danger that we will become isolated individuals, cut off from the pleasures of friendship? Philosophers have long made a careful, and important, distinction between solitude and loneliness. In The Republic (c380 BCE), Plato proffered a parable in which Socrates celebrates the solitary philosopher. In the allegory of the cave, the philosopher escapes from the darkness of an underground den – and from the company of other humans – into the sunlight of contemplative thought. Alone but not lonely, the philosopher becomes attuned to her inner self and the world. In solitude, the soundless dialogue ‘which the soul holds with herself’ finally becomes audible.

Echoing Plato, Arendt observed: ‘Thinking, existentially speaking, is a solitary but not a lonely business; solitude is that human situation in which I keep myself company. Loneliness comes about … when I am one and without company’ but desire it and cannot find it. In solitude, Arendt never longed for companionship or craved camaraderie because she was never truly alone. Her inner self was a friend with whom she could carry on a conversation, that silent voice who posed the vital Socratic question: ‘What do you mean when you say …?’ The self, Arendt declared, ‘is the only one from whom you can never get away – except by ceasing to think.’

Arendt’s warning is well worth remembering in our own time. In our hyper-connected world, a world in which we can communicate constantly and instantly over the internet, we rarely remember to carve out spaces for solitary contemplation. We check our email hundreds of times per day; we shoot off thousands of text messages per month; we obsessively thumb through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, aching to connect at all hours with close and casual acquaintances alike. We search for friends of friends, ex-lovers, people we barely know, people we have no business knowing. We crave constant companionship.

But, Arendt reminds us, if we lose our capacity for solitude, our ability to be alone with ourselves, then we lose our very ability to think. We risk getting caught up in the crowd. We risk being ‘swept away’, as she put it, ‘by what everybody else does and believes in’ – no longer able, in the cage of thoughtless conformity, to distinguish ‘right from wrong, beautiful from ugly’. Solitude is not only a state of mind essential to the development of an individual’s consciousness – and conscience – but also a practice that prepares one for participation in social and political life. Before we can keep company with others, we must learn to keep company with ourselves.Aeon counter – do not remove

~ Jennifer Stitt is a graduate student in the history of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bio credit: Aeon

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

To the Great Plains and Illinois I Go, in Search of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Abraham Lincoln, and Other American Histories

Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Photo: January 2017 by Amy Cools

Hello, friends of Ordinary Philosophy!

From time to time, I take a trip to some corner of the globe, to explore the lives and ideas of great thinkers in the places where they lived and worked. For this series, I follow in the footsteps of thinkers who are no longer alive, since those who are still telling their own stories. But those who are no longer alive in the body live on in the ideas that they pass on, and in the example they provide for us to follow.

I’m pleased and excited to announce my seventh philosophical-historical adventure: an almost three-week road trip through the Great Plains and on to Illinois. I’ll fly from Chicago to Scotland on August 9th: I’ll be pursuing a master’s degree in the history of ideas at the University of Edinburgh starting this fall. In the meantime, I’m overjoyed to have this window of time to explore parts of my country which I’ve never seen, and to learn as much as I can along the way.

During this journey, I’ll explore Yellowstone and the history of National Parks in America (it’s been a great NP year for me!); I’ll travel throughout the Great Plains following the history of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, the Lakota and their and other Native Americans’ encounters with white invaders in the 1800’s and beyond; I’ll visit Springfield, Peoria, and Chicago following Abraham Lincoln, Robert Ingersoll, uniquely American forms of art and architecture, and other topics. I’ll also make many more stops and detours along the way.

Patrons of this series: Liz and Russ Eagle, Tracy Runyon, and the Cools-Ramsden family ~ With warmest gratitude, thank you!

Road Trip Through Indian Country to Chicago, En Route to Edinburgh
The Love of Possession Is a Disease With Them
Bitterroot Mountains and the Lewis and Clark Wendover Ridge Hike
Lewis & Clark Caverns, Yellowstone National Park, and Our Public Lands

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

Happy Birthday, Ida B. Wells!

Ida B. Wells, head-and-shoulders portrait, published, 1891, Image retrieved from the Library of Congress LC-USZ62-107756, public domainIn the course of my journey following the life of Frederick Douglass last year, I was so glad to have the opportunity to visit the place in New York City where he may have first met the great Ida B. Wells. It was late 1892, and this fiery young newspaperwoman had published her very controversial piece of investigative journalism in the New York Age on June 25, 1892. It was expanded and published as a pamphlet later that year as Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.

Many people at that time thought of lynching as an unfortunate and somewhat rare excess of race-hatred by frustrated Southern whites. And many more saw it as a lawless but not entirely unjustified species of vengeance against black men who had raped white women. But Wells would change all that. In early 1892, three of Wells’ friends were lynched after a dispute between themselves and white owners of a rival business. She was outraged, and began an investigation of the practice and history of lynching as a whole.

When Wells wrote Southern Horrors, she had already been an activist and writer for black rights for many years. In 1884, she resisted being forced out of the first class train car into the ‘colored car’; she later sued the train company, won the first suit, then lost on appeal. This incident (which echoes Douglass’ train protest in 1841) led to many other lawsuits, articles, and activism against anti-black laws and social practices. In 1892, her investigation of lynching revealed to Wells that lynching was far from just vengeance for rape, it was inflicted for petty crimes, supposed insubordination or impertinence, drunkenness, competition, and so on. She discovered that lynchings were not all that rare, either, and came to the conclusion that they consisted a form of social control, a replacement for the terrorism of the slave system.

Douglass was inspired and energized by Wells’ writing and anti-lynching work, and wrote a letter praising Southern Horrors as an introduction. He visited her in New York City where she was living for a little while as a writer for and part owner of the New York Age, which was (probably) published at the site I visited in Harlem. I visited a second site associated with Wells two days after my New York visit: she delivered one of her hard-hitting speeches in her speaking tour following the publication of Southern Horrors at Tremont Temple in Boston on Feb 13th, 1893.

Education was another driving force in her life. Her first job was as a teacher at age 14, and she taught for many years, over time supplementing her teaching with journalism, writing and editing for the Evening Star, The Living Way, and the Free Speech and Headlight. Another of her most controversial, consciousness-raising articles was published in 1891 in the Free Speech about the conditions in black schools: the poor quality of the buildings which housed them, and of the education and morals of the teachers and school boards who administered them. She was not fired outright, but the school refused to hire her for the next school year. She then went on to work full-time for the newspaper, promoting the Free Speech from city to city and writing articles along the way, until the Free Speech‘s offices and printing press were destroyed by angry whites after the publication of her ‘Lynch Law’ piece. Adversity only served to strengthen Wells’ resolve, each attack causing her to re-double her efforts on behalf of her people.

Wells went on to have a long and distinguished career in writing, investigative journalism, and activism for black rights and women’s suffrage. She worked with Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois, toured the United States and Europe as a speaker and activist, founded Chicago’s Alpha Suffrage Club, served as secretary of the National Afro-American Council, founded and became the first president of the Negro Fellowship League, and helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), among many other things.

For a long time, Wells thought of marriage and romantic relationships as oppressive, where women were expected to defer to men and flatter their vanity. But one day, she met a man who must have made her feel very differently, an attorney, writer, and fellow advocate for black rights named Ferdinand Barnett. She married him and they raised four children.

Please follow the links below to learn more about Ida B. Wells. If I manage to accomplish the tiniest fraction of what she did in my own life, I would consider myself a great success.

Ordinary Philosophy and its Traveling Philosophy / History of Ideas series is a labor of love and ad-free, supported by patrons and readers like you. Please offer your support today!

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Sources and inspiration:

Ida B. Wells-Barnett‘, episode 25 of the History Chicks podcast by Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider.

Ida B. Wells-Barnett‘. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.

McBride, Jennifer. ‘Ida B. Wells: Crusade for Justice‘. From Webster University’s website.

McNally, Deborah. ‘Barnett, Ferdinand Lee (1858-1936)‘, in BlackPast.org

Steptoe, Tyina. ‘Barnett, Ida Wells (1862-1931)’, in BlackPast.org

Wells, Ida. B. Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells. Ed. Alfred Duster. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1970.

Wells, Ida. B. Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases, 1892, via Project Gutenberg

Wikipedia contributors. ‘Ida B. Wells‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Wintz, Paul Finkelman, Cary D. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance: K-Y. 2004.

Trump: For the love of Putin

Fareed Zakaria

By Fareed Zakaria
Thursday, July 13, 2017

The latest revelations about Russia and President Trump’s campaign are useful because they might help unravel the mystery that has always been at the center of this story. Why has Trump had such a rosy attitude toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin? It is such an unusual position for Trump that it begs for some kind of explanation.

Unlike on domestic policy, where he has wandered all over the political map, on foreign policy, Trump has held clear and consistent views for three decades. In 1987, in his first major statement on public policy, he took out an ad in several newspapers that began, “For decades, Japan and other nations have been taking advantage of the United States.” In the ad, he also excoriated “Saudi Arabia, a country whose very existence is in the hands of the United States,” and other “allies who…

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Happy Birthday, Henry David Thoreau!

Replica of Thoreau's cabin near Walden Pond, Rhythmic Quietude, Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons, cropped

Replica of Thoreau’s cabin near Walden Pond

Henry David Thoreau is the American philosopher and writer best known for two books, On Walden Pond and Civil Disobedience.

The first is about simplifying your life so as to find what it’s really all about, the second promotes breaking the law in protest when the state does wrong (think Martin Luther King in the Birmingham jail). Walden tells of Thoreau’s experiences and observations living a simple life in a cabin for two years, where he seeks to clear his mind of the encumbrances and distractions of life in society and focus on immersion in nature and the life of the mind. Civil Disobedience is an essay prompted by Thoreau’s refusal to pay taxes in protest of slavery and of America’s starting a war to seize land from the Mexican government.

Here’s a list of resources, short but sweet, to introduce you to his life and work if you haven’t been already or would like a refresher. Not all are complimentary, but that’s good: we learn much from the debate over his ideas, too.

Henry David Thoreau‘, from American Transcendentalism Web

Henry David Thoreau‘. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Popova, Maria. ‘Happy Birthday, Thoreau: The Beloved Philosopher on How to Use Civil Disobedience to Advance Justice‘ and ‘The Spirit of Sauntering: Thoreau on the Art of Walking and the Perils of a Sedentary Lifestyle‘ in Brainpickings.org

Schultz, Kathryn. ‘Pond Scum: Henry David Thoreau’s Moral Myopia.’ The New Yorker, Oct 19th 2015.

The Thoreau Reader: Annotated works of Henry David Thoreau – Three complete books and four essays, annotated copies of Walden and Civil Disobedience, and more…

West, Stephen. Henry David Thoreau. Episode 83 of Philosophize This podcast

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