Most of the time we seem to be reading forward, always consuming new books and pieces, but sometimes it’s rewarding to go back and re-read something, especially something that had an impact on your, or which you remember as having an impact.
Somewhere it’s written we can’t step in the same river twice, which means the place is dynamic and so are we and this makes each time unique. When I was sixteen or so and just moved to the Upper Peninsula I read Erich Maria Remarque’s ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. My choice from the base library, not something from the family or school. I was riveted because this was the time of John Wayne and Audie Murphy and World War II glory, war it all its Hollywood drum-beating.
Of world war I knew virtually nothing beyond some dates and barren facts. Then I read Remarque and was astounded at the sheer power and ugliness of soldiers trapped in what we would later refer to as “the shit.” Remarque was conscripted into the German army at age 18 and sent in to combat after minimal training. He was wounded five times, the last one putting him out of action and into the hospital for the rest of the war.
His writing is spare, almost like a newspaper report. Critics call it emotive and indeed it is that, but Remarque has the eye and ability for the perfect odd fact to drive home his scenes. Here’s s fine example of what I mean. This is in the aftermath of a particularly brutal bombardment by French artillery: “Two were so smashed that Tjaden remarks you could scrape them off the wall of the trench with a spoon and bury them in a mess-tin. Another has the lower part of his body and legs torn off. Dead, his chest leans against the side of the trench, his face is lemon-yellow, in his beard still burns a cigarette. It glows until it dies out on his lips. We put the dead in a large shell-hole. So far there are three layers, one on top of the other.”
The story is written in first person and oddly the narrator almost always relates what others are saying rather than letting them say it; this technique doesn’t get in the way once you get accustomed to it. It would be frowned upon in most modern writing classes.
Most of All Quiet stays solidly among the comrades in battle and between battles, but Remarque also sends his protagonist home on an extended leave and here we see the glowy ignorance of civilians rubbing against personal military reality. This sort of disconnect takes place during and after every war, including our most recent misadventures around the globe. Here’s what Remarque wrote: “I imagined leave would be different from this….It is I, of course, that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and to-day. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed because of it. I find I do not belong here anymore, it is a foreign world. Some of these people ask questions, some ask no questions, but one can see that they are quite confident they know all about it; they often say so with their air of comprehension, so there is no point discussing it. They make up a picture of it for themselves.”
Just like here, just like now and as we have a smaller and smaller percentage of combat vets in our population the distance of the public experience grows away from the realities.
On last example of Remarque’s detail. “The days are hot and the dead lie unburied. We cannot fetch them all in, if we did we should not know what to do with them. The shells will bury them. Many have their bodies swollen up like balloons. They hiss, belch, and make movements. The gases in them make noises…when the wind blows toward us it brings the smell of blood, which is heavy and sweet. This deathly exhalation from the shell holes seems to be a mixture of chloroform and putrefaction and fills us with nausea and retching.”
The books holds up very nicely upon rereading and I would recommend it to all who know little about World War I.
As an aside, the book was a best seller in Germany and in the U.S. and elsewhere and when Hitler came to power, Josef Goebbels banned and publicly burned the book and the move based on it were banned for Good Germans. By then Remarque was living in Switzerland. One of the main Nazi complaints was that Remarque changed his name from Remark to the family original of Remarque and that no “good German” would make such a change. The Nazis also claimed that Remarque had not served in WWI. His citizenship was revoked in 1938, and a year later he married his former wife to keep her from being repatriated to Germany and the two of them moved to the U.S. for the duration.
In 1943 Remarque’s sister was tried and found guilty of undermining morale because she had stated the war was lost. The court president declared, “Your brother is unfortunately beyond our reach – you however, will not escape us.” She was beheaded 16 Dec 43 and the cost of her arrest, prosecution, imprisonment and execution (495.80 RM) was billed to her sister Erna. Remarque was unaware of these events until after the war.
Remarque died in 1970 at the age of 72. All nine of his novels deal with the common soldier in military service ; all are worth your time.
FORD VILLAGE, ALBERTA, BARAGASTAN: Sunday, May 22, 2016 –Yesterday in Marquette to sign books and browse. Greeted in the store by Owliver the Discerning Owl. And humans too. Photos follow the blog. Today was pretty laid back, reading, etc. We Met Randy and Sally Clarke for dinner at the Hilltop. They are headed BTB after three days up on Brockway Mountain. Yesterday they saw 200 migrating hawks, today, driven on a south wind, 2,000 more, mostly broadwings, but a real mix of raptors. Got some great photos, which I’ll share when Randy sends them along.
With millions of living things (viruses,bacteria, etc) and species in so many habitats, we haven’t identified all on “our” earth and given this mass amount of pure biological mass, whey would there not be living things elsewhere in the universe? (Think Other Planets)
We look backward to Shakespeare’s time (he died 400 years ago this past April) and wonder how people then could have been so “ignorant.” Naturally we wonder how ignorant the facts of life from 2016 will appear in 2416. Far worse than the look-back from here, I suspect.
How many birds come to our feeders when we’re not there, or not paying attention? Some kind of corollary to “if a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody there to hear it….”
Randy Clarke, while working at a nature center (Bay City I think, but might be wrong on this) remembers the sight of bird watchers, usually old women in sneakers and trench coats and he told himself then he never wanted anything to do with them. Now he and wife Sally are two of them (absent trenchcoats), ,but armed with donkey-dick sized cameras with telephotos that take shots that reach nearly to god and frames per second capabilities rivaling the canons on an A-7 in attack mode.
Dave Stimac and I took a buzz down to Kingsley North in Norway this week to replenish polish and grit and some other rock supplies for Daves bird’s-eye wood and rock gift shop here on campus. We noted on our return journey that Evelyn’s Curve Inn had burned down. Dave related how in the 1970s the joint had trailers “out back” staffed by prostitutes – real life bagnios in Cheeseheadland. Those days appear to be long gone from the far north.
Heard word of an interesting homicide case underway in Iron County and it seems to have some very Coen Brothers elements to it so will give this some professional attention and see what comes of it. Stay tuned.
Blackflies are out with a vengeance here. I got six in one day under my shirt. Awful. We hauled out the Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer and began making slurries to rub onto the bites and alleviate the itching. Until two or three years ago blackflies rarely bit me and when they did had not a lot of effect. Now I puff up almost instantly. Nasty. Adolph’s works effectively and quickly. Only drawback: messy when it dries and falls off your skin.
Hummer males are here and being sighted at about 100 a day. Females should be along soon and counts will jump way up immediately. All the migrations seem to be running late this year. Warblers are just arriving – about 3 weeks later than normal.
Think of anger as a tool – say a hammer—especially when you punch the cause of the anger in the snoot.
Folklore and farmers sometimes fall way short. Rule of thumb here is no planting until after the first full moon in June. But that moon this June isn’t until the 20th and the frost-free planting season hereabout is only in the range of 70-100 days with our location on the lower end. So we will plant and cover and keep an eye on night-time shenanigans. The unpredictability of weather is only one reason small farmers contemplate suicide. As Napoleon once said, “On se degage, et puis on voit,” which translates roughly to “It clears up, and then you see.”
Photos follow: Over.
Tuesday, May 17, Ford Center, Alberta, Baragastan – No I don’t know diddly-beans about Yoga (Yogi Berra, you bet, Yogi Bear, Yes, Yoga the metaphysical stuff, uh-uh). Yoga Journal is Jambe Longue’s Maggie, which she uses to help her keep her ouchy back from barking and seizing up. The mag features stories such as “How to Move Safely From Matsyasana to Camatkarsana.” I thought the answer would be to hire a competent moving company, but I turned out to be wrong. Really wrong, and my humor was not appreciated.
To be fair, the raggy-maggie has some good stuff in it – beyond pictures of rubber-limbed women – such as a piece in the June 2016 edition which offers seven tips for stimulating creativity. What it actually says is “surprising ways to spur innovation.” Magazine writing always loves adjectives. Snark aside, here’s the list: 1. Take a walk; 2. Do a quick body scan; 3. Eat more fruit; 4. Let Yourself Be Bored; 5. Hit the road; 6. Leave Your desk messy; and 7.Start doodling. Immediate assessment, I already do 1-3-4-5-6 and 7, so I looked in the mirror, proclaimed “You’re fat!” So, I increased the amount of Nos 1 and 3, so I’m now 7 for 7, right? Move more, eat less, what could be simpler than that?
I’d like to focus on No 5, Hitting the Road and as I read this I could hear the late Robin Williams (playing AFRS radio DJ Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning Vieeetnaaam!) tell his elderly Viet students to “Hit the fucking road, Jack!” And all of them repeating as one, his precise instruction — like a good catechism class.
Seriously, travel, especially if you work to engage your new surroundings rather than just pass through them, is a wonderful way to open your eyes and find new things to see and new ways to see them and if you can dive deep into the local cultures, the creative dividends can be remarkable – especially if you get your butt off paved roads.
A few years ago Jambe Longue and I were in Gogebic County scouting scene locations for Mountains of the Misbegotten. We were over near Tula in Gogebic Co and after stumbling onto private property tried to find a road north into some country that I wanted my characters to travel through (and which is coincidentally laced with nice trout streams). First cabin after we pull onto the two-track there is a naked woman sun bathing on a front deck. Our arrival sends her scrambling and of course Jame Longue and I are howling and then we pretty much forgot about it. Could get more than a dozen miles north before poor road and my lack of nerve turned us around.
Put this memory in a little packet and hold on. Now let move to just this past weekend. Dave (MVB, Multiple Vehicle Boy) and Diana (Agate Vulture No. 1) Stimac asked us to go along while they made some business stops for their Nature’s Way gift shop her in Alberta.
We left here 0930 in Dave’s Ford 350 white “Land Yacht” (He calls in Fat Ass) and headed west, our itinerary being Ontonagon, Merriweather and Wakefield. After finishing business meeting in Onty we stopped for brunch at Syl’s Café and after Brunch stopped at the NONESUCH gift shop across the street where we saw a wonderful chainsaw carving of a bobcat. Yesterday I saw what looked like a similar one on my novelist pal Henry Kisor’s FACEBOOK posting and told him we’d seen one like it in the gift store. Turns out we saw the identical one because he bought it that afternoon!
At Syl’s I should point out that we saw not one, but two different priests having post-mass lunch with parishioners and of course I had to sketch them in my People I See in Public Sketchbook.
As we approached Merriweather (west of Bergland) we regaled Dave and Diana with our story of the naked sunbather and then we turned off the blacktop onto a dirt road.
“Hey,” I yelped at Jambe Longue. “This looks like the same road.”
She yelped back, “It is the same road.”
Then I saw the cabin. “Hey that’s the very cabin we saw with the lady on the front deck!”
And then Dave pulled into the driveway, grinning. “This is our destination,” he said.
Out came Jim white-bearded Jim “Agate Addict” Jim Collins. Great guy, very knowledgeable about agates and all sorts of rocks. His pal Jim (missed his last name) showed up shortly thereafter. Pal Jim is retired train engineer from Yoop, fun guy, very knowledgable, originally from Wisconsin. The agate addict lives in Minnesota but keeps this old trapper cabin as his man-cave. Wonderful place, will no doubt appear in a book at some point, which is another benefit of travel.
Naturally MVB immediatly regales the Agate Addict with the story of Mme Au Naturel and Collins is knocked backwards. “When was this?”
“Three years ago,” Jambe Longue says.
“You saw the woman too?” he asked Jambe Longue.
“Indeed I did.”
“Well it wasn’t my wife because she hates coming up here. I bought this place 10 years ago. My son is divorced by he’s got a new girlfriend. Or it might have been one of the women from the camp across the way looking to get away from “menfolk.” He continue noodling but no answer came to the fore and we went inside to start examining rocks and looking around. Then the Other Jim showed up. Not his wife on the deck either.
After the trapper cabin we moved on to Wakefield and then on the way home stopped at the giant stop and rob in Bruce Crossing — grocks, gas,sporting goods, bait, all the good stuff—and I took a photo of custom camo truck paint job and went inside with my camera, my only goal to find a john but I got stopped by a stumpy little fellow with his toque pulled down like Eminem. “What you take pitchers of eh?”
“Whatever strikes my fancy. The plan is no plan.”
“Here I got a photo you won’t get,” he says and takes out his wallet (wrapped, like mine, in rubber bands) and digs out an old faded snapshot of trucks. “This as when they was building M-28,” he explained.
“You’re right, I won’t get a photo like that,” and moved on, but he followed. “Hey, take pitcher dat trap dere, you ain’t never seen one like dat before.” In fact I had. It was a large Connibear.
I said, “I know a guy owns a fur processing business and sells traps, downstate.”
I keep walking and he keeps shadowing. We are by the donuts now and he steps up past me to block my way, “You ever seen a trap eight or nine feet across.”
“Nope,” I said.
“I have,” he said proudly and competitively. Then, “M-28 needs to be four lane but these dumb motherfuckers from Bruce Crossing don’t want no traffic here nor no tourist money. They just want be left alone.”
No way to take a leak now without a shadow, so I bailed out and got back into Fat Ass. We were parked by the home camo job. Lonnie asked, “Who do you think owns that?”
I told her I had a pretty good idea as we pulled out and headed east for home.
May 10 Dave and I made a run up Pequamming Road, north of L’Anse to see the bartender at the Bella Vista Bar. The guy had been collecting and stripping huge spruce burls from the woods and wondering if Dave might be interested in them for his wood shop, so we went to look and from there went to the guy’s house over in Baraga to look at an even larger specimen. The man’s girlfriend came out and talked to us, Said she and her boyfriend took six hours to pull the damn thing through a beaver pond to their truck – on Mother’s Day. The guy told us when we met him he walks all the time despite having “two new knees and a basket on his spine. Worked construction and in the woods my whole life, paying da price now, hey.”
May 13 Jambe Longue heard all the birds scatter off the feeders and looked up to see a flash and then a peregrine falcon landed where it lorded over its prey, a rose-breasted grosbeak, and held its wings up like batman while it hammered the thing to death. Jambe Longue was fascinated. We’ve seen Cooper’s hawks do this at our place in Portage and once Bob Linsenman, Godfrey Grant and I saw an eagle do this to a hawk on the Trophy Water of the Au Sable, but this was our first time seeing a Peregrine in action. I’d read that their attack speed is up to 220 mph and they are a perfect mascot for the United States Air Force Academy. Go Falcons!
Our hummingbirds (hummers) came back to our feeders May 8, same day as last year. We love the bird and animal life around Alberta. Recently we took the dirt Menges Creek Road to town (we avoid blacktop at all costs) and were rewarded with a porky in an oak tree midday. It did not like my dancing around below to get photos, but remained aloft, trying to ignore my presence.
April 28 in the morning 0730 by our old house (Birch House) Lonnie and Shagsper were on the morning walk when they spied a light-colored wolf running eastward through heavy cover, following a sort of trail and route we’ve seen them on before. We live between two wolf pack (the Arvon and the Alberta) and animals go back and forth. Perhaps this one was looking to recruit for the Arvon Pack or looking love in one of those wrong places. Wolves: Who knows what they think. We like having them around even though we have to take some precautions with the dog. This is the price of immersing in a place, rather than speeding along the blacktop and stopping in tourist motels.
My very first copilot, Terry Daugherty got in touch with me over the website while we were up here. He was watching a lacrosse game on TV and though, “My old nav played for Michigan State, I wonder where he is now.” So he got on the computer and found me. We’ll get together later this summer. Last time I saw him he flew an OV-10 for the Pennsylvania National Guard out to Kalamazoo and we had lunch. Before that we had met in Bangkok. I was there on 3-mo TDY and he was on a year assignment as a Forward Air Controller, working with a green beret A team, living in a primitive and remote compound on the edge of some jungle. He had gone from 220 pounds to about 160 and looked like he had just come in from the Bataan Death March as we filled up on fresh milk flown down from Japan daily. More on our adventures after we meet. We once flew formation together in F4Es, my pilot mistaking me for a pilot rather than a navigator. He nearly had a heart attack when he discovered the truth and I had our wing about five feet off Terry’s wing and my guy was pushing me to “get closer.” More on all that later. We both puked that day in our cunt caps.
Sometime after we got her, my computer gagged and downloaded Word 10. In keeping iswthi the Cardinal road rule of computer-crap-world, it didn’t ask me. Just did it, and since then I can’t print a damn page and only last night figured out how to dump photos from my camera disk to the computer. Compukers! Over. Photos follow. (I hope)
MONDAY, MAY 2, ALBERTA, BARAGASTAN — We’re back on the Ford Forestry Campus of Michigand Tech and for tech reasons beyond our control, couldn’t post this last week. But the glorious trout opener has passed and fine weather it was. I put up the following for folks to enjoy and think about while trying to inveigle trout to flies or garden hackle. Weather here is fine. Had a hard frost this morning, and dine outside tonight. Ahh.
Thoughts for the Opening Day of Trout Season, 2016
The last Saturday in April, a time branded in the minds of small-water trout-chasers in Michigan.
Since most of fishing consists of watching and mechanical actions, there is a lot of time for thought, so I offer the following Imponderables to let loose in our heads on this magic day. I wrote these down decades ago, have no idea where I got found them.
1) Why do you need a driver’s license to buy liquor when you can’t drink and drive?
2) Why isn’t phonetic spelled the way it sounds?
3) Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?
4) Why do planes carry flotation devices instead of parachutes?
5) Why are cigarettes sold in gas stations, where smoking is prohibited?
6) Does one need a silencer to shoot a mime?
7) Have you ever imagined a world where there are no hypothetical situations?
8) How does the guy who drives the snowplow get to work (VW answered this long ago, but made no mention of his gas mileage back in those days.)
9) If 7-11 stores are open 24-7 for 365, why are there locks on the doors?
10) If the cow laughed, would milk come out her nose?
11) If nothing sticks to Teflon, how to they make the Teflon stick to the pan?
12) If you tied buttered toast to the back of a cat and dropped it from two stories up, what would happen?
13) If you are in a vehicle moving at the speed of light, what happens when you turn on your headlights?
14) Why do they put Braille on ATM keypads at drive-in banks?
15) Why do we drive on parkways, and park on driveways?
16) How come when you send something by car, it’s a shipment, but when it goes by ship it is called cargo?
17) How come they don’t make airplanes out of the stuff they use to make indestructible black boxes?
Tight lines and when some jamoke on the river tries to give you some unsolicited advice, remember what Harry pronounced in 1927: “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” We all have an equal right to our own opinions. We do not have a right to equal value or accuracy in said opinions.
Glorious morning here, bluebird sky and our 16th consecutive day of east or northeast wind, which will definitely not hinder the fishing, but may not be such a good thing for the catching side of the equation.
Bloodroot is in bloom in the foret—by legend and local lore, the first flowers of spring