Great Plains – Day 8

Shopping day. We drive to Billings, a city of 110,000. It is a major crude oil pipeline node and we see 3 oil refineries and acres of steel, truck and oil equipment yards coming into town. I am reminded of the 5 years I worked in an oil refinery. I miss it and I don’t. I can’t imagine the technology changes since the 70s.

‎We find Costco and stock up on some food and clothing. They sell wine and beer in the store too. We head SW in our white Tucson and fit in with all the white pick up trucks.

Desolation greets us left and right again. Scrub land with some large hills in the distance. The buttes here have smooth tops indicating glacial smoothing. We cross over the Shoshone River and arrive in Cody, WY – the rodeo capital of the world. This is where Wild Bill Hicock and Buffalo Bill Cody tamed the west and made it famous.

It is a nice town with wide streets and plenty of souvenir and western gear shops. We tour part of the Buffalo Bill Centre of the West museums and pick up some souvenirs.

It feels good to be here in the sunshine.

Dave and Marie

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Great Plains – Day 7

I forgot to mention yesterday that we also stopped at the Crazy Horse monument near Custer. It is a work in progress huge mountain sculpture of the Sioux Chief Crazy Horse who lived much of his short life in these hills. ‎A great segway into today.

We emerged from the east side of the Black Hills heading west into Wyoming. To our left as far as we could see was real desert – a moonscape of flat rolling dry scrub land – no crops – no settlements. The odd oil well could be seen pumping next to a small storage tank. The Bad Lands.

A mountain‎ range could be seen in the distance with some snow cover. We turned to the NW and crossed into Montana. Our destination was the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

This site is where Lt Col George Custer and 250 of his men met their demise in June 1876. The Lakota Chief Sitting Bull had led his people and the Northern Cheyene led by Crazy Horse from their reservation in the Black Hills, to settle here to resume their native way of life. A gold rush in the Black Hills had sparked massive American incursion into the reservation violating the treaty. So the native Americans left in defiance and were ordered back to the reservation by the US government.

George Custer with about 600 cavalry tried to surprise them and was outnumbered‎ by the 1500-2000 Indian warriors here. He made a fatal mistake when he split his forces into 4 smaller groupings trying to surprise the village before the warriors could mount up. Surprise was lost and Custer found himself and his battalion completely surrounded. They were anilated.

We toured the battle site by car‎ and looked at the headstone where he fell. It is sacred ground for sure. There is a headstone marking where each cavalry man had fallen and now more and more where each native warrior had too.

Ironically we had to leave hurriedly when a scheduled power outage shut down things at 4:30. We headed up the road and stayed the night after another great sunny day.

Dave and Marie

(Sitting Bull survived the battle and fled to Canada before returning to be arrested years later. Crazy Horse kept up the fight and was shot in a US prison at age 36 or so‎. George Custer was seen as a hero for the next 50 years or so but gradually this view changed. He is now seen as neither a hero nor a villain.)

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The Great Plains – Day 6

The Black Hills are a small mountain range in SW South Dakota that emerge out of the plains. The highest peak is about 7500 ft and not snow covered now. There is a thick cover of pine trees that from a distance makes the hills look black. The Lakota tribe of Plains Indians had their home hear.

The number one attraction is Mt. Rushmore. We make our way there on a “buttefull” day. We get there early and pay the $5 entrance fee. We walk up the central aisle between columns – one for each state with the year they entered the Union. Delaware was first on Dec 7, 1787.

In front of us emerges the iconic structure of the four granite faced presidents created by Gutzon Borglum and his son and completed in 1941. We walk down a small path to get as close as possible. I recognize George Washington and Abe Lincoln for sure. I think Thomas Jefferson is there too and ask a man. Strangely he does not know. I am still unsure about the 4th – turns out it is Theodore Roosevelt. It is a very stunning tribute to these great leaders.

As we leave we notice license plates from virtually every state in the Union. Apart form 1 Ontario plate, we are the only other Canadian plate (Manitoba rental). ‎ The low CDN dollar is no doubt a factor.

We continue our drive and stop at buttefull Lakota Lake. It is surrounded by granite buttes and stocked for fishermen. We take a 45 min hike around the lake in the warm sun and notice some large animal tracks. I bravely assure Marie not to be alarmed, there are no grizzlies around here as far as I know! As we emerge from the path a group of trail riders on horseback lazily emerge from another direction. If we were to ride horses, this would be the place.

We head back through Custer State Park dotted with small lakes, campsites and nice lodges. There is a buffalo herd of some 1300 that roams the range but we do not spot any today. Lot’s of RVS and this is the shoulder season. We explore the small town of Custer named after George Custer the Civil War hero and Indian fighter. Nothing much too exciting here – rock stores, photo stores and antiques.

Satisfied, we head back to our BW suite for a swim and hot tub. Another great day on the Plains.

Dave and Marie

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The Great Plains – Days 4-5

We say our goodbyes for now and wish Kyie and Ashley a relaxing weekend. We head out of Winnipeg on the Pembina Highway. We are quickly surrounded by wheat fields as far as the eye can see. Crossing the border at Emerson is a virtual thing – the wheat fields stretch out endlessly into the flat distance.

We are in the Great Plains of North America. Extending from Mexico and west Texas to Saskatchewan. ‎From the Rocky Mountains in the west almost to the Mississippi River in the east. Agriculture that we see now was unknown to the Plains Indians as there was no water or wood . They were nomads who followed and hunted buffalo on horseback to survive.

The Spanish could not conquer them nor the terrain. The fierce Apaches and Commanches were master horsemen, able to fire a dozen arrows in a minute while clinging to the side of their speeding horse. The Spanish gave up and withdrew in the 18th century. It was not until the invention of the colt six shooter‎ pistol in about 1870 that Americans were able to route the natives at their own game on horseback and enable settlement to proceed, in what was known then as the Great American Desert.

We journey SW across North Dakota. We stop at Oscar-Zero, one of the Ronald Regan era ballistic missile launch sites now mothballed. I go to take some pictures and realize my camera battery is back in Winnipeg still charging. A tour takes an hour so we press on for Bismarck.

Finally a few rolling hills are seen and very much welcomed! We cross the mighty Missouri River about mid-state. Tonight we find a nice motel in Mandan just past Bismarck and enjoy some great chicken and potatoes before‎ nodding off.

On Day 5 we are up and at it and heading SW again. We start to notice a few small ponds and the odd rocky butte. The vistas our stunning‎ with a few trees now dotting the rolling fields. We cross into South Dakota. It is desolate – we drive 100 km with nothing but wheat fields, sunflowers and canola – no services, no houses, the odd barn and grouping of silos.

We stop for lunch at a Conoco gas station – most people wear leather cowboy hats and are in a pickup or on motorcycle‎. It’s windy. We feel a bit out of place. In Rapid City I manage to buy a battery and charger for my camera. Yippee! We continue on to Hill City in the Black Hills area in SW South Dakota and check into a huge Best Western suite room.

Some more chicken and wine and we call it a night.‎ It was a long but great day.

Dave and Maire

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Winnipeg Days 1-3

We have embarked on another adventure – this time to the great plains out west starting and ending in Winnipeg. Our first day we visited Assiniboine Park and enjoyed seeing some lovely English gardens and walking through a sculpture garden. The sculptures in stone or bronze were by the very talented Leo Mull. Many were of animals and some of people. He was German I believe who settled in Winnipeg to escape Nazi persecution. I have lots of photos but on another camera.

We finally saw Kyle and Ashley when they got home from work. Everything is well with them and baby Morgan is due soon. On Day 2, I picked about 50 lbs of apples from their backyard tree – McIntosh bumper crop – yum!! It was Kyle’s birthday so we celebrated at a Japanese steak house. Food and service were superb. Thank you Ichiban. Sake bomb!

Day 3 we walked from St Boniface around to the Forks. There was an outdoor press conference about‎ the Metis-Fairfax partnership investment to restore the rail line to Churchill. This project represents real tangible reconciliation. A big step forward since the the Metis Nation will control their own future in northern Manitoba.

Marie made some apple sauce. Ashley prepared one of her family’s‎ traditional perogie dinners and Kyle cooked some sausage and played the piano for us after dinner. It was another superb evening in Winnipeg. Tomorrow we hit the road.

Dave and Marie

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Prior Nature Highlights

We had a great summer in Arnprior with many hot and sunny days.  Hope you did too, wherever you are.  Here are a few of our local summer nature highlights:


Great Blue Heron


Neighbourhood Beaver


Swimming Hole


Neighbourhood Deer


Neighbourhood Green Heron


Mississippi River from Pakenham Trail Bridge


On the Trail from Arnprior to Pakenham


Neighbour Des


Cooling Off


Our Hibiscus


Neighbourhood Muskrat


Bird Bath


Madawaska River from Arnprior Trail Bridge


A Sunflower


Neighbourhood Osprey


McNamara Trail Lookout

May God Bless you.


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A Visit to Round Lake

Round Lake

Round Lake is about 2 hours west of Ottawa and is perched just east of Algonquin Park.  The people there are very spiritual and friendly.

In the summer 1989, our extended family had access to a cottage on Round Lake. I can still see the waves lapping in to the sandy shore and feel the warmth of the sunset over the lake. Our parish priest Fr. John Burchat hails from Round Lake having grown up in this small community.

The other day I paid a visit to a friend there, Fr. John Bosco Gali, OMI.  He is parish priest at St. Casimir’s RC Church, on the banks of the beautiful sandy shored Round Lake.  It was his last day to be assigned there.


St Casimir’s Church, Round Lake

St. Casimir’s was founded in 1928 in Round Lake whose full-time population is listed as 516. In summer the numbers swell with cottagers and campers.  The Parish is not without sadness.  On March 20, 2011, a tragic fire burned down the rectory killing the popular Fr. George Olsen who was trapped in the basement:


The rectory was rebuilt and Fr. John Gali was assigned there as Parochial Vicar 5 years ago.  Fr. John was born in South East India in Tamil Nadu State.  He had a very traditional Catholic upbringing in a community of families whose faith was to promote at least one child to religious vocation.  His family supported his call to serve God.  He was ordained into the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate on December 8, 1994.  He came to Canada in 2011 as a member of the Assumption (Polish) Oblate Province of Canada.

Fr John Bosco Gali

Fr. John Bosco Gali, OMI (photo courtesy of Ecclesia*)

Marie and I had met him on a pilgrimage to Wilno, ON at St. Mary’s and had been trying to get together ever since, to chat. He is going to Poland on a one year sabbatical to learn the Polish language and culture. It was very gracious of him to fit me in on his last day. There were people coming and going. Despite that we sat down for an hour and had a chat over pizza. He raves about India and how strong the Catholic faith is there. Think of Mother Theresa he said and you will begin to understand the face of Catholicism there.

Fr. John likes being an Oblate in the Polish Province.  They are a strong province with resources.  His position will apparently not be back filled until November 2018 when another Oblate becomes available .  The pastor at St. Mary’s, Fr. Roman Majek, OMI will be responsible for St. Casimir’s in the meantime.  I was told by some parishioners I met that they will miss Fr. John dearly.


In front of the new rectory


Fr. John says living in Round Lake is not unlike living in the small village he grew up in.  “It is so inspiring to journey with a traditional family community in St. Casimir’s Round Lake…It has been a great privilege and the blessing of God that the Lord offered me this opportunity, and I am grateful to God.”

God Bless you and goodbye for now Fr. John, St. Eugene de Mazenod, pray for us.


*(With information and quotes from Ecclesia, the Newsletter of the Catholic Diocese of Pembroke, Feb 2018 edition)




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What is God Telling Us Today?

St Rose 2
What is God telling us today?  What is God telling me today?  This is a question I struggle to answer these days with all the news of wrongdoing in the Church and world.  In today’s Gospel reading MT 22:1-14, we are left with Jesus words “Many are invited but few are chosen.”  This is in reference to the man who accepted the King’s invitation to come to the wedding feast.  However, he shows up without wedding garments and is noticed by the King, who then orders him cast out.

This is a difficult message from Jesus to understand clearly.  Our pastor this morning said because the man did not show up in his baptismal garments, he did not repent and pray and so was rejected by God.  Hence it is a warning that God’s gift of eternal life is not unconditional – we must first come to the feast and repent and pray – in order to ensure he that chooses us.  Just responding to God’s call with lip service towards his call is not sufficient.  Pope Francis says that we are all called to holiness and it is up to us to respond through sincere faith, repentance and prayer.  We have free choice!

In the Protestant faith this passage has a slightly different understanding.  Whoever responds to the call and receives Christ in faith, are the chosen or the “elect”.  However it is God who has done both the calling and the choosing.  EP 1:4 – “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. ”  They also quote 2 Tim 1:9 and Rom 8:30 in this regard.  Responding to the God’s call in repentance, prayer and faith is because God has been at work to turn us to himself in Christ.  Hence it is by the grace of God alone that we are saved.

Whether you believe in a deterministic world (everything is preordained in advance) or an indeterministic one (we have free choice), is not important.  What God is saying here is that if you sincerely have faith in Christ, repent and pray, you will be saved and have eternal life.

The importance of listening.

St. Rose of Lima, Patroness of the America’s pray for us.

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St. Maximilian Kolbe: Choice, not Chance


Yesterday was the feast day of Saint Maximilian Kolbe.  We had a special Mass in our church followed by veneration of a first class relic of his courtesy of the JP II Centre of Divine Mercy in Ottawa.

Two years ago, Marie and I went to Poland on a spiritual pilgrimage and stayed at his shrine in Niepokalanow (City of the Immaculate Mother of God).  While St. Maximilian is known for his martyrship at Auschwitz, he is perhaps not as well-known for the global evangelization he did during his life.


Basilica of St. Mary Immaculate


It`s Altar with the Virgin Mary

Witnessing vehement demonstrations by Freemasons against Popes St. Pius X and Benedict XV while in Rome, in 1917 he organized the Militia Immaculatae to work for the conversion of sinners and enemies of the Roman Catholic Church, specifically the Freemasons, through the intercession of the Virgin Mary.   In 1922 he founded the monthly periodical Knight of the Immaculate in Poland which eventually had a circulation of 750,000.


Entrance to the Chapel-Sanctuary in one of the original buildings


Museum filled with his artifacts


But Maximilian was just starting.  In 1927 he founded a Franciscan monastery at Niepokalanov that was at one time, the largest in the world with as many as 700 friars and brothers.  He then founded a similar community in Nagasaki, Japan which survived the atomic bombing.  He founded a monastery in India in 1936.  He returned in poor health to Poland and started a radio station Radio Niepokalanow.


Entrance to Auschwitz


He continued his work after the outbreak of WWII.  In 1941 he was arrested by the Gestapo.  On August 14 he died due to an injection of carbolic acid at Auschwitz after having volunteered to take the place of another prisoner chosen for death.  He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982.


Our candlelight ceremony at his shrine


St. Maximilian Kolbe Ascension

“In order that obedience be supernatural it must not proceed from reason, but from faith.”

― St. Maximilian Kolbe, Let Yourself Be Led by the Immaculate


St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.



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The Future Will Tell

Apart from the Jewish people, I know of no other race or nationality that have suffered more persecution, brutality, deceit and imposed immorality than the Polish people, yet have somehow they have overcome their indignities.  You might argue that black Africans, the Armenians or more recently the Rohinga, are being persecuted similarly, but the Poles have suffered for hundreds of years and they are still around!


I found this gem of a book in my local library.  It is the memoir of an upper class Polish lady – Countess Maria Tarnovska.  It’s the story of her life in Europe during  WWI and in Poland during WWII.  She married a Polish diplomat, trained as a nurse and rose to be 2nd IC of the Red Cross in Warsaw during WW2.

The first part of the book is an enjoyable romp through the lives of diplomats living in the capitals of Europe just prior to WW1 – Madrid, Vienna, London, Oslo, Paris, Belgrade and Washington.  There are many delightful stories and anecdotes of what the people were like in each of these countries.  They had no sense of the impending darkness that was about to engulf them all.  Well connected, Maria even played bridge with England’s King Edward VII just before he died in 1910.  When WW1 broke out, she and her husband Adam returned to Poland where she served as a nurse in front line battlefields tending to injured soldiers.

She joined the Red Cross in between wars.  During WWII due to her many strengths and abilities, she became a key figure in the Polish Underground.  She recants in simple prose the overwhelming might of the German war machine that violated the treaty of non aggression and overran Poland in 3 days in August 1939.  Polish officers fled to Russia and were later secretly executed by the Bolsheviks because they were a political threat.

The Warsaw Uprising started 74 years ago today, and lasted for 63 glorious days until snuffed out by the soon to be defeated Germans.  The Russian army camped on the east bank of the Vistula  River failed to intervene on the side of the Polish fighters as they had promised.   Stalin had made a secret pact with Churchill and Roosevelt that Poland would be theirs as soon as the Germans were defeated.  15,000 resistanceFighters and as many as 200,000 civilians lost their life for nothing as it was never the intent of the Allies to allow Poland to become a free state again! What infamy!!!

So why did the Germans and the Russians hate the Poles so much?  They were hated for their strong (Catholic) faith and concept of freedom.  You could not convert a Pole or beat it out of them – the only way was extermination.  Maria makes a big distinction between the Wehrmacht – the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany and the Gestapo or SS police.  Wehrmacht Generals and soldiers were professionals who insisted on according the Polish people the rights that prisoners of war were due.  The Gestapo were hugs who delighted in the cruelest and vilest of indignities.  At one point the SS would round-up 100 people in the street and shoot them as surely a few of them were underground fighters.  It was the SS that ran the Concentration camps and implemented Hitler’s final solution for the Jews.

In all this Maria was never harmed herself.  She was imprisoned several times and after questioning, freed.  She must have had a commanding personality that enabled her to remain cool under pressure as she was connected with the Warsaw Underground at the highest of levels.  As a rep of the Red Cross, she took a direct part in negotiating the end of the Uprising and evacuation of Warsaw that followed.  She says no matter how vile the Germans were, the Communists were worse.  The Germans would inform the family when one of their members was imprisoned or executed.  The Communists after the war, would abduct dissenters in the middle of the night and the family would never know what happened.  A neighbour could snitch about something you said and you were gone.

The book is written in a gentle steadfast style without dwelling on death or violence.  She even forgave the Germans as the vast majority of them were good people who unfortunately fell under the spell of a madman when he told them that they were Gods. She is not as sympathetic to the Communists, many of who were Polish people with Russian names who fled to Russia and then returned to claim big government jobs in 1946.

Finally there is a Canadian connection to how this book came to life.  Written in the 50s in Brazil, the manuscript was held by the Tarnovska family for a generation until a relative living in Montreal undertook to get it published in 2016.  Wow, an amazingly fresh first hand story of what it was like to live in Warsaw with hope at a time when the darkest recesses of the human soul were on daily display. 9.5 out of 10 stars.

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