Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts

July 22, 2019

Who Says There Is No Gain in Reading?

I was reading The Raw and the Cooked, a book of food-related essays by Jim Harrison that appeared mostly in Esquire magazine in the 1980s and 1990s, when a partly full packet of 34¢ postage stamps fell out. That price dates them to 2001, the year of publication.

Who says there is no gain in reading?

It was a used copy bought in Taos last June, and it had been sitting in the bedside pile atop the dog crate.

When Harrison died in 2007, several of my friends and I all independently turned to one of his poems, "Barking."
The moon comes up.
The moon goes down.
This is to inform you
that I didn't die young.
Age swept past me
but I caught up.
Spring has begun here and each day
brings new birds up from Mexico.
Yesterday I got a call from the outside
world but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain
and now there's no chain.
I should go thaw some venison, make some chimichurri sauce or at least a cheese sandwich, stop staring at those words.

July 19, 2019

Fictional Game Wardens and the "Natural Resources Mystery Novel"

I have just started reading Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash.

Rash, a poet and novelist, has deep roots in western North Carolina. I chose this book because I like "natural resource mystery novels," and the protagonists are a newly retired county sheriff and a state park ranger. 

The honorary parents of the "natural-resources mystery novel" might be Tony Hillerman  (1925–2008) and Nevada Barr. Hillerman's two Navajo tribal policemen, Lt. Jim Leaphorn and Officer (later Sgt.) Jim Chee, deal with all sort of crimes, but a percentage of them involve people wanting to exploit something about the Big Reservation—archaeological sites, minerals, whatever. (His daughter, Anne, carries on the series.)

Barr (b. 1952) worked in theatre and television before taking a job as a seasonal National Park Service ranger at Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, the site of her first mystery novel, Track of the Cat (1993), which introduced protagonist Anna Pigeon, a Park Service law-enforcement ranger.

All I can say about Ranger Pigeon is that she is extraordinarily physically resilient. Any actual NPS ranger with her list of injuries — all logged here — would have retired on full disability five or six books ago. Wikipedia sums up Barr's plots: "The books in the series take place in various national parks where Pigeon solves murders that are often related to natural resource issues."


So it would seem that natural-resources crime would be perfect for mystery writers. It does not always work out that way.

Wyoming writer C. J. Box created state game warden Joe Pickett, who first appeared in Open Season (2001), followed by eighteen more. As the series moves on, Joe Pickett quickly spends less and less time catching poachers, etc., and more being a sort of special investigator for the governor of Wyoming, although that gig ends when the governor leaves office.

A typical plot involves Joe getting in over his head facing a family of criminals, drug-cartel sicarios, or some other baddies, only to be rescued by his own personal "noble savage," the mystic falconer/special-ops veteran Nate Romanowski, who appears suddenly to save the day, eliminating bad guys with his .454 Casull revolver by shooting offhand from half a mile away.

Box can write a tight thriller — the Cassie Dewell novels, starting with The Highway, are better-plotted and less repetitious than the Joe Pickett series.

Maine is not Wyoming, and Paul Doiron's series about Maine warden Mike Bowditch seem more rooted in nature and culture than Joe Pickett's Wyoming.  Maybe that is because Doiron used to edit Down East, "the magazine of Maine." The series begins with The Poacher's Son (Mike, of course)

The next one I need to read is The Precipice. Here is the synopsis:
When two female hikers disappear in the Hundred Mile Wilderness — the most remote stretch along the entire Appalachian Trail — Maine game warden Mike Bowditch joins the desperate search to find them. 
Hope turns to despair after two unidentified corpses are discovered, their bones picked clean by coyotes. Do the bodies belong to the missing hikers? And were they killed by the increasingly aggressive wild dogs?
Soon all of Maine is gripped by a fear of deadly coyote attacks. But Bowditch has his doubts. His new girlfriend, wildlife biologist Stacey Stevens, insists the scavengers are being wrongly blamed. She believes a murderer may be hiding in the offbeat community of hikers, hippies, and woodsmen at the edge of the Hundred Mile Wilderness. When Stacey herself disappears along the Appalachian Trail, the hunt for answers becomes personal.
Real police work is bureaucratic — and so is being a game warden or park ranger. But because they so often work alone, far from back-up, they make appealing protagonists with a dose of "What would I do out there?"

May 17, 2017

People Who Run With Dogs Are Doing It Wrong

Hoedad (Forestry Suppliers).
• "And it might seem harmless to push especially active breeds beyond what their owners do themselves, for example by having them run alongside a bicycle. Some can handle this, but apparently not all."

• Intersectional squirrels transgressing ontological boundaries. Or something. The weirdest, most contorted, theory-obsessed (in a stumbling mechanistic way) sort of academic paper on wildlife you will ever read.  Usually it's grad students who write like this. But Teresa Lloro-Bidart has, presumably, a tenure-track job.

• I have swung my hoedad and planted a few trees in my time. So did Dad in his forestry-student days. We did not know about innoculating them with fungi, but thanks to people like mycologist Paul Stamets, the idea is catching on, as shown in this spruce-planting video.

UPDATE: Second link fixed. Sorry.

December 24, 2016

How to Write a Northern Rockies Mystery Novel

After reading a lot of mystery novels by Peter Bowen and Keith McCafferty (Montana) plus Craig Johnson and C. J. Box (Wyoming), I have assembled enough ideas for a decent undergradate paper with a simple compare-and-contrast methology.

Although her novels are set in Wyoming, Margaret Coel lives in Colorado. Still, much of what I will say applies to her works too.

1. The Protagonist. The idea of the "wounded  detective" is common. Fictional dectectives are often divorced, widowed, deeply depressed (especially in Scandanavia), using or recovering from too much booze & drugs, or fired from a job in law-enforcement, among other possibilities. Coel's Catholic mission priest, John O'Malley, a recovering alcoholic, is isolated by both his clerical vocation and his location on the Wind River Reservation.

Often they are marginalized in some respect.  Bowen's Metis brand inspector-deputy sheriff, Gabriel Du Pré, is Métis, descended from the French/indigenous mixed-blood ethnic group who originated around the Great Lakes, but some of whom moved to eastern Montana in the 1860s–70s, before and after the Red River Rebellion. Father O'Malley is a white priest on the reservation, while Box's Joe Pickett is frequently in conflict with his superiors in the Wyoming Game & Fish Department.

2. The Milieu. A low population is essential. Gabriel Du Pré operates in a fictional locale somewhere north of Miles City. Johnson's Sheriff Longmire patrols the thinly populated fictional Absaroka County, somewhere in northern Wyoming, not far from the district where Box's game warden protagonist, Joe Pickett, enforced wildlife laws.

The Wind River Reservation's population exceeds 40,000, thinly spread, but you do not feel their presence in the novels. Sean Shanahan, McCafferty's artist-fishing guide amateur detective, pops into Ennis, West Yellowstone, and other towns, but spends more time on the rivers.

All seem allergic to cities. Gabriel Du Pré hates going to Bozeman, while Joe Pickett regards Cheyenne as just slightly better than Mordor

3. The "Animal Helper." Although several protagonists often have a dog riding with them, what I mean here is the old folkloric theme of the animal who establishes a special relationship with the hero — for example, the hero is a hunter pursuing a fox, but he spares the fox who then protects him or helps him to secure wealth.

I extend the term "animal helper" to include people who are bonded to the hero somehow yet also appear to be closer to nature — even feral. (The Hollywood equivalent is the Magical Negro, another version of the Noble Savage.)
  • Gabriel Du Pré has Beneetse, an elderly Crow (?) shaman who appears and disappears mysteriously and who brings past and present together. (His name probably comes from someone mentioned in Dan Cushman's The Great North Trail, one of Bowen's source books.)
  • Joe Pickett's feral helper is the falconer Nate Romanowski, a mysterious ex-special operations soldier who lives in isolated places and has no visible means of support, but who pops up in the nick of time of save Joe, dropping bad guys at 800 yards offhand with a .454 Casull revolver or something similar. For a time Romanowski lives with an Arapaho woman until she is murdered.
  • Father O'Malley has Vicky Holden, the Arapaho lawyer who connects him with the reservation and its people.
  • Sheriff Walt Longmire's closest friend is Henry Standing Bear, a Cheyenne. Although Lou Diamond Phillips ably portrays Standing Bear in the TV series, in the books Standing Bear is more like Beneetse — in touch with ghosts and ancestors and also seemingly able to materialize, like Nate Romanowski, when Longmire is in desperate straits.
  • McCafferty's detective, Sean Stranahan, has no Indian helper, but possibly the fishing outfitter  Rainbow Sam, Sean's sometime employer, could fit the bill, for by comparison to the past-haunted hero, Sam is hard-drinking, pleasure-seeking, and present-oriented.
4. The Plots. Many of these are recognizable from the last thirty years' news. At least two of these authors have used each one of these.
  • The Cult. Clearly inspired by the Church Universal and Triumphant's operation north of Yellowstone Park in the 1980s, this plot has some mysterious but well-financed group building a headquarters in an isolated area. Murder usually ensues. See also "The Anti-Government Group." C. J. Box in particular  shows some degree of sympathy with small-L libertarian types, however, which leads to some plot twists.
  • The Evil Energy Company. Enough said. See also "Evil Rich People."
  • The Scheming Archaeologist. No, Tony Hillerman did not own this one. Suppose that an archaeologist had a major, career-capping find that somehow places him in conflict with the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act. . .
  • Ecoterrorists and Animal Rights Extremists. They mean well, but people get hurt and they are trying to shut down the struggling local ranchers.  
  • The Dinosaur. Inspired by the story of the T-Rex skeleton called Black Hills Sue, this one involves a spectacular fossil find with disputed ownership — various people want to profit from it. It puts the "skull" in skullduggery.
  • The Outsiders.  All these people want to ruin Wyoming or Montana, and the hero fights a rear-guard action. Peter Bowen is the strongest here, sending a message to his readers that might as well read, "You readers are a bunch of Subaru-driving, Patagonia-wearing recreationists who just ought to keep the hell out of eastern Montana. Don't come here. Don't look for a real Gabriel Du Pré. Just stay on Interstate 90 and keep going to Bozeman. Oh yeah, buy my books."
Well, there you have it. Just add more examples and analysis. A guaranteed A-.

January 16, 2016

Andre Norton Messed with my Mind

Reconstruction of a man checking the roof
on his house framed with mammoth bones.
(The Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, S.D.)


Recent Web-surfing (Do people still say that?) led me this fascinating article on Gizmodo: "A Mysterious Mammoth Carcass Could Change Human History."

The problem was that I read as far as this line — "A rounded hole through the interior jugal" —and immediately I think, "A bullet hole! Time travelers!" (And as a second thought, "What caliber for mammoth?")

Whose fault is that? Andre Norton's — pen name of Mary Alice Norton (1912–2005), who published in days when female SF writers pretty much had publish under male names for a nearly all-male readership.

Specifically I am thinking of her novel The Time Traders (1958). Wikipedia summarizes the beginning of The Time Traders
At the end of the Twentieth Century petty crook Ross Murdock is given the choice of facing a new medical procedure called Rehabilitation or volunteering to join a secret government project.

Hoping for a chance to escape, Ross volunteers to join Operation Retrograde and is taken by Major John Kelgarries to a base built under the ice near the North Pole. Teamed with archaeologist Gordon Ashe, he is trained to mimic a trader of the Beaker culture of Bronze-Age Europe.
(The Time Traders and one of its sequels, Key Out of Time, are available as free e-book downloads from Project Gutenberg.)

When I read it, after finding it in my tiny branch county library in Lakewood, Colo., I was maybe 11. It was not a good time— my parents had separated — Dad had moved out —and my mother was seeing some counselor whose office was in the same strip mall, so she would park me at the library. Then he moved back in — I was so glad —and then he moved out again. So maybe that was actually a good time for time travelers and for thinking about that evocative phrase, "the Beaker People."

Meanwhile, about that mammoth.
This 45,000 year-old mammoth’s life ended violently at the hands of hunters. That wouldn’t be surprising—it’s well known that Pleistocene humans were expert mammoth killers—but for the location. It was excavated from a permafrost embankment at Yenisei bay, a remote spot in central Siberia where a massive river empties into the Arctic Ocean.

That makes this brutalized mammoth the oldest evidence for human expansion into the high Arctic by a wide margin. Its discovery, published today in Science, might push back the timeline for when humans entered the northernmost reaches of the world—including the first entries into North America.
Reading about it is still a form of time travel, but I want to go to the Bronze Age via a secret base in the Arctic, damnit.

December 12, 2015

Do I Have to Throw Away My Ducks Unlimited Shirts Now?

Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, I had fantasies of being an outdoor/nature writer. I published articles, had a newspaper column for a couple of years, and spent a year on the staff of the late and unlamented Colorado Outdoor Journal. And I got to know a lot of writers. I still do some freelancing, but mostly in other areas now —  except this blog (which would qualify me for membership in the Outdoor Writers Assn. of America, if I wanted to go back).

If there is anything writers like to talk about, it is their shabby treatment by editors, publishers  and producers. Everyone has stories of producing work and then being stiffed on payment.

So when I read Steve Bodio's account of Ducks Unlimited not only firing contributing editor E. Donnall Thomas, Jr., better known as Don Thomas — but also scrubbing all of his previous work from the DU website, making him into a "nonperson" as much as they could, I boiled.

Steve quoted Thomas on what happened, and I will borrow that quote:
"In October, 2015 I wrote a piece for Outside Bozeman magazine, "A Rift Runs Through It", about the long Montana legal battle to secure and maintain public access to the Ruby River in accordance with the state’s stream access law. . . .To summarize a complex issue for those unfamiliar with the case, wealthy Atlanta businessman James Cox Kennedy engaged in extensive litigation to prevent such access, only to be denied repeatedly in court due to the efforts of the Montana Public Land and Water Access Association. While the article was not complimentary to Kennedy, no one has challenged the accuracy of the reporting.

James Cox Kennedy is a major financial contributor to Ducks Unlimited. On November 10, a Ducks Unlimited functionary informed me that my position with the magazine was terminated because of Cox’s displeasure with the article.

... The Ruby River article had nothing whatsoever to do with ducks or Ducks Unlimited (DU hereafter). The article did strongly support the rights of hunters and other outdoor recreationists to enjoy land and water to which they are entitled to access, and DU is a hunters’ organization... DU has essentially taken the position that wealthy donors matter more than the outdoor recreationists they purport to represent.
As I said, I boiled. I fired off a set of letters to Ducks Unlimited president Paul R. Bonderson, Jr., and to CEO Dale Hall. I delayed writing this blog post for a while to see if I got a response, maybe a form letter from the office intern, whatever. Nada.

I have served on the board of a state-level conservation group, and I know nonprofits often get most of their cash from a few big donors, who outweigh the dues and small gifts of us average members putting in $35 a year for dues and also responding to certain appeals.

But, I wrote to them, it is those thousands of average members, if properly used, who give the organization its political leverage.

And although I have been a member for close to thirty years, I suggested that in the future James Cox Kennedy could cover my dues and gifts.

Charity Navigator, which tracks nonprofits and how they spend their money, gives Ducks Unlimited three stars out of four overall, with a score of 74.49 out of 100 on "financial" and a 96 on "transparency."

According to DU's reports, fundraising and administrative costs take 23.6 percent of all income, with the rest going to programs. That's not bad. It is when over half goes to fundraising and administrative salaries that you want to back off.

Membership dues raised $19.4 million in fiscal year 2014, fundraising (all those banquets) raised $24.6 million, and contributions and grants accounted for $28.35 million.

They won't miss mine.

I am conflicted about this decision, and yes, I even wondered if I should keep wearing the stuff that DU sends as gift-appeal premiums. That's a pretty nice fleece vest, for instance, and I like it, even with the logo on the front.

I thought about how I had defended giving to the Salvation Army to a friend who advised against it because the SA was not, in her opinion, friendly enough to the LGBT population. "Who else does a better job and ticks off all the correct political boxes," I asked rhetorically.

Who else does more for duck research and habitat?

Who else screws over writers so blatantly?

Maybe DU, like many nonprofits before it, has gotten too big, too clubby, too established. Their treatment of Don Thomas is an awfully big straw in the wind, an indicator of their corporate mindset. You wonder what else is going on if they are that sensitive about a perceived insult to one of the insiders.

(UPDATE: Among other coverage of DU's shabby treatment of Don Thomas, here is a brief summary from High Country News.)

October 07, 2014

October Weather Report

"That October, the weather couldn't decide what to do with itself. Some days it arrived gray and bleak and pensive. Ponderous leaden clouds leaned overhead, their bellies slumped against the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; polar blasts of wind and stiff black leaves blindly scrambling down the streets. . . . . Other days, the weather arrived sleek and sassy. The air  was warm and it had a glitter to it, and a fizz. Only one of two clouds trailed across the taut blue sky, each fluttering brilliant white from the shoulders of the mountains like an aviator's scarf. Sun-besotted, people stood around wearing summer slacks and summer skirts and grins that were grateful and a little bit guilty, the grins of children who had pulled a fast one on their parents. They licked ice cream cones and they sipped sodas and they were very vocal about the wonderfulness of the climate, and in their voices you could sometimes hear a hint of self-congratulation at the wisdom they had shown in choosing to live [in Santa Fe]."

The opening of Flower in the Desert, a mystery by Walter Satterthwait

March 08, 2014

Blog Stew on the Scenic Railroad

After the June 2013 fire, the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is reopening for limited hours. Meanwhile, the scenic train that goes from Cañon City up the gorge and back is upgrading and hoping to get its tourist riders back.
[Owner Mark] Greksa believes his yearly passenger counts will increase as he continues to add amenities. Last year, he let passengers pay to ride in the locomotive next to the engineer. He also eliminated the train's "concession car," which offered only vended foods to coach customers, and created a dining car where they can order hot food, and a "bar car" with bistro-styled tables. Food offerings include beef and buffalo items, organic chicken and a crafted pale ale, Royal Gorge Route Rogue, Greksa said. In the summer, the train will offer dishes made from rattlesnake, antelope and ostrich.
Managers at the national wildlife refuges in the San Luis Valley are wondering if groundwater pumping rules will affect the areas flooded for sandhill crane habitat.GQ

GQ magazine runs another art-of-manliness story on being introduced to deer and elk hunting in Montana. Actually, it's not bad; it has a Chesapeake Bay retriever in it. (Hat tip: Suburban Bushwacker)

Most water from the Fraser River in Middle Park gets sent under the Continental Divide and into Denver's water system. Trout Unlimited, however, has worked out a new deal to protect flows for fisheries by regulating when the water is removed and how much.
The deal announced Tuesday could make the Fraser the most-watched river in Colorado – and maybe in the West. It sets out an innovative, science-based plan that seeks to balance increasing urban needs for water with an imperative to restore crucial habitat for river trout.
Me, I see the Fraser only when looking out the window of Amtrak's California Zephyr and thinking, "That looks really fishable in there." Maybe I should do something about that.

March 26, 2013

Blog Stew on the Rio Grande

Image from EarthSky.org
• Prof. Margaret Soltan on the Jane Goodall (yes, that Jane Goodall) plagiarism case:
I wonder how many trees have had to die so that Goodall could shred hundreds of thousands of Seeds of Hope: Wisdom, Wonder, and Plagiarism from the World of Plants.
• In the Denver Post, Colorado environmental journalist praises outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for protecting open spaces: 
Salazar also has a large legacy in the Colorado River, where again, this work in Washington flowed from his prior experience as a water attorney and then administrator in Colorado government. Under his supervision, a broader, forward-looking vision for the Colorado River has been shaped.

"What I think he brought was the need to look at the river as a full and complete system, from top to bottom, instead of its component parts." says Chris Treese, external affairs director for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District.
• The New Mexico chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is happy about designation of the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. 
"There are many great public lands to hunt in New Mexico, but what makes the Rio Grande del Norte unique is the wide variety of wildlife that it offers, combined with the area's overwhelming natural beauty. It truly is some remarkable country and fishing in the spectacular Rio Grande Box is a special experience" said Laddie Mills, a longtime New Mexican hunter and angler.
 Further comment from Indian County:
“I applaud President Obama protecting Rio Grande del Norte National Monument because many of the wildlife species that live in that corridor come in and out of this area.  Left unprotected, there may be very few animals available that the Native American people of Taos Pueblo depend on for food, clothing and shelter," says Benito Sandoval, Taos Pueblo War Chief.

October 17, 2012

Here's Your Winter Reading List

From High Country News, new books with connections to the West or Western authors.

I have just started one of them, Tom McIntyre's The Snow Leopard's Tale.
There are a few creatures left in the world who live still untamed, prowling through the rocks, blinking slowly at the encroaching civilization far below. On China’s Bountiful Black Mountain, a snow leopard hunts alone, artifact of a vanishing age. But hungry, desperate, when he is finally forced away from the cold stones of his mountain home toward the tents and fires of the valley, he encounters an impossible, startling world. And as we follow him on his journey, as the talented pen of Thomas McIntyre shows us how we appear through the leopard’s eyes, it’s a vision that will finally startle us as well.
But first, some duck reconnaissance here in North Dakota.

October 14, 2012

On The Road: Flashback

No octopi today.

Still in the afterglow of our trip to the Monterey Peninsula, M. and I re-watched the movie last night.

One of these days I really need to read both books. I enjoy Steinbeck's work, but I just have not paid him a visit in a long time.

October 08, 2012

Blog Stew with Salt, All the Salt You Want

• Talk about a long dry spell. "The last sex between Neanderthals and modern humans likely occurred as recently as 47,000 years ago."

• You are not a hypertensive rat. And salt is not necessarily bad for you.
“You can say without any shadow of a doubt,” as I was told then by Drummond Rennie, an editor for The Journal of the American Medical Association, that the authorities pushing the eat-less-salt message had “made a commitment to salt education that goes way beyond the scientific facts.”
• Dry spell of the literary variety? Just write to your pal Robert Heinlein, and he will give you lots of ideas and advice. Oh, wait a minute . . .

June 05, 2012

Passing of Ed Quillen, Newspaperman & Expert on Victorian Undergarments

It was a small item on the Denver Post website, and it did not even register at first except semi-subliminally: "Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen dies at age 61 in his Salida home."

Well, crap. At least he went out without any hospital torment: a sudden heart attack as he sat in his easy chair.

A journalist since high school, later a columnist, and the founder of the still-published regional magazine Colorado Central, as a columnist, Ed was often the Post's only non-button-down, non-Denver-metroplex voice — a voice for the rest of us.
Quillen, who hated attending events where he couldn't appear in jeans and a sweat shirt, jabbed the moneyed set as "Brie and Chablis elitists." Homes thrown up in sprawling developments he called "plywood hutches." A certain class of politician he referred to as "rich, white guys."
He knew about water law, mining, agriculture, and Colorado railroads —the fundamentals— in a way that most reporters did not. 

As editor of Colorado Central, he used to come talk to my magazine-writing class about the business and freelance writing in general. And he published a few quirky articles that I felt like writing.

He told us that one trick to column-writing was to take a commonly accepted idea and extend it to the point of absurdity, or take an absurd idea and treat it matter-of-factly.
He published a collection of his columns in 1998 and co-wrote or ghost-wrote a number of books on such diverse topics as cocaine [The White Stuff, co-authored with reporter B.J. Plaskett—CSC] and mainframe computer programming. (Quillen may have come across as a country boy with his shaggy beard and rusty pickups, but he had been building his own computers for years.) 
As the Post article mentions, he and his wife, Martha, also wrote a string of "adult Westerns," which Ed defined by saying, "When Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty go upstairs, the book doesn't stop there," and he used to toss out obscure terms like "balbriggans." At least in his imagination, he knew all about 19th-century undressing.

There aren't enough like him, and now there is one less.

November 05, 2011

The Yoga Instructor and the Cattle Drive

They figure in "Sad River Roundup, a short short story by Tim Cooper from Mountain Gazette.

"Texas Vertigo" is a useful phrase for southern Colorado and New Mexico—I am going to remember it.

June 16, 2010

An Adventure Tale That Assigns No Blame

"Art [Moffett] took us to a place of peace, and ever since--during these last fifty-three years--I have been trying to rediscover it," writes George James Grinnell in Death on the Barrens: A True Story of Courage and Tragedy in the Canadian Arctic.

Much outdoor-expedition writing seems to be about placing blame when things go wrong. Jon Krakauer writes Into Thin Air about a 1996 expedition to Mount Everest that ends in catastrophe, and then mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev, insulted by Krakauer's account, writes The Climb, with his own perspective on the tragedy.

And so it goes.

Death on the Barrens is an "old man's book,"a genre unto itself. Grinnell was seventy when he finished the revision that was published. In that it reminds me of Norman Maclean's posthumously published Young Men and Fire, which while trying to determine what went wrong on the Mann Gulch Fire back in 1949 also stops at times to patiently reflect that there are times when the universe is just against you.

In Grinnell's case, six twenty-something men, with a slightly older leader, set off in 1955 to spent a summer canoeing and portaging through hundreds of miles of northern Canada. Their leader, Art Moffatt, an experienced wilderness canoeist, died of hypothermia after a disastrous spill in cold rapids, and the others came close to dying before finally reaching the Hudson's Bay Company post that was their goal.

While the canoeists' trip could be critiqued—inadequate food, too many days  spent relaxing during good traveling weather—Grinnell does not place blame. Instead, he remembers how their leader took them "to a place of peace" and "a time when my fears had been elevated through beauty into awe, when my vanity had been transformed by awe into love, and when love had bathed my soul in the waters of eternal peace."

For that he experienced starvation, frostbite, and near-drowning.

After Grinnell himself had become a university professor, two of his sons died on a canoe trip down northern Ontario's Albany River, along with two of their friends: "The four of them embarked down the longest wilderness river in Northern Ontario in quest of peace, harmony, and reconciliation. Forty days later, they were all dead."

"Canoe trip as spiritual pilgrimage" is a trope in Canadian literature. You can even take deliberately designed "contemplative" canoe trips. No doubt the survival rate is higher than on Grinnell's more extreme canoe trip.

Yet though Grinnell admits being lost in despair at times, this is a book of recovery and acceptance.

Farley Mowat writes in a cover blurb that Death on Barrens records the inner process of "looking for an explanation where perhaps none exists." That too reminds me of Young Men and Fire. Sometimes what happens cannot be explained. Sometimes blame cannot be assigned.

February 08, 2010

Park County Wildlife Area to Commemorate Charlie Meyers?

The Colorado Wildlife Commission will consider naming a state wildlife area on the South Platte River after the late Charlie Meyers, the Denver Post's outdoor writer.

But will the Post replace him??

February 06, 2010

More Outdoor Writing Going Online?

The Suburban Bushwhacker, who unlike most people who complain about outdoor writing is not an outdoor writer himself, writes a long post on up-and-coming online magazine as well as veterans like Field & Stream.

The last two issues have been a partial return to form, Bill Heavy's piece about spending time with the Alaskan trapper was fantastic--the kind of long-form journalism that belongs on a page not a screen, the kind that prompted me to take the copy round to The Northern Monkey's boat and tell him to read it. Great moments, sadly looking all the greater as they are set against some of the most pointless shit yet published. Sorry, chaps but it's true, that '50 states of the great outdoors' or what ever it was called was rubbish and obviously rubbish culled from the internet by an intern. Cheap to produce, would have worked on a blog, but not good enough for F&S.

I'll be following some of his links.

February 05, 2010

Things I Learn Online: Floral Apocalypse

There is a sub-genre of dystopian writing called "floral apocalypse," as in, everything stops growing. Or some things, enough to end Civilization As We Know It.

September 11, 2007

Aventurers

In the quiet hours, his talk occasionally lost its exuberance and he became sad, regretting the passage of time, but like Denys he kept horror at bay by relentless adventuring.

The "he" is a British settler and soldier in Kenya, Tich Miles of Cole's Scouts, during the grueling and often forgotten East Africa campaign of World War One. "Denys" is Denys Finch Hatton, and the line comes from Sara Wheeler's new biography of Finch Hatton, Too Close to the Sun.

As I read that chapter, the search for Steve Fossett is still ongoing. Things don't look good at this point. Could that sentence just as well apply to him?

July 22, 2007

Get Colorado Outdoors

If you are reading this blog and you live in Colorado or come here a lot, you really do need a subscription to Colorado Outdoors.

It is ridiculously cheap, thanks to its state subsidy. Two years (12 issues) costs the same as 5.9 gallons of unleaded regular, as priced today at the Loaf 'n Jug in Florence.

And its writers get paid too.