Wednesday, January 30, 2008


In the Fifties the Bruce Strachan family scattered, though they were theoretically still all living at 5103. My dad was on the road, my mother went back to college, I was in high school between 1953 and 1957 and spent many evenings back at school rehearsing plays, Mark was in high school between 1955 and 1959. He had a paper route, rose very early, and slept a lot when he was home.

So Paul, still a child (b. 1944) was thrown back on his own resources, mostly Duncan McTavish, the little dog my mother said he HAD to have. (She always wanted to have a dog around, but always said it was “for Paul.” She was saying the same thing in 1998, but I was afraid she’d trip on it.) Much of the time Duncan was enough for Paul.

The dining room was a combination of my mother (her colored glass collection in the window, her antique spoons, and her little coffee buffet which is now my bedside table) and my father (books, books and more books). My mother did NOT let us wander around eating out of our hands. In the Depression and during WWII it had been impressed on women that people MUST sit down at the table for decent meals. Even if you were the only one. (NOW I wander around eating out of my hand.) Until he was older than this, he called this meal "breksus."

The car in the drive is my mother’s going-to-college car, which often had to be pushed down the street in the morning to make it start. It was dark green, that carriage color, and at some point a kid had owned it and customized it with the spotlight (very helpful when Mark needed a little help delivering papers) and a diesel truck horn, which my mother greatly enjoyed. She’d sneak up behind someone doing a Wrong Thing and blast them.

Paul is demonstrating our family attitude toward yardwork: a full-scale blitz versus “what lawn?”

Paul’s cowboy phase lasted a long time, just about throughout his childhood. He always had a black hat. The smell of capguns was a constant. If all the cap pistols were broken (There were a LOT of them, but if you dropped them on cement, well... too bad.), we spent hours pounding rolls of caps with rocks to make them explode.

Then one day this photographer showed up with a pony! A REAL pony! What bliss!!

“Mary’s Old Cat” Willis was not above “helping” Paul. It’s unclear whether that means reading the newspaper or counting pumpkin seeds.

But some things a boy can do best alone. It takes concentration to run a railroad properly.

This boy was headed for Benson Tech like his brother. A bit of the engineer in him. We bought the “cello” at Disneyland because it looked like Duncan McTavish. It’s from “Lady and the Tramp.”

At the end of the day, with a sore throat (note Sucrets on arm of chair) it’s best to quietly read. This is my reading chair in Valier now -- when the cat’s not using it.

But there’s really nothing quite like a nap with a warm friend. The magazine is “Field and Stream.” Sleep quietly, Paul, while we go get a quilt to put over you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


When the temps go to twenty below and stay there a couple of days, EVERYTHING freezes in place. The most crucial frozen spot in my house at the moment is under my kitchen sink. There’s a 45 degree bend sideways and then vertically in the cold water pipe and it’s close to a place where there was once a window in the foundation. The doors under the sink were supposed to stay open but I didn’t prop them and they closed themselves in the night. So there’s a lamp shining on the pipes right under the sink and another lightbulb shining right on the double bends, but so far, it’s not doing the job.

At least the hot water is still running so I can have coffee. Actually, this time of year I have a carboy of water in the kitchen. In summer it lives in the garage. It’s as much for water quality as in case of unavailability. Sometimes the wells get so low that the water is very alkaline and other times the system is being chlorinated. Water and weather, the double double-you obsessions here.

Yesterday I didn’t go out at all and I wore BOTH my night and day clothes all day: big wooly nightgown, big fleece shirt, longjohns, sweatpants -- I haven’t started wearing my fleece toque indoors yet, but the day may come. I wear it in the crawl space under the house to keep cobwebs (and possibly spiders) out of my hair. The forecast is for only one more day of this profound cold, but I buckled and put up insulated window covers, taped all the window cracks, put rugs and even pillows across all doors at the bottom, hung plastic and stood screens to confine heat flow. Down in the crawl space I stuffed crumpled newspapers into every gap where it seemed that I could feel cold air moving. I’ve been back to work on this project several times. The light bulb has burned out once. My big flashlight is dimming and I don't have a backup battery.

Only a day ago it was above freezing and an overoptimistic featherhead of a house finch was warbling out his mating song. He may be claws-up and stiff in the snow now, but yesterday I saw a bird go winging past the window through my big cottonwood tree. I don’t put out bird food, because of the cats, but many of the people in this older-folks village do maintain feeding stations. For some it’s more interesting than television. (Not that it’s hard to be more interesting than television!) The abruptness of these temperature drops is part of what makes cold dangerous, but our houses are also old and have crevices that can shelter a bird.

So far there has been one human death from the cold. It was near Bozeman, a college town, where a car slid off a road and got stuck in the snow late at night. Two young men were in the car. One walked out. He forgot about his buddy and didn’t send help back. The buddy also tried to walk out and traveled three miles before he died, probably of hypothermia. People around here are so confident in their cars and their driving that they don’t take real cold weather gear with them when they drive. College kids may be from somewhere else where weather isn’t so dangerous. But there is no safety margin so helpful as sobriety.

The newspaper reports that a cold wave like this one is also plaguing China, immobilizing their railroads. Plate techtonic experts say that once Montana was continuous with Asia -- many lifeforms both botanical and warm-blooded share their genetics. Peonies. Indians. Dinosaurs. But I don’t understand the dynamics of cold air adventuring south. Why doesn't cold air stay at the poles? I do know from experience that if we have unusually warm weather, it’s usually followed by unusually cold weather. And I know from reading that “global warming” is not really a matter of even thermostatic increment, but a phenomenon of energy dispersal through oceans and atmosphere, leading to turbulence. We are the bottom-feeders of the great sea of air, extrusions of the soil that have become mobile and walked a little too far north.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the major prairie blizzard of 1886-87 that Charlie Russell illustrated on a postcard with a rack of a cow. That weather event finally convinced ranchers that raising cows, which evolved in warm wet environs (like humans), could not be achieved in the place that shaped the bison. At least not without a lot of compensatory haying, sheltering, and watering (like humans). Nowadays a lot of ranchers just truck the cows south. Of course, grain farmers can fly south, leaving their troubles behind. In fact, this really cold weather is good for the granaries because it kills insects and generally goes with very dry weather which discourages fungus.

When it’s this cold, I abandon my NPR classical music station and tune in to the local farmer radio so I can pick up on their obsession with weather. Roads closed, drifting and icy, low visibility, schools closed, events canceled. I don’t have to go anyplace until halfway through February. Might be seventy degrees and dry by then! The whole secret is timing.

KSEN says there is a big wet storm coming in from the West but it probably will drop most of the moisture in snow before it gets over the Rockies. The east slope is in the cross-hairs of two main dynamics: cold air rocketing down through Canada, “the Alberta Clipper,” and wet air on the jet stream coming from the Pacific Ocean. There is nothing to slow down the north/south flow, but Pacific air must make it over the Coast Range, the Cascades, and the Rockies. If it clears those hurdles with a lot of moisture left in it and meets the cold air over our heads -- which it is bound to do sooner or later -- the result is... spring grass, eventually. But before that comes those epochal blizzards that broke the early open range ranchers.

I have a big down coat, a “rancher’s coat,” that I can finally fit back into and that makes temperature almost irrelevant except to the parts of me that stick out the bottom and top. I shall put my toque back on, wind my neck with a big soft muffler, double my socks, and venture down to the post office. Later. Maybe quite a bit later.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Oscar Wilde is a name that can make people either smile or bristle. I tend to see him in the terms set by Peter Egan in “Lillie,” one of my all-time favorite BBC series. There he is witty, protective, and a bit insufferable -- not to say self-destructive. But in “An Ideal Husband” -- though he is shown as a real person (fat, preening, a bit of a freak) in a cameo of “The Importance of Being Earnest” onstage within the plot of the movie, he or someone projected by him is also in the character played by Rupert Everett, “Lord Goring”: extremely handsome in the faintest equine way (a very FINE high-stepping horse), at the peak of wit, covertly understanding and protective of friends, and not at all swish. He is portrayed as heterosexual, though the actor is gay, and entirely desirable regardless of preferences.

The plot itself is diagrammatic as a Shakespeare gender-switching comedy, though no one cross-dresses. The driving force is pairing everyone off, as the father of Lord Goring keeps urging, so the real conflict is between social requirements related to class and inheritance versus individual preference related to personality. One couple is irreproachably, enviably, unrealistically ideal -- so beautiful, rich, and virtuous as to arouse a desire to prick their balloon. This happens. (Cate Blanchett and Jeremy Northam take the roles gracefully.) The other couple is more of a trio: Lord Goring, his wicked but gorgeous former fiancee played by Julianne Moore, and Minnie Driver who is modern in her ability to face facts and cope with them.

The rest is all wit and farce -- not quite so broad as Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night,” but still involving lots of cryptic messages susceptible to misinterpretation or destructive in their consequences if revealed. People come and go in small scenes, one quite charming in which Lord Goring finds himself deserted and must confide in a stoic marble bust of a Greek philosopher, and one remarkably touching when the Minnie Driver character, Mabel, and Lord Goring are suddenly, palpably, struck by love for each other while only passing as they have previously done before without impact.

This sort of wit is not hard to write once one grasps the principles. If accused of a vice, thank the accuser and accept the vice as though it were a virtue. Go for the double entendre, hopefully sexual or otherwise slightly improper. (Anyone who has taught junior high has accumulated lots of examples, though they tend to be a little TOO improper.) So Mabel says, “I think you must have been very badly raised!”

Goring agrees, “Oh, yes, I was. Very badly indeed.” Mabel suggests, “I wish I had been the one to raise you.”

Goring says, “Yes, I also wish that had been the case. Do you think it’s too late?” (I may not be quoting quite accurately.)

Much depends upon a slight and willful misinterpretation of what is said, or simply a misplaced concreteness as though a metaphor were meant to be a fact. Two things must be constantly observed by the actors: perfect enunciation so we don’t miss the words (though Rupert Everett says he took care to blunt the edges of some of the quips so as not to be too bitter) and absolute sincerity, so we stay conscious of the real human yearning just there under the surface. It is the brilliance of this production that now and then eyes tear up, fingertips linger, and we know that even the worst of these characters is longing for a desired outcome. Not just a bounce in bed, but security and protection in a harsh world to say nothing of joy. We can't help caring.

The settings are completely exploited for all the gorgeous excess of that particular world. The sumptuousness sometimes verges on the grotesque -- in the shadows lurk monstrous lamps and ugly swags of fringed brocade. The perfect couple has a perfectly palatial pale house but Lord Goring’s house seems to have many dark compartments with double doors. The conservatory is a veritable jungle. Colors are greener than green, redder than red -- impossibly saturated. Long wide staircases, couples whirling at a dance, and the obligatory parade on horseback in the park are all there. Somehow, Minnie Driver on horseback manages to make her breasts alternate in leaping according to her horse’s gait. Maybe riding sidesaddle does that.

So many of these terrific actors are familiar to us -- not just the leads but also the guests and such incidentals as the wonderful Peter Vaughn as Phipps, the oh-so-agreeable butler who -- but wait! Was he agreeing or was there an insult in there somewhere? And he’s not above preening in the mirror himself. Though he does mix up the ladies... It wasn’t his fault.

It’s not possible to rewrite this plotline as a contemporary story because we are so socially confused now (to say nothing of gender) and wealth is so little connected to conduct. Besides, I’m not sure people have the vocabulary, let alone the wardrobes.

But the main characteristic that seems to have disappeared is that of true human feeling, the constancy and idealism that shine through this sort of repartee, making it funny rather than either ridiculous or destructive. We’re having the same problem with our political season, it seems to me. Certainly, on the village level, stewardship seems quite replaced by cynicism and secrecy, which is evidently seen to be the only way to achieve economic success. It’s not just a loss of innocence, but also a loss of confidence in society. We don't care and we don't WANT to care.

The difference between this gilded age and the one in the movie might be that there is no longer any real stability even among the “upperest” classes and we think of our leaders and zillionaires with contempt and amusement. I cannot look at Ted Kennedy’s face without being bummed out by the memory of a paparazzi video of his bare buttocks going up and down while he lay on top of a woman in the bottom of a small boat. (I hope they properly bailed out the water first.) I don’t know where the censors get the idea that the sight of buttocks, even in such a situation, is naughty to the point of deserving incredibly steep fines. Even Oscar Wilde would be left speechless.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


Now and then I Google myself, just to keep track, and this time there were a couple of entries that purported to be “biographies” of me that were assembled by automated web-crawling. To say they were sketchy would be tactful, but one goes to the trouble of labeling me politically. They decided I was “conservative.” They were quite wrong.

I’m radical. (Radical= going to the root) Or in some sorts of company I say “eclectic,” which doesn’t sound so scary but isn’t as truthful. It has something to do with resistance to the standing order and something to do with what Dean Barnlund at NU taught us at the end of the Fifties about “language and thought” or “discussion and leadership skills.” Then for a while it was mixed up with the Age of Aquarius and all that. Probably the most recent incarnation is the idea of “rhizomatous” thought as contrasted with “arboreal” thought -- the latter referring to thought “trees” that start with a premise and then reason by making distinctions, branching as it were, and maintaining hierarchies. Rhizomous thinking is in thickening or swellings along the roots, more humble and sometimes underground.

Politics means “having to do with the polis or public life,” of course, so one’s political position has much to do with public institutions. Looking back, I’m surprised at how much of my life has been dominated by institutions and what opinions that has prompted in me.

I shouldn’t have to quote to illustrate my own position, but Mencius (blog at posted this model comment on (whom Michael Blowhard of calls “horny braniacs.” What better recommendation, eh?):

"What needs to change in academia?"

I can certainly think of some more direct questions than that:

"What are these things we call 'universities'?"

"Where did they come from? Why do we have so many of them? How have they become so influential? What has their net effect on the society around them been? If you didn't have them, would they have to be invented? Or would you invent something else instead? Maybe something, like, totally different? If the latter, assuming that we just leave them alone and let them do their thing, how long will it take to turn into something different? And will it be the different thing you want? Or is it more likely to be some other, like, different thing?"

Shouldn't one at least consider the possibility that what we call a "university" is indeed a fundamentally malignant form of social organization, and the efforts of all right-thinking intellectuals should be devoted not to reforming the institution, but figuring out how to terminate it - or at the very least reboot it?

Thus I don't think the universities are reformable. And if they are problematic but not reformable, they are malignant.

Therefore, there is only one policy to take with the universities: sell the land and buildings, add the proceeds to the endowment, convert the whole thing to a mutual fund, and distribute its shares equally among the alumni.

The intensity of my agreement with this idea comes in part from my seminary deciding to identify with the Democratic party, mostly because anti-Bushian ideas are popular at present and the school needs to be popular in order to raise more money. In other words, they are not only twisting their theological purposes to political ends, but also for economics. How deeply fascistic they are.

I find that my politics these days are governed by several ideas:

1. At two hundred years of age, much of our bureaucracy, regulatory practices, justice systems, and so on are outmoded and ineffective, mostly dedicated to keeping the status quo. Exhibit A: Homeland security. (Our physical infrastructure is quite comparable.)

2. In our pursuit of commodification we have succumbed to advertising principles of glitz and shine, all appearance and no analysis, and cheap. Also, whatever sold before will probably be what will sell next time. (The Simple Simon concept of economics and movie making.)

3. Athletics have overgrown everything to the point of becoming rotten at the core, synonymous with drug use. This is on every level down to high school and below. I would separate all “school teams” from the public schools and assign them directly to the towns so they can pay for them separately from the educational enterprise. Suddenly we would have enough money for schools. And teachers would not be forced to pretend that concussed delinquents are passing their classes.

4. This country is simply too complex to be so big. I would divide it into super-states or regions: Pacific northwest, dry west north and dry west south, Mississippi basin, and so on. Much of what will challenge us in the coming decades will have to do the exhaustion of ecologies, which will be far easier to address regionally. On the other hand, there are global issues that must be addressed as a planet.

5. Corporations have abused their definition (a virtual “person”) so thoroughly that someone needs to come up with a whole new institutional/legal pattern. Don’t ask me. I’m still back there with co-ops. And who could impose any controls, since they are now bigger than countries and have their own armies?

6. We should give up our mania for travel as a marker for leisure and affluence. Instead, stay home and support theatre or art or dance. Learn a skill. Invest emotionally in a “home.” A culture is something you do, not something you tour.

Both rhizomatous and tree-like thinking must be grounded but it seems to me that our institutions have been seriously eroded, to the point of airlock.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


These are a quick selection of blogs about animals that I regularly check, not anything but a teaspoon-sized sample of what's out there, but maybe they give a suggestion of the range of animal blogs. To make their URL open, you'll have to replace what I call the "spinach" (necessary but pesky) at the front: http://

Each one of these blogs will have a "blogroll" or set of links down the side that represent plenty more excellent material.
(Chris Wemmer, a native Californian and professional biologist and wildlife conservationist, shares his nightly catches in his camera trap plus his reflections about the animals. They range from squirrels to pumas.)
Jennifer Rae Atkins provides an original drawing of a mammal, a different one every day. She’ll make one for you: $50 for a matted mammal already drawn or you can request any mammal for $60. Five bucks from each sale goes to an animal charity. The mammals in question are often startling as she seeks out a different one of the five thousand named species every day.
Home page of HARC, the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium. We have assembled the resources on this site to increase awareness about a complex disorder which has until recently not received serious attention by medical, mental health, and public health professionals. Known to animal protection groups or SPCA's for many years as "collectors", the depth of the pathology underlying this behavior is just beginning to be uncovered, and shows striking similarities to other forms of hoarding behavior which are better understood."

Common sense and lively observations over a wide range, mostly about dogs. Actually, it’s an online magazine.

The official National Animal Control Association website -- all business. Indispensable for people in that line of work.
Also for Animal Control professionals, but not so formal. This website and nacanet have to be protected from saboteurs from the “humane” extremes, so you’ll have to do the e-equivalent of knocking on the door to get to some features.

“In the mid 1990s, he began work on a series of essays about the powerful bonds that connect hunter, land, and prey. Nineteen of those essays were published collectively in February of 2001 as At Home on the Range with a Texas Hunter, which received an Excellence in Craft Award from the Texas Outdoor Writers Association.” This blog is not just about animals and when it is, the animals are likely to be wild and possibly hunted.

John Carlson says: “I live and work right where I grew up in Eastern Montana. I take occasional trips to the Antarctic with the non-profit group Oceanites.” And then writes wonderfully, all illustrated with National Geographic quality photos.
AKA “Diary of a Mad Natural Historian”
“A few labels that could be applied (w/ some degree of accuracy) to me: falconer, dog trainer, dog breeder, bird hunter, tech weenie, fly fisher, dart frogger, left libertarian, beatnik/hippie - there’s more, but that’s enough for now.”

“Information on working terriers, dogs, natural history, hunting, and the environment. This web log is associated with the web site. “ Also politics! A cranky, intelligent, and irreverent collection of stuff. I love it, but then I love terriers.

Violent, opinionated, raving, and if you don’t follow this stuff, you’re out of the loop.

“The National Animal Interest Alliance is an association of business, agricultural, scientific, and recreational interests dedicated to promoting animal welfare, supporting responsible animal use and strengthening the bond between humans and animals. Our members are pet owners, dog and cat clubs, obedience clubs and rescue groups as well as breeders, trainers, veterinarians, research scientists, farmers, fishermen, hunters and wildlife biologists. The membership roster of NAIA includes some of America's most respected animal professionals, advocates and enthusiasts.” Their self-description, but it IS more moderate.

“Welcome to online home of the Pet Connection, the weekly pet-care feature syndicated to newspapers, magazines and Web sites throughout the United States and Canada by Universal Press Syndicate. But we're more than a pet column, as we hope you'll find out exploring our Web site. We're best-selling books on pet care, and we're a popular pet-related Web log. You can search our archives for answers to your pet questions, and check out some helpful links we've collected.
Slick, pleasant and useful.

“Animal Rights” organizations have become so extreme and public now that they have triggered a lot of equal-but-opposite push-backs. This is a good one.

AKA “The Wisdom of the Horse
A sophisticated woman keeps a diary of her thoughts as she goes through the days with her own horses.
Bill McKinney’s birding list plus comments and so on.

AKA Stephen Bodio’s Querencia
Steve has two passions: one is the spectrum of gazehounds from the Central Asian countries we are only learning about now that we’ve declared war on them and falcons of many kinds, as used in hunting. Located in New Mexico, he regularly hunts with both hawks and dogs on the high plateau and then writes about their history. This material is worked into many other interests and three other writers post here.

Helen McDonald, a young woman who is a professor at Oxford and a poet, writes the most beautiful prose I’ve read anywhere. She recently acquired a goshawk, “Mabel,” and is training both herself and the bird to hunt. One’s heart breaks at the intense emotion.


The movie called “Falling” (2005) is a pun that puts together a woman who falls literally, rendering herself vulnerable, but who also falls for all the wrong men. This time it’s Michael Kitchen. What could be wrong with THAT, asks the Foyle’s War fan? Well, you see, Kitchen is NOT Foyle -- he’s an actor. I’m sure that like Robson Green, he thought it would be a good idea to show some rough edges to prove his range. (“Beaten,” also 2005, is the Green movie.) After all, it’s deadly dull to be too stainless and admirable, though I’m devoted to Foyle.

“Henry Kent,” the character in “Falling,” is not only a rotter who evidently had all his empathy knocked out of him as a child, but also he explains to the camera all the time, and we even see flashbacks. This vulnerable woman also talks to the camera and shows flashbacks, but her stories and what we see actually match, while the rotter’s don’t. The plot trick is that she makes her living writing novels but in a way he also makes his living by inventing stories about himself. They are both tale spinners.

I’ve been back to look at Kitchen in “Out of Africa,” where he’s puckish and agreeable, an excellent “foil” for Robert Redford -- in part because he’s physically small enough to make Redford look average -- and he’s very young, unlined, though this movie comes about halfway in a long career. In “The Buccaneers” he plays an irresponsible father, splitting the difference between Foyle and Henry as he takes a governess for a spin that is doomed from the beginning. As Foyle, Kitchen dresses in the fedora, three-piece suit, tie and overcoat that were standard uniforms of serious men in the Forties. He stands straight, walks like a dancer, the way Jonathan Pryce does, and shows the deepest emotions by simply closing his eyes while the wave breaks over him. The rest of the time his eyes rove and flirt, missing nothing, seeming to look elsewhere while proposing the truth to a culprit and then stabbing him or her with a stare as sharp as a fork piercing a frankfurter.

As Henry Kent, his clothes, his cap, his whole manner is raffish, off-hand, and evasive. It’s a shock to see him lounging, lurking, slumping, and another to see him undressed in bed with Daisy, his novelist victim. (Played beautifully by Penelope Wilton. I love BBC in no small part because their women seem real.) Nothing explicit is shown (I have a feeling that the actor Kitchen knows two important things: that it is better to imagine some things and that an actor must always preserve a bit of modesty.) but I must say that it must be very pleasant to wake in the morning to find this man leaning on a naked elbow under the covers.

Of course, Daisy can recover from victimhood, though her second failure as a husband-chooser has left her a bit paralyzed. We know now about the dynamics of the co-dependent woman, the one who can’t resist an exciting but dubious man because of the pleasure of saving him plus the adrenaline kick of the adventure. We know less about the narcissistic man, the one who believes the world is only his -- no one else quite exists. And who slips into violent tantrums if he doesn’t get his way. (Some will say that narcissists are incapable of self-analysis, but at this fascinating website, you’ll find an excellent example of one who can:

In the US with a different sort of actor and director, etc, this tale would be a violent noir tragedy. But this is an intelligent and civilized English movie, often very funny in a rueful way, and the story ends much more like real life -- with a few bruises along the way. No one dies (sorry). Daisy may or may not be more mature but Henry is quite unchanged. The original novelist was Elizabeth Jame Howard, who was married to Kingsley Amis for ten years.

A male narcissist with a female co-dependent is a plot line that plays out over and over in both real life and in scripts. We recognize the roles, we respond to the issues, we find them in our own lives all the time, because they emerge from our gender assignments. Big tough guys who insist on their way, draw everyone else into their goals, take advantage of women, are everywhere from politics to the ministry. Doting, enabling, forgiving women are likewise everywhere from Laura Bush’s big white house to just down the street. These psychological patterns often succeed brilliantly. What if Henry Kent had been able to curb his temper and lend his gift for fabulism to Daisy, thus giving her career a major boost and bringing in enough money to keep Henry in a life of pleasant sloth?

The culture in question grows out of Euro-ag, where farming centered on a strong, driven man who could manage things in a very firm way for a goal he defined. And his success depended very much on a woman invested in keeping him happy, healthy and focused -- and it would be helpful if she could and would stay nearly continuously pregnant. (Productivity! The mantra of the farm!) One of the most interesting phenomena on the election circuit is the effort of the Clintons to reverse their roles -- not just that, but also the efforts of the rest of us to accept that what liberals have been predicting is actually possible. We CAN negotiate our social styles and capacities -- right? The conservatives would say absolutely NOT. (They were whistling a different tune when Elizabeth Dole was attempting something similar while her husband touted a little “marital enhancement” chemistry.)

People who do intellectual or aesthetic or technological work have a good deal more elbow room when it comes to choosing their personal patterns, either consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, it a wonderful thing when they pass on their insights to the rest of us, who may not have had the ability to try things out so much, and therefore can benefit by second-hand examples.

It is not accidental that Henry purports to be a gardener and is capable of actually performing up to a point. It is also not accidental that Daisy’s garden is overgrown into a jungle and needs pruning. When this is illustrated in terms of English landscape and households, we are so glad to watch that we don’t necessarily get the metaphorical value on first watching. This is not a “secret garden,” but it bears pondering.

Friday, January 25, 2008


I have here two articles from the Prairie Star, the local ag rag -- or at least it WAS local before it moved to Great Falls, thus removing my chief source of income. These two pieces are entitled “Genetic Selection for Docility Important in Loose Sow Housing” and “Lambs Learn to Eat Pasture Weeds by Watching Sheep, Goats.”

The first principle of domestic happiness discussed here in terms of swine is “good genes” and we know for sure now that genes are responsible for much of temperament as well as appearance. Being “high maintenance” or hot-tempered may be inherited and pig farmers are not so optimistic as high school girls about “changing” someone by loving them. Reforming someone is an admirable project and lots of fun, but in the end it just saves a lot of grief and energy to pick out someone already wired for family.

Specifics of that can be quite variable. Babcock Genetics of Rochester, Minnesota, has been culling their breeding sows for disposition for a long time. The ornery ones simply became bacon instead of mothers. Babcock kept their sows in two different ways: one was in the individual “stalls” or cribs that the PETA people hate so much. The others were groups of a dozen loose in a pen about 180 square feet with food and water dropping into pans automatically.

Now Babcock is experimenting with a very high-tech process that involves tagging each sow with a gizmo that lets her into a single feed pen and checks her for pregnancy. The food that drops into the pan is nutritionally tailored for her state of pregnancy. Only one pig at a time gets into the little feed booth (like a voting booth) but then they’re free to mix with the other pigs the rest of the time. This system is responding to the theory that the swine industry has been inadvertently breeding for aggressive mama pigs because they culled by low-weight rather than disposition, and the aggressive ones get all the food.

A problem had developed with the sows that had been kept in stalls and then were released into the loose pigs. They didn’t know how to act, got picked on, and sometimes didn’t even try to eat. (Doesn’t this remind you of a school cafeteria?) So now their gizmo records whether they figured out how to get into the feeding station at least once a day.

This is called the Osbourne System and also records whether a sow is in heat. A vasectomized but otherwise operational boar is kept in an adjoining pen. If the sow is in heat, she’ll go stick her head into his pen and look him over. The gizmo records how long she looks. (Ever sit in a high school classroom with a virile young athlete on detention and watch the door open and close while girls come to peek?)

The big advantage of this system is that the pigs don’t freak out when people come around. They neither charge the farmer to chew his leg off nor run squealing in search of a place to hide. Mellow pigs. And they sleep a lot more since they have space to sprawl and no other pig chews on them. It might be nice to have one of those gizmos so a person could tell whether their child was getting enough to eat or was in heat -- but the real point in regard to raising humans is to choose good genes for temperament before sticking one’s head into a possible pairing.

The other article, about lambs, is more about good modeling of behavior -- also eating. Domesticity is mostly about eating or being eaten, except when the animal is used for energy, milk or yarn. Here’s how Evelyn Boswell puts it: “The lamb fills her plate with familiar grasses and weeds, then notices her mom and aunts loading up on a tall plant that’s pretty enough to place in a vase. Emboldened by her elders, the lamb nibbles a yellow blossom and decides she likes it. She cleans her plate and returns again and again to the all-you-can-eat-buffet until it’s time to go home.” The tall plant is Dalmatian toadflax, a weed, and now the sheep is serving a useful purpose. A herd that eats toadflax can be rented out to farmers who want to get rid of the plant. Lambs won’t eat the stuff if they don’t have good role models.

So now let’s look at a third Prairie Star article, this one by Dr. Val Farmer, who concentrates on human behavior. It’s called “How Farm and Ranch Kids Learn Money Management.” The idea is to sit the kids down at the old dining table (after the dishes are cleared) and explain to them the process while mom and dad struggle with the record-keeping, debt management, savvy purchasing, cash flow, income taxes, property taxes, and so on. One of the skills, says Farmer, who is a realist, concerns risk-taking -- like a major equipment purchase or trying a new kind of crop. Teach them to be neither timid nor reckless.

Dr. Farmer has other advice: Don’t give kids too much -- a ranch or farm is not a cornucopia. A sense of being entitled to the best can turn out to be a betrayal. Let kids pay for their own mistakes: accidents, traffic tickets, tests flunked.

Do give them their own smaller projects for which they are totally responsible and do it young. Pay for extra work besides chores, let them raise their own side crops or animals. He says, rather remarkably, “Part of money management is learning to be generous, give gifts and use money to do good.”

Be a good role model. That’s the key to the whole shootin’ match. Let teens contribute their opinions. Let them work for other people who do things differently and won’t hesitate to give them honest feedback, not forgive them for being late or losing tools.

Of course, choose a good spouse. And if you yourself have a rotten temperament, a tendency to gamble or get into fights or sleep around, an inability to understand that others have feelings, an inability to keep a steady job, etc -- get a vasectomy/tubal ligation or maybe don’t get married. Stay “nice” so we don’t have to put you in one of those individual pens and feed you with tax money. The trouble is, most people who are literally careless by definition don’t CARE about their kids or even themselves. In the old days, parents felt they had the right to close those prospective partners out. They didn’t need a gizmo on their kid’s neck. But then, in those days the farmers knew their pigs as individuals, too.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Environ Health Perspect. 2007 October; 115(10): 1442–1447.
Published online 2007 July 17. doi: 10.1289/ehp.10315. This is an Open Access article: verbatim copying and redistribution of this article are permitted in all media for any purpose, provided this notice is preserved along with the article's original DOI.

Research Diabetes in Relation to Serum Levels of Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Chlorinated Pesticides in Adult Native Americans

Recent research suggests that diabetes, a condition whose incidence is increasing, is associated with exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and chlorinated pesticides.

Objectives. We investigated the potential association between diabetes and serum levels of PCBs, dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), hexachlorobenzene (HCB), and mirex in a cross-sectional study of an adult Native-American (Mohawk) population.

Methods. Through a standardized questionnaire we collected demographic, medical, and lifestyle information from 352 adults, ≥30 years of age. We collected fasting serum samples that were analyzed for 101 PCB congeners, DDE, HCB, and mirex along with fasting glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol. Participants who had fasting-glucose values > 125 mg/dL and/or who were taking antidiabetic medication were defined as persons with diabetes. We conducted logistic regression to assess the potential association between organochlorine serum levels and diabetes, while controlling for the potential confounding variables of age, body mass index (BMI), smoking, sex, and serum lipid levels. Organochlorine serum levels were categorized in tertiles, and the lowest tertile was used as the reference category.

The prevalence of diabetes was 20.2%. The odds ratio (OR) of having diabetes for participants in the highest tertile of total PCB concentration compared with the lowest tertile was 3.9 (95% confidence interval, 1.5–10.6). The corresponding ORs for DDE and HCB were even higher. Elevated serum mirex was not associated with diabetes. After adjustment for other analytes, the OR for HCB remained significant, whereas ORs for PCBs and DDE remained elevated but not statistically significant. In contrast, after adjustment for other analytes, the OR for mirex became statistically significant and indicated an inverse association.

In this study of adult Native Americans, elevated serum PCBs, DDE, and HCB were positively associated with diabetes after controlling for potential confounders, whereas a negative association was observed for mirex.

Discussion. Although diabetes has not usually been considered to be an environmentally induced disease, we have found a significant association between serum PCB and pesticide levels and diabetes in an adult Native-American population after adjustment for age, BMI, serum lipid levels, sex, and smoking. Although these results do not establish cause and effect, there is a growing body of evidence that environmental exposure to persistent organochlorine compounds is associated with elevated incidence of this disease.

Conclusion. In this cross-sectional study, serum concentrations of total PCBs, two single PCB congeners, DDE, and HCB were positively associated with an elevated incidence of diabetes in an adult Native-American population. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that exposure to organochlorine compounds increases the risk of developing diabetes. A negative association was found between the serum concentration of mirex and diabetes. This finding has not been previously reported and merits further investigation.

The study quoted above ought to have been given the kind of repetitious ballyhoo that was instead given to bariatric surgery, a quick and easy (if expensive) way to get rid of fat in order to “cure” diabetes. (My doctor agrees with me that it is the elimination of the FAT that cures the diabetes -- not the surgery, which mostly augments hospital and doctor incomes.) One can get rid of fat by changing the WAY one eats, not by starving -- not less food but a different kind of food. By eliminating white sugar, white flour, corn syrup, and processed foods, I’ve painlessly dropped fifty pounds and continue to lose. (I’m at 195 now.)

But how can a person eliminate Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Chlorinated Pesticides? Especially in an ag town where spraying crops means a profit edge that’s much needed. Does my Diabetes 2 (and many other local cases, NOT necessarily in Native Americans) coincide with the airport up the street from me beginning to sell crop chemicals? Should I be getting my blood checked for Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Chlorinated Pesticides? Are these hard-working conscientious farmers be inadvertently killing their grandmothers?

Akwesasne is a back-east, near-industry, polluted-river place where one would expect a high level of chemical contamination and, anyway, with slightly different chemicals than here in Valier. Just the same, a few stories about soil contamination in Valier (there is a move to sink a new well next to the airport) and the real estate people who were counting on zoning jiggering to increase their profits can kiss their market goodby, credit bubble burst or no bubble burst. A few analyses that show contamination of the fish -- ice fishing is a huge activity here in the winter and small boats are on the lake all summer -- and all the fancy work on upgrading the campground is for naught.

So the same kind of battle that was fought over smoking and is still being fought over global warming and coal-fired energy plants, will now be fought about curing Diabetes 2. Some will be looking for drugs that will “heal” the dysmetabolism (which is the term now being used) of the condition and others will address the cause, which will be far more painful. I won’t live to see the end of it probably. But at least I know how to minimize the impact on myself. My doctor tells me that very few people make the necessary changes in diet for their own survival. What can I do but proselytize? People will go into debt for thousands of dollars for painful and risky surgery but will not limit their food intake. (It’s not cheaper, I would point out. Fresh ordinary foods cost more than Twinkies and korn kurls.)

Without any prompting from me, my doctor brought up the historical theory that the Roman Empire was destroyed by lead poisoning. But she is far from alone in suggesting that this country might crash because of a wave of bad health -- not caused by a foreign virus but by our own manufacturing byproducts. And it may not be the city people who crash first -- it could be the seemingly idyllic ag landscapes. One of the studies quoted in this paper is about sea turtles given the same blood tests as the Akwesasne Mohawks. The sea turtles, which come ashore only to lay their eggs, showed the same relationship between the chemicals in question and “diabetes” -- dysmetabolism of glucose.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


The Glenbow Museum wants me to give an address on February 12 in Calgary. Great! $100 honorarium. Oh. That won’t quite cover the gas. But, hey, the Glenbow was a big part of Bob Scriver’s success, an early bit of support and recognition that got his career really underway. In fact, when the Cambrian Foundation, which is related, bought Bob’s rodeo series (often on exhibit at the Calgary airport), it enabled him to buy the Flatiron Ranch, which has since become an ecology camp protected by the Blackfeet Land Trust and the Nature Conservancy. In fact, it was so much money that the IRS almost went crazy and couldn’t understand why Bob didn’t make as much money the next year.

In my post office box this morning was a letter from PERS -- Public Employees Retirement System. Great! Now I can write up my taxes and get my refunds. But it turns out that they were notifying me of the outcome of a lawsuit requiring them to recalculate all pensions for the last ten years. I now owe them $2500. Word to come later about how I should repay it. Since my pension is $200 a month, maybe they’ll just shut it off for a year. Otherwise, I suppose they’ll keep adding interest onto it. Now I’m glad I removed half of my investment when I quit Cut Bank Public Schools. At the time it seemed foolhardy, but now it might have been a smart move or I’d have to pay back a lot MORE money.

So I opened my email and it purported to have a message from the IRS saying that I had a refund coming of $163 but I would have to fill out a form first. The trouble is that at least three words in the email are mis-spelled -- a clear indicator of Phishing. Or is it? I see high officials misspelling things all the time. But I SHOULD have some kind of refund coming from the state for being a little old lady with low income and also a nice little bit from the governor, who knows how to please people. (He just gave the Blackfeet a big fat check “in anticipation of” a water compact settlement between state and rez -- though no ACTUAL settlement is on the horizon.)

And that’s not even taking into consideration the refund Barack Obama is promising if elected or the equal-or-greater rebate from George Bush as he leaves. (Forget the money, George. Just GO!) They’re saying that these checks for everyone (we’ll just add it onto your SSI check) will be the quickest way to get money into the national economy before it crashes on its face and both property taxes (because so many houses are going into tax limbo) and income taxes (because of general recession) shrivel up into not-enough-money to sustain the federal government.

Are we scared? Well, if we aren’t, China is. At least it looks that way on the stock market. Forget the messenger. How’re we going to EAT? And it’s snowing again! Twenty below! How are we going to HEAT?

Today I set out to reprovision. $250 for enough meat, green stuff, peanuts and cat food to get through the month. Oh, plus one replacement light bulb for the lamp that keeps Squibbie warm at night so she doesn’t try to sneak into the electric bed with me and Crackers, provoking a cat quarrel (not quite a fight) that gets me up at 3AM. Leland Ground, Blackfeet grandpa, stopped in to see how I was doing. I told him I’d just gone to Conrad where I shot a buffalo and I’d been busy bringing all the meat home and stowing it. It took him a minute to catch on that I was just aggrandizing my groceries.

Before driving to Conrad on wonderfully dry roads, I slid and slipped down my still-snowy own street to the little clinic that is an outrigger on the canoe of the Marias Care Center, because I needed a new prescription for my blood pressure med. This is my third doctor in two years. They come and they go. At least this is a good one! I told her about an article that OWL (Our Wisconsin Librarian) sent me this morning about research looking for relationships between American Indian Diabetes 2 and environmental poisons like dioxins, phenols, etc -- the equivalent of Agent Orange. They DID find a correlation. She did not scoff. Nor did she sniff. She was interested and I took her a copy.

Also, she extended my prescription to a 3-month interval so I don’t have to figure out how to pay for it when my SS check doesn’t hit quite conveniently in the month and she called the pharmacy to ask them to mail it to me so I didn’t have to drive over there (sixty miles round trip). Somehow my share of the cost was only $1.33. For a one-month supply in the past, it has cost $8 or so. Why? They say, “We don’t know. Don’t ask.” There’s some mysterious Medicare database the cash register contacts automatically. They must go by that and it does not explain.

One of the founders of, my favorite blog, is Friedrich von Blowhard. He doesn’t post very often anymore, but when he does, it’s well worth reading. His most recent post was about what he calls the “New Class,” a group of well-educated people who live well, not because they inherited money or own land, not because they are CEO’s, but often because they were successful entrepreneurs -- if success is defined as having a bright idea and getting lots of money to develop it, whether or not it turns out to work. One of their bright ideas has been a complex of laws that protects them from financial harm. I’m trying to think about this carefully. I’m not IN that class. They are not malevolent. But they use government for the protection of themselves and people like themselves, with no care for the rest of the world. It sounds like fascism to me. And I say the Hell with it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


This morning I read and forwarded to two cousins a review of some Parisian couture designers, mostly a compare/contrast between Dior and Balenciaga. (The original review was in the Atlantic Monthly but came to me through the Powell's Bookstore review-a-day email.) No one would think to look at me that I even knew these men existed. This time of year I dress like an Eskimo in fleece and thermal versions of baggy pants and parkas -- with plenty of underlayers. But I was deeply influenced by the renaissance of fashion after WWII, so closely linked to economics, politics, and the nature of gender.

This was reinforced by family visits to Maryhill Museum on the Columbia River east of Portland. There I stood for hours regarding the dolls dressed by Parisian couturiers during the war when there wasn’t enough material to make full-sized clothing. Another reinforcement was classes for costuming which actually I did for one summer season. My taste for the exotic has led to some strange get-ups over the years, which I wore out into public with no sense of incongruity until others expressed incredulity. I recall a wine-colored two-piece velvet outfit, lined with pink satin and slit up the side, which I wore to a party that was much less formal than I expected. “Why are you wearing bordello curtains?” asked a man in jeans.

I have a photo my father took of my cousin Diane and I innocently primping in bras (which we barely needed) and crinolines about 1953. (I can’t print it on this blog because is likely to be interpreted as porn and downloaded by the wrong people. This is not a development any of us would have predicted.) In the years unfolding then, we women endured latex girdles, underwired bras, nylons that required garter belts and constant seam-straightening, and an instrument of torture called the “torsolette” which was just a sort of corset except that it hooked up the front instead of lacing up the back. (These instruments of torture have about the same status in female porn as spanking does in former-schoolboy Anglo-porn.)

Perhaps as a reaction, a bolt to freedom or maybe a flight to fusion, it was deeply satisfying to me in the Bob Scriver years to wear his clothes, which made him crazy though he didn’t stop me. (Strange that he used so much latex in mold-making that his clothes smelled like a Playtex girdle.) Later, living in Portland, I fell in love with high-end young men’s clothes at Mario’s and haunted their windows gawking at cashmere tweed and suede ensembles in subtle colors with fabulous detailing. The trouble was that a woman shaped like me simply cannot wear such clothes -- they make me look like an expensive sofa.

So now that I’m going to be reading from this bio of Bob at small public events around the high prairie, what should I wear? “Oh, whatever makes you comfortable,” say the managers. That means jeans and a work shirt, though I do have some nice shirts and a few velour pull-on pants. I like to wear vests, when I remember. But what about a hat? There’s always a light pointed straight down from overhead which makes my skull shine through the thin hair. A skull cap? A beanie? A beret? A cowboy hat?

When I’ve dressed up in the past, I’ve always gone with a sort of Chanel-type suit. This is because my waist is thick. But my legs are good, so a skirt -- if I’m not behind a lecturn -- is an advantage. I don’t wear high heels anymore, so maybe a skirt with flats is not so great. In summer I wear sandals, not fancy little ones but big Colette-in-later-life practical ones. Sort of like Gertrude Stein. I’m shaped less like her as my diet continued to reform me. Some day I might be able to afford cowboy boots. Plain to suggest work? Or fancy to show a playful side?

At seminary I was living on as low an income as possible, which meant that when the clothes of my previous life wore out, I made a couple pairs of what might pass for jeans (they were denim) and bought some nice thick flannel shirts at a discount store. This worried my supervisors at Meadville, who were greatly attached to the idea that ministry=professional=dressing nicely. But they were “liberals” who didn’t want to betray any prejudice against underclass (or underdressed) groups (and what about the gender-implications -- can’t criticize lesbians) and besides they were a bit afraid of me. I was the same age they were and had been an officer of the law for five years. When I showed up at the big denominational “Fellowship Committee” presentation that would determine my fate, they were visibly relieved that I was wearing a nice tweed suit with a skirt, new knee-high boots not made for walkiing, and a silk blouse. I think I might have worn that outfit twice afterwards. One preaches in a robe and no one really knows what’s under it.

My robe was another story. “Real” ministry robes are basically academic doctoral robes. I occasionally wore my supervising minister’s elegant silk robe, which he had inherited from his deceased predecessor. It was rotting, but even so the clever reinforcements, paddings, hooks and gussets made it look and move like high class. When I made my own robe, it was fashionable to be different, so it’s a bit like a choir robe: nine yards of sky blue taffeta with a collar band and shoulder caps on the full sleeves that end in cuffs. When I stand over a floor furnace, it demonstrates why I call it my “Big Blue Balloon.”

The point of comparing Dior with Balenciaga was that though the House of Dior (which continued with St. Laurent) was a fun-loving and rather famous House, featuring the New Look (which was in fact a return to an old look: tiny waists and ballooning skirts), it was a House run by gays who imposed their ideas on their clients. But Balenciaga, who was quite ascetic and withdrawing in personal style, did in fact design for women. Dior did a lot of sketches; Balenciago designed by draping clothing on a model. Dior reinforced, incorporated foundations, used only compliant young women as models.

Balenciaga designed for three generations of women. His key model and muse was a grumpy woman named “Colette” whom Ernestine Carter, fashion editor of The Times of London described thus: “her Dracula walk, her big head low like a bull ready to charge, her shoulders hunched down... and a look of almost violent hatred on her face.” This is model I can relate to, except what the heck is a Dracula walk? Tipsy on blood? Or tiptoeing to keep from waking the next victim?

Monday, January 21, 2008


“Lack of Supervision Noted in Deaths of Home-Schooled
Published: January 12, 2008

Ten states and the District of Columbia, where Banita M. Jacks was charged on Thursday with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her four daughters, have no regulations regarding home schooling, not even the requirement that families notify the authorities that they are educating their children at home.

The lack of supervision of the home-schooling process, some experts say, may have made it easier last year for Ms. Jacks to withdraw her children from school and the prying eyes of teachers, social workers and other professionals who otherwise might have detected signs of abuse and neglect of the girls.

Instead, the children, ages 5 to 17, slipped through the cracks in multiple systems, including social services, education and law enforcement. Their decomposed bodies were discovered earlier this week by United States marshals serving eviction papers on the troubled family.”

This story got me musing about whether this nation is becoming “feral” in the way domesticated animals that escape from human households are “feral,” meaning that they have gone wild, meaning that they have escaped human supervision and the uses of the culture which they were meant to serve. This particular case was pretty clearly due to mental illness on the part of the mother which would have been addressed if she hadn’t managed to slip out of the main civilizing influence in our culture -- now that the church is pushed away -- leaving the public school in that role.

Subcultures -- including church-based ones -- have managed to change the laws in most states so that they not only can keep their children at home but are not required to meet any standards, whether it’s making sure the kids can read and figure or acquainting them with the shared history of the nation. The justification for this is both that the mainstream culture is far too rank and violent for children, and that the mainstream culture keeps butting in. Shadowing and justifying these positions is the idea that people “own” their children. They “make” them so they have the right to “use” them. Of course, this is dressed in much nicer rhetoric about parental rights.

But it is certainly an echo of our understanding of domestic animals: I “own” them, they are for my own “uses” and therefore only my own “business.” Everyone else can butt out. And if an animal normally kept as domestic (pigs, goats, cats, dogs, horses) manages to escape ownership, then it is feral. It has NO use, it is unowned and therefore can be grabbed by anyone -- animals cannot belong to themselves. If they have no use, they are taking up valuable resources and should be eliminated.

We used to think of Indians that way -- no nation (ownership), no uses, no self-determination, therefore expendable. Luckily, Indians paid no attention to that. Because “feral” people or animals are not any of those things, their lives are simply patterned in some other way than the dominant culture, maybe good and maybe bad. Illegal immigrants, alcoholics, religious dissidents, non-English speakers, hogs gone wild, and urban dog packs all devise or evolve their own culture -- they’re still organized, just not to the purposes or liking of the authorities.

Feral cat populations, for instance, turn out to have their territories and pecking orders all marked out. If they are removed, sterilized, and returned, they go on with this quite regularized little mini-society. They don’t allow strange cats to move in and they may kill extra kittens. They remain an ecology. But on islands where cats are brought de nouveau, in order to control mice, they become exterminators of birds. And, WAIT! We WANTED those birds!!

Usually a community has a number of “cultures” in layers and interlocking puzzle pieces. Some, known and tolerated, do the dirty work -- like “wetbacks” hoeing row crops in California, or the criminal work like supplying illegal drugs. The criminal element relieves pressure from needs not met in polite society. I’ve often suggested that the “gang” culture on the reservation, which enforces its will with violence -- even death -- could be eliminated in a week if there were money for proper law enforcement. But it suits some people’s uses to keep the reservation a dangerous, disreputable place. (People selling alcohol and drugs, for instance, or simply hiding behind the confusion.) Almost every family has a feral hostage to the existing system.

In a strange way, the college-educated person who leaves either small white ag town or reservation resort town also is “feral” when he or she returns -- no longer obedient to the rules of the community and therefore a source of anxiety if not fear. They are regularly squeezed out of local ecologies. A gay or lesbian must come home to secrecy. During WWII it was the German-heritage people who had to hide their origins -- except for the Jews, who had to hide in Germany. Whether or not such things are despicable and unjust, they represent the loss of a lot of ideas and energy.

I’m a Sunday devotee of the short stories read aloud on “Selected Shorts” which this week included the title story of the book called,
“St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves: Stories” by Karen Russell. (Review at: It’s a fabulist version of the experience of having to give up one culture (it’s fabulist because the girls are portrayed as real wolves) and learn another, which is something we all have to go through even if it’s only moving from a child’s culture to that of an adult. “Missionizing,” converting, sophisticating, educating -- this story is a brilliant illustration of the grief and inevitability. It’s a bookend for that fabulist and beloved story about cheerleaders out West gone feral, living joyfully in the wild where their cheers can be heard faintly in the distance.

It strikes me that it’s this painful and often clumsily done change that causes so many people to have sympathy for a family culture like home-schooling. Or maybe it’s that our culture is doing such a poor job of using education to enable and lift people. Ironically, the example of what education COULD be often comes from youngsters home-schooled by properly prepared and energetic parents. Around here it is often the home-schooled child who comes out at the top of the national exams and the mainstream classroom domesticated kids who are left behind.

So are we becoming a feral nation? The mainstream countries of the globe seem to think so.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Lately the spam I get relating to a generative organ I don’t have has been almost equaled by the spam about wristwatches which have evidently become great markers of wealth and prowess, to say nothing of incorporating a GPS so you know where you are. I don’t even recognize most of the brands they tout, as follows:
The time is NOW to get YOUR replica watches that are famous around the world. These affordable imitations make you look rich at a fraction of the cost. Choose from any of the following replica watches: AUDEMARS PIGUET, EBERHARD and CO, BAUME and MERCIER, BREITLING, BVLGARI, CARTIER, CHOPARD, FRANK MULLER, IWC, PANERAI, PATEK PHILIPPE, TAG HEUER, TECHNOMARINE AND VACHERON.”

The closest thing I have to a reference point is a little scene in “The Painted Lady” wherein Helen Mirren proposes to pretend to be a countessa. She buys a lot of designer clothing and adds an erzatz wristwatch from the street, cleverly labeled “Fartier.” But she doesn’t wear it because her sister lends her an authentic invaluable wristwatch -- a plot point indicating that though the sisters -- only HALF-sisters, after all -- quarrel quite a bit, they actually love each other very much.

In my birth family on my father’s side, major milestones were celebrated with a fountain pen, new spectacles or a wristwatch. Therefore, when I graduated from the eighth grade, I was given a wristwatch. Perversely, I hated the thing because it had a practical round face and I thought it should be delicate. I wept, trapped between the proper gratitude and hating it. I can’t remember what finally happened. I think I was told off.


In this photo what is rather notable is the way I display the watch -- not holding out my dainty wrist but bending my arm as though showing elbow scabs. The picture always makes me think of the bit when Tom Sawyer is pretending to be a girl until a woman he is visiting tosses a ball of yarn into his lap and he claps his knees together to catch it, because he’s used to pants. The woman sees at once that if he had been a girl used to skirts, he would have spread his legs apart so his skirt would make a lap to catch the yarn. So was I defiantly “being a boy?” I don’t remember.

In defense of my mother, here I am in my 8th grade graduation dress, which we made ourselves. It was pale green organdy and for my mother it evoked her own 8th grade graduation when she had a dress the same color. Her mother had sent her out to get the cows on the day before the ceremony, the cows had wandered a long way, and my mother was painfully sunburned in a different pattern than the dress. My grandmother was mortified. In those days a nice lady didn’t let herself get sunburned. I don't think she was given any 8th grade graduation gift.

When my mother’s father died and left her a bit of money and his car, she told each of us she would buy us something to remember him by. I don’t know what my brothers asked for, but I picked out the most elegant of bracelet wristwatches from Jerome Margulies, a fancy Portland jeweler. It had a tiny square face, nearly impossible to read. Worse, the design of the plates of gold, linked, was such that it constantly unbuckled itself and fell on the ground. If I were lucky, I heard it fall and found it right away. Finally, I moved it to a jewelry box -- to impractical to wear, too sentimental to discard.

When Bob divorced me, I used part of my $1,000 alimony to buy him a fancy wristwatch with engraving on the back. (The last of my co-dependence. Well, maybe not.) Lorraine, the fourth wife, bought him an even fancier wristwatch with sappier engraving, which he flaunted in front of me when we secretly met. I laughed. He never wore any wristwatch anyway.

By the time I went into ministry, everyone had switched to digital wristwatches. I had a dandy little digital clock that velcro-stuck to the pickiup dashboard, but it ran on a battery and when the weather got cold enough, the battery no longer generated any electricity. I always forgot to bring it into the house with me between trips.

But my wristwatch then was big, round, and analog, though it also ran on a battery. It had a leather strap and was actually a man’s wristwatch, which I wanted so I could see it when I was preaching or counseling without having to hold it up to my eye. People don’t mind if you keep track of the time while you preach, but they aren’t always pleased if you check the hour while they’re telling you the most significant moment of their life.

When I retired, I also retired my wristwatch. I only wear it to meet someone or get to a scheduled event and I had to put a reminder note on my back door to remember even do that.

But I still watch the time and have a collection of little bookshelf clocks. My bathroom one died and I felt badly -- it was a frosted aquamarine circle, very Art Deco. My next favorite is the little wooden one on the bookshelf behind this computer. I use them to keep track of radio shows, to time spoken pieces, to sort of keep a bit of schedule -- though the cats suffice for that.

Except that I need a re-set button on Squibbie. I had a nightmare that woke me at 2AM a couple of nights ago and now Squib wants to get up at 2AM, EVERY night. She’s a very nighttime cat. Crackers is a daytime cat: she wants to take a nap on the electric mattress pad at 3PM every afternoon. Usually that’s exactly what I want, too, so we nap together.

A person can find tons of philosophical speculating about time-keeping and village bells that keep the liturgical hours and all that sort of thing. I’ve read quite a bit of that stuff, which keeps the next door Baptist church bells interesting -- even knowing that they’re computerized recordings. I try to keep track of the moon cycles as well, and of course the big calendrical cycles. We’re not quite to the halfway point of the first quarter (AKA Ground Hog's Day) -- time to order seeds to start indoors, according to today’s paper. I haven’t done that before. Maybe this will be the year I try it. Maybe I’ll grow some “Four o’Clocks.”

Friday, January 18, 2008


Until the talk of recession started, some people said Choteau would be the next Aspen or Sun Valley. After all, if David Letterman lived there (though the attraction for him was that it was quiet), could a wave of celebrities be far behind? The crown jewel of Nature Conservancy, the Pine Butte Swamp, was there, not far from a bit of important Metis history and what was once a colony of fine writers, including A.B. Guthrie Jr. whose Two Moon Ranch was nearby. Choteau is close to the prime dino fossil country where Horner located dino nests on Egg Mountain and revolutionized our understanding of the creatures. It has one of the best small town libraries in the state and an excellent top-of-the-line bookstore, Oasis, featuring first edition and Western hardbacks. The small shops are exemplary, partly because there are non-celebrity but well-heeled people who have built McMansions here and there. You can buy espresso and quiche in a clever little cafe or walk down the street a bit to get a proper cowboy breakfast. There’s a proper modern motel with a swimming pool.

When I first knew the town, the wide streets were lined with huge century-old cottonwoods. Just down the way is one of the main stop-offs for migratory waterfowl, notably African-dimension waves of snow geese. In roughly the same location is a butte along the highway topped with three crosses which some people claim mark the graves of three martyred priests -- though elders recall that it was a local minister who inspired his youth group to put the crosses there as an Easter commemoration. In any case, a movie about the crosses is about to be released. Other movies have been made in the area.

Just outside of town is an historical marker for the early Blackfeet agency: a field is all that is left, including the depressions of graves necessary because of smallpox and some huge boulders put there by the Zion brothers to set the boundaries of the site. The Zion brothers are more fabulous than any movie: tall, smart, resourceful men just like their daddy and now almost as old as those cottonwoods. The Choteau Acantha was once the newspaper in Valier. It is edited by Melody Martinsen, one of the most progressive and insightful people in the state.

But none of this caused Choteau to hit the New York Times. Steve Running is a professor of ecology and a global climate scientist at the University of Montana, not some carpet-bagging outsider, but east-siders do consider Missoula a source of dangerously liberal thought. A Nobel laureate, Running had been invited to speak in Choteau twice, once in the evening to a crowd in the school gymnasium and then the next day to the high school student body. He was sponsored by the Sonoran Institute, an environmental group concerned about global warming. In a classic “kill-the-messenger” scenario, community members called the school board, which forced the superintendent (a new guy in town) to cancel the speech to the students. None of the school board members would take questions from the national media, referring them all to poor Kevin St. John, the superintendent.

The only voice to step up to the issue was that of a student. Luckily, he was up to the challenge. Senior Kip Barhaugh, wrote a short piece for the Great Falls Tribune's opinion page. He said, “Our school leaders seem to be under the impression that high school students are not able to hear about what some deem ‘controversial issues' and form individual judgments.” Barhaugh wrote, “This raises the question of what public high school education is. Is it the spoon-feeding of information to America's next generation or is it presenting this generation with all the facts and allowing students to decide how those facts are interpreted?” His last sentence was the payoff: “To the Choteau school board and some of the Choteau community, I hope you realize that our school is probably one of the few districts in the nation to deny a Nobel Peace Prize winner the right to speak to its students.” I hope Letterman has this kid on his show. He doesn’t need a paid writer.

If I’d had more money, I’d have bought a house in Choteau but there are many doctors and lawyers who like to retire to such a pleasant historical place, so property prices are high. There is an excellent nursing home where I used to visit Olga Monkman, a part of the the Unitarian diasphora. Olga’s husband was a big part of the development of Choteau and she had been a diligent accumulator of history. Her father was one of those classic “prairie humanists” so despised by today’s religiously anal, so when it came time to bury him, the presider was A.B. Guthrie’s school superintendent father. But in Olga’s last years, the local Methodist minister kindly supported her without a lot of doctrinal requirements. This is not a town that has a dominant right-wing conspiracy population. So what’s going on?

People are very frightened. Running suggests they are in the second stage of realizing what global warming means and are “self-medicating” with adrenaline, produced by rage. There are people capitalizing on all this by pointing out whom to attack. The AM radio talk shows, newspaper comic strips, pundits of various sorts, are creating instant notoriety by crying, “There! That’s the one who’s telling us all these lies! You’ll have to give up your new two-ton pickup! We’ll have five dollar gas! Your ranches are doomed! KILL THE MESSENGER!!”

Indeed, the future looks pretty tough -- not next decade but by the end of the century the terms of life on the high eastslope prairie will be quite different no matter what we do. There will be losers.

In Valier, less than an hour's drive away, the Sonora Institute has not offered any speakers. In this little village the focus has been on a new zoning law, which on examination and discussion turns out to have been drawn up by people settling old scores, trying to eliminate poverty by getting rid of poor people, and increasing real estate profits. The general feeling is that we’re facing some very hard times indeed, and this might be the last chance for some people to wring out a bit of advantage.

A decade of my life was devoted to church ministry, but the Unitarian tradition makes plenty of allowance for community ministry, the encouragement of truth and justice for everyone regardless of piety. I’m not keeping silent now. It’s possible that the village will redraw their zoning to punish me somehow. (A Valier person suggested they might outlaw big fat cats!) On the other hand, it’s possible that we’ll be like Kip and bravely hear what Nobel Peace Prize Laureates have to say, then work together to pull us all through. Then I can get back to writing books and herding cats. As for Choteau, go for it, Kip!!

Thursday, January 17, 2008


Last thing at night now I Google “Bronze Inside and Out” to see what I get. For a while the number of hits kept going up and up until they were about 1200 or more, but now they’ve sunk back down below a thousand, maybe 800 or more. I have no idea why this happens. I’m cheered to see that the Calgary Public Library has ordered two copies, one for the history shelves and one for the biographies. But there’s no notice that they’ve arrived yet.

I do know that one of the Calgary newspapers has received a review copy and staff are discussing among themselves who is competent to review it. Now that’s a new thought. They want someone sensitive and insightful, but actually my premise in writing it was to create a book that would be funny and a little wicked! I mean, there are patches of discussion of the history of art or immigration patterns from Europe to Indian reservations in Montana, but they’re clearly labeled so a person can skip them. On the whole there is a lot of romance and ingenuity among a bunch of people who don’t always know what they’re doing. I mean, I think it sometimes kills art to be too respectful.

I’m dividing my desk time among my new niece (lots of family info and photos flying back and forth), a big zoning war brewing in the town of Valier, and the follow-up on this book. Letters to old friends to let them know it’s coming. I made a set of postcards to send to people around the state who ought to be notified -- I put the cover of the book on them. I’m posting emails to the people who have inquired over the past decade and trying to keep an accurate list of all these people.

In between I’m using my sharp stick on the shippers and the distributors of books. On January 2 the books were delivered from the printer. On January 15 the American copies were packed and waiting on the loading dock. About the same time I received my five complimentary copies. (What a compliment.) Michigan State University is the distributor on the American side, which confuses all the people who think Canadian publishers can just merrily distribute books on the US side without thinking of customs and all the people who think Canada is just another state, so why would a person need a second press to be a distributor? Can’t they just pop them in one of those padded envelopes and throw them in the USA mail? Michigan tells me it takes about about three weeks for the shipper to get the books to them. Then they ship to the American bookstores from there.

Amazon was saying that the books would be sent in March, so the U of Calgary Press said, “Oh, no! They’ll be out much sooner!” So Amazon changed the delivery date to Feb. 28 which shows they still haven’t realized this is a leap year but they know to be sceptical of shipping dates. They are still showing the discarded cover for the book, though the new proper cover image has been sent to them. (Or so the U of Calg Press claims.) Whoever was typing in my name got distracted somehow so I’m listed as Mary Stracha. My new nom de plume. Maybe I’ll be unmasked by the usual energetic and misguided NYTimes reporter -- if they aren’t all busy working to whip up a good fight among the Presidential candidates.

But I enjoy seeing the Google entries that are in foreign languages. I can’t tell whether there are errors or not.

I have a champion here in Montana who wanted to help me use my author’s discount to buy more books so I could sell them at readings and signings. I’m not allowed to do it in a town with a bookstore, but that’s not much of a constraint in Montana. I told him he was not to get involved until he’d read the book, so I sent him a copy several days ago. No word yet. 400 pages of fine print. I don’t know whether he’s a fast reader. It’s not his main line of work.

The book is priced at $45 which was assigned when Loonies were still at 80% or so. Now that they are at par, there is consternation all over the Canadian publishing sphere because suddenly Canadian books are extremely expensive. Amazon, however, is selling my book at $30, a nice discount -- almost as good as my own as author. When I asked, the U of Calgary Press told me, “Amazon does whatever it wants to do.” Googling reveals other discounts. I don’t know what’s happening in England or Australia, much less Japan -- but the book may be of interest to them.

So far I’m speaking at the Glenbow Museum on February 12 and will send them the DVD of Bob talking about his work in case the weather goes rotten and I end up in the ditch. The honorarium is not enough to pay for the gas ($4 in Canada -- at par) but friends will house me for the night. Anyway, the Glenbow is a beloved institution in the Scriver career and I'm very pleased to be there first.

Then I speak again at the Valier Library on February 16 and they say they will put up posters through the area. I had originally put out feelers in Browning but was met with no enthusiasm. However, I tipped off the man who’s been selling my homemade books about Bob for the last few years so that he’ll get copies for this summer without having to wait for a second printing. We all feel pretty confident there WILL be a second printing. They only ordered a thousand copies.

I sold 350 copies of my homemade 70-page trial balloon bio of Bob. As it turns out this has confused some people, who think this big formal book is the same. Also, people keep wanting to buy “Bronze Inside and Out” from me because I sold the homemade ones personally and they think my writing is just a hobby. At the other extreme, “Twelve Blackfeet Stories,” a Print On Demand book that I wrote and produced but that is printed in Britain and mailed to the customer, is not being linked to “Bronze Inside and Out” by the book suppliers who should be able to tell by the ISBN and other info that it’s the same author. Montana, the Magazine of Western History is supposed to review “Twelve Blackfeet Stories” in this issue. That might help.

At the moment publishing is so confused that not even the publishers really understand what’s happening -- maybe them especially. I commented to Whiskey Prajer, who self publishes through the same as me, “Most people get their information about publishing from the same source that they get their information about Christianity: the movies! It's a plot device. The result is that they only know about a much-desired letter that arrives with an epiphany, life is changed from then on, and all is well.”

But it’s more like marriage: a beginning. And in my case, one of the drawbacks is that Bob isn’t here to know about it, so I’ve been making phone calls to his grandkids. Next best thing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Recently on one of the high-toned animal listservs, a book was reviewed that said that if humans would eat “weed” and nuisance entities that are overabundant, it would be a good thing. A lady with delicate sensibilities immediately responded, “If any species is "overpopulated," it's the human species. To view blackberries, dandelions, pigeons and possum, deer, elk and/or porcupine as "daily annoyances" is to have a very sad outlook indeed, in my opinion. Unless one was starving, I can't imagine any good reason why it would be important to cook or eat the animals mentioned.”

So I thought that if someone out there had a sad enough outlook, probably brought on by the state of the economy, I would help them out. (Some people here ARE starving.) One can often collect a porky or two while driving on Montana highways. Here’s what to do with them. (Recipes from the home ec column of the local ag rag.)


Leave porcupine whole. (After skinning and evisceration!). Chill meat to remove all fat. Parboil in simmering water to cover for 15 minutes with 1 teaspoon of baking soda.

Drain. Make your favorite stuffing. Stuff the porcupine and place on roasting pan. Cover with lid or foil. Bake at 325 degrees F. until meat is done, one to five hours, depending on the size of the porcupine.


1 porcupine, cut into serving pieces
Salt and ground pepper
3 tablespoons shortening
Dijon mustard
3 slices thick-sliced bacon
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup carrots, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons parsley
1 teaspoon Kitchen Bouquet sauce
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sweet cream.

Soak the porcupine pieces in salted water overnight. Rinse and dry. Mix flour, salt and pepper in a paper bag. Add pieces of meat and shake to coat. Saute pieces in fat until browned. Remove pieces of meat and spread with the mustard. Place bacon strips in a shallow baking dish. Add meat. Saute onion, carrots and mushrooms. Add parsley, Kitchen Bouquet, more salt and pepper to taste, and also both creams. Stir thoroughly. Pour over meat. Bake 45 to 55 minutes.

In Montana it’s illegal to eat roadkill, partly because of public health issues, but also because sometimes poachers claim their victims were “roadkill.” Generally, poachers don’t “accidentally” kill porkies much, but those deer and elk do jump out in front of us. So if you prefer the version of porcupine below, you could grind up those ungulates and use the same recipe. The operative ethic would be “recycling” which is the whole principle of meat/meat-eaters anyway.

If you do have an actual dead porcupine in the back of your pickup and the highway patrol challenges you about it, claim that you’re an American Indian and you do quill work, so you only wanted the quills. Or I suppose you could just claim that you beat it to death with a shovel -- I don’t think porkies are protected animals. They are certainly not endangered -- at least not by anything short of a fisher or bobcat who has learned to flip them over on their back and go at their soft stomachs. Anyway, most highway patrol officers will not suspect that you intend to eat your porky.

If you don’t HAVE a porcupine, here’s an alternative.


1 - 1/2 pounds ground beef
1/2 cup regular rice
2/3 cup milk
1 medium onion, chopped
1 - 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
One 10-1/2 oz can tomato soup
3/4 water

Combine ground beef, rice, milk, onion, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix well. Drop by rounded Tablespoon into a 13x9x2” baking pan. Combine tomato soup and water in a bowl. Mix well. Pour over meatballs. Cover baking pan with foil. Bake at 350 degrees F one hour. 6-8 servings.

I apologize for not having a recipe for vegetarian “porcupine balls” but no doubt a resourceful person could invent one. When it comes to blackberries, a person can just go for it -- they don’t need cooking -- but if they are the himalayas that overwhelm buildings in the West, you’d better be armored. As for dandelions, they say the roots, if roasted and ground, make a passable coffee substitute. My cousin one year tried making dandelion wine and it was eventually a big success, though it took a long time. But never eat plants close to highways, since they are contaminated with lead from gas fumes. And be wary about dandelions since so many people pour herbicides on them.

If you insist that the main species overpopulating the planet is the humans and that the solution is eating them, then you might want to follow the recent case of the fellow who called the cops to tell them that at that moment he was eating his girl friend. When they got there, his fork was stuck in part of her, which was prepared on a plate. The newspaper didn’t provide a recipe. I guess he found her a nuisance.

It’s odd how our ethics thread in and out of such issues. We are horrified and entertained in equal amounts. Jokers named the cafeteria at a Colorado university for the survivors of the Donner Party, who ate each other to survive. Then there is the sexual aspect -- not many jokes about porkies, but beavers?

Boria would like us to go to the sensory and anecdotal level. Okay. On my desk in my pencil cup is an eight-inch quill, black and white. It’s off an African porcupine at the Lincoln Park Zoo. I was spending an afternoon sketching the animals in the small mammal house and the keeper gave it to me. I sometimes take it out and hold it for a while. That porky was big enough to feed a lot of people for quite a while. But the quills were far too long and stiff to do quillwork.

Incidentally, one of the most gorgeous early-days Indian dresses I ever was was white-tanned doeskin (they rubbed it with white clay) embroidered with naturally black-and-white American porcupine quills, carefully worked into the traditional bands across the top from wrist to wrist. I would take the position that human beings are meant to participate in the world in many ways.