Pioneer Integrity

“Have that repaired. I want them to know that a man of integrity lived here,” Wilford Woodruff said as he walked out the door to his comfortable home for the last time. His concern for a hole in the floor he noticed as he left might be expected from a person who was preparing his house for the real estate market, and wanted to get top dollar for it. But Elder Woodruff and the rest of the Mormons were being driven out of their homes by armed mobs. If they received anything for their homes, it was pennies on the dollar. Many of them would simply be forced out while the lawless bands pillaged their possessions and usurped ownership of their property.

Elder Woodruff’s integrity was shared by most of those in the exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois in the winter of 1846.

I am reminded of these stories of pioneer integrity as Sharon and I are in charge of the music for our stake’s youth handcart trek at Martin’s Cove in Wyoming. The cove is hallowed ground to those of us who love and admire the courage and character of the pioneers. They crossed a continent of plains and mountains to find a place where they could worship in their own way and “…allow all men the same privilege.”

Particularly moving to me are those who made the trek pushing and pulling their meager possessions and food in handcarts. The Martin and the Willy handcart companies were trapped by ferocious early winter storms. Frozen and exhausted they took what little refuge they could in the cove. More than 200 of the 600 in the two companies died at the cove or along the trail. Those who perished and those who survived did so as heroes. Sharing, sacrificing, and committing their lives to God and each other they left us an immortal heritage.

I have always been intrigued and inspired by the stories and songs of the pioneers. That is why The Three D’s recorded three albums about them and toured the country performing their music.

This combination of pioneers, recordings, and integrity has come together in our business recently. We have learned that some of the CD’s made from those recordings are flawed. The volume on one of the tracks is inconsistent, making some of the scenes hard to understand, and the harmony of some of the music unbalanced.

So we have re-digitized the songs and stories and corrected the problem. The title of this two CD program is “Heritage, Songs and Scenes of the Mormon Epoch.” If you have one of the flawed recordings, please go to our website, send an Email, or call us, and let us know. You don’t have to return your CD’s, just tell us how we can get the new recordings to you. There will be no charge for the new CD’s or for postage.

We appreciate your friendship, and apologize for sending you an imperfect product. In a modest way, we want to follow the example of Wilford Woodruff, and the other pioneers, and be considered “men of integrity.”

World’s Greatest Playground

“Bandits on our tail at twelve o’clock high! Climb for the clouds!” “Rustlers, and they’ve captured the ranchers daughter. Let’s ride buckaroos.” “Crocodiles. Beat them over the head with that boa constrictor!” “Oh, oh, she just raised the Jolly Roger. They’re pirates. We’re in for a fight maties. Give them a broadside, and prepare to board.” “A bank heist on 33rd street. This looks like a job for Captain Marvel ‘Shazam’!” “Hold everything. Run for cover behind the house. It’s Ol’ White Shirt!”

The civilized world may never appreciate what it owes to the heroes who did battle against the forces of evil at 455 East Utah Avenue in Payson, Utah.

An unheralded band of sandlot superheroes conquered foreign warlords, thugs, rustlers, space aliens and assorted enemies of goodness and the American way. The only opponents who could route these champions were Ol’ White Shirt, and Mom calling them home for chores, homework and/or supper.

I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks I guess. This was embarrassing – for the tracks and the Orem Train Line who owned them So much so that the company eventually pulled up their spikes, ties, and rails and went out of business. But they left us with unforgettable make believe adventures. We were at the south end of the line which featured not only the turntable to head the engines back toward Salt Lake City, but the repair and maintenance yard that had old box cars, flat cars, coal cars, and assorted wheels and axels, junk or treasures depending on your perspective, sand and coal piles (for the shops’ heat. (The train was electric with a wheel on a spring arm to draw current from an overhead wire.)

The pounding of double jack hammers on steel, the clanging of cars being hooked together, the muscular men, including my dad, in rolled up shirt sleeves, the magic of the forge turning black steel to glowing orange; this combined with the lure of danger underlined by the warnings from our mothers to “be careful over there” to whet our imaginations.

Our mothers scenarios of what could happen were well intended, but pale compared to the ones we dreamed up ourselves. The rails running to the back lot were perilously close to one of the massive brick train car garages.. Instead of moving the tracks, the company put up a one by two foot black sign with white letters reading, “Warning: Will not clear man on side of car.” I pieced the message together one word at a time; that being the level of my third grade reading skill. But the message still didn’t make sense. I had seen workmen hang on the ladder rungs on the side of box cars being shuttled to the back lot for storage or repairs. I figured those were the men the sign was meant for. But what was the “won’t clear man” part of the message.

Not a problem. Mildred Bjarnson who lived next door knew everything because she was four years older (half a lifetime at this age). She explained, “It means if you are hanging on the side of a train car when it passes that corner of the building, it will squish you like a June bug against the box car. The company won’t clear you off. Your family members will have to come and scrape you off the side of the car.” Enough for me. I resolved then and there whatever others follies I might stumble into in life, I would never leave this world as bug juice on a box car.

The only thing more frightening that not clearing was “Ol’ White Shirt.” He was a mysterious stranger with a paunch who sometimes stalked the train yard even in broad daylight. We would spot him from a distance and run in panic out of the yard, across the street and hide behind our house. He was easy to spot, being the only white shirt in the train yard, or maybe in the town on a week day. Rumor was that he came down from the head office in Salt Lake ostensibly to check out the workings of the shop, but in reality to capture children and do who knows what with them, bury them in the coal pile and feed them to the furnace, put them “on side of car?” No one ever told us; not surprising since those who found out were never seen again.

I am impressed by the fertile minds who create amusement parks, computer games and sci-fi movies. But they are rank amateurs compared to kids whose imaginations are light years ahead of their information banks and reading skills. Especially if they have a train graveyard and Ol’ White Shirt with which to create their fantasy world.

I would like to hear from you, click on the ‘view comments’ link below.

The Amazing Brain

WARNING: I am writing far beyond my depth here, but the information and implications are too tempting to resist.

Our grandson Brigham McKay started his talk in church a while back with this story. A scientist said to God, “You are not the only one who can create life. I have found out how to do it. I take this bucket of dirt and…”

God said, “No way. Get your own dirt.”

God might have added, “Get your own brain.”

The human brain may be the most stunning creation in the universe. There are, of course much larger objects, more powerful forces, and mysterious matter, but for compact capacity, nothing holds a candle to the three and a half to five pounds of grey Jell-O we carry around inside our skull.

Ashlee Vance writing for the New York Times News service describes how scientists are presently trying to dissect mouse brains in a quest to understand the human mind. Using powerful electron microscopes they take slices much thinner than a hair, photograph them, and then electronically stitch the pictures together so they can trace the intertwining paths of individual nerve fibers.

Previously they worked on the brain of a worm which contains 300 neurons. (Worms don’t do much poetry or astrophysics.) Next the scientists quantum leapt to a mouse brain containing some 100 million neurons. Somewhere down the road, the geniuses behind the microscopes hope to tackle a human brain which is a thousand times more complicated than the mouse. We have packed into our heads about 100 billion neurons. These are interconnected by millions of miles of electrical and chemical carrying “wires” or “tubes” depending on which function they are performing. These connections and configurations help to create each person’s unique skills, personality and perspectives.

Mapping this maze is sort of like slicing up a yarn ball made from a hundred billion strings and threads, then tracing the path of each one, and identifying where they connect to each other. The total of pictures alone is brain boggling. Face book uses a petabyte (1,000 gigabytes,) to store 40 billion photos. That would equate to six nice portraits of each person on earth. The brain of a single person sliced this thinly will require a million petabytes. . My brain is capable of assembling a jigsaw puzzle with as many pieces as a worm has neurons. It slips into a coma at the thought of connecting the dots between a million petabyte photo album.

It may be true as one wry observer said, “If the human brain were simple enough to understand, we would be too simple to understand it. Credit the scientists for trying. Whether or not they succeed we know this already. The human brain even of those of us with modest mental abilities is awesome to the billion petabyte power. Since a neuron can connect with others in innumerable and perhaps adjustable combinations, it is safe to assume that each of us is a custom made product, unique, and irreplaceable.

As mind stretching as these analogies appear, I’m guessing that as we continue to study the brain we will be like a mountain climber. The more he ascends, the broader is the horizon for exploring in every direction.

The brain’s capacity to store and manipulate data is, as yet unfathomed. But that may be the tip of the mental/emotional/social/spiritual iceberg. How about what David Brooks writing in the New York Times calls the “humanistic capacities.” These include: the ability to enter other minds and learn from them, to monitor ones own mind and make changes, to see patterns and analyze complex situations, absorb and enhance the spirit of a group, transcend the self and bask in love for another or others, and God. These and other powers are beyond the analysis of the sharpest electronic meat cleaver, but they are among the most powerful abilities of the brain and whatever other intelligence mechanism it triggers or is triggered by.

Some philosophers of a few centuries ago described the brain as “a magical weaving machine” since this was the most complex apparatus they could conceive of. We chuckle at their simplistic metaphor today. I suspect future generations will smile at us for comparing the brain in computer terms of petabytes and Facebook.

But one conclusion will continue to be true. Each of us possesses a free gift of inestimable worth. To me that speaks of an all knowing and loving Creator. We would do well to stand in humble awe at our own and others’ potential, and work to fulfill it.

I would like to hear from you, click the ‘view comments’ link below and let me know what you think.

Music has charms

“Music has Charms to sooth a savage Breast.” So wrote the poet William Congreve about 400 years ago. He is usually misquoted as having written, “savage beast.” According to a well worn story, a gifted musician decided to check out the truth of this proverb. Deep into the jungle he went to a clearing. He sat down on a stump and began to play. A ferocious bear saw dinner with a built in tooth pick in the musician and his bow. Just as he reached out to devour the violinist, the gentle strains calmed him. He sat down transfixed at the sound. A wild rhino charged the man. He too stopped in his tracks and settled down to listen. A boa constrictor dropped out of a tree, to strangle the man, heard the music, did a double flip in flight and coiled quietly at the man’s feet humming along with the music.

Suddenly a roaring tiger pounced from the jungle, and gobbled up the musician violin and all. The other animals chorused, “Hey! What did you do that for?” The tiger put his paw to one ear and said, “What’s that you say?”

Beautiful music has little effect on deaf ears. But, to paraphrase Jesus, “Those who have ears to hear…” find music to be soothing, enlivening, transforming. Our former family doctor Roger Lewis suddenly found himself a desperate patient when a massive stroke paralyzed him. Gasping in agony, then bleeding profusely under the surgeons knife, barely surviving, then climbing slowly with his one good arm and leg out of the pit of paralysis, he was sustained by the powerful strains of “Ode to Joy.” Ironically the composer of this inspiring chorus Ludwig van Beethoven never heard it. He lost his hearing, before its first performance. Music can move us even when we don’t technically hear it. Justin Osmond, son of Merrill, lead singer of the famous Osmonds has this experience when he plays. “I …hear the music through the vibrations of the violin as it creates a musical reaction through my cheek bone and all the way to my brain where it interprets the sounds of music.” Justin is hearing impaired, but not heart impaired. He wrote the book, “Hearing With Your Heart.”

It was once thought that music was an incorruptible art form. Today we know differently. Music can aid and abet the ugliest passions.

So we try to insulate our children and ourselves from bad vibes. This approach has its limitations. On his way home from the Trojan war, the ancient Greek Ulysses’ boat neared the island of the Sirens. These nymphs sang so beautifully that no human could resist them. Their song would suck the unfortunate sailor onto the rocks surrounding their island, and he would be destroyed. Ulysses wanted to survive the voyage, but also was curious to hear the song. So he filled the ears of his crew with wax so they could not hear the deadly music. Then he had them tie him to the mast and commanded them to never release him until they were safely out of earshot of the Sirens. They obeyed. The ship and crew were saved. The only casualty was Ulysses sanity. When they untied him, he was nutty as a jay bird from hankering after the music. What parent of a teenager can’t identify with that scenario, kids who think they can dabble in temptation without paying a price? That’s as looney as Ulysses.

In the years we were recording in Hollywood, and performing around the country I saw too many talented and gifted people both performers and listeners wrecked on the rocks of enticing music.

My friend Truman Madsen had a better idea than Ulysses’. He said just put a musical group in the bow of the ship and have them play better music. No ropes, no wax, no insanity, unless we are insane enough to think we can plug our children’s ears and listen to salacious music ourselves.

Selectivity in music is itself an art form today when you can carry a lifetime of tunes in your shirt pocket, or pick them out of the ether at the touch of a button.

Musical memories can accompany you forever. My own mental library includes the bagpipe and brass bands of our Freedom Festival, romantic ballads that transport me back to crew cuts and suede shoes, down home back porch pickin’, The Salt Lake Southern Baptist choir making the very trees rock to their rhythm, playing trumpet in our town’s Sunday night band concerts, sitting in the middle of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as they sang at their own party, pinned back in my seat and then erupting out of it as 3,600 full throated barbershop quartet members filled a football field and turned the stadium into a megaphone, more than “76 Trombones” at a state band competition closing with a unified thunder for America, harmonizing with our children and grandchildren in our weekly family “sing thing,” blending with my neighbors at church in musical prayer and praise to the Lord, my guitar and me alone with the breeze in the palm trees singing away my homesickness on a far away island in the South Pacific, lullabies to our children when they were small, cheerful songs at 3:30 in the morning as Sharon and I get ready to go to the temple for our weekly assignment. One morning Sharon said, “I am impressed you can be so chipper this time of the morning.”

“It’s not me that is chipper,” I said. It’s the song. I’m just along for the ride.” Music will carry you. Let it. Just be sure it is taking you to the places you want to go.

I would like to hear from you, click the ‘view comments’ link below and let me know what you think.

Wilfred Griggs and Three tales of trust

Egypt, ancient land of mystery, intrigue, and adventure.

It might well have been a scene from an Indiana Jones adventure except this was real, not scripted. A roomful of archaeologists gathered to meet and make a good impression on the Egyptian director of antiquities and his staff. At stake was a first time in history opportunity. The Egyptian government was sending on tour to five fortunate cities their precious museum exhibit of Pharaoh Ramses II. whose name means, “Born of Ra, the sun god,” Ramses, the Great warrior king and master builder of monuments that bear his name. Although some of them bear it because he had the previous builders name ground off the stones, and his own inscribed.

And like some of us, he had slipped a little from his prime. But he still had what we call in the entertainment industry, marquee value. Some experts believe he was the Pharaoh to whom Moses declared, “Let my people go.”

The royal cadaver would grace only five museums on his grand tour, and every metropolis in North America was hoping to be among the chosen.

The Egyptians were understandably careful even suspicious of these foreigners. Who can blame them? They had been ripped off for centuries by grave robbers to foreign governments.

The representatives from great cities of the United States and Canada had their presentations and credentials ready to display.

The solemn and dignified officials entered and scanned the room. Suddenly they saw a familiar figure. “Wilfred,” they exclaimed in a chorus and moved across the room to embrace him. The other delegations took a deep breath, scratched off one, and hoped to be one of the remaining four lucky cities.

Wilfred Griggs’ warm welcome came because in all the years he had been digging for archaeological treasures in Egypt, he had been impeccably honest. They trusted him.

And so it came to pass that Ramses II was hosted by, if I recall correctly, Toronto, Canada, Los Angeles California, two other metropolises I can’t remember, and by Wilfred Griggs. Following the announcements of the winning cities, and Wilfred, one Egyptian said quietly to him, “Wilfred, this will make you a very rich man.” He was potentially correct. The exhibit was Wilfred’s. He could have put it in a conference center, pocketed the profits and retired. But the same integrity that won him the prize dictated what he would do with it. He turned it over to his employer Brigham Young University. Wilfred didn’t tell me that story, others did.

Speaking of honesty and integrity, the star of the show might have taken a few lessons from the humble archaeologist. Chiseling your name on to other people’s work only reminds us that politics hasn’t changed very much over the millennia.

But then things apparently haven’t change much at the other end of the social ladder. Wilfred told me of the time he was directing a dig at a large ancient Christian Coptic cemetery. They found pottery shards, and bones, but not much else. Every grave had been looted centuries before. But good men like Wilfred get special help in their work. He had a hunch. On one looted grave he had his crew dig under the top grave. Eureka! They discovered an untouched grave of a beautiful young woman of some nobility. Nobody breathed as they gently loosened and removed the lid of the sarcophagus. It was a spiritual moment. She had been interred with obviously great love. Her dear ones had placed her in hiding hoping the grave robbers would only defile the tomb above and move on. Their plan had worked. Even the flowers placed on her breast were intact.

Back to the subject of honesty and trust, as the archaeological team gently slid the casket out of the tube like vault in which it had been resting. As was the practice the casket was covered with black pitch to seal it. But as they slid it out, they were surprised to see that the pitch stopped about a third of the way up the casket. For a moment Wilfred and the crew were puzzled. Then it hit them and a burst of laughter broke the solemnity. Obviously the burial crew had painted part of the casket that would show, and then said, “Hey, it’s too much trouble to paint the whole thing. Just shove it in the vault. Who’s going to know the difference?

Moral: Let us all be honest and trustworthy like Wilfred Griggs.. Someone may be checking our work sometime in the next three or four thousand years.

Oh, and did I mention, Dr. Griggs also has a sense of humor.