November 25, 2022

Thunder without Tears: The Passing of Tom McIntyre


1987 was the worst year of my life. A dream job of working on an outdoor magazine was falling apart (with the publication itself), leaving M. and me stuck in a Colorado town that she barely tolerated. Yet we had no money to leave. 

I had signed up for the Outdoor Writers Association of America's annual conference, that year held in Kalispell, Montana, and hoping Something Might Turn up, drove up there with M.

At a reception a big, husky guy came up and shook my hand, saying, "Chas? Remember me? We were in Robert Peterson's creative-writing class together at Reed."

I read his nametag. "Tom McIntyre." I sure knew who he was—a rising figure in American outdoor writing, but more than that, someone whose work was grounded in literature as well as "what calibre for [species]?".

That night, lying in the camper next to my sleeping wife, I hit absolute bottom. My journalism-magazine editing-career was taking flak, and the starboard engine was on fire. I had a started a master's degree, done the classwork, but not yet written my thesis. I was stuck in a one-industry town with no prospects, doing casual work in a friend's greenhouse over in Pueblo, with M. able to find only part-time work herself.

Around 3 a.m. I thought, "It's about time for suicidal thoughts, isn't it? That would be appropriate about now."

But we made our way back to Colorado and got through the summer somehow on unemployment checks. That fall, as the rising sun silhouetted a mule deer buck on Poverty Mountain, I made the shot and dropped him where he stood. When I came home, there was a phone message from the editor of the local newspaper, offering me a job. I had not meant to go back to newspaper work, but I was desperate, and I stayed there three years. Finished that thesis too. 

Meanwhile, I was on Tom & Elaine's Christmas card list. When Dad died, Tom bought his Mannlicher-stocked 7 mm Mauser sporter—Dad's saddle gun and everything-big game rifle, something like this one—for his son Bryan, who put it to use.



Tom and I emailed, sharing our mutual love for the weirdness of George Leonard Herter's books — he collected enough info on Herter for a biography — our shared Reed College stories (such as a fondness for a gritty North Portland bar, the White Eagle), and writing progress.  I offered small edits on bits of his new book, Thunder without Rain

And now he's gone. November 3, while I was unpacking from my North Dakota trip. 

I had been thinking that I should drive up to Sheridan . . . well, too late. Don't put these things off, dear reader. 

Someone has written a thoughftul obituary:

Thomas McIntyre, one of America’s renown outdoor writers, died at his home on

November 3, 2022 in Sheridan. He was 70 years old and died of natural causes.

He was born in Downey, California on January 23, 1952. Educated by the Jesuits at Loyola High School and Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Tom was a wildly curious and a well-read individual. Few things on this mortal coil did not interest him.

As a writer, he focused on hunting and the outdoors. At age nineteen, he made his first trip to Africa, developing a life-long affection for the continent. He returned numerous times over the years. Yet Tom did not limit his travels to the Sahara and Savannah. He visited every continent in the world except Antarctica, writing story after story. They numbered in the hundreds and graced the pages of nearly every outdoor magazine imaginable: Field and Stream, Sports Afield, Petersen’s Journal, Outdoor Life, Bugle, Gray’s Sporting Journal, Sporting Classics, Men’s Journal, Garden and Gun, and the London-based The Field.

Tom was one of the few writers listed as a contributing editor for both Sports Afield and Field and Stream. Sporting News and Carl Zeiss Optics recognized him for his work, awarding him prizes.

He also wrote prolifically for the screen, creating 750 episodes of outdoor television programs for Orion Entertainment, including “Buccaneers and Bones,” — narrated by Tom Brokaw — and the documentary “Wyoming: Predators, Prey, and People” for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Tom was probably best known for his books. These include Days Afield, The Way of the Hunter, Dreaming the Lion, Seasons and Days and Augusts in Africa. In 2012, he published his only work of fiction, The Snow Leopard, which critics hailed as a minor masterpiece.

Shortly before his death, he completed what he considered his magnum opus, Thunder Without Rain, a history of the Cape buffalo. Five years in the making, publication is scheduled for February 2023.

It would be an impoverishment to suggest Tom was merely an “outdoor writer.” He possessed knowledge on an astounding range of subjects. If you wanted to have a conversation about the vagaries of African big game rifles then, in the next sentence, delve into the interpretations of a passage from James Joyce’s Ulysses, Tom McIntyre was your man. He also had an encyclopedic knowledge of film and not just the Oscar winners, either.

He relished a dry martini (no olives, please) and good food. In his travels, he sampled rather unorthodox fare, including musk ox bile in Greenland. He also savored rigorous conversation. Tom possessed both a wicked sense of humor and a huge and generous heart. He loved his family above all. He is survived by his wife Elaine, son Bryan, daughter-in-law Morgan, brother Robert, many extended family members, and a tireless English cocker named Mickey.

A memorial service is planned for spring of 2023.

There is more at Steve Bodio's blog, including some old photos and tributes by other writers.

November 18, 2022

Across the Steppes of America, Part 2

When Henryk Sienkiewicz crossed the Great Plains on his way to California and adventure in 1876, I assume his train took the "Golden Spike" route, crossing Nebraska and southern Wyoming, then Utah and Nevada on the way to the Sierra Nevada. 

(By contrast, today's Amtrak California Zephyr opts for mountain scenery, passing from Nebraska into northeast Colorado, stopping in Denver, then entering the Moffat Tunnel, and following the canyons of the Fraser and Colorado rivers to Grand Junction, and thence west through Utah.)

I was not shooting many photos as I drove north on Colorado 71, mainly trying to keep the truck between the white lines in the face of strong NW wind.

There was a quick stop at the Cabela's "mother ship" in Sidney, Nebraska. The place was not as depressing as I described last year, but it cannot be doing the sales it was five years ago. Once again, on a bright morning in hunting season, I was able to park almost next to the front door. I needed a cot to sleep on in my friend Galen's under-reconstruction house, so I dashed in, found on, grabbed a bag of jerky and was back on the road.

Hay bale and field of unharvested sunflowers, south central North Dakota (ND Hwy 31).

Sunflowers came from North America, were exported to Europe, bred for size and oil production, and returned around 1880 as the "Mammoth Russian" variety.  Plants and people from southern Russia and Ukraine were arriving on the prairies of the US and Canada then. (Unfortunately, Kali tragus, the "tumbling tumbleweed," was one of them.) Now I see sunflowers and think of (a) gamebirds and (b) the viral video of the Ukrainian sunflower death curse delivered at the beginning of the invasion. It must be working.

An eastern North Dakota steppe view, but with a Lutheran spire instead of Orthodox dome.

The Sheyenne River creates a little topography in eastern North Dakota.

Stepples mean grains. These are just some of the grain elevators storing corn,
soybeans, etc. in Finley, North Dakota. Sign directs grain-truck drivers: "Keep line moving. Thank you."

Further south, in central Nebraska, the Sandhills are grass-covered sand dunes, sort of honorary steppes. Where did the sand come from? The winds blew it east from the Rockies after the ice melted last time. Fine grazing for cattle and/or buffalo — not suitable for growing crops in rows.

Part of the Valentine National Wildife Refuge, Nebraska.



Sandhills people look to the sky. Sonrise Hill in Thetford, Nebraska, hosts
Easter sunrise worship services, weather permitting.



I like it when we honor the long-term world rather than just people:
sculpture of life-size blue herons at I-76 rest area in Julesburg, Colorado,
in the state's northeast corner.

November 10, 2022

Across the Steppes of America, Part 1

 

St. Mary's Holy Dormition Orthodox Church, situated on the prairie east of Colorado Springs.
When I set out on the annual trip to North Dakota in October, I was under the spell of a 19th-century Polish novelist, Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846–1916).

Sienkiewicz in the 1880s,(Wikipedia)

On the advice of a friend teaching at a Polish university, I was reading one of Sienkiewicz's epic novels, With Fire and Sword, published in 1884.

Undying friendship! Massive battles! Heroism! True Love! Massive Battles! Sword-swinging Zaporozhian Cossacks! Sly and dangerous Tatars! Invincible Polish heavy cavalry, the "winged hussars"! A fat Falstaffian knight who still wins some fights! And did I mention true love?

It is set in the 1650s in what is now Ukraine, then ruled by the Polish-Lithuanian Confederacy, which was a regional power at the time.

But when Sienkiewicz was writing in the 1880s, there was no such political entity as Poland. There were Polish people, of course, but their nation had been partitioned between imperial Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Germany. So in writing of lost glories he was feeding his people's national spirit.

But here is the irony: according to my friend, Sienkiewicz never visited the areas he was writing about. Perhaps such travel was politically sensitive or difficult.

He had, however visited the American West. He was traveling by train on what is now the route of Amtrak's California Zephyr when he and his fellow passengers got the news about the 7th Cavalry's defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In California he traveled widely, among other things seeking a location for a utopian commune of Polish expatriates near Anaheim (which never came to pass), hunting grizzly bears with Spanish vaqueros, and enjoying city delights in San Francisco. He also wrote about the experiences of Polish immigrants in the US—all for the newspapers back home that were paying his way. You can find his articles collected and translated as Portrait of America (various editions). 

Therefore, my friend argues, Sienkiewicz's views of the forests, wheatfields, and grassland of Ukraine owe more to the American West than to the places he is writing about. Those steppes are actually our steppes!

A few years had passed since I had last seen St. Mary's Holy Dormition Church in eastern El Paso County, Colorado, but nothing says "steppes" like Orthodox church domes against the tawny grasslands, so I stopped by to take some photos. It is still a functioning parish with a complicated history.

Read Part 2 here.