Sunday, March 30, 2008


More Trickster, actually.

I was getting more and more fed up with Gary Cook’s split personality -- wanting to know things and then arguing with what I told him, being “Christian” and then denying that he was, complaining that I wasn’t describing the book he wrote. Finally I told him off. Then the light dawned for him. It seems that there are MANY Gary Cooks and SEVERAL of them write! “Wounded Moon” is by one of those other trickster dudes, somewhere back East. No wonder it was so different and no wonder that the earlier book by Gary Cook, “Graveyard Rules,” seemed more mature, even though it was earlier Gary J. Cook wrote the latter but not the former.

So. Another try. Anyway, why is this former Marine, former narc, expert on Asia, etc. asking me about Blackfeet? Unsolved. He’s part Cree or more Metis -- Blackfeet would say that explains a lot. (They consider the whole lot of them to be tricksters.) Gary’s got a character in the book he’s working on who’s supposed to be coming to terms with his Blackfeet heritage. (Being Canadian French Cree, Cook says “Blackfoot.”) He doesn’t seem to have read any of the Montana Blackfeet books, not even “Fool’s Crow” though he claims to be a friend of Jim Welch. No James Willard Schultz, no John Ewers, no McClintock, no Wissler. He just knows pop culture and anthro factoid stuff. At least that’s all he admits.

Why should an old lady with no Blackfeet genes -- and her own books to write -- help out Gary J. Cook? Why not refer him to Dave Powell, who consults on Blackfeet for the movie industry? (Of course, Dave has a fee schedule.) Or Darrell Norman, who also makes his living this way. Why have pity on this guy, to put it in Blackfeet terms? What if HE’s a trickster? (He should worry about whether I am!) I suppose it’s ego for me to help him. But why not? Part of the reason to help is that “Graveyard Rules” is a pretty good book. And part is that there's a certain satisfaction in being asked by one of those arrogant Missoula authors.

So what do I know about old-time warriors? My best story is still the one Jim Welch the Senior (father of the author) told me about when he was a little kid, about six or eight, and the Old-Time men would sit in front of Sherburne’s on a bench. In those days the sidewalks were boardwalks and the drop-off to the street made a kind of curb high enough to hide a kid, so Jim would lie alongside to eavesdrop on the old timers. They didn’t think he could understand “Indian” so they told about skirmishes from their youth. (There was worry about white vengeance, even in 1920 or so.) They’d say (Jim demonstrating how they pointed), “You were there, and you were there...” and they’d name others who were already dead. Then they’d review what had happened and why. Sometimes they made fun of each other. They laughed and laughed. Jim was Bob Scriver’s childhood buddy, the same age, born in 1914. If the Old Men were eighty in 1920, they would have been born in the 1850’s. (CM Russell was born in 1864. The last of the buffalo were 1879.) When I came in 1961, the very last Old Ones were slipping away, most notably Chewing Black Bone who was James Willard Schultz buddy, Ahku Pitsu, and who posed for Bob’s sculpture called “Transition.”

Jim said that these old guys wore “citizen’s clothes,” which means second-hand or government-issue whiteman suits, but in winter they would put on their capotes, made from Hudson’s Bay blankets, and would walk proudly up the sidewalks abreast while everyone stood back to admire them. They still had braids. These are the people in the Winold Reiss portraits.

Warriors in the old days weren’t like lone horsemen in Westerns, like McMurtry’s Blue Duck. They went at least in pairs and usually in a small group. Older men sponsored and mentored young relatives, vouching for them to come along to be horse-holders and cooks. Some men were always successful and so could muster up a small party with no trouble. Others were screw-ups, bad luck magnets, and no one wanted to go with them. Sometimes a man would start out with the others, see an omen, have a dream, and turn back. No one criticized. Sometimes when things went fubar, the men would remember omens they should have obeyed and kick themselves for not understanding.

There was always careful planning -- well, most of the time -- about strategy and how to use the terrain for surprise and ambush and shortcuts. The thing about prairie warfare is that a person can see what’s coming a long way off and there is usually room to retreat if things blow up -- like maybe they have guns and you don’t. There are long periods of time sitting up high and watching, when nothing is happening, when the war stories and memories are good prompters, a good way to get pumped up to be brave.

In those days people lived in bands, sub-groups bigger than a family (though mostly related) and smaller than a tribe. Sort of like a neighborhood today, though lately bonds can’t be formed easily because the tribal housing assigns people according to different criteria than affinity, common interests, which used to hold people together. People in Montana note where other people are all the time: “I saw your car at...” Clear across the state. Identity is noted and registered everywhere. Until recently, Montana plates told what county you lived in. Now they are “affinity” plates, extra paid to show something. Identity depends upon affinity. A good novelist shows these.

A certain kind of reader looks for info about weapons and paraphenalia, testing knowledge of trivia against that of the author. It’s a game. But I’d rather have a reader who looks for identity and affinity, so that’s what I talk about when I talk about warriors -- and tricksters. Now Gary J. Cook and I are getting closer to a real exchange of information, but it’s probably harder between two writers than between two readers or a reader and a writer. Mostly a matter of attitude, whether we choose to be tricksters or warriors and when.

I was considering linking to Amazon the two Gary Cook books -- the ones I confused -- but Amazon has gone “trickster” by eliminating all self-published books, so I will go “warrior” and shun them. To repeat: “Wounded Moon” is by Gary Cook, about a Kodiak bear transplanted to the Appalachians where it is trying to kill an angelic little girl but is prevented by an heroic tracker. It has “magic” parts. The author is not from Montana or in Montana.

Graveyard Rules” by Gary J. Cook is on the list of “ten greatest Montana noir novels” whether or not it is noir. It IS about two Vietnam vets now cops in Missoula and warring on drug dealers. No magic. “Graveyard” is a pun, about working the shift in the middle of the night when you can evade a lot of supervision -- like narcs. Like writers.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN: reviewed by an old woman

Maybe there’s a certain amount of justice in an old woman reviewing a movie about old men in Texas, “No Country for Old Men.” I haven’t read the book -- this is just about the movie. I didn’t watch it twice -- usually I do that but I’d had enough of the “bag o’blood” theory of what humans are about. Not that it’s new or shocking (“Who would have thought the old man could have so much blood in him?”) but it’s kind of repetitious. I’m not that much a connoisseor of cinematography, which is one thing that much preoccupies the Coen brothers: the technology of blood spurts and all that.

Interesting that the stock bolt pistol was the main murder weapon -- I didn’t know they made a portable version of the stockyard machine. Might be pretty useful for animal control officers who must kill badly wounded cattle and horses “on the scene” with people in cars all around so that a gun isn’t practical. One reviewer on remarked that maybe Javier couldn’t locate a chain saw -- but that doesn’t seem surprising in West Texas where there are few trees to saw. Anyway, I got the impression that the Javier character didn’t much like mess. Notice how he turned his head away from the strangled deputy and pulled the shower curtain before spattering the occupant all over? He likes simple, neat, and done.

This movie is structured like a symphony: a theme and line of development is set up and then the actual scenes play with and against that, so we develop expectations, are surprised, then built up towards a climax, which is resolved and then begins a new sequence. One needs to enjoy it as the Coens must have: two levels at once, maybe three. The plot line, then the games with other movies and genre in general or with what MIGHT happen, and finally the skill with which it is done as an art form. It’s a very head-trippy sort of experience, in spite of the potentially emotional subject matter. it’s like dispassionately looking at a Caravaggio painting of some mythical or historical horrific incident like cutting off someone’s head. Nothing you couldn’t find on YouTube, which is why the skill is important. How else are these scenes different from someone’s home video filmed in Iraq?

The story is schematic: Tommy Lee Jones is the salty old seen-everything sheriff on a horse. Bardem is the inscrutable alien embodiment of evil -- someone astutely mentioned the figure of Death in “The Seventh Seal.” He’s mystical in that his weapons are there, then not there, he tosses a coin instead of playing chess or offering a card. He has a chance to kill the sheriff and does not take it because this is an old old story that won’t end. And Brolin is the Everyman who couldn’t resist temptation but fights fate all the way. I got interested in Woody Harrelson, who can play very mean American assassins but who is no match for this weird hitman, partly because he show-boats and talks. The publicity was careful to drop the information that Harrelson’s father was an actual hitman who killed a judge in about this same time period.

The eighties were a strange decade. The country had just passed through both the Vietnam War and the reaction to it: the flower children and the love communes, the VW vans on the road and the drug-suggestive songs of the Seventies. “Give peace a chance” and all that. Now the hard drugs, waves of immigration, and serious international gangs (AKA corporations) were beginning, demonstrating just how naive and self-destructive the “Aquarians” were. Trying to get a grip on it, authorities only managed to burn out blocks of low-cost housing in Philadelphia and an entire compound in Texas. They couldn’t really figure out who the enemy was.

This sort of atmosphere -- which is FAR more intense now that we have another runaway war and a clearly incompetent federal administration, plus a threatened Depression -- is red meat for cool upper-class intellectuals who like to think they know all about “back of the moon” contexts like border slums and Texas deserts. They are not confused by realities and know the relevant myths. It was intriguing that in the accompanying mini-documentaries, everyone talked about what a joy it was to work on a set where everything was calm, professional, well-done, carefully planned and organized. (Like modern crime?) NO surprises, NO emotional outbursts, NO demands for the impossible. Just a repertory company drawn into a near-marriage between two brothers with the same world view. The subject matter may be Dionysian but the approach is absolutely Apollonian.

It would be interesting to see what the Coens could do with a contemporary war movie: my impression is that military at the top levels is now really far more “Apollonian” in terms of theory and technology: more high altitude bombers, more drones, more satellite info, more night vision goggles and heavy armor, and -- rather than living in tents, many are living in captured palaces with tennis courts and swimming pools. No mud. War is far more a matter of business contracts with corporations, right up the line to security forces (hitmen). Their investment has to be in making the war last as long as possible. In this war, which was supposed to secure our oil supply, organized international pirates are the only ones actually getting much oil. Of course, the ordinary soldier -- who this time was not drafted but rather haplessly joined the National Guard to get school money -- is still a bag o’blood. With luck, on the third tour.

No Country for Old Men,” the Texas/McCarthy/Coen version, provides a Shakespearean philosophical explanation after all the victims have been cleared away. Barry Corbin, always a symbol of law and order however misguided and here reduced to a near-ghost, provides the wise old prophet point of view to keep us all from agonizing over how bad “our” times are as compared to any others. And then, in a strange kidnapping of image from “Out of Africa,” Tommy Lee Jones dreams that his father has “gone on ahead to build a big campfire” where he’ll wait for his son. I had a weird mental picture of Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep as Isak Dinesen converging someplace at night on the prairie while Farrah stands watch. Who should play the father? Brando? Probably someone more ethnic. Anthony Quinn?

Friday, March 28, 2008

REX BRENEMAN 1918 - 2008

Today I received word from Iola Breneman that Rex, her beloved husband, has passed away after a long struggle with the consequences of strokes. For those who didn’t know Rex, I’ll say that I’m typing out the obituary here because he represents a “type” of Montanan created by the sequence of Depression and War and also that he was the kind of person who loved “cowboy art” for its own sake.

Rex Eugene Breneman, long-time resident of Coram, passed away on March 14, 2008, at the Brendan House in Kalispell.

Rex was born in Salina, Kansas, on August 21, 1918, to Arthur and Pearl (Richards) Breneman. The youngest of three children, he grew up in the Sand Hills of Nebraska and graduated from the eighth grade. During the Depression, he left home seeking work and opportunity. Rex laughed and claimed he had ridden 40,000 miles on freight trains before he was 21.

In April of 1941 Rex enlisted in the US Army. He first served in Quartermasters as a cook and baker. At the start of WWII he desired to join the US Army Air Corps and applied to enter as a cadet. Having only an eight grade education, Rex was told he could not pass the cadet school entry test. This challenged him to read the dictionary, encyclopedia, almanac, and other books. Rex succeeded in entering the cadet school. Upon graduation he was awarded the rank of first lieutenant, navigator and bombardier. He flew more than 70 missions in the South Pacific and Korea. During this time he was awarded 13 medals, some with oak leaf clusters, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He never elaborated on any of them.

In October of 1941 he married Rosemary Hanley and they had a daughter, Rexine Rose. This war-time marriage ended in divorce.

Following WWII, Rex settled in the Centennial Valley of Monida, MT., where he worked and trapped at the Sam and Lyz Breneman ranch. This was a special time for him.

During the construction of the Hungry Horse Dam, he moved to Coram and built a service station, “Breneman’s Union,” later called “Coram Truck Stop.” This work was interrupted when, as a reserve officer, Rex was called back to military service for the Korean conflict. After the Korean War, Rex came back to Coram to run his truck stop.

He met and courted Iola Soderstrom of Kalispell. Rex built a home near Coram for Iola and her daughter, Rhonda. Rex and Iola were married on Jan. 23, 1960, in Libby. They worked side-by-side at the Coram station -- catering to loggers, truckers and the local community. In 1968, they sold the business to the Union Oil distributors.

Rex became friends with two artists, Ace Powell and Bob Scriver, which led to his love for western art and western Americana. He enjoyed the challenges of swapping and trading art and land. He was known for his knowledge of art and history and his character of honesty, generosity, dependability and independence. He authored the book, “Ace Powell in Bronze.”

With his passing, Rex took with him a huge library of knowledge. Life for him was a continual education. From the challenge of self-education, enabling him to enter and complete the Army Air Corps Cadet school, Rex realized the rewards of reading. He did not read fiction but was an avid reader of nonfiction and particularly history until his death. He also loved to fly fish, picnic and bird hunt. Rex was always ready for a cribbage game and his skill was a challenge to all opponents.

Our lives are made up of bits and pieces of those around us. Rex was a unique person and many hold special memories of him. He never shied away from hard work and strong opinions. One thing for sure, you could always depend on him to be “Rex.”

Rex was preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Louis Breneman; his brother-in-law Art Johnson; his mother-in-law, Ruth Guinard, and his granddaughter, LeAnna Bunch.

Rex is survived by his beloved wife, partner and constant companion, Iola, of Coram; two daughters, Rexine Howell and husband Bill of Texas and Rhonda Bell and husband John of Oregon; sister Nedra Johnson and family in Nebraska; sister-in-law Pauline Breneman and family in Kansas; five grandchildren, Lawrence Howell, BeLinda Shirley; KaSandra Verett and husband Don of Texas; Jacob Bell and wife Jaime of Colorado; Clinton Bell and wife Christina of Washington; six great-grandchildren: Julia and Jessica Burich; Byron and Jacob Verett; and Zane and Henry Shirley of Texas. He is also survived by sister-in-law Edna Carter, husband Ron and niece Ruth Skaggs of Kalispell; nephew Don Tomfohr, wife Jan and their families in Oregon; and nephew Cory Baker.

There will be no services at this time. The family will gather this summer.

I’m here to say that Rex really was as he is described in the obit above. The Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel auctions everywhere are full of “Rex’s Bull” and “Iola’s gopher,” among the bronzes commissioned by them from Bob Scriver. They also bought many of the big rodeo pieces and bequeathed them to the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. & and will lead you to the Breneman’s nephew’s websites about the Brenemans and their collections.

I sent my biography of Bob Scriver (“Bronze Inside & Out”) to Rex and Iola just in time for him to read it before he died. He said I did a good job and one that needed to be done. From Rex that’s high praise. He was quite a guy.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


According to the blog called “” (subtitled “Montana Noir”) which is written by either Michael McCulloch, author of the novel called “Cold Lessons” or by Keir Graff, Booklist Online’s Senior Editor, the “Great Montana Crime Novels” are:
Black Cherry Blues, by James Lee Burke
Blood Trail, by Gary J. Cook
Deadman, by Jon A. Jackson
Death and the Good Life, by Richard Hugo
Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett
Stick Game, by Peter Bowen
The Last Good Kiss, by James Crumley
The Nature of Midnight, by Robert Rice
Winter Range, by Claire Davis

I don’t usually read “noir,” so the only ones I’ve read are “Winter Range,” “Death and the Good Life” and “The Last Good Kiss.” But this is a set of writers who aren’t in the usual Missoula rhapsodic Montana ranchlife sort of context. Burke and Crumley, the “Old Bulls,” are occasionally interviewed at the Montana Festival of the Book.

I’m thinking about this because Gary Cook just come over my horizon recently in the form of an inquiry about what a Blackfeet warrior might wear in 1800. He’d found me via Google, that strange trickster and introduction artist. By now, I’m at least a reader of his. This is an open (rather edited) letter to him that I just sent:

First, it's a grim chilly day and I'd planned to go to GF, but decided to put it off. Now I'm glad because I just found out that the GF Book Festival is on Saturday -- a well-kept secret (why are writers and book aficionadoes so secretive?). Then they wonder why no one but the already initiated ever comes. The heroes (and they ARE that in GF minds) will be Jamie Ford, Aaron Parrett and Pete Fromm who will read Friday night.

On Saturday will be jr. hi kids -- I heard them last year and they were pretty good -- and a panel including Jamie Ford, Liz Larcom and Carleen Milburn. They're going to tell how to make a living from writing. I thought that might be pretty useful!

Then Carleen Milburn, Elsie Pankowski, Beatrix Jenness, Gerianne Poulsen and Carl Jensen, who are " a well-established GF group" it says, it will read. Then Anne Bauer (Helena) and Frederick Bridger tell about how to have a writing group. Then another group reads: Larry Bauer, Lowell Jaeger, Brady Robinson, Kelly Egleine, Mark Gibbons, Dave Thomas and Henrietta Goodman.

I've never read ANYTHING by any of these guys. Someone referred me to Jamie Ford's website and I've been watching it. The only other person I ever heard of is Lowell Jaeger (maybe Carl Jensen) but I can't remember what I heard. I doubt that any of them have heard of me either. My experience is that writing (and all the other arts) in Montana are bunched up into little enclaves, self-protective, unknown to the public until they hit the Manhattan NY scene where the publicity lives. The Montana Festival of the Book usually just rounds up the usual suspects: i.e. the people the organizers know.

Second, Last night I fumbled around on the Internet until I found the beginning of Cook’s "Blood Trail" which is still supposed to be coming through Inter-library loan. Very cinematic. Easy to imagine Brad Pitt and some new version of Tom Berenger. Dunno if any Hollywood wranglers have cobra snakes on hand. I look forward to the rest, but I'm NOT fond of snakes, though I can tolerate big squeezers rather than little vipers. (I used to impound escaped boas when I did animal control stuff. Amazing to hold.)

Third, "Wounded Moon" came in the mail this morning and I just finished reading it. Won't finish thinking about it for quite a while. On one level it's the usual ranger romance ("I'm initiated and therefore competent, but you aren't, so you'd better treat me nice!”) Sort of an Appalachian Western. (Ed Abbey claimed that Westerns CAME FROM the Appalachians, which means -- I suppose -- that they really come from the Scots/English borderlands. Or at least their mindset: defiant exceptionalism.)

On another level, the story (a killer grizz is after a little girl) is real and easily absorbed because of small accurate details. The mysticism, when it begins to creep in, is almost "Annie Dillard" style at first -- a cloud of singing birds. The rage in the grizz is as much a natural infection as a response to a transponder in the hands of evil men. And I like the angels being horsemen (no wings). (We've had enough of Apocalyptic Evil Horsemen as in "Lord of the Rings.") The man in this story who buries dolls was real, but connected to the mystic, which is on the line between life and death. I did begin to feel as though All the Men were Heroic, All the Women were Competent, and all the Children were Angels. Except for a few local thugs from under rocks.

I'm a practical and scientific person with an anthropological itch and a love of animals. At the moment I'm trying to write about liturgy, how to shape it so it calls the spirit. My conviction is that there IS a world out there, but we only have our mind/bodies as instruments to interface with it -- faulty and untrained. Words won't suffice. I'm very interested in the "felt concepts" that psychoanalysts and some mind-theory people consider. Pre-, sub-, alternate -- whatever: what we dream, what inspires poetry, song and art, what is at the heart of religious systems. It is possible to learn a kind of discipline, a way of managing one's own consciousness, calling people -- entirely leaving aside whether it's "true" or not. NO magic.

This is where I thought Gary shone, never quite picking up the usual dogma about what is what, but never brushing the whole thing off with some glib explanation either. He spoke of the True without trying to impose it. He respects the mystery.

Who can draw the lines?

Anyway, it was a good thriller besides -- all the best heroes get martyred. All the best lovers escape having to live happily ever after, washing the dishes and fixing the car. And there was a dog named "History." I suspect it was a catahouya hound.

I’m very pleased at “discovering” Gary J. Cook. Maybe day after tomorrow I’ll discover other compelling Montana writers in GF.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


The bookend to the reflective, careful ethics of the doctor blogs is EMT blogs -- that’s as in Emergency Medical Technicians -- first responders. The guys who jump out of the ambulance as it arrives and dash to the victim with a kit and a radio contact back to the emergency room in the hospital. They see everything, including things no one should see -- like deep insides splattered on outsides. But their attitude is far from somber and grim -- they are masters of bloody humor. Plus a certain amount of pent-up exasperation, if not real rage at the damage one person can do to another and at the constant abuses of the system by the stupid, the selfish and the hooked.

Recently an EMT in Boston was interviewed on “Here and Now,” a lunchtime NPR program. That was:

Rocky Mountain Medic is one I check fairly often. His writing is a bit purple, very atmospheric, but then he’ll hit a sweet spot and be brilliant. Some day he’ll be a famous novelist -- I have no doubt.

Everyone’s favorite is Partly, we love him because we’ve been with him through the problems of his very special little girl and the tragic conflagration of his marriage -- then his finding new love and losing forty pounds. This guy lives a dramatic life and he lives it in the SE US, which usually features in redneck jokes, sinister tropical mysteries, and TV shots of poodle-eating alligators in swamps. By the time Our Hero gets through walking us into unpromising situations like the last rotting room of a collapsing ancient hotel, making a hip-shot diagnosis of a four-hundred-pound alcoholic with a purple face and bloody vomit, intubating, hooking up lines, and somehow helping his partner horse the guy down the tilting stairs in a chair because a stretcher won’t fit -- and then the guy sits up in the hospital and cusses him... We’re there.

This man is a teacher of EMT’s and I’d pay for the classes even though I’m no EMT and have no intention of becoming one. He’s been asked to give a talk to EMT’s about bullet wounds. Before holding forth, he shows he is a good teacher by asking his readers for info and advice. This IS useful to me because I write and someone might shoot someone else in a story. (I hope that the ONLY time it’s useful!)

As it turns out, there’s a lot to unlearn. Most of the research has been done by firing guns into gelatin or a relatively small animal (dead or alive) while a camera runs and then analyzing the results. That means at least one medical fact has gone unrealized. The bullet makes one destructive “cavitation” (hole) through the flesh where the cells are outright destroyed, called “tissue crush.” But flesh is resilient and around that destroyed tunnel is a secondary enveloping tube of flesh that is “tissue stretched,” basically bruised -- maybe badly. The practice has been to use surgery to remove all the destroyed tissue and also to take out much of the bruised tissue around it, assuming that it can’t recover. More recent studies show that it CAN heal and rebuild.

There has been speculation about “sonic impact” but a doctor named Fackler, who has made it his business to investigate and reflect, points out that a lithotripter used to break up kidney stones generates much stronger sonic pressure waves without harming soft tissue.

Another main point made by commenters is that the gun doesn’t matter as much as the ammunition, the most dangerous bullets being those that expand or tumble. Except that one city EMT explained that if bullets explode and fragment in the victim, who is not likely to be the most pristine slice of life, then the greatest danger to the EMT is being stabbed by a fragment when inserting a finger to try to find out the path of the bullet. This means being exposed to AIDS, HepC, and other blood-borne disease. Therefore, he wears double gloves, and he reports that though they have indeed been torn by fragments, so far his finger skin was saved. In fact, fragmenting bullets are far more deadly than high velocity bullets, though velocity is a favorite preoccupation.

Not all bullets tumble. “Bullet yaw” inside the body is much more pronounced than “bullet yaw” during the flight trajectory. What happens inside depends on how soft the tissue is where the bullet hits. A bullet can be hot and burn tissue deep inside. A bullet that crushes flesh is not so efficient at killing as an arrow that slices it.

First-on-the-scene witnesses report that the movie dramatics of being thrown backwards by the bullet is against Newton’s Laws (unless the actor is wearing a stuntman’s harness) and likewise spinning is unlikely if not just silly, though five-year-olds dearly love to spin while they groan, “You got me!”

The most dangerous gunshots, they say, are the ones fired by an expert who wishes to kill and knows how to do it. In the argument about whether it is better to stop an attacker, to “drop him in his tracks,” as they say, by shooting him in the head or in the heart, the winning answer is to shoot him (well, or her) in the pelvis, so that locomotion is mechanically prevented. This is meaningful to me because one of my jobs in the Sixties was to shoot a gopher every morning to feed the eagle. I learned NOT to shoot them in the head because they had enough reflex left to kick themselves down their holes and I hated to put my hand in there after I pulled one out that we’d shot the week before. (I was the only one with a hand small enough to fit down the hole.) A gopher shot in the heart with a .22 is exploded enough to drop.

But a person trying to repair the damage doesn’t need to know what kind of gun or even what kind of bullet was involved, except from the point of view of solving the crime. Doc Fackler says the treating physician is much better off looking directly at the damage and evaluating it with no assumptions at all.

One looks for the exit wound but, remarkably, bullets may not emerge but rather lodge just inside the skin which is tough and stretchy. Also, things in pockets (wallets, watches, Bibles, love letters) can alter outcomes greatly. One soldier had a mini-mortar in his abdomen that would have exploded except that a fragment of his uniform was stuck in the striker, keeping it from making contact. In the old days, I once read, people worried about clothing lodged in the body because of infection, but antibiotics have greatly eased that concern. X-rays help enormously since they can show where the bullet is, whether it is fragmented, and what kind of bone damage has been caused. But that’s after you get to the hospital. It’s up to the EMT to get them there alive.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I’m beginning to compile a new self-published book. Below is the first rough-draft of an introduction. If you (I’m talking to Blackfeet and rez dwellers specifically) have thoughts about it, I’d appreciate knowing what they are -- or if you have something that you’d like me to include, I can do that. This is not meant to be about “old-time” Blackfeet, but about today’s world, though a little history is sometimes useful.


This book is not meant to solve the multitude of controversies among and about the Blackfeet or Blackfoot or Pikuni or Amkapi Pikuni or Piegan or Peigan or South Piegan or Nitsitaahpi. (Which are all the same group. You see already how it goes!) Rather it is to plant flags in some of the issues and sketch out a range of positions within those issues. I won’t endorse or discredit any of them on purpose, though I never trust my subconscious, that trickster.

Most of the controversies are about identity: who are these people? Where are they? Where did they come from? Did they exist only between some specific date and another? Who gets to decide these issues? For those who feel they are or may be part of this tribe, the issues are quite sharp.

Once defined, the issues of government -- both imposed federally and developed internally -- begin to form and become troublesome, especially in terms of economics. Who gets to be on the rolls? Who can benefit from tribal profits? Is it better for the tribe to stay a group, a corporation, or would it be better to disperse the economic assets to the individuals and let them manage for themselves?

These issues often hinge on the issues of assimilation. Are tribal members still at such a disadvantage in the modern world that they must be protected and supported by a Bureau of Indian Affairs? Or is the BIA necessarily an expensive, corrupt, and basically suppressive body which hinders the maturation of tribal members? Should the people be encouraged to assimilate into “white” America (whatever that means now since large parts are black, Asian or hispanic) or should they be encouraged to learn their own language, keep their own ways, even if it means less achievement in the broader world?

This points in turn to education. How should Blackfeet youngsters be educated? For tomorrow or for yesterday? How much should they decide their own goals? Are they as good as any other kids? Then why do they fail so much? If they wanted to be something besides basketball players, would that help? Or is it a matter of escaping from white-imposed values and goals?

One of the key concepts I do want to advocate is continuousness and process: a tribe is not a defined group of people on a list compiled by white people at first contact for purposes of legal contracts and the provision of commodities. Rather it is an ongoing group of people who take in others, expel some, and see others simply disappear. I think shifting the understanding of “tribe” in this way will open up new strategies.

Another issue is the relationship with the place and the ecology of the place, by which I mean the economics of survival, getting a living from the land. Warriors and hunters were valued because they were the means of survival in the old days. Buffalo were the economic basis of everything. Maybe now the wind is the new buffalo. The oil has been pumped out and sold, but the world is turning away from oil anyway, yet studying what happened with that resource can suggest ways for the future.

Then there is the artistic heritage of people living on the east slope of the Rocky Mountains over hundreds and hundreds of years, tracing figures on stone, composing songs, dancing to a drum beat, telling stories, painting everything -- themselves, their animals, their belongings, their lodges -- embellishing everything with feather, quill, fur, and shell -- then beads, bells, thimbles, and cones made from the lids of snoose cans. How much do the methods and designs of the early days belong to the people now identified with the tribe? What to do about creatures who are now protected by the very people who made them scarce? What about pan-Indian phenomena like frybread or dream catchers or the modern Pow-wow circuit? Are “49’s” Indian?

What to do about the enormous monetary as opposed to spiritual value of some of the oldest and most religious objects? What about the ceremonies? Can outsiders participate or do they change the ceremonies? What happens when they are considered “magic”? How do they relate to Catholicism and Pentecostalism? What about the use of hallucinogens or dream-fasting or sweat-lodges?

How do today’s people use technology? Books, videos, the Internet, cell phones, and -- disconcertingly -- DNA testing? What medical strategies work for Indians? Are they that different?

I expect this book to go through editions rather quickly because the world is changing quickly and the tribe is changing with it. The book itself has got to become a process and with modern technology, it can.

I can refer to the Canadian branches of the Blackfoot Confederacy only secondarily, since I’m not up there across the 49th Parallel and their governance situation has been quite different for more than a century. But they might have something very useful to say.

These issues do not occur to tourists, but they great preoccupy the People themselves and especially their children. Maybe writing them down, even in the form of questions, will stir up some new ideas or focus attention on some real successes. With fifty years of discontinuous experience in this place, I see hope and growth.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Certain dilemmas of the personal conscience are more of a problem to highly effective people than to many others. I love to read medical blogs, not just the Googley medical advice, but the personal testimonies and questions. I find people among MD bloggers who are certifiably skillful, valued, and effective, as professionals are presumed to be, but also self-scrutinizing and disclosive on blogs far beyond what we are used to in people at this level. For instance, one doctor has shared on his blog (and I’m not going to link, because he has built a supportive community and I don’t want to mess that up) a situation that many of us will never face and honestly reported the emotional consequences to himself.

This man is a surgeon, especially skillful and successful with female problems, like breast cancer. He just gets better results with them and has had a rewarding practice. But he is a multi-skilled person and decided that he would retire a little early so he could pursue and develop other interests. A woman of his acquaintance (well, all right, friendship, but I’d guess that he ever met a woman he didn’t like in a protective and delighted way) needed a surgery of the kind he used to perform, but since he was retired, the operation was done by another surgeon who lost her on the operating table. More plainly, she died.

Now “our” doctor is left with a huge confused avalanche of feelings: did he have a right to retire when other doctors were not as skillful? If he had stepped out of retirement (which no one asked him to do) and had done that operation, wouldn’t he almost surely have brought her through successfully? But isn’t he obligated by professional duty and common sense to support the unfortunate doctor who “let her die,” if indeed there wasn’t some other detail of her case that wouldn’t have allowed “our” doctor to succeed either?

Where can he put his grief to keep it from turning into rage or self-accusation that has no hope of redemption? The next post after the one explaining the situation was of a just-snuffed red candle. To me it was a plain signal of suicidal thoughts. When challenged, the doctor referred us to the Wikipedia entry on ambiguity. So -- moral ambiguity. A very painful condition only alleviated by the removal of the conscience, which may cause the death of what? The soul?

I used to have a poster that advised one never to make comparisons between oneself and others, because others will always be either better than you (which might be discouraging) or worse than you (which encourages sneering). Rarely is anyone ever of equal competence, wisdom, and foresight. Anyway, how would you know? Who’s the judge?

Beyond that, when I was training for the ministry and talked about not being able to stop someone from bad behavior or save someone from making a bad decision, the excellent therapist I had at the time would bring me to a halt in a hurry. “How grandiose!” she said. “You’re the minister, NOT the God! You are not inerrant -- since you’re not Catholic, you can’t even claim to be the inerrant Pope and I expect you’ve noticed that he makes an error now and then. What makes you think that people’s lives are all about YOU and the help you give them?”

This doctor’s guilt came partly from him claiming an early retirement -- it seemed to him that the limit he set drew a line that excluded his friend from his care. If he’d known she’d need him, he might not have retired? What about the next friend? And the next one after that? Retirement might have slipped away entirely, so that he finally died slumped over one last person who absolutely could not be operated on by anyone else. And since he’s been retired a while, maybe his skills have gotten a bit rusty. Maybe he, too, would have lost the patient. No way to know.

Some people suggest that the concept of an all-knowing, inerrant, and limitless God came from our own craving to be that way. We can at least have a “Big Friend” in the sky who has the qualities we believe it. It’s easier than facing the idea that everyone makes mistakes, even us. I had a friend in the Marines in Vietnam who was sent to officer school. He said they taught him about “combat decisions:” when you decide something in the very moment of most intense dilemmas and then turn out to be right, which is quickly forgotten as the situation changes, or wrong, which is bound to happen. To hang on to those wrong decisions, beyond re-thinking and learning from them, is to corrode your ability to act and disempower yourself as a commanding officer. Professional effectiveness doesn’t come from never making a mistake, but from facing mistakes (if indeed that’s what they turn out to be in the end) and accepting the burden of having made them. When they are deadly, it hurts.

But this doctor didn’t make any mistakes. He didn’t even refuse a request to come out of retirement for the sake of a friend -- and there is a point of view that forbids doctors to operate on friends and relatives anyway, for fear of emotion clouding their judgment. His problem is not one of action or inaction, but of managing his own feelings about his friend and his skills. He might have heard of a friend lost in a small sailing ship and have had the feeling that since he was a much better sailor, if he had been on the trip, he could have saved the lost man -- but he had given up sailing in order to do something else, maybe become a pianist. There’s no sin to expiate, no bad decision to repent, just the terrific pressure of sorrow plus the corrosive game of “what if.”

I think attention in this situation is best paid to the terrific courage of this doctor in telling us what he felt as a human being. Maybe he was reaching out for comforting comments -- if so, he got them. The more Puritan might say that the duty of a professional is to NOT expose lay people to the anguish of those who deal in life and death. I disagree. We’ve heard enough about venal, over-proud, too-prosperous, self-serving doctors. It’s time to let us see that it’s not just the education, the salary, the social prestige that set doctors apart. It is the constant battle for clarity and effectiveness.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


So let me get this straight. If any of the members of my UU congregations in the past (I’m not in the ministry anymore) decide in the future to run for the President of the United States, what I said in my sermons might destroy their chances of being elected. If I said, “God Damn the Easter Bunny!” they might be blamed for that sentiment on my part (Why didn’t they simply stand up and walk out? Or at least cancel their pledge??) and since the Easter Bunny is a cherished part of the culture, which encourages little children to believe that rabbits lay eggs, then anyone who stayed in such a congregation hates little children and is intent on destroying their illusions.

Or if I took on, say, the big Easter orgy described in today’s newspaper wherein hundreds of kids and parents swarm all over a local ranch in hopes of finding Easter eggs with prizes inside or even stuffed animals dropped (with parachutes -- no stuffed animals are hurt in the making of this celebration) from bright green airplanes. If I said “salvation by greed” may be accepted by the government of the United States of America (particularly the President who encourages shopping as a way of opposing terrorism) but that I found it not just anti-religious but also demonic, then anyone who was in church that day will have it held against them when it comes time to run for office. The Chamber of Commerce would see to it that they were not elected. Not me -- them.

Of course, the UU way of evading the whole problem of the Crucifixion at Easter (torture is something we just can’t face and neither do we want a lot of naked men hanging around our children) is to define it as a Symbol of the Seasons celebrated in many cultures in many ways. Except we won’t mention that the Paschal Lamb was a blood sacrifice on the altars of the founders of Christianity, since it can be the centerpiece of a nice family meal, eaten out so that Mom won’t have to get all stressed in the kitchen. (Stress is bad for Moms.) And getting up early for a Sunrise Service is also stressful and stress (as well as lack of sleep) might give you diabetes, so better to sleep in. No one knows the words to the songs anymore anyway, so song sheets would have to be provided (which is bad for the forests), and it’s impossible to find high school kids to play the triumphal trumpet parts because they aren’t allowed to learn sacred music in school these days.

Let’s go back to that torture part. This crucifixion stuff is worse than water-boarding. All that blood! OUR God is a sweet old man who would never allow such things to happen, much less to his own Son. Too bad those Iraqis have such a cruel God. Where did He come from anyway? Surely not from around here! As for resurrection, probably Jesus only revived because Doctors Without Borders or maybe some military doctors used miracle drugs and American technology (supported by our tax money and willingness to underwrite medical research) to heal him. Who ever heard of anyone being buried in a cave anyway? If he’d been in a proper steel coffin, no doubts could have been raised.

But I’ve been thinking about this whole thing of discouraging politicians by preaching things that the congregation doesn’t necessarily believe but that the general public, as interpreted by the media and political opponents, would find reprehensible. I could start with the truth -- no politicians want everyone to know what’s really going on, where the bodies are buried, so to speak. Keep the skeletons in the closet. At least in there they won’t be phoning high-priced call girls or using public lavatory cubicles to tap out messages. (Of course, who knows what they did to become skeletons in the first place.)

To make sure my parishioners could keep their presidential options open, I could encourage tithing instead of taxing, insist that people who didn’t meet my standards should be denied the right to vote and that if they caught terrible diseases, it was their own fault. Why didn’t they stay home and mind their own business? Come to that, why didn’t they stay in their own country? Must we build walls everywhere? Don’t they realize how much that costs? These sentiments probably wouldn’t endanger anyone’s ability to win an election, and if one of my parishioners were elected President of the United States, think of the opportunities that would open for ME!

I could be photographed kneeling with the President in the Oval Office, praying for peace before sending off the next wave of National Guardsmen to the Middle East for third tours. It would be especially striking if we were both women, like Golda Meir. Of course, we’d have better hair. Then there are all those chances to be photographed shaking the hand of the President at the end of Sunday Services -- you know, me in my preaching gown framed by the massive carved doors of the church.

Too bad I’m out of the ministry. Don’t imagine that I was thrown out. UU’s don’t do that. We’re very tolerant, which is why we’re all so successful. Of course, most of us are very liberal as well, so we don’t criticize or call anyone a heretic or defrock clergy. However, we do use the scripture of parliamentary procedure called “Robert’s Rules of Order” which says that anyone not in sympathy with the purposes of the meeting may be excluded. We encourage them to pay their pledge anyway. And we still count them as members every year when the congregational numbers have to be sent in to Boston. We don’t “fence the communion” -- though we might do a bit of shunning at the best social events by not remembering to tell them where the parties are held or when.

But really -- I’m not criticizing my old friends. I just have other things to do. If in the future some of them have my sermon content and style held against them, I’m sorry. Maybe they aren’t really presidential material anyway. I mean, the media knows best, right? Er, I mean, correct?

Saturday, March 22, 2008


There are two ways that I look at designing a liturgy. One comes from the Unitarian Universalist symbol of the flame in the chalice: I ask myself, what is the fire? And what is the container? The bigger and more intense the fire, the stronger the container must be. The fire is emotion or ideas of intensity -- the container is custom or order. They need not be overly passionate -- a simple flower also needs a vase.

The other main pattern I use is a five-step sequence that I cadged from a wonderful book on the origins of the Christian mass. It’s called “The Shape of the Liturgy” by a man named Dix, who was Episcopalian. The five steps go this way:

The first and the last are the entry and exit change of consciousness that could be called “crossing the threshold” or limen.

The second and third are a sequence that I call “the dilation of the spirit.” In a traditional mass it is “the confession of sins” and “the promise of salvation.” These two parts are meant to make the worshipper face the very worst life has to offer and then the third points to transcendence. In most liturgies these are routine, quickly passed over, and of small dimensions. But they are the key to opening people’s minds and hearts for the fourth step.

The fourth part is learning, reconsidering, realigning, renewal, recommitment, and a new achievement of harmony and resolution. This is the heart of the matter of liturgical devotion.

Let’s go back to the “dilation of the spirit.” The worst things are loss of life, loss of loved ones, loss of the known world and also suffering. We tend to get stuck on our own suffering when we ought to be opening ourselves up to the suffering of all living beings. This is also an occasion for facing evil, our own and others’, naming it, and noting what destruction it wreaks. We should note that we KNOW what is wrong and do it anyway, as even Paul says he does. We must acknowledge that we are often helpless, but also pretend we are helpless when we’re not. My experience with religious liberals is that they tend to minimize suffering and evil. I suspect that the reason is that they do not believe in the part about salvation, which they think is limited to the benevolence of a God who is a person. Secretly they may think salvation comes from prosperity or education.

But it is not a matter of courting grace -- grace comes unbidden and sometimes unrecognized. The good of the world, the beauty, the blooming, the dawn and the Spring, come without any prompting or decision on the part of a God somewhere. They are a normal upwelling from life itself: our bodies heal, we find new love, the volunteers arrive to rebuild. Even death can be a blessing. Give up control, unclench, sleep to dream. The world renews itself. It’s not about “you” and what you deserve.

The fourth step is about practicalities: strategy, history, memory, saving things, discarding others, creating structures and institutions. When we are in a state of worship -- or play or art or all those things at once -- we can change our minds, have new insights, let things go. Then when the change of consciousness takes us back over the threshold to the real world, we will remember all this and -- hopefully -- use it.

So, suppose a liturgy for peace in Iraq.

Crossing the threshold:
Maybe some Iraqi music. Perhaps some readings from the Old Testament that are about Iraq before it was a country, simply a cradle of civilization: in fact, a cradle of OUR civilization -- many filters and transformations later. Maybe a muezzin’s call to worship, a reminder that the great monotheisms of the Middle East all came from Abraham.

Confessing our despair and horror:

Imagine you are a small town fireman who belonged to the National Guard, never dreaming that you would be standing in temperatures over a hundred degrees while wearing gear that weighs nearly a hundred pounds. Imagine you’re a woman driving a heavy truck in a convoy through the yellow light of desert and you know the sand is stealthily destroying the truck and if it breaks down, attack is likely. Imagine standing in a market when there is an explosion and a rain of body parts. Imagine your relative is among the dead. Imagine you are a soldier who cannot find all these bombs, who comes home, wakes from a dream, and discovers he is strangling his wife.

Assurance of Pardon:
Your family loves you. The country is approaching free elections with viable candidates. You make it home. Here is the soldier, safe and proud, with his spouse, strong, and his children, above average, his neighbors glad to see him or her back. The country rises up to say NO war. NO debt. No one grieves alone for we all recognize the sacrifices.

Spring slips across the prairie on the wings of tundra swans. The new calves come easily and thrive in dry weather. The pasque flowers, delicately lavendar and furry as kittens’ ears, bloom again in the grass as they have for millenia. Long after this war and a hundred others have come and gone, the pasque flowers will bloom on the east slope of the Rockies.

Then the sermon: the thinking, the changes, the rededications and so on. This is usually the responsibility of one person who is trusted by that congregation. There is no obligation to be grand or Biblical, but there is an obligation to be real and to address these specific people. Often the two-part considerations: crucible (containing main idea) and the flame (the burning passion) fit into this part usually composed of readings and a speech.

Crossing the threshold back to reality:
Sometimes the entrance is repeated in the exit. Other times the tone changes, maybe there’s an American song or hymn. Maybe everyone forms a circle and sings “Shalom” alternating with “Salaam.”

These structural patterns do not dictate content. I would argue that they are universal human responses to sensory prompts. The body of my thesis will give attention to how different cultures from various form of Christianity to Plains Indian ceremonies to New Guinea rituals draw on their ecology and cultural assumptions to follow these and other patterns. And I’ll throw in a few UU Leadership School experiments for free.

Friday, March 21, 2008


The two big Westerns this past year were “3:10 to Yuma” for the nostalgic and “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” for fans of Ingmar Bergman who seems to have channeled the latter movie through Warren Beatty to Brad Pitt. The former movie was a success at the box office and the latter was not, quite predictably. (Ingmar Bergman is rather out of fashion, spoiled by too much situation ethics, a loss of interest in Freud, or maybe just by a society moving too fast.) The former DVD had a voice-over and the latter did not, unpredictably. I was hoping for an explanation.

First of all, TAJJCRF was not, to my mind, a Western: it was a MID-Western. Very Minnesota, anti-romantic, debunking, near black-and-white, conscience-ridden, and bleak. The houses were nearly empty of furniture, the women never came out of the kitchen except to use the privy (I guess chamberpots were out of fashion), and there was a lot of brush. In a time period after WWII Westerns were a romantic study of heroes and then right after that was a pendulum-swing to debunking, the sophomoric idea that if you strip off the lies, what you find is a David Lynch sordid unreality in which everyone is a narcissist acting selfishly. So -- to this old bird -- it’s obvious sophomoric realism is where we’re at as soon as the Coward Robert Ford refuses to move his lips when he talks so we can tell what he’s saying. Sam Shepherd, playing Frank James, appears to be the only adult in the film when he holds his gun on Ford to make him leave. Then Shepard wisely exits the movie while the pond-scum gang sits around making dirty, knowing, high-school-kid talk about women. There’s a little hint of “Heaven’s Gate” when the train turns out to be packed with tiers of “steerage” folks. More than a hint when one considers the movie as a whole. The trouble with a system that depends upon one “money star” to make the film possible is that soon everything revolves around him and his dilemmas, instead of the script.

3:10 to Yuma” has two heroes. Russell Crowe is the money star but he’s an Aussie, still rough. Bale is a classically trained Welsh actor. What can I say? Pretty hard to make fun of their acting. (I didn’t know until just now that Bale was the child protagonist of one of my favorite films: “Empire of the Sun.” I’d better watch it again! The boy who plays Bale’s son in this movie is as good.) “3:10’s” style dates back to the pre-debunking period: the director says so in the voice-over. He wants the movie to be “mythic” and I reckon it is. One of the volunteer critics on lists all the impossibilities and improbabilities of the scenes and there are plenty. (The one that has caught attention is the gut-shot Fonda character who has surgery, gets on his horse and rides. Fonda himself says he HAS been gutshot and it’s possible.) But the viewer doesn’t much care in the moment. The sets are beautiful and conventionally Western. There are references to the present, but only in passing: none of the obsessive comparison to Iraq that “Soldier Blue” used in its parallel shots between Vietnam nightly news and Native American massacre.

What the creative team of “3:10” got straight in their heads -- more than TAJJCRF did -- was the historic context. Both Westerns are set in the most usual period for the genre, just following the Civil War, when many people (particularly men) were displaced and morally adrift, causing them to relate to strangers sometimes with generous compassion and other times with vicious destruction. Those they robbed always hoped for the generous side to come their way, but who knew what might trigger hatred? “3:10” hopes that the parallel in this sense will relate to the soldiers coming back from Iraq, but I think that won’t work. They forget that the Civil War happened here and Americans fought on both sides so that the trauma was as dislocating as being an Iraqi with Shiite against Sunni, home destroyed, family destroyed, mosque destroyed, and no place to go. No VA to rail at for not supplying enough therapy. No empty prairie in which to homestead. I doubt that occurred to this creative team. But at least they let Bale’s character’s moral anchor in his family come through as the highest value. Family anchors all moralities, except for the James boys, evidently.

I do think these two honorable attempts to revive Westerns will cause writers and “money stars” to dig deeper. I liked Kevin Costner’s efforts even though they’ve been sentimental and maybe even shallow. “Dances with Wolves,” more than any other movie, has probably made possible the gentle television family-anchored generational Westerns like “Into the West” or “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” neither of which resorted to an estranged loner to make points. The very fact that they are hours long, watchable on DVD at home like reading a book, makes it possible to tell a far more nuanced story than an hour and a half or even two-hour movie in a theatre. Western TV serials knew that and used it to develop character and community. Technology affects the genre as much as cultural shift.

But the cultural shift in the American West is immense and contradictory. Immigrants (esp. hispanics -- who are at least partly NA -- and wealthy refugees from the eastern cities) pour into the Western cities even as the water systems that make prairie cities possible are failing, overwhelmed. The small towns are shrinking (our water systems are also failing), there are not enough sources of electricity and much land is in CRP, meaning native grass monocultures. Much of the land is still owned by feds and all the land is regulated to a fare-thee-well, right down to numbering the predators. (They’re working on numbering the cows.)

I forget how many stories there are in the Naked City, but there have to be at least as many on the droughty plains. I salute two earnest attempts to tell definitive stories, which can only pave the way for more -- both better and worse.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


The worst job I ever had -- data entry for the City of Portland Bureau of Buildings -- had its bright side. What made it bad was the boss, a neurotic woman -- a control-freak who treated everyone like children (which I suspect was the dark side of her direct superior, a woman who wanted to be everyone’s friend.) The bright side was working alongside black people as equals. At the desk next to me was Madison, a dignified African American who had been ghettoized into the worst part of our job: abandoned car removal. Day after day he sat patiently entering their particulars so they could be towed after a certain time period as well as checked against the police list of stolen cars. Long eyestraining lists of trivia.

It was not the most dangerous job. Eddie, a tall Somali-featured man from the Louisiana/Texas border where he grew up among cotton and catfish farms, went out on the street actually ticketing the cars, which often represented the fantasy wealth of someone on the economic and emotional edge. When they rushed out to protect their car and offer to fight, very tall Eddie would say, in his patient soft voice, “Well, all right. If it has to be that way.” Slowly he’d put his clipboard on the hood of the car in question, take off his jacket and carefully fold it to lay alongside, begin to neatly roll up his sleeves -- by that time, the prospective attacker was beginning to bargain. There never were any real fights and he rarely called for police backup.

Madison, once I got it straight in my head which president he was, became my friend and we even talked religion, since he was a strong church member and I was an ordained Unitarian minister but not in a pulpit. One day he said something about God, and I replied with a joking reference to “Her.” In wonderment he asked, “Do you talk about God that way in your church?” He wasn’t angry. I can’t remember whether he suggested I visit his church or I asked if he would mind if I visited. He thought it over and then said, “If you go, call me beforehand and I’ll go along with you.” I think he thought that a white woman like me might feel a little lonesome in a black congregation.

So one Sunday early I called his house and got his wife. “Tell Madison I’m going to Mt. Olivet this morning.” I heard her say in astonishment, not quite muffling the phone, “Madison! Some white woman wants to go to church with you!” He said he’d meet me there.

I’m generally early so I can sit in the back where I can watch the people. This time I stood in the vestibule watching people arrive. They all greeted me, the women in gorgeous hats and fabulous dresses, the men immaculately barbered, and the children spit-shined. In a short time, a matriarch came to interview me. (EVERY congregation has them!) Her hat was splendid and she wore black kid gloves which she kept on while we shook hands. None of the women in this congregation wore pants -- most wore very high heels, even if they weighed more than I did. In the Nineties the principal of my high school in Portland was a woman of this kind -- in fact, she was ordained and led a smaller congregation not far away. But this gate-keeping lady at Mt. Olivet could NOT make out why I was there and when Madison arrived, towing his youngest boy as a chaperone, her gaze on him plainly meant, “I’ll see about YOU later!”

Black people go to church for the whole day, unlike the Catholic get-there/get-blessed/get-out practice of people intent on other Sunday recreation. For these folks, Sunday WAS the recreation. The sermon was not about splitting fine theological hairs as it might have been with the Unitarians. It was a checklist of moral and success-aimed practices and notes -- with an outline and space for one’s own additions supplied in the order of service. This minister did NOT talk politics, though he glancingly commented on a few things. What he was after was preparing people to get ahead in the world in spite of all disappointments, setbacks, and prejudices.

The music was sublime, opera-quality. Think Jessie Norman. The collection was not taken on shallow plates passed along the pews: instead we marched up front and put our money in deep baskets in front of the ushers to make sure they saw what went in and that nothing came back out. There was a sprinkling of married-in white folks, mostly women. All was dignity, glamour, high standards, skill and confidence. It went on for hours. I loved it. But it wasn’t “me.”

Barack Obama’s minister has caused a sensation -- or rather, people looking for a chink in Barack’s high idealism have landed on his minister, trying to hood him with every cliched stereotype they can find. It was okay for the far right to say that we brought 9/ll on ourselves for wicked behavior, but not for Rev. Wright. McCain and other candidates have consorted with and accepted support from far more ferociously judgmental clergy than Wright. Melissa Harris Lacewell, Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University, author of Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought, and seminarian at Union Theological Seminary in New York, has pointed out that a whole range of people of every background and multiple colors attend this church -- inclusion is the formal position of the United Church of Christ denomination -- and this woman, reporting on “To the Point,” an NPR program (3/19), said that just about every black professor at the University of Chicago belongs to this congregation.

It strikes me that what many whites, esp. in the north, think is characteristic of black churches is really more related to Southern churches: the Pentecostalism, the high emotion, the gospel music, and even the snake-handling. In fact, this style of church is strong on the Blackfeet Reservation, because it offers hope (note that!) and a certain amount of emotional venting and ecstasy while holding a job -- like Madison’s -- that is mind-erasing and even (depending on how one is treated) demeaning. The sermons in such a place are in a style once well-known in New England, preaching as a kind of samurai sword-fight with the Devil, intense, confrontive, and impatient with this earthly world. If you’re a nice Episcopalian, it can be intimidating, but individual ministers in EVERY denomination are samurai and I’ve heard more than one Unitarian minister express the same sentiments as Jeremiah Wright! The tradition goes back deep into the Old Testament. If sufficiently aroused, I can do it myself.

Like other experienced clergy, I find it laughable that anyone would think that a parishioner would automatically agree with and obey his minister! A member of the Portland UU Church said one day, “I wish Alan would announce for whom he’s voting so I could vote the opposite.” The minister is often like that movie reviewer you read because you know if that reviewer liked it, you won’t. UU’s speak of “freedom of the pulpit” and “freedom of the pew.”

Preaching can be an art form capable of hyperbole, high rhetoric, emotionally inflammatory declarations. Like politics. As for the Iraqi war, I keep thinking of Henry Fonda in “War and Peace,” the version I saw in high school wherein Fonda played "Pierre.” He stands looking at the long winding trail of suffering in the snow caused by Napoleon invading Russia and says (thrillingly, I thought as a child), “Damn you, Napoleon! Damn you to Hell!” Somebody has to say it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Some words mean two contradictory things: for instance, “cleave” means both cut apart and stick together. In addition, I would claim, there are CONCEPTS that mean opposites, for instance, “museum,” which on the one hand connotes that which is old, unimportant, socked away, dirty, outmoded, and not worth attention -- but on the other hand means cutting edge, valuable, indicating identity and culture, worth saving, and an important source of thought.

Many of the articles I save from the Internet are about this collision of concepts and how they are interpreted. I’ve noted in earlier blogs how museums, on the entrance of a new curator, suddenly define a major part of the holdings as valueless and sold them to buy a new category of holdings which later curators in turn announced were valueless and, in turn, dumped. (This is quite apart from curators and directors who steadily drain collections for their private income and aggrandizement.) In Great Falls last weekend I was told that the current director of the Montana Historical Society is allowing the tearing out of exhibits and parts of exhibits in order to replace them with new versions by contemporary (and possibly lesser) artists who are more favored by well-heeled patrons, possibly high dollar contributors to the institution who privately hold investments in these artists that are improved by the connection. This is presented as “modernizing.”

The Historical Society museum and many others are bulging with constant acquisitions from citizens who think of that institution as a sort of giant state closet or vault where things will be kept safely, all the things that families believed for years were important bits of history. But those same contributors are not willing to authorize enough tax money for the giant warehouses and battalions of staff who would be able to cope with the avalanche. When people go to reclaim objects they thought they were “on loan,” they “can’t be found” which is, of course, understood to mean that they are missing -- possibly stolen or given away.

The basic issue of who is qualified to curate collections or direct museums is becoming more intense as one generation retires and another becomes impatient to make changes. This is particularly sharp in the case of art museums, where what art “is” and which styles are “real” and “valuable” have been the subjects of contention for a century, pitting abstract Manhattan sophistication against accessible and beloved representational work. Must directors have college degrees? Years of experience? Art experience doing painting or sculpture themselves?

Another troubled issue is simply that of money. If the roof is falling in, can part of the collection be sold to pay for repairs? Outrage whichever way you go! And yet raising funds for the ordinary needs of museums is hard work that few are interested in tackling. Raising taxes for museums is -- well, forget it.

Museums since the days of the Pope’s closet collection of exquisite tributes have been markers of status. Most people love to see themselves on lists of donors -- maybe have a room or building named for them -- and fund-raisers spend time trying to think of categories to publish that will flatter donors. The highest dollar donors are generally described in terms of “perpetual” or “lifetime” as though the people themselves were being granted immortality. The bottom category is usually “friends.” They get free admission. Maybe a newsletter.

One way of raising money through status has been renting the premises of the museum (this only works if the museum is relatively attractive) for social events: not just major civic celebrations but private weddings or soirees. One Montana curator lost her job when she objected to the inevitable damage to the “treasures,” like smoke from cigarettes, spilled drinks and food, or bad behavior. Another of those contradictions: being “in” means using the place as if it were your home, which is a sign of high status because of the value of the exhibits -- but in the process diminishing the value.

Another problem arises over the tension between display and interpretation. The more there are explanations and re-organizations of the materials to conform to new thought, the more the people who come back as to a familiar and commemorative site are going to be upset, especially if in the process their own ancestors have to take a step down. Thus, the main displays at the Museum of the Plains Indian in Browning are never changed, except to loan out pieces. But in the process of shuffling materials around, they get worn or lost. A local church minister announced that she wanted to remove all the cluttery old commemorative objects like benches, mozaics, and drinking fountains, so as to increase the “dignity” and attractiveness of the building. The next year she was assigned a different church.

Right now the construction industry is geared up beyond the flow of business coming in. Architects itch to strut their stuff. They are not particularly interested in building useful libraries and archive storage: they want the big gesture that will illustrate what they can do. So we end up with the equivalent of a reservation schoolhouse that is all basketball court and no classrooms, which forces the future into ostentation rather than scholarship, which few people really can do and not everyone reads -- but isn’t that the real “business” of a historical society?

These trends and dilemmas are not unique to Montana or even to the United States. The articles I’m collecting come from the entire planet. Some of the most anguished are about the consequences of the war in Iraq to museums and objects, no less than the destruction of the locus of Adam and Eve and the roots of our own civilization. A few zealots would probably consider them even more precious and irreplaceable than the lives lost at the World Trade Center in the attack the war was supposed to avenge, but an additional and unconsidered loss to ourselves rather than to our enemies.

We need to do some hard thinking about what we value, what we are prepared to do to preserve both objects and systems of thought, and how we are going to provide the funding for such things. Not every city has a dedicated Ad Club that pours money into the local scene.

The first idea I would like to establish is that a museum that succeeds is not a static preservation system, but a process of finding meaning through collection and analysis. How to keep that from degenerating into a way of directing the flow in the front door and out the back loading platform needs to be preserved in safeguards reached through consensus -- not by erudite scholars, though their input is important, but by the citizens themselves since the ultimate safeguard is always a checkbook. The second safeguard is education, which is a function of the museum itself.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


From the Great Falls Tribune today (March 18, 2008):

WASHINGTON (AP) You’ve heard of Type I and Type 2 diabetes, but what about a kind called MODY?

Diabetes is undergoing a genetics revolution that suggests there actually are many subtypes of the disease.

The discoveries already trigger important changes in treatment for a fraction of patients with some rare diabetes types caused by single genes gone awry -- if they have a doctor aware of the findings.

“We’ve got a whole group of diabetologists who have never heard of this,” laments Dr. Andrew Hattersley, a British physician-scientist who pioneered how to treat single-gene subtypes collectively known as MODY.

Yet the vast majority of diabetes is caused by complex interactions among numerous genes and modern lifestyles -- and a flurry of genetic discoveries in the past year finally points to new ways of attacking the epidemic.

So this week, U.S. health officials are bringing 20 drug companies together with international gene specialists to jump-start the hunt for new therapies.

Why does diabetes strike one person who’s overweight but not another who’s equally heavy? Why does one diabetic need dialysis while another has healthy kidneys despite decades of bad blood sugar? The newest gene work suggests there are even more sub-types that explain the differences and that in turn may require personalized treatment just as MODY does.

Some 21 million Americans have diabetes, meaning their bodies cannot properly turn blood sugar into energy. Either they don’t produce enough insulin or don’t use it correctly.

With the Type 1 form, the body’s immune system attacks insulin-producing pancreatic cells, so that patients require insulin injections to survive. It usually, but not always, strikes in childhood.

With the most common Type 2 form, the body gradually loses its ability to use insulin, so the confused pancreas churns out extra until eventually its cells wear out. Most at risk are the overweight.

* * * * * * * * * * *

While this story is welcome recognition of ideas that the sharpest diabetes bloggers have been looking at for quite a while, many stubborn concepts are still embedded in it, most obviously that:
1. The problem is due to the person. (Blame the victim. Operator-error.)
2. It can be “fixed” with medication (at considerable profit to the pharm corps).

Instead, what many people are beginning to believe is that:
1. The problem is due to the rising tide of disruptive chemicals in our food, our environment, our clothes, and so on.
2. This is a problem -- like global warming -- that must be addressed in the environment itself. We cannot “evolve” fast enough to adapt to the contaminations, so therefore large sections of people (the ones now made vulnerable by previously okay genes) will sicken and die. That’s the way evolution works: those who don’t “fit” are dropped out. The ones who by chance have lucky genes will go on, thus changing what human beings are like. (The tests for genetic vulnerability cost $600 each and most people need six tests. A whole new industry.)

All these things (including Alzheimers) that are called “diabetes” so far, only entered awareness through this door because doctors routinely test for and are aware of glucose levels. ALSO, that’s what Big Pharm pushes medicine for -- that and demonized cholesterol, until they killed over eighty people with their untested convictions. If they don’t have medicine for something, they don’t address it. I’m of two minds that the government is calling together Big Pharm: I fear they will invent and promote meds that haven’t got a decent research background and thereby again kill more people than would have died otherwise, and that they will confuse the issue by announcing too early research results.

When I Googled MODY, I found it was the acronym for "Maturity Onset Diabetes of the Young" and was defined as diabetes in people who are not fat. The medical people (and their media) are CONVINCED that fat causes diabetes (and sell a lot of products by fanning fat phobia), but I’m reading convincing arguments for the idea that it is the diabetes (or connected metabolic syndrome) that causes the fat. We’ve got the connection, but we’ve got it backwards. I don’t think what this article is talking about is MODY but rather Metabolic Syndrome, which means that several molecular feedback loops are disturbed, some of them invisible to us and certainly unknown as to deepest cause. The whole internal system is out of whack. It’s not just the doctors who are confused by all this stuff.

But I know from my own experience that losing weight greatly improves whatever it is. I started to write “simply” losing weight, but I think that the way one loses fat is significant. I cut out all white sugar, white flour, corn syrup, and as much processed food as possible. This probably cut down the level of internal contamination in my blood. I also could feel, quite literally, things happening in my body that were almost mechanical. Part of it was my organs having enough room again as the fat left. Part of it was the actual sensation of the fat leaving, which might or might not have been imagination. My legs had a kind of “streaming-up” sensation. And there was a kind of soreness up under my ribs for a while -- maybe liver or pancreas. This doesn’t happen all at once, but over a period of years.

I moved to Valier thinking that I would be escaping much of the city air, water, and environmental contamination, but what I find is that this wheat-based community is poisoning itself at a great rate. One of the few prosperous businesses in town is at the little airport at the head of my street: they sell herbicides and pesticides which they mix with water through the city system, besides spilling aeronautic fuel. At the last town meeting a water engineer was closely questioning these people about their backflow filter, which they have been inadequately monitoring. A backflow of contaminated water would probably hit the school first. The area has high rates of cancer and Type 2 diabetes. I’m probably lucky that I spent ten formative years (my twenties) on the rez where there was little spraying because the economy was grazing-based. I do NOT want to move, but neither do I want to start the kind of fight that would put some caution into the locals. They are already freaked out by the destruction of their stubborn conviction that global warming in a political invention. And the old ladies insist on spraying every dandelion, a practice they equate with respectability.

We need to start a slow, calm revolution that begins with ourselves. The real key is getting a blood glucose monitor (since that’s one thing you can test at home, quietly) and see what your scores are. Test foods by reading your scores after you eat them. If you come to my house, I’ll give you a cup of coffee (though some are ready to blame it) or tea, but there won’t be any nice sweet rolls. How do you feel about bran muffins full of walnut bits but no sugar? I scarf down peanuts all day, but we know about peanut allergy. My muffins might not be the right thing for you to eat! I figure it’s best to go to basics: eat like a gorilla or a grizzly with a lot of green stuff, roots, and a bit of meat. And luckily my genes allow cheese and eggs. Yours might not.

Monday, March 17, 2008


My thesis for Meadville/Lombard Theological Seminary was never finished, partly because I never really thought it through -- probably needed material that didn’t exist yet -- and partly because that campus seminary community (University of Chicago, 1978-82) considered religion to be “theological” -- which is to say “logic about God.” Since I didn’t believe in God and wasn’t particularly logical but far more interested in the experience of what it has become popular to call “spirituality,” I was doomed from the beginning.

BUT just because I believed in “spiritual experience” or what Eliade called “the sacred” as opposed to the profane, I did NOT accept what the campus thought of (pejoratively) as a big wallowing mass of emotion. I didn’t because I started in theatre and I knew (from experience) that people can be “moved” to a different kind of consciousness through shaped and controlled imagery and empathy, especially the kind of sensory imagery that is the source of “The Method,” which is a way for an actor to manage interior experience. (The other objection to my point of view was labeled “phenomenology,” the claim that religious experience was simply a perception not related to any exterior reality, like “God.” This threatens believers.)

Now that brain research has become so much more skillful and subtle, using the functional MRI to “watch” people think and feel, many new ideas have arisen. Instead of thinking of the unitary “mind” or “soul” or “identity,” we’re far more aware of the various sub-organs that are part of the brain and that manage the sensory input of our bodies. When we say “subconscious” in this context, we aren’t talking about a poetic psychoanalytic entity, but about a range of activities in the brain that we can’t access by our own personal reflection, but that a fMRI can see.

The blog called “Watermark , which belongs to a poet in Missoula, recently posted a video from this URL: It took me forty minutes to download it through my dial-up account, but it was worthwhile because it is BOTH very concrete in terms of the brain (a real human brain is presented) and a vivid demonstration of the deep and lasting spiritual consequences to the person having a stroke, even though she was a sophisticated scientific observer of neuroanatomy. “Knowing” logically what happened did NOT take away the intensity or reality of the experience. (You should also know that it is characteristic of stroke victims to weep easily. The first time I preached to a group of stroke victims, I was startled by this. Suddenly everything I said seemed to be incredibly moving!) Anyway, below is the description from, the source of the video.

About this Talk:
Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened -- as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding -- she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

About Jill Bolte Taylor:
Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor studied her own stroke as it happened -- and has become a powerful... Read full bio »

I read about Taylor’s experience when it happened, eight years before she managed to get back to her recovered state as you see her in the video, and I was very much impressed. My former husband, my father, my brother, and a cousin have all had brain injuries that changed their personalities. My father and brother were slammed against a hard surface on their foreheads and the result was something like what I call a “trauma lobotomy.” That is, they kept their memory and most of their personality, but they were flattened and lost much of their ability to empathize, sort experience, make moral judgments and decisions or plan. My brother became a fabulist: he could not keep reality from interweaving with TV shows and he told wildly exaggerated tales to try to control situations. My father became temperamental and sank into a state something like Parkinsons where all his reactions were blunted. Bob Scriver couldn’t make good decisions -- or really any decisions at all. He couldn’t accurately judge motives in other people or plan for the future realistically. These were negative consequences, but there have long been suggestions that brain injuries can cause special gifts and awarenesses, maybe create saints and visionaries.

Some visionaries don’t need a stroke. I just watched a video about Carlos Castenada and his claim to have learned magic from Don Juan: the ability to fly, special knowledge about parallel worlds, and so on. His passionate intensity pulled many into his orbit where they became “true believers,” though some left later, disillusioned. He was a master of controlling spiritual consciousness in both himself and others: partly slight of hand, partly theatre, partly the kind of image-shaping a poet knows how to do. He was not above using sexuality.

One of the people who studied Castenada made it his business to read the New Age materials being published in the Seventies and to compare them with Castenada’s work, where he found many echoes and syntheses of the material. It’s just that Carlos could present them so much more vividly and clearly than others. More than a few American religions have been founded by individuals who could do the same thing, like Mary Baker Eddy founding the Christian Science movement. People KNOW they have these experiences that appear in their minds without them understanding where they came from or what they mean -- it is a great relief to find an explanation and even a certain amount of ability to manage them, hopefully without drugs or physical risk, though adrenaline is one of the great consciousness-shifting drugs.

Autochthonous people often greatly value consciousness management and use fasting, dance, song, sleeplessness, and other means -- maybe even pain -- including art forms. They are vulnerable to alcohol and drugs, as are young people. Thus some folks, in reaction, resist and demonize anything other than controlled rationality. This is not value-free thought.

I’ve been calling this line of thought the “poetics of liturgy.” I have no idea what I’ll be calling it by the end of the thesis -- because my intention is to finish what I started twenty-five years ago -- but it is clearly where art (poetics) and religion (liturgy) overlap.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


These crumbling old photos were evidently sent by Orra Finney to his sister, Beulah Finney Strachan. This one says on the back: “Phillippine Is. 1913, Mr. Perry (maybe Piery) and Mr Roberson”

This says “Phillippine Is. 1913 Little Frank Roberson Jr."

Philippine-American War: 126,000 soldiers
First Philippine Republic: 80,000 soldiers
Casualties and losses: 4,380 U.S. soldiers dead, (possibly over 5000 from 1899–1913) 3,100+ wounded
2,000 killed, dead, or wounded suffered by the Philippine Constabulary: 16,000 soldiers killed.
Est. 250,000 to 1,000,000 civilians died of war (through combatants of both sides), famine, or disease.
The Philippine-American War was an armed military conflict between the United States of America and the First Philippine Republic, fought between 1899 to at least 1902, which arose from a Filipino political struggle against U.S. occupation of the Philippines.

While the conflict was officially declared over on July 4, 1902, American troops continued hostilities against remnants of the Philippine Army and other resistance groups until 1913, and some historians consider these unofficial extensions part of the war.

“Camp Keithley, P.I.” when Googled, leads to books of Army paperwork. Mercifully small and parts are online.

The following is also from Wikipedia:
Lake Lanao is a large lake in the Philippines, located in Lanao del Sur province in the country's southern island of Mindanao. With a surface area of 340 km?. (131 square miles), it is the largest lake in Mindanao, and the second largest lake in the Philippines.

The lake was formed by the tectonic-volcanic damming of a basin between two mountain ranges and the collapse of a large volcano. It has a maximum depth of 112 meters, and a mean depth of 60.3 meters. The basin is shallowest towards the north and gets progressively deeper towards the south.

The lake is fed by four rivers. Its only outlet is the Agus River, which flows southwest into Iligan Bay via two channels, one over the Maria Cristina Falls and the other over the Linamon Falls. A hydroelectric plant installed on the Lanao Lake and Agus River system generates 70% of the electricity used by the people of Mindanao.

The lake is home to 18 endemic species of freshwater fish and supports a large number of waterfowl. In October 2006, a study from the Mindanao State University discovered massive algae contamination in Lake Lanao. Initially, poor sewage and agricultural waste management were seen as the culprit to the contamination. However, the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources stated that soil erosion from indiscriminate logging and extensive land use and farming are the problems that caused the algae contamination.

A Maranao myth describes the formation of the lake. It is said that a group of angels under the command of Gabriel removed the vast population of Mantapoli to prevent the world from tipping over. The hole that was left was filled with water and threatened to drown the rest of the world. In response, the angels enlisted the help of the Four Winds to gouge out an outlet. The hole became Lake Lanao and the outlet became the Agus river.

* * * *

The war in the Phillipines was the pre-WWI version of Iraq, and though it was a hundred years ago, the effect on our family still reverberates down through the generations. Orra Finney, probably as a result of war trauma, returned an alcoholic. Of course, with a name like Finney, one suspects a genetic vulnerability. He was beloved by his sister Beulah, who became in reaction a staunch WCTU member. She raised her son, my father, to be nothing less than phobic about alcohol, which is only marginally healthier than being dependent on it.

This grief also fed into a style of suppression, denial and evasion that was only encouraged by the rural pioneer culture in South Dakota where Beulah and Sam Strachan homesteaded and produced their family. Stoicism prevailed, which meant that many things were pushed down into the dark where they easily became rage -- at least in my father. He prided himself on being a “quiet man.” My mother accepted the idea that she was a “violent woman” and indeed she could be, since her father (a Pinkerton) certainly was extravagant and violent, at least he talked that way though his actual behavior was something different.

My mother’s mother’s brother was also in the Phillippines and also became alcoholic. The last time the family saw him was when they were traveling somewhere, passed the community cemetery, and saw that he was one of several men digging a grave. My grandmother’s response was to tell the children not to look. She would answer no questions.

These are lost men. I have no stories about them, am not sure they have descendants, and am VERY aware of how much the pattern is repeating. Where is that little boy with the violin now? Did he grow up successfully? Have children? Keep music in his life? Was he somehow related to me?