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The Monday Book: THE BEAR WENT OVER THE MOUNTAIN by William Kotzwinkle

Okay, I hate magical realism. Why I picked up this book, I cannot tell you, but I’m so glad I did. It is laugh out loud funny. I read so many parts of it out loud to Jack, he finally told me to stop, he’d read it later.bear

Aesop’s Fables meets David Lodge in this book about a bear who finds a novel in a briefcase, and decides to turn himself into somebody. Which means going to New York, becoming the toast of the publishing and talk circuit world, and buying a British title. Also lots and lots of pies, cakes, ice cream, pretzels, and potato chips. He’s a bear. He names himself Hal Jam, because there’s nothing nicer than jam, and he can remember how to spell Hal.

People involved in the publishing and/or cult of celebrity world will shriek with recognition at some of the antics of this bear and his team, but everyone is going to love him on some level. If it gives you any insights, the book culminates in a lawsuit about copyright.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

The bear looked out the window at the city. “Mine,” he thought. Of course he’d need to shit around the perimeter and subdue some females, but time enough for that.

When I wasn’t annoying Jack by saying, “Wait wait, listen to this!” I was laughing out loud, startling the dogs as they lay by the bed. This book is so very, very funny. It skewers the publishing experience and a few other things besides. And it never lets up.

So when I finally realized I was indeed enjoying a magic realism novel, I thought it had to be because the author was such a good writer. Simple, fast sentences with complex nuances, floating between bear brain and publisher brain. He’s good, this guy.

Yeah, well, William Kotzwinkle wrote ET. Yes, that ET.

Two unopposable bear claws up for THE BEAR WENT OVER THE MOUNTAIN.

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

Ariel Chats with the Crowd

arielHi! I’m Ariel! I’m an Appalachian Feline Friends foster cat, which means I have a safe place to stay while my furrever family finds me.

I’m really glad to be an AFF cat, but I’m getting kinda bored, y’know? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know good and well what COULDA happened – don’t think I don’t. It’s just that I’ve been waiting about six weeks now and I only get out to play once a day and it’s just flat boring.

Peggotty, the cat in the pen next to mine, she’s a good conversationalist and sometimes we talk. About the places we’ve been, the hard times we’ve seen, the kinda homes we’re hoping to have. She wants a big place where she can run around up and down stairs, and a nice soft bed to sleep on indoors at night.

Come to think of it, so do I. I’m a real sporty girl, love to run and play, and when I do get my paws on that jingle ball, baby, it’s mine. But I also have a warm side. Shoulder rides are kinda… you know, nice.

What I really wish is I could be captain of a volleyball team, really a beach volleyball team, but the people who work here say they don’t give those jobs to cats. Which is a shame. We’d have won those Olympic thingees for y’all.

But okay, so I have to do cat jobs. I’ll take care of your mice, and I’ll keep my litter box and my bed neat as a pin, and if you have other cats around I’ll play nice with ’em. I’m not too familiar with dogs, but hey, they should be easy for me to train. Never had any trouble teaching the kittens right from wrong, and they’re smarter than dogs. No kittens for me, though. I’m spayed.

Not that I’m prejudiced, mind. Live and let live, that’s my motto. Except for mice. That’s different.

So if you’re looking for a sporty girl with some high energy love to give who would just love to curl up against your shoulder at night for some quality cuddle-n-purr time, look no further. Call AFF and ask for Ariel.

Oh, and yeah, Peggotty’s here too. She says hi.

 

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Filed under animal rescue, bookstore management, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: The Girl in the Spiders Web by David Lagercrantz

Jack and Wendy started listening to The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz on the way back from Wyoming. They tried to finish it back home. This guest blog by Jack is the result.

I got the distinct feeling that this was an unfinished story by the original series’ author Stieg Larsson that had been finished off by Lagercrantz.

The first two thirds of the book is just as gripping as the previous books in the Lisbeth Salander series, but then it fairly abruptly drifted off into a plotless limbo. I never thought I’d end up forcing myself to finish it simply to find out what happened to one of the characters. And the characters! How many do you need to keep introducing? Reporters, magazine executives, IT experts, gangsters, movie stars, psychologists, US intelligence agents and on and on – – . Many of these appeared as the plot was beginning to lose direction, so thank you Mr Lagercrantz.

Enough, already!

The basic idea of taking something that most people have a vague knowledge of, in this case the genius savant,  and then stretching it to its limits and building a gripping conspiracy around it, got the book off to a pretty rollicking start. It’s just a shame it shifted into neutral and started coasting.

It hasn’t put me off going back to re-read the original books by Stieg Larsson, but I won’t be rushing to buy Lagercrantz’s next epic.

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What do you do?

 Jack’s weekly post –

 

In a previous post I spoke about my visit to the Buffalo Bill museum in Cody, Wyoming a few weeks ago.

I felt I needed to put that into much more of a personal context, so here goes –

As I said previously my Grandad went to see the Wild West Show in Dunfermline in 1904, which was part of the last European tour by Buffalo Bill’s show and was augmented by additional subcontracted acts such as Zulu warriors as well as Cossack and Japanese horsemen.

I had always been intrigued by the notion of the cobbled streets of my historic old hometown being clattered by Native Americans and the Deadwood Stage, not to mention Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley!

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Buffalo Bill Cody himself!

But back in the early 2000s I was roped into collaborating on a CD featuring my friend and folk music mentor, the late John Watt. John was a wonderful and very individual songwriter and most of his songs were written from a very ‘Fife’ point of view. The CD was titled ‘Heroes’ and one of these accorded this honor was Buffalo Bill. I discovered that John’s father had also witnessed that 1904 performance in my (and his) hometown.

We talked about this shared family history and it turned out that John had written a number of songs about that occasion, and two of them were to be on the album. One was a quirky and very funny one called ‘The day that Billy Cody played the auld grey toon*’ while the other was much more thoughtful – ‘The Wild West Show’.

The ‘Wild West Show’ describes the mix of acts, but also points out that the massacre of Wounded Knee had happened just a few years earlier and suggests that the answer to the ‘Indian Problem’ was to turn them into cheap entertainment, playing a parody of themselves in front of European heads of state.

John very rarely wrote ‘message’ songs, but this one, with a great tune and a very sing-able chorus has been covered by many other performers and is one my own favorites.

Shortly after we left Cody we deliberately drove to the site of the Wounded Knee massacre where we met a number of descendents of the survivors staffing tables by the side of the road. They weren’t selling trinkets or souvenirs; nor were they asking for money; they were just there to tell their story.

I felt very guilty that many of the Scots that were ‘cleared’ from the highlands and survived the coffin ships to reach America, then proceeded to ‘clear’ the indigenous folk they found there in turn.

The irony is that because this was the last tour, some of the Indians decided to stay on in Glasgow. A ‘ghost shirt’ they had brought with them ended up in a local museum and was finally returned to the US five years ago – quite a circular tale!

“The red man rides for the white man’s fee,
Better than a grave at Wounded Knee,
I better he never thought he’d see,
The spires of the auld grey toon*.

“Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Bill, my daddy saw you comin’ down the hill.

A big success for soldier blue, with the last brave dead in the snow,

What do you do with the Cheyenne and the Sioux?

You put them in a wild west show”

 

*The auld grey toon is an affectionate nickname for Dunfermline.

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Filed under folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

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

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