Thursday, March 5, 2015
When I was a teenager living in rural Idaho, I couldn't get enough of fiction of the Old West, paying ten cents a book at Clark's Old Bookstore in Spokane or hunting through the shelves of St. Vincent de Paul's charity shop. The cowboy hero was rugged and moral and he fell in love with the independent-thinking heroine. So, it was a pleasant dose of nostalgia when I discovered Ron Scheer's blog, Buddies in the Saddle, http://buddiesinthesaddle.blogspot.com/ in which he reviews old frontier fiction (and movies and other bits that catch his eye). One of the joys of reading Ron's blog is his fine writing. Now he has published in paperback and on Kindle two volumes that encompass his reviews, analysis and interpretation of these early westerns: How the West Was Written, Volume 1 (1880 - 1906) (283pp) and How the West Was Written, Volume 2 (1907 - 1915) (331pp). In reviewing these two books, I will call Ron Scheer by his first name because I feel that I know him from following his blog, commenting on it, and his commenting back to me.
If you think that Owen Wister's The Virginian (1902) was the first western novel published, you'd be wrong. Novelists, many of them women, were already contributing to the mythologizing of the frontier west of the Mississippi before that watershed year.
On his blog, Ron reviewed each novel as he read it, and it's a great source if you're hunting for an old western to lose yourself in, because most, if not all of these books, are available to download free from Google (anything published up to 1923 has lost its copyright and has been put in the public domain).
His original plan had been to understand how the cowboy western evolved. What he discovered was that frontier fiction encompassed every aspect of life. As Ron says in his Introduction, "There were not only novels about ranching and the cattle industry. Writers told stories about railroads, mining, timber, the military, politics, women's rights, temperance, law enforcement, engineering projects, homesteaders, detectives, preachers, Indians, and so on." So, in writing his own books, he approaches these works more analytically than perhaps he did in his blogs, but no less entertainingly.
Some of his chapter headings in Volume 1 (1880 - 1906) are: Social activism and romance; Waiting for Wister; Cowboys, railroads, and miners; New directions; Westerners; The year of The Virginian; Plains and Deserts; Enter Willa Cather; Waiting for Zane Grey.
In Volume 2 (1907 - 1915), Ron writes of western fiction booming, based not only on the success of The Virginian, but silent movies were depicting the western hero, too. He makes a cogent point that "[f]ans and writers of the traditional western novel today often draw a direct line of descent from Wister and his imitators of a century ago. . . Today's western novel is chiefly an adventure story in which a central admirable character confronts villainous adversaries in what is often a formulaic revenge plot." Wister's and other authors' early novels offered more than a "singular plot line." Because it was a period of change, the novels written during this time offered ideas. "Reformist sentiment pushed hard against existing social and economic structures and would lead to trust busting, women's suffrage, labor laws, and Prohibition." The western was a forum to look at these ideas.
His chapter headings in Volume 2 are: Cowboy stories; Women writers of the West; Oh, Canada; Western adventures; Ranching an homesteading; Engineering and reclamation; Big timber; Western romances; Story collections; Old meets New West.
If your curiosity about western fiction arises from being a student of the history of the Old West or because you enjoy literary criticism, you can do no better than Ron Scheer's two books. They are available in paperback on Amazon and as a digital download on Amazon Kindle.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
It's pussy willow season. The east coast may be deep in winter, but here in north Idaho, with so little snow and daytime temperatures in the 40s, spring has come early. We're at only 60 per cent of moisture content for this time of year,which we'll suffer for this summer as we keep a sharp eye for fires in our forested valley and surrounding mountains. But back to this first harbinger of spring.
The old pussy willow bush down by the creek is in full bloom, so I climbed a ladder to cut some branches, but the good stuff was so far over my head, Jay had to bring down his long-poled pruning saw to lop off branches for me. Trimmed up, they're now sitting in bundles on the buffet, drying, and I'll give them out to friends. When I was a kid, Mom would spray them with hair spray, but the Internet says that's unnecessary.
Must end with a poem, of course.
THE WILLOW CATS
They call them pussy-willows,
But there’s no cat to see
Except the little furry toes
That stick out on the tree:
I think that very long ago,
When I was just born new,
There must have been whole pussy-cats
Where just the toes stick through—-
And every Spring it worries me,
I cannot ever find
Those willow-cats that ran away
And left their toes behind!
Monday, December 1, 2014
|Not caught by the trail camera, but photographed down at the old house by the creek where I leave left-over cat food. Mom fed raccoons for 40 years.|
We have the trail camera strapped to a pine tree, focused on Anna Spring. A small grove of wild purple plum trees is just across the spring. A large apple tree sits on this side of the spring, the branches of which will be visible in some photos.
|The elk come through in the spring, calve, and then leave the valley in the autumn.|
|Every now and again the camera's eye gets a perfect photo of an elk cow.|
|The whitetail deer are ubiquitous on our 66 acres, sometimes eleven or twelve being visible in the pasture at any time.|
|But a young buck is always nice to see. They don't stay around the does and fawns during spring and summer, but head up valley, to return in the autumn.|
|But they're cute - especially the fawns.|
|They will rear up to reach apples in the tree.|
|The bronze wild turkeys were introduced a while back, and sometimes in the autumn there will be a hundred or more in the pasture. They sleep up in tall pine trees at night. Protecting a clutch of turkey chicks is difficult for the hens.|
|Lots of cat-killing and turkey chick killing coyotes. But they sound so wild and free when they whoop it up at night.|
|It was exciting to get a photo of the black bear under the apple tree one night in October.|
|Yes, apples above my head.|
|Just pull down the branch|
|And two apples are mine.|
|A porcupine up in the wild plum tree, caught with Jay's camera. Dad would shoot them because they killed small pine and fir trees by stripping the bark; but we leave them alone.|
|A quail on Jay's slash pile. Sometimes a covey will fly out. Now rabbits are using it for the winter, so Jay has put off burning until spring.|
|Jay crawled through a fence to take this photo down by the creek. The cow moose in lying down, her calf standing up.They are not the same size. She's enormous.|
|Leaving the best for last. This young bull moose caught by the trail camera in November.|
|It's not the camera he sees.|
|It's the apples that have fallen just in front of the camera.|
Saturday, October 11, 2014
|The novel I wrote based on my parents' marriage|
This is a very difficult blog to write - in fact, I've put it off since Mom's death on June 4th of this year. I would like to celebrate her life, but the last seven years were awful years for me and, at first, for Mom as she spiraled down into dementia. "What's wrong with me?" she ask me more than once, panic in her voice, during the first couple of years at Guardian Angel. "You have no memory," was all I could say, unable to comfort her, but knowing that within seconds she wouldn't remember what either of us had said. Just once, early on, she said, "I wish I could do it over again," meaning her life. And I wished she could have done it over, too. For she had interesting life, but not a happy marriage, though to many she appeared joyful and funny and warm. She was able to project that about herself. Was I the only one who knew of her anguish throughout much of her life?
She gave birth to me on October 12, 1945, 69 years ago for those of you who can't count. That was the most important day of my life, so thanks, Mom, even though your doctor wanted to go duck hunting and so brought on your labor before we were ready. I almost died and you could never have more children. Dad refused to pay the doctor's fee, and it was never pursued. The breadwinner could do that in those days if he felt righteous enough.
Geneva Raney, known as Jean, was born at home in Yardley, now part of Spokane, on March 20, 1925. The youngest of six children (the oldest, James, died at age 10 from blood poisoning from a blister on his heel). Her mother was 42 and already deaf, her father 38; they always seemed old to her.
|Felts Field in Spokane, Mom looks to be about four.|
|Siblings Louise, Paul, Mary Agnes, and Denny. Mom is the smallest (c1933)|
She attended Holy Names Academy (as I would later) and though not a very good student except in French, English and Literature, still she seemed to have a pretty good time. She graduated in 1943, in the middle of the war and immediately got a job at Western Union in downtown Spokane, working swing shift. The streets were crowded with soldiers coming through to Seattle and sailors down on leave from Farragut Naval Training Base up on Lake Pend d'Oreille in Sandpoint, Idaho. One evening two Australian soldiers approached her girlfriend and her on their way to the bus stop. "Would you like to 'ave a cuke?" one asked. "What?" she said. "A cuke . . . you know a Cuka-cula." She did enjoy the war years. When my father, Albert Charbonneau, returned from New Guinea in 1944, where he'd been a tail-gunner on a B-24 Liberator, flying 48 missions, they married on November 20th.
|They look happy enough here. I took this photo in 1949.|
|One of my favorite photos of Mom|
First it was bad dreams and memories of his plane crash-landing on a coral reef in the middle of the South Pacific in Japanese-infested waters. One engine had stopped working on the way to drop their bombs on Japanese-held islands; on the way back to Port Moresby, another engine went out, unfortunately on the same side. The crew was rescued by an Australian amphibian plane the following day because the navigator had sent out their position. Dad suffered from insomnia and the noise at Kaiser Aluminum where he worked made him keyed up and nervous. We moved up into the hills of Idaho when I was six.
When I was in the seventh grade, Dad was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Oh, yes, he heard voices. Mom had to go to work to support us. Eventually, Dad received benefits as a disabled veteran.
|After I left home and went back east, they celebrated Christmases alone, but for their dogs (c. 1969)|
|She was happy that day. Me, Grandma, my son Donovan, and Mom (1971)|
|Mom with brothers Paul and Denny (maybe the late 1970s)|
She loved her vegetable and flower gardens, and her grandson Donovan.
|Mom with brother Paul and sister Mary Agnes|
|Sad day in October 1994 at luncheon after Dad's funeral. Mom, Donovan, Me & husband Jay. Why are we smiling?|
|This was the photo Jay took November, 2007, the day I put her into assisted living and I think this will be the last I show here. I was in a lot of psychic pain myself.|
The novel I wrote back in the 1990s is about Mom's struggle to protect her family while married to my schizophrenic father. I mention it here because I believe I accurately portrayed the various facets of her personality and the events that were a part of her life. Mom once went to a support group for family members of schizophrenics. The people there were all parents of schizophrenic children. "Aren't there any spouses?" she asked. Someone said, "Nobody stays married to a schizophrenic." "Well, I did," she answered. Dad died one month short of their 50th wedding anniversary, though the novel doesn't go that far. It's available on Amazon as a Kindle download and in paperback here
Monday, October 6, 2014
Our neighbor and carpenter Davy, with the help of another neighbor, Pat, removing the window from Davy's truck. I'm on the balcony taking the photo.
They're carrying it up the stairs to the landing.
Hoisting it up with the help of John, Pat's girlfriend's cousin from the coast.
Getting it into position.
Smile, I said from the second floor as Davy finished stapling the framing. Since Davy did the framing of all of our windows, the wood and stain for the stained glass perfectly match.
And here I am, on the second floor, very happy to finally have it installed. You can see the two antique windows Davy installed last year here.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
I'm feeling pretty blue tonight. I finally realized today that Geordie was killed by a coyote last Saturday. I'd found him down the hill sitting on my son Donovan's porch. Why do they think hunting is better away from their own home? I put him in the car and brought him back up the hill. He ate and went back outside. And we haven't seen him since. He must have headed right back down and through the pasture where coyotes like to hunt varmints, too. A deadly combination
He'd been my birthday present from Jay in 2005 - just five months old that October. Always cocky, always thinking he was invincible, no matter how often I scolded. Even the dog's barking, warning coyotes to stay away from the house, wasn't enough this time. The fourth cat we've lost since moving back home. Well, Geordie, you were a fine cat and I will miss you very much.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
It was a busy day today and my body aches for it. The photo above shows what fruit will be going to the Post Falls Food Bank this week. The top two boxes are our apples that Jay picked today. They might be Mackintosh. Hardly a worm hole, he said. The lower box on the left is full of Greengage plums that I gleaned from our neighbor Davy's orchard. There was a mighty wind last night, so mostly I picked them up off the ground. The ones still on the trees still appear unripe. Maybe in a few days. They are very small - no bigger than a large grape, but very sweet plum when ripe. The box to the right are Davy's Italian prunes. He is generous to let me pick for the food bank.
This is just a sampling of the three large boxes of Bartlett pears I picked last week from our old tree before they got very ripe. I gave many to the neighbors. They keep pretty well in the refrigerator.
Then after I'd rested up from picking at Davy's, I picked these wild golden plumes from a clump of trees in a secret place. They are very difficult to get at even with a ladder and a picker because the trees are very tall and, of course, the plums mostly grow near the top. If I shake them down, they inevitably fall in brambles and wild rose bushes.
And this is a variety of red plum that the deer planted years ago by Anna Spring.
Last year there were no wild pink plums on the large tree down by that spring, but this year it was loaded. I've frozen bags and bags of them. The deer come to stand under that tree just waiting for them to fall and that was where our trail camera photographed the black bear a few weeks back at 11 p.m.
It's already a bountiful season and most of the apples haven't even ripened yet.