The Monday Book

Jack’s Guest post – The Swan Thieves

Wendy and I listened to Elizabeth Kostova’s 17-disc novel as a recorded book to entertain us from Big Stone Gap all the way to western Wyoming and part of the way back. We like big books for big drives, and we cannot lie. Actually, I believe that the voices made a big difference and held our attention well.

As for the story – I thoroughly enjoyed it. The format is the tried and trusted multi-strings that begin as if they are completely unrelated, seem to develop without any obvious connection, and then finally resolve with all loose ends satisfactorily tied up.

The tale opens with a successful artist being arrested for attempting to damage a painting in a New York art gallery and continues through the voices of him, his ex-wife, ex-girlfriend, a 19th C. French artist and her uncle, and mainly the opening artist’s psychiatrist.

I’ve often found that this style of book loses me as I try to keep up with the different strands, but this time I had no problem and I felt gripped all the way to the end. The story is set mainly in New York, Maine, N. Carolina and Paris as well as 19th C. Normandy. Among other elements of enjoyment, the author really describes them well.

I suppose if I have any quibble at all it’s that the different threads of the story were rather abruptly brought together at the end, almost as if Kostova. got fed up and decided she’d had enough. I would have preferred a gentler landing perhaps. Then again, a book that entertains for 17 hours of driving is holding its own.

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Where it Hurts and where it Heals

Medicine wheel 075The place where I made Jack sleep in a tent was about a mile and a half from a Japanese internment camp from World War II. Lightly advertised, the place, and if Rod our Air B&B host hadn’t said something about what it was, we might have misunderstood and dismissed the Heart Mountain Historic Site sign.

But he did, and we went. We are used to touring painful places in American history. We went to the Minuteman Missile site. I’ve backpacked through Dresden. Jack went to Vietnam. We get that the “never again” resolve coincides with tourism and there’s something a little too soothing, too white privilege in the mix. Sometimes I think that George Satanyana guy got it wrong. History doesn’t repeat itself when it’s forgotten, but when it’s spun into information overload that numbs and soothes. If you see it enough, you become inured.

photography was at first forbidden in the camp, but as the time stretched, the regulation went lax. Which is why some of what happened and how it looked is now documented. Fear the camera, fear the journalist. Good.

photography was at first forbidden in the camp, but as the time stretched, the regulation went lax. Which is why some of what happened and how it looked is now documented. Fear the camera, fear the journalist. Good.

I don’t do politics publicly, so I’m only going to say that reading the information, written by people who were in the camp, was surreal in today’s American political climate of economic fear hidden behind anything we can think of to hide it behind. Creepy is a childish word. The edge of terror? Sick to the stomach? Too much drama. Surreal will have to do.

After we toured the Camp, we drove on to the Medicine Wheel in the pass off Highway 14a. The Medicine Wheel is still used, and  several signs at the beginning of the mile-and-a-half hike to it said, in essence, if someone of indigenous heritage is using the site, you’re going to wait, respectfully, without taking pictures. Accept this before you walk up there, because some of the prayers and ceremonies may take awhile.Medicine wheel 125

Medicine wheel 132 Medicine wheel 127 Medicine wheel 139No one was, so we walked widdershins around the circle, looking at objects left.

One place where the world hurts, one where it heals. Neither about white people like me. Except maybe that white people could have stopped one, and can honor the other. “The Courts Failed Us” interpretive sign was one of the most moving at the Camp. Another was the unexpected Dr. Seuss cartoon, anti-Japanese people. And how very reminiscent it is of certain attitudes in America today. At another site we visited more than a week ago, the Laura Ingalls Wilder birthplace, I remembered “Ma” and her favorite saying “A body makes its own luck.” Do we make our own enemies? Or was that Pogo the cartoon possum comic strip right: the enemy is us.

 

Theodore Geisel's unexpected contribution to the cause

Theodore Geisel’s unexpected contribution to the cause

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One of several artworks on display in the textile storytelling exhibit, from local women who created story quilts based on the camp. All were from Wyoming. None of the camp residents were allowed to remain in Wyoming after the camp closed. Adults were given $25 (equals $330ish today) and a bus or train ticket to the destination of their choosing. Some went back to LA or the Pacific Northwest, where they found their stored items stolen or vandalized. Many went East for work. Medicine wheel 049

There was one white woman at Heart Mountain, Estelle. She was married to a man who had to report to the camp. Estelle made $19 per day sketching scenes for newspapers. After the camp closed the sketches that didn’t make the newspapers began to circulate.Medicine wheel 018

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The question of the century

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One of the stalls in the ladies’ bathroom was fitted with mirrors and a warning sign. It said this stall was set up so you could see what the camp bathrooms were like – the toilets and showers had no doors. Communal or not at all.

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One of the things the museum makes clear is that the Japanese Americans ordered to report were confused, angry, yet compliant. Among all the weird things – including that at least one person was shot and killed at Heart Mountain for getting too close to the barbed wire fence, and some children were arrested when their homemade sled went past it on a back road – were that boys who turned 18 in the camp were required to register for the draft. Some went into the Armed Forces. 68 refused unless granted their freedom first, and they went to federal prison for 3 years.

The camp organized things for the kids to do because family life was chaotic, family units not eating together in the mess halls, children running about bored getting into mischief. Community leaders set up Boy and Girl Scout troups, and every day the Boy Scouts raised and lowered the flag in the camp where they were held prisoner by order of the American government.

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Medicine wheel 114There were many prayers at the Medicine Wheel. I’m not a fey person, but you could feel some of them capturing bad, some of them releasing good. We’re all praying for something.

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Scots in Tents

Wyoming 048When Jack and I were courting he assured me he loved nothing more than to go for long hikes in the wilderness and view the charms o’ nature.

Men say all sorts of things while they’re courting.

He did take me on a nice trip to Skye where we slept in the car and dipped our toothbrushes in the nearby running burn (that’s a creek to you and me). Just above the fossilized sheep shit, that brush dipping. But still, it seemed very rustic and a fun portent of things to come.

After we were married, we slept in motels and hotels and the houses of friends. When I talked him into hiking the West Highland Way, we walked off the trail every night to stay in trailside hotels.

So when Jack said to me, “You plan the accommodations for our trip to Wyoming, and I’ll be happy,” I saw my chance.

camp 1I’d always wanted to do more with Air B&B in America, having had fun with it in Chile and Portugal. So I hopped on and discovered that Wyoming in July is a popular destination and people start planning early. Eventually I stumbled across a site in Powell that offered some unique alternatives. Permanent tents.

Jack has a sad history with tents. His last time was as a cub scout, when he got puked on by his tent mate who had discovered the joys of picking wild berries and eaten too many of them that day. Rather puts one off the experience. He never wanted to go tent camping again, and that was sixty-five years ago.

So I booked a tent with wifely sneakiness, but forgot that the confirmations went to Jack’s email. Half an hour later Jack phoned me. “There’s a picture of a Confederate encampment with teepees on my emails. It says we’re staying there?”

camp 2Well, Rod and Lynn Morrison’s Quiet Rest Campground features some teepees and some tents and a sheep herder wagon. And when we arrived, it featured two sweet Border Collies named Lily and Dragon, and a running creek behind the tent that lulled us to sleep.

Which Jack did pretty well with. We enjoyed a tour with Lynn and settled in with books to listen to the running stream and sip libations, cooked supper on the camp stove, and snuggled into the duvets we’d brought instead of sleeping bags. All quite comfy.

I got up in the middle of the night to view the stars, and they were glorious. The Big and Little Dippers, Draco, and Cassiopia I could spot quickly. I went back to bed thinking I’d get up and look again in an hour, but when I did the moon was so full and bright it cast shadows. I shook Jack awake to view the glories of the night sky with me. This did not go well.camp 3

The next morning, as the hosts served the camp community beer-batter pancakes and delicious camp stove coffee, I asked Jack what he thought of the experience, and whether we might look into similar ones for the future.

Jack looked me in the eye. “I’m very glad we did this, and I never want to do it again.”

Translation? My Scot-in-tent has no intent of repeating the intense experience of being a Scot in a tent.

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing

Black Bears in the Black Hills

We’re traveling across Wyoming today. These bears were NOT traveling across Wyoming, but at Bear Country, back in South Dakota. It’s a glorified zoo, but the bears literally walk up to your car and stare at you. They’re swapping license plate sightings or something, probably steal hubcabs when the owners aren’t looking. I’ve rarely seen bears this close, except at that garbage dump in Appalachia. :]

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Three feet from the car – check the video on my FB timeline for when he got two inches from the car.

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Union says the bears get breaks. He wasn’t waving at nobody until he’d had his cigarette.

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Hail the Mighty Buffalo Hunters

Jack and I adore watching the prairie dogs, of which there are many along the back highways of South Dakota. We pull over and sit a few minutes, and once they get used to us, the TV show starts right up. “Welcome to KDOG, the number one viewer choice for Black Hills entertainment!”

We got pretty good at spotting the little mounds and holes of earth among grasses that signals one of these encampments, and congratulated ourselves on being good hunters.

And then we passed the buffalo….

Three Wildlife loops and two hikes into our stay in Custer State Park, we’d seen neither hide nor horn of the great bison. Since Jack had never seen a buffalo in his entire life, I was beginning to feel a failure as a tour guide.

One night just about dusk we set out to do the Wildlife Road inside the park, confident that our ability to stay up past 9 pm would be rewarded.

And we saw white tailed deer, and we saw mule deer, and we saw long horned sheep, and we saw antelope, and we saw what we think was a black foot ferret. You know you’re jaded when you pass a herd of antelope, glance over and go, “Eh, just antelope” and accelerate. We were hunting buffalo, after all.

So when I came upon a man driving the other way, stopped in the middle of the road taking a picture to one side, I was mildly annoyed. “Outta my way, son, we’re huntin’ buffalo!”

As we accelerated past him, Jack looked back and said, “Oh, it’s one of those big black things.”

“A bear?!” I shrieked, driving faster. Our windows were down.

“Nah. You know.” He made gestures with his hands, describing something that could have been a VW bug or a breadbasket. “What do you call the things we’re looking for again?”

“Buffalo,” I said, already scanning the horizon. Then it dawned (or dusked) on me. “That was a buffalo?”
“Yeah,” said Jack. “Right next to the road.  Maybe ten feet away.”

So I’m sure there is a life lesson in here somewhere, kids. Don’t look too hard for something or you’ll miss the fact that it’s standing eight feet off your right shoulder as you scan the horizon. On a positive note, Jack said he could count its curls, and now he’d seen a buffalo that close, he never wanted to see another in such proximity again.

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This guy was enjoying the sun a ways off the highway as we traveled route 2.

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And this guy was at the entrance to the park when we came back.

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with his family

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They aren’t actually penned in. A stretch of road that must be near their rounds has a cattle crossing grid at each end of it, and this hog wire fencing on one side. I think the rangers must have gotten tired of cleaning up buffalo and tourist parts from close encounters.

Wounded Knee 012And in keeping with the spirit of the adventure, when I finished photographing the distant buffalo off highway 2, this prairie dog was about two feet from my feet, scolding me. “What am I, chopped liver?”

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

East, West – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –

When I realized that Wendy had the bit between her teeth and was well down the road to organizing an extended road trip starting just a week after I got back from Scotland, I admit that my heart sank just a little.

What I hadn’t appreciated was that it had all started back in February with a comment from me: “I have always wanted to see the Mount Rushmore National Monument”. So Wendy set out to pull together a trip that would include that, as well as other sites I had mentioned in passing, such as the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody. She added in places she knew I had to see along the way, including the South Dakota Badlands and the Black Hills.

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The truth is that I shouldn’t have had any misgivings!

This has really been the trip of a lifetime and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. From the delights of downtown Sioux Falls, to the birthplace of Carl Sandburg, the home(s) of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the amazing Badlands (even more so in an evening violent thunderstorm), Mount Rushmore and the natural sculptures and wildlife of the Black Hills. The equally unforgettable Minuteman missile site – – –

Perhaps most memorable has been the wildlife – the delightfully domestic prairie dogs, ponderous bears, athletic deer and regally oblivious bison!

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I had already experienced much of the eastern states and some of the west coast, but the mid-west is new to me.

East, west, hame’s best? Sometimes east and west can give hame a run for its money!

PS – I forgot to mention that my grandad saw Buffalo Bill’s wild west show, complete with the Deadwood stage, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull etc. back in my hometown of Dunfermline in 1903!

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It’s a Small World on Dachshund Legs

the hike 008In a move that surprised me after 18 years of marriage, Jack agreed to go on TWO hikes with me yesterday. First we did a gentle loop around Sylvan Lake, where I intend to swim tomorrow if the temperatures reach their predicted 100. The lake is gorgeous and you can swim out and touch these rocks.

But then he said yes to CATHEDRAL SPIRES, a trail marked as “strenuous but worth it” by most reviewers.

Off we set, me carrying the frozen bottle of water, camera, trail map, and Jack’s fortified cokes, Jack wearing his sunglasses and looking very much like a doomed man the night before his execution.

We hadn’t gone a quarter of a mile before we found that 1) we were in over our fitness level and 2) shady spots on the trail were prime real estate. People would stop and rest in these, and fairly often you’d find someone who had been abandoned by their walking comrades, who were headed up while the person waited patiently on a rock. Looking winded and somewhat crestfallen.the hike 023

At an early shade stop, we chanced upon a young couple with dachshunds. My friend Elissa is a dachshund rescuer and whenever we travel, I take photos of any we see and send them to her. I asked the couple of they’d mind me photographing their dogs, and they said no, but why?

When I told them about Elissa, the lady said, “These are rescue dachshunds. Bug is the spotted one and Penny is the black and tan. What’s your friend’s rescue’s name?”

I explained that Pam Lucas ran In His Hands Small Animal Rescue and Elissa was CEO of the Dachshund Division. The woman’s face crinkled.

“I’ve liked their rescue on Facebook,” she said. “I keep up with them.”

I laughed, then said I’d tell them so. “What’s your name?”

“Erica Spicer,” she replied with a friendly nod.

Well, Erica was the person who promoted my spay and neuter kitty afghans via her rescue, and the hike 033became my Facebook friend, more than a year ago. We shook hands and made remarks to the effect that it is a small world after all, and off Jack and I went. Little doxie legs need longer to climb a “strenuous but worth it” trail.

With many stops, Jack and I finally summited the Spires – but not before also meeting a woman from Dingwall, Scotland, and holding a brief Brexit argument with some folk at another shading hole. At the top we chatted with two people whose daughter had married a Scotsman from Aberdeen. And I took pictures of Jack enjoying his Coke. It’s amazing the places you can get a Coke these days.

the hike 037As we started back down, we met Team Erica just reaching the home stretch of the trail. I only snapped a picture of her back because by the time I thought to ask to take one, they were moving forward, and that part of the trail was not a psychologically good place to stop. The Catherdral Spires are about a mile and a half more or less straight up, then back down, with a few easier stretches along the way. The point where we met Erica was just after you have to basically hand over hand climb a stretch of rock, and the trail bends sharply. So you can’t see that you are in fact at the home stretch, the Spires are just in front of you up a gentle incline, and you’re there. On the way up, Jack had said to me in the very same spot, “If this isn’t the top, it’s the top for me. I’ll wait for you.”

Yeah yeah, insert life metaphor about not giving up two feet from gold. Anyway, Erica had just puffed her way through those rocks and I wasn’t about to stop her head of steam that close to the glorious view. So here’s her backside, and Penny and Bug’s and her husband’s. Penny was pretty much towing at this point, looking quite pleased with herself.the hike 042

We ambled back down. The road home is always shorter for some reason. On the way Jack said, “I feel like I’ve summited Mt. Everest.” Yep.

At the top you are sitting among the spires. Enjoy the scenery. We sure did! See if you see a Christmas tree and two chess pieces, like I did.

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch