High Desert Journal wit n e s s to th e west
S I IT R
Today I find myself humming the Bob Dylan song, “Spirit on the Water,” from the Modern Times album. You know how it is; a tune lodges in your head and you catch yourself repeating snatches. Last night’s storm, unusual in Scottsdale in December, caused flooding. For Dylan, the flood is an apocalyptic image – often, the levee breached – but at root it points to Noah’s story. We remember the animals being led into the ark two-by-two and the rainbow representing the new covenant that appears afterward, but we forget the drowning of the wicked. Maybe we don’t know where we would stand.
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> A few years ago, my girlfriend, Laurie, and I lived further south beside the Indian Bend Wash, a flood-control device. In our part of the desert, which receives only eight inches of rain a year – mostly during monsoon season in July – water arrives in sudden bursts and the hard baked land cannot absorb it. Rain from mountains miles from here bores down into the Valley, sweeping everything before it. Engineers have forced the run-off into grooves that slice the urban landscape, and the Wash is part of this engineering feat: a 25-mile spindle allowing water to flow through when it needs to and serving as a park the rest of the time. Walking there, I’d think about the great parks of London, Paris, and New York where citizens of every stripe exercise and promenade in areas that are neither wilderness nor garden. Frederick Olmstead described the urban park as the city’s lungs. The Wash, too – a mere 100 yards across – eclipses the strip malls and condo developments that slap against it. Languorous herons compete with human fishers at lakes teeming with birds. Homeless people, congregating near public toilets, toss bread to the ducks, and further along the path Frisbee teams play a sort of golf game, aiming at baskets on poles.
Crossing the bridge to “Picnic Island” – densely planted with trees and filled with bird song – I’d find myself wishing for a flood to wash away the local government. Here, increasingly, officials dice up public space for private use. A sign at a nearby condominium warns against feeding the private ducks and catching the private fish in its private lake. Beyond it a private golf course elbows the public path off to the side. There are 97 golf courses in the Valley. Was this one really necessary? These days, Laurie and I live beside a golf course ourselves and walk paths that circle it. The Dylan song is in my head as we pass lakes formed from the storm in sand traps and under bridges. “Spirit on the water, darkness on the face of the Earth,” I hum, the lines a gloss on Genesis: “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” An instant river twists through the fairways where golf carts usually whisk by, although the water level has subsided enough to leave tree branches and plastic bottles along its sides like a ring around a bathtub.
Now, the sun is brilliant. Near the horizon a few clouds billow, their blackness drained. Sparrows emerge from shelter and furiously sort through the trash. It’s the moment when the dove returns to the ark with the olive branch. I’m turning over the idea of being “born again” as I hum the next line of Dylan’s song, where he jauntily juxtaposes earth’s fate to his desires: “I keep thinking of you, baby / And I can’t hardly sleep.” It’s a love song, really – sexual longing making the old man new, nature getting the upper hand. It’s that way on our park too, when the golfers can’t play. The Sonoran Desert is only 10,000 years old, and life forms still struggle for what’s theirs. On days like this, we are flies on their walls, and I remember the time on the rim of the Grand Canyon when I watched giant condors, their wings spanning 10 feet, hang motionless in thermal currents. I remember a dark dusty road in Sedona when the car lights picked out hundreds of hairy tarantulas crossing an open field. On another night in southern Arizona, along the Verde River at twilight, I saw thousands of bats skimming the surface of the water. Not for spirit but bugs. < hdj >
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ga bri e l ma nca Archerâ€™s Children 2012 Paint, mixed media 15.5 ~ 11.5 inches 19 ~ 15 inches framed
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High Desert Journal w i t n ess to th e west Issue 17, Spring 2013
Robert Wrigley. Single-Mindedness Sheryl Noethe. Dashboard
Judith H. Montgomery. Clearing the Field
David James Duncan. A Word on Genre: Eastern Westerns James Stolen. This Rifle
Glen Chamberlain. The Insomniacs’ Lullaby
Richard Toon. Spirit on the Water Russell Rowland. Cowboy
Beth Loffreda. Dinosaur Monument Elizabeth Quinn. The Ride
Daniel Duford. A Fellowship with the Land
Ellen Waterston. GG’s. Just for the Fun of It
Jeff Leake. The West
Janice Druian. Reflections Daniel Duford. untitled
Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts Ric Gendron. A Quiltsen Song
Frank LaPena. Gatekeepers of the Invisible John Feodorov. Vanitas #1
Rick Bartow. Kestrel with Horizon Ric Gendron. Rattle
James Luna. Indian Edge Marie Watt. Camp
Jim Denomie. Untruthful 32
Corwin Clairmont. Banana Polar Bear Gabriel Manca. Paintings
Ryan LaBar. Continuous Transformations
Reviews 48 48
Mark E. Swisher and Dennis L. Jenkins. Closing the Door on the Clovis-First Theory
Review of Thinking Like a Canyon by Jarold Ramsey. Reviewed by Lisa A. Pounders.
Review of Thousands Flee California Wildflowers by Scott Siegel. Reviewed by Jamie Houghton.
On the Cover
Raven Heart Ric Gendron Monoprint. From a series of 12 monoprints on Rives BFK white. 30 ~ 22.25 inches From Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts. Article and artwork, page 27
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High Desert Journal
From the editor
witn ess to th e west
On a recent spring evening, birdsong fluting the air, I had the pleasure of dining with the Poet Laureate of Montana, Sheryl Noethe, and her husband, Bob, at their home in Missoula. They live in what’s called the lower Rattlesnake, and Mt. Jumbo – a calming presence – sits just outside their back door. That evening a waxing moon hovered above it, while inside we enjoyed Bob’s famous (and excellent) macaroni and cheese, as well as a wide-ranging conversation. When we touched on the subject of parents, I was reminded of Sheryl’s poem “Dashboard” which we publish on page 12, and its line “I can’t imagine him gone,” meaning her father. As it turns out a number of articles in this issue revolve around fathers. The theme – quite unintentional – evolved on its own. Russell Rowland’s essay “Cowboy” kicked it off, grabbing my attention with its drop-youin-the-deep-end first line. Since its writing, I’m sad to say Russell’s father has passed, and our sympathies go out to his family. On a happier note, James Stolen’s flash fiction, “Rifle” is a wonderful father-to-son ode of passing down an important and cherished family heirloom. And founding editor, Elizabeth Quinn, adds her voice to this issue with a piece about her own father’s choices about love and the influence he and Women Oregon’s Trail Riders Association are having on her life. It’s not all about dads of course. In a bitingly funny excerpt from his upcoming novel, David James Duncan skewers the idea of what he calls “Unbusted Westerns,” that genre of Yippi-kai-ai tales “never meant to portray anything as nuanced as actual human lives in actual western places.” Meanwhile, Ellen Waterston reports to us about the actual lives of a group of Oregon women who met for over 40 years, their only objective, “Have fun.” And Glen Chamberlain is back, this time her story one of middle-age impulsiveness and longing. And there is much, much more. Directly or indirectly, all of the stories make me think of my father: his humor, his wisdom, and, yes, his passing. In particular, I’m reminded of a saying he had, “Them as likes it, speaks highly of it.” I remember him applying it to all manner of things: from rock climbing, to Cajun food, to nascar. A man of simple pleasures – clam chowder, pipe smoke – he might not have cared for a thing himself, but was willing to accept other people’s ways of being in the world, to grant them their tastes and desires. He certainly would have applied the phrase to my being taken with the West, its landscapes and all that go with it. My father was from Boston, grew up sailing and never lost his love of the sea, and yet he would have allowed me my peculiarities (as he saw them), knowing, “It takes all kinds,” another one of his favorite sayings. So it is in the spirit of all kinds, of speaking highly of, and fathers in general that we bring you issue #17 of High Desert Journal. As always the goal is to shine a light on the people, stories and ways of being the West fosters. Similar or different from our own, we feel it’s important they be recorded: witnessed. Obviously, we speak highly of the West around here, and I hope, with each issue, it becomes more and more evident why. – Charles Finn, Editor
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Elizabeth Quinn editor
Charles Finn c o m m u n i c at i o n s d i r e c t o r
Tina Walker Davis
board of directors
Sandy Anderson Jennifer Babb Kris Balliet Greg Druian John Keys Cynthia Kirk
Sandy Brooke Elizabeth Grossman William Kittredge Judith H. Montgomery Laura Pritchett Jarold Ramsey Robert Stubblefield Margot Voorhies Thompson Rich Wandschneider Terry Tempest Williams design
Thomas Osborne Design Redmond, Oregon web design
Benjamin Kinzer printing
Ryder Graphics Bend, Oregon High Desert Journal is published biannually in Bend, Oregon. Subscriptions are $16.00 a year (2 issues) and $30.00 for two years. Single copies are available for $10.00. Subscription and single-copy orders may be sent with a check to High Desert Journal, P.O. Box 7647, Bend, Oregon, 97708. For more information, please visit www.highdesertjournal.com. All donations and gifts to High Desert Journal are taxdeductible to the extent allowed by law. High Desert Journal is a 501 (c) 3 organization. High Desert Journal accepts unsolicited submissions of art, poetry, fiction, nonfiction and interviews. For submission guidelines, please visit www.highdesertjournal.com. Submissions are accepted electronically through submittable.com. High Desert Journal accepts no liability for submitted writing and artwork. Opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of High Desert Journal. Copyright 2013, High Desert Journal. Copyrights to texts, poems and artwork in this issue are held by the individual creators. No material may be reprinted without the permission of the magazine or artists. issn 1555-7251
Contributors to this issue
Glen Chamberlain lives in Bozeman where she teaches writing at Montana State University. She has received a Pushcart Prize and the Gilcrease Award for her short fiction and the Rona Jaffe Foundation has named her one of the most promising women writers in the nation. She has published one collection of short stories, Conjugations Of The Verb To Be, which won a Montana Book Award, and has completed another collection, All I Want Is What You’ve Got, which currently is in her agent’s hands. She is 4,000 words into a novel, with only 56,000 left to go.
Gonzaga University. He has worked as a resident artist at the Archie Bray Foundation, the LH Project, California State University Long Beach and international residencies in China, Bali and Poland. He assisted workshops at the Bray, Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and Haystack in Maine. He finished his MFA in 2010 at the University of Nebraska and was a topic of Nebraska Television’s Nebraska Story. He is the program director of the LH Project, a prestigious residency program in Joseph Oregon.
Janice Macarthy Druian lives above the Deschutes River in central Oregon. An undergraduate minor in Fine Art (University of California at San Francisco) was followed by a Masters degree (Cum Laude) in Art Education at the University of Oregon. There she studied with Laverne Krauss, Tom Fawkes and Frank Okada.
Beth Loffreda directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Wyoming, where she is also an associate professor of American Studies. She is the author of Losing Matt Shepard: life and politics in the aftermath of anti-gay murder. She has lived in Laramie since 1998.
Daniel Duford is an artist and writer in Portland, Oregon. He is a Ford Family Foundation 2010 Hallie Ford Fellow. His writing has appeared in numerous journals including Parabola, Ceramics: Art and Perception and ARTnews. His work has been shown at MASS MoCA, Boise Art Museum and Atlanta Center for Contemporary Art. He teaches at Pacific Northwest College of Art. David James Duncan is the author of the novels The River Why and The Brothers K. He lives with the sculptor Adrian Arleo in Montana, where he is wrapping up a long novel called Sun House, which, in David’s words, “depicts some of the baffling things men and women do to each other, explores some lived meanings of the words ‘spirituality’ and ‘mysticism,’ and confronts, I pray with humor, the question: How can we best live and serve in the beautiful, half-wrecked, postindustrial Now?” Dr. Dennis Jenkins is a Senior Research Archaeologist for the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon where he received his PhD in 1991. He has taught and directed the UO’s Northern Great Basin archaeological field school in Oregon’s high desert since 1989. He is an active researcher with multiple publications in Science and Nature and multiple appearances in television documentaries aired on the History Channel, National Geographic, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Canadian Broadcasting. Ryan LaBar grew up in Great Falls, Montana. He received a degree in Biology and Art from
Jeff Leake, a Bay Area native, holds a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and a MFA from University of California-Davis. For the past 10 years, he has been exploring relationships between nature and humans. Along the way, he has shown nationally and internationally and is now in numerous private and public collections throughout the country. He is represented by Gallery 114 in Portland, Oregon. Gabriel Manca attended the Pacific Northwest College of Art between 1992 and 1995. He has had numerous solo and group exhibits throughout the Pacific Northwest. He is represented by Froelick Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Manca lives in Enterprise, Oregon. Judith H. Montgomery’s poems appear in Cimarron Review, Hunger Mountain and Cave Wall, among other journals, as well as in several anthologies. Her books are Passion, Red Jess and Pulse & Constellation. With the aid of fellowships from Literary Arts and the Oregon Arts Commission, she is working on a new manuscript, Ambiguous Gift. She lives in Bend, Oregon. Sheryl Noethe was saved by poetry in fifth grade. She has devoted her life to sharing that experience with as many children as possible. In the meantime, she has published four books of poetry, one poetry text and a number of CDs. She worships at the foot of Mt. Jumbo in Missoula, Montana and serves as Poet Laureate of Montana and artistic director of The Missoula Writing Collaborative. Founding editor Elizabeth Quinn is grateful to share her story in this issue with the com-
munity that has developed over eight years of publishing High Desert Journal. She is a writer and artist who loves her family and the desert fiercely. Russell Rowland has an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. He has published two novels, In Open Spaces and The Watershed Years, and co-edited West of 98: Living and Writing the New American West, an anthology of essays about what it means to be a westerner in the contemporary West. His new novel, High and Inside, will be released by Bangtail Press this summer. He lives in Billings, Montana. James Stolen was adopted from Calcutta, India and has lived in Alaska and Oregon. A graduate of Carleton College, he is currently an MFA candidate at Virginia Tech, where he is studying fiction. He has work previously published in Bellevue Literary Review and Shenandoah and is working on a series of short stories and a novel. Mark E. Swisher is a former Rogue River flyfishing guide. Trained as a biologist and educator, his interests in archaeology and geology have led him to South America, Europe and Canada. He says, “Lake Fort Rock once held very large salmon-size trout, whose bones litter the sand at Fossil Lake. I retired to Fort Rock 10,000 years too late.” Richard Toon is Associate Research Professor at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Arizona State University, where he directs the Museum Studies Graduate Program. His writings have appeared in Superstition Review, Int/AR Journal, Defunct and the anthology The Face in the Mirror. He has recently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Ellen Waterston is the author of Cold Snap, a chapbook of poetry and short-form prose, Where the Crooked River Rises, a collection of award-winning essays about central Oregon’s high desert and a memoir, Then There Was No Mountain. Recent awards include the WILLA Award in Poetry for her collections Between Desert Seasons and I Am Madagascar. Her upcoming book-length collection of poetry, Via Lactea, based on her walking the Camino de Santiago in 2012, will be published by Atelier 6000 in summer of 2013. She lives in Bend, Oregon. Robert Wrigley teaches at the University of Idaho. His new book, Anatomy of Melancholy & Other Poems, has just been published by Penguin. high desert journal
Sometimes while she fishes, I will construct an obelisk of river rocks or braid the long, coarse stems of ferns to a strange, leafy parasol. Or I will allow a watersnake to ess its way across the shallows and onto the toe of my boot, or study a mussel as it yawns and lifts a stone far larger than itself. Sometimes while she ties on another fly, I will scatter the petals of a wild rose and watch them assemble a halo around my shimmering reflected face. I will consider a lozenge of bone worn to the thinness of a coin of the realm. I will observe the delicate hinge of the brown leaf that opens to a bright orange butterfly, or I will lie on a broad deadfall log and regard the passage of single cloud across the narrow expanse of the canyon. Do not misunderstand. I also love what she loves. But sometimes I prefer to watch such love enacted, as it is at times like those. When the stacking of stones or the study of a mussel is like remembering her hand or the blue of her eye. At the height of it, thigh-deep in the current, her single-mindedness is mine, and I have been a river, and believe I will be a river again. robert wrigley
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david james duncan
EASTERN WESTERNS a word on genre:
(the holy goat’s writing cabin, elsewhere, montana, 2012)
!" This Chronicle is about to portray a group of people who have made a remarkable home for themselves on a failed cattle ranch in a Montana river valley. I, the “Holy Goat,” am a fourth generation Montanan, and my state, for a century and a half, has been the scene of a famous genre known as the “Western.” One might think the renowned local genre suited to the story of the skilled re-inhabitation of a Montana ranch. The ranch in my sights, however, is The Elkmoon Beguine & Cattle Company, five of whose nouveau-settlers are Lorilee Shay, Risa McKeig, TJ and Jervis McGraff and Jamey Van Zandt – a quintet that would fit in a standard Western about as handily as a herd of antelope would fit in an egg carton. The lack of fit isn’t the fault of my five heroes. It isn’t the Western’s fault, either. But something has to give, and it can’t be my heroes if their stories are to be told, so it’s got to be the genre. There is precedent for this. The genius of many a Western – Joe Wilkins’ The Mountains and the Fathers, Annie Proulx’s Close Range, Terry Tempest Williams’ When Women Were Birds, James Galvin’s The Meadow and Charles Portis’s True Grit, to dash off a quick five – lay in each authors’ recognition that, if they wished to avoid singing a Yippi-kai-ai tale of
“Eastern Westerns” is “a novelistic essay” that falls in the middle of David James Duncan’s novel Sun House to be published by Little Brown in 2014. high desert journal
< eastern westerns
nothing that actually exists, they were going to have to bust their genre wide open. Unbusted Westerns were never meant to portray anything as nuanced as actual human lives in actual Western places. What genre Westerns have been designed to do is entertain and they have done this well, but their means of doing so bears far greater resemblance to the means of classic opera than to the lives of actual Westerners. Like the fans of a Verdi, Puccini or Rossini libretto, the fans of a Zane Grey, John Ford, or Louis L’Amour Westerns expect a prescribed story-line performed on an equally prescribed outdoor stage. Westerns derive, by and large, from the racist, masculinist, triumphalist 19th century “penny dreadfuls” and ironically tame “Wild West Shows” from which Westerns sprang and real suspense in such stories is not a value. The match that ignites a genre Western plot is a predictable injustice – horses lost to rustlers; a ranch lost to a loaded deck of cards; Pa shot in the back over his mining claim; Sis separated from her scalp or cherry while trying to hang the laundry. The inaugural rape, death or pillage then ignites a hero so operatically mannered in his means of vengeance that John Wayne becomes a kind of Luciano Pavarotti and Gary Cooper a Plácido Domingo as tempers combust, horses get rode hell for leather and hot lead begins to fly. In a Western we know in advance that Retribution will be enacted via “peacemakers” and “gun play” upon a sage-brushed and red-skied canvas. In a Western we know the Nutty Sidekick will win our hearts just long enough to prick them when he runs out into a crossfire and gets shot deader’n dirt. In a Western we know we will either sigh with desire or squirm with embarrassment, according to personal sexual politics, when we catch sight of the dependably heaving bosom of the optionally fluttery or feisty female Love Interest. In a Western we know the Rich Hence Corrupt Patriarch will be protected by a militia of toughs who will fire hundreds of festively inaccurate rounds at Our Hero, while Our Hero fires back with an accuracy that, over the subterranean groans of the hack Western actor, Ronald Reagan, keeps Hollywood stuntman cowboys employed, insured, pensioned and unionized to this day. The story of the Elkmoon Beguine and Cattle Co. can’t be a Western because, by the rules of that genre, Lorilee, Jamey, Jervis, TJ and Risa would be seen not as eccentric but seminal founders of their respective vibrant circles, but as alien hallucinations from an unimaginable galaxy we’d need three or four shots of Rooster Cogburn’s whisky to help us forget. The story of the E.B.&C. Co. can’t be a Western because a Zane Grey-conditioned visitor to this ranch would motor up the Lombardy-poplar-lined drive to the main nexus of buildings, climb out of their rig, see two shining greenhouses where the moon-doored outhouses should be; a barn that serves as a combination town hall, concert hall, Zendo and Dumpster Catholic cathedral where the haymows, harrows, dead Model T’s and tractors should be; a recording studio that makes five-times more money than the cattle operation where the bunkhouse should be; and actual Wrangler-jeaned wranglers living in leed-platinum Craftsman-style cabins scattered down a swale of aspens where the bones of General Phil Sheridan’s “only good Indians” should be. The bewildered Western lover would then cry, “Where in blazes are the heavin’ bosoms, hard-rode horses, hot lead and Manifest Destiny till death do us croak?” climb back in their rig and leave. This story can’t be a Western because, in a Western, there’s a “West to be won,” whereas the E.B.&C. Co’s residents are conducting the labor-intensive recovery of 4,000 acres that were decidedly lost to East-Coast robber-barons-become-absentee-corporate-overlordsbecome-Big Energy-or-Defense-Department-Earth-rapists whose ravages are seen everywhere across the actual West, but nowhere in a genre Western. This story can’t be a Western because the population of the West today is 87% urban, the horseback cowboy and family ranches that bred Westerns have all but vanished and the enemy wiping out cowboys and ranching both is a politically hot-wired, anything-but-“free”-market juggernaut that long ago 10
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within the confines of that happy
“Buddhists” are pony-tailed Chi
“God” is still the white-skinned
every wild and fre
be it vertical or horizontal, liq
feet, salable board-feet,
divvy up, priv frack, face stopped creating quaint Western ghost towns like Shaniko, Oregon, or Bannock, Montana and started making vast shadowlands out of the likes of Miami, Cincinnati, El Paso/Juárez, Oakland, Philly and Detroit. This story can’t be a Western because that genre has found no way to even reference a self-devouring global deatheconomy that extirpates an indigenous language every two weeks, a domesticated food crop every six hours and a bird, plant or animal species every minute or two. This story can’t be a Western because, within the confines of that happy genre, “gay” is still a jolly mood, “sustainable” still means incomprehensible, “Buddhists” are ponytailed Chinese railroad workers still laying tracks completed nearly two centuries ago, “God” is still the white-skinned left-brained projection of a clique of suicidally industrious White Guys and every wild and free acre of the West be it vertical or horizontal, liquid or dry, is pleading with the White Guys to be converted into liquid acrefeet, salable board-feet, barbwire-fenced sections, divisible lots and splittable atoms the White Guys divvy up, privatize, cage, clearcut, dam, drain, mine, frack, face-fuck and detonate unfair and square. This story can’t be a Western because, since the 1900s heyday of that genre, the world’s population has increased sevenfold, the use of water tenfold, CO2 emissions twenty-fivefold and the catch of ocean fish fortyfold even as global food diversity was streamlined, by more suicidally industrious White Guys, to 14 crop species and 12 animal species. This story can’t be a Western because, confined to that genre, every Westerner starved for the numinous and undying has no choice but to rip off the sweat lodges, sacred pipes and mythologies of tribes from whom the United States of Amerigo Vespucci already stole everything but a few desolate nooks and crannies – and if oil, gas, uranium or gold were later discovered, the nooks and crannies were promptly stolen, too. This story can’t be a Western because no
This story can’t be a Western because, genre, “gay” is still a jolly mood, “sustainable” still means incomprehensible,
inese railroad workers still laying tracks completed nearly two centuries ago,
d left-brained projection of a clique of suicidally industrious White Guys, and
ee acre of the West
quid or dry, is pleading with the White Guys to be converted into liquid acre-
, barbwire-fenced sections, divisible lots and splittable atoms the White Guys
vatize, cage, clearcut, dam, drain, mine, e-fuck and detonate unfair and square. less an authority than the iconic Western painter, Charlie Russell, found nothing to say to the Booster Club of Great Falls Montana but this: “In my book, a pioneer is a man who turned all the grass upside down, strung barbed wire over the dust that was left, poisoned the water and cut down the trees, killed the Indians who owned the land and called it Progress. If I had my way, the land here would be like God made it and none of you sons of bitches would be here at all.” Why must the contradictory directions, East and West, be united in this chronicle of Montana’s E.B.&C. Co? Because, when East touches West, human beings become renters on a planet owned by no conceivable White Guy, earth, fire, water and air’s chief activity becomes the continual manifestation of an Unborn Unseen Unbounded Guileless Perfection (Upanisads), no word or deed is free of spiritual consequence and the fiercest possible love for the West’s actual landforms, waters, wildlife, wildness and people becomes entirely justified. When East touches West, buddhas, bodhisattvas, Beguine saints and displaced Tibetan sages actually know a few things Zane Grey, Ronald Reagan and Phil Sheridan did not. When East touches West, “Nature, the Soul, the Intellect and enraptured angels all proceed from the One/Many (al-wahid al-hathir) and if the One/Many were to grant you every last thing for which you could think to ask, truly, His kingdom would be no more diminished than is the sea diminished by a needle dipped in the sea.” (Ibn al-Arabi). When East touches West, all creatures in their preexisting forms have been divine life forever (Meister Eckhart), the central struggle is against cosmic illusion, blame is best driven into oneself (Dogen), all solace lies hidden in an indestructible soul (Krishna), the Law of Karma is impartial and inexorable (Vedas) and the justice unleashed upon the posthumous human spirit after a skein of profitable investments in, say, sweatshops, terminator seeds, cyanide mines, coalbed methane,
tar sands and fracked aquifers may of necessity lead one through the bardos to a short brute incarnation as a climate refugee, child dying of dysentery, or paint-huffer living in a cardboard box in a barrio one’s former financial triumphs helped create. When East touches West, the first noble truth is suffering, our true Frontier is unassailable bliss, our enemies are our teachers and a bad guy is as likely to be shot through with light as with lead. When East touches West, a guarded piece of Western land might somehow telescope down into the very heart of a modest-sized female trespasser, lending her a strength that might then face down an armed attacker without a word, blow, or pulled trigger, turning him into a stunned feature of his own interior Vastness. When East touches West, the candle of self-effort can be blown out by sunblasts of grace, alpine meadows can morph into cathedral naves and a lone mountain wanderer might fall to his or her knees, pierced to the core to see that “Elevation is a blessing not a conquest” (Edward Hoagland) and “Depth is height” (Eckhart) and “There is another world, but it is in this one” (Paul Valéry) and “There is no democracy in love, only mercy” (Gillian Rose) and “Knowledge is erotic” (Jane Hirshfield) and “All the way to heaven is heaven” (Catherine of Siena) and “We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time” (Thomas Merton) and “I was a container of love till Love broke the container and the Uncontainable gushed out” (Jervis McGraff). When East touches West, “The nature of the mind is the nature of the mind. It’s not Tibetan versus Western. Sky is sky, whether it’s over Montana or over Tibet.” (Ani Tenzin Palmo) And has there ever been a piece of ground that would not allow the man or woman standing upon it to face west or east, as they choose? Has there ever been a Western without an Eastern waiting patiently inside it? < hdj >
It’s dark, and getting late as I climb into my car. The engine roars and the dashboard lights up with the familiar green of the radio in my father’s new 1957 Mercury, where I bit a mouthful-sized chunk out of the polyurethane foam above the glove box, leaving my savage milk teeth impressions for the life of the car. Tonight the static voices of specialists talk about time and its verbs. All perception is based on size and heartbeat: A hummingbird’s swift pulse recklessly ticks and minutes flicker and disappear. Nectarivore whose features are closely adapted to the geometries of flowers on which it feeds. There is a theory that the earliest primates were nocturnal arboreal insectivores. The panel’s query: during a car crash when everything moves in slow motion, would Beethoven’s ninth symphony sound sluggish?
The whale, however, is its own time zone. Descending from land-dwelling animals: even-toed ungulates, extinct semi-aquatic deer known as Indohyus: “India’s pig”, also distantly related to a habitually aquatic raccoon. Streamlined bodies, nasal migration to the top of the cranium, shrinking and disappearance of the hind legs, disconnection from the spine, modification of the forelimbs into flippers, the growth of flukes for a tail – (Germanic translation is wing). The hippopotamus is the closest living relative of the whale. In China, Yu-kiang, a whale with the hands and feet of a man, was said to rule the ocean. In Vietnam the fishermen respectfully address them as Lord. Where the whale is absent the order of the world is lost. They nurse babies, grow hair, breathe, sing and grieve. Their shape, fusiform, Latin for spindle, refers to neurons in the neo-cortex, enormous elongated cells that allow rapid communication across the large brains of highly significant animals including humans, important for cognitive abilities, perceptiveness, and perfect pitch. The brain of the whale has three times the number of these spindle cells as people.
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The West 2013 oil and acrylic on wood 36 ~ 72 inches
My father is eighty-four years old. He mostly remembers the long ago past. He repeats himself frequently and is quite deaf. I once knew him as the strongest man in the world. Now he looks at time as an empire and he is standing close to the great walls of the realm, near the iron gates, toward the border. I am halfway there, if lucky. I can still see him but anticipate his absence as in the half-light of dusk he deliberately climbs, clambers slowly, board by board, to the top of the fence: a silhouette cut from the lingering horizon. He gives a faint wave. The butterfly dies like an eyelash, blinking. The whaleâ€™s death is at end of the world. I cannot imagine my father gone. The last Polar Bear floats away on a chunk of ice, as god calls in his dogs.
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COWBOY My father has mesothelioma. Today we had a conversation that began with “I need to plan my death.” He is a remarkable man, especially considering where he came from, and I have been lucky to have him as a father. That said, my father’s tale, and ultimately my own, is a cautionary one, one the West has experienced over and over again. On one level, my father’s life is in no way exceptional, but at the same time, it is. Many men of my father’s generation went through similar experiences, and how they lived – what they lived – informs the West to this day. Both my mother and my father are products of the West. My mother’s parents were homesteaders, and their family ranch in eastern Montana is still operating 100 years later, relying on the unpredictable nature of the elements to try and get by, sometimes successfully, sometimes barely. My grandparents raised cattle, sheep, wheat, barley, flax, alfalfa and numerous other crops just to try and find the right formula in a region that only produces a little over 10 inches of moisture annually. Because my father’s family were laborers – welders, mechanics, ranch hands and truck drivers – they were even more reliant on the boom or bust nature of western economy. From both sides, the complaints and the worries were the same. The coming year depended entirely on something out of their control.
Above: Charles Rowland, right, circa 1956; right: circa 1954 14
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My father’s father was an accomplished welder, and as the father of seven children, he often took jobs at the shipyards on the coast of Oregon, where he earned a pretty good wage for the time. But his true love was horses and working on ranches, so every few years he would pull up stakes and haul his family back to Casper, Wyoming, where he would find a job working as a ranch hand or breaking horses. In Wyoming, he barely supported his family, but he couldn’t stop coming back. For my part, I have almost no memory of the man because he never spoke. What I do remember is, at his funeral, my father and his five brothers, the pallbearers, standing in a row by his coffin, dressed in black suits with skinny ties. I was struck by the fact that not a single one of them shed a tear. At that impressionable age, I interpreted this as the way men dealt with difficult situations. My father was the only one in his immediate family to complete high school, where he was the starting quarterback for the football team and broke the state record in the triple jump. After serving four years in the Navy during the Korean War, he returned home to get his college degree in education. Soon after his return, my parents met in Casper, where my mother had moved to teach grade school. Although he was determined to get a degree, my father also held fast to an important morsel from his past. He became a bronc and bull rider on the rodeo team, although it soon became apparent that he wasn’t good enough to excel. What he discovered instead was an opportunity to combine his off-kilter sense of humor with his athletic gifts. He became a rodeo clown, now known as a bullfighter. He speaks of this experience as one of the highlights of his life. But he was seriously injured a few times, and by the time I came along, my mother could no longer abide sitting in the stands wondering whether he would once again be stepped on by a ton of beef. So he finished his degree in education and became a teacher. But the fever hadn’t quite subsided. When I was still 10, just after his father died, my father stunned my mother by leaving a good, stable job teaching grade school in Sheridan, Wyoming, to follow the same dream of his own father. Despite the years of effort he put into getting an education, my father had never let go of the dream of being a cowboy, and he somehow landed a job managing a cattle ranch in northern Wyoming. It was a tax shelter ranch owned by Peter Keiwitt, the construction magnate who had built structures like bart (Bay Area Rapid Transit) as well as some of the biggest bridges in the world. Keiwitt inherited the ranch when he married the widow of the previous owner. We would soon learn that the ranch was nothing more than a plaything for Mr. Keiwitt, who would show up every six months or so dressed like Ben Cartwright and point at things he wanted done. He was a friendly, engaging man, but he really had very little investment, financially or emotionally, in whether the ranch was profitable, much less harmonious. At first, this seemed like the perfect job for my father. No owner hovering over him, a lush tract of land tucked into the gorgeous Big Horn Valley, big fat Hereford cattle and high quality horses. But it didn’t take long for my father to learn that dealing with an absent owner had its price. As with so many situations in this land of opportunity called The West, what appeared to be a chance at independence and freedom soon took a darker turn. After a few months managing Peter Keiwitt’s ranch, my father realized that the other hands resented him. They simply ignored his in-
my father has always had the most patient hands
of anyone I know. He would practice his handwriting, and I could never duplicate the perfect ovals he layered one over the other. Watching him weld was also a study of someone who has complete control over his hands. In the dim light of the barn, those deliberate, skillful hands trimmed away a dead calf’s hide and sewed it over an orphan’s torso so that the mother of the dead calf would think it was her own.
structions or did half-assed work. All of the other hands had worked for Keiwitt for years, and they expected one of their own to take over management of the ranch. Rural communities are known to be slow to warm up to new people, and in this case they were often blatantly cold. Although a few sincerely displayed the stereotypical neighbors help neighbors hospitality, most of the residents were understandably loyal to the old-timers who had been passed over. My mother, who did not enjoy growing up on a ranch, was not happy there. Her idea of the great outdoors was the space between her last bridge game and the fabric store. She was also not shy about speaking her mind, and as the only Democrats in the area, her views were not welcome. The marriage suffered, and my parents fell prey to what has become common in working-class families all over: arguments over money, trips to the bar to escape the stress, loud fights that sent us kids scampering to our room. But in the midst of all this unhappy angst there were also moments of wonder in this beautiful place. Some of my fondest memories with my father were during calving season, when they would move all the pregnant cattle to a small pasture right behind our tiny farmhouse. Because they calved in winter, my father had to get up every few hours and make a round among the cows to check for any problems. I remember the incredible silence of those hours, with the only sound being the squeaking of our boots in the snow. My father asked me one night whether the kids at school ever talked about where babies come from. I didn’t want him to think I wasn’t accepted at school, or that I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, so I
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< cowboy said yes. He said, “Good.” That was my sex education. But I was also educated about life and death on those late-night walks, in ways that I have a profound appreciation for now. I watched with nervous amazement as my father slid his whole arm inside a cow and adjusted a leg or twisted a calf’s neck that was turned away from the birth canal. My father has always had the most patient hands of anyone I know. He would practice his handwriting, and I could never duplicate the perfect ovals he layered one over the other. Watching him weld was also a study of someone who has complete control over his hands. In the dim light of the barn, those deliberate, skillful hands trimmed away a dead calf’s hide and sewed it over an orphan’s torso so that the mother of the dead calf would think it was her own. I watched him push a cow’s prolapsed uterus back inside and sew her up, providing what little help my small, tentative 10-year-old hands could offer. The one piece of advice that I most remember from that time has stayed with me for years. On one of these midnight walks, he said to me, “Always expect the worst, and you’ll never be disappointed.” Because he so seldom offered any words of wisdom, I figured this must be important, and I adopted it. Sadly, I can look back now and see that it was the advice of a man who was struggling to come to terms with a difficult situation. A man who grew up in the Depression and found little hope that things would ever turn around. A couple of years ago, my father told me that toward the end of our time at the Keiwitt Ranch, the stress of the job and his marriage and the social situation became so unbearable that he drove to Sheridan to the VA hospital and told the receptionist he needed help. The woman at the desk asked him what was wrong, and he said he didn’t know – he just needed to talk to someone. She told him that if he couldn’t be more specific, she couldn’t help him. In the West of 1968, men didn’t show up at hospitals just because they were overwhelmed. She sent him on his way. Like so many men of his generation my father had and still has a hard time asking for help, and he’s never been assertive when people give him no for an answer. That day, he left the building, sat on the front steps and cried like a baby. After two years, my father left the Keiwitt Ranch and spent the next 20 years floundering. After a failed attempt as a mutual funds salesman, he went to work as a teacher on the northern Cheyenne reservation. Although it took him a long time to gain the trust of the students at St. Labre Indian School, he loved their sense of humor, and he found their frank manner refreshing. But once this two-year contract ran out, my father entered a period of extreme darkness, going from one unsatisfying job to another, staying for only a year or two. My mother completed her degree in education and went back to teaching, eventually becoming the main breadwinner for many years. Dad began to suffer health problems as the result of his rodeo days and other work-related accidents. He had several surgeries to repair hernias and various other ailments, and when he took a job as a welder in the local sugar factory, he was standing on a chair welding overhead one day when he found himself on the floor, unable to get up. X-rays revealed a slipped disk, which called for fusion surgery, and for my last two years of high school, he was unemployed and emotionally absent. He spent most of his time in the garage. We stopped asking about his plans. Near the end of these aimless years, a series of unrelated events led my father to realize, to everyone’s surprise, that he had a problem with alcohol. He made a decision to quit, and he has not had a drink since, almost 33 years ago. The change in him was dramatic. His motivation came back, and although we still knew better than to bring up insurance companies or car dealerships, his attitude became noticeably more positive. My father eventually went to work for a friend who owned a hearing aid service and after a few years was able to buy the business. He loved the older folks, and his tender way with them, along with those 16
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Charles Rowland, 2012
gifted hands, suited him perfectly for this work. When my mother retired from teaching, she went to work with him, and the combination of my father’s manner and my mother’s business sense created an effective team. My mother wouldn’t let him talk people out of buying new hearing aids any more. They were able to buy a nice house and make trips they’d always dreamed of taking. Dad had been fascinated by the Orient since his Navy days, and he took my mother to China and Japan. They went to Europe. They took a cruise to Alaska. They went snorkeling! And my father finally found a creative outlet. He had always toyed around with painting or sketching or poetry. But it was during this happy period that he devoted more and more of his time to metal sculpting. He started with lanterns made from coffee cans, but eventually he graduated to creating what he loved best. Cowboys. It was just last month that my father was diagnosed with mesothelioma, as a result of the asbestos he was exposed to as a welder in the Navy. I traveled to San Francisco and spent 10 days visiting. I sat with him and talked about how to deal with the news. We talked about how fortunate we’ve been to have so many wonderful years together, comparing our situation to friends and family who lost their fathers at a young age. His own father died at 56, just a year older than I am now, from a brain tumor. He told me he’s not afraid to die. He told me he’s calm. On the day we found out the plan for his treatment, we sat in a waiting room at the VA Hospital in San Francisco and I studied the fellow veterans dying from various respiratory ailments. I served in the Navy myself in my youth, serving on one of the oldest ships still in service at the time, which was loaded with asbestos. So I wondered whether this could be my own fate someday. But mostly, I wondered how many of these men and women planted the seeds for their dreams in the same type of soil my father did. A ground that was tainted, poorly fertilized, with not nearly enough topsoil. As infertile as the promises made by the railroads and mine owners and various other snake oil salesmen. The West has always been built on a corporate foundation, despite its reputation as a land of independence and opportunity, and the ones who have suffered for it are people like my father, people who had to rely on the mavens to be taken care of. While the VA staff treated these men and women with the greatest respect, it was still a slow and depressing atmosphere in that waiting room, and at one point two men started arguing. The source of conflict wasn’t as big as their argument, and it made me realize that they weren’t really angry at each other. They were just angry. And I thought about how many men and women are out there who have worked to make a living for their families and then ended up this way struggling to breathe. Wishing that someone would simply hear how angry they are. Men and women sitting in waiting rooms all over America with the words they want to say caught in their throats along with the dust from their fields, the dust from their coal mines, the dust from their asbestos-lined pipes and insulation, the dust from the logs they saw into lumber. Like so many of these people, my father is dying … there is no cure for mesothelioma. And I marvel at his attitude about it. He is not bitter. I don’t know if I could say the same in his shoes. Author Russell Rowland’s father, Charles Lee Rowland, passed away in San Francisco in his home just after midnight March 25. Russell tells us his father was able to read the story in draft form. < hdj >
View of Monument Valley. Moritz Zimmermann Photo, 2004.
I remember that three days after my father’s death I walked into my parents’ living room and discovered the funeral director about to leave. Behind him on a coffee table was a pebbled brown plastic box. It contained what I would need to believe was what remained of my father’s body. In the weeks and months that followed, I became aware for the first time that my brain was an organic thing, vulnerable to faltering and disorder. It fell into its separate parts, each one processing his disappearance at its own rate of speed. Once, at a gas station as my boyfriend dealt with the pump, some part of my brain became certain that it was seeing my father sitting by the coffee pots inside the station’s convenience store. I had to force myself to stay in the car. My father had studied physics, and when I was a child he would sometimes tap the dinner table and tell me that it was mostly empty space, that we and it were mere particles strung around a void. It did not occur to me at the time to be frightened of this knowledge. He himself seemed comforted by it. My parents and I took a trip out West when I was in my early teens, the routine kind of western trip: the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, Bryce and Zion, the onstretching deserts and the popular abysses, the looming and eroded geologies. We had a running joke about how my mother made me scramble up every blue and pink-veined hill, every scenic outcropping, so she could take pictures for our photo album. My father took me horseback riding, once in Flagstaff, once in Zion, and these rides were miraculous
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to me, some of the few times I could be near a horse until I became a stablehand a few years later. My father often did this – stayed near so I could pursue a thing I wanted, a thing that also frightened me, as during the trip a few years before to the beach where I snorkeled for hours, afraid of sharks and moray eels, ridiculously mesmerized by the chance to re-enact Jacques Cousteau-ian swims through coral, my father treading water, one arm threaded through a float, always near me, making sure, making it possible. When I was a child I would wait for him to come home, sit in the door of my bedroom and set up my wooden blocks and plastic dinosaurs and wait as he came into the house, came up the steps, turned down the hall, walked straight to my station, set down his briefcase, sat on the floor. My father had been raised Catholic. A happy child of the Great Depression, despite the fact that his father, an immigrant from Italy, had abandoned my father and his brothers and their mother, had left them when his dressmaking business failed and moved into a boarding house in the same town, Waterbury, Connecticut, supported by my grandmother, where he lived and did not see his children and instead wrote strange manifestos that he mailed to the president and the pope and to George Bernard Shaw. Despite this my father’s stories of the 30s were happy ones: playing football in the grassy fields around Waterbury, leaving school in the afternoons to work, going to the movies, so many movies. He believed what the church said about God, and he believed what the country said about the Germans and the Japanese, believed unquestioningly, and was eager to serve against them. He enlisted early. He became a paratrooper. Once, when I told a pilot, a former marine, that my father had been in the 11th Airborne, the pilot said, was he 18? The implication being only 18-year-olds would sign up to jump behind enemy lines using nylon and rope. This was true, although he was in the end too young to see the war itself, arrived just as it drew to a close, did not have to jump into battle, because, he would say with the most anguished of irony, the bomb had saved him from that fate. Instead he was stationed at the end of the war in Japan, part of the occupation, and he saw what we had done there – the cities firebombed to rubble, and the world’s new form of destruction not seen but known by rumor and the wide berth given its expression – and he saw not the Japanese he had been led to believe existed but instead people starving all around him. He returned home and arrived at mit on the gi bill and began to study quantum mechanics, and he woke up one night that first semester in a cold and terrified sweat and knew he no longer believed in God, in all the Catholic Church and his country had taught him. He raised me an atheist so I would not experience the infliction of that same loss, its expansive and ineluctable devastation. Because it had been that kind of loss for him, a savage disenchanting of the entire world, a denaturing, a drop into mere material neither sacred nor cursed, and he wanted to protect me from that abyssal disenchantment, wanted me never to believe the world could be thought of otherwise. No terror of desacralization for me. He wanted to save me from God. He was very persuasive. I grew up, let’s say, unchurched. He taught me the principles of physics instead, the equations, the concepts, the belief system that had eradicated his own childhood one. I learned the names of wwii airplanes, studied our Time/Life collection of books on earlier geologic ages, memorized our Jacques Cousteau compendium of sharks. If Gunga Din was on one of the uhf channels, we watched it together. He loved old movies, westerns especially, anything with John Wayne, in particular The Searchers, a movie that, 18
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along with Jaws and Alien and The Shining, appeared regularly on his list of favorites. He and my mother and I would watch compilation programs, television shows that amassed favorite scenes from 50 years of Hollywood cinema. He had opinions, assessments. He luxuriated in the repetitions, the opportunities to see and re-see, to quote lines, to anticipate masterstrokes of editing. When I was moving to begin graduate school, my father borrowed my brother’s S10 to help me. A friend was marrying later that summer, and I needed a dress, and the day before we left my father and I went to a store together. We had never shopped together in this way. We would shop at Christmas for my mother – another running joke, that my father inevitably selected blouses in murky greens and browns, that my only-incrementally-better taste, as a child, would balance his powerful impulses toward gifts in the shades of a swamp. But we had never before gone together to buy clothes for me. At the shop that day my father began to pick out dresses for me to try on. I would come out of the dressing room, and he would compare me to Carole Lombard, an actress he adored who I look nothing like, who was married to William Powell and then later to Clark Gable, actors he also loved. He chose hats for me to see how they would look. My father, who had not himself had a father. We were a little shy with each other that day, finding ourselves in this delighted new relation to one another, one we did not find the opportunity to repeat. I would remember that day, when he died, when his careful raising of me rendered what I was not prepared for, rendered me without consolation. No church, no belief. Just the inheritance, the delivered conviction that I should not seek consolation – for that would be a lie – but instead learn how to do without it. When my mother and father and I took that trip West, we did not visit Monument Valley – I would not, until a drive I made 12 years after Dad’s death, see that place, the place where John Ford shot many of his films, The Searchers included. I wish I could remember more clearly why Dad loved The Searchers so much; it may have been linked to the one piece of advice he gave me as a kid, a refrain: you’ve got to be tough. “Tough” was extraordinarily high praise from him. And Wayne was tough in that movie, stoic, mutely companioned to his perpetual, alienated solitude. But the movie was also gothic and dark, Wayne’s brother and the brother’s family slaughtered by Indians but for a young niece who survives, who is taken captive, who Wayne then pursues throughout the film, not to rescue her but to kill her, because she is, through her kidnapping, he believes, lost to civilization, to virtue. In the end he does not murder her, but one could not call his journey an education or a reconciliation. In the film Wayne looks upon things – mutilations, corpses, we are led to think – that the camera does not allow us to see. This puts him both above us and below. Beyond. A partner to nothing, to nothingness. Such melodrama, but we liked to watch it, perhaps because the melodrama made the nothingness seem like something and therefore was a comfort. I once took a whale-watching trip off the north end of Cape Cod, a day-long boat ride for tourists out to Stellwagen Bank, a relatively shallow plateau in the north Atlantic where whales gather to feed. Several varieties of baleen whales can be seen there. As the whalewatching company put it, the tours “offer spectacular views of mother and calf going about their business of survival.” I am intrigued by the phrase the “business of survival,” that we make their business our business, that we make their business largely impossible through our business, that we like to watch their business nonetheless. Baleen whales feed by scooping great mouthfuls of the ocean and then sieving out fish and krill and plankton through their baleen plates, expelling the seawater and swallowing their prey. Baleen was once used to make parasol ribs and buggy whips, when we thought we needed such things. Baleen whales include blue whales, the largest creatures on the planet, which feed on, among other things, planktonic copepods, drifts of tiny transparent crustaceans which some scientists say form the largest animal biomass on the planet and which act as a carbon sink, their respirations and sinking, molted parts draining carbon down into the interior sea. This is not exactly the business of survival we watch on whalewatching tours, as it is these days a failing business, but life goes on, so to speak.
On the whale-watching tour, we saw first two finbacks off in the distance, faint gray curves in the water. A family on the other side of the boat claimed to see a shark, which frustrated me deeply, that I had missed it. I hoped to see a right whale, but we did not. Only four hundred remain alive in those waters. Eventually, our boat captain heard of humpback whale activity from another boat captain, and we rushed over to its location, where a single humpback flung itself in the air, breaching the surface and crashing into the water, in between leaps floating on its sides and back striking the water with its fins and flukes. It was as promised: a spectacular view. I stood near the front of the boat and saw a woman of about 40 run to the person referred to as the “onboard naturalist,” who carried a microphone and commented upon the habits and routines of the various local whales, drawing our attention to their procedures. The woman ran to the onboard naturalist and asked, “Does the whale know who I am?” I have remembered this question always. It seemed closely similar to asking if the table is mostly empty space. Does the whale make our business its business? It seemed right to have an existential crisis at this moment. The whale showed us our nothingness, even though that was not its intent or business. I have laughed for years regarding her phrasing of the question, but she was merely more direct than I am.
When I was in my 20s, I spent some time going to conventions held for alien abductees and others compelled by the notion of contact from elsewhere. These were interesting occasions. The mix was rich, rangy. The established experts and their taxonomies of alien kinds: the small grays, the tall grays, the compassionate Goldens, the cruel and genocidal lizard-types. The passionate amateurs with hand-built time machines and fragments of unknown metallics. The abductees, stolen out of suburban tract homes and condos, endlessly testifying. The channelers, the cryptozoologists. The outliers: the iconoclast who knew yetis to be advanced 8th-dimensional psychic beings from the future rather than Pleistocene holdovers, the torch singer who had fallen in love with the lizard type that had abducted and raped her. The ufologists who studied the interstellar distances and the technical tolerances, who held themselves slightly aloof from the rest, from those with the felt, with the fleshed experiences of contact. The therapists and the advice-givers offering tips to spoil abduction attempts – ceiling fans, directed dreaming. The emergent cosmologies. I bought books, I took notes. I sat next to a man who had written “vivid dreams” into his notepad with such intensity that the pen had driven through the page. He offered to show me his manuscript detailing his experiences with astral projection and government persecution. I carried a large cup of coffee so as to always have something to do with my hands, and I visited the sales tables and purchased mugs commemorating the Roswell landing and pens capped with rubber-formed small-gray heads. I listened to talks and presentations, to open-mike sessions in which conference attendees spontaneously recovered memories of finding themselves on laboratory tables or hung in midair above their houses. I heard theories of lost time. I was presented with arguments contending that abduction experiences were screen memories for satanic ritual abuse, and counter-arguments contending that ritual abuse experiences were screen memories for abduction. I attended debates over whether abduction was a brutal and dehumanizing debasement or a prestigious enrollment into the aliens’ higher ecological plans. They come in peace with a message of environmental consciousness, was the conclusion of many analyses. This was during the 1990s. At the conferences, you could watch the individual fantasies and the idiosyncratic details and the personal plot points begin to school up like fish, join together, choose a direction, start to rhyme, repeat, emulate. A speaker would note an unusual development in his ab-
we were a little shy with each other that day, finding ourselves
in this delighted new relation to one another, one we did not find the opportunity to repeat. I would remember that day, when he died, when his careful raising of me rendered what I was not prepared for, rendered me without consolation. No church, no belief. Just the inheritance, the delivered conviction that I should not seek consolation – for that would be a lie – but instead learn how to do without it.
duction – perhaps the appearance of a caring Golden as the small grays, known for their human experimentations, approached with their probes. By the next day, many of the abductees would have begun to recall similar appearances by Goldens, and a new shared plot would have found its legs. The suggestibilities of the conventioneers were astounding – they were plastic, strangely convivial, full of yearning, ready to learn. I was writing a dissertation. I did not believe the abductees, but I did not wish to debunk them, although I felt there were as many con artists and liars in the room as there were deep believers. I was interested in faking – by this I meant no insult – interested in how people might use things that did not belong to them – the techniques of science, the languages of the professional elite – to make more compelling selves. Why not? I was interested in the hubris, the glamour, the need, and the thing I didn’t at first expect: the unceasing interest in suffering. For this is what the abductees did: they suffered. And at the conventions they participated in the invention and the codification of a language, a method, for talking about their pain, their losses, their dispossession. Because that is what they wished to talk about – their terrible inchoate sensations of violation and grief, a long strange mourning for selves that had gone missing while they slept. I recognized this. I liked what they did with it. Much of the time it is hard to tell the story of why we feel so bad, and I thought claiming oneself an
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abductee was a way to make the sensation of loss, of dispossession, concrete and external, to incarnate a glamorous enemy, rather than to accept what I consider to be more likely true, that most of our violations are ordinary, that what we suffer are the ruinous recombinations of our own weaknesses with those of other people. Why would anyone want to tell the story my way? They had come up with a good one. I felt I learned that from the alien abductees, from their extravagant reconceptualization of our relationship to the nothingness around us. I learned from them a question: What will you do with your pain? Not only why do you feel pain, or how can you cure it. But what will you do with your pain. A common characteristic of abduction is the experience of lost time. The abductee is in her home, or perhaps in her car; she looks at the clock. She looks at the clock again, and an hour, an afternoon, a day has passed, without her knowing it, without her experiencing its passage. A disappearance, an abyss in time, in an otherwise unremarkable, a normal life. So the story goes. It is only later, as the memories of abduction begin their slow, fragmentary rise in her mind, that she comes to understand that the time lost was time spent in inarticulable fear and suffering. You look at the clock. You look at the clock again. You forget, you remember. Time disappears, and then later the life you thought you had. The losses mount. There was probably another question asked, there at the conferences, one I didn’t hear at the time: What remains for us to be consoled by? A terrifically revealing question, a naked disclosure that we hope, even expect, to be consoled. But we do ask it.
The Trinity Site, where the first nuclear bomb was tested, is accessible only twice a year to visitors; the White Sands Missile Range calls these days open houses. The day I went, in 1996, I joined a caravan of RVs and campers, a pilgrimage of mostly retired vacationers, couples, white people almost exclusively, like the alien abductees, and we drove into the desert, the Jornada del Muerto the Spanish called it long before the nuclear scientists arrived. The site itself is a patch of desert indistinguishable from the surrounding landscape except that it is ringed by metal fencing, upon which are hung time-lapse photographs of the bomb’s detonation and its mushrooming cloud blooming and thickening. In the earliest moment the fireball looks not like flames or dust but like a dome of skin, a membrane stretched tight around a roil of earth-bound cloud. Beautiful in its way. I joined the line of visitors, walked in a slow single file, pausing before each photograph, waiting for the line to begin moving forward again, all of us patient and well-mannered, many ahead and behind me with cameras slung around their necks to take pictures of the pictures, often with a spouse posed alongside. A sign forbid the application of cosmetics within the fenced area. Hot dogs were available for purchase. A typical one-hour visit would result in radiation exposure of one millirem, less than a cross-country flight, the guides to the site said. The soldiers who attended the Trinity detonation lay down in the desert with their feet facing the blast. Scientists ran a betting pool on the test’s outcome, invited colleagues to wager on the possible destruction of New Mexico or the ignition of the atmosphere and the conflagration of the entire planet. Observers compared the vision to a second sun, rising before the expected, the normal dawn. 20
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Outside the fencing is a tunneled chunk of steel you can step inside, the Jumbo bomb casing that survived the bomb’s blast. The bomb that saved my father. In the 60s, he would turn down a job at Los Alamos. In the 80s, he would help to design power systems for deep space satellites that relied on radiation, on the fatal decompositions of plutonium. I wrote school reports on nuclear power stations, the uranium rods and cooling towers, the invisible lethalities. During another trip to the missile range, I drove past a gift shop on a blank stretch of back highway, a two-laner ribboning through the desert. This was during a time that I often drove through deserts looking for people who felt they had seen the time/space continuum crack apart and wished to speak of it. The shop sold trinitite – sand melted and fused by the blast into something that jewelry could be made of, if you were willing to think that way, as we Americans usually are. I stopped. The shop was dusty, low-ceilinged, dim. A ravagedlooking woman worked inside. I heard meowing and she invited me to see her kittens and she opened a door in the back of the shop that led to the attached living quarters. I remember a maze of small dark rooms and dirt and one room full of mewling, thin kittens, dried cat food strewn on the floor, grown cats everywhere in the halls. She showed me this and I bought some pieces of trinitite and I left, wanting to drive away from it, from the door opened to the blown-out life, a thing it still feels bad to remember although it was not my life nor anything I truly understood. Brigadier General Thomas Farrell, who signed the receipt for the plutonium used for the Trinity blast, cradled the material in his hand and described it as “a piece of metal that seemed to be working inside.” This table is mostly empty space. It was predictable that I would also wish to visit the Nevada Test Site. Guided tours are given there once a month. The tours began at a location in North Las Vegas, at the time I visited a spreading disaster of one-story consumer opportunities in various stages of demoralization and failure. We were loaded onto a bus. As we waited in line to board, a man next to me, radiant with a hungover mania, asked me why I was taking the trip and before I could answer suggested I was on the tour for shits and giggles. The phrase threw me off – my reaction to it was a stupid kind of startlement and alarmed muteness. I was embarrassed by this reaction and avoided him for the rest of the day. We were driven onto the test site. Our guide happily gestured at the roadside cages built for anti-nuclear protesters, then urged us off the bus for a brief visit to the site’s office. Hanging on the office wall was a citation recognizing the test site for its commitment to environmental restoration. The site’s literature cautioned that pregnant women should not take the tour due to the long bus ride and uneven terrain. In the past, visitors were asked to wear radiation dosimeters during the tour, but this practice had been discontinued. After an obscure transaction between the guide and the office staff, we were urged back onto the bus. The tour took all day. Barrels of radioactive waste, burial sites for contaminated apparati, subsidence craters made by underground detonations. Bag lunches in the countdown chamber. The ghosted suburban tract houses of doom town where human mannequins and live animals were placed in order to measure the impacts of bombs, their speed, their reach, their various rates of destruction. The hole left by the Sedan shot, 330 feet deep, a demonstration of potential civilian uses of the bomb – mining, canal-building – called Operation Plowshare, whose fallout arrived in eight Iowan counties shortly after detonation. All of us except the hungover man seemed made newly aware of ourselves by the site, arranging our postures and expressions to effect a grim and interested seriousness. Some attended carefully to the tour guide’s recounting of various shots; others hung back in groups of two or three to gaze quietly upon the features pointed out to us by our escort. I could think of nothing better to do with my own discomfort, the repetitive awareness: here I am at the Nevada Test Site. The tour bus surged along a desert so flat it seemed the result of a mathematical equation, something graphed and plotted. Our guide said a cougar had been spotted in the area and I tried to imagine it, all that density of flesh and lurk in contest with the vaporous hostilities of the place. I wanted to be here. It made me feel near to Dad. That was all I would have been able to say to the hungover man. < hdj >
Janice Druian Reflections, 2012 Oil on canvas 25 ~ 38 inches
It’s 5:30 am. I don’t want to be awake. Not a muscle in my body wants to move. I am weighted, worked, sore. The sun won’t hit camp for another hour. I roll over away from the window, cover my head with my pillow and try to fall back to sleep. Through the camper walls, through the pillow, through my dull body the sound of soft out of tune voices fills the air, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” You’ve got to be kidding me. They are singing? It’s my third and last morning waking among a camp of 30+ other women. These last few days, I have been in new territory. I am not a dinner party type or a vacation-with-friends type. I am not much for exercise classes or book clubs. All of the women in camp, most of whom are more than 20 years older than I, are up moving around, feeding horses, laughing out loud. Yes. They are singing.
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< the ride
I smile. I uncover my head, climb out of the camper bed, turn the teapot on, touch the sore spots on my knees, stretch my neck. I have been warned if you don’t show up cheery and happy in the morning, this group will work you over. I dress but don’t join them. Not yet. Since Reveille has not yet been played, I believe I have some time; time to gear-up and reconcile my battered body against their sunny dispositions. I’ve spent three nights in camp and the last two days ridden horseback nearly 30 miles on rugged terrain in the Wallowas of northeastern Oregon. Beautiful, gorgeous terrain with women I barely know, except for one. Merrianne, the woman who taught me to ride 37 years ago, has invited me here. As a young girl, I rode horses at an active stables in central Oregon for five years. I had a Palomino named King. My determination to ride faded as I entered my teen years. Not so much because of normal teenage distraction and disconnect, but more so because I never felt I had what it took; had what the other girls at the stables seemingly possessed: confidence. It’s been over 30 years since I have been on a horse, but Merrianne invited me on the 50th annual ride of the Women’s Oregon Trail Riders Association (wotr) and I couldn’t refuse. This ride has happened the second week of August every year for half a century. In 1962, a group of 15 women took to the trails around Todd Lake in central Oregon. Their formation came in reaction to their husbands going out on a trail ride every year for a week leaving them to tend to kids, animals and all the chores. In ’62, they decided it was their turn to leave the kids, animals and all the chores to their husbands. Its happy hour on the first evening of my arrival and I examine all the wotr artifacts I can find. Hanging on the outside of the cook tent in the Wallowas is a “family tree.” Members of wotr invite guests. After a woman attends as a guest for two rides, she can be asked to become a member. The membership cannot exceed 36, so new members are not allowed to be invited unless someone has dropped membership. On the “tree” are “branches” of women who have become members and, who subsequently have invited others; who have produced “offspring” and a “lineage.” I recognize the names of a charter member and several others from wotr’s first 20 years: Dorothy Cale, Dorothy Stenkamp, Carol Babb, Sheri Allis, Ann Evenson, even my seventh grade boyfriend’s grandmother, Jo Ward. The knowledge of these names a reward for living in one place for most of my life. Many of the current members of wotr have been so for over 20 years. Yet, one woman I am riding with this week, Jane Schraeder, 88, is a charter member. She has a sweet smile and a soft, hardy spirit. She shares her memories with ease. She wears the same thin winter
everyone is jovial and funny, warm and kind. i
like these women, even though I am not sure I trust their joy. People happy like this remind me of my dad.
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polyester coat that she wore pictured in a 1970s wotr scrapbook. She laughs and tells the story of tarps set around the cookhouse on a wotr trip to the Steens Mountains in the ’60s where it rained constantly. The tarps were a relief, but by the first night had filled so much that the water weight took the tarps down spilling water over the already damp women and their desserts. She sleeps in a tent next to my camper. Later in the evening, even though I am ready for sleep much earlier, I will not retire to my camper until I see Jane trail off to her tent. “Did you meet Mother Mary?” one of the women asks me holding a beer and cigarette in the same hand she directs me with towards one of the dining tents. I enter and find a full-sized stuffed fabric nun sitting in the corner of the tent. Near the nun is a sign that reads, “I thought I was having a hot flash but it was just my boobs in my coffee.” On the table in the cook tent is an old looking book. Inside are pages crafted with fanciful handwritten text and a history of Mother Mary’s adventures over the last 25 years. The book was written by two sisters (not nuns, biological sisters) who spend 51 weeks of the year outside of wotr crafting ways to amuse and illuminate their wotr friends. Their high-jinx penned by Mother Mary in a book titled All I Know about Sex. It is full of stories recounting past wotr rides where a deer rack was packed in, wine bottles were carried in holsters and Mother Mary was temporarily dismissed from wotr to a bar in Jarbridge, Nevada where she was left for several years. Dinner is over. Johnny, one of the guides for the week has finished reciting original cowboy poetry and someone says loudly, “Come on everyone. Its time to play quarters.” Not drinking quarters exactly, but quarters in between butt cheeks dropped on a dime into a cup and the laughter that follows. Part of me wants to recoil; the other part laughs with them until there are tears in my eyes. Everyone is jovial and funny, warm and kind. I like these women, even though I am not sure I trust their joy. People happy like this remind me of my dad.
Several years ago, my father was dealing with a long list of serious health issues concerning both my grandfather and my stepmother. Like a grey Tony the Tiger, at the age of 60, my father proclaimed to me, “I am looking forward to these next 20 years. I know they are going to be great.” As if he could positively drive his life, his parents’ life, his wife’s life with his muscle-armed enthusiasm; as if he’d considered it for some time and, as usual, found himself at the place where making a positive proclamation about his state of mind was his checkmate. I respected his focus. I didn’t question him even though I wanted to ask, “what if it isn’t great?” And go on to tell him of my theories on the word great and how it sits next to hope in the same brittle-paged dictionary filled of words that fall short of expressing the space where reality meets dreams; theories he helped shape. We are descending a trail and Merrianne is riding behind me. We’ve been talking constantly for most of the descent as if no years have passed, at the same time filling in the gaps in our stories from the past three decades. Merrianne does not know the depth of my desire to be with her. Few people in Oregon know my family when my dad was in it. She did, but not for long. By the end of my second year in lessons, my parents were divorced and my dad was gone. He wasn’t there anymore to catch me if I fell or even anticipate a fall like the time I rode a feisty Morgan who took off with me full bore towards the far end of the arena. I remember my dad sprinting to the end of the arena, and the Morgan and I heading straight at him. I watched my dad pitch back and forth on the other side of the fence, his engineering mind frantically calculating my trajectory so he could catch me after launched once the horse slammed into the fence. Then all at once, inches from the fence and my dad, the Morgan came to a full stop, and I stayed on. The dust caused by the horse’s gallop caught up with the movement, rolled over the horse and m and into my dad’s face. Dad and I burst into relief-inspired laughter.
I feel good riding. Merrianne says to me, “If you can ride out here in the Wallowas, you can do any ride.” I lean over and pat my horse’s neck. We ride into the lot and load the horses into trailers for the drive back to camp. Although, I am all talked out, my knees are sore, I need water and then a beer, I am elated. Back at camp its not long before everyone is cleaned up (as clean as possible with no running water) and gathering around the campfire. The day’s rides are revisited and the rides for tomorrow are planned as everyone digs into a Dutch oven dinner cooked over the campfire. Then awards and new members inducted into wotr. Stories of the last 50 years of wotr are shared and hopes for the next 50 years are expressed. Tonight, I sit by the campfire long after Jane has gone to bed. I have made some new friends and am talking with one now. She tells me about her boy friend, her job, about her years with wotr, and her experiences as a grief counselor. She says, “These women loved me back to life.” But I want to ask her, “Back from where?” I don’t. I know there is something in her story hard and dark and sad. She will share it if she wants to. The campfire shadows hold other hints of trials and struggles. Hints I hear during the days in camp that lean to divorces; families averse to allowing 75-year-old matriarchs continue riding; husbands passing on after 40 years of marriage. I don’t pry for the stories. I begin understanding this is a time to retreat the trials and tribulations. This is a time to focus on joy. I say good night and I step off from the campfire into the shadows where I linger in the dark before heading to bed. I think of my dad. He died eight months before this trip. I imagine calling him and telling him all about this experience. I want to tell him how much he would love the Wallowas and imagine recommending a visit here the next time he is in Oregon. I am certain he would agree. I would tell him with energy and excitement, “Dad, I am riding again!” I can hear his response, one where I could detect his big smile over the miles and distance. I walk to my camper, tears rolling down my face.
I thought at one time in my life it was better to cut my loses and let my dad go. Stop trying. He didn’t leave like some fathers never to be heard from again. Yet growing up, I saw my dad once every year or two and we sometimes talked on the phone at birthdays and holidays. Once a friend said to me, “I think you better reconcile things with your father while he is still alive.” No way. Too much water under the bridge. Then my dad came for a visit. That was 18 years ago. I was six months pregnant. And as if somehow my friend had more control over the situation than I, one sentence broke the space and my dad and I sat in our bathrobes until 1 pm hashing over everything and beginning to heal the scar of lost time between us. It wasn’t easy. Over the next couple of years, I beat him up more often than I care to admit. He took my punches. In the end, no one was launched from the rushing horse. We found our way back and across the fence from one another and burst into relief inspired laughter again and again. And I started to do things I never thought I could: by myself I climbed a mountain, I learned to rock climb, started painting and writing poetry again; took up back country skiing; started a magazine; ran marathons.
It’s been a year and a half since I sat with my dad in the doctor’s office in Cincinnati, Ohio. My partner, Ed, and I flew out to be with my dad for an endoscopy and biopsy and to learn with him the results from such. That afternoon, he was diagnosed with Auto-Immunue Disorder which had gone undetected long enough to cause cirrhosis of the liver. He always said he would only take natural health aids to ward off any disease or disorder. Clearly and constantly over the years, he told my brother and I that when the Lord called him home it would be his turn. Now the doctor who performed the endoscopy, a liver specialist, wants him to go on steroids. My dad
does not want to take them. “Steroids will make my immune system vulnerable, won’t they?” my dad asks the doctor. “Yes, but there are things we can do about that,” the doctor answers. “Plus, I have seen people in much worse condition then you go on to live a normal life span on steroids.” My dad is not convinced. My dad is sullen and pale. We get into the car and drive back to Dayton. My dad says, “I don’t want to be a specimen.” Ed responds by asking him if he wants to be a dead specimen or a live specimen. He says, “Right now I would rather be a dead specimen.” I understand and yet, I want to get out of the car and walk the 30 miles back to Dayton and then get on a plane and leave. Because what I really want is for him to fight this time. It took him 24 hours. The next morning as we eat breakfast, my father apologizes for being selfish. He proclaims that he is going to take the steroids. “I can’t refuse the steroids. If there is something I can do about this that has me living a normal life, I need to choose that for my kids.” A huge smile breaks over my face. A week after being on steroids, my dad tells me he is feeling remarkably better.
Two months later, we are back in Ohio in the intensive care unit at North Bethesda Hospital in Cincinnati. As if he predicted it, my dad has contracted Listeria due to a compromised immune system. The infection broke the blood-brain barrier, and he is in a coma. We have to decide whether to take him off all life support or try another round of antibiotics. It is one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. It was made easier due to Dad’s convictions; convictions he shared often. We moved him to Hospice near his home in Dayton. My brother returned to his home in Chicago. Our flight to Oregon did not leave for four more days. My stepmother stayed the first night with Dad at Hospice; I the next. The following nights he stayed alone. We all thought he might go if he were alone. I woke each morning surprised the phone had not woken us in the night. He was starting to surprise even the nurses at Hospice. The day before we left, one of the nurses asked me, “Is there anyone else you think your dad might be waiting on a visit from?” She went on to explain that often times patients even those in a coma will wait for someone to arrive for a final goodbye before they pass. “Everyone has been here,” I told her. Then I wondered aloud, “Maybe he is waiting for me to leave.” The next day, I said goodbye to my dad, and my Aunt Bonnie took Ed and I to the airport. My dad had been in a coma for close to a week. As we parked alongside the curb at the airport 20 minutes after we left Hospice, my cell phone rang. It was my grandmother’s sister. She had arrived at Hospice just after we left. “Honey,” Aunt Rosie said, “ I watched your daddy take his last breath. It was moments ago.”
Ever since my trip last summer, I’ve been making time in my life again for horses. It feels good; really good. I am going to buy paddock boots this week. I am reading Centered Riding and True Horsemanship through Feel. The other day, a woman I recently met who I am riding with weekly said to me, “You look so confident up on that horse.” My mouth broke wide across my face just like my dad’s all big teeth and ear to ear smile. I have been invited to wotr’s 51st ride. Its in the north Cascades this year. I have my calendar marked out with the letters w o t r through the second week of August. The women of wotr have showed me something powerful, something my dad practiced, something I want to keep learning. They know the dark, they have struggled hard as my dad did, but they persevere in sunshine songs and Reveille one week every year and have for the last 50. All of them – these women, my dad – choosing an anchor against life’s hardships, a buoy against vulnerabilities with a compass setting on love no matter the outcome. < hdj > high desert journal
A FELLOWSHIP WITH
THE LAND Daniel Duford Untitled monoprint on paper, 2012 11 ~ 15 inches 24
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In the summer of 2012, David Eckard and I left Portland, Oregon, for Pendleton. Pendleton lies 200-plus miles to the east, long out of range of what is called the “rain shadow” of the Cascades. Bioregionally speaking, it is another world, ecologically connected to the plateau region of the intermontain West. This particular morning was one of those lovely late-August days that cause visitors to drop everything and move to the Rose City, as Portland is often called. What they don’t know is the romance of roses is a brief seduction before the reality of months of gray wetness begin in November. I had long ago been so seduced, and despite the beauty of a Portland day longed to go to the desert. Two years before, David, Heidi Schwegler, and I became the first
Hallie Ford Fellows for Visual Art. The mandate for the fellowship is to support Oregon artists in mid-career and bring them to prominence outside the region. On this particular Labor Day weekend, The Ford Family Foundation invited the Fellows to convene at Crow’s Shadow printmaking residency on the Umatilla reservation outside of Pendleton. The 2011 Fellows, Bruce Conkle, Stephen Hayes and Sang Ah-Choi, and the newly minted 2012 Fellows, Michelle Ross and Akhiko Miyoshi (Ellen Lesperance could not attend having just given birth) would join us for a weekend of printmaking and to discuss the impact of the Fellowship. What at first seemed to be a simple opportunity of working with fellow artists prompted for me a larger question: If we are “Oregon” artists, what does that mean? I have long been aware of the pitfalls of regionalism – the provincialism that can cause xenophobia, the chip-on-the-shoulder resentment etc. After going to Pendleton, I began questioning the relationship of an artist to a place. Prior to moving to Oregon, I lived in New Mexico for six years and have never forgotten the wideness of the sky and the openness of its arid landscape. Now, in Oregon, as we drove from the western side of the Cascades on I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge, the land changed from dense cliffs of Douglas firs to sparse ochre hills dotted with bluish sagebrush. We passed huge white wind turbines atop the bluff near Maryhill Museum, and the azure sky above them seemed to compress the land like a baker who had punched down dough. Unlike Portland, the sky dominates one’s view and the trees shrink to shrubs. In Portland, David and I are familiar with the invisible landscape of local history and the minutia of a well lived-in environment. In Pendleton, we would be strangers. Upon arriving in Pendleton, we stopped downtown and looked into all the shops selling cowboy gear and western themed antiques. The first store gave us the thrill of tourists encountering an alien culture. We were engaging the natives! It was two weeks before the Pendleton Roundup, one of the biggest rodeos in the West, and everything was set to a nostalgic frequency meant to elicit feelings of “western” authenticity. But after each subsequent shop, it was as if a veil was lifted revealing a town that runs on tourist-based cowboy themes. A local artist had painted a series of cowboy caricatures on every shop window announcing the Roundup. The cartoons told cornball jokes aimed at cowboy kitsch. Still, Pendleton is a true western town. Underneath the veneer is a rich and complicated story. We walked through the charming downtown until we arrived at the Pendleton Art Center. Generations: Betty Feves, the current exhibition, had just left a successful run at The Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland. I wrote an essay for the catalog so was very familiar with the work. Feves was an influential ceramist and long-time resident of Pendleton. After studying with Clyfford Still and working in New York, she decided to return to the rural Pacific Northwest to make a living as an artist. She deliberately turned her back on centers of influence. This was in the 50s when being isolated meant true isolation. Pendleton was as big a town as she wanted. An amateur violinist, Feves single-handedly brought the Suzuki method to the region, creating an environment that produced an unusual number of concert musicians. The Art Center had a flyer for an upcoming concert that featured one of her sons, one of the several accomplished musicians in the Feves clan. Feves was committed to digging clay from her home region. She had geologic survey maps marked with choice sites for different kinds of clay. She and California-based potter Hal Reigger, often fired pots in primitive pit fires on her land. The show had some stunning examples of her pit-fired vessels. Reflecting the mineralogical diversity of the region, big-bellied pots of various shades of brick red, charcoal black and yellow-gray, stood regally on a central pedestal. Feves exemplifies the regional artist. She literally used the ground beneath her feet, but more importantly she influenced and inspired a whole generation of local artists including Roberta Lavadour, now the executive director of the Art Center, and James Lavadour, one of the region’s most celebrated painters and the founder of Crow’s Shadow. All of the Fellows were staying at the Wildhorse Resort and Casino on the Umatilla reservation. The casino rises out of the flat, yellowed land like a beacon. No structure around it is as tall. The incongruous tower seems to draw all energy and roads into its center. If down-
i often think of wallace stegner’s dictum that the
first landscape a person encounters creates a layer through which all subsequent landscapes are judged. In Pendleton I began to understand the disjointed sense of place that I have as an adult. I was looking at the land through two lenses: the one of my nativity, and the newer one from my 20s. And it was complicated by what was being sold to me as a visitor – Cowboys on the one hand and Indians on the other. Neither image was telling me the truth about a life lived in the high desert in the way the Betty Feves exhibition did or the paintings of James Lavadour. town Pendleton is the vestigial old West, the casino is the economic reality of the new West, and both realities are needed for contemporary tribes to survive. The smell of cigarette smoke and the whirring and bleeping of slot machines greet you upon entering the glass lobby. Pin-neat golfers exit one side and scrubby down-and-out gamblers enter another. Like all casino floors, the light at the Wildhorse Casino is a constant purgatorial glow. The rhythms of night or day don’t affect the gambling. After dropping our bags in our rooms it was a relief to get back on the road to Crow’s Shadow where the undulating foothills quickly gave way to openness and golden grasses luxuriated in late summer sun. Crow’s Shadow is located on the Umatilla Indian Reservation (the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla include the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse; all related tribes from the Plateau regions). James Lavadour, who is Walla Walla, created Crow’s Shadow to foster the artwork of Native American artists. Feves was his teacher, and he never forgot the monumental impact she had on him. Through Crow’s Shadow he gets to return the favor, offering his talent, knowledge and wisdom to a new generation. Throughout the year, artists from all over the world come for extended residencies, but the main mission of Crow’s Shadow is working with young tribal artists. Crow’s Shadow also happens to be a Ford Family Golden Spot, one of a handful of artist residencies in the state supported by the organization. The printmaking studio – arguably one of the best in the country – is run by master printer Frank Janzen. Through the generosity of The Ford Family Foundation, the eight of us would work with Frank for the weekend, and I was curious to see how eight artists with disparate interests and levels of printmaking experience would get on in a single work space. At dinner that night at Hamley Steakhouse, we sat at a mezzanine table discussing the next day’s events. Carol Dalu and Kandis Nunn from The Ford Family Foundation joined us for the dinner. I asked my colleagues what they felt their relationship was to the region. All the Fellows are Portland-based artists, but most of us originally come from outside the region, in some cases outside the country. Just about every one of the Fellows is a teacher at a local college, and as contemporary artists and educators we tend to look to the power centers of art for inspiration and validation. As a result, the concerns of our work tend to be much more global in scope. Oregon as a place didn’t seem to weigh too heavily on anyone’s mind, and a wider sense of high desert journal
< a fellowship with the land Oregonness didn’t come through. In fact, Pendleton could have just as easily been Maine we were all so alien to the prevailing cowboy culture of the town. Looking around the table, we were a far cry from the models of Betty Feves and James Lavadour. I often think of Wallace Stegner’s dictum that the first landscape a person encounters creates a layer through which all subsequent landscapes are judged. I grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I didn’t leave New England until I was 21 when I moved to New Mexico. Those old colonial ghosts and hulking dying factories of New England still insert themselves into my perceptions of Portland’s industrial area. New Mexico is where I came of age, a place I love in my bones, but where I never felt like a native. In Pendleton, I began to understand the disjointed sense of place that I have as an adult. I was looking at the land through two lenses: the one of my nativity and the newer one from my 20s. And it was complicated by what was being sold to me as a visitor – Cowboys on the one hand and Indians on the other. Neither image was telling me the truth about a life lived in the high desert in the way the Betty Feves exhibition did or the paintings of James Lavadour. As urban artists it’s possible to feel smug about ourselves. After all, we are an elite group. Everyone at the table had traveled extensively and has very impressive resumes. And yet, we are provincials in a wider view of the art world. If we’re such hotshots, why do we live in a dinky city like Portland? Big fish in a small pond? Maybe so. But I think place works on an artist in a much more complicated way than the simple rural-urban divide. I don’t think we chose Portland because we can’t hack it in the big, Big City. I think we chose Portland because of a broader sensibility: to our contacts with peers and a hands-on working ethos and independence. Portland is a place where there is an acute awareness of the weather and the seasonal changes. A mental map of where you’re standing in relationship to the world guides an artist in subtle ways. The regional artist, while in danger of cultivating a false high self-opinion, may be a bulwark or even an antidote to the corrosion of a global celebrity culture. We arrived the next morning bright and early as per Frank’s demand. Jokes about bad coffee and gambling greeted him. (We Portlanders take our coffee seriously.) Frank had led us through the basics of monoprinting the night before. To make a monoprint you make an image on a Plexiglass plate with very thin printing ink. Ghosts can be achieved by printing a second or third time from the same image. It is a process that is deceptively straightforward, but requires skill and finesse. Stephen Hayes is adept with the technique. Sang ah, Aki and Heidi had never done it. David, Bruce, and I had made monoprints on occasion, but not with any real rigor. Michelle, a painter, had a real feel for the process. As work began, I realized how freeing it was to be a complete amateur at something. I regularly use printmaking in my own work, but I make block prints, which requires a different sensibility and skill set. It also became apparent that I was getting to know my fellow Fellows more by watching them work than had I just sitting around talking. Something very deep and instinctual is communicated through one’s work process. The more we as a culture communicate via typing on tiny tablets, the less we really get to know each other through wordless interaction. As a teacher, I’ve become more and more aware of the importance of bodily experience. Throughout the weekend, there were huge blocks of time when the studio would take on the tranquil hum of concentration and creative joy. Aki worked quietly in one corner creating stunning analog images that somehow matched his usual digital mode of working. When he pulled his prints towards the end of the day they knocked us all out. David made images that reflected his new body of drawings and paintings with scumbled forms disappearing into gray sfumato. Sang-ah was unbelievably prolific hitting a stride incredible for a first timer. Stephen pulled one lovely landscape after another. Heidi, resistant at first, dove right into experimental mode. Michelle’s prints held the seeds of new work. Bruce created thick, lovely and strange tree images. Early on, I had a revelation about the process that relates to being a local. I felt like one day of printing was all I needed. I got a couple of images I liked and a lot that didn’t. Now I would either want to 26
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commit to an entire residency or be satisfied with the one-day tutorial. There is a similar relationship between the traveler and the local. The local has clocked many waking hours in a place (and dreaming hours for that matter) and knows his home deeply. But the traveler only sees the most superficial of qualities about a place. Anything whiz-bang, or novel is in the forefront, like the taste of cloying sugar. It is only with reflection that those novel impressions get connected to the more complex flavors of the place – and that takes time. Of course, a traveler can see a place with a beginner’s eyes and sense possibility where a local may have become blind or entrenched in particular conclusions. The most important quality an artist can bring to a place is the nimble position of maintaining that tourist insight while wedding it to that of the local. One sensibility should never win out over the other. During a mid-afternoon lull, I walked outside to look at the hills and the sky. Ah, that blue sky was heartbreaking. Birdcalls faintly echoed through the calm afternoon. I heard silence. I’m so used to living in an environment that emanates a constant barrage of electronic chirping and whirring and dinging and barking, that I forgot what quiet is like. There was no smartphone to check, no updates, no messages. When I returned to my workstation, I painted a landscape. A blue sky and a yellow hill. A suggestion of an out building. It turned out to be one of my favorite prints of the day. That evening, exhausted from the workday, the remaining Fellows stayed on to have dinner in Pendleton at a little place called Great Northern. On the way in, I saw Betty Feves’ son watering the flowers. Inside, while drinking some delicious local beer, a group of musicians was just finishing up a session. They sat at a round table playing fiddles, accordions and guitars, drinking pints and playing old-time tunes. The group was followed by two members of Reina del Cid and the Cidizens from Minneapolis. The duo consisted of Reina, the singer and songwriter and guitarist Toni Lindgren. A young bearded guy – a transplant from Portland – who said he convinced the band to come to Pendleton, joined David, Aki, Bruce and myself. He had contacted them via Facebook. Watching this somewhat old-fashioned singersongwriter on a low budget tour aided by social media, gave me another glimpse of what being a regional artist means. This was an exchange that could only have happened on the ground, in person. I bought a cd and we went back to the hotel. At the hotel we enjoyed a nightcap at the casino where we watched a local band do tepid covers of soul classics. Here was another glimpse of the heart of Saturday night in Pendleton. In the morning, we drove home listening to Reina del Cid and the Cidizens’ new cd. Visions of the desert landscape were punctured by the Umatilla weapons depot and other grim realities of the contemporary West. We also passed hills where Feves had dug her clay, and the cliffs and clouds that are suggested in Lavadour’s abstract paintings. It occurred to me that like it or not, place makes an artist. David, Ellen, and I all teach at Pacific Northwest College of Art, Aki teaches at Reed College, Bruce teaches at Marylhurst and Portland State University, Heidi and Michelle teach at Oregon College of Art and Craft. Stephen has taught at most of those institutions not to mention various workshops. As a group we have trained a whole generation of Pacific Northwest artists. Moving from the arid land into the wet spray of the western Cascades, I sensed the numerous threads that connect the landscape of the high desert to my home in Portland: the grain brought from eastern Oregon along the train lines to the ports of Portland; the goods shipped across the Pacific that land in North Portland docks; and the other migrations, natural and unnatural, that spin webs of connection east to west, west to east, south and north, carrying not only goods, but ideas. It’s time to lose the old idea about regionalism, that it’s backwards and conservative. A regional artist is not a provincial quaking at the unknown. The regional can be progressive and generative, alive to what is most human. Back in Portland, I unpacked my bag and unrolled the prints I made. I was glad to see my daughter, who, as it turns out is a Portland native. She and my wife showed me the tomatoes that had ripened in the garden. I’ve lived in this house longer than almost any other home. Out the window, migratory birds were preparing for the next season. < hdj >
CROWâ€™S SHADOW INSTITUTE of THE ARTS
Ric Gendron (Colville) A Quiltsten Song Monoprint. From a series of 12 monoprints on Rives BFK white. 30 ~ 22.25 inches high desert journal
crow ’s shadow institute of the art s
Internationally renowned artist James Lavadour and friends started the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts (CSIA) in the early 1990s with the goal of creating a place where art serves as a transformative tool within the Native American community. Lavadour knew first hand the power of art to change lives. Coupled with the idea that art is an intrinsic and essential element of Native American culture, the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts was formed from the commitment to create an opportunity and a place for young and old to develop their artistic gifts and skills. Through a variety of professional and educational services, CSIA gives dedicated artists a strong voice while also providing a conduit to the mainstream art world. Over the years, CSIA has offered various youth services and educational workshops on a wide spectrum of traditional art forms, also serving as a location for special projects and collaborations with major artists. In 2001, CSIA turned its main attention to fine-art printmaking, whereby artists could come to expand their professional portfolios, to create and market monotypes, monoprints and print editions with the assistance of master printer Frank Janzen. An evergrowing portfolio including lithographs, etchings, linocuts, and woodcuts are becoming a formidable and renowned collection of the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts.
Frank LaPena (Wintu) Gatekeepers’ of the Invisible Lithograph. Edition of 12 lithographs on Somerset Satin white 16.9375 ~ 16.9375 inches
High Desert Journal is honored to publish a selection of that of collection on the following pages. John Feodorov (Navajo) Vanitas #1 Lithograph. Edition of 12 lithographs on Rives BFK white. 30 ~ 22.25 inches
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crow â€™s shadow institute of the art s Rick Bartow (Wiyot) Kestrel with Horizon Monoprint From a series of 16 monoprints on Rives BFK white. 30 ~ 22.375 inches
Ric Gendron (Colville) Rattle Monoprint. From a series of 12 monoprints on Rives BFK white. 30 ~ 22.25 inches
James Luna (Luiseno) Indian Edge Monotype. From a series of 16 monotypes on Rives BFK white. 22.25 ~ 26 inches high desert journal
crow â€™s shadow institute of the art s Marie Watt (Seneca) Camp (detail) Woodcut. Edition of 20 woodcuts on Somerset Satin white. Paper 20.75 ~ 16 inches Image 11.75 ~ 7.9375 inches
Jim Denomie (Ojibwe) Untruthful Monoprint. From a series of eight monoprints on Rives BFK white. 30 ~ 22.375 inches
Corwin Clairmont (Salish and Kootenai) Banana Polar Bear Monoprint. From a series of 15 monoprints with chine colle on Somerset Satin white. 22.375 ~ 30 inches 30
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Your grandfather once told me that it became easier to kill a man after the first time, back when the war began for him. He had parachuted into a cow pasture near Caen and with this rifle killed a spotter and his radioman above the road. The bodies lay out over the rock wall, the blood black on the wool uniforms. At first it was startling to see each colorless eye, but he knew it had to be done. He told me this as we sighted in this rifle out on the ridge at Elk Butte a week before hunting season. He let me calculate windage and drop across the timbered bowl, this rifle cleaned and oiled, a weight of history in my boyish hands as I fired for the first time, feeling that hard smack of the walnut stock against my shoulder, witnessing the burst of dust that lingered in the air beyond the target. It stank even then of the things of war: solvent and gunpowder and purpose. He taught me how to free the breech, to adjust the trigger pull, how to breathe in halves, his hand on my back, timing each as I squinted down the sights. He told me one day I would teach you these very things, and that even then this rifle would be a tool, an implement of killing. He shot the first elk of the season with this rifle, back when I was your age. We tracked the animal as day matured over the Wallowas, the blood a brilliant red against the heather and grass. He showed me how to cut the pluck out and let me weigh the throbbing burden of a hot heart in my hand until it stilled. He told me that this rifle was no longer his then, and that it was mine to wield. When you sleep I take it down at times to run a chamois over the metal parts, caring for its heavy weight, its brutal capability until you are of age. You will learn to care for it, to keep the chamber clear, to use it with good intent. You will become a good man, and one day you will teach your sons about this rifle and tell them about how it was given to you. This rifle is no longer a relic of war, and you will keep it in your home and one day perhaps tell these stories: of how your grandfather fought in a distant land and how this rifle changed him. I do not claim to know how, but this rifle made him harder, it aged him in a way that it did not me. You will not know of this, and he would want it that way. This rifle will be yours, a gift from fathers to sons.
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PA I N T I N GS gabriel manca
Rose 2013 Paint and mixed media 2o ~ 15 inches framed 24 ~ 20 inches framed Courtesy of Froelick Gallery, Portland Photos: Anna M. Campbell Photography 32
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Lamplight, Utensils, Vegetables 2013 Paint and mixed media 20 ~ 16 inches 23.5 ~ 10.5 inches framed
Proximal Influence Series #6 2013 Paint and mixed media 12 ~ 9 inches 17.5 ~ 14.5 inches framed
Kamikaze Series #1 2013 Paint and mixed media on canvas 25 ~ 30.5 inches 20.5 ~ 30.5 inches framed
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just for th
e l l e n wat e rst o n
It’s not that women haven’t gathered for centuries, organizing around everything from wall paintings to warding off wooly mammoths, from canning to quilting, Tupperware to teething babies, vibrators to Van Gogh, foreign language skills to facials. They have. It’s not that women don’t continue to do so, they do, and that there aren’t long-established women’s groups all over the United States. There are. All kinds. Book clubs, knitting groups, groups focused on enneagram analysis, foreign language conversation, community, culture, cooking, the environment, the arts, you name it. But what made the GG’s of Prineville, Oregon unique was the guiding principle to simply have fun. That’s right. Just plain fun. Not getting smarter, more fit, cultured, beautiful, skilled as cooks, although all of these were anecdotal by-products of their gatherings. Mind you, these women were not frivolous. Not by any means. They were well-educated, forward-thinking members of their community. But somehow they understood better than most that the best defense against life’s challenges is laughter. The average
Founding members: Vera Bankofier, Betty Beimdiek, Peg Brown, Ann Dreher, Bettye Garrett, Pauline Shelk, Phyllis Short, Elnora Wheeler. Later members: Margaret Hudspeth, Dorothy Schwab, Glenrose Sherwin 34
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age of this original group of eight was barely 30 when they started in 1957. They proceeded to define lightheartedness for over 40 years. Forty years! “I think Peg Brown was the instigator,” muses Phyllis Short, 87, who has lived in Prineville since 1936. “Her husband was a lawyer in town. Many of us lived near one another on what was called The Heights. Peg called us together. Someone thought the name up at that first meeting. It might have been Pauline Shelk. What it means is a secret. We swore never to tell and I never will. I’ll never tell anyone.” Here’s how they set things up: two would act as hostesses and come up with that month’s excursion, alerting the others what to wear, how much time the planned outing would take, what to bring, including spending money if any was required. Otherwise the activity was a surprise. Everyone had to go along with whatever the hostesses had concocted. Whining was strictly taboo. As was gossiping, perhaps one key to the GG’s success and longevity as a club. Minutes were kept on an informal basis as was a scrapbook. Once in the winter and once in
the summer there were events held that included the husbands. “They were always curious what we were up to,” chuckles Pauline Shelk, 97, who now resides in Bend. “There was no reason other than getting together and enjoying one another.” When the GG’s started meeting in the 50s, Prineville had a population of 3,700. The town was robust thanks to timber, ranching, farming and, oh, a start-up tire business. The countryside – brazen and beautiful. Cowboys from the surrounding ranches who would come to town for a night of fun were known to ride horses into the Cinnabar on Main Street. Prineville had a new golf club. The summer air was spiked with the aroma of alfalfa and mint and woodchips. Rimrocks rung around this gem of a town. Sage covered hillsides rolled to the southeast, Ponderosas towered on the Ochocos that led toward Mitchell to the west. This was the era of the mythologized Leave It To Beaver television show. The prevailing culture instructed women in those years to be as anonymous as the quilts they made, describing in patchwork patterns and bright colors their hopes
Though what GG’s stands for is a secret, what’s not a secret is the Central Oregon described by the group’s many outings highlighting all that was and is wonderful, curious, outrageous and glorious about the region. Here’s a sampler: quilting in Sisters horseback riding in Post … houseboat on Lake Billy Chinook … ride on the City of Prineville Railroad … glass blowing in Bend … lunch at Timberline Lodge, Government Camp … antiquing in Redmond … exploration of Lava Lands, Bend … bowling in Prineville … safari to Shaniko … rockhounding and fossil hunting in the Painted Hills, Mitchell … tour of Ka-Nee-Ta in Warm Springs … hike at Smith Rock near Terrebonne … visit to Christmas Valley … lunch at Metolious … art class at Crook County courthouse, Prineville … lecture at the new community college in Bend … visit to Maryhill Museum, … water witching lessons, Prineville … ski outing to Mt. Bachelor … visit to the Rancho Rajneesh, Antelope … panning for gold at John Day … figure salon for a sauna and diet plans, Bend high desert journal
< just for the fun of it
and disappointments. They were wives and mothers, “home economists.” Despite the publication of Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique in 1963, which questioned just how happy women really were cooking for husbands and caring for children, the GG’s stuck to a 50s approach to things, remaining in the background, eschewing the spotlight. But if any of this group of bright, gregarious GG’s ever felt sidelined, bored, overwhelmed or discouraged, they had the antidote: each other. If any suffered terrible tragedy, injury, illness or loss of a loved one, which they did, they knew the cure. If any of them had to take a job during lean times, which happened, they knew which side was sunny side up. As Phyllis Short, 87, of Prineville says, “If anyone had a problem, and we all went through quite a few, the GG’s were right there.” That sense of community, of sisterhood, of belonging is an endangered species. In the 21st century there’s a lot of valid speculation about how we are increasingly isolated one from the other. Taking the time for just plain fun slips between the cracks of obligation and purpose. Taking refuge behind a computer screen or smartphone is substituted for human contact. Nowadays it seems more complicated for women in their 30s and 40s when deciding whether or not to take time out of their day to get-together for what are perceived as trivial pursuits. Going to the trouble to physically gather with women just for fun competes with more serious and ostensibly more worthwhile pursuits: athletic, academic, career, cultural, financial. Even those women who don’t have to, choose to work, per Betty Friedan’s long ago “have it all” mantra. As a result, coordinating with spouses around children’s activities, job demands and maintaining a household puts the control tower at O’Hare airport to shame. And if you’re a single, working mother? Really, now, who would bother to attend a regularly scheduled meeting of women just for fun when it’s possible to have 100 new “friends” at the push of a “send” button. The GG’s are here to remind all women of all generations that making the time in your schedule to drop your shoulders, throw your head back and laugh out loud with live-action friends, not virtual ones, is worth the price of admission. And they are a reminder of something else that is getting lost in today’s mad dash. They wrote their own ticket, didn’t buy one. They designed their fun, didn’t depend on some on-line authority’s notion of what fun was. Fun was not “vetted,” pre-packaged, pre-approved by a self-proclaimed expert online, an illustration of our diminished confidence in our ability to know what’s fun and to be able to create our own. Mind you, there was nothing fancy about the GG’s excursions. Most were organized in or around central Oregon. Rather, the 36
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group succeeded on the imagination and commitment the GG’s invested in their tiny organization, and their shared belief in the importance of a monthly dose of the fun vitamin. Much of what they did, they did in one another’s homes: color charts, cooking, wreath-making. The varied backgrounds and interests of each woman insured a varied menu of activities. They weren’t prudes. The minutes sometimes included reference to meetings starting with “warmers” such as daiquiris or orange jupiters. Pauline Shelk demurely recalls that “someone fell asleep behind the sofa” during a costume party with the husbands. They weren’t sissies, gamely doing what hostesses had concocted. Make cowboy coffee over a campfire by the side of a dirt road on a remote ranch? No problem. “We laughed ‘til we cried,” Phyllis Short states, recalling a horseback outing. Though some never had ridden, they rode that day. All of them. Code of the GG’s! And they were inventive. One year the husband’s handwriting samples were sent to an analyst “somewhere back East,” says Pauline. At that summer’s picnic, the analyses were read out loud and everyone had to guess whose husband they described. The GG’s were a hilarious tutorial in self-deprecation, in not taking oneself too seriously. To wit: the hostesses tell the others to come wearing skirts and sneakers. Off they go to hike through ice caves. Or: come wearing cocktail dresses … and off they go in a logging crummy to dinner at the Prineville Golf Club. Or this: everyone comes wearing their Easter best only
to be presented with paper plates and crepe paper and the instruction to make Easter hats before heading to Mitchell for lunch. “Folks in Mitchell looked at us like we were crazy!” says Phyllis Short. “We were originals,” adds GG, Dorothy Schwab, 95, who now lives in Bend. It didn’t take the GG’s long to realize they were not only learning, exploring and having fun, but were creating deep and meaningful friendships that would last decades. Joyce Garrett, whose mother was one of the GG’s until her death in 1975, recalls her mother saying that the GG’s message to women was to “be supportive of one another.” Joyce adds: “My mother was famous for her lemon pies. At her memorial the GG’s brought tiny individual lemon tarts for everyone.” Only three of the GG’s are still alive. Their husbands have died as have many of their children and friends. All withstood setbacks and hardships that would bring any of us to our knees. But they offered each other friendship and, above all, levity as a way to make it through. “We just had a ball, for years and years,” confirms Dorothy Schwab, “We just had a ball.” Maybe laughter isn’t what is needed to save the planet, to reverse global warming, to solve the country’s economic woes, to address the needs of those lacking enough food or clothing. On the other hand, maybe it heals the hurts, expands our hearts and makes room for the harder, bigger tasks. Maybe laughter, lots of it, is exactly what’s needed. < hdj >
It was the steam of her own breath, the breathing, the beating of her heart, the rushing of air through her lungs and the pulsing of blood through her limbs, the sniff of sage in the fields and of timothy in the meadows that emboldened Lena. Down the stretched and still road, she pedaled the bicycle as fast as she could. Other than to get there, she had no plan. She had been standing on the second floor landing of her parents’ house – now hers with her mother’s death – studying the row of wedding pictures. All those women – her great-great grandmother, her great-grandmother, her grandmother, her mother, herself … in their unrumpled white dresses they posed with their new husbands, watching the minute hands of clocks move slowly. It was sex, always sex, wasn’t it, always sex that knit the generations together. How young they all looked! Stout as horses and so affectionate they could not imagine a future of indifference, could not imagine a night when the old husband would do nothing more than sleep by his wife, and she by him, while the rest slept in the cemetery beneath the cut and combed grass of graves. How they had been lulled by time, the amplitude of it, the hum of it. She had left Carl asleep in her parents’ bed; he never stirred anymore when she did, and there was no reason – not love nor companionship, really – to wake him. And, failing these, what would the point be? “Where are you going?” he might mumble, and what could she say about tonight? It was not that she was frightened of telling him, but she was frightened of telling him now, as she was unsure if her action would elicit any consequence. For her, anyway. It was impulsive. And she was unused to impulsiveness. Impulsiveness, she had come to believe, was not an action committed without forethought, as in, “They had married as young, impulsive teenagers.” No, what culture defined as impulsiveness was merely orchestrated biology, impulsiveness was destiny, impulsiveness was sex and ensuing babies. When people said they had acted on impulse when they married, they were describing secondary factors they had failed to consider – how to economically maintain a marriage and a household and children, but there was not an iota of surprise in the plot of how they arrived
at this institutionalization. In fact, as she had aged, she had decided that an impulsive act for her would have been to not have had sex and children. What she was doing tonight was impulsive. After all, no one – neither she nor Carl – could find the erogenous zones on the maps of their bodies anymore, and she was past childbearing age, so it wasn’t about biology. What made this midnight bike ride impulsive was that it was about an inarticulate, unorchestrated longing.
Frank Fields had driven halfway up the lane to the ranch house when he turned his headlights off. There was enough moonlight that he didn’t need them. And if his mother was dozing in her chair in front of the television, as she seemed to do more and more, he didn’t want to wake her. That he would have to eventually, he knew, but not right away. For now, for just another few minutes, he wanted to be alone. He drove slowly, looking at his property – well, his mother’s property, but his once she died. And he would deserve it; when his father died four years before, he had come home and never left, staying on to keep his mother company. Though people praised him for his selflessness, his contracting business in St. Cloud hadn’t been doing that well in the recession, his marriage was ending, and he wasn’t that eager to stay on in a town Jeanine claimed as her own. Though he sometimes rued his decision, there was no changing it now. It would be too much for Poppy. Her bone density had diminished over the last three years, making her skeleton as delicate as a bird’s. He had thought that the loss of calcium would soon turn her to dust, but, instead, she had grown a surprisingly solid widow’s hump on her neck, which pushed her head forward on her spine. The result was a profile that looked as light as a sandpiper except for the neck of a vulture. She seemed constantly perched for something. Death, he supposed; she had become her own carrion. high desert journal
< the insomniacs’ lullaby The pickup rolled to a quiet stop. From a front window under the wraparound verandah, the living room glowed with the blue rays of television, casting shadows onto the solid pine planks of the porch. Those phantasms were interrupted by a solider shadow – Marble, who had been waiting for his master. The Australian shepherd walked out of the television light and hopped off the porch to greet Frank. He did not jump excitedly, he did not bark happily, this trimerle dog whose purpose was always and forever to be sensible and work. Frank bent and patted the serious head, feeling sorry for both the dog and himself who seemed destined to sensibility in this latter part of their lives. It was true that he derived great pleasure from routine efficiency, but over the last three years, he’d given less and less time to seeking delight. In fact, he wasn’t even sure if he would be able to recognize it. Just a few months ago, a woman he had met through Ourowntime.com asked him how he’d spend his day if he could do whatever he wanted; he never got past breakfast. She turned down his invitation for a physical meeting. Walking quietly to the window, he peeked in and saw his mother, who appeared to be reading. Why did she read with the tv on? Wasn’t quietude better than Fox News? “Damn,” he whispered. Unconsciously he brushed his legs as he often did to remove chaff or dirt and moved toward the front door, which opened into a flagstone foyer. He hung his coat and hat in the closet as Marble scurried in to lie in front of the fireplace which cast a small flame – just enough to take the chill off the undelivered warmth of a June night. It was the one pleasure the shepherd gave himself, Frank thought, as he came up behind the old leather chair in which Poppy sat dozing. She had a bald spot at the crown of her head. For some reason, even though he’d been looking down on his mother for years, Frank hadn’t noticed it until tonight, and he wondered if it bothered her. Poppy’s hair was done in the typical ranch wife style – springs permed too tightly. She had been wearing her hair this way for as long as he could remember – only now she dyed it lavender, as well. He had seen pictures of her from before his birth, when she had long braids wrapped around each other at the nape of her neck, and she looked beautiful and exotic. Maybe, he thought, she had cut her hair to make herself less appealing to his father. Could Jeanine have done the same? He always assumed it was because when the kids were small, they got their sticky hands in her tresses. “Why do you watch this shit, Mom?” The head beneath him startled. “My lord, Frank, you frightened me.” “Sorry.” He sat down on the couch. “You want this left on?” “No. I’m not watching it.” “Then why have it on?” “For company.” He grabbed the remote control from the coffee table, and the screen flickered to darkness. Poppy watched her son with the split vision that parents of grown children have. Even though he was 55, he was her baby – he would always be. She loved him with the same kind of fierce protectiveness any animal loves her offspring, even as she watched him with detached objectivity, similar to the way she watched shows on television. And usually, she had to admit, he was more boring than those shows, and, if given a good book and better eyesight, she could disregard him very quickly. Her disinterest in him sprang from the fact that he had settled into a routine when he returned home, and he hadn’t varied from it, and while she could blame this on his constant care of her, she blamed his divorce instead for this … she didn’t know quite what to call it … this calcification. He’d gotten stiff in the neck. She felt sorry for him but knew better than to tell him so. Her son was cross tonight. Poppy looked at the old train station clock that hung above the mantle and whose ticking could now be heard in the silence. Not even 11. Old friends had returned to Big Spring for Fran’s funeral, and they had planned to get together for dinner to catch up. Certainly Frank should be out later than that. She 38
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looked at her son who stared at the blank screen of the television. “Why do you watch that shit, Frank?” she chided him. “Hmmm?” “You’re watching the tv.” He smiled at her. “How was Lena?” Poppy assumed that Lena had been present at the dinner. “I don’t know. I didn’t talk to her. Carl was with her.” So that was what had soured the evening for him. Poppy had never understood why Frank hadn’t married her when there was a chance. Her musing stemmed from her desire to see her son happy, and she suspected Lena might have been able to do that – at least as much as marriage allowed. But more than wanting her son to be happy, Poppy was a third generation rancher, and she understood demands more important than love. Namely, you had to honor the land and rationalize its ownership. Frank would have been happy enough with Lena – sleeping with a pretty woman, which Lena was, and having children with her, which they of course would have … with no effort at all, then, on Frank’s part, the Fields ranch would have doubled to 6,000 acres owned free and clear, another thousand government leased and most of the water rights on Dry Creek. It was for such a consolidation of land and water rights that Poppy had been married to Frank’s father. And while she had never felt animosity toward her husband, that’s about all she could say. Had she been able to look into the future and see that her son would not stay on the land but rather go off and marry a city girl and have city children, she might have left this valley and found love – or some such thing – elsewhere. She might have done something wonderfully stupid and impulsive. This did not make Poppy bitter, though. She liked a cosmic joke better than most, and as she sat watching her son stare at a blank screen, she was sorry she wouldn’t live long enough to witness god’s punch line: the dissolution of property which took a lifetime – hers – of too much work and too little love to acquire. When she was gone, Frank would carry on alone, toiling to keep the place, but with no children interested in rural life, he would sell it. Or his children would as soon as they could. “I’m going to bed.” Poppy pushed herself out of her chair, feeling her joints first click painfully together and then liquefy beneath her. Momentarily steadying herself on the arm rest, “Enjoy your tv,” she said as she limped off to bed.
When she’d snuck out the front door, Lena had gone to the barn and was opening her mother’s car door when she thought how noisy the engine would be, how it might waken Carl. Though he wouldn’t worry, he would wonder, and Lena coveted her secrecy. She had not, after all, owned a secret in years. Slowly, silently shutting the Jeep’s door, she turned toward her mother’s adult tricycle with the basket that had been filled with pies and produce when Fran was still able to ride to the neighbors’. Lena was proud of her mother, that until the stroke she had worked so hard to be in the present. Forty minutes later, she straddled the trike as she stood halfway up the lane, staring toward the trees where the Fields’ house was hidden. The moon helped her discern the location, for its light reflected off the windows under the big wraparound verandah, making them look like magic boxes of fluorescence scattered amongst the dark cluster of fir and aspen. Lena dismounted and pushed the trike to a rock that glowed radioactively, then walked on silently. It felt odd to partake in this ancient teenage prank: while her parents slept, she would sneak to Frank’s, and he would either be awake and waiting for her, slipping out his window to join her, or asleep, and she would wake him by an owl call at his screen. With cupped hands and a breath of air into them, she would create the nocturnal interrogation – “Who?” And, “It’s Poppy,” he’d always whisper as joke. Within 100 feet of the house, Lena stopped. When they were kids, Frank had Sassy, a border collie. And Lena was so familiar to her that Sassy would not alert Poppy and Earl to her presence when she came calling. But Sassy of course was gone, and to any dog now, Lena would be an intruder. Suddenly, she was full of doubt. The flush that
had come with exertion now turned her cold as the gunmetal night. And then, as if the world conspired – against or with her, who knew – a soft breeze lifted warm out of some nearby coulee, like perfume from the fold of an arm … the smell of sage. Lena could not help but feel a rejuvenation, as if atoms that had flown off her on previous sojourns and lay dormant for 40 years had been roused and now settled upon her skin, prickling her into restlessness. She moved softly forward. On the lawn now, Lena followed the outline of the verandah to what used to be Frank’s window, where again she paused. What if this wasn’t his room anymore? Why should it be? After all, in her parents’ house, nothing had changed – her room was still decorated by a teenager whose parents didn’t have a lot of money. But Poppy was not the sentimental type. Maybe she had taken Frank’s room over when Earl died. Because the air was cold, the glass was down, and it reflected the moon like every other window on this side of the house. Slipping her shoes off to avoid making noise on the porch planks, she stepped up. The glass started to vibrate and then take the shadowy shape of a dog as it lunged and barked at the pane. Lena jumped off the porch, dashing across the grass and then running barefoot on the gravel. She heard a door open, and Frank’s voice – “Hush, stay” – and a dog growling. Then, louder, “I don’t know, Mom. Probably a coyote that came too close. Marble, you come,” and the door closing. Out of breath and out of relief, Lena stopped and slipped her shoes on, limping down the lane to the tricycle. “Jesus Christ,” she said when she got to it. “What in the hell do you think you were doing?” She turned the trike around, hopped on and pedaled for home. When she was home and on the second-floor landing, Lena listened to Carl’s stuporous snoring. It was so indicative of the repetitively unconscious yet annoying treatment each gave the other that she could not bear the thought of lying in the conjugal bed they had both made. Instead, she tiptoed into her childhood room and gently shut the door. She turned on the bed lamp, whose base was a plastic ballerina in a tutu, her arms up and gracefully holding a pink shade, to look at the soles of her feet. They were cut and bruised. As she tended to them, she could feel her buttocks already getting sore – she hadn’t run that hard or fast since the kids were little and wanted to play chase. Lena twisted the knob at the base of the ballerina’s feet, and the room transitioned from electric to acoustic light as Lena settled back against her pillows, her arms under her head. What in heaven’s name had she wanted? This. She knew only this. She had wanted to walk to that window, cup her hands together and make the hoot of the owl.
“You stay,” Frank, whispering, admonished Marble. Slowly he opened his window and, carrying his boots in one hand, crawled through and, turning, lowered it softly, leaving Marble staring disconsolately out at him. At night, Poppy left her door open, and were he to walk by it, she would hear the familiar squeak of floorboards and ask where he was going, and what could he say? That he’d seen a figure – maybe a phantom though it seemed a woman – and he was going to follow it? Poppy would immediately call the sheriff, and there would be one of two outcomes: word would get around that he was chasing imaginary women in the night, or whoever – and he thought he knew who – had been on the porch and then dashed down the lane would be detained. He tiptoed to the edge of the porch and, sitting, pulled his boots on. Frank walked by his truck – the V-8 coming to life would rouse Poppy – and toward the barn. In its half-light, he opened the tack room and felt along the wall for reins, then headed for the moonlight that spilled through the half-opened Dutch door. In the corral were the silhouettes of three horses; the heads of two hung low while one stood guard. The guard horse rumbled just as Frank
whistled softly. The heads of the two came up with ears suddenly pricked, and then the three walked toward him. As they approached, he heard all the sounds dear to a horseman – the clink of iron on wayward pebbles, the catarrh as they cleared their throats, the gentle swish of their tails – little sounds of no importance that opened the door of memory, of a time when he could fling himself upon a horse’s back and ride madly off in all directions. Now he quietly stroked their muzzles and their chests and patted their necks and combed their manes as he chose which to take. “Come on, Ranger.” He slipped the bit into the gelding’s mouth and led him to the gate, the other two following. Once they were out of the corral, the big sorrel shuffled down the lane next to the man. Frank did not mount because the abandoned horses would be less likely to whinny and waken Poppy. He would not ride, then, until he and Ranger were out of sight of them. But there was another reason. Without a saddle, Frank no longer could mount with ease. The use of trucks and four-wheelers for most of the ranch work, along with his age, had atrophied the memory of his muscles, if not the muscles themselves. He knew of a rock down the lane that was tall enough that he could stand on it and swing his leg over Ranger’s back. Astride, Frank gently pushed his heels into Ranger’s flank to start him into a walk as he scanned ahead for a woman on foot. Though she probably had a 15-minute head start on him, he knew at a walk Ranger would cover a mile in 15 minutes; it would take her 20 minutes to do the same, and the distance between his and Lena’s place was four miles. There was time. And he needed that time, as he didn’t know what he would do when her figure materialized ahead of him. When they had traveled a mile without sight of her, Frank became worried. Perhaps Lena had driven a car to the end of the lane and then walked to the house. That, after all, would be what people their ages did. Just because decades earlier she would run – how she loved to run! – to him in the night, there was no reason that she would now. Nagging at him as well was the possibility that perhaps she had not come to him at all, that Marble had barked at a coyote and, he, seeing her earlier in the evening with Carl at the far end of a large table of old and animated friends, had felt an ineffable longing and now sought some illusion to assuage it. With his pinky fingers, Frank lightly tightened the reins, and Ranger stopped. Sighing, the man looked up at the sky, at the cold space between the stars. How high it was, how wide the land, how lonely he felt. Just as Frank felt this, Ranger, impatient with immobility, stepped in the direction they had been headed. Because he did not turn toward home, Frank took this as a sign, and, pushing his heels into Ranger’s side and shifting his weight forward, he urged the horse into a trot and then a canter. A handful of northerly wind now blew between Ranger’s ears and cooled Frank. He tucked down over the horse’s neck and kept going, feeling 1,100 pounds of raw muscle, power, grace and sweat between his legs. He remembered that this was what it felt like to be 16, and if he could catch up to Lena, though he wore the loneliness of a 55-year-old rather than the longing of a teenager, he would look better on a horse than he would otherwise just because he was three feet higher above the ground than he would otherwise be. When Frank arrived at the lane to Lena’s house, he dismounted and tied Ranger to a tall sage. When he had walked to within 50 feet of the house, he stopped and stared at the lit window of the room on the second floor that used to be Lena’s. She must be in there. He thought of cupping his hands and making the call of an owl – their old signal – but he hadn’t done it in years and, besides that, the window was closed. And even if she heard it, why would she think it was he rather than an owl? As he watched, a lamp in the room flicked off, allowing the moon to light up the panes of glass. Frank went closer and stood beneath the window, remembering Lena in the room, waiting for him, for his call. Just after midnight, he turned and walked back down the lane, untied Ranger and sought a rock from which to mount him. Just settled on the horse’s back and reining him toward home, Frank heard the hoot of an owl. Hopeful, he stopped, but then he heard the whisper of wings and knew there was no need. < hdj > high desert journal
A Radical Kind of Reactor, 2011 Porcelain and stoneware 24 ~ 32 ~ 20 inches
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Really Unusually Uncertain, 2010 Porcelain and stoneware 20 ~ 27 ~ 19 inches
Coded Decoded, 2011 Porcelain 28 ~ 24 ~ 19 inches
Feasting on Memories, Serving the Future, 2010 Porcelain and stoneware 26 ~ 28 ~ 24 inches
A New Perspective in the Hunt for Clues, 2011 Porcelain 26 ~ 27 ~ 23 inches high desert journal
mark e. swisher and dennis l. jenkins
CLOSING THE DOOR
ON THE CLOVIS-FIRST THEORY: NEW EVIDENCE DEBUNKS THE CANADIAN ICE-FREE CORRIDOR
“There is nothing there, yet it is still a sculpture.” – Michael Heizer (Double Negative, 1969-1970) “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious; It is the source of all true art and all science.” – Albert Einstein Mount Edith Cavell stands tall above Jasper, Alberta in the Canadian Rockies. The mountain’s name honors a British nurse who headed a teaching hospital during WWI in German-occupied Brussels. She treated wounded soldiers of all sides. Miss Cavell was eventually arrested for helping nearly 200 Allied soldiers and young men of military age to escape. Arrested in 1915, jailed and court-martialed on charges of treason, she maintained during incarceration and trial that her actions were right and honorable. She was executed at age 49 by German firing squad. A weathered plaque marks the trailhead to Cavell Meadows, where, on a cloudy August morning, Pam Kirk and I, both of us licensed hiking guides, paused to reflect on her courageous service. Fresh from several years’ involvement on the Paisley Caves archaeology project in central Oregon, I was curious to learn just how the quartzite rock found along the continental divide at Jasper National Park and beautifully exposed at Mount Edith Cavell, was used to disprove an old and cherished myth of American archaeology. Although it has yet to trickle down to the general public, the saga of an ice-free corridor opening up after the last ice age, leading the first human inhabitants from Siberia to North America, is no longer considered correct.
“There remains little debate about the pre-Clovis status of Monte Verde in Chile,” says Dr. Dennis L. Jenkins (Paleoamerican Odyssey, in press). “The site has been accepted outright by roughly 70% of professional archaeologists, with another 20% abstaining from either total acceptance or rejection of its preClovis validity, and only 10% rejecting it outright (Wheat 2012). With a professional acceptance rate of 43%, the Paisley Caves site in Oregon is currently the most widely accepted pre-Clovis site in North America (Wheat 2012).”
That morning, mist draped the mountain peak. The trail climbed a rocky glacial moraine, leading to Cavell Meadows. Blocks of pink, orange, and pale-yellow orthoquartzite, a type of very hard sandstone in which the sand grains have been cemented strongly together by quartz, lay like angular heaps of autos and railcars. Geologists with the Geological Survey of Canada (gsc) and with universities in the
Michael Heizer, Double Negative, 1969. (240,000 displacement in rhyolite and sandstone; 1,500 ~ 50 ~ 30 feet; Location: Mormon Mesa, Overton, Nevada; Collection: Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Photo: John Weber; © Triple Aught Foundation 2011. 42
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Mount Edith Cavell, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada. Strata consist mainly of mid-Cambrian marine metasedimentary limestone, shale and quartzite. Photo: Mark E. Swisher. United States and Canada have unraveled the story of these layers, which make up most of a rock group named the Gog Group, a type of quartzite which began as layers of soft sand in seawater on what was a wide continental shelf in the early Cambrian, sometime between 542 and 513 million years ago. Later, under the pressure of several kilometers of younger layers, hot water circulated among the grains of sand, carrying dissolved quartz that eventually crystallized out and bound the grains together to form this extraordinarily hard sedimentary rock. Much later still, the collision of the North American plate with landmasses closing from the west, shoved the Gog Group, itself up to two-and-a-half miles thick in a sedimentary stack eight-to-12 miles thick, northeastward for many miles. The whole works now stand tall, rising from the prairie in what is known as the spectacular Canadian Rocky Mountains. On the slopes of Mount Edith Cavell, I adjusted a 10~ loupe to examine the rock. Gleaming facets of quartz sand were still visible in the quartzite, despite their long journey from the sea. I turned my head to see a 1,000-foot vertical wall of compressed and metamorphosed sandstone above where Pam sat admiring the views. Recently glaciated, eons of time are exposed in these rocks. Through some clever new work by geologists, this quartzite played a crucial role in dismasting the old ice-free corridor idea, a charming (though incorrect) tale appearing in introductory archaeology textbooks over the last 80 years. The story said the first people to populate North America crossed the Beringia land mass from Siberia in pursuit of ice age megafauna (large animals). Then, from interior Alaska, the Clovis
culture headed to warmer lands south of the ice via a newly opened passage between glaciers melting off the Alberta plains, and settled across North and South America as a whole about 13,000 years ago.
“W.A. Johnston first proposed this idea in the 1930s. An ice-free corridor in central Canada opened up for travel as the last ice age cycle ended and those continental ice sheets melted. When dry land appeared from under one-to-two miles of ice, it offered a pathway south from Alaska into the interior of Canada and North & South America,” explains Lionel E. Jackson, Jr. Dr. Jackson is a geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada (gsc) in Vancouver, British Columbia, and an adjunct professor of earth science at Simon Fraser University. He and Michael C. Wilson who teaches geology and archaeology at Douglas College, New Westminster, British Columbia, and is also adjunct professor of archaeology at Simon Fraser describe how the story started. “In 1935, Ernst Antevs coined the term ‘ice-free corridor’ to describe this passage. Johnston’s suggestion was a bold one, as it was based on very modest geological evidence. Such a corridor would have stretched 2,500 kilometers from the limits of glaciation along the Arctic coast in northern Yukon to northern Montana.”
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clo si n g t h e door o n t h e clovis -fi r st t h eory Geologists have known since the late 1800s that Pleistocene ice covered central Alberta one-to-two miles thick. But the timing and extent of glaciation remained elusive, despite much fieldwork. Several different opinions were held among the cadre of Canadian geologists about when and for how long the land was glaciated. There was even conflicting evidence about how many times central Canada was covered by ice. Was it once, or several times, during two million years of ice advances and retreats?
“The key to solving the debate lay in the discovery of the origin of the Foothills Erratics Train, a remarkable feature consisting of thousands of quartzite boulders ranging up to car-sized and even house-sized blocks.” (Jackson and Wilson, 2004)
In the 1950s and 1960s, geologist Archie Stalker of the gsc followed a line of quartzite boulders north from Montana, along the eastern front of the Canadian Rockies. After traveling some 375 miles, he arrived at the canyon of the Athabaska River, the watershed which produced the quartzite. Moving upriver, he found similar quartzite in the Tonquin Valley, on Mount Edith Cavell, and other peaks in this region of Jasper National Park. He and his colleagues believed that this line of quartzite boulders probably resulted from a series of landslides that rumbled down onto glaciers of the Tonquin Valley. The rocks rode downhill atop the glacier, onto the Alberta plains. Upon encountering the much more massive Laurentide Ice Sheet which arrived from the east near Hudson’s Bay, the valley glaciers were pushed southerly in the direction of movement of the continental ice sheet, along the eastern foothills of the Canadian Rockies. The band of quartzite stones, in places less than one mile wide, is composed of thousands of boulders. It resembles a long train, and is named the Foothills Erratics Train. In 1997, it was the subject of a relatively new technique for aging rocks on the earth’s surface.
“Cosmogenic exposure dating of erratic boulders has been among the leading innovations in absolute dating of glacial limits and other glacial features.” (Jackson, Andriashek, and Phillips, 2011)
The public generally understands that cosmic rays interact with nitrogen in the atmosphere to form radiocarbon, 14C, which is incorporated into all living cells through food and air. It has been used as a geologic clock since the 1950s. But radiocarbon is useful only for dating formerly living things, not rocks. Another type of geologic clock was discovered in the 1990s. Cosmic rays also “… interact with potassium, calcium, and ordinary chlorine atoms in earth’s rocks, [and] some of those atoms are transformed to another kind of chlorine, 36Cl,” explains Fred Phillips of New Mexico Tech in Soccorro.
“The accumulated quantity of cosmogenic 36Cl on the topsides of large boulders can be compared to the naturally occurring quantity of 36Cl (aka “the inheritance value”) on the bottom sides of large boulders, and an age range determined for how long the boulder has been exposed to the atmosphere.” (Phillips, 2012)
The cosmic-ray flux falls off by 50% for every ~50 cm it travels through solid rock. Thus in 2 m it is down to ~6% of the surface value. (Phillips, 2013)
Almost any kind of stable surface can be studied, on glacial moraines, alluvial fans, or individual boulders. The majority of cosmic rays are absorbed in about six feet of rock, so rather large boulders are needed. The quartzite Foothills Erratics Train was a perfect test subject. Jackson and Phillips selected 12 boulders of the train and measured their 36Cl levels.
They reported, “… this showed them to have been emplaced along the eastern Rocky Mountain foothills between 11,000 and 18,000 ybp…” (Jackson and Wilson, 2004). Additional work on 16 erratics found at the limits of glaciation in Montana, “… yielded compatible ages, in the range of 12,000 – 22,000 ybp.” (Jackson and Wilson, 2004)
Ice advanced and retreated many times across the landscape of Alberta during the past 500,000 years. However, the dates of Foothills Erratics Train (fet) boulders of Tonquin Valley quartzite cluster from 12,000 – 22,000 years ago, at the very end of the Pleistocene ice ages. No dates were found from an earlier period of glaciation. Therefore Jackson, Andriashek, and Phillips conclude that valley glaciers from the eastern Rockies coalesced with the continental Laurentide ice sheet only once, in the final glacial period. They estimate, conservatively, that central Alberta remained ice-free before 20,000 years and after 15,000 years ago.
“[We] collected samples from an unusual series of rocks found along the eastern foothills of the Canadian Rockies. They don’t match the country rock which surrounds them. They are called glacial erratics, and since the 1930s have been known to result from glacial action carrying them to their present locations. These rocks, some of which are house-size, lack striations and rounding so we know they were carried not within the glaciers, but atop the glacial ice.” (L.E. Jackson Jr. interview, 2012)
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clo si n g t h e do o r on t h e clovis -fi r st t h eo ry
left: Quartzite boulder of the Foothills Erratics Train. It was transported from the Tonquin Valley atop glacial ice, about 330 miles. Photo taken near Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, Alberta. right: A map of the Foothills Erratics Train. Starting in the Tonquin Valley near Mount Edith Cavell, it extends south into Montana, a distance of nearly 400 miles. Photos: Mark E. Swisher.
But, ice-free does not necessarily mean inhabitable by plants, animals, or humans. Early migrants through the ice-free corridor faced another issue: too much water. In the northern part of the corridor stand the Mackenzie Mountains. Here, gsc geologist Alexandra Duk-Rodkin found evidence that melt water from the receding Laurentide ice sheet formed large glacial lakes across the opening. It was perhaps becoming ice-free, but not yet inhabitable.
Jackson and Wilson, 2004, continue, “She (Duk-Rodkin) … mapped re-advance positions of the Laurentide Ice Sheet … [and] concluded that the actual opening of a corridor to the south could not have occurred until about 13,000 ybp [years before present] and extensive glacial lakes occupied much of the area until around 12,000 ybp….”
By the early years of the second millennium, the geological picture of late-Pleistocene glaciation in central Alberta was starting to be understood. Jackson and Phillips had published evidence the southern region was ice-free for most of the last 500,000 years; it closed just once, from about 20,000 to 15,000 years ago. In the northern region, Duk-Rodkin had published evidence showing the land surface remained underwater until around 12,000 years ago.
“… at the Paisley Caves in south-central Oregon … human feces — identified by ancient dna — [have] been directly dated to as much as 14,500 BP [Before Present]….” Jenkins et al. (in press)
Dennis Jenkins (right) and Loren Davis confer in Paisley Caves in southcentral Oregon. Photo: Mark E. Swisher. Then in 2008 Gilbert, Jenkins, and colleagues published Paisley Caves coprolites (desiccated feces) aged 14,280 years ago which contained ancient human dna from well stratified sediments. In 2013, Jenkins reported human coprolite dates as early as 14,500 years ago (Jenkins et al., in press). This caused a sensation in eastern Oregon and the Great Basin where the caves are located, and also far beyond. These desiccated feces contain the oldest human remains (dna) found in the New World. They are more than 1,000 years older than the Clovis culture, proof that people were living at Paisley Caves before the Alberta ice-free corridor opened. Tom Dillehay faced a storm of opposition when he announced radiocarbon dates of 14,000 years ago for Monte Verde, an old ar-
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clo si n g t h e do o r on t h e clovis -fi r st t h eo ry
chaeology site in Chile (a professional archaeologist who was at that meeting told me, “It got so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop.”) Monte Verde consists of 12 hide-covered huts with rooms and hearths sufficient for 20 – 30 people. Dillehay found mastodon bones and meat, stone tools, and medicinal plants. The settlement was buried under peat bog sediments from nearby Chinchihuapi Creek, thus preserving it from decay. He fought an uphill battle for more than 20 years against the Clovis-first paradigm. Eventually, his careful excavation records and radiocarbon dates prevailed. Today, Monte Verde is accepted by most professional archaeologists as predating the Clovis culture (Wheat, 2012). Paisley Caves and Monte Verde create an intractable problem for the old ice-free corridor saga. If the geologists are correct that the plains of Alberta opened to plant and animal migration only after 12,000 years ago, and if the dates of early North and South American Paleoindian occupation are correct, then many scientists agree it appears impossible for the ice-free corridor to serve as pathway for initial settlement of the western hemisphere. The old textbook interpretation, that Clovis culture 13,200 – 12,800 years ago was the first culture to settle across the Americas, no longer fits the geological or archaeological evidence.
“These early inhabitants receive the name of Paleoindians, as they are the first to enter America from the North and migrate through different routes, penetrating mountains, plains, beaches, forests, jungles, and deserts … In this way, they began to be slowly driven southwards and finally reached the land we now call Chile … Our country started being occupied by humans approximately 15,000 years ago … The main theories regarding American settlement suggest humans began inhabiting our continent some 30,000 years ago.” Interpretive signs at Monte Verde, Chinchihuapi Creek, Chile.
A mammoth poster greets visitors at Chinchihuapi Creek at Monte Verde, Chile. Photo: Mark E. Swisher.
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left: Section I, Chinchihuapi Creek at Monte Verde, Chile,. right: Drawing of Section I shown in left photo, strata exposed in cutbank of Chinchihuapi Creek at Monte Verde, Chile. The upper dark loam underlain by orange-tan sandy layer is likely repeated at water level in a buried soil horizon. Photos: Mark E. Swisher.
The accumulated knowledge of Canadian Pleistocene geology solved the riddle of cordilleran glaciers coalescing with the Laurentide ice sheet in Alberta. It dropped the old ice-free corridor idea into the dust-bin of history. From the new geological understanding grew a novel idea: people could have walked into the New World before 20,000 years ago. As I stare at Mount Edith Cavell, I realize perhaps the real story here is how geology supports and forms the foundation of archaeology. Archaeologists can now discuss finding much older sites in the Americas than were previously agreed possible, because the first inhabitants might have arrived in the Americas before 20,000 years ago. This causes a catch in my throat, since now much older sites like Pedra Furada in South America and several sites in North America formerly considered on the fringe, might be included for discussion. My mind follows the flow of water vapor cloaking the icy summit westward to the continental edge, then farther west across the Pacific Ocean where these clouds first arose, to the winds of Asia. I visualize an earlier time when a bushel of diverse tool-making, fire-using, upright hominins occupied China, Japan, the Caucasus, even extending into southern Europe and parts of Indonesia. Few people now ask, “How do we know this is human?” when assessing New World archaeology sites. Now, there could possibly come a time when that question is necessary. And that could make the story of human migration and settlement in the intermountain West and North and South America much more interesting indeed. Science allows people to agree to disagree, and continue to have intelligent discourse. Not so with warfare. Edith Cavell, a nurse, was killed because her ideas of what was right subverted the rules of the WWI German army occupying Belgium. Fortunately, today most scientists and medical people do not face the conditions she did, and are free to write and speak the truth as they see it. As the sun dropped behind Mount Edith Cavell, shadows fell across the U-shaped glacial valley and darkened its quartzite walls. When we descended the trail, I came away with a new understanding: Any creative act which trenches the earth – by nature, artist or scientist – may generate powerful ideas that are beautiful and mysterious, and change our view of the world. < hdj >
CLEARING THE FIELD
The three men tending the burn pile in the field keep a wary eye on flame. They wield long metal rods to shift the broken limbs, the root wad draped in moss sparking deep within the fire-heart. Carbon chars to carbon. Every atom licks to smoke that twists, disperses into drifts of blue air, that blue field above the turning of burning timber, turning of green seasons of earth, as earth turns to the prod of burning stars’ hiss and whisper as they consume themselves and collapse back into the fierce black tract of space. Is it clear, then, that every thing burns? Passion seasoning the blood scarlet, suffusing bone and flesh. The body’s veins singing blue back to the heart, enflamed with desire. And in the scathed field, that invisible whistle as wood gives up its sap, the crackle of insects found out in the slowly singeing stumps. This, the tune each body resists, having no desire to be smoke, though that body burns and has burned with ardor and despair. This, the reckoning from which the men who stand in the field for us are careful to stand clear, scuffing their caked boots through bleaching grass, their practiced arms feeding into that clarifying fire shattered branches pierced by birds bent on burrowed prey. . . .Green leaves give up their dew to flame, green yet-untouched trees beyond the hedgerow turn away listening for rain, whisper of rain beyond the swale—and this field, this brutally cleared field, lies rubbled and scorched, awaiting harrow and plough— carbon giving way to other carbon under fire and edge and heft. Hence, diamond. Hence, seed, leaf. Flesh. And above—that blue field, singing to us. Singing.
judith h. montgomery high desert journal
r ev i e w s
Thinking Like a Canyon Jarold Ramsey 138 pages Paperback $20.00 Antrim House, 2012
Thousands Flee California Wildflowers Scott Siegel 89 Pages Paperback $12.00 Salmon Poetry
Reviewed by Lisa A. Pounders
Reviewed by Jamie Houghton
Thinking Like a Canyon, central Oregon poet Jarold Ramsey’s latest book of poetry, demonstrates what the author means in saying that he “likes to think of poems as ceremonies of love, praise, and remembrance.” This collection spans 40 years of Ramsey’s published work and includes new and previously published selections from three other volumes. Included are poems celebrating, longing for, and musing over love in its various forms: odes, elegies, and toasts; as well as lyrical meditations on the meaning of life. In addition there are a substantial number of narrative poems – sometimes approaching prose – based on myths, legends, and first-hand experience. This collection offers something for everyone. The first 40 pages of the book is devoted to new poems. These “ceremonies” are like totems which reflect and refine the scope of his oeuvre. To that end, they are a perfect introduction to the author’s work and his inspirations. There is a nostalgic sense in many of these poems, a reverence for the gift of time and space for reflection. In the poem “A Presence” Ramsey deftly imbues a familiar bucolic setting with Zen-like transcendence. It begins: At dusk the August sunlight has left off searching for water, for anthill jewels, for upturned eyes. In the title poem, “Thinking Like a Canyon” Ramsey combines elements of love, praise, and remembrance in a rambling piece every bit the emblem of a canyon walk. We follow the poet’s journey down, through, and then back out of the canyon, learning along the way about his life as well as its connection to the canyon’s formation and all existence. Time and gravity – they favor each other in a canyon, as the boulders we used to roll over the rimrock would seem to float down forever, like planets and then tumble into the creek, and vanish The book itself is like a canyon in that it begins with the present and then descends in layers to selections from his earlier volumes, Hand-Shadows, Dermographia, and Love in an Earthquake. Each of these sections seems to correspond with one of his ceremony topics. Remembrance best describes the majority of work in Hand Shadows where we are offered many pieces exposing Ramsey’s interest in Native American mythology and lore. The five poems from Dermographia are some of the shortest pieces in the book and each carry the power and presence of prayer. Finally the selections from Love in an Earthquake are, not-surprisingly, dealing with aspects of love. In this collection “For Jean Tinguely” is an ode, or more precisely an anti-ode about metal and an engaging example of the poet’s humor and near conversational use of language in his poetry. “I am haunted by all the fatigues of metal –”, it begins and then lists examples. Later the poet confesses, “I can’t help it, I don’t trust metal / but I sympathize with it deeply.” Sympathizing deeply is at the heart of Ramsey’s poetry. Each poem in this collection, whether it touches upon an image, a story, or an experience, is offered as a ritualized expression to be shared and savored. Reading them connects us with the poet and his ceremonial offerings of love, praise, and remembrance. < hdj >
Divided into four sections, Scott Siegel’s Thousands Flee California Wildflowers is an ode to the West – but thankfully not the West of the proverbial cowboy and his sunsets. Siegel’s West is the modern West existing in a global world, where “lake wind ripples on a Wal-Mart tarmac, where an over-sized cart / with a loose wheel steers her into oncoming traffic, and she nearly lets it.” (“After the War”) Each section begins with a quote from a political figure, and Siegel writes almost like an ex-patriot, both mourning and re-imagining the American Dream. The first section “After the Summer of Love” is a series of coming-of-age poems that grounds the collection in a narrative voice of a young boy growing up in the post-Vietnam War era. He is part of a generation influenced by the Kennedy’s assassination, as “the world went dark / in my mother’s eyes.” (“Geraniums”.) In the same section, in “Autumn Turns Through Stratified Wars” the narrator again sees world events in terms of the people around him. “In my wife’s eyes a blue flame flickers / World News, a helicopter turns, delivering / or receiving the dead. …” It is refreshing to read a collection of work that is neither personal nor political. Siegel skillfully interweaves the two, often using imagery as the binding agent, and even more refreshing is his elegant, sparsely punctuated free verse. In the next section, titled “At Home in the World” a poem called “New Year’s Revelers at the End of a Decade” explores the sense of a lost home: A whole generation of American children have grown up in a foreign country, he tells her – Though she does not listen. She does not answer… Rather, she gestures to the oak in a dialect of snowy allegiance, the giant oak on their street that held the sun in its arms like a baby last summer. Siegel’s poems are unselfish, intuitive, and strive to push the reader to think beyond themselves, beyond political or personal histories, to a timeless place, where the sun and trees still exist regardless of human activities. Siegel’s poems suggest that this place beyond human time is our true home. Siegel even writes from a post-apocalyptic standpoint in “Report from The New Common Era:” Then dust blew over us like a cape & hovered for three thousand years. Entire tribes disappeared while we waited. The consumers and adulterers were the first to go; we gave them proper burials … In “Three Moments of Silence” a father contemplates his daughter leaving for college. Here is the way you give her away as though she were yours to give. In the larger sense, the lines suggest that the narrator doesn’t own any of the things he mourns for – not America, not his generation nor his childhood, not even the fate of humanity. It begs the question, how do you measure the impact of something you can’t measure, that isn’t tangible, that was never yours? These are the types of thoughts Siegel’s book provokes in this slim, yet heavy hitting, volume of poems. < hdj >
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Rick Bartow, Howling Crow, 2012, acrylic on panel, 9” ~ 12”
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support high desert journal Make a tax-deductible donation to High Desert Journal today. A donation today will help High Desert Journal continue to produce a publication brimming with the voices of the interior West
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the future. High Desert Journal represents creative vitality of a region often times overlooked for its cultural resources. Donations fundamentally lift the arts of the interior West to the forefront. Donate at: www.highdesertjournal.com For information contact: Elizabeth Quinn, 541.419.9836 or email@example.com
High Desert Journal 50
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