Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I saw this in the maples behind the house today. I probably need to do something with it. Anyone want to play with a piñata? I know, maybe I could use it as a party game for I’m No Angel’s upcoming 40th birthday party on August 20th. I’m sure that if I hold such a party, it’d be like busting open a hornet’s nest.

Goodbye Ingmar Bergman

It was with sadness that I read about Ingmar Bergman’s death. The Seventh Seal is one of my all time favorite movies. The symbolism is rich as he attempts to figure out the meaning of life in the midst of tragedy. A knight returning from the crusades comes home to Sweden to find his country ravaged by the Black Plague. Stopping along the coast, he meets Death and tries to buy some time with a chess match as he continues his search. The knight is desperate to find meaning to life. He goes into a church, wanting to confess, but finds his heart cold. On another occasion, he asks to speak to a condemned witch, figuring if she can introduce him to the Devil, he’ll be able to ask about God. The condemned woman tells him to look into her eyes, for her accusers have testified that they’ve seen the Devil in them. He does, but replies, “I only see terror, nothing else.” Throughout the film, representatives of Mary and Joseph and a child are seen, first as troubadours. Toward the end of the movie, with the Knight stalling Death with his moves on the chess board, he allows Mary and Joseph and the child escape. The Knight finally makes it home, but all are dead. This is probably not the most uplifting movie you’ll see, but one rich with symbols.

My favorite line in the movie is by Jon, the Squire, who gets drunk when the knight is in the church and tells a townsman, “Our crusade was so stupid only an idealist could have thought it up.” Certainly the Knight was an idealist; the Squire was only looking out for himself. The film came out in 1957, a good year for movies (Bridge Over the River Kwai), for classic cars (’57 Chevy and Thunderbird) and for births (Me).

Don’t say you had a shitty day unless this happened to you…

I went out of town today for the funeral of the wife of a colleague. Coming back on the freeway (this tells you how far out of town I had to go for the county I live in doesn’t have a single mile of interstate), I got in a traffic jam due to an accident. They kept stopping traffic as they brought in dirt and tried to clean the road, sending us all to one side. When I passed the accident site, I was wondering if the asphalt had burned in the accident or if an asphalt truck had dropped part of its load for there was black stuff across the road. Then, as I got to the spot, the stench became unbearable. And on the side was a totally mashed up car and a truck hauling manure sludge. I thought being hit by a bus after a dentist appointment was bad, but that driver truly experienced a shitty day.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sheepherder's Bathtub: A Sunday Scribbling

Today’s Sunday Scribbling prompt is “Phenomenon.” A phenomenon is something that can be observed—a meteor, a hot spring and the scent of sage falls into this category. But I don’t think the ways of a human heart is a phenomenon. We don’t know what goes on inside. This is the first of a series of posts I hope to get around to writing, featuring my favorite hot springs… This hot spring is called the Sheepherder’s Bathtub; however, I never saw any sheep in the area even though there are plenty of sheep in the hills and mountains around this valley, up where the grass grows in abundance. Although I have many slides from my time in Idaho, but don’t have any of them copied digitally. I took the picture of the sheep several weeks ago when I was in Utah.

It was just a hole in the ground nestled within some aspen and pines on the edge of a broad valley covered mostly with sage. You couldn’t even tell where it was unless you were right on it. The only sign that there was something special about this place was a pull off from the highway, just large enough for a few cars to park, and a dirt path that ran through the sage to a place the locals called the Sheepherder’s Bathtub. As hot springs go it wasn’t much, twenty, maybe thirty feet in diameter and three or so feet deep, but filled with very warm water with just a hint of sulfur. I learned about it from a local, the first summer I directed a nearby camp. And for two summers, the spring served as my own private retreat. I never saw another soul there except for those I invited. Summer twilight last late into the night in Central Idaho and I’d often head to the tub around 10 PM, just as light began to fade in the valley. For an hour or so I’d lay in the 100 degree water, the back of my head resting on rocks, watching the summer stars emerge as I soaked my troubles away.

I visited the tub one last time the end of August 1990. It had been raining for nearly a week, which brought out the scent of sage. Rachel’s sister, with whom I’d enjoyed a whirlwind romance that summer, was with me. We soaked in nature’s own hot water and talked till midnight, observing the movement of the stars and watching for meteors. In the high mountains, far from city lights, meteors are more vivid. Each time one streaked across the sky, we’d make a wish. I don’t know what she wished for. You can’t tell what you wish for, or it won’t come true, or so some say. Looking back, it didn’t matter. I kept my wishes a secret and they still didn’t come true.

The next afternoon we hugged in the camp’s parking lot and then got into our cars and drove off. I stopped after crossing the plank bridge over a fork of the Wood River to walk back and lock the gate, my last responsibility for the summer. Leah kept going; we never saw each other again. I think it was C. S. Lewis who said we’ll spend a good part of eternity thanking God for prayers not answered. Maybe so, but at the moment you realize a dream is lost, you feel as chilled as I did in the breeze the evening before. Prune-liked and water-logged when we finally crawled out of the warm water, we were quickly cooled by the wind and the night air and held each other close for warmth as we walked through the sage and back to the car.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Photo Journey (and the answer to yesterday's quiz)

The answer to yesterday’s quiz: (Ludington, MI)

A day was spent on the beach, which include a walk to the Big Sable Lighthouse.
And since it was open and you could climb it, up I went.
This is the view from the top of the lighthouse, looking north toward the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area.
Another day was spent on the Pere Marquette River. This obstacle had to be portaged—it’s an electrical barrier that shocks fish to keep sea lamprey from spawning. These fish have come in through the Wellington Canal and have created problems for native species. The fishing wasn’t very good; this small brown trout was one of two fish I caught.
But the real treat was seeing three bald eagles including this one.
Coming home on a section of highway cleaned by the Michigan Paranormal Society, I couldn't help but wonder if they put a hex on litters...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Back home, again!

Okay, I've been gone a couple nights. I even left my laptop at home (only to find that the B&B had wireless...). Anyway, here are two shots. The lighthouse was taken yesterday. The river photo was taken today. Any ideas where?
By the way, just in case you're curious, I'll be gone another week in August.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Wicked Seductions: A Sunday Scribbling along with an update

Photo of Cedar Creek.

I know I’m two days late for Sunday Scribblings, but I have good excuses. I’ve been busy. This past week’s Sunday Scribbling prompt was “wicked,” and I’d had many ideas as it’s such a playful word and some folks say it’s a field I have experience in. I wrote this piece this morning, after my little adventure last night. My parents left yesterday morning and last night I fixed a Dutch oven dinner for a board that I sit on. We ate at the park down by the river and after everything was cleaned up, the water was just too enticing. I took out my flyrod and put on Tevas (sandals that can get wet—I was already wearing shorts) and heading into the water for a little relaxation. I caught five fish in about 15 minutes, three of them from the same hole, as I describe below.

Wicked Seductions

The sun had dropped out of the sky and darkness was descending upon the river when I spied a long parallel to the other bank. “One more hole,” I thought, “then I’ll pack it in.” As I moved into the middle of the channel, onto the sandbar covered with grass that waved in the current, I made a few casts to keep my line in front of me. The hole next to the log was protected by a number of low branches. I ruled out a direct onslaught. Keeping my pole parallel to the water, I made a sidearm cast. Feeding the line out, it unfurled under the branches, the leader dropping the fly just inches from the log. The water swirled and I yanked the rod to set the hook. The fish attempted to run under the log, then swam into the current. A smallmouth, she wasn’t even close to being legal, too small to give a good fight. I let her go and repeated the cast again, this time dropping the fly upstream a few feet above the point I’d hooked the first fish. As the fly drifted over the hole, the water again swirled and I gave a light yank. Three fish later, I called it a night and waded back upstream toward my truck. All three were too small and I let ‘em all go, but the thought of a perfectly wicked cast, enticing ‘em with a fatal dinner then granting a pardon was satisfaction enough.

I should say a bit about fishing with my dad on Saturday night. We started late in the afternoon on at the lower end of Thornapple Lake, a spot known for Northern Pike. We didn’t find any Pike, but we continued on down the river to McKenow’s Bridge. At the confluence with Cedar Creek, we got out of the boat and fished with fly rods, each catching four or five bass in about 100 yards of river. In all, we caught a good mess of fish, but all the Smallmouths were too small. But we did get some large rock bass and it was fun watching my father having a good time fishing with a fly rod, something he seldom gets an opportunity to do.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Traver On Fishing: Another Yankee Book Review

Robert Traver, Traver On Fishing, Nick Lyons editor (Guilford CT: Lyons Press, 2001), 320 pages. Sorry folks, there’s no pictures.

This is my second review for Ed’s DamnYankee Summer Reading Challenge. That’s pretty good, since this Summer Reading Challenge doesn’t really exist, it began as a parody, yet it has taken on a life of its own. I loved this book. I mostly read it back in the winter, reading a story each evening before bed. Then the book fell behind my night stand only to be pulled out and dusted off and finished in the past week. It’s nice to see a Yankee who can string together words using such precise spelling and grammar, as you’ll see in my many quotes from his stories.
On Fishing is a wonderful collection of Traver’s “yarns” about fish, fishermen (he's kind of sexist that way), and fishing along with related occupations such as drinking. The stories come from Traver’s three books on trout fishing (Trout Madness, Trout Magic, and Anatomy of a Fisherman) along with several of his magazine articles and a couple of essays and a speech by others telling us about Traver's life. Traver died in 1991 at 88 years of age.

Rober Traver was the pseudonym for John D. Voelker. Voelker grew up in Ishpeming (what is it about a state with towns named Ishpeming and Ypsilanti?). After a childhood in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, he headed south for college. In 1928, he graduated from the University of Michigan Law School and took a job with a top “Chicago firm that contained so many caged lawyers that in the general confusion they sometimes even sued their own firm’s clients.” After about three years in the city, he told his wife he’d prefer to “starve in Ishpeming than wear emeralds in Chicago.” Heading to the North Country, he was elected prosecutor for Marquette County in 1934 and held the position for 14 years till one day he found himself “abruptly paroled from [his] D.A. job by the unappealable verdict of the voters.” Voelker confessed that after so many years, it was inevitable for him to lose the election because he had passed the threshold of prosecuting at least one person from 50% of the families in the county. Going to the other side of the courtroom to ply his trade, Voelker also started writing. One of his early books, Anatomy of a Murder, became a Book of the Month feature and was made into an award winning movie. Shortly thereafter, Voelker was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court. He resigned, after serving a little less than three years, rationalizing his decision by saying “while other lawyers may write my opinions, they can scarcely write my novels.” At age 55, Voelker returned to the UP where he did what he loved: fishing for brook trout, hunting morels, playing cribbage, writing and drinking. Voelker was a fantastic storyteller and this is a very funny collection of stories.

Although he does plenty of bragging in the pages of this book, Traver claims to be a quiet fisherman, the type who either eats his catch or returns them to the water. He has little respect for the “kill-kill” boys whom he “suspects the outdoors is but a suburb of their egos” and who “invariably clap [their fish] on the wall. “There are times when I yearn to reunite them there,” Traver muses. Of course, there is one type of fisherman even worst than the “kill-kill boys.” That the infamous “kiss and tell” fisherman, who after being treated to someone favorite fishing spot, goes and writes up their find for a fishing magazine, advertising it to the world. Although Traver himself wrote for these periodicals, he points out for his readers that you can’t learn everything about fishing from reading because “Trout are rather inconstant readers of the outdoor magazines.”

Traver loves fly-fishing and lifts it up to one of the great joys in life. It’s such great fun, he muses, “that it really ought to be done in bed.” Fly-fishing is superior to other forms of angling. It is “what high seduction is to rape.” On another page he compares chasing trout and women, both of which are tiring and complicated endeavors. “Wooing a trout with a fly is almost precisely akin to the slow and patient seduction of a proud and reluctant woman.”

Traver becomes a bit kinky describing the flailer, the type of fly fisher who thrashes the water with his line.
“Some flailers flail away so furiously that one suspects they must imagine they are beating up on someone, like maybe the boss. And I once beheld an oblivious flailer who flailed with such ecstatic abandon that I could have sworn he spied a seductive siren out there called Sade—wups, I mean Sadie—wearing only a Freudian slip.”
Traver also addresses serious issues such pollution in his stories. Of course, it’s all done humorously. Writing in 1964 about those who pollute waterways, he suggests that homicide might be a solution, but then goes on to point out “the problem of how one goes about assassinating a corporation.”

One of Traver’s funniest stories is about his friend Danny McGinnis. In one of McGinnis’ many attempts to avoid all forms of labor, he decided to become a fishing guide. Traver tells the wonderful tale of the rich Chicago doctor and friends who signed up for a week at McGinnis place. Getting off the train, they meet a drunken McGinnis. When asked about his waders and creel, Danny told them he didn’t use them. “Saves all kinds of money fer charities an’ to give them missionary fellas fer convertin’ heathens with.” After a rocky start, the men from Chicago have a blast and tip McGinnis handsomely and sign up for a return trip the next year. In this story, I finally learned what the Good Book means in that troubling passage where it says to cast your bread upon the waters (Ecclesiastes 11:1). McGinnis was a practitioner of such advice. I suspect, however, the game warden might call it chumming the waters and take offense.

This is great writing and restores my faith in Yankee literature. I recommend it and offer one last piece of advice from Traver: “Fish, drink and be merry for tomorrow we must cut grass…”

For more of Sage's reviews, click here.

400th Post and Fishing with Dad

Ok, this is my 400th post! As for fishing with my dad yesterday, we didn't do very well. The wind blew like crazy making it difficult. I caught two fish (a small one and a microscopic one that I still don't know how he managed to get the hook in his mouth). Dad and the other guy with us (a friend) didn't catch anything. Oh well, it was fun to be on the water and maybe we'll try it again tomorrow night. I'd like him to catch a Great Northern Pike.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

3-Word Wednesday and Stuff

Here’s my Three-word Wednesday piece. It's been a while since I particiapted in Bone's writing exercise. This week’s words are “Cope, Revealed, and Stick.” I often try to use these words in some story I planned to tell anyway. I tried something new this week, creating a dialogue using the words and this is what I came up with.

The silence was awkward. Then Bill cried out from other the covers, “I just can’t cope any more.”

“What’s wrong bro? What’s your problem?”

“This face, it feels like someone hit me over the head with an ugly stick.”

“Man, it can be that bad, let me see.”

Bill pulled the covers back from his face enough that he revealed the scars left from the burns. “I shouldn’t have gotten behind the wheel. The gig’s over. Now mom’s never going to see my smiling face on the cover of the Rolling Stones.”

“Get over it Bill, you weren’t ever going to see you face on that magazine anyway.”

My parents are visiting so I’m not sure when I’ll get around to completing the stories that I’ve been working on… But there’s plenty of time. If I don’t finish them now, I’ll finish them when I retire (in about 15 years). I’m taking Dad fishing tomorrow afternoon, hoping to either get into some Walleyes or to hook a big Great Northern Pike. It’ll also give us a chance to talk. It’s sad to think about, but Dad told me this might be their last visit due to my mother’s deteriorating condition. He has to watch her closer now, which makes traveling more difficult, especially when it’s just the two of them. It’s hard to watch; she hardly talks at all now and never initiates conversation.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Down South Recipes

My recent travels have me overwhelmed back here in the homeland. Yesterday was a 13 hour day, today might be the same, especially since I have family coming in tomorrow afternoon… So instead of getting creative, I’m just going to put up a couple recipes. I promised Diane the secret to easy Brunswick Stew. Enjoy!

The picture shows a couple gallons of stew cooking on a camp stove (in a 5 gallon pot). The recipe below is for a traditional sized crock pot.

Brunswick Stew

Cooked boneless chicken (somewhere around a pound of meat. I like to cook a whole chicken, save the broth for soup, but if you’re in a hurry, get a large can of boneless chicken. You can also use pork)
Cup of broth
28 ounce can of stewed tomatoes (sometimes I’ll also add a small can of tomato paste)
Package of frozen corn
Package of frozen lima beans
A couple diced up potatoes
An onion, sliced thin

Add a couple bay leaves, some (or a lot) hot sauce (or Worcestershire sauce), salt and pepper

Mix the above together in a crock pot and cook it 8 or so hours on low.

Hush Puppies

Contrary to popular opinion, we Southerners do not feed these little morsels to our dog (but occasionally I’ll let Trisket sample one).

Heat oil in a heavy pan or deep fat fryer.

In a large bowl, mix together:

1 ½ cup cornmeal (most Southerners use white, but often yellow often all that is available up here)
½ cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 egg (beaten up real good)
1 finely chopped onion
1 cup buttermilk
1 finely chopped jalapeno pepper (optional)

Form the hushpuppies with the edge of a spoon, rolling the dough up into a blimp like shape. Keep them small! Drop dough into oil and stick spoon into a glass of water (to clean the dough) before going to the next puppy. Turn puppies in oil, till both sides are a light brown, remove from oil with slotted spoon and place on paper towels to cool. Eat when they are still warm. Some folks eat with butter or honey, but when they’re warm, they’re great without any condiments.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Doug Marlette, You will be missed!

It feels like I’ve lost another friend. I just learned that cartoonist, novelist and fellow North Carolinian Doug Marlette died Tuesday. He was in an automobile accident in Oxford, Mississippi. As a member of the Southern diaspora, I looked to Marlette to keep me up with what’s going on in my homeland. His comic strip Kudzu,[1] which is set in the town of Bypass,[2] featured a host of lovable characters. Although I never met him, I appreciated his work. When things are serious, it’s good to be able to laugh and Marlette gave me many belly-churning chuckles.

My favorite Kudzu character was the Reverend Will B. Dunn (if you don’t get the joke in the name, trying saying it real fast). Dunn looks like the Quaker Oats man. In 1988, when Pat Robertson was running for the Presidency, Preacher Dunn also decided to run. When Robertson recalled his direct link to God which spared Virginia Beach from a direct strike by a hurricane, Preacher Dunn held a press conference to tell about how his prayers saved Bypass for a tornado. One of the reporters asked Dunn about a neighboring town that was totally destroyed when the tornado, upon his prayers, took a 90 degree turn. Not missing a beat, Dunn proclaimed, ‘Let that be a lesson to the Russians.” Dunn also had a newspaper column where he answered the questions of readers. When one wrote asking what eternity would be like, he responded, “Like the NBA tournament, only shorter.” Marlette also poked fun at church softball leagues, contemporary and politically correct worship, marriage counseling, secular humanism, among other things. Nothing was safe from the point of his pen.

A few years before the Danish cartoon scandal, Marlette had his own spat with Muslims. When some evangelical Christians began to be concerned about our wasting resources and asking the question, “What would Jesus Drive?” Marlette, poking fun at both the Christian campaign and terrorists, asked the question “What would Mohammed drive?” His strip showed a Ryder truck with a bomb sticking out the back. It didn’t get as much attention as the Danish strips, but there were death threats made against Marlette. Like a good satirist, he offended conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, fundamentalists and atheists.

A couple of years ago, I reviewed Marlette’s first novel, The Bridge, which dealt with labor troubles in the North Carolina textile industry back in the 20s and 30s. Click here for my review, it would be a good book for someone to use in the Southern Summer Reading Challenge. Definitions supplied for those who might need some help...

[1] Kudzu: a Chinese weed that has taken off across the south after being introduced to curb erosion on railroad embankments.

[2] Bypass: What happens when a highway is ran around town instead of going through town. Drivers no longer get to circle around the monument to the fallen Confederate soldiers; instead they are treated to all the icons of fast food.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hair: Sunday Scribblings

Here is my "Sunday Scribbling contribution to this week's topic, "Hair." Yeah, I know, I'm posting this a few hours early...
I started out with no hair. As a baby they called me Ike, after the President Eisenhower. We were both bald. I got my first hair cut when I was two. From what I was told, I didn’t need it, but it seemed the right thing to do since my brother, who is 18 months younger than me, needed a hair cut. It seems from the beginning I was playing catch up. He’s also five inches taller than me! I had long hair for a while as a kid, but my dad never let it get too out of control. Then I thought I might want to go into the military and took Jr. ROTC in High School. I had to get a hair cut. It was a mistake, or more probably it was a time of great learning. My friends in ROTC, who couldn’t understand my liberal views on certain things, named me Fidel (that was even before my beard). My other friends, mostly involved in debate, couldn’t understand my interest in the military and called me JB (John Birch). When I got out of ROTC and decided I’d had enough of saluting folks who did deserve it and vowed not to cut my hair for at least a year. And I didn't get a hair cut for 13 months, and might have become a Samson had it not been for the fact that my Afro (which is what my curly hair turned into in the hot muggy south) was just too darn hot. So I got it cut and throughout the rest of the seventies and mid-80s, my hair stayed a respectful length for the era.

I’m not sure when I started losing my hair. When I was my late 20s, I decided to head for Pittsburgh for more schooling. I was telling my plans to the young woman who had been cutting my hair for a few years. When she was done, instead of telling me the regular price, she cut it in half saying she didn’t have to cut any off the top. I don’t remember if I tipped her or not, but I hope not. Such comments shouldn’t be rewarded. It was about that time that I discovered that even if my hair wasn’t growing on my head, the bottom 40 (around my face) still produced a good crop. After growing and shaving a few beards, I stopped shaving all together and gave away my soap and brush (I hated using canned shaving cream). Next summer, my current beard will be 20 years old. If I shaved it, I could probably become an Ike impersonator and for that reason alone, I think I’ll keep it.

A couple years ago a friend here (or I should say former friend here, for friends don’t comment on one’s lack of hair), gave me the shirt in the picture. He worked in research at a local pharmaceutical company that manufactures, among other things, Rogaine.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Explaining my absence (Up in the UP)

Sunset behind a storm moving across Lake Superior.

I haven’t been around the computer much the last couple days. Wednesday morning I left here real early and drove up to the UP (that’s Upper Peninsula as opposed to Union Pacific) where I cooked up a bunch of vittles on Wednsday night for a crew of nearly 30 high school age kids and 12 leaders who are building a Habitat house near Musining. Last year I worked with them the whole week, then stayed in the UP for another week of fishing. This is a great group. The goal is to have the house closed in, the electrical wiring run, and the exterior finished in a week. The foundation is done before they arrive. Another crew will take over and do the plumbing, drywall, cabinets, flooring, etc.

Click here to see a photo of last year's completed house. Be sure to read all the way to the end to get to the photo.

Below is a photo of me checking out the Brunswick Stew I made for them. By the way, the gash in my leg was done on my last day of hiking out in Utah (I've yet to written about that trip yet).

I also fixed up a mess of hushpuppies.
And the highlight, chicken, potatoes and cobblers fixed in a Dutch oven (notice my helps taking a break in the background.
And one final shot of Lake Superior at sunset. I spent a day working on the jobsite (building a shed for the family, before I drove the 6 1/2 hours home, arriving back here last night a bit before midnight.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Plain Heathen Mischief: A Book Review

If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know that Deana often complains that I review books she hasn’t even heard of. I hope to rectify this as I post my third “Southern Summer Reading Challenge” book review. I’m sure Deana has read this book; I suspect she even helped edited it as she is married to the author. (In case I’m badly mistaken and Deana hasn’t read the book, I’m sure she won’t admit it!)

Martin Clark, Plain Heathen Mischief (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2004), 398 pages.

The Reverend Joel Clark has lost everything. The pastor of Roanoke’s First Baptist Church pleads guilty to having sex with Christy, a 17 year old parishioner. He’s sent to jail for six months. When he gets out, he’s served with divorced papers from his wife and a lawsuit from Christy, who is looking to receive five million for her emotional damages. With his world crumbling, he left with only one loyal friend, Edmond, who picks him up when he’s released and takes him to his sister’s house in Missoula, Montana. On the way, they stop to see Sa’ad X Sa’ad, Edmond's Las Vegas lawyer friend (Las Vegas, Edmond assures Joel, is just a little detour on the way from Virginia to Montana). Both guys are flim-flam men. They offer Joel a stake in an insurance scam. The disgraced preacher at first rejects the temptation, but when he’s unable to get a job and he finds himself with a crook for a probation officer, he accepts the offer to make some quick cash so that he might help out his sister and his former church (Good motives, bad ideas). As soon as he agrees to particiapte in the scam, Joel’s luck changes and he lands two jobs, one as a dishwasher and the other as a weekend fishing guide on Montana’s rivers.

Plain Heathen Mischief has more twist and turns than Lombard Street in San Francisco. Every time I thought I had the plot figured out, Clark threw in another twist. This book was anything but predictable; making it both enjoyable to read while keeping me from doing other things because I was unable to put it down. I will not spoil the ending of the book by giving additional details of the plot except to say that Joel's interpretation of "having sex" is a lot broader than our former President's interpretation.

Through the misfortunes of Joel, many which he brings upon himself, Martin Clark explores ethics and morality. By seemingly resigning himself to the notion that he has to do something, and the end justifies the means, Joel finds himself deeper and deeper in trouble. Although he preached grace, Joel appears to have little of it for himself. He seems to think it’s up to him to keep his former congregation and his sister afloat. Such a burden almost drowns him. The book also demonstrates how wrong we can often be about other people and their motives. Although Joel is an educated man with a Master’s degree, he is naïve, which provides many comic scenes throughout the book.

I wonder about Martin Clark positioning Joel as a Baptist minister. In many ways, he seems Baptist in name only. I don’t know too many Baptist ministers (or any or ministers for that matter) who keeps Aquinas’ Summa on the nightstand. Joel also reads Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Niebuhr and Barth. Although Joel doesn’t drink, he doesn’t have a problem being with those who do, as we learn when he enjoys a night in Vegas, accompanied by Edmond and Sa’ad and three beautiful women.

My favorite characters in the book are Sophie (his sister) and Dixon (his boss at the outfitting service). Like Joel, Sophie’s life crumbled when her well-off doctor husband left her and took off for France in the hopes to make it as an artist. Although she has problems with organized religion, she comes off as a good person who refuses to cut corners or to do anything that's morally questionable. Likewise, Dixon is a person who tries to do right. I love his comparing churchgoing to the blues.

Churchgoin’ to me is a lot like blues music. Everybody always talks it up, says great things about it, and you know its supposed to boost your soul, but when you actually do it, when you go sit in a smoky club for two hours hearing some old brother with a bum leg an a pair of Ray-Bands play the same slow, self-indulgent, strung-out three notes and squeeze his eyes shut, you start thinking, man, his crap ain’t so hot. Truth is, you'd rather be down at the Holiday Inn lounge tossin' back dollar shooters, pawing the strange women and dancing to disco... (page 263)

My only complaint is that the book is a bit long. The story could be tightened up a bit, which I think might make the book funnier. However, I’m really shouldn’t complain. Not only did I enjoyed the book, I didn’t want it to end. I'm looking forward to reading Clark’s other book, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living. Martin Clark is a circuit court judge who lives in Stuart, Virginia.

For other book reviews by Sage, click here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Highway 89: A photo essay

It’s a treat having a full day to travel from Salt Lake down to Southern Utah. Making the best of the opportunity, I decide to take the back roads. At Spanish Fork, I leave the freeway for US 6, taking the highway through a break in the mountains toward Soldier’s Summit. The blacktop parallels steel rails, a difficult section of the old Denver Rio Grande mainline where the tracks snake downhill toward Provo. At Thistle, the site of a giant landslide in 1983, which wiped out the Rio Grande’s Maryvale’s branch, I turn south on US 89. For nearly two hundred miles, I’ll travel through broad valleys ringed by tall mountains. Ponderosa pines, aspen, spruce and fir grow high up in the hills, but they’re unrecognizable from the road running through the valley. Between the valley floor and mountains, sagebrush dotted with juniper and pinion covers the hillsides and come down to the highway, except where there’s water. Where irrigation is available, the alfalfa is lush. This is good livestock country; mostly cows, but there are still some sheep raised here. Although I see a few cows, most all the livestock are up on the mountain grazing in their summer pastures.
When I enter Sanpete County, the towns become more frequent, breaking up the arid landscape. In town, irrigation water runs through ditches along the side of the streets. Cottonwoods, willows or locust suck up the moisture and provide some shade, their leaves fluttering in the wind. This is familiar country. When I lived in Utah, I made the trip to Mt Pleasant many times for business. It’s the home of Wasatch Academy, which was started by a Presbyterian missionary and one of the survivors of some 100 schools started by Protestant Churches in Utah during the 19th Century. At that point in history, the Utah Territory had few schools, as the Mormon hierarchy didn’t believe in public education. Brigham Young, their leader, was known for his opposition to school taxes, saying that he wasn’t going to pay to educate no other man’s child. Of course, when you have several dozen of your own children, it might be a bit hard to have enough left over to educate someone else’s children. Seeing an opportunity, Presbyterians along with Methodist and Baptist and Congregationalists sent teachers into Utah in the hopes of both educating and converting the population. They weren’t very successful with the latter goal, but the schools did educate a large number of Utah’s leaders for the late 19th and early 20th century. As part of the agreement to obtain statehood in 1896, Utah began offering public education and most of the private schools closed.
Although their conversion rate wasn’t good, the Protestant work in this area of Utah did get off to a promising start. Duncan McMillan, a Presbyterian missionary, joined up with several dissent Mormons to start Wasatch Academy. He also helped organize several churches in the Sanpete Valley. The reaction of the Mormon leaders were swift. On the heels of McMillan’s successes, Brigham Young, knowing that there is nothing like a work party to rally the troops, announced the church’s intention to build a temple for the valley. Located in the south end of the valley, the Manti Temple sits atop Temple Hill. With 179 foot towers, I spot the gothic temple constructed of locally quarried oolite limestone miles away. I stop to take a few photos from a distance and again up close, but I don’t bother going up to the temple itself. Only faithful Mormons with a temple recommend can enter the building. They have to show a temple recommend, which looks a lot like a driver’s license. To receive one, a member has to regularly attend sacrament meetings as well as show they’ve been faithfully tithing (giving 10%) of their income to the church. Unlike churches, the temple isn’t used for worship. Instead, within their walls, “endowment ceremonies” such as baptism for the dead and the sealing of marriages take place.

The Manti Temple was one of four temples the LDS Church built in Utah during the 19th Century and, like all of the temples built during the that century, is a testament to the skills of the Mormon architects and craftsman. The Mormon Church in the later half of the twenty century began a temple building frenzy which has yet to abate, but none of the more modern temples can touch the elegance of the temples built they built in the 19th Century, leading me to wonder if all Mormon architects were killed in the Spanish American War. The modern temples have been subject of much humor, especially since many of them look like something off the movie set for 2001: A Space Odyssey. One of my favorite Pat Bagley comics, published in the Salt Lake Tribune, has two ET like characters in a spaceship approaching the Ogden Temple. As their ship hovers toward the temple, one says to the other, “Quick, pull up, that’s not the mother ship.”
Down the road from Manti, Highway 89 enters the Sevier River Valley. For the next hundred and thirty some miles, the road, like the old railroad, crisscrosses this stream. At Salina, I stop for lunch at Mom’s Café, located at the junction of US 89 and another famous highway, US 50. After a sandwich, the waitress tempts me with a slice of their homemade blueberry and cream cheese pie. It’s delicious. Leaving Salina, US 89 becomes a part of Interstate 40 for a little over 30 miles. After devouring the pie, I’m so full that I don’t bother pulling off the freeway in Richfield for a stop at the dairy there which features great tasting milkshakes and wonderful cheese curd. The afternoon temperature now approaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter, I’d also be tempted to stop at the hot springs at Monroe, a bit south of Richfield, but why would I want to sit in a pool or tub of hot water when it’s already steaming outside.

US 89 leaves Interstate 70 at Sevier and winds its way south through a tight canyon. I’m surprised to find the old railroad bed paved and converted to a bicycle path. Shortly after entering the canyon, I see several rafts and kayaks floating the river. During the summer, due to steady water releases from Piute Lake to quench thirsty farms downstream, this section of the river makes a nice float trip.

The bike path ends at the “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” This multi-colored volcanic rock received its name after folksinger and hobo Harry McClintock published the well known hobo ballad. As a joke, local residents staked a sign claiming this site as the legendary hobo heaven.
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains there's a land that's fair and bright
Where the handouts grow on bushes and you sleep out every night
Where the boxcars are all empty and the sun shines every day
On the birds and the bees and the cigarette trees
Where the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

I stop for a cold drink. This piece of Americana is now the jumping off point for those paddling the Sevier as well as for others interested in four-wheeling on the Piute Trail.

A few miles south of the Big Rock Candy Mountain is the town of Marysvale, the end of the old Denver and Rio Grande's Marysvale Branch. This section of rail was completed in 1900 to serve the mines located west of the city, on the steep slopes of the Tushar Mountains. Later, after the formation of Bryce Canyon National Park, Marysvale was the closest embarkation point for the new park. The town is now a shell of its former self, but still draws tourists, especially for the hundreds of miles of ATV and Snowmobiling trails in the area. Today as I drive through the town in less than a minute, I recall a trip five or six years ago when Ralph and I spent a whole day in his truck up in the Tushar’s, checking out old mines. There’s no way this rental car could make that trip.

I continue south through Junction and notice the old courthouse for Piute County, located in the middle of the town, is now a bed and breakfast. When I lived in Southern Utah, it was purchased by a “Christian polygamist.” This man decided that the old-Mormon practice of multi-wives sounded like fun. Not wanting to convert to the Fundamentalist LDS Church (who still encourages polygamy), he maintained he was “Christian.” His church wasn't very big, just he an his inflated family. As I drove past, I wondered what happened to this brother and his seven wives (get the joke?). Somehow I suspect they weren’t granted tax-exempt status by the IRS. Or maybe he became a hermit after discovering that pleasing a multitude of women was more work than fun.
South of Junction I slow down for a few hundred yards as I drive through the small hamlet of Circleville, home of Butch Cassidy. Afterwards, I speed up and set my cruise control and don’t have to adjust my speed till I arrive in Panguitch, a ranching town that has strengthened its commercial district with all kinds of boutiques aimed at catching the eyes of the tourist heading for Bryce Canyon. In the middle of Panguitch, at the town’s lone stoplight, I leave US 89 behind and take state road 143 up through the black lava rock toward Brian Head, home of Southern Utah’s premier ski resort. When I get to the top of the mountain, instead of turning right toward the ski village, I take a left and drive through Cedar Breaks National Monument. At the junction of Utah 14, I turn west and drive down through Cedar Canyon and on into Cedar City, my destination.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

I'm back

I’m back. I flew home last night on a red eye, after a ten day trip out west. Part of the time, I was at a conference, the rest of the time I was backpacking with my son in the Pine Valley Mountains. We also took a day trip up into the amphitheatre of Cedar Breaks from where this photo comes. Hopefully in the next week or so, I can share with you some stories and photos. I’m working on a piece on one of my favorite drives (US 89), and plan to do one on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, as well as writing a book review of Martin Clark’s Plain Heathen Mischief. Stay tuned. I also have a lot of blog reading to catch up on.

Monday, July 02, 2007

A Birthday Party and Yesterday's Ramblings

As I try to do when I remember and know in advance, let's have another birthday party. Happy birthday to the Mistress of the Night! Please drop by her site and wish her a wonderful birthday. Mistress, I’m sorry I wasn't able to get you that Cooper Mini you covet, or that rare vinyl from Elvis Costello’s early years or the NL pennant for the Pittsburgh Pirates, so these flowers will have to do!
Mistress of the Night, may you have a very special day and a night filled with music. Pittsburgh doesn’t know what it’s missing by not having you as their DJ. And to quote the Moody Blues, one of your favorite bands, from their album “Days of Future Past (with a few additional words from me):

(May you have) no future fears.
(And may) this day will last
A thousand years
If you want it to…

My Sunday Afternoon Wanderings

Yesterday afternoon I went up to Alta and climbed up the ridge on the north side of the canyon and poked around the old mining areas. Long before skiing, Alta was a mining camp. In the late 1850s, after the Mountain Meadow Massacre (I’ll have to blog about that one day), the United States sent troops to Utah to occupy the territory and to attempt to force Brigham Young and his Mormon settlers to obey American laws. After a truce was drawn up, these troops used their time to prospect for gold and silver. In time, communities like Alta and Park City sprung up. These communities were mostly settled by “Gentiles” (non-Mormons), unlike the territory which was, until the coming of the railroad, settled almost exclusively by Mormons. Brigham Young, with a vision of building a self-sufficient kingdom (ie, theocracy), forbid his followers to engage in speculative mining (such as gold and silver). He wanted his followers to settle down and knew that gold fever created a restlessness that would destroy communities.
There's nothing left of the old Alta, except tailing piles and a few coyote holes dug into the side of the mountain. The old town was destroyed several times by avalances. The above picture shows one of the tailing piles (rock that had to be removed to get to the ore).
This appears to be the remains of an old ore cart. These carts were pushed (or pulled by mules) along a light rail line and were used to haul both ore and tailings out of the mine.
"Consider the lilies of the field... even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these."

Up here in the high country, the wild flowers are beautiful this time of the year. If you could save a smell, I would let you have a scent of some of the ravines that I hiked through yesterday. The fragrance from the abundance of flowers was wonderful.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Pictures from the Wasatch Mts.

I’m at Snowbird, high in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. This is my first time up here in the summer. I've skied Alta, which is next door to Snowbird (Alta use to only allow skiers, which meant that the snow was much better to ski on). Anyway, the lectures and workshops ended yesterday morning allowing me a chance yesterday afternoon to take the gondola up to the top and hike around. I headed over to Mt. Baldy and followed the ridge above Alta, before dropping down the 3000 feet back to the hotel/conference center. It was a wonderful hike. From the top, you could see the billowing smoke from a distant fire to the east. Also, up high, as the snow is still melting, flowers are everywhere. Enjoy the shots.
Looking west, down Little Cottonwood Canyon, toward the south end of the Salt Lake valley.
On top of Mt. Baldy. If you look close to my left leg, you'll see a large fly chewing on me! He quickly met his maker.
A snow bank slowly melting under the summer sun.
Indian Paint Brush (the red flower).
I love pictures of trails, this one cutting across a meadow on the side of the mountain.