Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands: A Book Review

Susan Carol McCarthy, Lay That Trumpet in our Hands (New York: Bantam, 2002), 281 pages.

In the spring of ’51, Ressa McMahon and her family’s life change with the knock on the door in the middle of the night. Luther, one of their hired hands, begs Ressa’s father, Warren, to help him find his “son” Marvin who was abducted by the Klan. Marvin also works in the family orchard and has been a friend of the McMahon’s, teaching Ressa and her brothers about baseball. The two men find Marvin’s lifeless body. Over the next year, the Klan becomes bolder and Warren becomes more insistent in his demand for justice, eventually working with the FBI to bring about indictments and helping to destroy the Klan in Central Florida.

As Ressa experiences these events, she’s still a young girl. She develops a pen pal friendship with Vaylie and the two of them discover the secret of Miss Maybelle Mason, the bitter postmistress who protects government property like the benches in front of the post office from abuse by children. They learn that this old maid’s fiancé was killed during the Great War and gain empathy for her. Ressa also learns the truth of many leaders of Mayflower, including the sheriff deputy that pulled the trigger that killed Marvin. She has an eccentric, yet wise, grandmother (she goes by Doto, a name based on her choice in a car, the DeSoto). Doto tells her grandchildren, “We can’t change the world outright. But we begin by changing the way we choose to live n it.” (166) Ressa and her brothers play with rattlesnakes (her brother even catches one in the post office, earning him the respect of the postmistress. She keeps up with the Brooklyn Dodgers and especially Jackie Robinson. All this occurs while, in the background, the NAACP is attempting to register voters and the Klan is attacking everyone from the black voter registration workers to Jews and Catholics.

Although this book came highly recommended and I enjoyed reading it, I found many of the characters to be one dimensional. Ressa and her father come across as overly righteous. Even her brother, preferring to catch and release a rattlesnake caught inside the post office seems far fetched for rural Florida in 1951 (for many people it would be far fetched today). I wondered if this “playing” with snakes was a sign of their righteousness and a subtle reference to Scripture (Mark 16:17, where disciples are said to be able to handle snakes and not be harmed). The final showdown between Warren and Emmett Casselton (who owns a large citrus orchard and is the leader of the Klan) is surreal. The FBI has seized all the dynamite from all the orchard men (who uses dynamite to blow up old stumps) except for Warren. Once the Klan has attacked his family, Warren threatens to blow up one of Casselton’s businesses or fishing camps. In the end, the two of them call a truce and Warren, as a sign of his intentions, blows up his dynamite in an old dry sinkhole. This “destruction” of his dynamite breaks opens a vein of water, filling the sink hole with water. The book ends with this “baptism” and with the acknowledgement that Casselton is a man of his word.

McCarthy draws heavily on sayings and wisdom that are so Southern. In referring to the Sheriff and a member of the Klan who says “he’s looking into Marvin’s death,” Luther retorts, that’s “‘bout like a diamondback wonder’ where that rattlin’ noise come from.” (50) Marvin, quoting Red Barber (the voice of the Dodgers), claims that “baseball’s a bit of Heaven on Earth,” and he goes on to prove it, assigning spots for the members of the Trinity as well as angels and Cherubims and Seraphims (70-71). Warren, in discussing how the problems will be resolved after the Klan has attacked a synagogue and a Catholic Church, threatening Florida’s tourist business, says: “Nothing like an endangered pocketbook to help a businessman find his conscience.” (111)

McCarthy also draws heavily on religious symbolism, but I would have liked to seen her go deeper dinto the contractions embedded in religion and Southern culture. She tells of one member of the Klan being a member of a small Presbyterian Church, but doesn’t make much of a deal with her own church (Baptist) where her father is the choir director. Were there members of the Klan there? In her father’s choir? However, she does emphasize the importance of the church in the African-American community.

Lay that Trumpet in our Hands is a novel based on true events.

Although I fear I might sound too much like Jeremiah Wright, I’m going to go ahead and share this quote I came across yesterday in a book review: “How strange our maudlin of horror at the arrival of terrorism in the U.S. on 9/11—as though the Klan had not terrorized whole black communities out of existence for decades.” This quote was enlightening and seems informative in relation to McCarthy’s book. The review was of Johnny Cash and the Great American Contradiction: Christianity an the Battle for the Soul of a Nation by Rodney Clapp.
For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fire: A Movie Review

Fire, Deepa Mehta director, 1996 (mostly English, a few subtitles)

Fire is the first movie in a trilogy by Deepa Mehta, a Canadian/Indian film maker. Yet, this is the last of the three movies for me to watch. It’s been well over a year since I reviewed the other two films, Earth and Water. I suppose I’m just enough of a redneck that it took an effort for me to sit down (actually I stood and ironed) and watch a film reported to be about lesbianism in India—a "Kashmir Brokeback Mountain.” Finally Fire rose to the top of my Netflix queue. Last week, with a large load of shirts needing to be pressed, I watched this movie and began to wonder why I was so reluctant and had kept bumping it from the top of my queue. I’m glad I finally saw it. I don’t think it’s correct to call this a “lesbian” film. Although two women do get together, it’s only after they’ve been denied by their husbands whom they both seem to desire. Their loneliness brings them together. This is really a film about culture changes and the impact this is having on families in India. On a global scale, it’s a film about desire.
There are two Indian legends that Mehta draws upon for her movie. The first is about Sita (not only is this the name of one of the characters, but Sita is a Hindu goddess and the wife of Ram). She is captured by Ram’s rival and held prisoner for a year. When she is released, Ram questions her fidelity. She maintains that she has been faithful to him in thought and deed and is willing to be tried by fire. If she is pure, the flames will not burn her. A fire is build and she walks through flames and comes out unscathed, but she is still sent into exile. The other legend is about a king that was so good-looking that even the gods were impressed. He had a beautiful and devoted wife. But he became proud and the gods felt his arrogance couldn’t go unpunished. So they inflicted his body with thousands of pins. His wife carefully removed each of the pins, but when had all but two removed, a holy man called on her and demanded to see her that minute. When she went to see the holy man, her servant took out the two pins and the king embraced her and made her queen and demoted his wife to a servant. The holy man told the former queen that she’d need to fast from food and water for her husband. She did and he then recognized her devotion and accepted her back as queen. This legend, according to the movie, tells why Indian women fast for their husbands.
The movie begins with Sita as a child with her parents on a picnic in the hills of India. She has never seen the sea, but is told that it is possible, for her to close her eyes and to look… Then, we see Sita as a newlywed. She and her husband, Jatin, are on their honeymoon and are visiting the Taj Mahal. A guide tells them the legends of the building. The tomb was commissioned by an emperor for his favorite wife. He wanted it to be the most beautiful building in the world and when it was done, had the hands of the architect cut off to keep him from building anything anymore beautiful. This legend, the tenderness of the emperor toward his favorite wife and his brutality toward others, foreshadow what will happen to Sita and Jatin.
After their honeymoon, Sita and Jatin move into his family home. Head of the family is Ashok, Jatin’s older brother, who oversees the family’s business. They have a restaurant and a video store that is operated by Mundu, who also lives with the family. Also living with the family is the mother of Jatin and Ashok, along with Ashok’s wife Radha. The mother is old and feeble and unable to speak. When she has a need, she rings a bell and everyone in the home tends to her.
As the film continues, we learn more about each of the men in the family. Ashok and Radha were not able to have children. Ashok believes the only reason to have sex is to have children. When this becomes an impossibility, he attempts to purify himself by taking a vow of celibacy. He uses his wife only to test his purity (talk about a no-win situation, she has to try to seduce him, but if she succeeds, he would fail). Ashok devotes much of his life to a swami, an old man who teaches him to shun desires. Ashok himself proclaims that desire is the root of all evil.
Jatin, the other brother, is just the opposite. He’s been forced into an arranged marriage with Sita and Ashok is looking forward to their children. But Jatin is really devoted to a Chinese refugee living in India. He loves her and spends much of his time with her and her family. Sita, having been shunned by her husband, finds comfort in her growing friendship with Radha. Eventually, they begin to sleep together. Nothing is really shown of their sexual relationship with the exception of them lying in bed and an occasional kiss. Actually, considering the adult subject matter, the film mostly hints at what’s going on. The most risqué scene is a silhouette of a bare breast, but that’s as far as the film goes.
Mundu, the third man in the house and a paid servant, finds his sexual fulfillment watching erotic movies while everyone is away. While supposedly carrying for the ailing mother, he pops in a video and masturbates in front of the TV (thankfully, you don’t actually see the act, but you get the idea of what he’s doing). The old woman is unable to stop this and doesn’t like staying with Mundu, but no one knows of the reason until Radha comes into the house and finds Mundu in the deed with her mother-in-law on the couch behind him. She tells Mundu to leave, but he refuses, telling her that he knows her secret love for Sita… Later, Mundu apologies to the family and to the grandmother, which leads Jatin to admit his affair (but he says he’s not going to stop it) and offers Sita a way out. Things are spiraling out of control. Then Mundu tells Ashok about his wife and he then catches Sita and Radha together. Sita leaves the home and Radha hopes to follow but stays long enough to confront Ashok. In their confrontation, she tells him that “without desire there is no point in living.” He tells her that she should be glad that he’s a non-violent man. As they argue, her sari catches fire on the stove and she whirls around burning as Ashok saves his mother from the flames.
Although this film doesn’t contain the beauty of Water, or the intense drama of Earth, this is still a great movie and one I recommend (for adults). The film shows how both the man trying to be so pure and the playboy caused pain to others. The film is about desire. Radha is right when she proclaims that life without desire isn’t worth living. But it’s not that simple. In Jatin’s life, we see that unrestrained desire is also destructive.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Three-Word Wednesday: The Prairie is My Garden

Well, it’s already Friday. I didn’t have time to get to this on Wednesday or Thursday. When I read Bone’s words for this week's Three Word Wednesday writing exercise, I knew I needed to write about a favorite print I recently acquired. This print also goes well with my last book review on The Worst Hard Time and will go with another book review that I need to write from Willa Cather’s, My Antonia.

I love the picture that hangs on the southwest wall of my living room wall. It’s a well known painting that I’d known by sight for years, but it wasn’t till last summer when I was in South Dakota that I learned about the artist, Harvey Dunn. This Christmas my father said that because of my mother’s condition, he didn’t have time or the energy to buy presents and would instead send a check for me to buy presents, including my own. I decided that what I really wanted was a print of the painting and ordered it from the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings. After having it matted and framed, I hung it in the living room, across from my favorite chair. Every time I glace over, I can’t help but to stop and reflect on the details. My eyes dart around. First, to the puffy clouds that fills the sky that’s stretched between the horizons with nothing to impede the view. I wonder if those clouds will band together and provide rain for the thirsty ground. Then I’m drawn to the flowers growing wild above the bank of the creek. Although they may be called Sodbusters, they are blessed with a garden provided by nature. Their home appears to be nothing more than shacks, but the bouquets within their hands will bring cheer to the kitchen table and to the sittin’ room. And the woman! She stands tall and proud above the prairie, welding a pair of scissors as a knife, reminds me that life even in such a paradise is a struggle. Yet, she’s up for the task and is prepared to protect her brood. I often stop by the picture and gaze, and these are some of my reflected thoughts

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Worst Hard Time: A Book Review

Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 340 pages, Some photographs, a map, and an abridged appendix with notes and source references.

Seeing this book sitting on my desk waiting to be read, a friend warned: “I didn’t want to go outside after reading that book.” Although I didn’t find it quite that intense, there are places in the book where Egan describes the suffocating dust in such detail that I found myself breathing deeply and cherishing each breath. This is history that reads like a novel. I’m glad for who ever it was that reviewed this book in their blog which caused it to rise to the top of my “to read” pile.

After years of bumper wheat crops, in which large sections of the high plains were cultivated, a drought descended upon the region in the 1930s. With no water to spout new growth and all the native grasses having been removed for wheat, the topsoil of the region began to blow away. Huge black storm clouds of dust would descend upon the region that became known as the “Dust Bowl.” Some of these storms were so strong that the dust descended not only on cities on the Eastern Seaboard, but were even witnessed by ships out in the Atlantic. The description of “Black Sunday,” April 14, 1935, with its huge dust clouds filled with static electricity, reads as if out of the horror genre. That one storm carried twice as much dirt as had been dug out of the Panama Canal (8).

Egan discusses the reasons behind the dust bowl. Certainly nature played a role, but these areas had faced drought before without such consequences. Ultimate blame was placed on human intervention. The removal of the buffalo and the wandering tribes of Native Americans set the stage for the area to be converted first into livestock production while its sale helped fund the Texas state capital (26). After the huge cattle ranches failed, the land was divided by land speculators into parcels for wheat and corn. Marketing played a role as the area, which had previously been referred to as the Great American Desert, became known as the Great Plains (22). Great advances in technology allowed farmers to expand production. In the 1930s, it only took a farmer 3 hours to plant and harvest an acre of land, a drastic improve over a century earlier when it took a farmer 58 hours to do the same work. (47) “Machinery was, as Henry Ford proclaimed, “the new Messiah” (75).

Immigrants from Eastern Europe and Russia flooded into the region, taking advantage of the “Homestead Act” which granted 160 acres of land upon which they could raise a family. Egan tells of the German settlers, who’d left Germany centuries before, taking up the free land offer along the Volga River by Catherine the Great. She also promised these Eastern European settlers (opened to all but Jews [64]), many of whom were pacifist, an exemption from the Czar’s draft. That promise was withdrawn in the 1870s, causing whole villages of German/Russians to flee to America (63-65). Ironically, these settlers also brought Russian thistle, also known as Tumbleweed, with them. (63)

In the wet years of the early 20th Century, aided by machinery, this area produced huge wheat crops. In the teens and twenties, wheat was in great demand, especially with Europe engulfed in the Great War and with the turmoil in Russia forcing them to suspend wheat exports. But by the late 20s, with so much acreage in wheat and Russia once again exporting, the price of wheat dropped. Then the depression hit. Huge stockpiles of wheat accumulated along the western railroads. With such surpluses and with the skies drying up, the land was often left barren, exposed to the winds and storms. With so many farmers in the region going five years without having a harvest, it’s amazing that all of the “sod busters” didn’t flee the region. Many did leave, but many also stuck it out.

Under Roosevelt’s Administration, a fundamental shift occurred as the government was looked to for help in solving problems. Roosevelt depended upon the son of a North Carolina cotton farmer (I had to plug my mother state), Hugh Bennett, to help draft a plan to save the area known as the Dust Bowl. Under Bennett’s direction, much of the homesteaded land was repurchased by the government and replanted in grasses imported from Africa with the use of CCC workers. His belief was that it was more cost effective to buy people off marginal farms than to continue to dole out relief (255). Bennett also worked with local farmers, creating soil conservation districts. He insisted that farmers work together for what happens on one farm would impact his neighbors. These soil conversation districts are the last of the grass-root depression-era programs that have survived and continue to operate. (311).

In telling the story of the Dust Bowl, Egan weaves together numerous stories of individuals whose heroism, faith and determinism comes through in the pages of this book. The Worst Hard Time is both a testament to their lives as well as a warning that we, the inhabitants of the earth, are connected to one another and that our actions toward the land have implications for others. He shows the good and the bad: the willingness to help one another as well as the racial tensions and Klan activity in the region. Hardship both forces people to come together but also makes them fearful of those who are different. One important point in this book is how the government can bring about positive change and help relieve suffering. Of course, the government can’t make it rain any more that the con-artists who promised rain. Admittedly, some of the ideas from Roosevelt’s Administration, like planting trees in the region, were half-baked. But people were helped and much but not all of the land has been reclaimed.
For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Take me out to the ballgame...

Yesterday evening was the perfect day for a ballgame, especially knowing that I was going to have to work most of today (besides, there was rain yesterday). So it was time to head north to the city and ballpark. Curtis Granderson, the Detroit centerfielder was back in the minors for a little bit of rehab. He’d broken a finger back at the beginning of spring break and they wanted him to get some playing in before he returns to the majors. It was the perfect night for a ballgame, the temperature at the singing of the national anthem was in the upper 70s. The sky was clear. A nearly full moon rose over the east side of the park, rising between two poles of lights. The game was good, but the West Michigan Whitecaps lost to the Burlington Bees, 3-0, in front of a sellout crowd. The good weather and Granderson really brought the folks out to see Single-A baseball. Granderson did get two hits—a hustling infield single and a nice triple. Photo of a maple not quite ready to bud out was shot on Thursday morning.
On an entirely different subject, now that it is spring, Murf has found what she thinks is the perfect winter covering for my bald head (I'm with good company 'cause her husband's head is also bald and we're both Steeler fans). Check it out.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring’s Arrival and a movie review of “The General”

Spring is now here. Every morning I wake up to a chorus of birds. Some of the early trees are budding out as my sinuses have informed me. The weather is warmer and at most I find myself wearing a light jacket in the mornings or evenings. Today, I went out in short-sleeves. Life continues to be busy. On Wednesday, I had an evening meeting with architects and building folks that went way late. I’d walked back to the office for the meeting (not quite a mile) and it was nearly ten o’clock when I got home. I was dead and decided I needed to do something mind-numbing, so I flipped on the TV and watched “The General” on TCM. Although I’d heard of the movie (get the joke?), and I seen clips from it, I’d never watched the whole thing. I’m glad I did; it’s a hoot.

“The General” is a classic Buster Keaton film, back from his silent movie days. The film is based loosely on the well known train chase that occurred north of Atlanta during the Civil War. In the film, as in the real incident, Union spies came into Georgia with the plan to steal a locomotive and to burn the bridges north of Atlanta in order to keep the South from supplying goods to the their western army. When the train takes a dinner stop in Marietta (this was long before dining cars), the spies steal the train and head north. I don’t remember all the details of what happened in the real event, except that another train chased the spies and they were eventually caught and didn’t do much damage.

In the movie version, Johnny Gray (played by Buster Keaton), who was rejected by the Southern army because they needed train engineers, chases the union spies on foot, on a gaudy-dancer, then in another locomotive. Keaton, who is known for his very flexible and humorous movements, dances all over the train as it runs down the track. He single-handedly thwarts the spies’ plans, taking his train behind enemy lines and into the house where the Union officers are housed. Hiding under a dining room table (a very funny scene, especially when the Union general burns Keaton with his cigar that he keeps holding under the table), Johnny “hears” of the Union plans. He also finds that Annabelle, his true love (played by Marion Lee), was on the union train and is now held in the house. He sets out to save her and to win her hand along with saving the southern army and his engine, all in one swoop. They steal away during a thunderstorm (it’s worth watching the movie to see the lightning special effects; cinematography has come a long ways in 80 years). Then there is another train chase as Johnny Gray and Annabelle rush back through the lines and warn the confederate general, who at the end of the battle commissions Johnny Gray as an officer. The movie ends with him kissing Annabelle.

The real joy of the film is watching Keaton’s chiropractic-loving moves. Without sound (the video has music in the background), Keaton has to depend on facial expressions and movement to create comedy. It was just what I needed after a long day. In looking for more information on the movie, I discovered that it’s in public domain and you can watch it all online—so if you don’t have anything else to do, click here and ENJOY! (I tried to embed this, but couldn't get the movie to start).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"I Potato You" (along with the tax day blues)

I cried today… I had to go to the Post Office and mail a few envelopes. That’s right; I don’t send my taxes in till they are due. And I don’t send them electronically either. Since I pay quarterly taxes, I never get money back from the IRS, but this year was down right painful, it was the equivalent to paying two quarters at once. I’m now looking forward to Georgie Boy’s little give away—his popularity incentive, but I swear it’ll take more than $600 to buy my support. At least it’ll booster the saving account. Personally, I have a problem with giving away money like this and really think they should have extended unemployment benefits instead. This is the second time he’s done this (and he keeps saying he’s conservative). Of course, what’s 600 bucks? I’m really feeding out of the wrong federal trough. I’d like to lunch out of the one from which Bear Stearns got fed. Fiscally, he’s the most irresponsibly president in my lifetime, even passing Tricky Dickie’s economic shindigs when he was trying to save his butt during Watergate. But as much as I complain, my banker will be glad to see that check deposited. After all, she’s (yes, the manager of my bank is a woman) probably needs that money back in my account so she can cover so bad real estate loans.

While I’m complaining, I now hear McCain has an idea to forgo federal gasoline taxes this summer… At least that’s what I think I heard on NPR this afternoon. I’m going to have to wash my ears real good tonight. That can’t be so, can it? If we don’t pay gas taxes, who is going to pay to fix our roads? We have had a pretty good winter here and there are potholes that could soon become a subway to China. Of course, if we don’t want to fix our own roads, we’ll probably feel an obligation to fix those Iraqi roads that keep being blown up.

Of course, I’m not very happy with the other two candidates either. I can’t stand listening to Hillary. She has none of Bill’s Southern charm; she’s perfect as a senator from New York because she sounds like a Yankee. And then there is Mr. Obama. I’ve got to get this posted so I can read the Good Book and then get my shotguns out of the gun safe and oil ‘em up. They’re getting a little rusty from being clutched so much lately. It’s hard to be excited about politicians on a good day; it’s especially hard on tax day.

As for good news, I was making potato soup Sunday afternoon and came across the spud in the picture. I think I will put this boy up on EBay and see if I can make enough to cover my taxes. I hear Cornflakes in the shape of Indiana are hot; I wonder what a heart-shaped potato will bring? Too bad I didn’t discover this before Valentine’s Day; it would have probably been more valuable then. Some fat-cat Idaho potato farmer could have brought it for his wife. “I potato you, Honey,” he could have told her. Now wouldn’t that be romantic.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Idaho Adventures: A Lesson Learned

In the book Deep Survival (click here for my review), Laurence Gonzales tells about how pleasurable memories sometimes cause us to make poor decisions. He tells about a group climbing down from Mount Hood, their heads filled with visions of the warm lodge, of enjoying a drink and a good meal in front of a roaring fire, who then decide to take a dangerous shortcut and end up in a disaster. This is such a tale from my past, only I was lucky.

Note on photos: The first photo is of the Boulder Mountains, taken from Highway 75, a few miles north of the camp. The hike I describe was on the other side of these mountains. The haze in the sky was from smoke. This was taken in 1988, the year not only of the Yellowstone fire, but of other large fires around the west. Before I left camp in September, the smoke had become so bad you often couldn't see the peaks of the mountains. The second photo is taken from West Pass, in the Boulder Mountains. Both photos are digital copies of slides (and the second one needs to be reshot as it's not as sharp as the slide.

Looking back, it was foolish. Out west, one should never try to climb high passes late in the afternoon during summer, but this summer had been so dry and without the usual afternoon storms so I didn’t give it much thought. I should have known better, especially hiking alone and cross-country. I should have stayed in at sulfur springs at the old Bowery mine, spending a lazy afternoon reading and napping, and then gotten up early in the morning and headed over the pass. But instead, I decided to get back early in order to spend Saturday night in Ketchum or maybe even head up north to the Saturday night shin-dig in Stanley. It seemed to be a good idea after a week of hiking. I could use a cold beer and something for dinner other than pasta. And it would be nice to hang out and talk to people. I hadn’t seen anyone while on this leg of the journey, so I decided to go ahead and make the pass which would allow me to get back to civilization early the next morning, in time to clean up and then head to town. But at around 9,000 feet, I found myself huddled in my sleeping bag under a tarp that’s weighed down with ice.

The storm came up quickly, not long after I left tree line. I still had a 1000 feet or so of vertical to cover when I first heard thunder. I made a hasty retreated downhill, to where the stubby trees began. Soon, lightning was popping all around the dusty mountains, dry from the summer’s drought. I pulled on my rain parka as the pelting drops began their assault, and then strung a line between two trees that were barely taller than me. I threw my tarp over the line, and quickly tied off the ends to rocks and logs as the nylon sheet flapped in the wind. When it was secure enough not to blow away, I climb inside, took off my rain jacket and pulled on a sweater and the put the jacket back over it. I slid on my rain pants to keep my legs warm and leaned up against my pack, watching lightning strikes making sure my stuff didn’t get wet in the blowing rain. Waiting, I ate a candy bar and wondered what I was doing this high up.

The storm didn’t last long, but when it was over I could hear more rumblings from behind the mountains so I set about making sure the tarp was secure and all my gear dry. Maybe fifteen minutes after the first storm had passed, the second one hit. In addition to rain, this time I was pelted me with sleet. I again retreated to my tarp, which was weighted down with accumulating ice. I was so cold that I pulled out my sleeping bag and covered it with a ground cloth and crawled inside. I quickly warmed up, but began to wonder about the danger of fire from all the lightning strikes. I’d planned to spend the week hiking in Yellowstone, but so much of that park was burning that I decided to stay in Idaho where I’d been directing a camp for the summer. This was my one week off. At least, I thought, we’re getting rain with this lightning, and even if a fire does occur, I shouldn’t have to worry too much as there isn’t not much to burn this high up.

After the second storm, I made my way over to a nearby stream and filled a pan with water for noodles. Coming back, I dug my stove out of my pack and fired it up. The roar of the burner drowned out any other noise as I boiled water. Before adding noodles, I poured off a cup for some tea, then added noodles and let it boil while I savored the tea. At this elevation, it seems to take forever to cook noodles. When they were done, I drained off the water, mixed in some powder milk and the package cheese mix and was soon devouring a pot full of macaroni and cheese.

I’d been hiking all week. The first four days had been in the Sawtooths. Then I came back to camp, picked up more provisions and had started this leg just north of Galena Summit, heading up the Grand Prize Gulch. Much of this leg would be cross country, as I hiked behind the Boulder Mountains and then over them and into the Wood River Valley, where I’d follow the East Branch of the Wood River back to camp. The day before I headed up Grand Prize Gulch till I crossed over the pass and dropped down to the West Fork of the East Fork of the Salmon River, or at least I think that’s the name of the stream. It’s certainly not a very creative name, but most of the streams in this part of the country seem to have such names. It was also just a small creek. I followed it a few miles stopping to camp for the evening. I set up camp under lodgepole pines. After dinner, I sat around enjoying a cup of tea while watching the light fade from the valley. .

Birds woke me the next morning as the valley filled with light. The sun rays seemed muted a bit with so much dust in the air as well as smoke from the fire burning in Hell’s Canyon. After my usual breakfast of oatmeal and tea, washed down with a pint of Tang, I continued hiking downstream. Soon, I came to a two-track road that hadn’t been used in at least a month as there were no tire tracks and it’d been a good month since the last rain. The road was probably built for mining, but I had a suspicion it was now only used occasional, mostly in the fall by hunters. I continued on the path heading for the hot sulfur springs at a place on the map called Bowery. I could smell the sulfur before I arrived. Once there, I shed my pack and took a leisurely lunch, eating crackers, with cheese and peanut butter while soaking in the creek at the point where the water from the hot springs mixed with and warmed the chilly creek water. After lunch, I explored the area. There was an old mine that drifted back into the hillside, from which flowed warm water. I took out my flashlight and walked a short ways into the mine before I thought better of that plan. Unlike most mines, that are quite cool, this one was warmed by the water. But the supporting timbers were rotted and exploring mines by oneself isn’t exactly a safe thing to do.

Afterward looking around the area, I packed my stuff back up and continued on, following West Pass Creek. A few miles upstream, I came to an old mining cabin. The roof had collapse and the logs were rotten. Looking around, I found a rusty shovel and a pile of old tin cans. I kept hiking and at about 3 PM, left the creek, cutting cross country, aiming for the saddle west of Ryan Peak. Tucked in under the high peaks, where they were shaded from the sun, were snow banks left over from winter. While climbing up a draw and breathing heavily, and surprised a large elk. The beast turned to look at me, allowing me a good view of his large rack, before fleeing. Climbing higher, the trees began to thin out and the slope became steeper. I began to zigzagging, crossing back and forth over a small stream of snow melt. The trees became shorter. In the draw, by the trickle of water, Indian paintbrush and lupine with their tiny purple flowers were growing.

That night, after I’d cleaned up for dinner, a third thunderstorm moved through the area. I went to bed early, reading till the lighted had faded from the sky, then falling asleep. I kept dreaming of fires and every time I woke, I’d looked around for flames and sniffed the air for smoke. I was relieved when morning arrived. Everything was fresh and clean, the dust had been purged away and sage scented the air. A cool light blew out of the north, gently flapping the tarp, helping it dry. I fixed myself a cup of tea and a bowl of oatmeal. After eating, I wrote of the yesterday’s adventures in my journal, read some Psalms, then packed up everything, shouldered my pack and continued the climb. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I took a break at the top of the pass, tanking up on water. Dropping down the south side of the saddle, I came to the trail to Ryan’s Peak and followed it as it zigzagged through the sage, down into the valley. I passed a few day hikers heading up to the peak and we exchanged greetings, but I didn’t stop until I was at upper stretch of my branch of the Wood River where I paused for a snack while watching a man with a fly rod cast into a pond behind a beaver dam. He didn’t seem to be having much luck. After a short rest, I continued on, walking the dirt road toward camp. I was surprised the ground was so dusty. When I got back early that afternoon, still in time to get to town for the evening, I discovered that although they could hear the storms and see the lightning the evening before, they didn’t receive a drop of rain.

Friday, April 11, 2008

In Nevada: A Book Review and Update

Here is a review of a book I posted on Shelfari. Normally I post here first, and then post my review there, but I had to write something about this book when I put in on my shelf. I now have over a thousand books posted there—I haven’t been feeling inspired to write much lately (except for what I have to write and I don't feel like doing it, but I get paid for it.). I have, however, have been doing a lot of catalog work! Check out my book shelf, it’s located in my sidebar.

Hopefully I’ll have some time this weekend to get around to everyone’s blogs and to finish up a story I’ve been trying to get down for a week. Also, as some of you will remember, last October I asked for prayers for a son of friends of mine who was wounded in Afghanistan. There was an article in the
New York Times Magazine about his unit and their mission there. I’m not going to mention his name, but he is mentioned in the story as well as shown in the pictures. It is interesting reading. He’s doing well, but still hasn’t fully recovered.

David Thomson, In Nevada: The Land, the People, God, and Chance (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1999), 331 pages.

As one who has devoted much time and effort into understanding the social life and especially the role religion played in the 19th century mining camps of Nevada, I was excited when this book came out. It was an enjoyable read, but it doesn’t live up to the title. It seemed to me that Thomson places too much importance on the town of Rachel (see my blog post on Rachel), the Burning Man, and Art Bell. I also didn't feel he did justice linking Nevada's past with the present. However, he does seem to understand the ironic contrasts you find in Nevada, which comes across in his writing. Thomson loves to contrast diverse ideas, like Vegas and the Atomic Test Site. I wondered, however, why he didn't talk more about one of Nevada's most famous residents of Rio, Joe Conforte. This pimp, before running into IRS problems and fleeing south, ran the largest legal brothel in American (if not the world). Also, Thomson could have focused more on past politicians and some of their dealings, along with some of the past prompters of mines, all who would have helped him sharpen the irony that makes up Nevada, but for the most part he ignored the. (For a humorous take on fraud in mining promotions see George Graham Rice’s My Adventures with Your Money, written while the author, one of the great promoters of worthless mines, was under indictment.

Thomson focuses much of his attention on Southern Nevada and ignores large parts of the state. At one point he does bemoans the fact that Reno does not have a novel set there during the 1920s and 30s (136). Had he done more research, he might have learned that the Walter Van Tilburg Clark, the author of The Oxbow Incident did publish a novel set in Reno at that time (The City of Trembling Leaves). Also, did he never come across Robert Laxalt's wonderful novels set in Carson City and the hills that surround Nevada's capital? If you’re interested, I highly recommend The Basque Hotel.

Thomson seems intrigued with Steve Wynn, one of the most successful developers in Las Vegas, quoting Wynn saying, "it's what God would have done 'if He'd had the money.'" (164) Luckily, Thomson isn't seduced by Vegas or Wynn's blasphemy, referring to the city's architecture as "your nightmare in concrete." (279)

After my last book review, I have to make this complaint: Mr. Thomson uses an Oxford comma in the title.

I recommend In Nevada only if you are mainly interested in Las Vegas. If you want to learn about the diversity of the state or its history, this book would only be a starting point and probably not a good one. And why did he include God in his subtitle? If you want to learn about God in Nevada, you’ll have to look elsewhere, but I don’t think that book has been written. However, Richard Francaviglia’s, Believing In Place: A Spiritual Geography Of The Great Basin is a good place to start. Francaviglia also captures the role the land plays defining the Great Basin, much of which is within the bounds of the Silver State.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Catching Up

After a hectic week compounded by my body battling the shingles, I rested this afternoon. My big excitement was watching two crows who have moved into the neighborhood terrorize the squirrels. Maybe my sadistic side is coming out, but after years of trying to keep the squirrels out of the bird feeders, it’s nice to have allies even if they are crows. Interestingly, the crows seldom come to the feeders (I think the feeders are too close to the house, but that doesn’t stop the squirrels and deer). I’m also not sure what the squirrel’s beef is with those over-fed rodents. Speaking of deer, one of member of our local her was struck by a car last night out in front of the house, a lovely thing to see on the way to church. Luckily, the city will come by and remove the dead animal.

The scabs are falling off and it looks like my bout with the shingles may be passing. My head still aches occasionally, but nothing like it did. Maybe I’m on the mend; I hope so for this will be another hectic week.
This weekend was a blessing as friends from Utah stopped in. Robert, who has a thing for gravesites, wanted to go to Gerald Ford’s grave, so we headed up to Grand Rapids this Saturday. We spent the afternoon reliving our high school years in Ford’s museum, followed by a stop at his gravesite along the banks of the Grand River. I had forgotten a lot of the things that happened during the Ford administration, such as his daughter hosting her high school senior prom in the White House (and I had to go to a prom in the gym)! Ford was president when I graduated and going to his museum was kind of like going back to high school and reliving those debates about what we’d do if the United States went back into Vietnam to save the South… The photos are taken outside the museum, one is looking across the river at Grand Rapids, and the other is looking at the city reflecting in the museum’s windows.
Another thing that was fun this weekend was visiting the Mackenzie Animal Sanctuary. Mackenzie's is a rescue dog operation located a bit north of here. For my daughter’s birthday party, she had her guest bring doggie toys and treats (instead of her collecting more toys that she doesn’t need). We dropped off a box of toys and treats this Friday and got a tour of the shelter. They do a wonderful job and still have 20 or so dogs they’ve rescued from Katrina as well as dogs that have come in from around the region. They are always looking for donations and volunteers as well as homes wanting to adopt a dog. I was amazed they have simulation rooms that are like rooms in regular homes where dogs are taken to learn how to live inside, and that if you want to adopt a dog and already have one, you can bring your dog there to see if the new dog will be compatible.

By the way, on a sad note, the NCAA basketball season ended last night (at least for me and other Carolina fans).

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I’m going into the roofing business, or a less than satisfactory way to battle hair loss…

I’d been feeling lethargic for a day or two and then on Friday noticed a red spot on the top of my forehead, over to the left side. When I woke up Saturday morning, it was tingling and burning. I went to the doctor yesterday. I can’t believe it; it appears that I have shingles. If there is any place for shingles to go, the top of my head seems to be a logical. As a kid I’d had Chicken Pox (as I’m sure most other folks my age also experienced). That combined with being over 50 and stress and my recent bout with the flu made me a prime candidate. My doctor (who is a good friend) jokingly asked, “You haven’t been under any stress, have you?” He doesn’t know the half of it, but the half he knows is probably enough. Life has been busy, at home and at work. Since Christmas, I’ve had my share of personnel problems and meetings galore with architects and building committees as well as my regular stuff to do. So now I’m on an anti-viral and taking stuff to reduce the pain and swelling. If there is an acting role out there for Mikhail Gorbachev, I’d be a shoo-in. Of course, I’d have to shave my beard so I think I’ll skip the audition.