16 states (one of those was actually a province (Niagara Falls, ON, Canada), 15 days, 14 campgrounds, 5 lodges (from the outside at town-appropriate drivingd speed), 4 National Parks including Theodore Roosevelt NP (with no mention of his Masonic status—I’m writing to complain), 3 state parks, several thousand tourists, and I met 0 Masons. I spoke with many people between long drives and at the parks, and received scores of double-takes at my cap…no questions about the cap, though.
On a side note about branding and caps: As much as I was hoping to have my hat noticed by a brother, I was in turn searching every sea of tourists and their vehicles for Masonic swag and saw none. I did get glimpses of hundreds of caps and realized that my little gold symbol, powerful as it is to me, was often lost in a flood of somewhat esoteric looking product endorsements and well known sports, college, or product emblems. True, it is also my product endorsement, though not one used to garner financial profits. I suppose our symbol does generate a profit for the company who embroidered the gold thread on the black hat I liked so much. As we know, symbols are powerful, though in those seas, how would anyone distinguish it from any other product if they had not known of its existence or meaning previously?
We want our sons to experience parts of our country and world they have never seen as well as be in the presence of others with whom they might otherwise never come into contact. Corinna and I made a similar drive our first summer together, though this time in addition to Badlands and Yellowstone, we included Glacier and TRNP. At intervals, listened to the first section of The omnivores dilemma driving through corn and cattle country, laboring to understand a particular view of agriculture, business, and disenfranchisement felt by many whose farms and family legacies were shaped by grain and government policy—the undoing of a Masonic president’s efforts to balance and stabilize the economy for the good of all. I’m grateful to have visited TRNP and hear several lectures about his life, albeit devoid of the spiritual and philosophic roots in his heart that lead him to the gentle craft and the reciprocal influence the fraternity had on his public actions.
Despite the lack of overt Masonic brethren, the trip was wholly spiritual for me. I've always felt connected with nature, which I think is easy to accomplish when visiting such impressive natural wonders. But there was more. In meeting and speaking with people, mostly men, I was surprised their willingness to engage easily and without guardedness, the same I feel from brethren wherever I have had the good fortune I’ve had to meet them. Attribute this ease to road culture, vacation vibe, being away from New England? I'm not sure. However, three conversations stood out:
Charlie, a retired history teacher, now volunteers to greet visitors at a highway rest area in a central state. He vibrantly expressed the way he understands the lack of emphasis on history in education and the lessons imparted as the root of many social ills as well as its study as grist for solutions. As I continue my way through Whence Came You, by M. Deutsch (Recommended by Grand Librarian and author Right Worshipful Hunt), I look for encouragement, light, and lessons about what to, and not to, repeat in my Masonic career.
Bud, a stocky white haired native of Tennessee we spoke with in Glacier NP, was deeply pleased holding a can of bear repellent, wishing he had it with him a few years back while visiting Nashville for a family emergency: "I've been packing heat for 40 years, thank God I never had to use it." He recounted a food court confrontation between two other men in which he, “had to stand up. Put my hand on my piece and shake my head at the guy who was reaching for a weapon inside his jacket...he just pulled his hand out and sat down...I'd rather have had this." holds up the bear spray. We returned from the day of exploring to discover our tent had been vandalized, possibly by the same Grizzly youngster who had been interrupted the day before by our camp host (see next paragraph) when it was engaged in the same curiosity behavior with another person's tent. No bear spray needed!
Abraham, a recent graduate of a tribal college, discharged several rounds heard through the campground on our first evening in camp in an attempt to scare the young Grizzly bear away from tents and people. Generally avoiding humans, the bear only got itself involved with tents while their occupants were away. Abraham said in a conversation he had never needed to use that strategy before and believed his actions useful for two and four legged creatures to remain harmonious neighbors—at a distance. I found him earnest, forthright, and tactfully generous in our conversation. We leaned the following day parts of Glacier NP were closed off to visitors due to unusual grizzly activity in those areas.
Though none of these men were Masons, they could be. Each saw my cap, none asked about what it meant or about Masonry. In each case, I wondered about appropriate ways to entice them to find us. All of them reside in states far from my own, so asking them to join me for dinner would be absurd. I'm staying in touch with one, where our conversation went on longer and there seemed a natural reason for us to exchange contact information. Though Massachusetts allows Masons to ask men if they want to join, I don't like the idea of asking directly. I will never get someone to join. I firmly believe in the process of a man needing to make the first inquiry of his own free will and accord; and continue to proceed with assistance and mentoring though expressly without pressure. If through getting to know me and/or seeing the ways Masons contribute to societal improvement a man feels the stir in his heart to be and give more, he will make it happen. I hope our brief meetings sparked some curiosity that might cause them to seek and be more in our particular way, even if our roads never intersect again.
Brother Erik Marks is a clinical social worker whose usual vocation has been in the field of human services in a wide range of settings since 1990. He was raised in 2017 by his biologically younger Brother and then Worshipful Master in Alpha Lodge in Framingham, MA. You may contact brother Marks by email: erik@StrongGrip.org