Watching the Fall

DAY 119, Friday August 29, 2014, Michigan Tech Ford Campus, ALBERTA- The forestry students are here at Ford Center, hard at work in the classroom normal people call Da Woods. Nights are, as Limpy Allerdyce would put it, coldening fast. Ferns go from green to brown, ignoring the yellow phase. Days are getting shorter, nights longer. The whole aster family seems to be in bloom, and fireweed too. Mice are trying to get inside. We are finding little corpses every day. Cluster flies will start in two weeks, looking for safe haven in houses, there to die, as if the places we live in are mausoleums. The stores have Halloween crap on display beside back to school supplies and our locals kids will be back in class next week. Last night we heard the season’s first high school football game, an eight-man tilt between Rapid River and Ewen Trout Creek with Rapid River winning 26-0. Next week ETC travels to Engadine. Gold finch ladies, have turned winter green already and the males are starting to display greenish shadows on their bright yellow feathers. We have flocks of Brewer’s blackbirds every morning, in the dozens as flocks gather and move south. The Brewers are the only blackbirds we’ve seen this summer and they are said by BIRDS OF MICHIGAN  to be uncommon here in the state. Not so here on the Ford Campus. Getting reports of bears in birdfeeders, a common spring phenomenon, not fall. And we have a huge mass crop and berries galore, which makes one wonder if the winter ahead is gonna be what my pal Bill Moomaw used to call a “Blinger.” We are seeing fewer and fewer male rudes (Evinrudes = Hummingbirds) and we are thinking the main male migratory cloud has left the station as the girls and little ones prepare to follow. Our count is nearing 26,000 for spring and summer, but tapering quickly. Counting them is of course a hit or miss and approximate thing, but still the rough count offers a sense of what’s roiling around us. Already there is silence when we step onto the porch, no screaming from dozens of the little bullets on perches in the maple tree or lilac bush. Trees are starting to change. We are seeing oranges, and in the past couple of days, reds. Colored leaves are falling here and there, adding little dollops of color to the lawns. And Michigan State starts the Spartan football season tonight. Amazingly, we can listen to games this year, on Ontonagon’s WUPY-FM, 101.1. For the last five years we were caught in the Deer Park aural null and on occasion I could sit in the truck and hear the Spartans play. This fall I can sit right at my work table and listen and curse and bitch and grouse and carry on, because it isn’t really Spartan football unless the alums are grousing. My late father in law would get so upset at games that he would hastily gather up the clan and march them out to the cars for the short run home, to suffer the rest of the game with martininis in hand. This behavior following  the group’s late arrival, and parking at the player entrance on Spartan Stadium’s north end.  Still remember Dutch exchange student Dirk Krijt kicking five field goals to beat Ohio State 15-zip and all the game smoking cigarettes on the sideline. Them were the days. Just as deer hunters purport to know more about deer than multiply-degreed professional biologists who manage the state herds, some MSU fans are sure they know a helluva lot more about Xs and Os than the professional coaching staff in East Lansing. Fun days ahead, and the color spectacular as well. Yesterday I finished an interesting short story with the title, Olly Olly In Free and last night started another called Alone, Mostly, and this morning wrote down a couple of notes for yet another to be called “Nothing to Offer At the Gate of Eternity.” Life has some sweet moments and behooves us all to such them up while we are in them, knowing that it ain’t always so. Should share that I was with Limpy the other day when a picture of a bare chested Boris Putin popped up on the TV and Limpy gasped and pointed. “What’s with that Russky asshole Sputum prancin’ around showin’ off his pectittorals?” I didn’t have an answer for Limpy. Some things in this life are like that.

Go State.


On the Road on Hump Day

We took off from our Alberta home base about 0730 and headed up to Laurium for breakfast at Toni’s. Then over to the Keweenaw National Historic  Park’s Calumet Visitor’s Center, where the Friend of the Porkies are displaying various pieces of art from former artists in residence. Lonnie and I had  a wonderful two-week tour back in 2006 and I gave them a large painting entitle, “When the Artist Is Away.” And a cartoon journal they could use for fund raising, which they have since converted to T-shirts. Haven’t seen the painting since then-Ontonagon Librarian Eric Smith loaded it in his car to take back to the Friends of the Porkies. Lonnie and I both forgot how big it is. But the exhibit is beautiful, the space premo and here are some photos so you can have a look-see. After this we picked agates fro a couple of hours, found a half dozen, nothing spectacular, then drove up to the Phoenix Mine poor rock pile and found not just some small pieces of copper, but some blackberries, which we dutifully harvested.  We were back here 11 hours after we shoved off. A full, long day, with perfect 65 degree weather and a blue sky with light winds. Over.

Critical Eye
Critical Eye
Bozo With the Brush
Bozo With the Brush


Painting Title
Painting Title
Long view.
Long view.
Other featured work
Other featured work


Berries and Such

Yesterday’s remarks are published as a separate page on the website, under the title of Remarks for Presque Isle Library… Today I took a hike up into the hills to find blackberries, and find them I did. They are just starting to ripen, but I  managed more than a pint. A pictoral history of the expedition follosws. Also found more razzies, and after lunch Lon and I went and picked more thimbleberries, which last about three days in the fridge. Great time to be up here and in this particular location on the Ford Campus, with hills and forests all around us.

First you find an overgrown two-track to hike. This particular one is uphill all the way and right as you crest there is an underground spring of fresh water which shows itself.
First you find an overgrown two-track to hike. This particular one is uphill all the way and right as you crest there is an underground spring of fresh water which shows itself.
Eventually the road opens and you come up onto a plateau of sorts.
Eventually the road opens and you come up onto a plateau of sorts.
Up on the plateau there is a lot of swampy marshy ground and great bear habitat and the berries if they're up here easily reachable. But I saw no bear sign and no bears.
Up on the plateau there is a lot of swampy marshy ground and great bear habitat and the berries if they’re up here easily reachable. But I saw no bear sign and no bears.
You are happy to have old grown white pines to keep you company.
You are happy to have old grown white pines to keep you company.
Finally you find the blackie bushes, but most of the berries aren't quite ready.
Finally you find the blackie bushes, but most of the berries aren’t quite ready.
You keep hiking until you finally come upon the bonanza -- ripe berries!
You keep hiking until you finally come upon the bonanza — ripe berries!
You leisurely hike back down the hill with a pint of fresh blackies and the knowledge that they are just getting started as the thimbleberries begin to play out around here. Wonderful morning.
You leisurely hike back down the hill with a pint of fresh blackies and the knowledge that they are just getting started as the thimbleberries begin to play out around here. Wonderful morning.

Wisconsin’s Last Wilderness and Nighthawks Galore.

DAY 115, Monday, August 25, Presque-Isle, Vilas Co, Wi – This turned out to be a dandy day on all fronts, including a several-hours-long thunder and lightning pre-dawn sound and sight show to start the day , following by our discovery of Shaksper’s new travel skill, and ending with driving though a mile-long gauntlet of nighthawks greedily sucking up skeets.
At one point a panicked dragon fly, apparently seeking political asylum,  flew through my open window and smacked me mid-chest, where I carefully plucked him off and sent him back outside to fend for himself.

Neither of us had ever seen nighthawks in full light and never anywhere except over a trout river. This happened on Two Mile Road in Ontonagon County, a stretch of macadam that has swamp on both sides and sits low between two ridges. It was very very cool to see. They were operating a head-level. A reminder to us all that you won’t see doodly squat playing with your smart phone or TV. You’ll see only what others WANT you to see.

En route to Presque Isle the rear window kept going down. I’d look back, think how did that happen, and put I back out. Ten minutes later, down again. “Long watch the dog, okay?”

She did, and saw him working to pop the electric windows by mashing the button with his paw. He was very deliberate and determined and did not get it every time because he hasn’t figured out yet how to consolidate his foot force, but he will. It must’s happened ac cidentally and then he wondered, could it be…and hell yes! We laughed, but it is the sort of mixed blessing you get when your eldest starts walking, rises up on his own two feet like homo sapiens, and you know nothing will ever again be the same. An yet there is inexplicable inner pride, which has no place in reality, because the kid/dog learned something of their own volition, not because of any effort you made. We humans are Big- O Odd.

The truth is that the presentation almost did not happen at all, had I not whipped off an email to pam Eschenbach, who had invited me for the 25th, but whom I had failed to confirm the date with. Oops. As a result the only publicity was a sign on the door, yet, some forty folks showed up and were extremely warm, attentive, and receptive.

Presque Isle, BTW is known as Wisconsin’s Last Wilderness, a tag that made us feel right at home. Presque Isle is about 8 miles south of Marenesco, in Michigan’s Gogebic County. We’ll be going back.

Librarian and fan Jim Battin introduced me, but before that we shook hands and he said, “We have friends in common?”

“We do? Who?”

(The late) “Rusty Gates, Josh Greenburg, Joe Guild.”

I laughed. “The Gates Lodge crowd!”

Turns out that Jim has been going there since Rusty’s dad Cal ran the joint and, with Rusty’s passing, he is still going to enjoy the ambiance afforded by Josh Greenburg’s nurturing hands.  Well, of course, that put us on a good ten-minute run on flies and fishing the Au Sable and established an instant glue.

Right after the talk I signed a few book and was able to meet our FACEBOOK friend Sue Ackland (Nurse Sue) who is as direct and bubbling in person as she is in the electronic world. That meeting alone made the day. Sue haunts the Yoop and many of the places we know and love and collects the same sorts of things we hunt.

I’ll post the text of my remarks on a separate Page on the Web Site Later today.

I posted a video on FACEBOOK of me reading at the library, doing the voices of a character I created just for that event.

Outing over, it’s back to work here. The best fishing of the year is coming soon, and we can’t wait.


[Goose,  dammit, be careful in Africa and enjoy.]

Chow and wine feast for guests. Great and generous spread!
Chow and wine feast for guests. Great and generous spread!


Either making a point or trying to coordinate how I use my hands.
Either making a point or trying to coordinate how I use my hands.
Jim  making the introduction while I hold up a wall.
Jim making the introduction while I hold up a wall.
Jim  Battin and Me -- Fellow Gates Lodgers.
Jim Battin and Me — Fellow Gates Lodgers.

U.P. Roads And Views Along The Way

Some pictures from the drive home yesterday from Presque Isle, Wisconsin, where we had a chat with fans. At one point we encountered a full mile of swarming nighthawks in full light of afternoon. The road runs through a swamp and the bird were chowing down and showing off their flying skills at head level on the road. One of the neatest things we’ve ever seen up here, and like most things of this nature, unexpected, but the you have to be out there to see them.  Take note of the nighthawk in the mid-left of the mirror in the first photo. Seeing stuff like this won’t happen sitting in your living room finger-fiddling a smart phone or watching Netflix. 

Window shots.
Window shots.
The darkening road.
The darkening road.
Apples ready to take the fall-fall.
Apples ready to take the fall-fall.
The western sky from swamp-side.
The western sky from swamp-side.
This is one reason to collect thimbleberries, to heap on gluten-free brownies and sugar-free Cool Whip. Unbelievable! And a reward for picking effort. Not the same as store-bought anything.
This is one reason to collect thimbleberries, to heap on gluten-free brownies and sugar-free Cool Whip. Unbelievable! And a reward for picking effort. Not the same as store-bought anything.

The Serendipity of Stories Found

DAY 116, Aug 26, 2014, ALBERTA – One of my reading strategies to read all the work (the ouvre) of particular authors. Recently I’ve been plowing through the unique and late Richard Brautigan. A couple of days ago I got in the mail the Omnibus collection with the title of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, The Pill vs the Spring Hill Mine Disaster, and In Watermelon Sugar. Nothing unusual in this. Man orders  used book, man receives  used book. See the cover in Picture 1).

Well then: I opened the book and found inside the front cover a printed message from the publisher: “Welcome, you are just a few pages away from Trout Fishing in America,” which I would add is in my view a great book, though not about fishing. Trout fishing is solely a metaphor for others things, perhaps for EVERY other thing. Be that as it may, there was a hand-written note inside, (See Picture 2). But here’s the text, minus the author’s name, which I have blocked with blue painter’s tape. 4/30/05, Dear Mike – Happy Birthday. You might not be terrible excited about this gift. However, it’ll give you something to keep you occupied on the bus & who knows, you might even like it. Richard Brautigan is pretty out there. Regardless, hae a wonderful birthday year to come!” It signature is a female’s in green ink, proceeded by a modernistic red heart which looks to me a lot like a red batwing. Who is Mike and Who is X, and what is their relationship?

I begin to leaf through the pages and see a piee of torn yellowdog paper sticking up, just slightly, like a shy shark’s fin cutting water. I open to that page. The paper shard ( 1 ½ “ l x 1 “ w) is stuck between pages 36 and 37 of The Pill versus The Spring Hill Mine Disaster, and by placement, I am guess it is where it is as a reminder of the poem, “I’ve Never Had It Done So Gently Before,” a poem dedicated For M. The poem is of a somewhat explicit sexual nature, and now I am grinning. Is she leaving him a pointed reminder of their time together, or is this strictly coincidence? Maybe the shard of yellow is no more than detritus from another place and time that landed in the book by chance, the way leaves land by chance when they do the fall-fall. (See Picture 3 for the poem and shard)

I continue leafing through the book and get to the end leaf and low and behold I find what appears to be a Xeroxed photograph of a seemingly nekkid fellow making eyes at a Rotweiler who doesn’t seem to be buying what the fellow is selling. (See Picture 4). The background setting for the photo is somewhat pastoral, perhaps a lawn or park area, but through the background blur I can make out the corner of a building and a convertible, (though not the year and model of ragtop).

There are all sorts of possibilities for  imaginings in finding ways to connect these various observations, some of which might lead to future fiction, if my creative juices cook it long enough. We shall have to see. Wonder where writers get their ideas? Here ya go. I love found stuff, the more mystifying the better. Over.

The Cover of a used book
The Cover of a used book
The mystery note.
The mystery note.
The poem and mystery shard of yellowdog paper
The poem and mystery shard of yellowdog paper


Man and Rotweiler on the grass.
Man and Rotweiler on the grass.

The Passing of a Fishing Friend; Fred Lee, FIP (Fish in Peace)


My old friend fishing pal, and fishing mentor Fred Lee died August 21 after a long scrap with early onset dementia. He was 63 when he passed on to the great rivers of Heaven.

I learned of this from friends in T.C. who monitor Kalamazoo media. It was a shock. There was a time when Freddy and I fished all over the state. He’d call me up and say, Wanna go play,” and I’d drop whatever I was doing (usually a manuscript) and off we’d go: Kalamazoo River, St. Joe River, Grand River, Augusta Creek, The Tamarack and Little Muskegon, the Big Muskegon, the PM and the little South Branch of the PM, The AuSable, the the Little Manistee, the Pine and the Big Manistee. We went all over the place chasing trout, smallmouth, salmon and steelhead and when we couldn’t find them we fished for suckers or whatever we could inveigle to bite, always on flies, many of which Freddy created and all of which caught fish.

I think we got along in part because I didn’t really care if I caught fish. The point was to be outside, on the river, fishing.

I’m not sure how long we knew each other but I remember the day he told me about the dementia in his matter-of-fact manner, concluding, “Until I can’t do it right anymore, I’m gonna keep fishing and tying flies” Which he did.

He was hands down the Best fish spotter I ever met or fished with, though sometimes I wondered if he was putting me on. One time we had Dave Peterson (Robochef’s older brother) in the boat for steelhead, in extremely high fast water and wind,  visibility sucked, the water was the color of soiled diapers, and Dave was new to the fly game and down on himself for not being able to see fish and we kept telling him not to sweat it, and the truth was I couldn’t see much either, so finally we pulled into this run six or seven feet seven feet deep and Freddy stops the boat and yells: There a pair, see em?”

I looked down, and saw not a damn think but burbling water mirages, but I figured Freddy was up to something, a joke maybe, so I said,  “Yeah, yeah there’s , tw… wait, a third one just moved up,” and Freddy said, “That’s them! Make a cast.”

He anchored the boat and I threw one blind cast.

And hooked an 11-pounder and didn’t even know there were really fish down there until I hooked that one.  Dave Peterson was approaching suicidal by then. “Geez, you guys can see fish through walls, and I can’t see anything!” I never told Freddy I saw nothing, that I made my cast solely on faith in his eyes. I think he would be happy to know that.

I had a series of strokes quite a while back and when I got released to free roaming Freddy and I headed for the rivers and I was going through a period of post-stroke Tourette’ Syndrome sof a highly original, colorful and often disgusting  nature, and he would just laugh at me.

Comes a day when Lonnie and I were floating with him, her up front, me in back, Freddy in the middle and something fouled up and I started in swearing and Freddy laughed until he turned bright red, and looked up at Lonnie and said, “His frustration language!’ We still use that term on those rare occasions when the syndrome sweeps over me, and we always laugh and think of Freddy.

He was a quiet and thoughtful man with a great manner of teaching newcomers to the sport, male and female. And he did not suffer fools, nosiree Bob.

I’m so sorry he’s gone, but I know it’s to a better place where the water flows cold and trout swim below waiting for some aerobic exercise. I thought I knew the man well, but only by his obit did I learn his Middle Name was Osie. Who woulda thunk it?

We share his family’s sorrow at his passing.

The ranks are thinned once again

Rainy Day Monday: Thoughts on Fall, Students, and “Solutionism”

DAY 108, Monday, August 18, 2014, ALBERTA– We’re still a month away from official fall, but all kinds of signs of the change are already here on campus. Our forty or so junior class forestry students have arrived for their fall semester (they’ll got to just before firearm deer season). They arrived in trucks and SUVS many with boats or kayaks on top and lugging their fishing gear over to the lake, and playing Frisbee on the grass, and basketball on the court, young life breathed into the whole place, and yet, it remains quiet and peaceful.

Shaksper is trying to figure out his role vis a vis  the interlopers, bark and challenge, or just watch them? Right now it’s a fifty-fifty deal and impossible to predict which fifty will prevail. Three of the grad student – instructors (they live next door)  walked past this morning with ponchos, packs on their backs and yellow brain buckets strapped to their packs and of course our sharp-nose sentry had to signal his discontent. The kids  just smiled and trooped on toward the cafeteria and dorm.

We had all of three weeks of glorious legendary Yooper summer (75 days/50 nights) but that seems kaput, now, and we’ve had rain for three days with more in the forecast. Fireweed is popping everywhere, as are fall0blooming New England Asters, and the tree leaves are starting to yellow and orange in places and the sumacs are turning bright red. Blackberries are starting to ripen and thimbleberries are going pretty nicely. We have tons of bloobers, but they are very bland and not very flavorful. Not sure why. Maybe the crop will sweeten over time. Friends tell me the crop in the EUP is late.

We’ve decide that our comfort here (mine, at least) is because this campus is so much like military housing, where I spent a great deal of my life. Uniformity in buildings, no pretensions and people going about their business. Great spot. We don’t have TV and with the exception of BIG BANG THEORY we don’t really miss it. What I love about BIG BANG is the writing and the way that small group of actors works together. Wonderfully done and though humorous, there are some very serious undertones which I’ll address in a moment. (Seems like rainy days and thinking sometimes pair up nicely.) There are computers here for the students, but they will spend much of their time in the weeks ahead in the woods do the real work of foresters and there is no way computers can simulate the smell, feel and sound of being surrounded by real trees and various fauna. Solutionist are  Techies who want to ameliorate or eliminate societal problems with technology. Good for them , but wanting and doing are separate critters.

I’m reading Evgeny Morozov’s TO SAVE EVERYTHING, CLICK HERE (Public Affairs, Perseus Book Group, 2013). The author tackles the whole “Solutionist Movement” ( my quote marks,  the movement largely centered in techie enclaves like Silicon Valley), which is nothing more than the latest iteration of thinking in the industrial age, etc. I got to thinking about education and how long distance learning, yada yada is the way to go in the future, and all I can think of are the for profit ops that have bilked millions of $$ from vets on the GI. Bill and I’m not buying that technology can do anything other than provide a limited tool to help in what education is. Morozov notes, “It’s as if the Solutionists have never lived a life of their own, but have learned everything they know from books — and those books weren’t novels but manuals for refrigeration, vacuum-cleaners, and washing machines.”

Said a bit differently, such folks  often live  far from “normal” (assuming there is such a thing) lives. Look at BIG BANG”s engineer Howard, who lives with his mother and whose claim to fame is having built a waste disposal unit (crapper) for the international space station, yet has only the barest clues of what actual life on earth is like. His friends are quite similar in their outlooks and awareness deficiencies.

According to Morozov, conservative philosopher Thomas Molnar complained in the 1960s “when Utopian writers deal with work, health, leisure, life expectancy, war, crime, culture, administration, finances, judicial matters and so forth, it is as if their words were uttered by an automaton with no conception of real life.” Morozov tells the reader, “It’s not that solutions proposed are unlikely to work but that in solving the ‘problem,’ Solutionist twist it in such an ugly and unfamiliar way that, by the time it’s ‘solved,’ the problem becomes something else entirely. Everyone is quick to celebrate victory, only no one remembers what the original solution sought to achieve.” The author reports, tongue in cheek, “Technology can make us better: and technology will make us better,” this being the underlying assumption of all true Solutionists,  Or, Morozov says, “As geeks would say, given enough apps, all of humanity’s bugs are shallow.” In other words, NBD. He also point out in quoting some noted thinkers, that thinking about what we might build tomorrow tends to blind us to question of our ongoing responsibilities to what we built yesterday.” I think this is a way almost of referring to thinking is a throwaway society.

Where Morozov really caught my attention was win his look at education and some of the challenges there. “The ballyhoo over the potential of new technologies to disrupt education — especially now that several startups offer online courses to hundreds of thousands of students, who grade each other’s work and get no face time with instructors is a case in point. (Grades are determined by a certain number of peer ratings averaged into a letter grade. Which is bizarre, sportsfans, like having NBA players call their own fouls, etc.

Morozov goes on. “Digital technology might be a perfect solution to some problems, but those problems don’t include education — not if by education we mean the development of skills to think critically about any given issue.” From Pamela Hieronymi, prof of philosophy at UCLA is quoted from an essay by Morozov, “Education is not the transmission of information or ideas. Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas. As information breaks loose from bookstores and libraries and floods onto computers and mobile devices, that training becomes more important, not less.”

Adam Falk, president of Williams College (about as intellectually elite a school as you can find) is cited by Morozov. Falk tells us that according to research at Williams, the best predictor of student’s intellectual success in college is not their major or GPA, but the amount of personal, face-to-face contact they have with their professors.” Falk adds, “That averaging peer letter grades is not the equivalent of a highly trained professor providing thoughtful evaluations and detailed response.” This was certainly my college experience. For example, I once had a Journalism course (my major was J) in science writing. It was taught by Prof Jim Stokely, who also had a nationally syndicated astronomy radio program. I was the only student. Just Stokes and me and we traveled all over the Midwest (me  doing most of the driving) to go to science meetings so he could teach me how science worked from scientific method up through peer-reviewed research papers, and all that went with that. It was like living in the age of tutors a hundred years before and I learned a whole heap. In fact a syndicated  news  outfit called SCIENCE SERVICE (I think that was the name) gave me an offer  to me join the outfit and for  them to cover science across the Big Ten, but I had a commitment to the USAF and turned down the offer. My profs chewed my butt over that one, arguing that if I got out of the service I’d have a job waiting. My counter-argument was, and remains, that if I stayed in the service, SS would have missed an opportunity to train and develop another individual for five years. I went on to the USAF, did my five years and got a job with The Upjohn Company (now morphed into the dark halls of money-hungry Pfizer) after my discharge, and there I  remained for 30 years, prospering largely because my job involved in one way or another the dissemination and explanation of s science to the media and various publics. Education had opened me to a field I otherwise might not have even thought about. One thing is certain, no computer classes could have given me anything like the education I got at the Michigan State Journalism school. Not even close.

Morozov concludes that “in an ideal world, both visions (all electronic vs face time) can coexist and prosper simultaneously” But, as Morozov adds, “In the world we inhabit, where administrators are as cost-conscious as ever, the approach that produces the most graduates per dollar spent is far more likely to prevail, the poverty of its intellectual vision  notwithstanding. Herein lies the hidden danger of Solutionism: the quick fixes it peddles do not exist in a political vacuum. In promising almost immediate and much cheaper results, they can easily undermine support for more ambitious, more intellectually stimulating but also more demanding reform projects.'”

It’s the old opportunity cost conundrum. “Whey you choose to do X,” you choose also to NOT do Y or A or K.” I can’t shake the mental image of Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard attending to the world’s problems in our behalf. The four of them have enough problems living their own daily lives, especially since all of them indeed, seem to be buffaloed by anyone not of their own strange geeky  ilk. In fact, I’d argue that the multi-storey apartment building  where Leonard and Sheldon live serves as a symbol for an ivory tower and as they traipse up and down stairs (ironically because they broke the elevator) they  jabber ib  about problems that are totally disconnected to any semblance of real life,except perhaps to problems that sixteen-year-olds faced and solved.

It seems to me that what we need are programs producing good teachers, weeding out those who don’t belong before spitting them into our schools (and this does NOT happen in most colleges now), and our communities and states need to pay teachers like they are valued, not just pay lip service to this and do everything they can to avoid paying what they are worth. Teachers in this regard are in the same boat as our professional military, who get lots of half-ass attaboys, but few people want to join the ranks, and increasingly fewer  people outside the ranks of military or education have even the merest  clue what such folks have to put up with in our behalf.

The rain continues to fall, a testament to gravity still being with us.  Shot and a Beer. Over.  

Tribes and Such: Here and There, Ours and Theirs


SUNDAY, AUGUST  17, 2014, ALBERTA — I just finished two more short stories for my collection, UNCHARTED EDGES (aiming for spring, 2015).  “Power” and “Neti, Neti, “ (Neti, neti  is Sanscrit for “neither this nor that.”) Both stories  deal with aspects of secrecy, specifically the  effects of secrecy on the individual and  how choices come to us in life. As it happens, I’m also almost finished reading AMERICAN SPARTAN  by Ann Scott Tyson and it has set me to thinking about Afghanistan and our decade-plus at war there. Tyson’s descriptions of Pashtun cultural life grabbed me unexpectedly, interesting in their own right for certain, but suddenly making me see parallels with our own country. Tyson was a WASHINGTON POST and CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR correspondent with extensive war coverage and married to a Green Beret major who pioneered some innovative concepts in Afghanistan.

Pashtuns are a cultural group who make up 40 percent of Afghanistan’s population. They live primarily in the East and South of the country, and the tribe overlaps into the so-called “Tribal” areas of Pakistan as well. Pashtuns are followers of Islam and the tribal code of Pashtunwali, which requires a Pashtun man to protect his honor by fighting for what is his – his family, his village, his tribe.  By and large the Pashtun male lives exclusively in one place and engages in all sorts of both bloody and bloodless internecine warfare over various domestic agreements.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan among the Pashtuns, a man defends his honor by fighting for his land, the women in his home, the rifle on his shoulder, and all together this is what is known as namoos. The center of cultural values  is ghairat (honor). To violate honor is peghor (shame). And such violation requires badal (revenge).  Guests in one’s home, even your enemies, must be accorded melmastic (hospitality), or your honor suffers.

All of this sounds peculiar, and yet it also seem all too familiar, like some blend of Hollywooded Native American culture and pulp fiction pioneer/cowboy stories, the sort of fantasies some of my contacts in the BATF refer to as gun extremists or “gun suckers.”

Tyson’s book got my brain working down a line that I couldn’t shake . I had this notion that somehow these same values exist here in the U.S. among all our various “tribes,” though we no longer call them that or refer to ourselves in such ways.  Native Americans and AFricans had tribes, not us white Americans. Really?Despite social media and all of our fishy-flashy toy technology and electronic gewgaws, we remain at heart tribes, these tribes being families, religions, neighbors, work colleagues, villages, and so forth. Add to this fashion trends and fads in political leanings and you get a Tea Party, working to demolish all vestiges of so called “liberalism” and bring us back to the purity of each man for himself economy and way of life, which never existed anywhere, and still doesn’t. Political movements create bogymen. Back when I was growing up we had McCarthy screaming “Red!” all over the TV and radio. Now it’s liberals and back in the sixties it was the conservatives and government under attack from the left.

Are we so different than the Pashtuns? I doubt it.

In this day and age it is the creed among many of us  that if we don’t agree with certain values, we are automatically the enemy. To some extent our national and state politics reflect this sort of either/or dichotomy, what I was once told was the old salesman’s code, that you’re either with him (a customer) or agin him (not a customer).

Seems like now– and this has been true for a long time to a lesser degree– those who perceive themselves as the historical “majority” force in the country assume their values should rule and all others must adjust and work to understand and adopt the “majority ways, not vice versa.  Here people sneer and curl their lips and call the people of Afghanistan “untutored savages and wild tribes and infidels (believers in a faith not so large among Americans). Are we so different? 

Ms. Tyson points out that in the period around 2011-210 the word “Taliban” in Pashtun country translated loosely a those Pashtuns opposed to the corrupt Kabul government and foreign military intervention. That unhappy group was a substantial subset of the overall tribal group and sympathetic to the Taliban. For some reason I keep hearing Tea Party when I read the word Taliban, that is, a self-declared group wanting their own agenda, which boils down to a purified national fiscal policy that more or less erases everything but the individual and staunch individualism as a way of life. I’ll take care of me and you take care of you, a reality which has never existed.

This got me to thinking about America, not so much as we think we are now, but as we once were, in the sense that we some time ago lived on a more primitive physical existence. That is not true anymore, yet there’s little doubt we remain at our base a tribal society.  Our tribes just aren’t so visible or apparent as in Afghanistan. And, it’s our nation’s myth that guns somehow played a major role in our overcoming this continent, both geographically and socially, and although  there is some truth to this, it is far from the whole story. There were lots of guns in the US, especially after the Civil War, but words were more the weapons of change than the guns– albeit guns were always there and ready should situations escalate to violence. People still voice this value.

This sort of society has always been a myth except in some extremes situation which almost always involved extreme geography, that is those folks living beyond the pale were pretty much dependent on themselves with no towns or neighbors of like minds close by. Very few Americans lived in such extreme circumstances though some would make you believe that the country grew up this line and anyone now thinking differently is a “liberal” (translation: enemy).

Okay, enough on all that business except to say  a great part of writing is thinking and trying to figure out who we are now vs who we once were, not the myths of those things, but the realities. 

This has been a very productive summer so far with the following short stories now in the plastic bin:

  • Silence of Falling Trees
  • Waning Moon
  • Island of Apples
  • Dufour’s Star
  • Test Results
  • Inside the Wire
  • Deucewaffe
  • Colored Herring, Red and Otherwise
  • Special Delivery
  • Except That’s Not How Life Is
  • Deliver Us to Evil
  • Mawinzo, He Picks Berries
  • A More or Less Genuflecting Posture
  • Hearts of Wolves
  • The Department of Exceedingly Brilliant Cookies
  • His Own Personal Hydra
  • Gated Community
  • Food Aversions
  • Spin Cycle
  • The Specialist
  • Neti, Neti
  • Power
  • Basking in the Light
  • Down in a Tree
  • We;re Gonna Be Shitting Thunderbirds!

That’s all from here. Shot and a Beer! Over!