R.I.P. Ruth Ross Ziolkowski

The spiritual and business leader of the Crazy Horse Memorial passed away on May 21, 2014.

Melanie and I felt honored to meet this humble woman on a visit to Crazy Horse:

From the left: Melanie Heuerman, Ruth Ziolkowski, Tom Heuerman, Warren Harming

From the left: Melanie Heuerman, Ruth Ziolkowski, Tom Heuerman, Warren Harming

Ruth has joined Korczak in eternity. When I think of them I am reminded of the quote from Arthur Schopenhauer:

The kings left their crowns and scepters behind here, and the heroes their weapons. Yet the great spirits among them all, whose splendor flowed out of themselves, who did not receive it from outward things, they take their greatness across with them.

The Crazy Horse Memorial

(Click to enlarge)

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The Story:

A year after the Battle of Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse’s vanquished followers relocated to the reservation. He alone remained free. Crazy Horse met a white trader who mocked him.

“Where are your lands now, Crazy Horse? Your people are captured and put on reservations. Where are your lands you fought for?”

Crazy Horse sat on his pony and said nothing for a long time. He just stared at the white trader. He raised his arm slowly and pointed out over his horse’s head to the east and said proudly, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

That same day Crazy Horse went to Fort Robinson in Nebraska under a flag of truce. He was stabbed in the back by a white soldier and died the next day, September 6, 1877. He was 35 years old.

Crazy Horse was indeed “crazy;” mad for the love of his people, whom he never let down. He defended them and their way of life in the only way he knew, and only after he witnessed grave injustices toward them.

1n 1939, Lakota Indian Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote to Boston-born sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and asked him to carve Crazy Horse in the Mountains of the Black Hills. Lakota elders wanted to show the white man that Indians had their great heroes also.

In 1947, at age 38, after he served in World War II, and turned down a government commission to create war memorials in Europe, the self-taught “storyteller in stone” arrived in the Black Hills to carve a 100-foot likeness of Crazy Horse.

During his early months in the Black Hills, Korczak sat and looked at the mountain for five days and five nights. We can only imagine what he thought. At the end of the five days he decided to carve the entire mountain not just the top 100 feet. The vision had grown. After all, he said, “I had nowhere to go.”

Crazy Horse would be a symbol: a tribute to all North American Indians. The vision now included a memorial in the round — the largest sculpture ever undertaken, a Native American medical center, a university, and museum. Korczak’s purpose was to give the Native Americans “a little bit of pride and to try to right a little bit of the wrong … [the white people] did to [them].”

Korczak spent the next 35 years carving his dream. Life was hard. When he began the project he had only $174 and many local residents mocked him. They were skeptical of his motives, and racism reared its ugly head. The first several months he lived in a tent as he built a studio-home. In 1948-9 he built a 741-step staircase to the top of the mountain. He had no roads, water, or electricity for two years. He began carving the mountain with a hammer and chisel.

Korczak’s early years prepared him to cope with difficulty. He was an orphan at age 1. Raised in several foster homes and treated poorly, he left home at 16 to fend for himself. He never had a single lesson in art, engineering, or sculpture.

Korczak’s vision gave him strength: “I chose to do it the hard way.” His purpose was to “right a wrong the little I can. I wanted to do something worthwhile with my life,” he said.

Ruth Ross met Korczak Ziolkowski in West Hartford, Connecticut, where she and some other teenaged friends asked for an autograph. At age 20 (in June 1947), Ruth and her friends traveled to South Dakota to volunteer on the Crazy Horse project. Her friends returned to Connecticut but Ruth stayed. She and Korczak were married on Thanksgiving Day, 1950.

“No one thought it would be easy,” said Ruth.

Ruth gave birth to 10 children — all born at home and one delivered by Korczak. The older five children received their early education in a one-room schoolhouse at Crazy Horse.

Korczak knew he would not live long enough to finish the massive project. So, he and Ruth spent three years detailing three books of plans for the Memorial.

Korczak died in 1982, at age 74. He had blasted 7.4 million tons of granite from the mountain. His last words were to “go slow so you do it right.” The Storyteller in Stone rests in a tomb near the mountain with a door-knocker on the outside and a rotary telephone on the inside. People eulogized him as a man of “legends, dreams, visions, and greatness.”

Ruth then led Crazy Horse until her death on May 21, 2014. Seven of her 10 children, each of whom left the Memorial to do other things and returned because it was “where they belonged,” keep the dream alive and progress continues. Ruth says it is “not important when it’s finished; the important thing is that work never stops.”

When finished, the Memorial will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. It will be taller than the Washington Monument and larger than the biggest pyramid. The four heads of nearby Mount Rushmore will fit inside of Crazy Horse’s head.

Public donations and admissions fund this humanitarian project. Korczak, who left a life of assured fame and fortune, never took a salary. He twice turned down $10 million in government grants and asked: “Why should a memorial to the American Indian be financed by the very government that broke its treaties with the Indians and turned its back on all its promises?”

Melanie told me after our visit: “I knew you were a believer. After seeing this Memorial in person, I am now a believer too.”

 

One With Nature

I am alone on Thanksgiving. A solitary figure, I walk north along County Road 23, two miles south of Ridgway, Colorado — the northern entrance to the San Juan mountains.

I live in the loft of an A-frame home behind me along the dirt road. The snow-topped San Juans rim the Uncompahgre Valley, home of farms, cattle ranches, and magical rainbows each April. Cows and horses dot the fields of the valley below. I feel lonely but okay.

The day awakened brisk and beautiful and flows toward me from the mountain to the east. The gravel crunches beneath my boots. The cool air burns my cheeks. The new sun warms my skin. Magpies, bluebirds, and blue jays sit on the fence posts and in the trees along the road and dash and dart about. Life thrives around me, and I am part of it. All of life is a family dependent on the interconnected energy of all.

I pause and say hello to two favorite young cows — “Brown” and “Tan,” I call them. They are indifferent to me, and I move on. A dozen deer, ears perked, stand frozen 30 feet away and watch me pass by. The local marmots are in their homes. I see no one and, other than the sounds of nature, my boots, and my breathing, the air is quiet. I am in a reflective mood.

How long can we live on this planet where we extinguish 200 species a day to feed our global population? Will we change? Nature has a deep purpose: to sustain the conditions for life — not necessarily human life but the existence of creativity and aliveness. Nature will endure; will we?

Nature teaches us about sustainability; she doesn’t share our values. I was once in the middle of a tornado, I’ve dug out of massive blizzards, and battled a record flood. In each violent act, nature expressed her passions and moved on without mercy or sentiment. The next day the sun often shined and the birds sang as nature’s gentleness returned. If we provoke her too much, will she turn her wrath on us? Nature is deeply authentic and filled with spirit, purpose, meaning, and mystery.

I look at the powerful mountains and wonder how anyone can believe they can control nature — how afraid of her power they must be. I think about a recent experience: I drove my jeep 12,000 feet above sea level on a narrow path of a trail. I was a few miles east of Silverton, 30 miles south of where I lived. A sudden rainstorm washed the clay beneath me away and my jeep began to slide backwards down the mountain perilously close to a steep ledge. Nature reminded me of my powerlessness. I went with her pull until I saw an opportunity to maneuver out of the slide. I am humble before nature.

I walk to the white house on the curve of the road that leads into Ridgway, drink some water, wave to the barking yellow lab, and turn around for the walk home. In the spring a couple of hundred elk will graze warily in the meadows below me. The diversity that surrounds me on my walk promotes adaptation; a lack of diversity foreshadows death.

I swing my left arm — exercise for a pulled muscle — as I walk. The return trip climbs gradually uphill from about 7,200 feet. I breathe faster and deeper and my legs feel the strain. I finish my water.

Finally, head down, I trudge up the curved and rutted incline of the long driveway to my rather majestic-looking A-frame home nestled against the side of the mountain. I sit on the picnic table near the back door and under the deck; I am hot and wet with sweat. I breathe heavily. I notice Skeeter and Tate — two cats larger than Noga, my Westie — hunting in the brush. I feel alive.

I mutter an expletive under my breath in acknowledgement of the hard effort. I love this almost daily three-mile walk that puts me close to nature and provides a milieu for creative contemplation. I’m old enough to find it harder to believe in a loving God than as a child. I try to figure out how I can believe and still see humanity as it is: so often evil, cruel, and unjust.

As I catch my breath, I think back to when my brother Allan and I took a trip to East Africa for 18 days of wildlife photography in Kenya and Tanzania. The animals were excited, spirited, and expressive — they ran, jumped, and played. Prides of lazy lions slept and sunned themselves while mischievous cubs played and irritated their elders who cuffed them gently. Large groups of giraffes loped gracefully across the plains.

Two or three cheetah quietly stalked Thompson gazelles. A silent leopard carried a young wildebeest into a tree to feast on for the next two or three days. Elephants lumbered in front of a gigantic and snow-covered Mount Kilimanjaro as, filled with excitement, I fumbled with my camera. The daily drama for food played itself out in front of us. What an authentic and powerful place this is.

I observed how life in the Ngorongoro Crater, a collapsed volcano with steep walls, had evolved and cooperated so all of the elements fit together to create a balanced whole — an ecosystem upon itself.

I watched the chaos of the annual wildebeest migration as hundreds of thousands of animals chased the rain. I began to sense the underlying order, programmed genetically over thousands of years, of their seemingly insane behavior. Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest births occur within a three-week period, during the annual migration to water. This mass birth preserves the species, for predators cannot kill that many young before they can care for themselves.

Wildlife photographer Mitsuaki Iwago calls this underlying order “Okite — a law of natural life that’s neither glamorous nor indulgently savage.” Nature adapts and designs and all of life plays an authentic role, with an unimaginable intelligence. Order exists beneath chaos — observable, in part, to the mindful. I wondered if the rich diversity of Africa will survive humankind’s abuse, greed, ignorance, and arrogance. I hope so but am doubtful.

As I sat at the picnic table, I thought of my time in Colorado. This was a time for solitude, and a time for reflection on how to live. I sought to balance action with contemplation. I required more time to think and ponder — to try to see the patterns and order of life in a chaotic world where making sense of so much nonsense may not be possible.

I appreciate the beauty of my surroundings, the quiet walks, and the spirituality of the San Juan mountains that surround me. My retreat to the mountains is also difficult — like a long vision quest filled with freedom’s anguish. I face my fears, losses, and the anxieties freedom provides. I wrestle with my resistance to authenticity: denial of truth, self-delusion, and self-imposed demands and limitations.

As I catch my breath, I decide to go and soak in the hot springs in Ouray — eight miles south at the front door of the San Juans. Many years prior, I drove around the mountain curve on highway 550 into Ouray. I saw the steam from the hot springs rising to the Mountains. I returned several times. One day my divorce, my mom’s death, and the surprise passing of my best friend provided the deep awareness of a fragile and temporary life, and I loaded my jeep and drove west to grieve and live out a dream in the Mountains.

The large hot springs pool sits surrounded by Mountains and the town of Ouray — a tiny piece of Western history nestled in a bowl at the foot of the San Juans. I relax in the pool, drink water, and watch rock climbers, mountain goats, small avalanches, and the deer that come to feed in the adjacent park. Often I sit quietly for hours and think, other times I read, and occasionally I talk with regulars and tourists. In the winter, the steam rises from the hot water and often I can only see a foot or two in front of me. The pool fills with people when it snows, and white heads appear to float on top of the warm water.

I reflected on my connection with nature while I soaked: I sat in a small skiff in the San Ignacio lagoon in the Mexican province of Baja California Sur bobbing in light waves. I watched as a 40-foot-long, 40-ton great gray whale surfaced slowly beneath the boat and gently introduced her new child to the boat’s elated observers.

I peered into the large, serene eye of the mother and wondered: What was her world like? Her gentle and knowing return of my excited stare linked us in a mystical moment. I realized that in one slight movement she could destroy the boat and kill its occupants. Instead, she chose to form a relationship with us — a profound choice: destroy or relate — the essence of competing worldviews.

Mother and child floated with the boat for a few minutes. The whales allowed the exhilarated humans to touch them and to lean over and kiss the barnacle covered parent before mother and child submerged slowly and disappeared. For a few short moments, the sky, the ocean, the people, the bobbing skiff, and the whale and her child were one. Nature is a form of love available to each of us. Maybe this moment of intimacy is God.

I feel a deep sorrow for what we do so selfishly to the natural world at our own peril. I’ve had the sadness for a long time. At first I tried to push it away. Now I just feel it. Are we evil for consuming her so greedily? I fear we are. Can we change how we think? I hope so.

Abraham Maslow wrote that the priority to save our world calls us to make the Good Person. He defined the Good Person as:

This Good Person can equally be called the

self-evolving person, the responsible-for-

himself-and-his-own-evolution person, the

fully illuminated or awakened or perspicuous

man, the fully human person, the self-actualizing

person …

We need a renaissance of authentic people who understand, who do what they can to help a world in transition, who expand our compassion so we can change the way we live on our planet so future generations can enjoy what I’ve enjoyed.

 

Excerpted from Learning to Live: Essays on Life & Leadership

William Faulkner on Writing

Ninety-nine percent talent . . . ninety-nine percent discipline . . . ninety-nine percent work. He must never be satisfied with what he does. It never is as good as it can be done. Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.

 Brain Pickings.

Create to Feel Alive

Frederick Terral founder of RightBrainTerrain.com:

You may not be a Picasso or Mozart but you don’t have to be. Just create to create. Create to remind yourself you’re still alive. Make stuff to inspire others to make something too. Create to learn a bit more about yourself.

A Vision in Stone

The 5-year-old girl, in a white T-shirt and cowboy hat, approached the woman — more than 75 years her senior — hesitantly. With a tone of reverence in her voice, she asked, “Are you Ruth, The wife of the sculptor?”

Ruth Ziolkowski, dressed in a simple yellow dress, blue checkered smock, and white moccasins, leaned over, extended her hand, and said quietly, “Yes, I am.” Mrs. Ziolkowski put her arm around the child and graciously posed for a photograph.

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(Melanie Heuerman, Ruth Ziolkowski, Tom Heuerman, Warren  Harming)

Only minutes before we had stood on the extended arm of the Crazy Horse Memorial at the top of the 600-foot Thunderhead Mountain and looked at the visitor center a mile away.

Pete — our guide and teacher — and Warren Harming, a member of the Crazy Horse Board of Directors and close friend of the Ziolkowski family, drove us up the mountain.

When we got out of the vehicle, Pete asked us to walk out on the arm and not look back until he told us to. About half way out the 263-foot arm pointed east over the head of Crazy Horse’s horse toward the Black Hills, Pete said, “Okay you can turn around now.”

We turned and looked up at the nine story high head and face of Crazy Horse. “Oh my God” was our instant, involuntary reaction. Another group of people came to the top of the mountain later. As they walked with their backs to Crazy Horse, we watched to see their reactions when they turned. “Oh My God’ was the universal reaction upon seeing the face of Crazy Horse up close.

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In 1947, at age 38, after he served in World War II, and turned down a government commission to create war memorials in Europe, Korczak Ziolkowski arrived in the Black Hills to carve a 100-foot likeness of Crazy Horse.

During his early months in the Black Hills, Korczak sat and looked at the mountain for five days and five nights. We can only imagine what he thought. At the end of the five days he decided to carve the entire mountain not just the top 100 feet. The vision had grown. After all, he said, “I had nowhere to go.”

Crazy Horse would be a symbol: a tribute to all North American Indians. The vision now included a memorial in the round — the largest sculpture ever undertaken, a Native American medical center, a university, and museum. Korczak’s purpose was to give the Native Americans “a little bit of pride and to try to right a little bit of the wrong … [the white people] did to [them].”

Korczak knew he would not live long enough to finish the massive project. So, he and Ruth spent three years detailing three books of plans for the Memorial.

Ruth leads Crazy Horse today. Seven of her 10 children, each of whom left the Memorial to do other things and returned because it was “where they belonged,” keep the dream alive and progress continues. Ruth says it is “not important when it’s finished; the important thing is that work never stops.”

When finished, the Memorial will be 563 feet high and 641 feet long. It will be taller than the Washington Monument and larger than the biggest pyramid. The four heads of nearby Mount Rushmore will fit inside of Crazy Horse’s head.

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Melanie told me after our visit: “I knew you were a believer in the spiritual power of this vision. After seeing this Memorial in person, I am now a believer too.”

Art on the River

Art inspires, informs, and illuminates.

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This looks like a fun way to get to the Stone Arch Bridge Art Festival!

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Where should we begin?

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Melanie found the day’s purchase:

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We will stick these in the ground and in flower pots instead of flowers. No maintenance; grow year around; only buy once.

I couldn’t do that.

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I could do that.

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Hey dad, put the umbrella over the kid’s head.

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I am in awe of the love, care, and dedication artists put into their creations.

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They’re having fun.

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There is justice. Two cars in no parking zones got towed. The owners are going to be surprised!

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Which should I do? I think I’ll do the Segway–next time.

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It’s getting hot and busy.

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That whipped cream looks good.

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I’m thinking that sitting in a cool theatre would be nice.

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I feel sorry for the dogs. They are hot. I think taking dogs to art fairs is attention seeking by the owners.

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Gotta toot your own horn once in awhile.

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We got our miles in. Time to head back across the Stone Arch Bridge.

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After a good time, we head for home.

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