It is Never too Late

Old woman cryingIn his book, The Noticer, Andy Andrews tells a story about an elderly man known as just Jones, meeting an older woman who was giving up on life.  Being seventy years old myself I read this story several times and reading that story with the fact in mind that I had gone through a painful divorce, I decided I had to do something differently.  So, I opened the Bowen Farm Bed and Breakfast in my home that I had built with the help of my former wife.  A year later, I started The Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon in the Red River Gorge of Kentucky.  Both of these events made a huge change in my life for the better.the-noticer

Let me share a little bit of Andrew’s story of Jones who met the older woman, Willow.  It may inspire you as well.

A few comments back and forth after Willow and Jones met, Willow, with lips quivering, expressed her sincerest and sad thought of getting old.  “I have outlived my usefulness.  How in the world did I get so old?”

She sniffed hard, then stuck her chin in the air.  “Listen to me,” she said.  “Going on like a crazy person.  I apologize.  You must think I am terribly rude.”

“No no.” Jones said gently.  “Not at all.  Wrong, maybe, but certainly not rude.”

“I beg your pardon.” Willow said.

“I know you would never be rude; however,” Jones held a finger in the air  “When you make a statement so patently ridiculous as ‘I have outlived my usefulness I fear I must openly disagree.”

After more conversation the author, Andrews, lets Willow add to Jones, “I simply feel that my time has passed”

“Whooowee!”  Jones said in a high-pitched voice as he slapped his knee.  “And aren’t we glad everybody doesn’t feel that way!  The world would surely have missed out on some grand achievements.”

Jones then began to make his point.  Colonel Sanders didn’t start selling his family recipe on chicken until he was sixty-five.  At the time his only income was his Social Security check of $105.00 a month.”colonel sanders

benjamen franklinJones went on itemizing for Willow.  Benjamin Franklin didn’t invent bifocals until he was seventy-eight, Winston Churchill was seventy-eight, having finished a couple of careers, when he wrote a book that won the Nobel Prize for Literature.”

Jones continued, “Nelson Mandela was inaugurated president of South Africa for the first time – after years in that country’s prisons – at the age of seventy-five.  Igor Stravinsky was still doing concerts when he was eighty-seven.  Grandma MosesGrandma Moses, the artist, did not sell her first painting until she was ninety. Michelangelo didn’t begin his work on St. Peter’s Basilica – one of the world’s greatest treasures – until he was seventy-two.nelson mandela

Willow still wanted to argue that it was too late in the game to make a difference.  And Jones convinced Willow that as long as she was breathing that she had time to make a huge difference in someone’s life or many lives.  And this huge difference can come disguised in some other way.

Jones suggested to Willow, “While it is true that most people never see or understand the difference they make, or sometimes imagine their actions having a tiny effect, every single action a person takes has far-reaching consequences.”

Jones told Willow that they had just been discussing older people who had made a great contribution late in their lives?”norman borlaug

Jones asked Willow,  “Do you know the name Norman Borlaug?”  She didn’t.  “Norman Borlaug was ninety-one when he was informed that he had been personally responsible for saving the lives of two billion people.

“Two billion people?”  Willow exclaimed,  “How is that possible.”

“Norman Borlaug was the man who hybridized corn and wheat for arid climates.”  Jones answered.  “The Nobel Committee, the Fulbright Scholars, and many other experts calculated that all across the world Borlaug’s work has saved from famine over two billion people…and the number is increasing ever day.”

“Incredible.” Willow said.

“Yes.”  Jones agreed.  “Isn’t it?  But the most incredible part of the story is that Borlaug was not the person who saved the two billion lives.”

“What?” Willow asked.

henry wallace“That’s right,” Jones confirmed.  “I believe it was Henry Wallace.  Wallace was Vice President under Roosevelt.”  Wallace was Roosevelt’s Vice President during his third term.  And Wallace had previously served as Secretary of Agriculture.  While Wallace was Vice President he created a station in Mexico whose sole purpose was to somehow hybridise corn and wheat for arid climates.  He hired a young man named Norman Borlaug to run it.  So maybe it was Henry Wallace who saved two billion lives.

Then Jones told Willow,  “Maybe it wasn’t Wallace that saved two billion lives.  “Maybe it was George Washington Carver who saved two billion lives.

When George Washington Carver was nineteen and a student at Iowa State University, he had a dairy science professor who allowed his own six-year-old son to go on botanical expeditions with George Washington Carver.  And it was Carver who gave six-year-old Henry Wallace a vision about his future and what he could do with plants to help humanity.

Then to Willow, Jones explained that maybe it wasn’t even George Washington Carver that saved the two billion lives.  Jones told Willow it may have been that farmer in Diamond, Missouri named washington carver

Moses and his wife Susan didn’t believe in slavery and they lived in a slave state, Missouri.  Their being against slavery caused them big problems.  Quantrill’s Raiders attacked Moses and Susan’s  farm, burning their barn, shot several people and dragged off a woman named Mary Washington…who refused to let go of her infant son, George.

Jones continued to share the story with Willow.  “Now Mary Washington was Susan’s best friend, so Moses sent word out immediately, trying to arrange a meeting with those cutthroats, trying to do something to get Mary and her baby back.  Within a few days, he had the meeting set; and so on a January night, Moses took a black horse and went several hours north to a crossroads in Kansas.

“There, he met four of Quantrill’s men.  Moses traded his only horse for what they threw him in a burlap bag/  As they thundered off, Moses fell to his knees.  There in the freezing dark, with his breath’s vapor blowing hard and white from his mouth, Moses brought our of that burlap bag a cold, naked, nearly dead baby boy.  And he opened up his jacket  and he opened up his shirts and placed that baby next to his skin.  Moses fastened that child in under his clothes and walked that baby out!  Talking to that child every step of the way – telling the baby he would take care of him and raise him as his own…promising to educate him to honor Mary, his mother, who they knew was already dead.”

Jones looked intently at Willow who stared back in wonder.  “That was the night,” he said softly, “that the farmer told that baby he would give him his name.  And that is how Moses and Susan Carter came to raise that little baby boy, George Washington Carver.”

“So there.  It was obviously the farmer from Diamond, Missouri, who saved those two billion people.”

Jones continued, “So you see, madam, we could continue this line of reasoning…And how far into the future could we go, dear lady, to show how many lives you will touch?”

“No matter your age, physical condition, financial situation, color, gender, emotional state, or belief…everything you do, every move you make, matters to all of us – forever.”

I recommend that you pick up your copy of The Noticer by Andy Andrews and read the rest of the stories.

After reading this several times I decided I didn’t want to retire.  I didn’t want to take a chance and not make a difference in someone’s life.History Club at Bowen BB 026

Yesterday I cooked chili for several children from Clay City Elementary School, told them some stories and took them on a hike to the top of my mountain.  Knowing all the time that I may say something about my life experiences that might make a profound difference in the life of one of those children.  I could never miss an opportunity like that.

And this story had a lot of influence on me to open the Bowen Farm Bed and Breakfast and the Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon in the Red River Gorge.History Club at Bowen BB 036

Think about it.  Is there someone out there that you could have a positive influence that you haven’t met yet?

Let’s build our young people to match our Eastern Kentucky Mountains, match our Red River Gorge

bring-me-men-to-match-my-mountainsIn 1967, on my first 14,000 mile bicycle trip, I visited friends in Sacramento, California.  As I was leaving, I rode by the Capitol building and other state office buildings.  Across the marble top of one of those state buildings was written, in two-foot tall letters, a poetic quote.  Over the years, I forgot what the quote was, but I remembered that it had made an incredible impression on me at the time.

Two years ago, I flew to Sacramento and visited that family again.  At breakfast I told them the story about the quote carved on the building and that I couldn’t remember what it said.

B.J., who had been a child in 1967, said, “Then let’s drive to the Capitol and find that building.”  We circled the Capitol and other state buildings and in just a few minutes there is was, high up on the State Library building in huge letters: “BRING ME MEN TO MATCH MY MOUNTAINS.”  Wow!

A couple of nights ago I was talking to Chris and Mandy Chaney about this.  Instantly, Mandy found the poem on her iPhone from which the quote had been extracted.  The poem is Coming America by Walter Foss.  It not only says “Bring me men to match my mountains.”   The poem also says, “Bring me men to match my forests; bring me men to match my rivers,” on and on.Rugged Red 2

Here I am, talking to two young Powell Countians, Chris and Mandy, both of whom are community leaders. (Mandy will be the race director of the Rugged Red this year.) Then I recalled the forty-plus young men and women who are members of the awesome Mountain Rescue Team.  Those team members, from Powell, Menifee, and Wolfe counties took care of the trail runners in last year’s Rugged Red Trail Half Marathon.  Those young people make up one of the top mountain rescue teams in all of North America.

Creation FallsThen I began too recall all kinds of different groups of young people who make this place thrive and function.  Over a hundred volunteers helped us in The Rugged Red and also helped with the cancer drive.  Additionally the young people at the high school were invaluable in different kinds of good projects.  I have worked with Eagle Scout Trevor Faw and some of his friends.  It is incredible what they have done at the Stanton City Park.  And then there is the natural born leader Janice Odom, who has brought several thousand dollars in grants for projects into Powell County.  Many of those projects involved high school and elementary students.

Instead of asking someone to “bring us men to match our mountains,” I think we older folks should concentrate more efforts into building and developing our young people into men and women who match our Eastern Kentucky Mountains, young men and women who match our awesome rivers, who match our Daniel Boone National Forest.  Let’s help build our young people to become the men and women who will match our Red River Gorge.

Pedaling Again

Repost from Illinois Times

“Recycled America”

Joe Bowen pedals all over the country — again

There comes a time in a man’s life where he feels at ease in a hotel lobby across the street from the state Capitol, dressed in a lime-green fluorescent jacket, black tights, and nylon-mesh shoes that are something between ballet slippers and football cleats. Joe Bowen is anything but in-between. He’s all-out — always has been. A former construction worker, Bowen is a student of history and literature who can tell you all about Miguel de Cervantes and John Steinbeck. Just look at his bicycle, a Trek 520 with ungodly fat tires that marries two giants of literature separated by more than four centuries. “Rocinante” reads the well-worn red lettering stuck to the bike’s dirt-caked frame. “That’s the name of Don Quixote’s horse,” Bowen explains. It is also, he adds, the name of Steinbeck’s truck, which the author drove across America, recounting the journey in the bestselling book Travels with Charley. Quixote’s steed was a broken-down nag, Steinbeck’s truck a 1960 GMC purchased new. Not quite two years old, Bowen’s bicycle is, at least, the equal of either. It has taken him to Canada. To Big Sur. To Mount Rushmore. To the Grand Canyon. To Niagara Falls. To Gettysburg. And now, today, to Springfield, less than 2,000 miles from home and more than 12,000 miles since he started this journey that defines meandering. (read more here)

Kentucky Living: Bicycling

(repost from Kentucky Living)

“Ride Joe Ride”  by Karen Combs (March 2006)

Kentucky’s two-wheeled ambassador, Joe Bowen, is a lifelong adventure seeker currently completing a 14,000-mile bike trek called Rediscover Bicycle America Project

Joe Bowen is officially an “Unbridled Spirit,” but “determined spirit” may be a better description. The retired grandfather has left his Powell County farm to re-create a bicycle trip that took him through 14,000 miles of America’s back roads in 1967.In the 38 years between journeys, Bowen walked on stilts from California to Kentucky to raise money for muscular dystrophy, walked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon three times, and worked in construction.Those years were also devoted to family and learning. Bowen earned a college degree in humanities at age 35 while working full time, raised three children, and now enjoys nine grandchildren.Students across the country have been following his current adventure through a Web site, (click on the bicycle icon), that links his trip to educational material and information about eastern Kentucky. This month, at age 62, he begins the final leg of the sequel. (read more here)