Thursday, July 27, 2017

WHAT BOX?


Some vignettes:

My seminary cohort, the mighty class of 1982 which numbered six (except that not everyone graduated in ’82) was contemplating (with the guidance of Professor John Godbey) Einstein’s statement that “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.”  Everyone seemed agreed that God, if He existed, would not gamble with our fates.  But I had a thought.  It was that if a person playing dice threw the same dice the same way his/her muscles worked each time, then if enough of the throws were recorded and overlaid, there would be a pattern that was the same.  

This was my major theological insight.  (This is irony, in case you need to be told.)  Godbey was delighted — he’s a Christian.  He believed in control and paternalism.  (It didn’t work for his family.)  He was also a historian, but the New History or Deep History had not been conceived yet.  My classmates curled their lips.

                                         ****

Bob Scriver’s second wife’s father was a French-Canadian who ran a pool hall with a barbershop connected.  He was a jovial fellow and loved to demand from Bob,  “Robaire!  What’s in the empty box?”  Bob soon learned to say he didn’t know.  

“Nothing!” DeVicq would roar.  “The box, she is empty !!”  If it was intended to be a pun, it was a little smutty.  But it seemed to be a statement about redundancy.

                                      *****

Then there’s that cat in the box, the illustration of relativity, which is either dead or alive but unknowable until seeing it, which somehow determines which one it is.  But somewhere on the other side of a galaxy far away is another cat which is converted by your seeing this one.


So here’s the deal:  the pattern of the universe is always latent in the chaos until it is perceived.  And when it is no longer in a consciousness somewhere, it disappears.  Astonishment emerges from the quotidian, then shifts like a kaleidoscope, then explodes into whatever stars you can name..    Some scientists say we hallucinate our reality.  So?


I’m not a big fan of TED, but Anil Seth’s clear and demonstrated explanation is truly amazing (a-maze), particularly his created “hallucination” vid in which all “predictions” are presented as images of dogs.  It’s included in this TED talk.

Interoception” is the feedback that maintains homeostasis.  It is the force that keeps us alive.  We predict ourselves into existence.  “When the end of consciousness comes, there is nothing to be afraid of.  Nothing at all.”

This is not a concept of identity that’s based on a box, a social role, the pressure of outside forces against one’s skin, behavior and persona, but rather a way to think about the artesian center of the body/brain pushing out, making space for itself in the world, whatever “a world” is.  It is the force that keeps us alive by monitoring the homeostasis of the body and fighting to keep it balanced.  It's immanental.

No one really knows what “reality” is, so that’s why Anil Seth calls it a controlled hallucination, created from our own premises.  One must reconcile that vision by matching it against what has gone before in one’s own experience.  But also by insisting on its unique reality in a world of other people who see something different.  In the end, everything is code.  The operation of the body is code, sensation is code, the planet and the cosmos and all the mysterious forces that hold it together and make it twirl are all code.

Today there was an article about what evolution suppressed in terms of neanderthal versions of reality, which were evidently much more about the solid objects of daily life and less about social interaction.  We spend so much time projecting the future and not enough reflecting on where we came from, which is what is subconscious, still functioning potently in our dreams and waking impulses.  It’s the deep well-spring that fills our aquifers with ideas, whether the larger society agrees or not.  The scientists called it “residual echo.”


Western society has clung almost desperately to the idea of rationality, codes that are universal, technological, useful, and controlled by rational people with degrees.  This is considered the peak of thought and virtue, though it is linked to hierarchies and binary oppositional justice that now begin to do harm.  It is one of the amusing developments of the last decades that physics, that solid science of forces, has become the source of knowledge about the swirling variousness of the tiny bits that make up our furniture and our bodies so we can sit in chairs.  And that much of our knowledge about sub-atomic quantum mechanics has come from our determination to “own” means of destruction beyond anything known to humans before.

It is a hollow assumption that one person can control another, that humans can make themselves the control center of the planet.  It is a loss of homeostasis, which is belonging to oneself in the deepest way.  Rational code-shaping creates swords, which are penetrations, the most personal of which are rape.  The opposite is “empathy” which is not sympathy (Oh, I’m so sorry or glad!) nor “theory of mind” (I know what you’re going to do next.), but rather the ability to feel what another person feels by being open to them.  This is what some people think is the new growing edge of evolution.  It is not explored through science so much as humanities: not hard code, but suggestiveness and metaphors that arouse free association, subconscious to subconscious.  Maybe full of grief or yearning or even joy.  Impatience, fury.  The neanderthal force of the subconscious, thought embodied in flesh.

It takes time, like an old-fashioned photo developing at the bottom of the acidic pan and then needing to be dried on a turning drum.  Years, decades, centuries later (there haven’t been photos that long but evidence in the molecular magnetic orientation of stones still abides) someone will break the code and the world will fall open.  Again.

What’s in the empty box?  Nothing.  All order is really chance.
https://twitter.com/lad/status/888146633267007488


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

WALTER MCCLINTOCK travels "The Old North Trail"

"Brave Dogs Smoking Before an Eagle Tipi"
McClintock's title.


WALTER MCCLINTOCK
NOTES FROM ADOLF HW FOR PAUL
“The Blackfoot Papers” Volume One

Strangely enough, there is no entry for Walter McClintock on Wikipedia.  There’s your chance to write one.

McC.’s first buddy was William Jackson, mixed blood, who was guiding a government inventory expedition to Glacier Park, since the US had just acquired it.  McC's specialty was presumably botany.  He was in the era of “salvation anthropology” when it was believed that the “Indians” were disappearing and that their vanishing lives should be preserved.  But their youngsters were interested in becoming modern and their old ways were oral, so it was up to whites to save everything on paper.  

Then McC became close to Mad Wolf, who named him “White Weasel Moccasin” and sponsored him to the tribe, adopting him as his son.  This was formal enough to be registered by letters at the Blackfeet Agency.  What McClintock may not have realized was that those old chiefs knew the strategy of finding and flattering a white man to be their instrument in the white world.  “McClintock’s adopted father, Mad Wolf, was a close friend and ceremonial partner to White Calf, who adopted Grinnell.”  Chewing Black Bone adopted Keith Seele, an Egyptologist of note.  Adopted sons were supposed to take care of their fathers.  This was not always done.  Whites accepted the honor but not the responsibility.

McC was the same era as Schultz and Grinnell, but never mentioned them.  They probably formed their own rather guarded relationships.  But McClintock didn’t become “part of the tribe” as AHW claims Schultz and Grinnell did.  (As AHW and John Hellson did — they don’t mention each other, though they are sort of modern echoes of those earlier men.)

p 165  Louis (Plenty Treaty) Bear Child  said that he sometimes worked for McClintock as a guide and interpreter.  He said the people generally respected him, that he was a quiet and decent fellow.  But he was also seen as somewhat aloof.  He often liked to be alone to write.  No one was quite sure what to make of him.  Louis’ personal complaint was that McClintock ‘was too cheap.’”  That’s a pretty universal complaint about all white men.

AHW is a little disappointed that McC sometimes changes names and dates to suit his story.  Maybe the guy just didn’t take good enough notes, or maybe he was improving his narrative, Schultz-style.  AHW is an academic historian by training.

“Scholars periodically describe McClintock as one who ‘lived for years among the Blackfeet,’ which is not quite correct.  He came to the tribe for the first time in 1886, met Mad Wolf, was adopted and never saw Mad Wolf again after that.”   In 1903 he came back for a few weeks for the “Sun Dance Encampment” — dunno if that’s the same as today’s Indian Days.  According to AHW, he came back in 1906, but not later.  I'm not sure I trust that idea.  

In those early days of the century, people tried to wear their traditional clothes and put up lodges with traditional interiors.  To encourage that in the Sixties, there were competitions for “most authentic”, in the style of State Fairs.  This complicates photo evidence by mixing periods.

AHW quotes McC’s notes of 1903:

("Many rough pages, badly scribbled, with minimal details of names and dates."  McC's opinion.McC describes arriving, searching out James White Calf and riding with Wissler to the Sun Dance camp.  Then there are notes about observing things like making a parfleche, gossip about people (“The son of Many White Horses was sent to school at Fort Shaw around 1900, married his white teacher there and moved with her to a city, though the relationship didn’t last long.  At this time, in 1903, the son was living somewhere back east.  He was the first known Pikunni to marry a white woman, and among the first to go live far from the tribe.”) and many descriptions of how poor they were.

There’s an amusing argument about which star was “Scar Face,” whom missionaries are always trying to push into the template of JesusBlack Snake Woman said it was Morning Star.  Last Gun said it was North StarMiddle Calf said it was a small star near Morning Star.  Shorty called bogus, saying none of them really knew.  Only the old-timers knew.

Before leaving, he went by the place in Browning occupied by Joseph Sharp and his wife.  https://centerofthewest.org/explore/western-art/research/joseph-henry-sharp/  
Sharp gave him a painting of a “Cheyenne Indian Head.”  One could accuse these people of feeding off of the last heritage of an impoverished people, and Louis was correct in saying they didn’t pay what anything was worth — no one had much idea how valuable the photos and painting could become.  Some of these men really did try to “become” part of the community and others didn’t.  Anyway, at that point no indigenous person was prepared to preserve the past in English words on paper.

CORRESPONDENCE:

Mad Wolf DID write to McC.  McC evidently sent him photos.  Mad Wolf says dramatically, “When I get your letters I hold them to my breast and shut my eyes and then I can see my son who writes them.”   He speaks of matters of health and also how the people are getting along with each other and their Great Father.  He says “The old way of killing is now under and the white man’s way is on top, and there is no way they can get killed only by killing themselves.”  (Talk about SM!)  At least one letter is written by a proxy: Thomas Magee.  Mad Wolf says it is okay to share his letters with Grinnell.  He sends McC a BAT !! and wants it arranged “with wings folded like a bird on a nest”.  Evidently he intends for it to be preserved for ceremonial use, something like a “study skin” which is not quite mounted on a false body as in taxidermy, but still preserved enough to prevent rot..

There is a section of Clark Wissler letters to McC.  He wants to use photos for his own talks, and praises “The Old North Trail” which he considers “artistic” rather than scientific, but effective in getting the material into the hands of ordinary readers.  His praise is always slightly patronizing.

p 271  Wissler says, “Finally, the thing that you do well and at which you show evidence of genius, is to portray the concrete settings of this culture.  It is a bit of actual Indian life that one looks in upon.  It is this that serious minded folk with most appreciate.

“I sometimes wonder if some day you will not go back and give us in this delightful way a view of twenty-five years afterward.  What now would be the attitude of the best men?  What incidents in their lives would stand out?  And thus without seeming to do it, give one a picture of the wreck due to the smashing of a civilization.”

McC mentions camping on “upper Cut Bank” which I would guess is near Starr School.  Maybe where the Starr School road joins highway 89, which is close to where Old Jim White Calf’s allotment was.  Arthur Nevin was visiting, another claiming to write “Indian” music.  (It’s nice, but not Blackfeet.) 

At one point he attends a Catholic mass, evidently at Holy Family, though he says “Santa Maria” which doesn’t match any church.  But also he says “Two Medicine” which is the location of the mission at Holy Family.  He says:  “Father a tough looking specimen.  Strange service.”

Another incident that actually involves a photo:  “A hot ride over prairies . . . down the Cut Bank cool.  Riding up to lodge, saw a few feet away and on river bank a young Indian woman gathering strawberries.  Picturesque.  Long hair in braids over shoulders . . . Picketed horse on hill, then asked for picture.  Refused.  Told her she ought to have it for her lover to show him how fine she looks.  That seemed to decide the question so she came, kneeling in the grass as directed.  That was Strikes in Night. . . . Sad story of big family, deserted by worthless father who turned them out of house . . .  They live along in a small lodge a short distance up the river.  They return upriver, crossing, mother and eldest girl with children on their backs. Took photos.”

Wild strawberries do grow around here (at least there are a lot of them near Dupuyer) but usually what people pick along the streams are chokecherries (after a frost) and sarvisberries.  AHW claims that McClintock spent time learning a lot of botanical information from a tribal woman, claiming to plan a separate book which he never wrote.  The info was added at the end of “The Old North Trail.”

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

THOMAS MAGEE, PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE BLACKFEET

Crees travel by boat, part of Paul's collection

When I signed up for Twitter, I began to see tweets by Paul Seeseqasis, who had a project going about early photos of far northern FN/NA groups, as far north as the Inuit and as far south as Montana.  In a while I began to see Blackfeet people and places that I knew back in the Sixties and so I commented on them.  Then I worried that I might be displacing tribal people, and pulled way back.  But at that point people began to recognize relatives and to pick up the project of identifying everyone.  

That developed into a book contract for Paul, partly the photos and partly the stories of the photographers, who were usually white, and the people who were in the photos, who were deliberately indigenous -- that was the point.  The whole  thing is pretty organic and Paul is great about accepting information.

Lately, Paul has been working on Blackfeet, whose most prominent photographers were Walter McClintock and Thomas B. Magee, who gradually became two people, father and son.  The son was half-Blackfeet and grew up in a house where his father kept a darkroom.  As an adult, the son worked in the darkroom at the Museum of the Plains Indian and we gradually realized that many of the photos were taken on the sunny porch of the Museum.  There was Victor Pepion in his coveralls, playfully leaning on the wall, taking a break from painting the murals around the top of the entry hall.

Victor Pepion

I remembered that Adolf Hungry Wolf's magisterial four volume book set he called "The Blackfoot Papers" had information on photographers and writers dealing with the Blackfeet, the sources of the mammoth collection of photos and documents in the books.  Bingo!  Volume One contains at the back a whole section.  Since Paul didn't have access to the books, I took some notes to send him, and here they are.  (I mixed in a bit of my own memories.)

GENERAL

Adolf says there was a darkroom built inside the Museum of the Plains Indian for the use of staff and others.  The premise of the museum, when it opened in 1942 was that it would encourage and support what locals did.  It was Henry Lincoln Magee who worked in the dark room.  He also had a darkroom at home.  Thomas B. Magee died in 1936.  Henry died in 1965.

One big room, practically a wing, was meant to be tables for handwork with lockers to store them as well as supplies.  People sat at the same seats and kept small work in drawers under the tables.  It didn’t work, but it’s hard to figure out quite why.  It would seem like a pleasant way to be together, but maybe it got competitive.  Anyway, the darkroom right there explains why there are many photos on the front porch with that distinctive ironwork.

The people Adolf lists at the back of Volume One of this 4 volume set are mostly folks who were in Browning or on the rez just after the turn of the century.  They knew each other, sometimes were friendly and helped each other out.  I would include in that group Schultz, Grinnell, McClintock, Magee, Roland Reed and T.J. Hileman.  Maybe more.

Most of them were surviving in a “gig economy” way rather than being on salary or contract or attached in some way to an institution.  I’m weak on the history of photography but I get the impression that at this stage on the prairie it was sort of like playing the piano, a skill that could produce a little extra income but not a living.  Many of the old-timers were still speaking Blackfeet only, which hampered trading or contracting and required interlocutors.

A young woman at BCC once said to me bitterly, after seeing my father’s photos on my blog,  “No one in my family could afford a camera or film.  There are no records of us.”  I explained that my father’s job as a “field man” included sending photos with stories to the company newspaper, so it subsidized his camera costs.  But I wasn’t being quite honest.  He just took some of the cost of his photography out of the family’s living expenses.  Luckily, there was enough income that we were only pinched a little.

THOMAS B. MAGEE  (There is a senior and a junior who doesn't have the same name, which is confusing.  This is about the senior.)

Quoting AHW:

“As postmaster of Browning and husband of a Pikunni woman, Magee knew the people so well that he was generally welcome anywhere with his camera.  His resulting work is among the largest and most thorough, perhaps surpassed only by Walter McClintock.  A major difference between the two is that Magee specialized in portraits of individuals and groups, while McClintock looked for rituals, ceremonies and other activities.”

I expect that difference stems from the monetization of the photos.  McClintock was illustrating the tribe for books to sell to a white readership;  Magee was acting as a local photographer would today, recording families for their own use.

“Thomas Magee made a great variety of prints from his many photographs.  Many of these were ordinary postcards with his name embossed on the front, that he sold wherever he could, especially to tourists and tourist shops.  He also made some fine large sepia prints, mounted on cabinet boards.  Some of his photographs were published in magazines, others were bought by large photo producers like the Keystone View Company, which published his work as stereopticon cards, two duplicate prints per card.”

Bob Scriver had a collection of “cabinet photos” but I never saw them.  They were acquired after I had left.  I presume the Montana Historical Society has them, but I didn't see them there when I visited his estate.

Thomas B. Magee’s wife was Julia Howling or “Meen-aki.”  Berry Woman.  Her daughter was Mary who was the mother of Evelyn. wife of John Ground, Jr..  Julia and Thomas were married in 1890.  Julia had outlived her previous husband, Alec Red Head, who was the father of  Mary.  The two women were often models for Thomas.

Don Magee was “son of Henry Lincoln Magee, grandson of Thomas Benjamin Magee, the photographer.”  He tells us what he remembers.

In the Thirties there was a fire that burned Thomas’ home and destroyed thousands of prints and negs.  The  glass negs were melted.


At the end of the article is a photo that’s very funny.  It shows a man in a striped jacket seated directly on one of the wooden sidewalks, probably in front of the Sherburne Merc.  He has two dogs lying down alongide him, but the real feature is a row of chickens — I count 9 — roosting up her arms and on top of his hat!  It’s identified as Tom Magee but it looks to me like Tom Spotted Eagle, a far scruffier character than the dignified portrait of Tom Magee in his suit with his dressed-up sons.  The chicken man looks NA to me, but Tom Magee was not.  If you don’t have this photo, I’ll see if I can scan it and send it.


Monday, July 24, 2017

THE ROYAL ROAD TO ROMANCE

Richard Halliburton and friend

In what I could pretentiously call my birth family’s Heritage LIbrary, which was really a strange assortment of happenstance and middle class pretentiousness, the books that came from my father’s side included a lot of 19th century romantic adventurers that still offer a template for boys who want to be extraordinary and define that as travel in strange and dangerous places where they might be eaten, literally.  The exemplar here is Richard Halliburton.  

Adventure well-described is the idea behind “Outside” magazine and part of what has always made me say that inside this near-80 old woman there has always been a teenaged boy trying to escape.  (But, alas, instead I’ve become a seven-year-old again.)  There was a surge in these books between the World Wars, maybe because there was money and adrenaline and there's another surge now, maybe for the same reasons.  I still have the family copy of “The Royal Road to Romance,” just as I have an arms’-length of Gene Stratton-Porter and Harold Bell Wright, who were more conventional. 

When advised to have an even-tenored life, Richard said “as far as I am able I intend to avoid that condition. When impulse and spontaneity fail to make my way uneven then I shall sit up nights inventing means of making my life as conglomerate and vivid as possible.... And when my time comes to die, I’ll be able to die happy, for I will have done and seen and heard and experienced all the joy, pain and thrills—any emotion that any human ever had—and I’ll be especially happy if I am spared a stupid, common death in bed.” 

Halliburton finally died trying to sail a Chinese junk from Hong Kong to the Golden Gate Bridge.  A typhoon took him down.  He was very athletic after a childhood bout with heart trouble was finally cured by four months in bed, or possibly by the regime of Kellogg at Battle Creek, or possibly simply by growing out of the affliction.  He was not big (5’7”, 140 pounds) but he was handsome and very athletic, mostly in terms of swimming.  He swam the length of the Panama Canal and was charged toll of 36 cents.

He was quite "modern" in his sexuality, which could be described as bisexual.  Quoting Wikipedia (whoever wrote it):  “French police reports, dated 1935, noted the famed traveler's homosexual activity when in Paris at about the time of his planned crossing by elephant over the Alps: ‘Mr Halliburton is a homosexual well known in some specialized establishments. He is in the habit of soliciting on Saint-Lazare Street.’”

I have no idea what my father would have thought of this aspect of his hero — probably he never had the information.  Like many people of his class and time, he thought the facts were apparent and conventional, and tried to remain blind to extremes.  Life was a matter of written history, carefully published, avoiding censorship, thus selling well but also raising puzzles for some reflective people by mixing the ordinary and captured with implied wicked transgressions.  Crossing the alps (like Hannibal) on an elephant, echoing history, was an adventure that recruited a zoo elephant named “Miss Elyzabethe Dalyrymple.”  The story is in “Seven League Boots,” a book I have not read.

Though Halliburton himself was no homebody, in the Gay way, the community around him provided a home when he needed one, this time an architect’s climax construction of “Hangover House” which did indeed hang over a cliff.  Possibly it was also a pun.  Anyway, Ayn Rand was impressed and put the house in “The Fountainhead” as “Heller House”.  Novelists weave in and out of adventurer’s lives.

The means for adventure and the true use of the tales became clear in the Thirties when the Great Depression stunted so many lives.  The tales gave them access to soaring ideas, literally when Halliburton commissioned an excellent pilot to fly him around the world in a biplane.  (They crossed the oceans on ships.)  Along the way they interacted with intrepid females doing something like the same thing with less success.  On this trip Halliburton made his famous moonlight swim in the Taj Mahal reflection pond.  More modern similar adventures might be Peter Matthiesen and George Schaller looking for The Snow Leopard. or David Quammen exploring Africa’s virome.  More recent explorers tend to be based on biology rather than geology.  

By this time writing has been augmented by film and sometimes skips the books to go straight to vision via electronic screens.  Writing, however, has a little more elbow room which writers have used to explore the forbidden, ransacking shocking human behavior even under our noses.  The current Teen Vogue is in the midst of a furor over an article advising how and whether to have anal sex safely.  (Note that this was not in “Boys’ Life.”)  Such anthropology used to be about people in the South Sea Islands.

The strange mix of conventional with defiant extends to Halliburton’s family.  He wrote over a thousand letters home.  “Nearly a quarter century after Halliburton's disappearance, his father donated $400,000 to build an imposing bell tower. It was dedicated in 1962 as the Richard Halliburton Memorial Tower, and the elder man died the following year at age 95.”  It’s at Rhodes College in Memphis rather than Princeton where Halliburton attended and his papers are divided between the two institutions.

I don’t know whether my two brothers read the books in our home.  Certainly they didn’t ransack the shelves the way I did and they attended a tech high school rather than my more humanities-focused school.  My mother said she had no time to read the newspaper, much less books, and I never talked to my father about his books, though for a while he paid me a penny a card for creating a library-style inventory of them.  I never got very far with it.  I haven’t done the same for my own books, though I compose bibliographies now and then, mostly for Blackfeet subjects.  A rather hip practice is simply taking a photo of the spines of the books on the shelves, which I try to keep organized by subject.

The major adventure of each of my brothers was the Marines, though neither saw combat since they were just barely young enough to avoid Vietnam, though not the draft.  One brother, the dead one, relished adventure and went out of his way to look for it.  The other one has been very careful with his life, never taking chances and working in a library for years.  He is a reader, but I don’t know what he reads.  We are estranged.  I've had far more adventures than my brothers, who do not write.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgMCIgqvaHw  This vid is eloquent and conventional.  Maybe it’s old-fashioned.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKRW_zAOEMk   This vid shows how rich and beautiful women follow adventure by re-tracing male daring-do.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

WHEN GOOD MEN DIE, WHAT DO WE SAY TO THEM?

From the final confrontation in "Leveling"

Last night’s movie was “The Leveling” which I do not recommend for bedtime watching.  The plot is basically hinged on generational division aggravated by inheritance, this time a farm.  Naturally sexism, nepotism, resentment, the nature of freedom, and so on are issues, which are then completely overwhelmed by something from the outside — in this case cattle TB carried by badgers, a unique English problem that causes drastic measures, like killing all cows on a dairy farm.

So my subconscious was working on daughter/father issues all night.  This father is miserable, a widowed, psychologically maimed man who rages and blames.  He is not violent in a physical sense, but we are still wondering about the persistence of this forgiving daughter who tries to save everyone, but especially her father.  My relationship with my own father was violent — he was a “spanker”, that most erotic of physical punishments.  Then he would try to bribe and tease.  Quite Trumpian, actually, which means my ideas about that family are tainted.

So let’s not talk about him.  Instead I want to go back to two men whom I admired and who behaved the way we expect good fathers or maybe professional mentors to act.  One was Victor Sparks, the husband of Melba Sparks, my dramatics teacher in high school who then became a friend; the other was Benton Juneau, the husband of Janet Juneau, both of them “pillars” of the little Browning Methodist church whom I served as an interim for a year in exchange for living in the parsonage.  (In Montana parsonage property taxes are abated so long as the “parson” lives there.  My grub money came from babysitting the junior high study hall.)

Vic ran a company that made “Charcosalt.” which was a trademarked condiment that saturated salt with smoke.  Rubbed on meat, it suggested barbecue.  The product sold very well and was a connection to an elite clientele.  The couple lived at the high end of the middle-class scale with flair and sophistication, but not a fancy social life.  Melba was a star when it came to the Thespian scene on a national scale and she exhausted herself through the school year with producing three major plays and a series of small assemblies, like the elegant designs of gauze, ramps, crepe paper roses, and pink light for the Rose Festival Princesses — nothing like tacky Miss America pageants.  Rather Edwardian, really, which is the origin of the practice.

Vic was her backup and first aid.  When we rehearsed and worked on sets through suppertime, he brought her a jar of liver strips, parboiled and rubbed with Charcosalt.  The couple took a lot of vitamins and tended to be on the alternative medicine side.  But in the end Vic had cancer.  By that time I had been married, gone and then back.  

At one point they asked me to live with them and take care of the hilltop farm they had bought, complete with a donkey, some black sheep, and a couple of dobermans.  I declined.  They had thought it was the perfect solution for someone trying to write, but their idea of writing was conventional genre.  My goal — just developing at that time of the Sixties and Seventies — was something else, much more hallucinatory and daring, drawn up from my depths in a way that has since become almost conventional amongst youngsters.  (So, now what do I do if they occupy that space?)  The Sparks, with their fine dining, also had a taste for expensive alcohol and I quite like quality Scotch.  I could see what might happen.

When Vic had cancer and was in the nursing home near the end, people told me about it and expected something from me, a response that would help him.  (The same was true when Melba developed cancer years later, by that time married for the second time and rather clearly alcoholic.)  I went to Vic’s nursing home, was directed to his room, entered a ward with several men in it, and couldn’t see Vic.  But a very frail old man with a long white beard lifted himself up on an elbow and looked at me.  I didn’t know him, concluded Vic was not there, and — confused — left.  The man with the beard was Vic.

Melba said he would not have wanted to see him like that anyway.  But I had expected myself to say something so true and insightful that he would be impressed with ME.  In the usual narcissistic writer’s way, I had composed a script.  The problem wasn’t really that I didn’t recognize him — it was that my script was incomplete.  I had no idea what to say.  I had no idea what his thoughts were.  I was lost in the space between us.

The last time I saw Benton and didn’t recognize him was at a little cafĂ© in Cut Bank, a marginal operation with a long past.  A lot of rez people ate there and stared at me curiously but I liked the burgers.  About halfway through mine, I looked into the dimness at the back of the place and in a booth was an extremely thin man who looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure it was Benton.  I considered going back to say hello, but then I didn’t know what to say in case it WAS Benton.  I didn’t know about his cancer then.  That knowledge would not have helped.  I don't think he saw me.

While I had been living at the ranch parsonage, there had been a bad winter storm that took out the electric service for the area.  I had no other source of heat except that the garage had been made into a rec room and had an old-fashioned wood stove, but it had no chimney — the stove pipe had never been attached.  Benton came out from town, struggling through the snow which was deep enough to shut down school, and put that stovepipe up, always a wretched task.  He was probably in the early stages of the cancer, as he was clearly in a bit of pain.  He hadn’t been young for a long time.  I was grateful, REALLY grateful.  It was only one kindness among many.

What should a person say, in particular a female who has received the kind of protection and care from an older man that the culture used to expect from all fathers or from honorable “superiors” of privilege?  What to say to them when they are completing their lives — especially when that lethal completion is slow, bearing down in a way that demands great courage.  

Do you count out your gratitudes, which might be major but a little embarrassing and demand some kind of emotional acknowledgement that men of a certain era don’t know how to provide?  Or should you give them privacy and assume they know how you feel about them?  I don’t know.  It’s a pressing issue.  No movie can really address something like this.  After all, this is not King Lear.

Friday, July 21, 2017

PEACEFUL DAYS; TERRIFYING THOUGHTS


This Montana summer day is sweet and cool in a rare way.  The smoke has diminished to tarnished light that gives it an unreal quality like that of a stage play, tinted and shafting through flickering trees only beginning to shed one or two yellow leaves.  The animals are sleeping in pairs/trios with their arms around each other, partly embracing and partly bracing against each other’s furry bodies, a little too warm but still so soft.  I myself keep wandering back to the bed where the fan is off but natural breezes are moving briskly across the bed through the window alongside so that I need to keep my bare feet tucked under the comforter.

Last night I took an Advil to sleep because my shoulder ached from wielding the weed whacker, but also because my head buzzes with all the information coming from Washington DC, normally dormant and dispersed this time of year.  Not only is there a disclosure a minute as people resign or are fired or indicted, but the number and kind are a challenge to my map of the USA government.  And the names are often Russian, hard to remember.  A hero takes a cancer bullet to the head.  A figure of ridicule who can’t rub two words together without confusing them suddenly stands up/takes a stand and leaves.  On the local level the sheriff of Glacier County has quit and the sheriff of Pondera County is facing a recall petition for incompetence.

Tall grass is now hay on the ground, but the volunteer trees remain.

When I lie down, the kind of reverie ordinary in dreaming during sleep becomes a flood of irrelevancies and ironies and self-incriminating paradoxes.  In Portland my K-12 cohort is gathering for a cook-out and one of my classmates says he’s happy to see I’m “enjoying” Montana, as though it were a performance on an IMax screen.  I’ve been reflecting about the impact on a child’s mind (mine) of WWII when we were in kindergarten and I asked this guy — whose mother was a close friend of my mother — what memories he has.  He deflects by talking about an athlete who joined up voluntarily and thereby destroyed the possibility of having a champion record for hitting baseballs while people watched.

Then the cats come with their bad smells — where DO they go? — and I deflect off to my failure to maintain this property to community standards or even to standard function.  Why are there no licensed plumbers who know what to do about old houses?  But if I didn’t have this house, I’d be paying rent that rises to half and more of my social security income.  Houses all over town are sporting “for sale” signs.  The sheriff says he can’t get good people to live here.  The school superintendent says there are no houses good enough for teachers with families.  Newcomers immediately set about changing everything to the ways they're used to.

I see scattered beautiful middle-American ranch houses, complete with lawns, and some specially architect-designed places because of Swank Construction being here.  Mixed in are the old Thirties houses like mine, square plans divided into four rooms with an added-on bathroom when piped water came.  The two kinds of houses shelter two populations seemingly irreconcilable — just like the rest of America.

Zuckerman, the Facebook guy, just now came to the rez because he went to Governor Bullock and then Senator Tester to find out the secret of Montana’s conviction that they have real communities.  Executive Chief Harry Barnes did not put on a headdress or beat a drum.  Instead he personally drove Zuckerman and his entourage around the recent rez developments — which tourists never see because they are built on the open ground around the town where they are accessed on spoke roads.  I wonder if someone made the alley-sitters by Icks go somewhere unseen and take their dogs with them.  (If the dogs weren’t prevented, they would have gone along anywhere.  That’s what they do.)  The drunks and dogs ARE a community.

They took Z and company over Going to the Sun so they could all gape and exclaim “how beautiful”.  But when the Secretary of the Interior was chosen, he was a Montanan explicitly opposed to preserving national monuments and parks.  One way to build community is to threaten to take away something that is part of their deepest devotions.  The first step towards that is to monetize — charge admission, allow concessions, open to resource exploitation.  When a respected enviro came, he was prevented from meeting Zinke.  

Did they introduce Zuckerman to the victims of cyber-bullying on the rez?  The sexters?  Did they explain why internet service is thin to none?  Did they admit that people rallying into secret groups to oppose government is scary ?  Did they explain how celebrities routinely exploit rez folks?  (Who love it.)  Did they give him a slice of huckleberry pie?  (I hope so.)

Adversity builds community; peace and harmony disperses people.  In winter we're a community -- in summer we have company. Can that be right?  People come together when they help each other and share consensus about what help means and how to provide it.  This area was dominated for a while by missionaries who “helped” people to be Euro-Xians, and made the old indigenous ceremonies into felonies.  Citizens -- who are barely making enough money for three-bathroom houses with as many computers as televisions and who go through their days supported by music-with-a-beat and coffee-with-a-kick -- do not want to come to town council meetings.  Or run for office.  They don’t sit down together to look for solutions, but simply rail against leaders by using slogans.  Leaders are not parents who can come up to school and make things right.

But saying that sounds too much like railing against the citizens.  Why rail against anyone?  And I do NOT want to spend hours hunched over in Starbucks trying to figure out what the smartest people think.  I’m not sure they DO think.  Not with the evidence I have.  The real way Trump got into office is that there was no one else who was convincingly worthy.  When we finally get rid of him, one way or another, who will be the replacement?  Why aren’t we examining the process of nomination as carefully as we are the actual voting processes?

The most frightening and cynical realization is that the FBI and CIA have known about this criminal laundering and hacking coming out of Russia for YEARS.  They knew Trump was drawn into it by the debts he incurred through his own mismanagement.  The evidence was carelessly there all along.  But they didn’t tell anyone before the election for two reasons: they didn’t want to blow their progress on building a major significant case; and they didn’t believe Trump, the sleazy clown, could be elected.  Even the underworld didn’t think Trump was electable.  Even HE didn’t think he was electable.  And now I suspect he wishes he hadn’t been.  


Honeysuckles have lovely berries.

The day is warming up.  My wandering is becoming angry.  This is not productive.  I made muffins with so many berries and nuts in them that I call them Pemmican Muffins.  Time to eat a few and swig cold tea I brew in old peanut butter jars the size of tumblers but with the advantage of screw-on caps to keep cats and gnats out.  I have a heap of sewing to do.