Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Quetico: The final two days

This is my final post of our week trip into the Quetico Wilderness this August.
The wind finally died at sunset and the mosquitoes came out with a vengeance. We quickly retreated to our tents. I’d pulled the tarp off the top of my bivy tent, allowing only the netting to protect me from the hoards of bugs. The buzzing of their wings, as they searched for blood, was deafening. I’ve heard this sound: on Isle Royale, along the barrier islands of North Carolina, deep in the Sierras, next to the Connecticut River on the Appalachian Trail and far north in northern Ontario. To be outside in such conditions, without netting, would be misery, as I found out along the Connecticut when I was sleeping under a tarp. Things were so bad that at 4 AM, I packed up and started hiking in the dark. Here, after killing half dozen mosquitoes who’d gotten inside the netting, I’m safe from being eaten alive. I fall asleep to the buzz of mosquitoes and awake a few times in the night. The moon is full; when the wind rustles the leaves of the birch under which I’m camping it sound like rain. But the sky, on our last night on the river, remains clear. The threat of rain that had threatened us when a front moved through that morning was gone.
We’d left our campsite on Darky Lake early that morning. Paddling across the lake once more, we headed to the northwest corner, where we found its outlet, the Darky River. This river was a treat, with a gentle flow that aided our paddling. There were three portages along the river, but only one, which had been so filled with logs, did we have to portage. In the others, we walked the canoes through the rock gardens. Places along the river, where the water slowed, were filled with water lilies. Other sections were filled with flowing grass that waved in the current. This should be prime moose country, but we see none. There are also many beavers along here. We don’t see them, but do see many huts. In one place they’re so populated and the hardwoods near the water so scarce, that they’ve taken up to chewing on pine trees. It’s an interesting mix of trees here. Every so often there is a white pine that stands a good 10 or 20 feet taller than the other evergreens—jack pine, fir and spruce. Their tops, exposed to the wind and weather, have been deformed over the years.
After lunch, I fish a few minutes in the rapids at the bottom of the last portage trail and catch a couple of smallmouths. They’re small and I release them. We finish paddling down the river and run a small rapid at the mouth, where the river spills into the northwest side of Minn Lake. Once on the lake, we find ourselves paddling into a strong wind with whitecaps that occasional break over the bow of the boat. We dig our paddles in and make for some islands on the other side. The paddling was both tough, exciting and tough going and when we finally make it to the lee side of the island, we’re all exhausted. Hugging the south shore, we work our way westward to a campsite that located on a bluff that sticks out into the lake.

That evening, TM and I go out fishing. We catch a few smallmouths. I quit using jigs and begin to fish with a weighed rubber worm, casting toward shore and pulling it slowly along the bottom toward the boat sitting some twenty or thirty feet from land. I get a strike and set the hook. The fish doesn’t seem to be much of a fighter and I’m surprised of his size when he gets to where I can see him. But he can also see me, and he turns and runs and the fight is on. A few minutes later, I’ve got him into the net, a 26 inch northern pike. He’s not as big as we’d hope to find, but is only one of two northerns caught on the trip.
I wake up early on our last morning on the lake. There is no wind and the mosquitoes are no longer swarming. In the distance, I can hear the falls on the Milnge River, several miles north of us. I walk over to the water’s edge and watch moon drop below the western horizon as the sun rises in the east. The peninsula, which juts out into the lake, provides a great view to the east and west. Afterwards, we eat the remaining oatmeal and enjoy a cup of coffee, and then pack up for our final paddle. We’re to meet the outfitter at Black Robe Portage, five or six miles away, at 10 AM. As we paddle up to the portage, we see our last bald eagle, standing guard in the top of a red pine. We’re at the portage at 9:30. He takes us back to Zups, where we settle up and are then hauled by boat back to Crane Lake where we clear customs. By 12:30, we’re in the lodge there, drinking beers and enjoying lunch, while catching up with the news of the past week and relax watching the rowing events of the Olympics.

Our trip home was uneventful, except for the argument that ensured in Duluth, over whether we should go south through Chicago or take the scenic route across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, missing out on the construction… JM and I lost and we headed south through Chicago, stopping for dinner at a Supper Club in Rice Lake and spending the night near the Dells.
For my other posts on this trip, see:
Click here for my post on packing for the trip
Click here for my post on getting to the Quetico
Click here for my post on Day 2: fishing at Curtain Falls.
Click here for my post on the long haul from Rebecca Falls to Darky Lake
Click here for our two full days on Darky Lake

Saturday, September 27, 2008

This and that and the other

I shot the swan photo on a trip to Ludington State Park the week before Labor Day.
This weekend has been busy with a lot of work. I did find time to spend Friday afternoon paddling down our local river, but I took the dog and so no camera and no photos… The weather here is still warm, yet there are now splotches of color on the leaves which remind us that we’re officially in the fall season. Soon they will all be falling. The leaves of the ivy (poisonous and otherwise) are a brilliant red. Although we’ve not had any rain for 9 days, the river is still up from all the rain we had a couple weeks ago. I did a little fishing but no luck. I was just glad to be on the river.

Last night, I watched the debate. Neither one of them exactly reassured me when it came to our economic crisis, but I felt Obama did a better job than McCain on questions of foreign policy. Both of them must be double-jointed in the elbows. There could be no other explanation of how they could pat themselves on the back so frequently.

Speaking of Presidents, I hear Oliver Stone has a new movie coming out in the middle of October. “W” is “based on a true story.” Doesn’t Oliver know it ain’t sportsman like to shoot a lame duck? But maybe he’s trying to be the good guy and put W, whose wings by now have got to be filled with lead, out of his misery.

The other entertainment news is the death of Paul Newman. Cool Hand Luke is one of my all time favorites. I and probably a lot of you folks can be blamed with making that line of the captain’s and later in the film sarcastically quipped by Luke into a cliché. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” That may be true about my blog… My other favorite Newman flick is “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” I think it was two years ago, when I’d flown home to be with my mom, that I last watched that movie and in some ways I’ll now always link it to her. We watched it one morning on AMC, while waiting to go somewhere. The movie was filmed right outside Zion National Park, near where I use to live. I made a comment about missing those red rocks and my mother acted surprised and asked, “Have you been there?” “Yes, Mom,” I said, “And so have you, many times. I lived out there over ten years.” She couldn’t remember and I knew that she had slipped more, but at least then she still knew me… Now I’m not so sure.

Paul Newman will be missed from the big screen, but I hope they keep making his salad dressings, I’d hate for him to be missing from refrigerator.

I need to finish up my last post on the Quetico canoe trip. I hope ya’ll are having a fine weekend. It’s anyone’s guess as to what Monday will bring.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Sign of the Times?

Things must be bad… I had a meeting this morning at a local bank. Before we started, the guy from the bank who was hosting the meeting invited us into the kitchenette, just off the boardroom, for refreshments. They had two pots of coffee and they were both decaf!!! It’s not a good sign when they don’t have real coffee in a bank. It must mean the bankers aren’t having any problems staying awake.

I’m looking at my calendar and the next two weeks are booked. I’ll try to occasionally post and get around to folks blogs, but it might not be as regular as I’d like.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Weekend wrap-up

What have I done this weekend other than battle sinus pressure? Let’s see, Yesterday I fleeced my dog. Trisket doesn’t like cameras, which is why I had to snap a picture of him running under the table. He associates cameras with flashes, which remind him of lightning, of which he’s deathly afraid. I didn’t really fleece him, but he’s shedding now and if you don’t brush him every day, you’ll never be able to keep enough vacuum cleaner bags on hand.

Look at how much hair I got off him!Today, I did some editing, attended a prayer meeting, and washed my truck and dog. He sheds so bad in the fall, but washing helps him get rid of his old hair quicker soAs that he can grow out his new winter coat.

As for the prayer meeting… I went exploring at the Otis Nature Sanctuary. I’d heard of it, but have never been over there, so I went to check it out. You can tell summer is winding down. The polk berry bushes, whose tender shoots are harvested in spring for salad, are overgrown. There are fields of dying Queen Anne’s lace. I’ve never seen so many praying mantises in my life! The sanctuary is small, but there is a good variety of fields in prairie grass, hardwood forest and lowlands. I should have brought a boat as there was more to explore via water than there was on land. But it was a fun outing. Enjoy the photos.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day 4 & 5 in the Quetico: Darky Lake

We ate blueberry goulash for breakfast on our second morning at Darky Lake. Doc will never live this one down! He’d been advocating pancakes for breakfast since we first talked about this trip back in the winter, not liking the suggestion several of us made for oatmeal every morning. Doc woke up this morning, all pumped for pancakes, telling us he’d dreamed about them. Nice guys as we are, JB and I paddled out to a spot on the peninsula to the north, where there was an acre or so of blueberry bushes. However, picking wasn’t easy as some old bruin had already been through the patch, leaving only spotty areas that hadn’t been picked along with his calling card: bear poop. But after 20 minutes or so, we had gathered a quart or so of berries and paddled back across the water for breakfast. Doc and HM set out to fix breakfast as I poured myself a cup of coffee and took my book down by the water to read. I didn’t finish a page before being distracted by the commotion in the kitchen. The pancakes weren’t cooking right. Soon, all six of us were around the stove, trying to figure out what it the world was happening. Best we can figure is that something was left out of the mix (we’d repackaged everything, so we no longer had the directions). In the end, we all had a plate of gooey slop dotted with blueberries. With enough syrup, it wasn’t bad.

I’d gotten up early this morning, having dreamed about work and a new director that I’d recently hired. Our finance manager was all upset because there were some glitches in her paperwork. Then I realized that today is her first day at work! If there is a problem back there, I realized there’s nothing I could do about it from here. Since I was already up and it was a little before 6 A.M., I took my camera and paddled out into the fog to watch the sunrise. Afterwards, I explored around the eastern shore, including the site where we’d later get our blueberries. I came back into camp at 7 A.M., arriving as everyone else was waking up.

We spent three nights camping on the east side of Darky Lake. The campsite was wonderful, with a nice rock fire pit and even a rock table. The lake was deep and every afternoon, I walked just a few feet out onto the rocks and dove in the water for a refreshing swim. The site also provided us with gorgeous sunsets and allowed us the opportunity to explore and fish adjacent lakes. Our first day at Darky, we paddled across the wide lake and portaged 60 rods into Ballard Lake. Supposedly, Ballard was teaming with delicious walleye. But the six of us, all fairly accomplished fishermen, didn’t catch a single walleye. However, we did catch a bunch of bass, my largest being an 18 ½ inch largemouth. I cleaned several of the bass and built a fire on the shore at lunch and roasted them over coals. We ate the bass with rice left-over from the night before.

That evening, as we enjoyed a nightcap at sunset, I put on a plug on my rod and started casting out onto the lake. Although I didn’t get a strike, I noticed that when the plug hit the surface, the droplets of water kicked up in the splash which appeared, for just a split second, to be red, taking on the color of the setting sun. I kept casting, not worrying about catching fish, but wanting to observe the phenomenon.

On our second day at Darky, after our so-called pancake breakfast, we paddled back across the wide lake again. Coming to the islands along the western bank of Darky Lake, we were treated to our fourth bald eagle sighting of the trip. The bird sat perched on a dead tree, watching us as we watched and photographed it. After shooting a dozen or so frames of photographs, we paddled to a 70 rod portage into Wickstead Lake.

Wickstead is a magical body of water, dotted with numerous small rocky islands. It's supposedly the site of some of the best northern pike fishing in the Quetico. As with Ballard, what is and what is suppose to be didn’t pan out for us. None of us caught any northerns, although I did lose one, but we did manage to catch a few bass. After lunch, we took a long nap on a mossy island. In the afternoon, “mare’s tails” appeared in the sky, a warning sign that the weather may be changing or at least a front was moving through.

Coming back from Wickstead, that afternoon, BV, acting on information he’d gathered from a family camping on a island on the west side of Darky, caught a 27 inch lake trout. HM cleaned the fish and gave me six large fillets which I seasoned with Zest and laid thin slices of lemon on them. I then wrapped the fillets in foil and placed them into the coals for about 10 minutes. It was a delicious meal, complimented by mashed potatoes and banana pudding (the instant variety).

After another wonderful sunset, and JB and I paddled out onto the lake to watch the full moon rise. At the last minute, I decided to take a rod. I put a jitterbug on the line and after watching the moon, we paddled over into a little cove where, I started casting the jitterbug along the bank and reeling it toward me. The lure wiggles across the top of the water, imitating a large bug. On my fourth or fifth cast, something struck at the lure, but missed. I kept reeling and a few feet later, the fish jumped again, taking the lure in its mouth and running. I yanked the rod to set the hook, but I think it was already set. The bass gave a great fight, making two jumps out of the water, before I was able to get him into the boat.

“Do you have tape with you?” I asked JB?
“Nah, don’t need one, he’s 19 ½ inches long.”
“I don’t think he’s quite as big as the one I caught yesterday, and he was only 18 ½,” I responded.
“He 19 ½; I know he is.”
“Think I should put him on a line and take him back to camp to measure?”
“No, let him go; he’s 19 ½ inches I tell you.”

I freed the hook from the fish’s mouth and gentle slipped him back into the water. He took off. The mosquitoes were eating us up and we headed back into the camp. Doc was already in bed, but JB woke him up to tell him that his 19 inch bass was no longer the largest in the bass pool we had going…

The Crew: Front row: Doc & HM, Second Row: BV, JB & TM, back row: ME

Epilogue: Before we paid out the pool, I confessed that my 19 1/2 inch bass wasn’t measured which allowed Doc to win the pool. I’m not sure JB has forgiven me.

Click here for my post on packing for the trip
Click here for my post on getting to the Quetico
Click here for my post on Day 2: fishing at Curtain Falls.
Click here for my post on the long haul from Rebecca Falls to Darky Lake

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Rock Me on the Water: A Book Review

Renny Russell, Rock Me On the Water: A Life on the Loose (Questa, NM: Animist Press, 2007), 242 pages, lots of photos and illustrations.

I have found me a new coffee table book! Unlike many such books I own, this one I devoured the words long before I tired looking at the photographs. Rock Me on the Water is a beautiful book and an uplifting story. The book centers around a solo trip down the Green River in Utah, tracing the route the author and his brother took in 1965. At that time, Renny was 18 and an art student. His brother was 21 and had just graduated from Berkeley. The two young brothers had also just contracted with the Sierra Club to publish On The Loose, a book of quotes, thoughts and poetry illustrated with their photographs. They were celebrating the upcoming publication with this trip. The river was at flood stage. While running Steer Rapids, their rubber boat folded back over, dumping them and their gear into the water. Renny survived. The last he saw of Terry was when he helped him grab hold of a duffle bag for flotation.

Forty years later, Renny, who is now a seasoned boat builder and river guide, comes back to this section of the Green for the first time since that fateful trip, ready to face the ghosts of the past. It’s a solo journey in a boat he built and named Seedskeedee (The native name for the Green, a word that means prairie hen). While describing his trip down the Green, Renny shares with us the story of two brothers who grow up longing to be in the wilderness. He also tells of his own journey after the death of Terry, as he dealt with his loss. “My life has been a search for the knowledge and secrets,” he writes, “that have offered hope and strength after the flood.” (188) As he and his brother had done in their earlier book, Renny raises our awareness of the environmental challenges facing the human race.

I purchased my copy of On the Loose at a Sierra Club meeting back in the late 70s, when I was a college student in North Carolina. I was taken with the hand-scrolled calligraphy and the very intimate photographs. Renny admits that their film had mostly been processed in drug stores and that Ansel Adams didn’t think the Sierra Club should print the book. But David Brower, the club president at the time, insisted the voices from these two brothers should be heard. In time, the book sold over a million copies. Many people, like me, fell in love with it. At some point my copy got stowed away, but a few years ago, after having left the West for the Upper Midwest, I found myself going back to it time and time again. When I first purchased On the Loose, I had never been to the West Coast. When I look back at that book, along with Rock Me on the Water, I see many places with which I’m familiar: I’ve hiked the John Muir Trail, backpacked along the ocean at Point Reyes, hiked in many of the same canyons on the Colorado Plateau, and explored some of the same places in Idaho. Now, having read Renny’s story, I’m ready to build a river boat and head west.

This is a wonderful book that I’ll enjoy for decades. Now, having visited Renny’s website, I wished I had ordered my copy from him and received a signed edition! I recommend this book for several reasons. The photographs and illustrations are wonderful, the story is moving, but most importantly, you’ll discover how one person found hope and overcame tragedy. I’m also indebted to the author for sharing with us the full story of On the Loose.
For other book reviews by Sage, click here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Saying Goodbye and Booking Through Thursday

Sage with Richard on his last day at Wendy's.

A bunch of us in town are losing a friend. On Tuesday (providing there’s not a glitch due to Hurricane Ike), Richard will be moved to Texas to be near his sister. He’s going to be missed. Richard is a special man. He’s my age and intellectually challenged (some may say that about me). For the past four or five years, he’s lived in an adult foster care home that is being closed down by the state. While there are serious reasons forcing the closure of the home, it’s sad that Richard and “his family” are all going to have to be moved into other homes. Richard is one of the positive persons I know. He works at Wendy’s during the lunch shift, cleaning tables and mopping up spilled drinks. He’s always glad to see me when I go in for my Santa Fe Salad, but once he says hi, he’s back to work. At church, when the congregation shares joys and concerns, Richard always starts out “I just want to thank the Lord…” and he starts rolling out a list. Much of it is lost in his slurring of words, but no one misses in his litany his thanks for “my job.” He’s more proud of his minimum wage job than most people whose hourly rates would be 10, 20 or 30 times as high. About a year ago, I saw him on the street and he came up to me, saying “Sage, I got a raise.” Thanks to his raise, he was making a little over $7 an hour and was so excited. I didn’t tell him that the minimum wage had just gone up. Then he invited me to come down to Wendy’s saying, “I’ll buy you you’re dinner.” I hope I didn’t hurt his feelings when I assured him that I could buy my own dinner as I (and others) had on occasion picked up his bill in the local diner and at the coffee shop). Richard, I know you won’t see this and that even if you did, you couldn’t read it, but I’m going to miss you and the sunshine you’ve brought to our community!

Gautami asked me to comment on this week’s “Booking Through Thursday” topic. This is the prompt which concerns our reading since 911:

Terrorists aren’t just movie villains any more. Do real-world catastrophes such as 9/11 (and the bombs in Madrid, and the ones in London, and the war in Darfur, and … really, all the human-driven, mass loss-of-life events) affect what you choose to read? Personally, I used to enjoy reading Tom Clancy, but haven’t been able to stomach his fight-terrorist kinds of books since.

And, does the reality of that kind of heartless, vicious attack–which happen on smaller scales ALL the time–change the way you feel about villains in the books you read? Are they scarier? Or more two-dimensional and cookie-cutter in the face of the things you see on the news?

I don’t think my reading has been affected by 911. I’ve never been much of one to read the terrorist/villain mysteries. I did read a bit more about Islam following 911, but I had been reading about the faith since the First Gulf War in 1990, when it hit me that I should know something about those whom we were fighting. If anything, the events of 911 have affirmed some of my Calvinistic thoughts on human depravity. It seems that the human race has potential for great good and great evil. The same goes for religion; one’s faith can be a source of great goodness or horrific deeds. But then, those without a faith in a Supreme Being have also been able to commit just as great or perhaps even greater atrocities (consider Stalin or Pol Pot).

Since 911, I’m perhaps more aware of how easy it is to be sucked into evil actions while believing you’re doing what is good or that you’re on the “right side” (letting the end justify the means). I was drawn back to the conclusions drawn by Christopher Browning in Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. Browning shows that how a group of mostly middle age men from Hamburg, serving in the equivalent of our National Guard. These men with no real political affiliation to Nazism or a history of anti-Jewish sentiment, followed orders and became killers in Poland. The haunting question is, “if it was so easy for them to make the transition into a villain, would it be easy for us?”

Terrorists need to be stopped; yet, we have to be careful how we “hunt them down.” If we see terrorist as animals to be hunted, we risk losing our humanity and become, like them, a beast.

I know I’m not really answering the prompt concerning how my reading has been affected by 911. Like I said, my reading hasn’t much changed, but my world view has changed slightly.

By the way, if you've not seen this video clip from The Daily Show, I recommend watching it? The state of our political discourse may be sad, but we should at least laugh about it.

Postscript (3 hours later): There were a few other books I read due to 911. I'm not really into science fiction, but living where I did at the time, I got to know the author L. E. Modesitt, Jr. In talking about the events, I read several of his works that discuss religion and war. I recommend them. See especially The Parafaith War and The Ethos Effect. In The Parafaith War, Modesitt explores the strength and weakeness of religion in creating a better world and the danger of fanaticism. In The Ethos Effect, nhe does the same for the secular world. Another book that I read after 911, recommended by Lee, is Walter Miller's, A Canticle for Leibowitz. It's a classic look on religion in a post-nuclear world.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Legal Limit: A Book Review

This is my third review of a third book by Martin Clark. Clark is married to Deana of Friday Night Fish Fry). He’s a judge in Stuart, Virginia.

Martin Clark, The Legal Limit (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2008), 356 pages

Mason Hunt, the Commonwealth Attorney, has come a long ways from his horrific childhood with an abusive father. Respected in the community, he’s married to a devoted and sexy wife. They have a beautiful daughter and live on a gentleman’s farm. He also has a dark secret, one that can destroy him. And then, fate turns against him. His wife is killed in a tragic car accident and his convict brother, with whom he shared the secret, decides he’s going to use the secret to get himself out of jail. Life unravels.

Gates Hunt, Mason’s older brother, took the blunt of his father’s blows, often protecting his younger sibling. Gates was a promising football player, but couldn’t hold it together and as a young adult, slipped into the world of drugs and crime. Mason graduates from college and goes on to law school. Home one weekend, Mason and Gates are riding together when they have a run-in with Wayne Thompson, Gates’ girlfriend’s ex. They were on a remote road, no one was around. Threatened, Gates pulled out a pistol, shoots and kills Wayne. The two of them flee. Mason creates alibis, which they rehearse over and over. He also takes his brother’s pistol and disposes of it. The crime goes unsolved.

Twenty years later, Mason has come back to his hometown as the prosecutor. His brother, having shunned a plea bargain and demanded a jury trial for a drug bust, is serving a long sentence in the state penitentiary. As a single parent after his wife’s death, Mason finds himself struggling to raise a teenage daughter. He also finds himself being wooed into supporting a business opportunity for the country, an opportunity which promises short-term jobs and is funded with money from the state’s tobacco settlement. Then, in an attempt to get out of prison early, his brother fingers him in the unsolved murder of Wayne Thompson.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it suffices to say that Mason’s troubles are never truly over. The book shows how secrets can come back and haunt us, how some people are nearly unredeemable, and how we get caught in our lies. With the exception of his youthful mistake, helping his brother beat a murder rap, Mason is a good man. In fact, his honesty and integrity (in all but this one area of his life) causes his downfall (he wasn’t about to let an innocent man take the fall for his brother’s crime). This book raises many questions for the reader to ponder. What role does fate play? Why was Gates the older brother? Why does one’s wife die in an accident? It also raises questions about the evil intentions of some people (Gates, prosecutors and those in law enforcement, and those involved in schemes to spend tobacco money on a questionable development which only promise that they’ll be financially rewarded). Another question is about loyalty to family (Mason to Gates, Mason’s mother relationship to Gates, Mason to Curtis, his colleague who also has some secrets to hide, and Mason to his daughter). And finally, as the reader I’m left pondering the question of justice. Was justice done in the case? Not really, for we’re reminded of the Thompson family and their questions. Maybe a better question would be, "Could justice be done in this case?"

I enjoyed this book. The Legal Limit is not as funny as Clark’s other two novels, but in many ways, this is a more serious and tightly constructed work. I’m still pondering the ending of the book. Although I think I get what Clark is driving at, I also feel that the ending is the weakest link in Clark’s cleverly told story.

Click here for Sage’s review of Clark’s Plain Heathen Mischief
Click here for Sage’s review of Clark’s The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A hodge-podge & a movie review

Sage's photo of a homestead in the Mojave Desert, 2005.

When I’ve taken the dog out in the morning the past couple of days, I’ve noticed Orion is back in the sky, tucked in between the hemlock and the maple along the back fence. Over the next couple of months, it’ll rise earlier and also higher, so that by mid-winter the constellation will be high overhead an hour or so after dark. Just a reminder the seasons are changing.

I didn’t want to get up this morning, and I’m now breaking my rule not to say anything about work... Last night I was at a local government planning board meeting that went on and on and on, till 10:15 PM. I kept thinking, we’re paying an architect, a civil engineer, and a contractor overtime to deal with this. It’s no wonder I’ve been having weird dreams. Now, to break my other taboo:

“Daddy, the NFL is not as strong this year,” I was informed this morning.
“Why is that,” I asked.
“It’s just the first week and all these big guys are now hurt,” and she went on listing all those who are hurt, acting like they’re here best friends.
“How do you know this stuff?” I asked.

Tomorrow is 911, a tragic day in American history. I can’t believe it’s been seven years since the tragedy. Last year I noted the date with a post on the Mountain Meadow’s Massacre, which also occurred on the September 11. This was the largest massacre in the history of the west and occurred fifty miles west of where I use to live. After my post, several of you all suggested that I watch the movie “September Dawn.” I finally got around to seeing the film last weekend and here’s a review.

September Dawn, Christopher Cain, director, 2007.

The film is based on a historical event and the film maker seems to be accurate in his retelling of what happened. Of course, there’s a lot we’ll never know as the Mormon militia killed off everyone over the age of six as a way to keep the story silent. The film places much of the blame on the Brigham Young, the President and Prophet of the Latter-day Saint Church. Although Young sent word to Southern Utah to let the wagon train go (his message arrived after the massacre occurred), he seems to be responsible for setting the stage for what happened in the summer of 1857. Much of the dialogue with Young is taken from actual transcripts. Young, who was ignoring attempts by the national government to enforce laws within the Utah territory, was preparing for war with the United States. In preparation, he told those in his church not to trade with wagon trains heading for California. He also allowed his followers (and their Paiute allies) to take (steal) what they wanted from the wagon trains. It was into this setting that the Fancher Party found themselves in during that summer.

Of course, there are parts of the movie that is fiction, such as the love story between a member of the party and a local Mormon boy. This love story seemed a bit distracting, when set against the tragedy. Also, the wagon train members seem way too righteous. The train’s preacher forgives his assailant right before he is killed. In historical records, there seems to have been problem with the wagon train members bragging about having the gun that killed Joseph Smith and about being a part of the groups in Missouri who had “persecuted” the Mormons in the late 1830s. Much of this was probably a macho attitude by people desperate to trade for supplies before setting out into the Mojave Desert for California. Most of the wagon train members wouldn’t have been of age to have taken part in the events in Missouri. Another criticism I have of the movie is that the meadows in which the film was made is a lot more fertile than the one in Utah (the film was made in Canada). Of course, filming on location would have been difficult since the site is owned by the Mormon Church.

There is no doubt there is anti-Mormon bias in this film, even though I’m not sure how one could tell the story and there not be such bias. Movies like Riders of the Purple Sage (based on Zane Grey’s classic book that’s definitely anti-Mormon) have been made in which the Mormon characters in the book are portrayed to look like some Amish-like sect. Such portrayal seems weird in Grey’s story, but would be impossible to pull off in this account of an event that actually happened. Not only does the movie depict what happened in 1857, it also shows the terror brought on by the Danites, a group of thugs used by the Mormon Church leaders to keep the faithful in line and to seek vengeance upon the their enemies. The film tells about a case of a man higher up in a church being given another man’s wife, which was known to happen. The film also depicts secret Mormon temple ceremonies. Such depictions are seen as sacrilegious to the faithful; however, to understand the Mormon world-view, one must have some knowledge of what goes on in these ceremonies in which the Mormon account of creation, the fall, and salvation are reenacted.

Over all, I can’t say this was a good movie. The love story was cheesy! The leading character in the film, Bishop Jacob Samuelson (played by Jon Voight) is fiction, but because of his name and the fact his ranch is location near Mountain Meadows, he kept reminding me of Jacob Hamblin. Maybe it was because of knowing too much about the event and the history around it, that I kept thinking Samuelson was Hamblin and that the film was being unfair to him and his role in the events. But then, the screen writer needed to have a character like this, one who lived near by and had two sons, to set up the tension and the love story in the movie.

For those wanting to know more about the events, I again recommend these two books: Juanita Brooks’, Mountain Meadows Massacre or Will Bagley’s Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Over the past few months I’ve been remembering a lot of dreams. I’ve even written about a few of them. These are two dreams that I had one morning last week. I’ve had several dreams (including the first) in a town I can’t place. It’s on the eastern slop of a mountain (like Virginia City, NV, Truckee, CA or Helena, MT), but there’s more vegetation and kind of looks like a coal mining town in Appalachia, with the exception that the landscape to the east is flat and desert-like. In the two dreams below, there was only one person I knew, a colleague from India who worked with me a few years ago in a job exchange program. Since railroad tracks were in the one dream, I’m posting a photo I took in August 1988, of tracks crossing the Appalachian Trail in Maine.

The conference ended and I was walking the streets. My plan was to hang around another day and explore the town and have a few beers in one of the bars along Main Street, a windy road clinging to the mountainside and dotted with old buildings. Below the street with the bars and restaurants were the train tracks that cut through the mountains and then dropped to the eastern plains. Everyone was leaving by train. As I walked the streets I saw a group of my colleagues heading back to the hotel. Dueto some mix-up, they were going to have to stay another night and it seemed that everyone, except me, was out of money. I mentioned, half jokingly, that I had a half loaf of bread and some peanut butter back in my room and I invited them up. On the way back, I stopped at a little grocery and picked up some beer, soft drinks and other sandwich makings, deciding I might as well make it a party. This wasn’t what I wanted to do even though I knew it was what I was supposed to be doing. I’d had my heart set on an evening of anonymity, sitting in the back of a smoky bar and watching a band and writing in my journal. Now I was being the gracious host. Everyone was appreciative and the next morning we were on the platform waiting for the train when I woke up. The clock said 4:30 A.M.

After a few minutes, I fell back asleep and found myslef with Joel, a friend from India. We were in a Muslim country and the sun had just set and we were getting ready to eat at a banquet. It must have been Ramadan, with the faithful fasting between sunrise and sunset. For some reason, we didn’t want anyone to know that we were not Muslim, as if we were on some kind of undercover mission. Although Joel is Christian, he’d lived among Muslims in India, so I suggested he go first and that I would follow his example. There were many tempting treats on the table, including sushi and oysters on the half-shell, but I noticed Joel and the others avoiding them. I couldn’t remember if Muslims ate shellfish or uncooked meat, so I stood there looking at the table as the alarm rang. It was now 5:30 AM and time to get up.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Day 3 in the Quetico: A Long Haul

This is my third post on a canoe/fishing trip to the Quetico, in Western Ontario. Quetico Provincial Park is a large wilderness area just north of the Minnesota boundary waters. The land was given to Ontario in the 1930s, after it having been logged by the Quebec Timber Company (from which it gets its name). Today, it’s a peaceful refuge, where one must explore on their own power, without the distractions of outboard motors. Click here for my post on getting to the Quetico and here for my post on Day 2.

I felt the first drop when I started to take down the tarp. By the time it was folded and packed away, it was a steady drizzle and a band of heavy rain could be seen approaching across the lake. We had a long day of paddling with six portages and we were going to be wet. Everyone pulled on rain gear and we finish packing up and loading the boats. By the time we were ready to head out, the rain is steady. Without wind and with moderate temperatures, I decide that I might as well get wet without my rain suit than to sweat inside it. I stowed it away and pushed off.

I’d hoped things were going to clear. The sky was gray when I woke up early in the morning, but it was dry. I went out on a rock overlooking the westward falls, where I was treated to a light breeze, enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I caught up my journal and did some ready before heading back to camp where everyone else was getting up. I put on water for coffee and oatmeal and began to pack up my gear.

Our first stop of the morning was back at Curtain Falls, where we’d had such good luck the day before fishing. This time, instead of heading to the northshore, we go to the south, the Minnesota side, where there is a much better trail to the top of the falls. It’s a 139 rod portage, or roughly a 1/3 of a mile and with two steep climbs that’s slippery in the rain. I carry the boat over and then go back for the canoe. At the top of the falls, we load back up and paddle northeast, across Crooked Lake. The wind has picked up and is coming out of the northwest. For the first time, I put on my life jacket, more for warmth than floatation. It’s a long paddle across open water, with waves slapping against the side of the boat. We maintain a steady rythym, digging our paddles deep into the water. These canoes track well and in probably 20 minutes, we’ve crossed the lake and begin the scout for our portage.

Our next portage is shorter, just 62 rods, taking us from Crooked to Roland Lake. Waiting for the other two boats to get into the water, I begin to photograph lotus water lilies that are wet with drops of rain. Roland Lake is long with several bottlenecks, some of which contains falls and requires portaging. We stop for lunch after the third short portage. The rain has finally stopped. I break out my cheese, crackers, peanut butter, some nuts and a package of lemonade to add to a bottle of treated water. While snacking, we meet a couple heading south, doing the same trip we’re doing but from a different direction. They suggest a campsite for us in Darky Lake and give us some tips for catching fish there. They’d caught a couple nice lake trout and had one the evening before for dinner, but they also have a small depth finder with them. Unfortunately, we learn that no one has been catching walleyes. We share with them our fishing experience at Curtain and Rebecca Falls.

Early in the afternoon, after another portage, we arrive in the Siobam River. The sun has broken through. In the bright light, we can see the bottom of the river, filled with rocks and logs. This is supposed to be a fine smallmouth bass fishing spot and I’m anxious to fish, but most are wanting to forgo fishing and move on to make sure we get to the campsite on Darky Lake before someone else. We paddle down the river and onto Argo Lake, hugging the north shore. Argo is beautiful and we pass two nice campsites, one at the top of the 120 rod portage into Darky Lake. The trail to Darky is wide, yet steep as it drops several hundred feet. TM and I get to Darky first and we head on ahead, passing ancient pictographs on the large rock cliffs on the east side.

We reach camp, set up our bivy tents and then get ready for a swim and bath (with biodegradable soap) in the lake. The water right off shore is deep and pleasant. Before going in, I notice a bloodsucker has attached itself on the main blood vein going into my big toe. He’d hit pay dirt, for when I pull him off, blood flows freely and it takes me a minute to stop the bleeding. I’d probably picked him up in the mud at the bottom of the portage into Darky Lake.

After the swim, we enjoy a shot of brandy and a nice meal of chicken and stuffing, rice pilaf and pudding. We hadn’t done any fishing, so there was no fish to add to the meal. Afterwards, as the sun dropped behind the clouds on the western horizon, TM and I go out and catch a couple of smallmouths. We head in before dark and soon everyone is hitting the sack.

Darky Lake in the evening.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Nevada Jack Rant on Palin's Speech

Nevada Jack hasn’t been around much lately, but he’s back being his cynical old self…

I stayed up later than I planned last night to watch Governor Sarah Palin speech. I wasn’t overly impressed. First of all, I felt like I was getting a scolding. We animals know body language and if she’d pointed that finger of hers at me like that in person, I’d gnaw it off and enjoy a snack. And when she wasn’t pointing her finger, she was making a loose fist, another not so good sign for those of us in the animal kingdom. She seldom opened her hands when speaking, which made her look like she was playing her cards close to her chest, but I won’t go there. And was that a snafu when she quoted Harry Reid, from the Great State of Nevada? She said that Harry Reid couldn’t stand John McCain and got a huge applause. Then, after 15 seconds of near ecstasy from that crowd of funny hats, she reinterpreted Reid as saying he meant he couldn’t stand up to McCain. Did she misspeak and accepted the applause and then somewhat correct herself? If so, that’s a cheap trick. As my side-kick Sage has done some community organizing in his life, I resented it when she suggested that such people don’t have responsibilities. They actually have more responsibility than politicians as they have to be accountable to donors who are not forced to support their programs, unlike politicians who live on taxes (The exception to this is the current administration. Instead of taxing now, they just go ahead and spend and pass on the bill to the next generation). After Georgie Boy, listening to Republicans speak about being fiscally responsible is a joke. And then there is her husband, whose great accomplishment seems to be that he’s a champion snowmobile racer. Those things create such a racket in the woods, they disturb my hibernation. Of course, a side effect of racing them is that he’s probably deaf which is a benefit when you live in a house with five, soon to be six, little ones and a wife that’s a politician. What is it with you humans? You have the Democrats whose ticket, counting spouses, look like they walked off a J. C. Penny catalog. And then the Republicans, with their sexy librarian and her deaf husband in a snowsuit, running with that ugly old guy and his hot wife who, like a lot of people with too much money, dresses about as tacky as they come.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Dark Star Safari: A book review

Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003), 485 pages.

The book I read was like the cover to the right. Rather stark! I included a second cover because I liked it better!

I’m not sure why it took me so long to get around to reading this book. I’ve had it for a couple of years and it has mostly sat on my nightstand. I’d occasionally pick it up in order to dust. I decided it was time to read it, so I committed myself to use it as one of my books for Joy’s Summer Non-fiction Reading Challenge and then took it with me to the Quetico. After a week in the wilds, the book will go on my shelf looking well used!

Dark Star Safari isn’t your typical African travelogue. Theroux isn’t interested in following Hemingway’s footsteps. In fact, Theroux despises Hemingway’s African safari stories that have little connection to the people of the continent (311). This is a book about Theroux’s journey and the people he meets along the way.

The word Safari, as Theroux notes in the opening pages, is Swahili for “journey.” It has nothing to do with exotic animals; in Theroux’s opinion safari is an escape for the modern world of cell phones and computers. So, with his sixtieth birthday on the horizon, he sets off into the Dark Continent.

Theroux begins his journey in Egypt, heading south along the Nile, seeing the great sights built by Pharaoh’s. After successful running the bureaucratic huddles for an American to get a visa into the Sudan, he continues on down the Nile. In the Sudan, he learns about the country’s past while traveling with a local driver on the road built by Osama Ben Laden. They explore ancient temples and sleep on sand dunes. In the Sudan, he encounters mostly men. One man, learning he was an American, calls both Bush and Clinton Satan (they have an equal hatred of them as Clinton bombed the Sudan), and then in the next sentence asks how he could move to America so he could make money (80).

Theroux’s next country is Ethiopia, a proud nation of poor people, or as Theroux describes them, “a race of aristocrats who had pawed the family silver” (92). Theroux takes the train from the capital, Addis Ababa, to Dira Dawa and then up into the mountains to the ancient city of Harar, where the hyenas that roam at night. Leaving Ethiopia, he travels the “longest road in Africa, heading south to Kenya. The border between Kenya and Ethiopia is lawless and Theroux, who bums rides and hires a variety of drivers, finds himself in broken down vehicles and even being shot at by the shifta (bandits) as he makes his way to Nairobi. In this region, he notes, “there were few roads and there were many shifta.” (149)

Hating Nairobi (Theroux hates all African cities), he heads to Uganda where 34 years earlier he had been happy and full of hope. At the time he was teaching in a university, had his first book published, and became a husband and father. (198-204) That idyllic life ended with the rise of Idi Amin and Theroux fled the country. Throughout his journey, Theroux is surprised at the absence of older and even middle aged people. AIDS and wars have ravaged the continent and he would have been considered an old man. However, in Uganda, he found a few of his former colleagues who had survived Amin and the turmoil and now held respectful positions in the government.

Theroux leaves Uganda on a steamship, taking it southward across Lake Victoria and into Tanzania, then a train across the country to the coast along the Indian Ocean. He crisscrosses back across Tanzania on the Kilimanjaro Express (which has nothing to do with the mountain). This was a train built by the Chinese for the people of Tanzania. Arriving in Mbeya, he heads south into Malawi, where in the early sixties he spent two years working with the Peace Corps, teaching school. At that time the country was known as Nyasaland. Like Uganda, his departure from Malawi had also been quick. He had befriended a fellow teacher who was recruited for a government position. When this friend became involved in an attempted coup against the reigning dictator, Theroux assisted his friend in his exodus from the country. For this, Theroux was drummed out of the Peace Corp as a disgrace and his friend, who’d gone to Uganda, got Theroux a teaching position in a university there. (307)

Leaving Malawi, Theroux hires a local man with a boat to paddle him down the Shire River into Mozambique, through some of the most remote sections of East Africa. From Mozambique, he heads to Zimbabwe, where the talk is about squatters taking over farms owned by the former white rulers of Rhodesia. Most of the farms that have been “invaded” were no longer productive and many of the invaders blamed the former tenants for not plowing their ground or giving them seeds. He found that most of the whites who remain were making plans to immigrant to Australia.

From Zimbabwe, Theroux heads to South Africa, where he crisscrosses on the nation’s extensive railroads. His trip officially ends when on the Cape of Good Hope, but he spends time traveling around the country and visits Mala Mala, a private game reserve near Kruger National Park. The reserve had ended hunting. The man in charge of it had no problem with hunting as long as the weaker animals were taking, citing the history of big game hunting in Africa as problematic, for the hunters only wanted the best male species, which had damaged the animal gene pool. (413) Of course, hunters weren’t interested in harvesting the weaker animals.

Throughout this journey, Theroux visits various authors from Africa (most of whom he knew already) as well as old friends. He also makes many new acquaintances, from nuns working in the Sudan to three prostitutes that hang out near his hotel in Uganda. Theroux feels that prostitution has increased because of the aid coming into Africa. (202) He has few kind words for tourist in the country, especially those who come just to see the wildlife. He’s also cynical of the work the relief agencies (government, NGOs and religious), referring them often as “agents of virtue in white Land Rovers.” He’s especially critical most of these relief workers are all “short timers” and will soon go home and the problems will continue. (330) His one great hope is that subsistent farming seems to be on the rise, but then he bemoans the fact that relief sent to Africa includes hybrid seeds that do not reproduce. (331) He compares aid given to Africa to Christmas presents that stop running when the batteries die or the thing breaks and no one can fix it. (205) He’s not only critical of those who tries to help, he’s also critical of Africans, where there is no sense of volunteerism (293) and everyone is fatalistic.

This book doesn’t give the reader a lot of hope, but it is an interesting look into the continent. Theroux writing includes great descriptions and often his cynicism seems appropriate. It must be disheartening for in the decades since he’s lived on the continent, the suffering has increased. Throughout the book, Theroux speaks about the books he’s reading and I have now added several titles to my “wish list.” Although this isn’t the easiest book to read, I recommend it, even though I would have liked it to have had better maps.

For Sage's review of Theroux's Riding the Iron Rooster, click here.
For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.