My Spain: Columbus in Andalucia

I don’t think we have ever taken a vacation just to take a vacation; every vacation has been motived and planned with some other objective. This comes, I am sure, as a result of my upbringing – we took a family vacation nearly every year, but it always connected to some other purpose. Our first family trip to Southern California, the beach, and Disneyland, coincided with the dedication of the Los Angeles Temple in the Spring of 1956. We first saw Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon coming home from my father’s assignment at stake conference in Mesa. We even rode the train once from Salt Lake City to Caliente, Nevada, because my father was concerned that passenger trains might go out of existence (and we had cousins in Panaca, NV).

So when Kathleen and I bought tickets to Spain last Spring, it was for more than tourism. Our trip had three objectives: visit several sites related to Christopher Columbus, hold a reunion with some of our former missionaries, and visit with our friends, Mark and Annemarie Pace in Barcelona.

We had high expectations: having returned from three years in Spain in July 2012, we planned this return trip with great anticipation. And, I am happy to say, the trip far exceeded even our highest expectations.

From the moment we touched down at Madrid Barajas and boarded the airport bus bound for Atocha train station, we knew this was going to be a great trip!


On the first day we traveled to Sevilla, which became our home base for four days of exploring Columbus-related sites in Andalusia. We didn’t see everything, but we saw a lot: his tomb in the cathedral of Sevilla, the Archivos de las Indias (which houses many of his papers), the Alcazar of Sevilla, the town of Palos (from where he set sail on the 1st Voyage), the monastery La Rabida (where Columbus and his young son lived for a while as he made plans for his voyage), and Granada (where the Queen approved his voyage after seven years of intense lobbying by Columbus).

IMG_7664Tomb of Columbus in the Cathedral of Sevilla. It might contain his bones…
IMG_7673Orange trees in the courtyard of the Cathedral.
Portrait of St. Christopher near the tomb of Columbus. Christopher is a latin name meaning “Christ-bearer.”
Archivos de las Indias.
The archives include many of Columbus’s personal writings, including the nine surviving books from his personal library.
IMG_1551 2
On the deck of a replica of the Santa Maria, Palos de la Frontera.
La Rabida. Here Columbus made plans for his first voyage. Magellan planned his great circumnavigation in the rooms of La Rabida.
The refractory at La Rabida, maintained very much like it was when Columbus lived at the monastery and took his meals in this room.
A lookout climbs the mast on the replica of the Pinta near Palos.

In addition to a day-trip by car to Palos, we did a day-trip to Granada by train. Granada and the Alhambra were more than we could have imagined. Standing on the ramparts of the Alhambra overlooking the beautiful vega of Andalusia, it is easy to imagine that Queen Isabel felt that, after conquering this glorious land, sailing across the ocean seemed a small thing by comparison.

Columbus-1-4 Columbus-1

Flags flying over the Alhambra in the same spot where the banners of Castile were raised on 2 January 1492.
Statue in Granada depicting the Queen and Columbus reviewing the Capitulations, the agreement between the crown and Columbus regarding the 1st Voyage.
Sometime after his death, Columbus’s remains were moved to the monastery of Las Cuevas, just across the river from Seville.
The Guadalquivir at Sevilla
“A sea like the river of Seville and the breezes as sweet as in April in Seville so that it is a pleasure to be in them they are so fragrant.” – Entry in Columbus’s log, 8 October 1492. 
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We Are Moving (2) – The Miracles


It’s true that I have talked about moving for several years now. Our home on Harvard Avenue was a great place to raise our children, and they have become great adults. But it has three great shortcomings for our current stage of life:

1. It no longer accommodates our family needs. When we had five or six children living here, it was tight, but as they began to move off to school we had ample room. Now it is not unusual to have 23-25 people for Sunday dinner. And when the Lesans and the Davis’ come visit in the summer, gatherings can exceed 34. And this house just doesn’t work for that many people, especially when several of them are pre-schoolers.

2. It is old. Eighty-six years old, to be exact. Yes, we have redone the bathrooms (and they are beautiful), and portions of the wiring and plumbing have been replaced over the years, but old houses are high maintenance, and we are at a stage of our life when we have other interests. Something even a few decades newer would be a great improvement.

3. It requires regular occupancy. Most houses do, of course. When we were gone for three years on a mission, we had adult children who were in a position to live in the house and care for it. That is no longer the case, and we would like the option of being able to lock the door and leave again at some point, perhaps to serve another mission or just to visit out of state grandchildren for a few weeks at a time.

So we needed something different. A condo perhaps? A big condo, perhaps? I was willing to talk about it, but Kathleen was less willing. But a couple of months ago we began thinking about selling a rental house we have owned for a few years (which is also an older, high maintenance home) and investing the proceeds in a downtown condominium which we could rent for a few years and perhaps move into later. We began to look at downtown condos, and quickly became educated. Anything even close to our price range did not solve issue #1 above.


Then came Miracle One. While visiting Lizzie in Connecticut, our daughter Ada sent us an email with some information on some condos in our neighborhood, basically opining that they would be neither a good investment or a good home. But she included a link to a condo for sale not far away in a complex with which we were not familiar. She gave it high marks, but noted it might be larger than what we wanted. Kathleen and I read the email independently. The next morning I commented to her that I had been thinking during the night about that condo; Kathleen responded that she had been thinking during the the night about where to place our furniture in it. It was an interesting experience. We looked at it other and realized we were going to buy this condo. A week later we had the property under contract.


Still shocked by what we had done but feeling certain that it was the right thing, we began to prepare our house for sale. Looking at it through the eyes of a prospective buyer, we realized we needed to spend several weeks and several thousand dollars before putting it on the market, and we went to work. A couple of weeks later we were at the home of Joseph and Jenni when Jenni mentioned that she had heard that afternoon that a couple in their stake was looking for a house in the Yale Ward. We knew the couple (kinda of) – he had played the fiddle at our cabin on occasion. As we left Joseph and Jenni’s, I turned to Kathleen and said, “We just sold our house. They are going to buy it.” Ten days later they put the house under contract.

So in five weeks we went from not even having a serious discussion about moving to buying a new home and selling our current home. And we have never looked back. This move just feels right.


We have closed on the new condo. I say “new” but that is a relative term – it was built in 1970. We have been tearing out a few walls and are in the midst of a remodeling project to give the new condo both some improved utility and some improved character. We close on the sale of our Harvard Avenue home on August 1. And we couldn’t be more excited! We have had a remarkable twenty years on Harvard Avenue, and are now beginning a new era in our life that we are certain will prove rewarding and exciting. And we can’t deny the hand of Providence in making it all happen!

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We Are Moving (1) – A Fond Farewell



So, after twenty years on Harvard Avenue, we are moving. This is not our first move – our new home will be the eighth house we have lived in since we were married in October of 1973 – but this move is different. For one thing, we have lived here twice as long as we have lived anywhere else. For another, it is the first move not associated with a job relocation. And it is the first move within the same city.

Stained Glass in Stairway

Stained Glass in Stairway

Actually, we are only moving 2 ½ miles away, so it’s not that big of a deal. So why did Lizzie burst into tears last night when she removed the house key from her keyring and put it on  the table? And why did the other girls all start to sob in unison with her?

Dining Room

Dining Room

Because this move is a big deal. This is the house where we raised all of our children. Lizzie was just seven years old when we moved here from Arizona. Holly, it is true, was already at BYU in college, but this home has been her home base for twenty years, and living as she does in Cincinnati, its sale is leaving her feeling a little groundless. This home and this neighborhood shaped our children’s lives and our lives.

Living Room

Living Room

This old home is in the Bonneville Stake. When we moved into the home in 1994, our bishop was Robert Fowles, whom we had first known when he was in medical school in Boston. The Mackeys (as in Randall and Margaret and their amazing children) lived across the street from us; Margaret had lived in the same building as our first apartment – 170 End Avenue on the Upper West Side – many years earlier.

I served on the Bonneville Stake High Council for nearly six years. When I was called as stake president, twenty-five percent of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve lived in the the stake. I called Daryl Hoole (yes, that Daryl Hoole) as stake relief society president. Jeff Edwards, with whom I had hiked the Grand Canyon back in our Arizona days, served on the High Council. My predecessor as stake president was the legendary Theodore Marshall Jacobsen, my successor was none other that Oscar Walter McConkie III. I felt like the Iink between two giants. Our next door neighbors were Roger and Colleen Thompson. My counselors were Fred Babcock (right, the architect) and Rick Evans (the attorney). Two-thirds of the founding partners of Durham, Jones and Pinegar lived in our ward. The list goes on. The fact is,  everyone in the Bonneville Stake is a luminary, whether you have heard of them or not.

Fireplace with Larry Wade Painting

Fireplace with Larry Wade Painting and Bee Rug

Our children attended East High School – yes, the East High School of Troy and Gabriela. We watched them film portions of High School Musical 3. It was also the East High School that their grandmother attended, celebrating 100 Years of Excellence this year.

So this move is a big deal. This house shaped our lives. It made us who we are. And having become who we are, it is time to move on to a new adventure, make new memories, create new experiences, and keep growing. The best is yet to come!


PS: If you follow Justin Hackworth (@justinhackworth) on Instagram, he just posted a beautiful photograph of our Harvard Avenue home!

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Some Thoughts About Thinking

Three conversations during the past couple of weeks caused me to think about something I read as a college student that had lasting impact on my life.

The first conversation was a brief discussion with my sister about a study she had recently read on the attitudes and behaviors of “millennials” – roughly defined as persons born after 1980 who are now in their twenties and thirties. The study noted that this generation tends to have greater confidence in the Government to solve social problems, but less confidence in organized religion. Significantly, millennials tend to look to peers rather than religious leaders for answers to social and moral questions, and they are very tolerant of and often endorse social behaviors that are not aligned with traditional religious views but are widely popular. In short, Facebook and Twitter are more influential than prophets, and tolerance of what was once considered unacceptable behavior has a higher value than moral absolutes.

The second conversation was with some friends about the recent public announcement by two disaffected members of the Church that they had been notified of potential disciplinary action by their respective bishops or stake presidents. Our friends commented that their son-in-law seemed much more sympathetic to the complaints and accusations of the two disaffected members than to the positions of their priesthood leaders. They then commented, almost by way of explanation, that their son-in-law had always been very “intellectual.” The implication was that intelligent people were less likely to support priesthood authority.

The third conversation was really a series of discussions while preparing a Sunday School lesson. Kathleen and I teach the 16-18 year olds. The topic this month is “Priesthood and Priesthood Keys,” and we were reviewing a sample teaching outline on the topic, “Why is it important to follow the counsel of priesthood leaders?” The lesson outline included a reference to Ephesians 4:11-14, a scripture that neatly summarized why God provides His children with priesthood leaders:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

Priesthood leaders exist to help us become perfected, to become Christ-like. And they help us avoid being tossed about by the cunning and often superficially appealing doctrines of men, which in the end only deceive us.

All this reminded me of something I read as a young college student which shaped my life then and has influenced me for decades. I entered college in the fall of 1965 – an era of great turbulence and turmoil, an era of student protest, free speech, occupation of college offices, burning of university buildings, and marches on Washington. Even on the BYU campus there was energetic discussion and argument. There were divisions between “conservative” and “liberal” Mormons, between “iron rod-ers” and “Liahonas.” It was in that environment that I came across a short essay written by Dr. Chauncey Riddle, a professor of philosophy at the university. Professor Riddle was one of the great BYU professors of the day. His classes were notoriously challenging, and he pushed students to think so deeply and intensely that they often complained that their heads hurt by the end of class!

But this short essay – less than two pages in length – seemed to strike at the heart of many of the debates on campuses across the country. Reading it changed my life. And my recent conversations reminded me that it is still very relevant. Maybe it will change your life, too.



For more by Chauncey Riddle, see


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Rediscovering Columbus

On 15 April 2014 I had the opportunity to speak about Christopher Columbus at the monthly meeting of the Cannon – Hinckley dinner group. The meeting was held in the Empire Room of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City. What follows is the text of my presentation.

 I am greatly honored by the invitation to speak to this august body. This is a group with a long and storied history involving the ancestors of many of us here tonight.

When the Liberty Stake was created in 1904, Hugh J. Cannon was called as the first stake president. My grandfather, Bryant S. Hinckley, served as his counselor for 18 years.

In 1925, President Cannon was called, for the second time, to serve as president of the Swiss-German Mission, and Bryant S. Hinckley succeeded him as president of the Liberty Stake. Three years later the editor of the Improvement Era died unexpectedly, and my grandfather sent a note to the President of the Church and to George F. Richards, Hugh Cannon’s father-in-law, and suggested that President Cannon be called as the new editor. Shortly thereafter the Brethren wired President Cannon with instructions to return home, where he was subsequently called as Editor of the Improvement Era.

In 1935, a few years after the death of President Cannon, the Liberty Stake was divided. Bryant S. Hinckley was retained as the President of the Liberty Stake, and his brother-in-law, Joseph L. Wirthlin, was called as the president of the newly created Bonneville Stake. So the Cannon, Hinckley and Wirthlin families have many connections – it was a small Church!

But I didn’t come here tonight to talk about the Cannons or the Hinckleys or the Wirthlins. You already know about them. I came to talk about Christopher Columbus, and you probably already know about him, too. My hope is that I can share with you some things you may not have already known about this man who has what is perhaps the most widely recognized name of anyone born in the last thousand years.

ColumbusAs a young missionary I served for three months in the city of Madrid where one of the most prominent monuments in this city of monuments is the great statue of Columbus. On the way home from my mission, I stopped to see my former mission president who was living in Maryland, just outside of the District of Columbia. After Kathleen and I were married, we moved to New York City and rented a small apartment just a few blocks north of Columbus Circle and a block west of Columbus Avenue. A quarter century later, our oldest daughter attended Columbia University. Her husband is a graduate of The Ohio State University, and there is nowhere he would rather be on a Fall weekend than in Columbus, Ohio on game day. Another son-in-law grew up in Columbia, Maryland, where his parents still live. Columbus, it seems, is everywhere.

Children in almost every nation and culture know his name. But beyond the simple couplet that we learned as children, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” most people know surprising little about this remarkable man and the way he shaped the modern world.

Yet the story of Columbus is one of the most remarkable and captivating stories in all of history. It is the story of a man who was foreordained to do just one thing, and that one thing would change the world more dramatically than any other single event over more than a thousand years of history. It is a story of rejection and ridicule; a story of  perseverance in the face of opposition, a story of loyalty and treachery, a story of  discouragement and of great courage. Columbus’s first voyage to America had enough adventure for a Hollywood blockbuster – mutiny, shipwreck, cannibals, desertion, and a storm so fierce on the return leg that Columbus sealed a record of the voyage in a barrel which he threw overboard in hopes that someone would find the message and know of his accomplishment if his ship went down.

And all this was just the first voyage across the Atlantic. He would complete three more voyages, filled with hurricanes, discovery, adventure, intrigue, betrayal and bravery. His fourth and last voyage would be particularly harrowing, coming to a near tragic end with a shipwreck that would leave him and his crew marooned for over a year on a Caribbean island with virtually no hope of rescue. They would be saved only through the courage of a loyal friend who undertook a daring open sea canoe voyage and successfully rowed to the Island of Hispaniola where he found help.

The story of Columbus is the story of an imperfect man, a man who made many mistakes and who made many enemies, but through almost unbelievable perseverance – some called it stubbornness – and what he claimed were God-given talents, achieved one great history-changing accomplishment. It is a story of a life that, in spite of triumph, ends in disappointment, sorrow and loneliness, and ultimately in redemption. No wonder the great historian from Oxford declared,

“History has all the world’s best stories, and the life of the weaver’s son who discovered America could hardly be matched even by the most inventive imagination.” (Felipe Fernandez-Armesto)

But in recent decades the story of Columbus has has been largely forgotten. He has become not so much a person as a symbol of all that has gone wrong in the modern world. He is accused of perpetrating genocide, enslaving and murdering Native Americans, and destroying the pristine environment and fragile ecology of the New World. He has become politically incorrect in every way, and on many college campuses, the former Columbus Day holiday has been renamed “fall break”.

Columbus has had a particularly bad rap over the past few decades. But the fact is, he was controversial during his own lifetime and his reputation has gone through multiple ups and downs over the centuries. For Latter-day Saints, however, Columbus has always had special place.

When I first read the Book of Mormon as a young teenager, Nephi’s prophecy about Columbus was one of the few verses that I clearly understood.

MontjuicYears later, as a mission president in Spain, I took all newly arriving missionaries directly from the airport or train station to the top of a large castle that overlooks Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea. While looking out over the “mission field” we read together Nephi’s short verse about Columbus. It seemed appropriate because Columbus is the only Spaniard mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

But one of the questions that began to surface in my own mind was, among all the great men who paved the way for the Restoration – Luther, Wycliff, Washington, Jefferson, Adams –  “Why did Nephi single out Columbus?”

We think of Columbus as the discoverer of America, but he was almost certainly not the first European to cross the Atlantic to the Americas. We have reliable evidence, for example, that Vikings reached the shores of America nearly 500 years before Columbus. Yet their voyages did not result in any permanent settlements nor did they impact the history of the world – in fact, they were largely undocumented and forgotten. Columbus’s great achievement is not just that he succeeded in crossing the ocean and reaching the Western Hemisphere, but that he returned home safely and published his achievement to the world. He not only pioneered deep ocean sailing, but unlocked the secret of the trade winds. The route he established on his second voyage was used throughout the age of sail as the most direct route from Europe to the Caribbean. It was an unprecedented feat of seamanship, and it opened the way for others to replicate his voyages. He didn’t just discover America, he discovered the highway to America, and the routes he pioneered created a permanent link between the old and the New World.

For the first time since the waters receded from the Great Flood in the days of Noah, the land that God had kept hidden as a promised land was finally reconnected to the rest of the known world. And this changed everything. Prior to Columbus, the world had evolved in an increasingly fragmented and divided way. For example, sweet potatoes and corn grew only in the Western Hemisphere, other crops were unique to Asia. In fact, it was the desire for unique but highly desirable Asian spices and their absence in Europe that was one of the drivers of 15th century exploration.

With Columbus, the eons-old pattern of divergent development changed almost overnight, and a new age of convergence began. In our modern age, the same crops and species are found in similar climates on every continent. Who can imagine Italian cuisine without tomatoes, or Thai cuisine without hot peppers, or Ireland without potatoes? Or life without chocolate? Yet all of these products existed only in the Americas prior to Columbus. As one prominent historian noted, 1492 was the year the world began. It marks the beginning of the modern age, an age in which the millennia-long history of cultures and crops developing in isolation ended, and a new age of connection and convergence began. The fact that you can buy a Big Mac in Malaysia, Mexico, and Moscow is one of the legacies of Columbus.

For Nephi and for Latter-day Saints, the changes brought by Columbus were even more earthshaking. It was not just the modern age that Columbus made possible, it was the final dispensation, a dispensation in which it is not just Big Macs or chocolate that have become available across the planet, but in which the Restored Gospel can be taught to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.

Columbus’s voyages set in motion a series of events that would culminate with the mission of Joseph Smith. The realization that there was a new continent, previously unknown and unimagined, stirred the imagination of Europeans in a way that is hard for us to comprehend in today’s era when we can see every corner of the globe on Google Earth. And what no one knew in the 15th century is that this new continent housed a sacred record written on gold plates that would become the keystone of the Restoration. With the benefit of hindsight, we can better appreciate the observation made by a sixteenth century historian:

“The greatest thing since the creation of the world, save only the incarnation and death of Him who created it, is the discovery of the Indies.”

No voyage of any man in all of recorded history since Noah, would change the world as certainly and completely as the great voyage of discovery of Christopher Columbus. Columbus unlocked what Noah had locked away – the Promised Land of the Americas.

I think Nephi singled out Columbus because the Restoration really begins with Columbus. In fact, I think it is accurate to say that no single individual prior to Joseph Smith played a greater role in opening the last dispensation than Christopher Columbus.

In fact, the Prophet Joseph Smith is only other individual singled out in Book of Mormon prophecies regarding the Restoration. In a sense, these two men stand as bookends to the Restoration – Christopher Columbus at the beginning and Joseph Smith at the end.

There are remarkable similarities in the lives of these two men mentioned in ancient scripture. Both would fulfill their prophetic mission against seemingly unsurmountable odds, both would claim divine instruction and record revelation, both would claim divine keys, both would have keen and unique insights into the scriptures, both would have little formal education but achieve acclaim as geniuses, both would have an unshakeable conviction in the their own role in divine history, and both would leave behind them a world forever changed.

Nephi not only prophesied regarding what Columbus would do (cross the waters separating the land of the gentiles from the promised land), but why he would do it (the Spirit of God wrought upon the man).

What Columbus did is well known; why he did it is the subject of much speculation and misinformation, but Columbus himself was crystal clear about his motivations. My personal interest in Columbus was piqued by a statement I came across while living in Spain. Explaining himself to the Spanish monarchs in a letter written about 1501, Columbus declared:

“With a hand that could be felt, the Lord opened my mind to the fact that it would be possible to sail and he opened my will to desire to accomplish the project… This was the fire that burned within me… Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit…urging me to press forward?”

Although Nephi’s prophecy was written in an unknown language on gold plates hidden in a hill on an unknown continent that Columbus was yet to discover, Columbus firmly believed that what he was doing was the fulfillment of prophecy:

“The Lord purposed that there should be something clearly miraculous in this matter of the voyage to the Indies. . .  I spent seven years here in your royal court discussing this subject with the leading persons in all the learned arts, and their conclusion was that all was in vain. That was the end, and they gave it up. But afterwards it all turned out just as our redeemer Jesus Christ had said, and as he had spoken earlier by the mouth of his holy prophets.”

“I was not aided by intelligence, by mathematics or by maps. It was simply the fulfillment of what Isaiah had prophesied.”

St ChristopherEven Columbus’s name was prophetic. According to legend, St. Christopher was born in the third century and was originally known as Offerus. He was a very large man with a great desire to find and serve the greatest king of all. Over a period of years, that search led him to enquire where he might find Christ, reputed to be the most powerful king of all.

He was directed to a hermit who instructed him in the Christian faith. The hermit suggested that because of his size and strength Offerus could serve Christ by assisting people to cross a dangerous river, where they often perished in the attempt.

After performing this service for some time, a small child asked Offerus to carry him across the river. During the crossing, the river became swollen and the child seemed as heavy as lead, so much so that Offerus could scarcely carry him and found himself in great peril. When he finally reached the other side, he said to the child: “You have put me in the greatest danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy on my shoulders as you were.” The child replied: “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but Him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work.” The child then vanished. Offerus became known as Christopher, literally Christ-bearer.

Columbus’s son, Ferdinand, wrote, “just as St. Christopher is said to have been so named because he carried Christ over deep waters with great danger . . . so the Admiral Christopher Columbus, invoking the aid of Christ in the perilous voyage, completed the journey to convert the Indians into members and inhabitants of the triumphant church of heaven.”

XpoferrensChristopher Columbus considered his name prophetic and viewed himself as the bearer of Christ to the peoples of the New World. He signed his first letter written from the New World with an enigmatic signature which he used for the rest of his life.. The meaning of the letters on the first three lines of this signature were never explained by Columbus, but the bottom line is clear: XPO FERENS is a combination of Greek and Latin words meaning, literally, Christ-Bearer.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this very remarkable man was the clarity with which he understood his prophetic role.

Columbus had very little formal education. He probably acquired a working knowledge of Latin and basic mathematics in a primary school in Genoa, but had no formal education beyond that. Yet he learned to speak Portuguese and Spanish and became undisputedly the best navigator and sailor of his time. He was a great observer of nature. He not only understood the Atlantic trade winds, but made several other remarkable conclusions from observations on his voyages. On this third voyage, he became the first documented European to reach the American continent. Entering the Gulf of Paria, between Trinidad and the coast of Venezuela, he was caught in extremely fierce currents created by the flow of the Orinoco River into the sea. He assumed at first that Venezuela was just another large island, but after finally sailing into smoother water he had some time to think about what he had observed. Reviewing the deviations of the compass, he concluded, correctly, that the earth was not perfectly round. Reflecting on the great discharge of fresh water into the sea, he realized that no island could produce a river with a flow of the Orinoco (8 x the Nile), and correctly concluded that this was a new and hitherto unknown continent. [SLIDE: Quote on new continent] He then makes the remarkable statement in his log that not only is this a new continent, but that it is the continent where the Garden of Eden was located. As was so often the case with Columbus, both his data and his logic were flawed, but his conclusions were correct! Historian Paolo Taviani summarized Columbus’s intellect in this simple phrase: “The man was a genius.”

One of the least widely known aspects of Columbus’s life is that he records, on at least two occasions, hearing a Celestial voice. Although all of Columbus’s biographers include these incidents, they are unsure what to make of them. The most detailed revelation is recorded in Columbus’s account of his Fourth (and last) Voyage. He was anchored off the coast of present-day Panama, where his crew had built a small settlement in an effort to establish a permanent trading post. But relations with the natives turned sour, as they invariably did. Seeing an opportunity, about 400 Indians attacked the small village killing one Spaniard and wounding several others, including Columbus’s brother. After three hours of intense fighting, the outnumbered but better armed Spaniards ultimately prevailed.

While this battle was taking place, Columbus was alone on his ship anchored off-shore and suffering with a high fever. He heard the sounds of gunshots and realized that his men, including his brother, were under attack. Knowing the overwhelming number of Indians, he assumed when the sound of the muskets ceased, that all of his men had been killed. In his account of the incident, he wrote,

I was completely alone outside on this dangerous coast in a high fever and a state of great exhaustion. All hope of escape was dead. I struggled up to the highest point of the ship, weeping and calling in a trembling voice to … [the] Lord of Hosts in every direction for comfort, but there was no reply. Exhausted and groaning, I fell as if asleep and heard a very compassionate voice saying:

“O fool, slow to believe and serve thy God, the God of all! What more did he do for Moses or David his servant than he has done for thee? Since thou wast born, ever has He had thee in His watchful care. When He saw thee at an age that pleased Him, He caused thy name to sound marvelously in the land. The Indies, which were so rich a part of the world, He gave thee for thine own; thou hast divided them as it pleased thee, and He enabled thee to do this. Of the barriers of the Ocean Sea, which were closed with such mighty chains, He gave thee the key.”

Columbus concluded his account with these words:

I heard all of this as if I were only partially conscious, and I had no answer to give to words so true, but could only weep for my errors. He whoever he was who spoke to me, ended by saying, “Fear not; have faith; all these tribulations are written upon marble and are not without cause.”

Both the tone and content of the message are reminiscent of the Lord’s words to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, recorded in Section 122 of Doctrine and Covenants.

Interestingly, this revelatory experience of Columbus took place on April 6th.

KeyThis visual analogy of keys in this revelation is glossed over by historians in general, but is particularly interesting to Latter-day Saints. The Doctrine and Covenants declares that Moroni held “the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim” (D&C 27:5). According to Orson Hyde, Moroni “was with [Columbus] on the stormy deep, calmed the troubled elements, and guided his frail vessel to the desired haven.” It seems plausible that Moroni, who held the keys to bring forth the Book of Mormon, would have had a natural interest in Columbus, who would open the New World where “the record of the stick of Ephraim” was located. Whether or not Columbus received priesthood keys in the way that we understand them is a matter of speculation. However, the notion that Columbus was given keys to open the unknown ocean seems wholly consistent with his prophetic role and what we know about priesthood keys.

The contemporary historian, Bartholomew de Las Casas, declared,

“It is obvious that at that moment God gave this man the keys to the awesome seas; he and no other unlocked the darkness.”

Although Columbus is widely recognized among scholars as an extraordinary seaman and navigator, he was also a great scriptorian and a man of great faith. He had a remarkable command of the Bible. The most extensive document which he authored which is still in existence is a 168-page manuscript that consists largely of Biblical scriptures and related commentary. Many of his commentaries and conclusions sound remarkably familiar to Latter-day Saints.

For example, he saw in John 10:16 a key reason why God had inspired and enabled him to cross the sea. Columbus declared that the people he had found in the Indies were these other sheep. In fact, he refers to them as a “remnant people” of the children of Israel. By Latter-day Saint standards, it is a remarkable insight!

Together with preaching the gospel to all nations, kindreds, tongues and peoples, he saw the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a key event in the last age of the earth. These two events would presage a great new age, culminating in the Second Coming, and he viewed himself as a new John the Baptist, the forerunner or messenger of this new age.

“Of the new heaven and the new earth,” he wrote, “of which our Lord spoke in the Revelation of John and earlier by the mouth of Isaiah, he made me the messenger and showed me where to go.”

He also sensed an urgency in what he was doing:

“I said above that much of the prophecies remained to be fulfilled, and I believe that these are great events for the world. I believe that there is evidence that our Lord is hastening these things. This evidence is the fact that the Gospel must now be proclaimed to so many lands in such a short time.”

This sounds remarkably like something I recently read in the Ensign – Columbus felt an urgency to hasten the work of salvation over 500 years ago!

He admonishes others to act with faith in every righteous endeavor. His instruction sounds as if it might well be a modern-day mission president encouraging his missionaries in a zone conference:

“Saint Peter, when he leapt into the sea, walked upon it to the degree that his faith remained firm. Whosoever has the faith of a grain of mustard seed will be obeyed by the mountains. Whosoever has faith, ask and he shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you. No one should be afraid to undertake any project in the name of our Savior, if it is a just cause and appropriate for his holy service.”

Columbus died in relative obscurity in a rented house in Valladolid in northern Spain, surrounded by his two sons and a few close friends. No official from the royal court of Spain attended the simple burial; no bishop or dignitary was present. He died, as one historian noted, as he was born: unnoticed.

His reputation in Spain at the time of his death was at a low ebb, and it did not recover quickly. The early British settlers in North America, however, began to view Columbus as part of their peculiarly American heritage, and after the Revolutionary War he emerged as an iconic figure in the new nation, giving his name to its new capital. If Washington was the father of America, Columbus became the grandfather.

In 1823, the same Moroni who, according to Orson Hyde had guided Columbus across the ocean, appeared to Joseph Smith and showed him the plates which contained Nephi’s prophecy about Columbus. The Book of Mormon was published in 1830, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally organized on April 6 of that year, exactly 317 years after Columbus had heard a Celestial voice while anchored off the coast of Panama.

Columbus’s two great dreams would ultimately become reality as a result of the Restoration. He had grieved at the failure to evangelize the natives of the New World. But in our lifetime the Gospel has found root among the peoples and lands discovered by Columbus, with over 12 million Latter-day Saints living in the New World, half of those in Latin-America and the islands of the Caribbean.

Spain never launched a crusade to recapture Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, but on August 3, 1831, Joseph Smith dedicated land for a temple to be built in Jackson County, Missouri. There, at some future time, a new temple will be built as part of the New Jerusalem, fulfilling Columbus’s dream in a way he could not fully foresee.

St George TempleA few months after the dedication of the St. George Temple in 1877, Wilford Woodruff received a series of visions that impressed upon him the need to do temple work for many of the great men and women who had laid the foundations for the Restoration. On August 21, 1877, Christopher Columbus was baptized by proxy in the St. George Temple. Three days later, Wilford Woodruff ordained him a High Priest.

Of the one hundred eminent men who had been baptized in the preceding days, only four were ordained high priests. President Woodruff never explained why he ordained Columbus to the office of high priest, yet for Columbus, it seemed a singular and appropriate honor. He had striven throughout his life to serve both his sovereigns and his God. His service had often been flawed and imperfect and, except for a few brief moments and a few faithful friends, he had been rebuffed by kings and ridiculed by the wise and powerful men of his age.  But he had succeeded in accomplishing what God had foreordained him to do and what Nephi had foreseen: wrought upon by the Spirit of God, this man among the gentiles had gone forth upon the many waters to the promised land.

With these sacred ordinances, administered in the new dispensation of which he had been a forerunner, Christopher Columbus was honored and recognized for what he always believed he was – the man who bore Christ across the uncrossable waters, the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth.

Thank you!

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Keep It Simple: 3 Productivity Apps that will Help You Increase Your Productivity

One of the blog posts that showed up a few days ago on my Zite account carried this promising title: “18 Epic Productivity Apps to Help You Live Your Dreams.” As I recently noted, this particular genre seems to be taking over the Internet like June grass in spring. Lists are hot. Long lists are hot. Lists that help you live your dreams are hot. And long lists that help you live your dreams… Well, you get the idea. We live in the age of hyperbole and abundance.

But I’m a little skeptical. I’m not sure that eighteen productivity apps, even if they are epic, will really help me live my dreams. In fact, I don’t think I have time during the week to use eighteen apps, epic as they may be. So I offer here my simplified alternative: “Three Productivity Apps that will Help You Increase Your Productivity.”

First, by way of disclaimer, I live pretty much within Apple’s walled garden. I purchased an iPad 2 about three years ago when I was traveling frequently and making presentations in two different languages (English and Spanish). I got tired of hauling around books and materials in both languages and the iPad was a means to lighten my load by taking everything I needed in electronic form. About the same time I traded in an HTC for a new iPhone 4. About a year later, when I needed to upgrade my old desktop PC, my children convinced me to make the switch and buy an iMac. So I am now exclusively Apple, and I’m good with that. It works for me, although there are still some things I miss that worked better in Windows XP or Windows 7. All of this is just to say that when I talk about apps, I am talking iOS and OS X.

Second, my list of Three Productivity Apps intentionally excludes the basic apps that come with an iPhone and that are pretty essential, like Calendar, Contacts, Messages, Camera, Clock, Mail. My big three are all apps that you need to download from the App Store. You may, of course, want to replace the imbedded Apple apps with apps that work better for you – I use Fantastical rather than Calendar, for example, because I love the simplicity of creating new calendar events by dictating in normal language. I also replace Camera with Camera+, Mail with Mailbox for reasons of personal preference. You may have other preferences for replacing the stock apps – apparently a lot of people prefer WhatsApp to Messages. But the fundamental purposes and functions of these apps are all pretty much the same. A good to-do list is an essential productive tool, and the stock applications include both Notes and Reminders. Reminders is a pretty good to-do app, but, like the calendar, to-do app preferences tend to be very personal. I currently use but I also like Wunderlist. And Reminders is actually pretty good, so I have not included any particular to-do app in my list.

So, here are my suggestions for three apps worth downloading that I think are actually useful in enabling me to improve the utility of my devices in a meaningful way.

1. EvernoteImage

Your device comes with a note-taking app, Notes, but Evernote, despite it’s name, is much more than a note-taking app. It has become my most used app and has materially improved my life (to the degree that something as insignificant as a app can improve life). Evernote is my memory dump, a giant file cabinet for everything. For example, when I ran across the post referenced above regarding 18 epic productivity apps, in two clicks I sent the entire article to Evernote. And because everything in Evernote is searchable, I don’t have to remember where anything is filed – Evernote will find it for me. I keep everything from appliance manuals to ideas about future blog posts in Evernote. All data is encrypted and stored in the cloud on Evernote servers, meaning it is always backed-up and my Evernote files on your phone, tablet, desktop, and laptop are always in sync. The basic app is free and and is sufficiently robust for most users. I just recently upgraded to the premium version as I am in the process of scanning several file drawers full of paper into Evernote and needed the additional capacity to move towards a more paperless office.

2. GoodReaderphoto-5

GoodReader is the only productivity app that I paid money for – the cost is $4.99. It is essentially a PDF reader with robust capability for annotation. Other popular apps include iAnnotate ($9.99) and PDF Reader (Free), but I have found GoodReader to be a good value. It was essential to my ability to leave books at home and travel with just an iPad. By using PDF versions of my books and manuals, I could mark and annotate just like their analogue counterparts. I can box or circle paragraphs, underline, highlight, at margin notes, etc.

I could, of course, just store all these PDF files in Evernote and eliminate the need for GoodReader, but Evernote’s annotation capabilities (via their own app, Skitch) is not nearly as robust. GoodReader enables me to have the same experience as having a paper document. I suspect that at some point Evernote will improve their annotation capabilities for PDF files, and when they do I will no longer need GoodReader.

3. DropBoxDropBox

In a sense, DropBox is a replacement for iCloud. It is what iCloud should have been – a cloud storage and syncing service that enables the user to store all types of electronic document and access them from any Internet-connected device. I use DropBox as the default storage location for Word files of writing projects and other critical files because it provides me a safe backup of critical files. But I include on my list of three because I use it to sync my GoodReader files and enables me to access all my GoodReader files from any of my devices.

So that’s it: Three Productivity Apps that will Help You Increase Your Productivity. They are not the only apps I use – I have a long list of specialized apps for specialized purposes – but these are the apps I can’t live without. At least, living without them would put a noticeable dent in my productivity.

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Keep It Simple: 3 Things That Will Guarantee Life-Long Happiness

You’ve seen the articles: “12 Things All Successful People Do,” “18 Epic Productivity Apps to Help You Live Your Dream,” “12 Rules For Learning Foreign Languages in Record Time.” My favorite is “32 Things to Remember in an Interview.” Really?! Thirty-two things to remember during a high-pressure interview when you can hardly remember your full name? Who can remember thirty-two things?

Or how about this one: “12 Things Extremely Successful People Do Before Breakfast.” This is a great article, and doing these things every day will undoubtedly make you extremely successful. It will also mean you’ll never eat breakfast until 1:00 p.m. 10-ways

It seems that recently there has been a proliferation of lists, and that the lists keep getting longer. I understand this predilection for lists – they are simple and memorable. They have been popular ever since Moses came down from Sinai with a list of ten do’s and don’ts. Steven Covey made a fortune with Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. But just because a seven point list made Covey wealthy and a ten point list governed Israel for millennia doesn’t mean that twelve, eighteen, or thirty-two point lists are better still. In fact, for my simple mind, shorter is almost always better. I don’t want eighteen epic productivity apps – I couldn’t remember which app is for which purpose. I want three apps, no more. I can do three things before breakfast without even checking a list, and I can still have breakfast during the breakfast hour. And when I walk into that all-important, destiny-changing interview, please don’t ask me to remember more than one or two things! Give me Thoreau – simplify, simplify, simplify. All the really important lists in life are short. Short enough to remember without referring to your notes.

So in the interest of keeping it simple, here is my ultimate guide to life: “3 Things That Will Guarantee Life-Long Happiness.”

1. Eat Well

We are what we eat, quite literally. Proper nutrition is the foundation of good health, and good health is one of the great blessings of life. Eat real food. You know what I mean – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, some poultry, fish, an occasional steak. Real food doesn’t come in boxes or in microwaveable packages. Skip the added sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, highly refined foods. Stick with the real thing. Eat real food. Eat well.

2. Sleep Well

Forget the nonsense about getting more done by sleeping only four hours a night. Forget the all-nighters. Go to bed early and get up early. Follow a regular and consistent sleeping schedule. Work hard, go to bed tired, and sleep. Do whatever it takes every to go to sleep with a clear conscience, a tired body, and sense of accomplishment. Sleep well.

3. Love Well

No one is happy alone. Our greatest joy in life comes from relationships. Family is everything. Friends are essential. Nurture relationships, make them a priority. Serve others and you will grow to love them, and real happiness comes from loving others. Whatever else you must do during the day, find ways to serve others and nurture your relationship with family and friends. Love well.

That’s it. Eat well, sleep well, love well. You know that exercising every day will help you sleep well, you know that those French fries aren’t good for you, and you know you need to spend not just quality time but quantity time with your family. Forget the lists of twelve, eighteen, and thirty-two essential things to do every day. Just repeat the mantra: eat well, sleep well, love well. Everything else will follow naturally.

Stay happy!

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“The chief concern of Christopher Columbus was not what men would think of him but what God would think of him.”

– Delno West[1]

La Rábida-RUTA COLOMBINA06On Columbus Day 2013, it may be well to reflect on who this man really was. There is little unanimity regarding the nature and character of the man Columbus. Over the course of five centuries, he has been reviled by some and proposed for sainthood by others.[2] The vast diversity of opinions regarding the man is evidence of his complexity. He was a man of contradiction and paradox – devout in his religious duties but heretical in his ideas, a brilliant navigator who had trouble making an accurate reading of the north star, an uneducated man who spoke four languages and wrote extensively in two of them.

The inability to categorize Columbus into a neat, consistent portrait, results in part from the age in which he lived. He was born into a world that was still dominated by medieval thought and institutions. But it was a world that was changing, and he would become one of the primary agents of change. By the time of his death, the Renaissance was well under way. Columbus lived his life with one foot firmly planted in the Middle Ages and the other in the modern world. Much of his thinking and learning was medieval in nature, but he layered onto that medieval knowledge base a lifetime of observation and experience in a genuinely modern way. He was a man of both the Old World and the New World in space, time and thought.

Two events which took place shortly after Columbus’s birth had a significant impact on his life, his accomplishments, and his legacy. The fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 resulted in a closing of the traditional trade routes that supplied Europe with highly desired oriental spices, and spurred the search for new trade routes. Without the loss of Constantinople, it is doubtful that Columbus would have found support for his enterprise of the Indies. The fall of Constantinople also resulted in an exodus of Greek scholars from the former Byzantine capital. Many of those scholars settled in Italy, and brought with them knowledge and ideas that would stimulate new thinking in Europe.

Three or four years after Columbus’s birth, Johan Gutenberg published his Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible using moveable type. Though not the first book Gutenberg had printed, it was the largest. Fewer than 200 copies were printed, but it demonstrated the feasibility of using the printing technology perfected by Gutenberg. By 1480, there were 110 printing presses in Europe using Gutenberg’s technology, fifty of which were in Italy. By the end of the century, over twenty million volumes had been produced. Columbus owned some of these books and there is evidence he read many others. Perhaps equally important, the success of the printing industry enabled reports of Columbus’s voyages to spread rapidly throughout Europe.

These two seminal events set the medieval world of Southern Europe into commotion, and it was in this world trying to find its new equilibrium that Columbus stepped onto the stage. He was as complex and as contradictory as the age in which he lived. Still, as one reads his words and reviews his actions, a portrait of the man begins to emerge.

If there is any one thing about Columbus on which historians agree, it is that “he was an exceptionally gifted sailor.”[3] Of the great Columbus scholars over the past two centuries, perhaps only Henry Vignaud, an American who emigrated to France during the Civil War, was disparaging in his assessment of Columbus’s skills as a mariner. But as Paulo Taviani wryly noted, Vignaud’s “experiences on a body of water were limited to sight-seeing tours on the river Seine.”[4]

Columbus did what no predecessor had been able to do, something that until it was done, seemed impossible to achieve with the technology of the day. Time and time again, when his pilots and fellow captains disagreed with his navigation, the Admiral was proven to be correct. His confidence in his seafaring abilities enabled him to initiate the era of open sea navigation – he was the first who was willing and capable of sailing purposefully with no sight of the coastline or a pre-determined landfall. He was, by all accounts, the greatest mariner of his age. It was his gift.

Columbus was a voracious reader and a remarkable student. He had a knack for learning, and he took full advantage of the new opportunities to acquire and read books.  Writing to the monarchs late in his life, he noted, “Mine is a calling that inclines those who pursue it to desire to understand the world’s secrets. Such has been my interest for forty years.”[5] He may have learned to read and write basic Latin as a boy in Genoa, but he learned Spanish as an adult, probably while living in Portugal. Spanish became the language which he used in daily life and in which he wrote nearly all of his notes and manuscripts. He was very well versed in the Bible – by today’s standards he would be considered a serious lay Biblical scholar – and he read and studied geography, history, astronomy, geology, and philosophy. He was conversant with Ptolemy, Aristotle, Seneca, Plato, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and scores of other authors. He was also a keen observer of nature. Not only did he decode the Atlantic trade winds, he gave detailed descriptions of the flora, fauna, and inhabitants of the Indies. He had a remarkable ability to grasp complex ideas and to develop reasoned explanations for unfamiliar phenomena. For all this, Columbus referred to himself as “an uneducated man” and an “uniformed sailor” and simply states that God gave him the “spirit of intelligence.”[6] That spirit of intelligence enabled him to become educated. Delno West observed, “he was an unlettered man with superior intellect and genius.”[7] Taviani put it more succinctly: “The man was a genius.”[8]

Columbus was a devout Christian. In the fifteenth century, this meant he was a devout Catholic, since Christianity and Catholicism were one and the same. He faithfully attended to his daily religious duties. Fernando said of his father, “In matters of religion he was so strict that for fasting and saying all the canonical offices he might have been taken for a member of a religious order. And he was so great an enemy to swearing and blasphemy, that I swear I never heard him utter any other oath than ‘By San Fernando!’”[9] Las Casas added, “He observed the fasts of the Church most faithfully, confessed and made communion often, read the canonical offices like a churchman or member of a religious order, hated blasphemy and profane swearing.”[10] Indeed, Columbus expressed one of his great concerns in a letter written while marooned on Jamaica: “Here in the Indies I am cut off from the prescribed forms of religion, alone in my troubles, sick, in daily expectation of death . . . and so far from the Holy Sacraments of the Blessed Church that my soul will be forgotten if it leaves my body.”[11]

His Christianity was not just an outward demonstration. As Las Casas also observed, “he was a man of courageous spirit and lofty thoughts . . . patient and long-suffering, a forgiver of injuries, and wished nothing more than that those who offended against him should recognize their errors, and that the delinquents be reconciled with him.”[12] He added that “he was a man of great devotion . . . sober and moderate in food, drink, and dress.”[13]

He had an unshakeable sense of mission. Throughout his writings one sees this consistent theme: that the Lord put into his mind that it would be possible to sail to the Indies and gave him the will and the skill to do it. Even though “all who found out about my project denounced it with laughter and ridiculed me,”[14] he was undeterred. When he was denied by King João II of Portugal, he moved to Castile. When he was denied by Ferdinand and Isabella, he sent his brother to England and France, and then continued to persist in Spain. When his men mutinied in the Atlantic, he pressed on, saying that it was “useless to complain since he had come to find the Indies and thus had to continue the voyage until he found them.”[15]

Such certainty and steadfastness does not always wear well with others, and it was so with Columbus. As Morison observed, “Columbus was a Man with a Mission, and such men are apt to be unreasonable and even disagreeable to those who cannot see the mission.”[16] Columbus simply knew, without any doubt, that God had entrusted him with the keys to unlock the Ocean Sea, and although “the leading persons in all the learned arts” concluded that his ambition and objective “was in vain,”[17] he was unmoved. God had made him the messenger of the new heaven and new earth. He was a man with a mission, and was unshakeable and unstoppable.

Finally, what emerges from Columbus’s words as left in his letters, journals, and other documents, is a man of deep and abiding faith. His piety was not a hollow set of daily rituals or outward appearances; his faith in God was the foundation of all he did, it was the driver of his life, and it sustained him through disappointment, rejection, and deep discouragement. He was “longsuffering in the challenges and adversity that always beset him, which were incredible and infinite, always with great faith in the divine Providence.”[18] His faith begat hope that enabled him to do what others deemed impossible. He prayed with faith, and received answers through faith: “I prayed to the most merciful Lord concerning my desire, and he gave me the spirit and the intelligence for it.”[19] Sick and alone at Belen, he received comfort from a Celestial voice assuring him that “mercy is infinite,” that the promises “God gives are fully kept,” and admonishing him, “fear not, have trust.”[20]

His sense of mission was unshakeable because his faith removed all doubt: “Who can doubt that this fire was not merely mine, but also of the Holy Spirit?”[21] When all was said and done, everything “turned out just as our redeemer Jesus Christ had said, and as he had spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets.”[22]

Columbus was a man who was far from perfect, and seemed willing to admit it. Perhaps it is why he was so lenient and forgiving of the treachery of Roldán and the mutiny of the Porras brothers. “I am only a most unworthy sinner,” he wrote, “but ever since I have cried out for grace and mercy from the Lord, they have covered me completely. I have found the most delightful comfort in making it my whole aim in life to enjoy his marvelous presence.”[23]

In the end, Columbus’s achievements and his universal fame are a reflection of his personal faith. “Peter stepped out upon the water,” he wrote, “and to the extent that his faith remained firm, he walked upon it. Whoever finds so much faith as a grain of mustard seed will be obeyed by the mountains. Knock and it must be opened unto you. No one should be afraid to undertake any project in the name of our Savior, it if is a just cause and if he has the pure intention of his holy service.[24] Columbus’s faith remained sufficiently firm to enable him, like Peter, to step out upon the water.

© 2013 Clark B. Hinckley

[1] Libro de las profecias, translated with commentary by Delno West and August King, University of Florida Press,  p. 74.

[2] Columbus was first proposed for Sainthood in the Catholic Church in 1866, and again in 1909.

[3] Taviani, Proceedings of the First San Salvador Conference, p. 5

[4] Taviani, Proceedings, p. 5. Taviani’s statement is clever but not entirely accurate. Vignaud was born in New Orleans and captured during the Civil War by Union forces in 1862. He escaped and fled to Paris, where he spent the remainder of his life. He served as First Secretary in the American Legation in Paris for many years.

[5] Libro, p. 105

[6] Libro, p. 104.

[7] Libro, p. 21

[8] Taviani, Proceedings, p. 7

[9] Fernando Colon, Historia del Almirante, p. 49.

[10] Las Casas, Vol. I, p. 44.

[11] Textos, p. 501-02.

[12] Las Casas, Vol. I, p. 45.

[13] Las Casas, Vol. I, p. 44.

[14] Libro, p. 105

[15] Diario, translated by Dunn and Kelley, p. 57

[16] Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, p. 46

[17] Libro, p. 107.

[18] Las Casas, Vol. I, p. 44.

[19] Libro, p. 105

[20] Textos, p. 492.

[21] Libro, p. 105

[22] Libro, p. 107.

[23] Libro, p. 111

[24] Libro, p. 111

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The Answer, My Friend, is Lorre Wyatt

By Clark Hinckley, November 2005

[The names of some of the players in this story have been changed]

In the heady days of the Internet bubble, the pundits liked to say that “the Internet changes everything.” Then the bubble burst, fortunes were lost, and entrepreneurs had to actually have a business plan in order to attract investors.

But the fact is we are still connected, and the Internet keeps growing. The guys at Google just bought a Boeing 767 wide body jet for their personal use – ostensibly so they can take 50 of their closest friends to Africa to build a school in some remote village. Some folks are still making mega-millions on the Internet. This thing has legs.

But that’s not what this story is about. This story is about Lorre Wyatt, Bob Dylan, and “Blowin’ In The Wind,” back when the Internet was only a gleam in Al Gore’s eye.

Let me be perfectly clear about this right up front: I have never met Lorre Wyatt. I have never spoken to him. I don’t know where he lives. I don’t even know if he is still alive. And I am quite certain he has never heard of me.

I heard of him circa 1972 from Gary Sneau. In those heady days, Gary was a student at the Harvard Law School and I was a student at the Harvard Business School. I don’t remember anything about our conversation, how the subject came up, or exactly what Gary said (more on this memory issue later). But I remember clearly what I considered the key facts of Gary’s story:

1)    That Gary had a high school friend by the name of Lorre Wyatt;

2)    That Lorre Wyatt, not Bob Dylan, had written the song “Blowin’ In The Wind” while a student at Millburn (NJ) High School;

3)    That Lorre and his musical octet, the Millburnaires, had recorded an LP in high school which included Lorre’s song; and

4)    That Lorre had sold the copyright of the song to Bob Dylan for $1,000 and donated the money to C.A.R.E.

I considered this one of the most amazing pieces of pop music trivia I had every heard. I mean, “Blowin’ In The Wind”! This was the anthem of our generation! And Bob Dylan was the flag carrier! I absolutely loved this story!

And this was not some idle rumor. Gary had grown up with Lorre Wyatt. They were friends. Gary had heard the Millburnaires sing “Blowin’ In The Wind”. He had seen the LP. And he was smart and had no reason to make up such a story.

Bob Dylan, on the other hand, had every reason to keep such a story quiet. This song launched his career. It made him a gazillion dollars. It was a huge hit for Peter, Paul and Mary. Joan Baez, Judy Collins, The Chad Mitchell Trio, Chet Atkins, Marlene Dietrich, Stevie Wonder, even Elvis Presley recorded it. Everybody recorded it. Everybody sang it. Everybody knew it. Without it the civil rights movement might never have gotten off the ground. And without the civil rights movement George Wallace might have been elected president. The whole history of America would have been different. “Blowin’ In The Wind” changed the world. Of course Bob Dylan wasn’t going to admit he didn’t write it!

And hey, Bob Dylan wasn’t even truthful about his own name. Even back in the Seventies every pop music trivia fan knew that Bob Dylan was really Robert Allen Zimmerman, born in Duluth, Minnesota, and a dropout of the University of Minnesota. Not exactly a great heritage for someone whose public persona was inextricably tied to Greenwich Village.

And then there was the fact that “Blowin’ In The Wind” was the best “Dylan” song for a long time – it had a tune, the words made sense, it was simple, it was short, anybody who knew three chords on a guitar could sing it. It was unlike every other Dylan song.

It all made sense when you thought about it. It was unlike every other Dylan song because it was a Lorre Wyatt song!

So the Lorre Wyatt story became a staple in my repertoire of amazing trivia. In fact, it was probably the only piece of amazing trivia I knew, and I used it regularly. But as the years passed, the memory of my original conversation with Gary Sneau faded as the memory of my telling the story grew. After a decade or so, I began to wonder about the facts of the story. Had I misunderstood? Had Gary created an elaborate, plausible, but fictitious story, just for the fun of it? He was, after all, a Harvard lawyer.


In the mid-Eighties I moved to Phoenix. Not long after moving, I discovered that an old acquaintance from my Boston days, Randy Peters, was living in Phoenix. And interestingly, Randy was a New Jersey native and boyhood friend of Gary Sneau. After a few months I dropped by Randy’s house in the evening to visit, to reminisce and, well, to see if I had been duped.

After a few minutes of conversation and catching up I found my opportunity. “

You know, years ago Gary Sneau told me a story about his friend, Lorre Wyatt…”

Randy cut me off before I could finish the sentence: “It’s true. Lorre wrote “Blowin’ In The Wind”. I have a copy of the LP on which the Millburnaires recorded it.”

So, it was true!

freewheelinPeter, Paul and Mary released “Blowin’ In The Wind” as a single in the Spring of 1963. Just a few weeks later, on May 27, 1963, Dylan released his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, containing “Blowin’ In The Wind” as track #1. Within weeks Peter, Paul and Mary’s recording had reached #2 on the charts and Dylan was invited to perform the song with Peter, Paul and Mary at the Newport Folk Festival in July. Articles on Dylan appeared in Time and the New Yorker. The obscure Greenwich Village singer-songwriter had become a national icon. And all because of a song written by Lorre Wyatt from Millburn High School!

It was a wonderful piece of trivia. Whenever I told it, my audience expressed the same shock and amazement that I had felt when Gary Sneau had let me in on the secret. “Oh, it can’t be true!” they would exclaim. But hey, Randy Peters had the LP, tangible proof. The Millburnaires had recorded the song before Peter, Paul and Mary or Bob Dylan. And copyrights were bought and sold all the time. Who could deny it?

Still, over the course of another decade I began to wonder. Randy Peters had been moving into a new house when I visited him in Phoenix and didn’t know where his old Millburnaires LP was. He and Gary had gone to high school together. Was I the victim of an old prank started by a couple of high school friends? The facts seemed solid, but…

In the mid-Nineties I moved to Salt Lake City. In what Dylan might call a simple twist of fate, I bought a home on Harvard Avenue, just a few houses down from Robert and Kathryn Fowler. I had known the Fowlers in the early Seventies when they were newlyweds and Robert was a student at the Harvard Medical School. Robert had become a well-known cardiologist. Kathryn was the granddaughter of Harvey Fletcher, the inventor of stereophonic sound. Her uncle had been director of NASA. Another uncle was a U. S. Senator. She was as solid and reliable as anyone could be. She had not only her own reputation to protect, but the reputation of a nationally prominent family. And she had grown up in New Jersey, just a few miles from Millburn!

One evening at a neighborhood dinner, I made it a point to sit next to Kathryn. At an appropriate moment, I directed the conversation to her high school days in New Jersey. We talked about Gary Sneau. We talked about Randy Peters. Had she ever heard of Lorre Wyatt?

“I went to the Senior Prom with him! And yes, it’s true: he wrote ‘Blowin’ In The Wind.’”

Well, you can’t argue with that! “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.”[1] I now had three witnesses: Gary Sneau, Randy Peters, Kathryn Fowler. And I am not enough of a believer in conspiracy theories to think for a moment that these old high school friends had created a four-decade conspiracy to deceive me. “Blowin’ In The Wind” was written by Lorre Wyatt – the best piece of pop music trivia ever!

Researching such a piece of trivia would be almost impossible for a novice like me. It would take days – perhaps weeks – of sorting through dusty records in the New York City Public Library and who knows where else to track down the details of Wind’s emergence on the American scene – when the copyright was filed, who filed it, when the lyrics were first published, when the Millburnaires’ recording was released. I was lucky. I had three eyewitnesses.

But the Internet changes everything. Now research is a snap for anyone. And as they said back in the Bubble days, if it isn’t on the Internet, it doesn’t exist. So just for fun I went looking for Lorre Wyatt and “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Here is the first thing I found:

‘Blowing in the Wind’
Freshmen Deny Dylan Wrote Song
by Archibald Elias, Princetonian Staff Writer

(From page 4 of the November 13, 1963 edition of The Daily Princetonian.)

November 13, 1963 — If Bob Dylan sings “Blowing in the Wind” at his midnight concert Saturday, two loud hisses may accompany the applause.

The noise, if any, will come from Stephen A. Oxman ’67 and Richard W. Erdman ’67, who contest Dylan’s claim that he wrote the hit parade favorite.

Dylan holds the copyright to the song, and by law at least is the man who wrote it.

Oxman and Erdman claim the real credit belongs to a former classmate of theirs, Lorre Wyatt.

Now at the University of Akron majoring in music, Wyatt headed the Millburnaires, the octet of Millburn (N.J.) High School, and wrote many of its numbers himself.

According to fellow members Oxman and Erdman, Wyatt wrote “Blowin’ In The Wind” early in September a year ago, and had it performed by the octet as early as Oct. 6.

Dylan did not secure his copyright until later in the fall, and his recording did not come out until winter.

Since then the song has been recorded by the Chad Mitchell Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary, but each group has paid Dylan royalties.

As Oxman understands it, Wyatt traveled to New York that November and sold the song outright to Dylan. The reported price was $1000, all of which Wyatt is said to have donated to CARE.

Wyatt has since denied the transaction in a recent “Newsweek” article, but Oxman pointed out that he could not claim credit legally if Dylan holds the copyright.

“Of course he denied authorship,” explained Oxman. “He’d get himself in trouble if he didn’t.”

Partial confirmation of Oxman’s story comes from Gabriel Chiodo, music director at Millburn High.

Chiodo reports that he heard the Millburniares sing “Blowing in the Wind” long before the Dylan version came out. On the other hand, Chiodo has no idea how Dylan and Wyatt stumbled on the same number before a recording was issued.

What none of the Millburn party can explain is the fact that Dylan knew a song entitled “Blowing in the Wind” as early as June 1962 — two months before Wyatt’s reported composition date.

New York’s ASCAP, an association for singers and composers, reports that Dylan registered a song of the same name in July, pending a copyright. What they or no one else seems to know is whether the two songs are the same.

Oxman does not want to hear the concert, but expects to go anyway because his date is a Dylan fan. Erdman would like to attend, in the hopes of confronting Dylan with his evidence.

Neither had bought tickets by 3 p.m. yesterday, however, when McCarter reported only 43 left.

Copyrights notwithstanding, Wyatt’s octet has recorded an LP album called “A Time to Sing,” which includes the song in question.

During the summer, the album was released on a national basis, this time under “Teenage Hootenanny.”[2]

So here was the story in print! And with all the corroborating details: the $1,000 price, the donation to C.A.R.E. I love the Internet!

Still, the story in the Daily Princetonian raised some questions, so I kept clicking. The next thing I found was a story by a David Blue about Dylan composing “Blowin’ In The Wind”:

The night Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” was first heard by an audience [Apr 16, 1962], Dylan and I had been killing the latter part of a Monday afternoon drinking coffee [at the “Fat Black Pussycat“]…

About five o’clock, Bob pulled out his guitar and a paper and pencil. He began to strum some chords and fool with some lines he had written for a new song. Time passed and he asked me to play the guitar for him so he could figure out the rhymes with greater ease. We did this for an hour or so until he was satisfied. The song was “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

We decided to bring it over to Gil Turner who was hosting the Monday-night hoots at Gerde’s, and we arrived about nine thirty or ten. Gerde’s was packed with the regular Monday night jam of intense young folk singers and guitar pickers. We fought our way through the crowd down the stairs to the basement where you waited and practiced until your turn to play was called. It was a scene as usual.

Gil Turner finally took a break and came down to the basement to organize the next half of the show. Bob was nervous and he was doing his Chaplin shuffle as he caught Gil’s attention. “I got a song you should hear, man,” Bob said, grinning from ear to ear. ”Sure thing, Bob,” Gil said. He moved closer to hear better. A crowd sort of circled the two of them. Bob sang it out with great passion. When he finished there was silence all around. Gil Turner was stunned. “I’ve got to do that song myself,” he said. “Now!” “Sure, Gil, that’s great. You want to do it tonight?” “Yes,” said Turner, picking up his guitar, “teach it to me now.”

Bob showed him the chords and Gil roughly learned the words. He took the copy Bob made for him and went upstairs. We followed, excited by the magic that was beginning to spread. Gil mounted the stage and taped the words on to the mike stand. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I’d like to sing a new song by one of our great songwriters. It’s hot off the pencil and here it goes.”

He sang the song, sometimes straining to read the words off the paper. When he was through, the entire audience stood on its feet and cheered. Bob was leaning against the bar near the back smiling and laughing. Mike Porco bought us a drink. Later in the evening Bob went home with Suze, and I split with some friends. Another moment in time ticked off.

(Quoted in Robbie Woliver, Hoot! A 25-Year History of the Greenwich Village Music Scene, New York, NY, 1986, pp. 83-84; addenda [in square brackets] by Manfred Helfert.)[3]

Well, that’s hardly a credible story! Who the heck is David Blue, anyway? I tried Googling his name and found a David Blue who is a high-jump coach somewhere in the 604 area code and another who showed up as a write-in candidate in an election in Key West. Googling “david blue folk” finally gave me the right guy. He was a folkie in Greenwich Village in the Sixties. The liner note on his self-titled album begins with this description:

When David Blue came out in August 1966, folk-rock singer-songwriters with folk roots were scurrying to ride Bob Dylan’s coattails into the rock mainstream. For David Blue, however, it was not enough to be influenced by Dylan, or even to emulate Dylan. David Blue, from all the sonic and even visual evidence on his Elektra debut album, wanted to be Bob Dylan.[4]

So he was simply a Bob Dylan wannabe, claiming that he helped write Dylan’s most famous song. Not a very credible source. I kept clicking.

Wikipedia, that wonderful source for information about everything, gave some great background on Dylan and “Blowin’ In The Wind”:

By the time his next record, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was released in 1963 he had begun to make his name as both a singer and songwriter (at a time when the two were still typically plied as separate trades), specializing in protest songs, initially in the style of Guthrie and soon practically developing his own genre.

His most famous songs of the time are typified by “Blowin’ In The Wind“, its melody partially derived from the traditional slave song “No More Auction Block”, coupled with lyrics challenging the social and political status quo. In hindsight, the lyrics to some of these songs may appear unsophisticated (“How many times must the cannonballs fly before they are forever banned”), but compared to the largely anemic popular culture of the 1950s they were a breath of fresh air, and the songs caught and fueled the zeitgeist of the 1960s. “Blowin’ In The Wind” itself was widely recorded, an international hit for Peter, Paul and Mary, setting an enduring precedent for other artists to cover Dylan’s songs.[5]

Staying with Wikipedia, I looked to see if they had an article on that “most famous song.” I typed “Blowin’ In The Wind” in the Wikipedia search box. It returned this:

“Blowin’ in the Wind” is a song written by Bob Dylan in April 1962, and released on his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

It is a premier example of the protest song, posing as it does philosophical questions about peace, war, and freedom. Its popularity and timelessness can perhaps be attributed to the fact that while the song asks these questions, it does not refer specifically to any particular political event.

It has been covered by hundreds of artists. Just a few of the better-known acts who have done so are folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary (who actually released their version – which lacks the Harmonica solos after each verse – a few months before Dylan); country guitar virtuoso Chet Atkins; folk chanteuse Judy Collins; soul singer Sam Cooke; blues belter Etta James; Marlene Dietrich; Elvis Presley; Stevie Wonder; Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, and was performed by Jenny in the award-winning movie Forrest Gump (sung by Joan Baez).

Dylan originally wrote and performed a two-verse version of the song; his first public performance of it, at Gerdes Folk City on April 16, 1962, was recorded and circulates among Dylan collectors. Shortly after this performance, he added the middle verse to the song. Some published versions of the lyrics reverse the order of the second and third verses, apparently because Dylan simply appended the middle verse to his original manuscript, rather than writing out a new copy with the verses in proper order.

In 2004, this song was #14 on Rolling Stone‘s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Well, it is a pretty amazing song. Fourteenth on the list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time! Imagine how proud Lorre Wyatt must feel!

Then I read on:

Plagiarism allegation hoax

For years it was widely believed in Millburn, New Jersey that Dylan had stolen the song from a student at Millburn High School, where a student singing group, The Millburnaires, had performed the song at a concert in 1961, before Dylan first recorded it. The story went that the student had volunteered at nearby Greystone Psychiatric Hospital, where Dylan often went at that time to visit Woody Guthrie, and had performed it for patients while Dylan heard it. Or, it was said, the unsuspecting student had sold it to someone hired by Dylan for a pittance.

The truth behind the urban legend was revealed by the student, Lorre Wyatt, in an article he wrote in 1973 for New Timesmagazine, and retold in 2005 by Weird NJ magazine.

In spring 1962 he had intended to write a protest song of his own for the group to sing and went through issues of Sing Out!, a folk-music magazine that published music and lyrics to songs. In there he came across Dylan’s song, not yet recorded, and decided to use it as a model for an original song of his own.

He struggled to come up with anything, however, and when the time came for the group to prepare for the concert, he panicked and passed off Dylan’s song as his own. His fellow singers were quite impressed, and after what wound up being the song’s first public performance, wanted to make it part of their repertoire. So Wyatt had to fabricate the story about selling the song as an excuse to not perform it again, and when Dylan finally performed and recorded it a year later, his classmates, none the wiser, thought he had been the victim rather than the perpetrator of the copying.

Even after Wyatt came clean, the legend continued to be told and believed in Millburn for years.[6]

In Millburn, and in Boston and Phoenix and Salt Lake City! Could it be true? Wikipedia included a link to, the urban legend site. Snopes, in turn, led me to the New Times magazine article. Here is the entire article, written by Lorre Wyatt and published in 1973:

In September of 1962, fall of my senior year, I auditioned for the Millburnaires, a perennial singing octet from Millburn High. Ecstatic over making it, I raced to my first rehearsal overflowing with song suggestions like “Dona, Dona” and “500 Miles.”

Several weeks later, I thumbed through the new issue of Sing Out! It was seeded with protest songs which rekindled my songwriting desires. The ideas of one song in particular had an unavoidable impact. They agitated my head, and I made valiant attempt to find my own words. I scribbled feverishly at my heavy blond desk, pressed by the upcoming Millburnaires rehearsal. But the printed words kept looking better and better, and I couldn’t resist trying to piece the tune together.

On October 28th, the eight of us were sitting around Don Larsen’s beige-carpeted living room swapping songs. In my pocket were two sets of words — the original and the song I had hoped would grow out of it. My mind seesawed nervously back and forth between them. Mine wasn’t finished and that song was so good. Maybe I could sing it and not say anything and they’d think I wrote it and be impressed. If they said, “Let’s sing that sometime,” that’d be OK. I’d finish my song by then, and they probably wouldn’t remember the original.

Someone said, “Anybody got a song?” My hands formed a shaky D chord, and a distant voice began, “How many roads . . .” Unexpected silence as I finished. WOW! “Where’d you get that? Did you write that?”

(Why not, I thought, nothing will ever come of it . . .)

Yes. A rush in my brain as the chasm between the simple and the horrible surreal complex evaporated. That moment my old life ended and a new one began.

“Hey, we gotta do that! . . . We could learn it for Thanksgiving!”

“No, no — we can’t — it’s not done yet!”

Thanksgiving assembly. The ONE time we would do the song. My strictest instructions to everyone were not to mention who wrote it, but Don circumvented that by saying, “Here’s a song written by one of the Millburnaires.” At the end of the assembly, people streamed backstage. Somewhere the answer slipped out. I became adamant that we would never sing the song again. My head was swirling.

Next Monday my homeroom teacher asked to see me after school for a “just between you and me” chat. She wondered why I didn’t want to sing that song anymore. I pulled out the answer that I had been toying with all weekend, and told her that I had sold it. But nothing would abate her curiosity. When she asked, “For how much?” I blurted out $1,000. Her surprise led me quickly to add that I had given it away, and “Where?” became C.A.R.E.

I’d begun to make Pinocchio look like he had a pug nose.

While Dylan was taking a flight to Italy to find Suze, I was taking a No. 70 bus to Newark to find his record. My initial reaction was relief! “Wind” wasn’t on it, and he sounded like a loser. Annoyance took over – “$2.79 for this?” I returned it to Bamburgers and told the clerk something was wrong with it. He listened to half a cut. “Yeah, I see what you mean.”

January, 1963. On the way to school, a friend jubilantly told me my song had been played on radio. I feigned nonchalance (while munching on my Adam’s apple) and told him I already knew. But the Chad Mitchell Trio single went nowhere. Whew!

Four more springs later, my therapist listened in amazement as I unraveled the tale of how I picked, by chance, the song that was to become the crowning expression of the “we shall overcome era”. She remarked supportively, “Well…at least you had good taste…”[7]

“Where became CARE”? That’s the best you can do?! Well, at least it rhymes.

So there it is. Three decades down the drain.

What is to be learned from all this? Never trust a Harvard Law student? Beware who you go to the prom with? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is?

Maybe the most useful lesson is that the pundits were right: the Internet changes everything.

But it’s been a fun thirty years.

A Blowin’ In The Wind Timeline

April 16, 1962          Bob Dylan performs Wind for the first time at Gerde’s in NYC, having written some of it that same evening.

July 1962                  Dylan registers the name of the song with ASCAP pending a copyright.

October 1962            Sing Out! publishes the lyrics for Wind; Lorre Wyatt reads the lyrics.

October 28, 1962      Wyatt sings Wind for his friends, passing it off as his own composition.

November 1962        The Millburnaires perform Wind at the Millburn High School Thanksgiving assembly.

Spring 1963              Peter, Paul and Mary release Wind as a single.

April 1963                The Millburnaires release their LP, A Time To Sing, which includes Wind and attributes the song to Wyatt. It is re-released during the summer by Battle Records (BM 6126/BS 96126) under the title Teenage Hootenanny, but on this edition Wind is not attributed to any composer. (Note: The album also contains “Dona, Dona” and “500 Miles”).

May 27, 1963           Dylan releases The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan; Wind is the first track on the new album.

July 1963                  Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary perform Wind at the Newport Folk Festival

November 4, 1963    Newsweek publishes a story on Dylan, suggesting that Wyatt had actually written Wind.

November 13, 1963  Dylan performs at Princeton; the Daily Princetonian prints claims that Wyatt had written Wind.

1973                         Wyatt writes a story for New Times magazine describing how he claimed authorship for Wind.

[1] 2 Corinthians 13:1
POSTSCRIPT: Lorre Wyatt did write some songs and remained actively involved in writing and performing. He recently co-wrote and recorded a song with Pete Seeger: Wyatt is the playing the guitar and singing harmony in this video.
© 2005 Clark B. Hinckley
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The Wildwall at Badaling

For less than the price of a “Rolex” watch, I purchase some beautiful souvenir postcards and gain entry to China’s greatest ruins.
8 October 2005

I am standing at the Second Tower on the Great Wall of China at Badaling and yet another aggressive vendor is trying to sell me overpriced postcards. I have hiked west up the Wall from the gate in the canyon below. Beijing and the rest of China are to my left. Outer and Inner Mongolia – ancient home of the Mongol hordes – are to my right. In front of me, through the parapets, I can see miles of Wall snaking across the ridges. Unlike where I have been and where I stand, the Wall I see in front of me is in ruins. Six hundred year old Ming dynasty bricks lie broken and scattered; a tree is growing in the middle of what was once the broad concourse of the Wall; off in the distance are the tumbled ruins of the next tower. What I see is the Wildwall, one of those vast stretches of the Wall that have never been repaired or restored, and I want to be there! But the section of the Wall where I stand – all recently rebuilt, swept clean every day, and infested with aggressive vendors of souvenir kitsch – ends here at the Second Tower, and I can see no way to get down from the tower and out onto the beckoning ruins.

All of the guide books I read advised me not to go to Badaling to see the Great Wall – it is overdeveloped, plagued by vendors, restored to look like it was built yesterday, and generally overrun with busloads of tourists. Unless you really want to have your picture taken on a camel or ride a cable car up to the First Tower, said the guide books, avoid Badaling and go to one of the less-visited and less-developed sites a little further out from Beijing where you can walk for miles along stretches of Wildwall.

But we are hosting a tour group of thirty-four Americans from the Midwest and West with a median age of 65, and our job is to stay with the group and make sure everyone is having a good time, so early on I adjusted my expectations accordingly. Badaling may be a tourist trap, but it is the Great Wall and this would probably be my one and only opportunity to see it. So I was mentally prepared for most of what Badaling had to offer. Just seeing the Great Wall and walking along part of it – no matter that it was of recent construction – would be enough.

IMG_2546We boarded the tour bus at our Beijing hotel at 7:30 a.m. and headed northwest out of the smog and traffic of the city. As the mountains came into view ahead of us I was surprised by how familiar the scene appeared. The mountains of Beijing look exactly like the Wasatch Mountains which form the eastern border of my hometown, Salt Lake City – dry foothills covered with scrub oak, just beginning to turn red in this second week of October. The Badaling expressway is a beautiful six lane highway that looks exactly like I-80, except the green freeway signs, rather than reading “Slower Traffic Keep Right,” announce that the left lane is the “Overtaking Lane.” And then, of course, there is that enormous stone wall snaking along the ridge line for miles in the distance!

Leaving the freeway, we headed up a canyon road – we could have been traveling up Emigration Canyon in Utah – and finally arrived at Badaling. Badaling is everything the guide books say, so I was well prepared for it. In fact, the tour buses, the gift shops, the rows of souvenir stands, even the hawkers on the Wall itself are part of the local color. Here one can buy anything from an “I Hiked the Great Wall” t-shirt to a genuine Chinese paper parasol to a genuine $5-dollar “Rolex” watch with a picture of Mao on the face. It is like walking into a caricature of the curio shop at the Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone National Park, then moving with the crowds out to watch Old Faithful erupt. I could deal with this. I could even enjoy it.

We moved with the crowds out past the rows of vendors, through the turnstiles, up the steps and onto the Wall. One guidebook had mentioned that most visitors turn right when they enter the Wall and that the crowds would be smaller if we turned left. So we turned left.

IMG_2568But I had read about those long stretches of ruins known as Wildwall; about intrepid backpackers who hike for days along the ruins, camping among the fallen bricks of ancient watchtowers, scrambling up 75-degree grades through loose scree. And much to my surprise, I can see miles of Wall ruins from where I stand in the newly constructed Tower Two right here at Badaling! But the Great Wall, which had ultimately failed to keep out the Mongol horsemen from the north, is doing a very good job today of keeping me away from the Wildwall.

“Three dollars, American. Very beautiful.” The postcard vendor keeps trying to sell me a package of cards but has not yet lowered his asking price; I know the going price is one dollar. I ignore his sales pitch and gesture to the ruins below, asking how to get down there. I can see that even if I could get off the Wall, there is a 10-foot iron fence and a coil of barbed wire designed to prevent me from getting out to the ruins. But I can also see that there must be a way, for a well-worn trail runs along the top of the ruins.

The postcard vendor is unresponsive. Maybe he finds the combination of my English and exaggerated hand signals confusing. Maybe he is only interested in an easy sale. Ignoring him, I determine to find a way off the Wall to the trail below. If I can get down on the ground next the iron fence perhaps I can find a way over, through or around it.

I begin walking back down the Wall looking for a place where I can get down to the ground below. I find a stairway off the Wall just 20 yards back, but it is blocked by a padlocked iron door. I check just in case; the lock holds. I continue back down the Wall where the tourists are getting more numerous. Another twenty or thirty yards brings what I am looking for – a public exit off the south side of the Wall. I jump over a granite railing and start back up the hill, following a dirt path that parallels the base of the Wall.

Within a few minutes I am at the base of the Second Tower facing the ten-foot iron fence. I try to squeeze between the bars but they are too close together. I step back to survey my options, and see the postcard vendor above me signaling for me to stay where I am and motioning that he is coming down. So he does understand exaggerated hand signals. He climbs over the parapet using some hand and footholds with which he is very familiar – which in fact, he probably put there – and he is at my side in seconds, waving for me to follow him. I follow him through the bush and scrub oak down a narrow dusty trail that parallels the iron fence. A surprisingly short distance ahead the fence ends where the hillside drops off steeply, and following his lead, I swing around the end of the fence and start back up towards the Wall.

My guide points the way and then hesitates expectantly. I pull a dollar bill out of my pocket and hand it to him. Then I notice he has unzipped his fleece jacket and is wearing a police uniform. He pockets the dollar and waves me on.

The Chinese name for the Great Wall is wàn lĭ cháng chéng [萬里長城], literally 10,000 li great wall. To the ancient Chinese 10,000 was such a big number that it was used the way we use “infinite.” But 10,000 actual li is about 3,850 miles, and as it turns out, this distance is a pretty good estimate of the length of the Great Wall, which is generally reported to extend 4,000 to 4,500 miles. Distance estimates vary, partly because the Great Wall is not one wall but a series of disconnected fortifications across a broad territory. And to complicate matters, sections of ancient walls continue to be discovered as Chinese construction projects turn up more wall ruins.

The earliest known sections of the Wall were probably built sometime in the fifth to third centuries B.C., a period known in Chinese history as the Warring States. Succeeding dynasties strenghtened older sections of the Wall and built new ones, depending on the enemy de jour. Most of the Wall that is seen today was built during the Ming Dynasty, whose rulers built a remarkable series of fortifications running from the Yalu River in the east to Jiayu Pass in the west. The Ming-era wall improved upon, connected, and added to older fortifications. It was built largely with convict labor, and the need for workers required that even minor indiscretions be punished with a sentence laboring on the wall. Brick kilns were built along the way, and the forests on either side of the Wall were stripped to provide fuel for the ovens. It was the greatest construction project in history.

My guide/postcard vendor/policeman turns back to resume his post in the Second Tower while I walk back up the hill parallel to the iron fence and barbed wire. At the base of the Second Tower I step onto the rubble – I am standing on the Wildwall. In front of me the ruins of the Great Wall meander along the crest of the hill to another tower. Beyond that the Wall turns and heads up the steep ridge of the next peak at what appears to be an angle of at least 60 degrees. At the top of the peak it dissappears down the ridge, hidden from view for a while, but reappearing at intervals for as far as I can see on this crystal clear autumn morning.


I step slowly forward, beginning my walk along the Wildwall. The trail where I am standing is covered with light yellow dust, the remains of crumbled bricks and broken stones. It is the same color and consitency of the Bright Angel Trail as it descends through the Coconino sandstone in the Grand Canyon. The base of the wall is constructed with stones, still largely in place. On this foundation the Ming-era laborers laid up brick walls to create a walkway protected from potential enemies on both sides. Most of the bricks along this section have either fallen or been stolen. With the challenges of feeding, clothing and housing a billion people, protecting the Great Wall has had to take its place in the list of Chinese priorities. In many areas, entire sections of the Wall have been dismantled to build houses and roads. It has been cheaper and easier to reuse 600-year-old Ming Dynasty bricks than to manufacture new ones.

IMG_2577A few yards further along I make my way around the oak tree that has taken root in the ruins and is growing up through the very center of the Wall. A little further, a section of the foundation has given way, and I have to climb down to ground level and walk a few yards before climbing  back back onto the ruins. In a few minutes I reach the tower I had seen in the distance.

If I were backpacking for a few days along the Wall – and I wish I were – this would make a wonderful campsite. Portions of the walls and roof are intact, providing shelter from wind and rain. Nary a postcard vendor is in sight. Far from the smog and noise of Beijing, the skies are a bright October blue and the only noise is made by the wind blowing through the the ancient ruins. I linger for a while, fingering the ancient bricks and wondering about the young soldiers who once reported for duty at this lonely spot.

IMG_2581Beyond the tower I continue to the point where the Wall makes a sharp turn and climbs steeply up the ridge. Here the brick walls are partially intact, but the ancient steps have long crumbled away, leaving a scree covered slope where the stones seem to be resting at the angle of repose. It would be a difficult climb to hike up this section. I glance at my watch and remember that I have to meet a tour bus that is parked somewhere back in my memory. I take a few photographs and start my return trek.

Back at the Second Tower I discover that there is an alternative to hiking down and around the iron fence as I had done to get where I am now standing. My guide points from the top of the tower to some “modifications” he has made in the fence that I had not noticed earlier – a makeshift step made out of what appears to be baling wire. I fix one foot on the wire step and swing myself up and over the fence as the guide climbs down to greet me.

Remembering that my guide is also a policeman and a postcard vendor, I give him another two dollars in exchange for his package of postcards. Back at the bus, I am not willing to admit to members of my tour group that I paid three dollars for a set of postcards. I report that I paid a three-dollar bribe but got the postcards for free.

The Ming rulers built the Wall to protect their kingdom from the fierce Mongol hordes to the north. It is hard to imagine that an army on horseback could have ever penetrated the Great Wall, and in essence, they never did. In 1644, however, they successfully bribed some high-ranking Chinese officials to allow an army of Manchu horseman to pass through the gates near Shanhaiguan. The horsemen rode on to Beijing and captured the capital, ending the Ming Dynasty.

No one knows the amount or nature of the bribe paid by the Mongols, but whatever it was, it was a small price to pay as it gave them the kingdom. I suspect they felt a certain smugness at how easily they breached the world’s greatest defense works.

I can appreciate their smugness. I consider the three dollar bribe I paid at Badaling to be the single best deal I made in China.

© 2013 Clark B. Hinckley
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