Michigan and Arizona
THIS BOOK had its beginnings in a tree-fringed, lake-bordered rural farming community in Michigan, where I grew into long pants during the teen years of the 20th century. It will end in Helen’s home state of Arizona. Two areas of America could not be more different. But that is the nature and the glory of this land, each of its states a one-of-a-kind creation, yet all woven together into a nation of diverse unity.
This closing chapter dips into—and draw upon—an Arizona experience which was a climactic event in our lives, affecting us personally and professionally in unforeseen but rewarding ways. For one of my early lecture films I made a color motion picture of a 40-day trek of 2200 migrating sheep in the wilds of Arizona. The great herd, with Rosalio Lucero as the dedicated shepherd, was owned by Helen’s cousin and he and she, sometimes accompanied by our young daughter, drove a 4-wheel-drive truck into the few accessible places where it was possible to meet us with food and supplies. Upon showing the film at the National Geographic Society’s lecture series in Washington, D.C. the Geographic at once commissioned me to do the trek again the next year—which this time took 52 days—to get still photos and write a Geographic article. It appeared in the April, 1950 issue.
“Sheep, Stars, and Solitude,” which we named the film, soon became the leading production on the American lecture platform. Helen and I produced a shorter version, with soundon-film, which Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corporation sold to schools, universities, and libraries in every state. The U.S. State Department voiced this shorter version in 26 foreign languages for distribution throughout the world as a record of a great epic in American life.
Eventually I wrote a book about this experience which had played such a part in all of our lives. When she was ten years old, our daughter Adrienne came in to one point on the trail with Helen and the herd owner and I described the entire trek to her. She wrote a poem about it, which made the pages of the Geographic. The editor observed, “She has said it all.”
Under Arizona’s great blue sky
On winding trails the sheep pass by, Into the valleys, up mountains steep, Traveling steadily come the sheep. Down to the river to water they run,
To conquer their thirst from the long dreary sun.
They wind their way through cactus spines, And journey by forests of tall, stately pines. In mountain meadows then they roam;
And each sheep has earned its summer home.
he foreword to the book, written by a third generation Arizonan, the Reverend Dan Genung, gives a graphic summary of the trek. He wrote:
When you open the pages of this book, plan to live for several hours with life at its simplest, harshest, and yet strangely its most gloriously beautiful. You will be living with history on the hoof.
You must be willing to march with the planet Jupiter as it leads the parade of night across Arizona skies. You learn to seek sleep in thin blankets while the stars brush your hair and the Milky Way nestles on your shoulders
Here is your challenge to trudge through searing sands and on rocks that shred your shoes. You will be trapped on a mountain slope which has become a “rock-ribbed refrigerator” by the freezing impact of a storm “like a Paul Bunyan gone mad in the forest.”
Here is your invitation to dine on beans and pan-brown bread, to share the misery of a shivering sheepdog and the rain-sodden woes of burros who “document their sorrow with their ears at half-mast.”
Here is your introduction to Rosati() Lucero, whose last name means “Morning Star,” a sheepherder whose profession predates Moses by thousands of years, and whose unfolding odyssey seems to translate the scenes of the Twenty-third Psalm into a setting of the Arizona wilds. You can share his heartaches and joys as he nurses 2,200 sheep over 200 treacherous miles “with the tender care of a mother with a colicky child.”
As you read these pages you will be blistered by heat, battered by hailstones, stabbed by cholla cactus, but above all thrilled at the faithfulness of Rosalio, a heroic human whose history-laden tasks are a ministry of love. You will know the healing power of Stars and Solitude.
I close with excerpts from the book’s Chapter 9, titled “Stars, Solitude, Rx.”
It is night. Only a few glowing embers remain of the evening campfire. Rosalio and Pablo are both asleep. I was asleep too, but something wakened me. Drowsily I looked upward, then—unbelieving—rubbed my eyes. The whole sky was a carnival of dancing lights.
Not enough has been written about Arizona nights. As I looked overhead the skies blazed and burned. It was a fiery, glistening, wild heaven. The whole earth—and I an attached part of it—was bathing in the starlight, and something inside me seemed to be expanding like opening petals—a cereus which blooms only at night.
I could not sleep. Whole new worlds swarmed around me. The hard desert where I lay seemed magnetized with strength. The air was gently warm and I threw back the covers, opening my bed to the breezes blowing up from the Salt River far below. By now, Jupiter was a spotlight, streaming its blaze earthward. I got out my notebook and in the brightness of the stars—stars which I had really not seen for years—I began writing the secrets of the night about me.
During the first part of the trek, Jupiter became a new and silent friend. Glowing like one of the coals of our smouldering campfire, each night it would wheel into the sky from the southeast at 10:00 p.m., followed closely by Scorpio, then the Milky Way.
The Milky Way. When I had seen it first, toward the very beginning of our journey, I had mistaken it for a long soft cloud. The next night I purposely wakened after midnight. By the light of the stars alone, the tiny face of my wristwatch was clearly visible. But no watch was needed. The Big Dipper, brilliant timepiece of the sky, pivoted overhead about the Pole Star. Never was I more than ten minutes off in my judgment of the time as I read its star-studded dial The sky was hot with points of light. They didn’t twinkle, for the night was clear and a breeze had swept away all trace of haze and dust. They burned steady and bright.
There was a cloud in the east. But the cloud kept its shape. It was self-luminous. The delicate stems of an ocotillo near our camp swayed against the brilliance of this cloudlike formation. Only slowly did I begin to realize that it was not a cloud, but a galaxy of distant mysteries.
Stars I can understand. I lie awake in awe beneath them. But the Milky Way is almost too much; it is more than I can even hope to grasp or comprehend. A star is a definite point of light; the Milky Way is a hazy symbol of inscrutability. Thought expands to the infinite in its very contemplation.
I spoke of Jupiter as a silent friend. Being a planet, it may indeed be silent. But the stars which surround it are not. Lying on my back on a moonless night under Arizona skies, I had a sensation of music from the sky. I analyzed it thus.
After having separated each sound of the night which I knew—and classified it as best I could into bird call, or wind, or breath of trees—there was still a constant undertone of singing vibration, low but distinct, which filled the air.
Perhaps it was an accumulation of tiny unnamed noises—the breath of a million insects, the disintegration of a million rocks, the tag ends of a million pulses from the other side of the earth. But, that undertone of constant singing was there. Absolute stillness in the world, I discovered, did not exist. That singing of the night—for such it was—which I heard along the sheep trail, in my mind easily became associated with the stars, which were a luminous reality at midnight, much greater to the eye and the consciousness than insects or rocks or the far side of an unseen earth. (I have since learned that definite sound vibrations can be picked up from the stars by delicate instruments.)
During these desert nights—although it was equally true by day—came also my first comprehension of the values inherent in solitude. To be torn for a time from all contacts with civilization can in itself be a civilizing experience. Here on the sheep trail is one of the most abundant of ingredients—yet one of the hardest to capture in normal life—simplicity.
No newspapers, no headlines, no telephones or radio, no noise of traffic. Until one escapes these things completely it is hard to know their debilitating effect on original thought.
Some of humanity’s greatest spiritual discoveries have been made by tenders of sheep or dwellers in wilderness. Most great seekers after truth have sought solitude. It is scarcely an accident that some of the greatest religious concepts were born, in solitude, under open skies. Moses was at one time a herder of sheep; he gave us the Ten Commandments. Amos also was a herder of sheep; from him came the first concepts of a God of justice. Mohammed tended sheep and camels in the region around Mecca. Buddha, in his search for truth, lived as a hermit. David, giver of the psalms, was once a shepherd, and so was Elijah. Jesus went into the wilderness and for forty days was tempted, being offered all the kingdoms of the earth to test his purposes. Those forty wilderness days—and nights—were the womb for concepts which today are heralded as tenets of the Christian faith. No one with his powers and relations to God could spend forty days with the solitude and stars of the desert without receiving such a glow of new life as would change the world.
The symbol for the planet Jupiter, given it by desert dwellers before the pyramids were built, is Rx. That symbol is today a sign of healing. Stars and solitude are among the healing treasures to be discovered along the sheep trail in Arizona.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Francis R. Line grew up in a small town in Michigan. At the age of 11 he traveled by bicycle with his father and brother through the eastern states. At 18, he hiked to every state in the Union, working in a dozen different industries to learn American life first-hand. At 21, he made his first journey around the world.
Helen, born in Globe, Arizona, was one of eight daughters, the “Gibson Girls of Globe.” She had a 400-squaremile cattle ranch as her childhood playground.
Married in 1928, Francis and Helen eventually chose as their life work the making of adventure and educational documentary motion pictures, he doing the filming, she the editing. In 1939, leaving his family in England, he journeyed to Lapland, traveling by reindeer and pulka across the Arctic wastes in winter. That year they also completed a film on Finland, escaping from Europe just a few days before World War II broke out. When Russia attacked Finland, their Finnish film gained national importance, with Francis presenting it in lecture courses throughout America. In 1940, feeling that the war might soon spread to the Pacific, Francis filmed the Pacific areas which would so soon be embroiled in conflict—Japan, China, Java, Singapore, the Philippines, Guam, Wake, Midway, and Pearl Harbor. This motion picture record, Circle of Fire, became America’s leading film on the Pacific war zone. They have produced 23 adventure/documentary films.
In 1941, the Lines founded an art association in Ontario, California, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 1991. Francis is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the Los Angeles Adventurers Club and—until travel distance made it impracticable—of the New York Adventurers Club and the Circumnavigators. From their 49th through their 60th, they celebrated each May 1 wedding anniversary by making the hike down into the Grand Canyon, and the 10 1/2-mile hike back out next day. Their daughter, Adrienne, has scaled more than 500 western mountain peaks. They have three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.