Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fire in the Flathead

Monday, August 22: Driving down our hill to go into town, we saw five fire trucks barreling up, but they turned right, away from our neighborhood, instead of left. But nowhere is far enough away in a forest. The word “evacuation” is spoken not in a whisper but in firm possibility. So you start to think, what should I save? Fire is the one thing nature can do to us that scares a Montanan. We have earthquakes, but they are like California ticklers. We live in the blast zone of one of the world's super-volcanoes, but you don't brood about an event that happens once in 750,000 years. We can have fierce, beautiful thunderstorms that rock the sky, but the biggest concern there is a lightening strike setting off a fire. We can have powerful winter storms dumping significant amounts of snow, but that's something most Montanans just hunker down for and get through with snow plows and skiing ops. But fire destroys. And the worst of it is that people themselves often set fires off by accident, carelessness, or sometimes on purpose. Once begun, fires are hard to control. They are wild in every sense of the word. So what do you save when the evacuation order comes, if you have time? Tax returns? Your grandchild's favorite stuffie? Your favorite book? Your accumulated notes for that memoir you hope someday to write? That portrait of Great Grandfather that takes up half a wall? The stone carving of a buffalo your niece and nephew gave you on their last visit? What's important? Your address book, yes, but do you grab the bills you have not yet paid? I pulled out the suitcases. The dog and cat carriers, and waited for word. Aircraft filled with water and retardants flew overhead, back and forth, making rapid fire sorties. The fire was less than two miles away, as the spark flies. By bedtime, though, the danger to us seemingly had subsided, thanks to the quick and intense work of dedicated firefighters and the proximity of the biggest freshwater lake west of the Great Lakes. Tuesday, August 23: This morning, smoke hung over the depression between two ridges like a thick fog, like a warning. Fire crews had kept vigil all night, and the assault began anew, mainly to keep the fire from spreading as it played itself out, and to hit any hot spots outside the fire's perimeter. We were, are safe. I did not have to choose. But I kept the suitcases handy and I wonder what I'd pick. Wednesday, August 24: This morning the report on the Bierney Creek Fire is that it has held to 80 acres and 70% surrounded. There are 75 homes within half a mile of the fire, and concern still over hot spots outside the fire perimeter, just as before. But looking toward the fire zone from my back porch, the smoke is lower to the ground and the skies above are clear. The riveting sound of the helicopter's water dance is absent. Danger, now, would depend on a radical shift in weather, wind, and fortune. Still, I realize that I, like so many of you, am woefully unprepared for a major disaster.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Punishment

A Definition: Punish (from the Latin, punic, meaning Carthaginian). 1) sort or type of a pun. 2) to make, i.e. force, someone to listen to terrible puns for no reason at all on a day other than Sunday. 3) to tie a wrongdoer to a chair and force him or her to catch the entire three seasons of Gilligan's Island, including the original broadcast commercials, continuously and without interruption. Punishment. The act of punishing. It is vital that everyone understand the inherent danger of punishment. This danger cannot be understated. It can be insidious, creeping into the conversation at any point. It cannot, however, be subtle. One way of knowing for certain that you are being punished is this lack of subtlety – punishers tend toward the obvious and downright silly. One should never take it personally if victimized by a punisher. They cannot help themselves. They are out of control. And once a rant begins, they have no concern for whomever they target or for collateral damage. Interventions, the Twelve Step Program, even prolonged psychiatric counselling does not seem to help: punishers truly have major self-control issues. Again, it is nothing personal. But this is why a law was enacted restricting punishing to only on Sundays. Wait...Is that...Just in my house? Tolerance is asked for in these sad cases. No harm was meant. Laughter only encourages the punisher; groans are like the music of affirmation to their ears. One in three human beings is a punisher. You probably know one. You may be one, secretly, hiding in your own closet with a Thesaurus and a really scary clown suit. Spam for lunch, anyone?

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Hello, My Name Is Doris (mini-review)

Hello, my name is Roy. It has been a crazy and exciting week up here at Lake Flathead. Plans are being made that will bring not one, but two nephew-niece combinations up to the Big Sky in rapid succession all the way from Holland in September-October. We had a busy summer but no vistors, and now the Blokker Bed and Breakfast, the BBB, is booked! Plus, Di and I are going to California in the middle of it all, which lets us see our grandson Chase and his parents for the second time this year – a major feat for long distance grandparents. Sometimes it is hard to be popular, but mostly it is just plain wonderful. We took a break from map reading and agenda plotting this morning to watch a DVD rental, a small quirky film we had never heard of but had seen previews for while waiting for the opening credits on another quirky little film. This one, “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” turned out to be one of the funniest, sweetest, most enjoyable films I can remember. Sally Field plays Doris, a woman of a certain age who had been caretaking her mnother for years and now faces a world without that obligation. She becomes attracted to a much younger man at her workplace, and all sorts of amazingly gentle hi-jinks follow. The material could have been handled with much less grace, but, anchored by Field's amazing performance and very honest dialogue, it feels real and very, very funny. I would recommend this film to anyone who likes small, quirky independent movies done as well as a film can be. For an hour and a half I forgot the combined delight and panic presented by upcoming fun times If our guests ever get bored with us, I might just put the film on for them.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Melania a Spy?

I started a rumor today. It was great fun. I started it on Twitter, in the hopes that conspiracy theorists around the world would run with it, re-tweeting. I hear that happens. At least, that's what some people say. Now, I am not saying the rumor is true, just that I heard it. Yes, I heard it inside my own head, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have validity somehow, somewhere. Right? Now, I have never done anything like this before, so I am curious if anyone even notices, reacts, passes it on. If it gets back to me I will have to wonder if I was right in the first place. The rumor is this: Some people say Melania Trump is a Russian spy. Okay, one person so far, but, eh, could be... The question immediately comes to mind: do we want to have our First Lady on the pipeline with Vladimir Putin? I'm not saying that would happen, and I disavow any knwledge or information that would hint at it happening. It;s just a rumor I heard. I hope you know I'm being sarcastic, but maybe not that sarcastic.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Testament of Youth

We watched a film on DVD the other day that I had wanted to watch for some time, Testament of Youth, based on the memoir of the same name by Vera Brittain. I knew it would affect me deeply, the way the Spielberg-Hanks production of Band of Brothers did. It would be a riveting, emotional experience; it would be hard to watch. Having come across the story of Vera Brittain and Roland Leighton while researching my own book, Charles Sorley's Ghost, and then having read Brittain's book, I was prepared. I thought. The story is set between 1914 and 1918, when Great Britian was locked in the deadly struggle known as World War One. Brittain, a young woman of some privilige, is locked in the struggle to be more than just an ornamental female, when the war breaks out. Her fiance, Leighton, her brother and another close friend all go to war while she shifts her focus, trying to do something useful back home. She becomes a nurse. The story unfolds from her point of view, which is powerfully effective storytelling. We've seen plenty of front-line stories. Seeing the impact of war on the home front adds dimension to the drama of war. More than a British period piece or costume drama, the film is a slow-building emotional crusher that is poignant, beautiful, deeply sad but surprisingly unsentimental. It is also very close to the source material, and therefore mostly true. Its power is not in what happens – it is pretty obvious what will happen as you watch – but in how it affects Vera and the others around her at a time when soldiering was seen as a glorious duty. As the war drags on, the truth, that soldiery is anything but glorious duty, reveals itself horribly, terribly, tragically. Vera Brittain became a witness to loss. She spent the rest of her life railing against war. Too few have listened, but now's your chance.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Home Bodies on the Road

The home is sacrosanct. It is our refuge, our castle, our domain, our protection, our moat protecting us from the trials and aggravations of the world. It is our most private physical place. For some, the level of privacy and seclusion the home represents is so important that sharing it is very hard. When we used to visit my wife's parents, the first thing her mother would say was, “Good to see you. When you leaving?” Blasting her parents out of their house was almost impossible. We had to be the ones to come to them – always. We didn't mind, really, because we liked road trips and we wanted to see them. We liked them. We enjoyed their company. But, obviously, it still rankled, and still does today, so many years later. I understand liking your nest and wanting to stay there undisturbed. I like mine, too. There is nothing better than sitting together with Diane on the couch watching something we both enjoy on the television. But there are many things that are as good. I also like to see new things and to spend time with people whom I love. You can't do that if you stay in all the time. I am a simple and unimportant man, but I have been to the third floor of the Belleek Factory. I have had my fear of heights tested on the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I have driven down Highway One and up Going to the Sun Road. I have watched buffalo roam. I have seen two dozen bottle-nose dolphins breach in a cris-cross pattern in the wake of a cruise ship, again and again for half an hour I've swum at the bottom of a kelp forest with a manta ray. I have had a very vocal crow land on my outstretched arm in a graveyard in Terschelling. I have seen angels spinning in infinity and prostitutes plying their trade and stood in a cathedral formed by trees. I have had machine guns pointed at me at a checkpoint in Northern Ireland. I have put my nose within inches of the Girl with the Pearl Earring. I have paid my respects to the most elegant mind of the Seventeenth Century in a massive but empty cathedral in den Haag, where he lay buried with his mother and his father in a tomb built for someone else. I've stood toe to toe with Ronald Reagan, shaken hands with Buddy Ebsen, seen what Bob Dylan could do to the inside of a motel room, and asked Malcolm Atterbury to wink at me the next time he was on TV, and he did, while playing a judge on Perry Mason. I saw Willie Mays patrol center field in Candlestick Park, and I have met Eva Mozes Kor at an open house in Terre Haute. I have traveled to a distant galaxy in larger than life three dimensions in a near private showing with a cocktail in my hand. I have ridden on the Ghost Bus and eaten great Italian food in a restaurant in Dublin. I've had a glass with many fine friends and raised a glass to all. I have not yet been to Canada, but it beckons. I have not yet seen the Northern Lights or the Southern Cross. I want to see the Scablands, where an ancient ice dam broke and a mountain of water carved the land into a channel in God's time, seven days, and then went on to help create the Columbia Gorge. I have not yet walked the medieval streets of Bruges, nor stood inside the Menin Gate in Ypres, where Sorley died. I have not ridden east from White Fish to Havre on what used to be the Great Northern Empire Builder. I've not yet tracked Chief Joseph's path as he tried to lead his people to a safe haven through Montana, nor walked the dusty streets of Deadwood with the ghost of Seth Bullock. My bucket list is extensive and always growing and should take decades to fulfill, with long periods of blissful rest between trips in my cozy cave.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Day the Sun Fell, August 6, 1945

Seventy-one years ago, the Sun fell to the earth. A single American bomber plane dropped a single American made bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, and the Nuclear Age began. Three days later an even more powerful bomb fell on Nagasaki. A perfect storm of circumstances permitted these atrocities to occur. Today we mark them. But do we understand? At Hiroshima, 70 to 100,000 people died literally in a flash. Wiped out, destroyed, annihilated, killed. People were vaporized, leaving behind only the outline of their bodies burnt into the stone; they are known as the shadow people. Survivors exposed to the radiation of the atomic bomb suffered long term effects. The Hiroshima bomb has a uranium core; the second bomb used plutonium. At Nagasaki, the death toll was close to that in the first bombing. These have been the only deployment of nuclear weapons against a real target. Temperatures at the explosion site reached 7900 degrees Fahrenheit, about the temperature of a sun spot. The debate over the motivation of the Americans in the bombing continues to rage like a fire storm, but the inescapable and unavoidable fact is that those two bombs killed around 120,000 human beings, many of them non-combatants, each bomb deploying maximum damage in seconds with no regard for the age or sex or level of participation in the war of any of the victims. August 6 and 9 are days no human being can afford to forget, events that should be burned into our conscience and our understanding like a shadow demanding remembrance.

Friday, August 5, 2016

William of Orange and Art: Kindness Is Its own Reward

William the Silent of Orange married four times during his brief stay on this planet, His first wife died young. His second wife, Anna of Saxony, bore him several children, among them Maurice, who would take up the mantle of revolution at the tender age of seventeen on behalf of his father after William became, dubiously, the first head of state to be assassinated with a hand gun. From all accounts, Anna was an indifferent mother to her children, and not happy in the marriage. Concerned with protecting her wealth against William's financial needs in fighting the Spanish, in or about 1570, Anna employed a talented lawyer to help her manage her affairs, then had an affair with the man. He was married; so was she. Worse, she was married to the Prince of Orange and Statholder (governor) of the United Provinces of the Netherlands. Such affairs were considered treasonous in those days and both participants, if caught, could justifiably be executed for treason. And they were caught. But William was a different sort of leader for his times. A proponent of religious tolerance in the middle of the bitter feud between Protestant and Catholic, William decided on a less drastic course toward his wife. Rather than have the lovers killed, he imprisoned Anna with her child by the lawyer. The child was taken from her three years later. Largely because of written pleas from the lawyer's wife, Maria Pipelinckx, William released the lawyer back to his home in Siegen upon condition that the man never leave that town as long as Anna remained alive. William declared his marriage dissolved on the basis that Anna was insane, and remarried in 1575. Anna died in prison in 1577. The lawyer's wife accepted him back into her life, and together they had a son, also in 1577. It is hard to be certain what was going on in the mind of William the Silent. Anna was a difficult wife who showed signs of mental instability and who seemed uninterested in both her children and her role as Princess of Orange. It is possible that he took the opportunity of her pregnancy while spending so much time with her legal and financial adviser to build a case against her for divorce or annulment on the basis of adultery while he himself was father of that child. It is more likely that Anna and the lawyer did have an affair, and she became pregnant, and that William held himself partially to blame for Anna's wandering. Great heroes are always flawed. William did not recognize Anna's daughter from the affair as his own, nor offered financial support for the child. Christina von Dietz married well and went on to have a full and illustrious life of her own, reaching the age of 65. The lawyer's name was Johannes, or Jan, Rubens. He and Maria named their new son Peter Paul. Peter Paul Rubens.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Art of War: A Personal Take

Violence has always been a part of my nature. As a child, I owned an extensive set of hand puppets – mostly cats – with wonderful glass eyes and cute little paws and soft faux fur and quizzical little smiles stitched on. For me they were combatants, fighters, soldiers or outlaws and deputies. They would attack each other, punching and pummeling, like Punch and Judy but more street-wise. I would put little dime store plastic rings with gemstone colored glass centerpieces on those tiny paws that became ray guns as the puppet people shot at each other, all too often with (temporarily) deadly accuracy. I also had a huge collection of marbles. I didn't particularly like shooting marbles. I didn't like to lose and I wasn't very good; the thought of actually parting with a marble was too painful to contemplate. My marbles were warriors. Masses of moving glass attacked each other in clashes worthy of the boldest generals. Maneuvering these giant clashes of arms, I learned strategy, like flanking or desperate charges. Then, of course, were my endless parade of soldiers, cowboys, Indians, knights, aliens and pirates, all in well articulated 3D plastic and often in full combination, fighting the Little Bighorn, Gettysburg, the Alamo, Tortuga and the Battle ofn the Bulge, often at the same time. Custer and Rin Tin Tin might stand alongside Matt Dillon and Long John Silver, fighting desperately against overwhelming odds but with a World War Two soldier and his machine gun helping mow down enemy after enemy. Another day, they might be on opposite sides while my heroes, August and Charles Pepper (both former sergeants, of course), fought valiantly to the last man standing. Nobody taught me. I saw war stories on television. I read A Child's History of the World and The Story of Mankind. Both books showed that human history, at least western civilization's story, is little more than war after war after war, battle after battle after battle. I never read The Art of War. I didn't need to: I learned from watching. It came naturally to me. The rest was instinct. Now I'm a pacifist. Go figure. Maybe it was all those three inch tall corpses littering my bedroom floor. Picking them up to put away night after night was sad. Thinking about them in their huge toy box, wondering if they wondered what the next day would bring them – another battle, another death, made my imagination hurt. Or maybe it was when my favorite cat puppet named Bob tore beyond repair and had to be thrown out, and I realized that things do die, even in games.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Liars and the Lying Lies They Tell

Has any one of us ever considered, even merely entertained the thought, that Hilary and Bill Clinton have been so thoroughly and constantly poked, prodded, investigated and maligned not because they are guilty but because they are innocent; not because they are dishonest but because they are honest; not because they belong to the system but because they want to reform it? It is an odd thought indeed, that perhaps the Clintons are targets because the political system as it exists today is afraid of them? According to Theodore Roosevelt, an honest reformer will be constantly probed by the establishment hoping to find something. Barring actually finding it, the establishment mouthpieces will scream to the heavens that something must exist, that somehow the reformer is actually dishonest and corrupt – to hide their own dishonesty and corruptibility. Roosevelt himself was treated in this manner in his quest for Civil Service and labor reform. He said, in his autobiography, that he grew accustomed to being called before investigative committees on a regular basis. They found nothing; there was nothing to find. Hilary Clinton is not Teddy Roosevelt, and today's issues are not exactly the same ones he faced 120 years ago, but I can't help but wondering if there is nothing to find here, either. Yet they try. When you can't prosecute, you persecute. Establishment mouthpieces constantly search for a smoking gun. The smoking gun is already in their hands, registered in their name. Another way to say it: if there's smoke and no fire, you have to wonder who exactly is blowing the smoke.