Thursday, April 30, 2009


The Valier butcher came last evening and dug out my driveway with a nifty little tractor. I’d already dug out my cat paths so this morning when I looked for the paper (not there) instead I found three cats! Caspar, the big white bully, and both Inkydinks, the sweet little Siamese twins. Bored with home, they'd come to see whether there was any action over here. There was: ME! They scrambled for home. There are lots of bird tracks on the snow, but no birds. They must be resting from all their foraging yesterday.

I’d dug the back cat path after my movie last night ("Youth Without Youth," a philosophical love story by Mircea Eliade, master of myth) with a fuzzy crescent moon watching. It looked like candy that rolled under the couch and got covered with lint. But that signaled the end of the snowfall.

This morning I shouldered my shovel, went to the end of what I shoveled last night and set to work. There’s a big drift which turned out to be three cats deep, counting tails stuck up straight. Crackers came out to watch and looked like this: ___^__^___ Only ears were showing. Squibbie, who is a slightly smarter cat, stayed in the window. I thought that I could just punch my way across the alley but it was up to my butt and then up to my shoulders, so I ended up sort of floundering across to the perpendicular alley and then had to hang onto the bit of fence above the snow to keep going something like straight. In the Anderson yard it was easy shoveling where the wind had blown it shallow, but then came Moby Drift, the biggest one of all. By that time Wayne was out on his porch yelling at me to stop being a nutcase because he’d hired Jerry to come with the backhoe.

The Montana road report shows I-15 dry from the cut-across (highway 44) to the border. Highway 89, closer to the mountains, is still closed. The winter reporting season ends tomorrow. No newspapers have showed up yet, but I’m reading it online anyhow. The weather forecast has switched over from blizzards to floods. I’ll give the mail a few more hours before I trudge up through the slush. It’s just above freezing. We never lost electricity, but I think it was spiking and breaking: two lightbulbs died.

When I was teaching in 1972-73 and living in Ramona Wellman’s big old abandoned yellow house in East Glacier, there was a storm like this that lasted ten days. I tell about it often because it was of epic proportions. We teachers got trapped in Browning and slept on our classroom floors until finally the railroad sent a huge locomotive with a rotary plow on the front of it that carried us all up to East Glacier. My van got buried at Christmas and I had to pay a backhoe to dig it out for Easter.

Now I see that there’s a man shoveling on the path I started across Rose’s yard and, strangely, I just feel jealous! I’d planned on being a HERO. (Er, heroine?)

There are pillows and cornices and toppling pudding piles on tops of everything, including vehicles, except that I pushed the snow off my little pickiup’s hood and it’s warm. If cats knew, they’d take advantage. All our eaves are lined with sharp icicles, the long thin kind. My house has no eaves and I know some of the water is going into my walls. The gypsum wallboard is buckling at the seams in some places. People who can afford it have reroofed with metal, which warms quickly and sends huge avalanches rocketing down on the unsuspecting, so they have small metal fences along the roofs to slow the sliding snow down.

This is Heart Butte, a building that started out as a sewing co-op, then became a rec center, and is now the “trading post” which sells food and has an area for sit-down coffee. A good destination when touring the rez, but I’d wait for summer. Here’s their regular website. In late summer they become a check-in point for forest fires, which can come perilously close. Janet Running Crane has posted a good reminiscence about the old days and how to cope. I can see Heart Butte from here and my next-door neighbors grew up there.

I’ve got two pairs of pants going now: sweats for going out to flounder in the snow and chinos for sitting in here with the keyboard. The sweats hang on a hook above the floor furnace to dry out. But now that there are starter paths dug, I have some ground to stand on so I don’t need boots. It’s not cold at all -- in fact, it’s overcast but there’s a good deal of radiant heat. Tomorrow and through the weekend the forecast is fifty. All these paths will soon be streams of water and boots will be essential again. The ground is thawed enough to soak it up. Some basements will have water. The door frames change shape as ground and wood swell and then shrink.

This is living earth and we know it. It breathes and slumps and sprouts beneath us. Co-existence takes constant readjustment and back-up plans. More than that, patience.

Valier is still quiet this morning. Not many vehicles, not many people walking. I don’t hear the beeping of equipment or the grinding of the big grader going through. We’re waiting.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The miraculous effect of this snow has been to make me fifty years younger!

In 1964 there was a storm like this one, except that it was later, in June, and therefore fell as rain instead of snow. That was the year of the flood that went down in history. It took watercourses out of their banks everywhere and breached three dams, sending lethal walls of water down the narrow valleys of the Blackfeet reservation.

These storms are supposed to be related to sun spots, which kick up great storms every eleven years: 1964, 1975, 1986, 1997, 2008. This storm should have hit last year. It’s late.

This is a “warm” blizzard so the snow is sticky and clings not only to the window screens but to the glass itself. The robins have re-aggregated into flocks and are scouting trees and bushes with berries, zooming low back and forth in front of the window beside my computer. Now and then one lands in a narrow place the wind has swept clean, like next to my raised planter for sweetgrass, and then has trouble getting up enough momentum to escape. The cats watch with careful attention, but it would be impossible for them to flounder through two foot drifts to catch a bird.

Although, they’ve been overeating out of boredom and then throwing up on the rugs. I’m tempted to throw them out in the snow -- close to the door, of course -- just to wake them up. And assuming I could get the door open, since there is a two-foot drift against each one, which is a good argument for sliders. Pansy and Wayne have a slider door but they report that it has a three foot drift and I should not come over there to dig them out. They’re not GOING out.

The grader has passed on Montana St. a few times, throwing up the usual berm to make my driveway impassable. I’m not going anywhere anyway. The temps will go back up to fifty in a day or so, and everything will dissolve. What weak sunlight comes through the window as radiant heat is strong. The thing to do is to roll over and sleep some more. Or read. Every highway on the east slope as far east as Chester and Fort Benton and as far south as Great Falls is closed. It’s snow and ice from there to Helena and slush and wet from there to Wyoming.

Last night I went out at midnight to shovel my front walk, partly as a gesture to the paper deliverer and partly just to get outside. It was warmish, too wet to be called balmy, and quite still except for a cow bawling somewhere, probably in a stock trailer where a rancher had managed to capture it in a rescue operation. At least this year the cattle hadn’t been moved into summer range which they just had when a storm a few years ago hit hard. The feds granted the tribe money, not to replace all the dead cows but to remove the carcasses rotting across the landscape. A good year for grizzlies without even waiting for berry season.

The snow digging was easy because when it’s this wet it sticks together in blocks and then slides off the shovel when tossed. Each shovel-full is heavy but that’s easier on the back than a load that twists and shifts. If a person can get a good rhythm going, the path forms quickly. I propped the screen door open so the cats could sit and watch, side-by-side with dilated eyes. When a quick gust took snow-near-water into their faces, they removed to indoors. When I came in, my hair was full of sequins. I read under a lamp for a bit to keep from having a damp pillow.

In the night came the sound of soft bombs as branches dumped their loads on the house. Our leaves are not out yet or we’d hear the sharp crack of breaking boughs. We’re barely to catkins, at least on the south side of my house. Mysteriously, a whole bed of tulips had come to life this spring. In the ten years I’ve lived here, they’ve never come up before. The ants had just been stirring: one ant, two ants, three ants. No more than that.

The doves are quiet in their haven inside my blue spruces. I don’t know what they’re eating, but they have shelter. The path I dig in front gives the cats access to their refuges under the spruces. Sometimes I see the footprints of other cats, but not for the last few days. Just before this storm came in, I left the garage door open and a strange cat found the kitchen cat flap. It stoked up on cat food so that my two fat scairdy cats crept out peering around the corners to try to spot what they could smell. It wasn’t until I stomped around to try to scare out the intruder -- hoping it wasn’t a skunk -- that they got their courage back enough for their fur to lie down.

In the past I’ve told scary stories about getting caught in storms like this, driving alone for long distances with valuable cargo, the wildest story being in 1970 when I took a load of bronzes to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody. But this time I’m safe in my little house. Things are insulated and quieter than usual, with white photographer’s light bouncing everywhere under the gray sky. Maybe in a while I’ll go out to my woodstove in the garage and burn papers and sticks.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009








For the past few weeks I’ve been trotting over to Pansy’s house every morning to see how she’s getting along. She has cancer and is quietly fading away, getting a little smaller every day. She’s very brave and supported by hospice which sends a nurse, a bath-er, or a social worker just about every day. Her meds come mostly in a little scotch-tape squares she sticks to herself.

Yesterday I waded through the snow to retrieve the shovel I’d hung up in the back garage and dug a path for the cats across my yard, then went over to Pansy’s and dug a “nurse path” across her yard. The snow was six to eight inches deep. Today it’s quite a bit deeper.

In the afternoon I took a nap, maybe too much of one since I had a hard time falling asleep last night. I’d been working my way through a pile of AIDS books of several kinds: one an overview of how to run a support group, one a young man’s coming-of-age story (he turned out to be neither gay nor to have AIDS), one his uncle’s book (a co-author of The Joy of Gay Sex among a long list of more distinguished books), a book of essays by a gay man who fell to his death while hiking before he could finish it. The books cost a penny each plus maybe four dollars each to mail. They are hard to assimilate because their world is so foreign. I mean, I think I’m understanding but then realize that I don’t have the right context. I’ll write reviews later. It does seem important to get a grip on such a major part of our population, particularly given the events since AIDS. But it keeps my head spinning on high.

Esp. now, given the other subject of almost hourly news releases, the swine/bird/human flu that killed dozens in Mexico City. This morning I woke up with a sore throat, aching. That was at 5AM. When I woke up again at 10AM, I was better. So was that flu symptoms or was that from shoveling paths or did I sleep with my mouth hanging open? I’ve signed up with the CDC for automated reports on the world status whenever word comes in. If I’m going to have plague, I want to have it on a planetary level! A strangely shared solitary experience.

If you don’t get emails from me later on, it won’t be because of flu -- but because the electric grid has come down. I wonder how that strip of 200 windmills just outside of town is getting along. If the road weren’t closed, I’d drive out to see what it looks like tonight with their traveling red lights zipping along the snowy prairie. Eerie enough on an ordinary night, reflections on snow must be remarkable.

The newspaper came -- just a few hours late. Probably had to wait until the plows got out. In a bit I’ll bundle up and go for the mail, not because I expect a letter but because there should be two movies in it. The wind is blowing hard. Luckily it’s in my face when I walk the two blocks to the post office and at my back when I return, but my really warm hat and muffler are stored back in the shed. Silly me! I thought it was Spring and forgot what that means here -- or can mean.

This is not a usual Spring. My Calgary friend asked, “Do you think this is the end of the drought?” It sure is this week. Authorities are worrying about reservoir capacity when all this runs off the mountains. Lake Francis just thawed out. A strong wind finally did the job, piling up slush on the bank.

Cough. Is that bronchitis? I can be sure that it’s not AIDS, though I’m notorious for “catching” every disease I hear about in much detail. I have a strong impulse to order lots of books over the internet, but am squeezing every nickel to pay my county taxes. Money. Symptom or disease?

A little kit for fixing my printer came in the mail yesterday and I used a tiny hypodermic to drip solvent where it ought to do some good. If it worked, I can concentrate on print-outs today. Barrus produces so much more print than I am that I lose track of the posts in the computer. I want them on pages so I can put them in chapter piles on my long work table. Old-fashioned.

Should I subscribe to Twitter? Why let swine flu be the only momentary posts I get? Should I switch to the local radio station and give up my Billings NPR feed for the day so I can hear what the sheriff says about cars in the ditch? Should I take aspirin? Should I hunt up the new thermometer I finally bought since usually the only one I can find is for the cats? (It has a loop on the end where you tie a string in case you use it on a big dog and it disappears inside.) I don’t feel feverish.

The blizzard advice (if your car gets stuck...) has one omission. Lots of books. And paper in case you think of something brilliant to write. A clipboard. It’s hard to write in a pickup without a clipboard.

Monday, April 27, 2009


(This is a continuation of the Early Methodist Church history on the Blackfeet Reservation begun earlier.)

Mrs. Mecklenberg
, in the traditional way of wives being extensions of husbands, managed a group of Indian women who did beadwork for sale. She reported on the practice of calling on full-bloods as follows:
“We make a few casual remarks about the weather, the health of the children, or admire some new . . . blanket, or . . . piece of beadwork that an old grandma is working on. Then on giving our invitattion to them for a social at the church or urge their presence at the Sunday services. We feel they have appreciated our call for they have asked us to come again.”

Ironically, the Methodist lack of a strong sacramental element freed them to be more tolerant of Blackfeet sacraments, while the Catholics went head-to-head over the competing liturgies. But in another irony that cut in the other direction, the Methodists were way behind when it came to anthropological and linguistic skills that the Catholics had been honing since the New Continent was discovered. Probably the Methodists simply didn’t take Blackfeet ceremonies very seriously, while someone like Father Mallman at Heart Butte was bitterly opposed, though he was wise enough to tolerate an occasional horse sacrificed on a grave if it would avoid confrontation.

Mrs. Mecklenberg wrote: “If we want to take away [Blackfeet] religion, we must give him something to take its place . . . we cannot condemn his religion if we can’t replace it with soething better. The thing to do is to draw out from his religion the good that there is in it and gradually get him to come into the Xn realm. He worships a great Spirit and so do we.” This easy tolerance was based on blindness to the actual content of Blackfeet beliefs, a trivialization and underestimation, as well as what leaps to the contemporary eye as gender conflation, particularly relevant since Blackfeet religion depends in large part on women, esp. virtuous and very aged women. Not Madonnas.

For Mrs. Mecklenberg material culture was everything. At a white cattleman’s house she noted: “At first sight you could not detect it from the average white home. There is a piano, perhaps a violin, there are books and magazines, good furniture tastefully arranged, and the occupants are dressed as good as the average white person and often they are dressed better.” Probably her own house and clothing was not as nice, so she is to be commended for not letting jealousy overcome virtue.

The Rev. Mr. Mecklenberg
seemed to pursue a strategy that left the hub in Browning to white folks (Junior and Epworth League, Ladies’ Aid, Brotherhood, Camp Fire Girls, and Boy Scouts) while maintaining Sunday schools and other forms of religious education in East Glacier, at the Boarding School and other points. One has to giggle a bit at Camp Fire Girls and Boy Scouts, organizations meant to impart the romantic worldview of American Indians to white children across America, right there in the middle of the very real phenomenon. In short, the church was managing mostly by compartmentalization and lack of realization.

Mecklenburg left in 1926. Mrs. Wilcox, wife of the next minister, Allen C. Wilson, continued the practise of journaling. She reported that “the parsonage was a 4-room house with a coal stove in the kitchen-dining room, and coal heater in the liviing room. Outdoor plumbing, and all water carried in and out. Two bedrooms upstairs and no electricity.” “We had to work hard, and get up early because the Indians came to our house both early and late. . . They had great faith in Allen’s prayers and he would be called any time in the night to pray for the sick.” However, his prayers for money to improve the parsonage where the family included small children were not effective. The denomination itself was struggling. It was the Great Depression.

The ugly details of the worsening situation are recorded in correspondence traced by Harrod in “Mission Among the Blackfeet.” Only one official managed to get to Browning and witness. His urgings were also ignored. Finally the denomination turned on their missionary and blamed him, saying that he had mismanaged everything. Philadelphia headquarters took two conflicting points of view, one being that the thing to do with Blackfeet was to offer charity in the form of old clothes they could clean and repair and the other was to forget about Indians and take care of the white people in town.

Wilson ignored them both and out of his own sense of mission created a small institution still mourned on the reservation: The Church of the Little Sweet Pine. In 1932 it arose spontaneously from the community along the South Fork of Cut Bank Creek, fourteen miles north of Browning. Walter Torbert, church official said it “is a very comfortable building. The Indians like it. I think it cost entirely too much money -- but that is neither here nor there -- it has been done.” Nevertheless, he considered it a sort of playhouse of little importance.

This is what the Indians said, according to Mrs. Wilson: “Long before our grandmothers can remember [a] Medicine Lodge. . . was held here. Instead of using the cottonwood and the quaking aspen trees as they did then and do now, on this particular Lodge they used the Sweet Pine branches. After that this creek was known to all as Sweet Pine Medicine Lodge Creek. We want to call our church “The Church of the Little Sweet Pine.”

Harrod reports “Soon the Church of the Little Sweet Pine became a social center as well as a place for the celebration of the significant events of life -- birth, death, marriage, and baptism. It was distinctively an Indian church and dominated by Indians.”

This was a true grassroots synthesis between old and new ways, but it was doomed. Not everyone was as clear-eyed as the Wilsons. They saw competition for a dominant institution -- at least they intended for it to be dominant! When the creek undermined the foundation of the cabin, a crew of white men went up and sawed the Church of the Little Sweet Pine into firewood. Wilson had left in 1945.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Recently my much-beloved, fierce, and large professor of writing at U of Chicago, Richard Stern, wrote a lovely essay about writers he has met in various ways, some of them brief and glancing, while others were lifelong friendships and even collaborations. That’s in addition to the students who actually became writers. So I thought I’d reflect a bit on writers I’ve known.

The first one was my aunt, Elsie Mackinnon Strachan, whom I knew literally from my birth or at least the day after. She’s gone now. It just occurred to me to Google her name and, lo, now I’m downloading her poems from as early as December, 1952, “Desert” magazine. Having grown up in Brandon, Manitoba, she had a natural affinity for the high dry places, and also often published in Arizona Highways as well as the Saturday Evening Post and The Christian Science Monitor. I think that though we were proud of her and admired and praised her, we didn’t quite understand her stature. She belonged to a strong circle of poet friends (mostly female) which we knew little or nothing about.


The tumble weeds came rolling thorugh the town,
Like phantom riders on the wind of night,
To stir the dust where time is bedded down,
Where forty-niners sleep beneath soft light;

And as they raced along deserted streets,
The frontier west, the rush for gold returned;
And I could hear the blacksmith’s anvil ring,
And smell the pine wood smoke where bacon burned.

And I could see the burro on the trail,
And hear great laughter in the bright saloon;
Now ponies stood beside the hitching rail,
Where fantasy was silvered by the moon.

Like riders come for gold, the tumbleweeds
Rode in as bold performers and were gone;
And then, as though the law had cornered them,
I found them lined up at the fence at dawn.
-- Desert, 1956


With roots embedded deep in centuries past,
Baboquivari, silent, granite-cast,
Towers skyward. Time and wind and rain,
In collusion with the sun, in vain
Have lashed and beaten; graven and proud she stands
Unmoved, star-high above the desert sands.
At times a lei of snow, flung ‘round her throat,
Adorns her age-long, ever-changing coat --
Now grey, now dusty-rose, now purple hued,
Depending on the hour, and on her mood.
Baboquivari, silent, granite-cast,
Keeping from you and me, secrets of the past.
--Desert, 1952

The next writer I was aware of was Chaplain John W. Beard who, with his wife, rode the Oregon trail on horseback. I see “Saddles East” is reissued now at
A division of The Long Riders' Guild Press, The world's first collection of Equestrian Travel Classics.

Here’s their synopsis:

“A great many equestrian travelers could say they were inspired to take to the saddle because of the exploits of someone who rode before them. However John Beard is the only horseback traveler whose journey can be directly linked to the influence of the famous Buffalo Bill Cody. Beard determined as a child that he wanted to see the Wild West from the back of a horse after a visit to Cody’s legendary Wild West show .

"Yet it was to be more than sixty years after seeing the flamboyant American showman before Beard, and his wife Lula, finally mounted their dreams. Setting off on a matched pair of horses, Black Diamond and Black Fairy, the Beards left to discover the long cherished equestrian quest of the author’s youth.

“Their mission in 1948 was to ride the length of the Old Oregon Trail. What followed was a 2,500 mile odyssey from Oregon to Missouri through a vast sea of weariness, thirst, hunger, hardship, and danger as the aged equestrians rode down the trail of their pioneer forefathers.

“Amply illustrated with photographs, “Saddles East” is more than a mere tale of adventure, it is the romantic story of two pilgrims of the sunrise riding back into the morning of their youth, hunting for America’s yesterday with everything they own on the backs of their faithful horses.”

The whole catalogue is wonderful stuff. I’m unclear about why he was called “Chaplain” but I suspect he took that role in WWII, which may be partly where he got the moxie to strike out on such an adventure. In the Fifties he and Lula came around to the grade schools to tell us about his travels.

As an undergrad at NY I tried to take writing courses but soon ran aground athwart an arrogant young professor. I can’t remember his name, so don’t remember whether he ever became a “known” writer. Still, I managed to get a short story into the Northwestern Tri-Quarterly.

In Browning there were writers underfoot all the time. R.L. Lancaster, that maniacal moocher, showed up in later years and left with Ace Powell’s family. Ruth Beebe Hill had fastened onto Bob in 1959 and returned to haunt us every summer with her endlessly revised manuscript of “Hanta Yo!” under her arm. I snuck a look at it once which sent her into a screaming rage. Wilbur Renshaw, spouse of the primary school principal, had his Westerns published by a vanity press. Adolph Hungry Wolf was already supporting his family with homemade books about Blackfeet lore. They were a busy lot, disinclined to encourage anyone else to write.

In Divinity School there were, of course, many writers everywhere, but quite a different sort. One day I passed Jorge Luis Borges, that very distinguished blind writer going along with a stick, and jauntily wished him “Bon jour!” in my newly acquired French. I went on smugly, leaving Borges, totally confused, standing on the sidewalk, no doubt wondering who on the planet I was in the first place and why I addressed him in French, since he spoke Spanish.

My most recent glancing contact with a writer was more satisfactory. Barnaby Conrad III left a comment on my review of his excellent book, “Ghost-Hunting in Montana” which is about this very land I live on: Valier, Lake Francis, Conrad, Kalispell. I have it off the shelf so much that I’ve stopped reshelving it. I just leave it out. Writers are everywhere. Which is as it should be!

Saturday, April 25, 2009


It made a difference to be born in 1939, just before the Boomers’ parents created so many babies out of wartime desperation and triumph. Simultaneously I came to consciousness aware of the holocaust and the atomic bomb -- the eradication of whole populations. I was surprised to realize in about 1946 or so (2nd grade?) that Germany and Japan still existed. I thought we had sent them to oblivion. But that’s not the way the “civilized” world works, partly because a country is a mixture, not all of whom are guilty to the point of depravity.

At least if they are a nation. There’s no such thing as “nation-cide,” just genocide, and that’s for the “gens,” the people who have an identity but not a structured nation with borders, a flag and an anthem. As the Indians know -- though, crazily, the very nation that tried to destroy them then forced them into becoming internal nations. The Jews have the advantage of a Book and Temples. Oh, and it helps to have money and connections -- even if not quite enough. And then there are the Gypsies who learned to slide through the shadows.

The natural number of people in a community of “known people” is about a hundred or so. Few enough that when you see the people on the street, you know their names and ask about their relatives. Valier is 350, so that’s a little over the limit. In the old Belgian peasant villages where most of these people came from, people had known each other for centuries. If they tried to be different from their families, people laughed and shoved them back in.

The Blackfeet tribe is 8,000 on the rez and 8,000 off. Heart Butte, the most remote community, has a population of 650, mostly pretty young. I know more Heart Butte people than Valier people because I taught in the former but live quietly apart in my house in Valier. In the old days the Blackfeet lived in small groups, maybe a hundred or so, and moved around. If someone tried to be different from their families, they generally went looking for another group more to their liking. They still do that.

These are communities based on place, location, a walkable space where the land is divvied up and assigned. There are also communities based on affinity, common interests. In the religious context they are called “gathered congregations.” They became important when the dominant religion in Europe, which was “parish” or place-based (so that every priest was responsible for everyone in his parish) was challenged by Protestantism so that their minister was responsible only for the members of that congregation. Protestants, when they split from the Catholic monolith, then shattered into smaller and smaller schisms until the left wing took action by delineating their community, moving to live together, sometimes communally, and throwing out dissenters. This was called “fencing the communion.” They didn’t go converting others in an effort to grow -- they just stayed home and guarded their boundaries, morally as much as any other way. So today we have Amish, Mennonites, Hutterites, Church of the Brethren, and so on. They have survived, persisted and kept the ways that are now old.

Today we have virtual communities over the internet. People in them may have never met except through print, images and ideas. They may be “cloaked,” representing themselves as entirely different than they “really” are. Their day jobs may be totally different, their educations may be totally different, they may not even be the gender they say they are. What holds them together? Common interests, curiosity, a shared style. They’re not like a profession, the way medicine or law gather around a discipline that makes them useful, related to the culture as order-keepers. In fact, what holds them together may be rebellion and secrecy. Or not. The “H” humanities listservs at are academically defined.

The drug culture may contribute to virtual communities somewhat, but it’s not possible to be an effective hacker or videographer without a mind that works. Maybe drug culture needs a typology: those who want to increase their alertness or endurance, those who crave visions, those who are trying to stay alive: HIV/AIDS. Even I, Old Lady Diabetes II, depend upon the Internet and blogs for my medical information. Personal testimony. The breaking up of monoliths and assumptions.

We have discovered that the pharm companies, along with the doctors and lawyers and senators and generals, are only keeping order for themselves. They erase the gens by committing crimes of omission: not funding. Not counting, not identifying, not educating, not housing, not providing courts, not even actively torturing in the way I read about as a child in the Police Gazette, but simply deporting, warehousing, leaving on the streets, denying insurance, never funding enough safety inspectors. Those who actively tortured were a convenient distraction for the more cold-blooded, filling the news with shocking images so we wouldn’t read our stock market statements carefully.

The gens identify themselves and begin to form groups, until finally one day they reach critical mass and Act Up. Of course, in that specific case, all the authorities had to do was to wait for them to die. The same as they are waiting for the Indians to intermarry enough to dilute themselves out of existence. They didn’t expect all the different tribes to intermarry with each other and create one big pan-Indian tribe that now has enough critical mass to make major political changes. They didn’t expect that gays would form networks of information and support, that the dying would reach out to the living.

Here I am on the edge of the reservation, not really belonging to the village or the rez, but participating in a virtual community called Cinematheque. I don’t meet their demographic. I can’t even approach their tech skills. I’ve never met them. I’m thousands of miles away. I’m not fortified behind strong doors but hide in plain sight. How did this happen? I don’t really know. The answer is somewhere in Tim Barrus.

Or maybe it is as deep in me as those first child years when I sat watching newsreels or listening to grownups talk or leafing through Life magazine or sitting on the porch stairs trying to figure it all out. I went with my mother to church when I was so young that my legs stuck straight out in front of me in the pew. I was too near-sighted to see the preacher, but I could hear him. I learned to listen, even if it was only to his tone of voice. I listen carefully to Cinematheque.

If that worries you, just skip the posts about it.

[About a hundred and fifty people read this blog every day. Over a thousand through the week. Enough to attract a bit of advertising since I need a new printer. I hope it doesn’t bug you. I certainly don’t endorse the content. Computers have no sense of irony.]

Friday, April 24, 2009


Reading about Caravaggio (“M -- The Story of the Man Who Became Caravaggio) plus the movie, as well as reading Jeremy Biles’ essay about J.G. Ballard in “Sightings” which is an automated essay that comes from the University of Chicago Divinity School, I’ve managed to make a lot of inchoate and troublesome ideas fall into place. (Don’t worry. My domestic life remains calm and regular.)

First of all, I begin to see how in Caravaggio’s day the main privileged class was high church officials plus a few landed individuals. Their markers of privilege were anything of great cost, including jewels and precious metals (hello, Cellini) and art but also human beings for sexual use -- ANY sexual use -- and also secrecy enforced with violence. The biggest power of all was to break the rules that were enforced on “lesser” folk. Ironically, someone like Caravaggio or Cellini, who paid no attention to the rules at least in part because they could make valuable things, were thus able to be “free spirits,” their own kind of power that exposed them to violence. These convictions persist, which partly explains our problems with priests and politicians today. And perhaps also explains the origin of our idea that all artists are somehow entitled to be untamed, exceptional, tantamount to geniuses.

So being middle class, as we know it now, came later. I wonder whether a case could be made linking it to industrialization: people coming in from the country and making it in the city Dickens-style, either through bookkeeping or through machine-enhanced manufacturing or small shops. These are pursuits that depend upon attention to detail, consistency, persistence, watching the clock. This could produce wealth, or has until lately. Part of being middle-class was limiting children to the number who could be educated, since skill was now the way to make money. Simple untrained child labor became less and less useful and therefore children were easy to abandon. Respectability then became linked with repression, so that extra sexuality -- with no birth control -- had to be siphoned off to disreputables whose lives didn’t matter. People became much more guarded and more easily discarded.

Economics in a city meant that the primary male was far more important than on a farm. In fact, he was SO important that a woman had to be very careful about choosing him and then commit to him utterly. The law conspired with this. Men owned women. (I just saw “Iron-jawed Angels” and highly recommend it: a lively contemporary interpretation of the securing of women’s right to vote.) WWII inflated the national image of men into heroes of nearly god-like proportions. I just watched “A Bridge Too Far” and was startled to see how many of our major movie stars in the Boomer generation picked up their images from this war story. It’s not one of those black-and-white gritty WWII movies, though there are there are included newsreels, and not the carnegraphic (new word -- isn’t it great?) post-Vietnam movies of more recent times. "Bridge" includes a lot of spectacular Technicolor blood and explosions, then a series of vignettes of wry, brave, handsome men. Little of the dismemberment that since become popular.

When birth control, women’s rights, and female economic empowerment, are in place, the previous system is pretty well sabotaged. The paycheck power that entitled Pa to everything is now at least undermined as Ma finds work as well. National cynicism and corruption follow the chaos -- don’t cause it. People feel that relationships won’t last, that jobs won’t last -- and they’re right. So everyone presses for the moment. And that means in sex, too. Now that having babies won’t kill women, they don’t mind having more sex. And Dad was kinda pressured until they invented Viagra. Now it’s a checkmate: no babies, no necessity for arousal, no game, no fun.

All along the way the sex that Victorians tried to keep under control had been leaking out, mostly as a matter of commodification -- mercantilism. Sex sells. Movies, newspapers, books, and so on. Guys look at gals in terms of how much money it would take to get her to come across. Gals -- did they ever stop -- size guys up according to their prospects for income. Ma and Pa get so absorbed in this that they forget all about the kids who DO somehow manage to come along despite every safeguard.

The bottom line is that culture loses meaning, power is gone, family loyalty evaporates except among those only a generation or so from the land like Hispanics or Asians. (Which gives them a big advantage.) The power to attach is weakened because, to many, jobs mean moving, so people abandon what they have if they see something better. Sex and drugs combined become a “kratophany” (another new word -- it means an experience of great power -- in this case, a fantasy) because both are so denied and confined and yet so saleable, so ubiquituous and yet (for some) so elusive. The two interact.

But that’s beginning to wane. Familiarity, maybe. Maybe an actual physiological shift from modern diet and chemical ingestion, actual gender blurring. Sex is now all over the place and we’ve explored every orifice. What was porn is now “erotic” or maybe just an “R” rating that everyone ignores. The discussion of it no longer needs to be in Latin -- all the kids say fuck. Violence and pain enter the mix.

But there’s another real porn now, something nice people don’t talk about: the limits of human life. Not just us as individuals, though that keeps people glued to their science news and helps to sell ridiculously high-priced and bug-ridden machines that often divulge nothing or very little about ailments. (We’ve nearly translated to a higher plane: from mechanics to techtronics -- except we still think in terms of industrial mass-production.)

We are beginning to realize that humans are animals with no privilege, that all animals have genetic drift and that outliers are always falling off the edges, that something so subtle as climate change or a virus can extinguish (HAS extinguished) whole species, and that there is no assurance that humans will even exist on this planet more than a few thousand years into the future. Thus the huge interest in religion.

“Do you believe in God” is just code for “Do you believe in Life after Death.” Spirituality is the feeling that one belongs, but also the conviction that something never dies.

The enormous power of AIDS to tap human consciousness is that it wraps up mortality and sex together, though one could just as easily catch some other virus and just as easily catch it through a blood transfusion or a needle poke. And yet AIDS has not captured the budget; it doesn’t get as much money as it takes to develop a cure. The power has no shape, no direction. It’s not yet personal. While the “grownups” were busy thinking up reasons to resist a cure -- like, won’t it solve the Africa problem by depopulating the continent? Won't it wipe out perverts? In fact, won’t it just solve the overpopulation of the earth by weeding out all the people we don’t much like? -- the younger people of the planet have been quietly growing “secret” layers of planetary culture. One is the response to the criminalization of drugs, which has acted just as alcohol criminalization did to web together gangs, dictators and opportunists in a new mafia that ignores national boundaries. (The total value of marijuana transactions alone last year is estimated to exceed the value of corn, wheat and soy combined.) Another network is the war profiteering, which is now morphing around to escape control by the new administration. Not much difference except they can’t be so out-in-the-open. I think the high tech network is about to be forced underground by efforts to control all this as well as the need to make money. The results won’t be pleasant.

So we’ve entered a world that the punk sci-fi writers have inhabited for a long time: post-apocalypse. A time when place is a labyrinth, survival is the goal, and humans are voluntary cyborgs. J. G. Ballard and T.P. Barrus have lived in this world a while. They can tell us about it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


This is about a death in the extended webwork of family that descends from seven Welsh sisters who emigrated from Scotland long ago. Via their marriages, they lived quite different lives -- some prosperous and some not -- but all carrying along a family style and genome that is alive and kicking at this very moment. I used to think in terms of the famous brilliant ones as being most important, but now I’m more and more convinced it is the enduring legacy of the quiet faithful ones that are the real backbone of human culture. Kathy and my other cousins and I talk of this tension between public achievement and private reliability, central issues of our own lives. So I post this news.

The earliest Welsh in Eugene Strachan’s records is Josias, born in New Battle (? so there must be some doubt) Scotland. He had at least one son, named William Welsh, b. 1780 and d. 1825, both in Scotland. His wife was Helen Spiers, b. 1785 and d. 1854, both in Scotland.
Thomas Welsh, their son, was born in 1814 and died 1889 in Scotland. He married Jeannie Gillis, who was born Jan. 8, 1820 on St. Simons Is., Georgia, and died on July 24, 1903 in Scotland. There were seven children, one of which was a boy.

It is their children who are “our” shared great-grandparents.

Mary Welsh Ramsay is the ancestor of Katherine Rouzie. George Dyer Ramsay started Ramsay Machine Works in Victoria, B.C. in 1903. (A history is at:

Catherine Welsh, Mary’s sister, married Archibald Strachan, becoming a homesteader on the Dakota prairie and then a resident of Oklahoma with their sister Ellen, who had married James S. Robertson. Both are buried there.

Mary Welsh Ramsay
and George Dyer Ramsay had four children:
1. George
2. Beth
3. Jean
4. Lauder

Jean Ramsay Harcus and William Donald Harcus (whose grandparents were both from Scotland, from the island Papa Westray in the Orkneys) had four children.
1. Beth Ramsay Schumaker married to Cal (a bank executive), living in Spokane.
2. Ross Harcus (wife Pat is deceased -- he was a doctor, graduated from Yale Med School) lived in Spokane until his death about a year ago. (June 22, 2008) His daughter Joan is married to Phil Rostad, Jr. His obituary is at

3. Mary Harcus White married to Paul White(a lawyer graduated from Northwestern Law School), living in Ephrata, WA

They had four children:
1. Katherine graduated from Lewis & Clark, one semester abroad at Charles U in Prague, library degree U of Washington. Married to Don Rouzie, an architect. Two kids: Jade and Devan.
2. Bruce, a lawyer in Portland, managing partner for Mitchell, Lang & Smith. African-American wife, separated. Two grown children: Katy and Mark.
3. Janet married Dick Wallace (son of Rt Rev (retired) Leigh and Pat Wallace, Episcopal Bishop, of Missoula). She is an MSW at a hospital in Olympia. Dick is at State Dept of Ecology. Twin girls working on MA in public health, one at U of Wash and the other at Berkeley.
4. Paul (died 2001) Ski racer, grad of U of Oregon in anthro, worked on drill rigs in Persian Gulf & Syria, contractor. Married.

4. Frances Harcus Ford (married to James, president of Skagit Valley Community College) lived in Anacortes, WA, until her death earlier this year.

Katharine sent me this email notification this morning:

My mother died last night, which was really not much of a surprise as she had been sort of fading for the last couple of months. I am so glad now that I arranged those few summer vacations she had at the beach, and that we made the big effort to go up and have Thanksgiving with her and celebrate Dad's birthday with her in February.

She told me last summer, when her dementia became apparent, "It's a terrible thing to outlive your mind." I know that losing her cognitive abilities and her independence were things that really took the joy out of living for her. Although she spent most of her adult life being very grumpy at having to live in this little town in Central Washington, I always thought there were worse fates and she should have appreciated what she had more, which was a very comfortable life and pretty nice kids. And a lovely husband. But I don't know what she knew or what she thought.

We were so different. Her lifelong best friend, Mary Randlett, is a real artist, a highly regarded photographer of the natural and built worlds and she also took lots of pictures of artists, many of whom were her friends. I always thought Mary was really great and couldn't understand why she and my mom were such great friends. I guess for her era my mother was a little unconventional as well. She was smart, well-educated, read all the time, and had a great sense of humor. She really had quite a bit on the ball and I was always annoyed at how my friends (especially the male ones) loved to come to our house and talk with her. Sometimes they ignored me!

(Do Google Mary Randlett! This is only one of several sites.)

Anyway, she was really sweet to me in her old age. Last time I saw her, she greeted me with great enthusiasm. She said "Oh, look, here's Kathy, my Kathy!" Really sweet.

Her younger sister Frances died earlier this year. My sister went to Anacortes for the service, representing the family east of the mountains (which includes Ross's family and the Rostads).

Mother died late yesterday afternoon. The last time I saw her was in mid-February, when Don and the children and I went up to celebrate Dad's 86th birthday with her. We organized a dinner at the Rama Inn, the Ephrata Best Western motel, which has an accessible multi-purpose room. I cooked at their little house in Ephrata and we brought it down to the hotel and set up a little dining room there, using her tablecloth, napkins and silverware.

She was able to enjoy being there with us, and even joked to all of us "I'm married to an OLD man!". We spent some time with her the following morning as well. That was probably about the last time she was able to have much of a conversation with us.

Dad reported in March that she was becoming less responsive, sleeping more and it seemed she was kind of just fading away. She had some health issues and she really wasn't interested in living on with her cognitive losses, although I know she appreciated her caregiver's kindness and nurturing and enjoyed watching her little daughters running around.

She died in her caregivers' home, in peace and with some privacy, for which I am eternally grateful to these kind people. Dad had been there visiting her every day, and was there with her the day she died.

She had a long and it seems to me rather rewarding life, although she was never in love with living in Ephrata I fear. She had a great sense of humor and she read a lot.

The oldest child of this family, Beth Schumaker, is living in Spokane with her husband, Cal. I am in touch with their youngest son, who is a librarian living in Chicago. He is so much younger than the rest of us that he missed out on knowing his cousins (he was born when my aunt was in her late 40's; I remember her telling my mother she thought she was too old to get pregnant!). So I found him and have been emailing him so he'd know he had a family beyond his much-older sister and brother.

Katherine Rouzie, April 23, 2009

It astounds me that there are so many tiny connections among these descendants as we meet and find out about each other over the years, exclaiming, "I had no idea you were there all along!"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Maybe it’s it’s a sign of old age or maybe it’s just the times we’re in or maybe it’s just too much coffee, but whenever there’s a disruption in my regular routine, I find myself -- not entrapped -- maybe becalmed for a day or so. Though I’m about as calm as a duck -- looking peaceful up top, but paddling away down below. Dave Lull, librarian extraordinaire, sent me a link this morning to a Wall Street Journal review by David Myers, addressing a book by Winifred Gallagher called “Rapt” in which she wraps up some concepts about how minds work. She evidently talks about Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of “flow,” that state in which your mind is truly engaged, neither overtaxed nor bored. Finding the occupation and context that will keep you in that state is one of the secrets of happiness. There’s a lot of other good stuff about how the part of one’s mind that one can’t really access except indirectly does a lot of shaping and guiding.

That part of my mind really likes routine and quiet, which is why I thrive in Valier. A trip like yesterday’s trip to Great Falls will disrupt my pill intake, my sleep patterns, the level of household cat contentment, where I put my keys, and blogging. Just the seasonal changes, which happen on the hour this time of year, keep me a little too preoccupied. This morning’s dawn sky was a heap of red embers, which is supposed to signal wind. The only trouble with that theory is that the wind had already come, raked the town, and left again an hour earlier. Now we’ve moved along to low dark clouds. It’s warm.

Since I must’ve woken up with the wind, partly because I got back from Great Falls stunned enough by driving to need a long nap, I brought in the paper. Something has changed to cause it to come much earlier than it used to -- maybe it’s just so much smaller that it’s printed faster. Bits of the news are distressing: my friends Kip and Odette Mortenson are suing to protect their organic beef ranch from weed eradication efforts that the state is determined to fulfill by spraying along road right-of-ways through their ranch. That in itself is enough to make me grumble, but the community has been so resistant and the weather so severe that it looks as though Mortenson’s may decide this is not a good place to age out. When they go, they will take their excellent bookstore with them. Oasis Books, Choteau, Montana, focused carefully on quality first edition used hardbacks about the West. The locals would rather have a big jumble of paperback ephemera.

Another is that in spite of the best efforts of the GF Ad Club, attendance is down so much at the CM Russell Museum that three staff people have been laid off. The complaint I hear is not so much that the staff is shrinking but that the wrong people have been let go: the dedicated and long-term people who make things work. Historical and art museums have some major vulnerabilities, one of which is an exaggerated respect for academia, probably in an effort to prove that the local vernacular is just as valid as the elite city stuff. So they hire people with fancy credentials but not much real love or enthusiasm for the subject. Also, their boards tend to sun themselves in the honor of it all instead of understanding that their duty is to raise money, even if that means writing a nice fat check.

That said, the “Bison” exhibit is quite beguiling. The most impressive part, I thought, was walking through the midst of a virtual buffalo stampede. One goes through a dark, narrow and short passage with a video of rampaging animals on one side and a mirror showing the same rampage on the other. The sound effects and the shaking underfoot are pretty convincing and I’ve BEEN in a buffalo stampede! The life-sized “diorama” of an Indian on a horse taking down a buffalo didn’t impress me much. The rest of the information and materials are familiar, but won’t be for tourists.

The “Big R” ranch supply store is now so big it’s easier to get lost in than the buffalo exhibit maze. There are still chicks for sale, so tiny and busy they hardly seem real. One longs to cuddle them in spite of the signs begging people not to. If you think all chicks are yellow, there are surprises here. No ducks, geese or turkeys are left. Over in the ranch tools section with huge levers and wheels, enameled bright red except for cutting edges and teeth which glittered steely, there was a big old rancher in his cowboy hat, puttering around amongst things, singing “salakadoola, michigaboola, bibbety-bobbity boo! Put ‘em together and what’ve you got . . .?” I haven’t heard that one for a long time. They did NOT have what I went there for: a fly trap that’s a little plastic bag with a baffle on top. I bought a fancier one -- it’s important to start early before they lay eggs. I gather the simple ones didn’t sell because they stink so bad -- but that’s what made them work!

Nor were there any magazines I really wanted at Barnes & Noble, which has always been one of my motivators for driving so far. The books weren’t interesting either. I’m way out of step with corporate American publishing on all levels and have a hunch I’m not the only one. It’s the same problem I work on when managing my own consciousness: to keep moving. The book and magazine (AND newspaper) industries are so locked into what they’ve always done -- no, that’s wrong. They haven’t always done what they’ve done in the last decade or so, which is to become dominated by corporations that demand unreasonable returns and who depend upon market research instead of thought and observation. Since the market research is also based on unexamined assumptions, they are winding in on themselves ever more tightly until they will probably (hopefully) disappear in a little black dot of cynicism. The good part of it is that they have left so much territory untouched that the rest of us have lots to lift up via the New Media.

My cousin asked me about my interview with George Cole. She is sometimes concerned about revealing things that are too intimate and wondered whether I had. Oh, my. There is so much more under the surface that remains to be said that my becalmed little boat will soon be propelled on its way, rapt with possibility, going with the flow.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Mary Scriver

Bronze sculptor Bob Scriver brought a modern sensibility to Western art. Scriver's third wife, Mary Scriver, authored a biography of the artist, titled Bronze: Inside and Out, A Biographical Memoir of Bob Scriver.

RealTime is the name of the program. is the url of the NRP station in Bozeman and Billings. This program is archived there.

Mondays at 6:30pm
Hosted by George Cole

George Cole's RealTime is a series of lively discussions about people, ideas and places. Host and producer George Cole believes many of our political institutions--from Washington, DC to city hall -- have become further removed from all of us, the voters and stakeholders in the United States. Whether it's the First Amendment, the often timid brevity of contemporary journalism, or our healthcare system, George hopes open discussion can be part of a "taking back" of our political culture. RealTime is produced by George Cole in Bozeman and Ken Siebert in Billings, and is a production of Yellowstone Public Radio.

George Cole has been a broadcast journalist, a fundraising adviser, and an international marketing consultant for 25 years. In 2006 he was the host and producer of a 15-program series on TVW, the statewide cable public affairs channel in Washington State. His public radio programs Conversations and Deadline 24/7: The News Business were broadcast and produced by Yellowstone Public Radio. In August, 2006, George and his wife Susie returned to Bozeman after living two years in the Seattle area.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"GINNY GOOD" or Is She?

Gerard Jones is another author smacked with a frozen halibut by the publishing industry and therefore resorting to publishing on the Internet. He writes “an odd amalgam of fiction and nonfiction on and off his entire adult life.” Seems to me a lot of us are doing that.

Gerard Jones is one of at least four people named Gerard Jones, one of which was born thirty miles north of me in Cut Bank because his dad was a summer ranger in Glacier National Park. That was 1957. He tells me that in the Sixties the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife was his “most favorite place on earth” and he holds that mounted rearing griz in his icon memory bank as many Montana generations did until the museum was looted by lawyers.

This Gerard says, “Yes, there are two Gerard Joneses (more if you count the chef and the basketball player). The OTHER Gerard Jones wrote “Ginny Good” and attacks publishers. He was born in Michigan. However, he and I both lived in San Francisco at different times. I still do, and his “Ginny Good” is set here.” “I write blogs, but mainly to serialize humorous fiction or write about writer's block.” This mild and cuddly (his photo looks that way) Gerard Jones is at, bless his heart.

The sharp-edged Gerard Jones lives in Ashland, Oregon, and vaguely knows my friend Laird, a star and director in that famous Shakespearean company. This Gerard’s blog is at If you go there, below is some of what you find. (I hope you understand irony.)

“Here's a seven minute excerpt from Chapter Twenty-three (Golden Gate Park) of the fifteen hour Audio Book of GINNY GOOD—easily and by far the greatest work of literary art made anywhere in the world so far this century:

“You won't listen to it, of course; you only listen to the drivel your owners pay propaganda boys and girls to weasel you into listening to, but so what? I made it. That was what I wanted to do. You can learn more about how the media and entertainment monopoly rots your brain, robs you blind and keeps you a stupid slave from cradle to grave by reading Chapters 39-42 of Oprah's Dead Son.

“You won't do that, either. Oh, well. Ignorance is bliss. Here's Ginny Good (ISBN: 0972635750) in its entirety. You can buy it new for $16.95 or you can read it online for free—yet another thing you won't do.


Is he serious? Why wouldn’t he be? His directory is simply a transcription of every agent he contacted and their responses, plus their email addresses. They speak for themselves.

Keeping his word, Gerard sent me a bound copy of “Ginny Good” plus CD’s of the book read out loud, and assures me it will someday be famous. Could happen. I’m reading “Oprah’s Dead Son,” also on his website, at the moment. I’ll get back to you on that story.

“Ginny Good” is about an intermittent relationship between the author and a woman some people would call a “psycho” and others might describe as “high maintenance.” She is living proof that understanding one’s craziness is not a whole lot of help, nor does it make her unloveable -- though fairly unliveable-with. This sort of person seems to be one of the contemporary preoccupations of fiction: a recurring problem to solve, maybe. (I’d like to see an unlikely comparison with Wallace Stegner’s “Crossing to Safety,” also about a difficult woman but of quite a different sort.) She is not blamed, but loved in spite of herself. The writing is crisp and bright.

Ginny is what has me thinking about post-pornography though there’s lots of sex. She’s not Fanny Hill, she’s not O, she’s not Marilyn Chambers (who died recently -- if you don’t know who she is, you don’t need to). She has no shame and no particular investment in physical acts that used to be forbidden to describe. Jones (! -- okay, maybe I’d better call him Gerard) tells us frankly about which little pink parts get engorged and so on, but mostly on the woman. Not on his own apparatus. Seems to me that’s the reverse of old-fashioned porn, which included a lot of boasting about male dimensions. But then, I wasn’t taking this cool objective view in the brief days when I read a bit of that.

As seems to be the mainstream among boomers, Ginny and Gerard don’t shy off from “bad words” or drugs or sex or unemployment, the things that are supposed to kill you. In the end Ginny dies, but not from any of the above. Suicide. Depression. Alienation. These are lacks, not excesses.

A recent Netflix film, “Eve of Understanding” goes through the same problems but comes out, well, “Oprah.” The idea (conceived, written, directed and starred in by Alyson Shelton in what has to be a mix of reality and fiction) is that the heroine’s mother just killed herself and left her daughter a collection of things to deliver to specific people. These meetings bring her to herself, thus buying the idea that if one knows oneself, TRULY, then all is explained and all is well.

“Ginny Good” is not like that. The story finds people, in the end, inscrutable. Effort is irrelevant. This moment doesn’t suggest the next one. I’ve been thinking about what is taboo but obsessively preoccupying these days, since all these books and movies freely describe and show sex, drugs and Anglo-Saxon four-letter words, sometimes violence. Can it be that we’re back to that old Beatnik despair? That tomorrow is so daunting that we don’t dare think about it, much less hope for it?

The part of “Ginny Good” that I liked the best was about an LSD episode in the woods, a poetic and mystical fantasy -- or is it seeing to the heart of reality? Maybe that’s the way we used to think of sex, a blissing out, an ecstasy. An escape from reality and all the newspaper stories about asteroids about to snuff us like dinosaurs, rising temperatures, new diseases. babies starving.

Easy enough to decide about this book for yourself: just go to the website. (It you get the wrong Gerard, you might like him, too.) My premise is that if publishers don’t want to publish some guy’s work, then that writer must be onto something. It is particularly telling that they don’t even want you to see their business correspondence. It destroys the “success porn” that we all believe: that a book can make your fortune, make you famous . . . make you happy. I guess it can -- if you’re the publisher of it rather than merely the writer.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Here is myself (Mary Strachan Scriver) pretending to be Miss America demonstrating a refrigerator, except that this is a stabilized Kozy Kamp (legs down) with the top down, showing that one can still stow luggage and so on in the space between the two beds. The location of this event is our backyard and I suspect that the dark “river” to the right comes from emptying the water tank so it won’t freeze over the winter. This is 1953. I’m just starting high school.

First step is always the hardest: heaving up the top on it’s hinges. Then there are locks to snap into place so the top won’t collapse backdown.

The two beds fold in half and are then folded into the interior with the tent top attached.

The end product with my brother Paul alongside for “scale.” We often set up this Kozy Kamp out in the backyard as an extra bedroom for company. Aside from that, it was a popular place for a nap or to hide out if you were mad at the family.

This is the long winding road up out of Hell’s Canyon which severely taxed our faithful green Ford. (We always drove faithful green Fords.) We carried lots of water to replenish the radiator and even then had to stop and cool off enough for the boiling to stop so we could add more water without cracking the system. Of course, it was courtesy to use the frequent pull-offs to let other vehicles pass. It was very hot and tense, but we finally made it out.

This is where we had camped the night before. Sometimes we detached the trailer and sometimes we didn’t. There were no formal campgrounds as there are now, but on the other hand there were few people on the road and the locals were a little more tolerant of strangers staying alongside the road.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Here-Now is one of my fav NPR radio programs, which might be conditioning since I listen to it during my lunch break. But lots of times I like it for reasons Robin Young might not expect. Today Sarah Chayes, former NPR reporter who now runs the Arghand Cooperative in Kandahar, was supposed to be telling us about the injustices against women there. Instead, she ended up expressing some things I’ve seen right here, esp. on the rez. No, NOT the stoning of women!

She was talking about how the pressure of the situation has taught people certain things. For instance, stuff that was being stored was just jammed into the closets and shelves any old way -- not sorted into kinds of supplies, sorts of equipment, and related objects. This, she suggested, was because EVERYTHING had been in short supply so long that it was all valuable, but there was no way to predict uses, so it was enough for it just to be there. Everyone had plenty of time to sort through the mess. One of the things her co-op sells is handmade soap, but the different scents were jumbled together so that they mixed smells and lost the identity that made them saleable. She tried to get across the idea of “quality control,” that is, delivering what one said would be sent. But everyone shrugged. Soap was soap. They were not used to being picky -- it was a foreign concept, literally.

Worst of all was a kind of passive acceptance of whatever the “mighty leaders” said, since it had been impossible to predict previous orders from what they knew about life. It all seemed highly arbitrary but backed by infinite mysterious resources. So when they were told to think for themselves in the new context of planning, their minds went blank. Part of the blankness was fear of punishment if they got it wrong. The idea of owning their own decisions just didn’t compute. Seemed like a trick.

But once they start thinking out of the box, stand back.

"Navajo speaker presents idea of 51st virtual state,” Elizabeth
April 13, 2009. © Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.

“Gallup, N.M. (AP) -- Mark Charles would like Native Americans to start thinking outside the box about themselves and their political voice - or lack of voice - in the United States. Charles, of Fort Defiance, Ariz., spoke to a small group of community members at the University of New Mexico-Gallup on Thursday about his idea for the country's Native American people to join together to create a "51st Virtual State" for native people. A graduate of the University of California-Los Angeles, Charles is a public speaker, writer, computer programmer, minister and consultant on Native American issues…Charles explained he came up with the idea of a 51st virtual state for Native Americans after returning to the Navajo Nation and living for three years with his family in a traditional hogan in Cross Canyon, Ariz…Although there are more than 500 Native American tribes in the United States, the total population of Native people is so small that their political voice is marginalized. Candidates aren't very interested in communities that have no real voting power, he said. Even the Navajo Nation, with its large population, isn't a strong political block, Charles said. "As a Navajo people, as a nation, we can't vote together," he said, noting Navajo voter power is split between Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. However, if all Native Americans who are enrolled members of a state or federally recognized tribe could become citizens of a 51st virtual state, Charles explained, they could have a greater political voice…"

The metaphor of the “nation” has been so strong (not quite so strong as the metaphor of “money”) that we’ve forgotten until now that it’s an invention and arbitrary. We’re now living in a world where “failed states” are afflictions that nations can’t control: pirates, terrorists, nuclear arms . . . secret banks. So why not invent something entirely new? Voting by affinity, a virtual state. We’re about to the point where being “Indian” is more a state of mind than anything else anyway.

Now and then I think of a man who commented on a previous post about re-framing. It was about this re-thinking business, but it was during the New Orleans immediate aftermath and this man had been looking for practical physical rebuilding advice. He said that once he figured out the idea, he thought it was more helpful that any lumber and nails stuff. The world HAD changed.

So many of our disciplines and taxonomies and categories are based on assumptions that are outdated. Academic departments and disciplines don’t really fit the data we’re trying to understand, so we end up having to work cross-discipline or invent a sub-set. You can’t get to anything via Google without thinking through how some computer or computer programmer might have understood the subject. Too many things are set up as dyads when they are really continuums. Too many things don’t fit into any known category or the category something fits into is psychologically abhorrent, like saying Pluto is no longer a planet.

The whole planet and everything on it is shifting around. But it’s always done that. The dangerous times are when there are serious rifts between layers (generations) or when one religio-cultural-moral-legal complex that had evolved into a working system stops being relevant before a new one has had a chance to form. (Like Iraq.) Right now my guess is that a new global one IS forming, but it’s only gotten to some of the people, most of them young. Then again, Valier, Montana, time-lags, which might be a good thing. When all the keyboards are disabled, we’ve still got our pencils.

The economic shift is forcing new systems and the consequences will be tragic in terms of suffering, but chastising in terms of bad money practices. Major moral changes I see are in sex and drugs. Despite the kind of diseases one would expect to drive everyone into Puritanism, the young have been exposed to so much sex through the media that they just take it for granted and assume there will be a cure. Sex is no longer the sensation is was fifty years ago -- the new sensation is violence: real-life violence, like people blown into parts or having their heads slashed off. As far as drugs go, the pharm people have persuaded us that all drugs are good unless proven bad. But I think even the young agree that meth is bad and see marijuana as good. They see jailing people for small offenses and forcing drugs underground as a source of violence. I thinks that's true. If sales of marijuana in this country exceed sales of corn, wheat and soy combined, then we’ve created a new Prohibition and we know what that did to the country. Drug dealers are a virtual nation.

The kids will never stone women who want their own lives, but they will get stoned. And they don’t mind watching while people they don’t know are put to death. Looks more like Rome than the Taliban. Are they creating their own underground virtual nation?

Friday, April 17, 2009


The best laundromat around here is in Cut Bank, thirty miles away. The owners are there all the time and their machines are relatively new. Also, it is close enough to Browning that I sometimes run into friends. The other two relatively close laundromats are in Shelby and in Conrad. Both are deteriorating. When I bought this house, it had a washing machine, but that broke down within weeks. The Valier laundromat was replaced by more junk food space for the gas station because “laundromats are just too much work.”

This situation is the result of economic pressure and the changing face of commerce. But the complication is that I can’t use the Cut Bank laundromat because of a stalker. He’s a “Christian” who insists he’s converting me. He knows that I’m an ordained minister, but that doesn’t stop him. At one time he was a teacher but now he wanders the community living off of social services and, I presume, what I’m told is a wealthy father. His mother is somehow missing. He’s close to fifty. I’ve ignored him, yelled at him, asked the management to forbid him (they think he’s funny), and finally just took my business elsewhere.

I know insanity when I see it. Here are official-type descriptions of this miserable disorder:

“Stalking is a crime of obsession, and is often associated with different types of psychopathology, often an axis II, Cluster B personality disorder [antisocial, borderline, narcissistic, and histrionic] (Mullen 1999).

“Depending on the stalker, behavior may range from overtly aggressive threats and actions, to repeated phone calls, letters or approaches. This behavior may go on for years, causing the victim to exist in a constant state of stress and fear. The violent aspects of stalking behavior often escalate over time, and in extreme cases can end in murder (Douglas 1998).”

This laundromat stalker watches for my pickup at the laundromat and if he sees it, grabs a handful of clean clothes to wash for an excuse. In other words, he’s trying to present a respectable front. I think he has a fantasy that he and I are somehow equals (because I taught here) and that confronting me all the time is a relationship.

In the last few days I made the mistake of taking another stalker seriously, this one also connected to religion. That seems to be part of the pattern. But this one is a little different. Here’s a formal description:

“The 2002 National Victim Association Academy defines an additional form of stalking: The Vengeance/Terrorist stalker. Both the Vengeance stalker and Terrorist stalker (the latter sometimes called the political stalker) do not, in contrast with some of the aforementioned types of stalkers, seek a personal relationship with their victims but rather force them to emit a certain response favourable to the stalker. While the vengeance stalker's motive is "to get even" with the other person whom he/she perceives has done some wrong to them (i.e, an employee who believes is fired without justification from their job by their superior), the political stalker intends to accomplish a political agenda, also using threats and intimidation to force his/her target to refrain and/or become involved in some particular activity, regardless of the victim’s consent.[9]

“Many stalkers fit categories with paranoia disorders. Intimacy-seeking stalkers often have delusional disorders involving erotomanic delusions. With rejected stalkers, the continual clinging to a relationship of an inadequate or dependent person couples with the entitlement of the narcissistic personality, and the persistent jealousy of the paranoid personality. In contrast, resentful stalkers demonstrate an almost “pure culture of persecution,” with delusional disorders of the paranoid type, paranoid personalities, and paranoid schizophrenia.[8]”

The internet has much expanded the capacity of delusional people to make nuisances of themselves while keeping their identities secret. In this way James Mackay was able to burrow into the Native American literature community enough to present papers that established him to the casual eye as someone who knew about the discipline, though he is not American and lives on Cyprus. With this as cover, he was able to dupe Wikipedia into letting him take charge of the category under the pseudonym of “VizJim.” (The subject of his paper was Gerald Vizenor, a major academic expert on NA lit. I’ve never contacted Vizenor.) Then he began to “research” and stigmatize NA writers, particularly ones with ties to the Gay community such as Tim Barrus and Greg Sarris and those without full-blood credentials. (Probably more than half the people considered NA writers.) He seems to feel that these characteristics justify his attacks and there are enough people -- mostly young urban female mixed bloods -- who respond to that to encourage him.

The Native American literature community was “hot” for a while in the Eighties and earlier, enough to justify the concept of an NA renaissance of writers. Sales never really took off in the way expected by the soup companies who owned the publishers and demanded ten percent returns on their investment. By now the genre has dwindled and transformed into local and theoretical works that don’t present such a prestigious status.

The irony of James Mackay’s stalking is that he’s not even American and though he’s getting a correspondence course degree from England, he’s misrepresenting his so-called work. Wikipedia is so unknown by most Indian scholars that it has not attracted the “citizen corrections” that is the cornerstone of its claim to accuracy. The whole thing is a hall of mirrors.

The worst side of these stalking obsessions is that they spread from one victim to others. Therefore, everyone who opposes the obsession with clergy misconduct becomes a new object of stalking. Even Barrus’ children and students become victims. Since the students are already struggling with HIV, his stalker finds easy targets.

Law enforcement is usually baffled by stalkers until they actually show up at a door waving a gun or, like Timothy McVeigh, set off a giant explosion. For many years they were unable to find the anthrax culprit or the Unabomber, though their stalking was deadly. In a time when we are being stalked by terrorists and pirates, we begin to be paranoid ourselves and overreact. Student shooters and mail room employees who go “postal” stir the pot. Publicity about such events may be prompting those on the edge to go into action. What we need is a cultural shift away from paranoia that thrives on suspicion about our politics, our religions and our sex-lives. I hope it comes soon.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


A blurry and mystical sunrise somewhere in desert along the edge of a body of water, either the sea or a very large lake. It’s still nearly dark so mostly just color stripes the sky, no sun. A low growling. You wait and wait. Pretty soon from the top right hand corner comes a faraway small plane with its lights blinking. When it is close, something parachutes out but doesn’t land where the camera is.

“Scrunch, scrunch, scrunch.” A tiny figure comes from down left, plodding slowly and sometimes staggering with a huge box. It goes diagonally across the empty space, stopping to take a breather next to what is evidently a bunk bed out in the open. Then carries the box on through to somewhere. The man, in military uniform and with a rifle over his shoulder, puts the wooden crate down next to a tent and with a small crowbar pries off the lid. He takes out a piece of paper and sits on the dirt to ponder it, then puts it back.

More scrunching back over to the bunk bed. There’s someone sleeping. The man who has read the paper wakes him and prepares to sleep in the same place. He says an agent is coming to oversee an election and that they are ordered to guard this election. They are incredulous. This is Iran. They have no precedent. They are supposed to be guarding this shore against smugglers.

That’s the setup. When the agent who arrives by small motorboat turns out to be a young woman, entirely draped but wearing khaki trousers underneath and VERY determined to do things right, you’ve just about got the whole story. The wakened guard, who seems to be a little thick-headed, takes the shared rifle and wristwatch, and drives the “agent” -- all the time protesting that she should be a man -- in a vehicle about the shape and tinny quality of a breadbox -- around this back country to collect votes.

The result is an excellent precursor to a college course in the difficulties of democracy. What is a “secret” vote? Why do they have to vote for candidates on a pre-determined list of people they don’t know? What difference would it make in a world that still does what it’s been doing for thousands of years? And in one case, where a “granny” runs everything very well, thank you, who needs a government anyway? And what do you say to the old man who votes for God?

The odd couple putt-putts along, strewing confusion, injustice, and helpful favors among fishermen sheltering a runaway sweetheart, a camp of women who have just birthed a baby, an old man in an impressive but decrepit technical station where a solar array makes enough electricity in the day to light up the night when the old man sleeps anyway and enough heat with a giant parabolic dish to make hot water in a tiny teakettle.

All along the soldier queries what the rules are while the young woman tries desperately to make them fit situations for which they were never designed. The results are often funny. We in Montana would appreciate the stop light in the middle of nowhere that is stuck on red, which causes the soldier to stop and wait. . . and wait. . . and wait. At one point he is so exasperated that he leaves what they call a “jeep” and starts to walk home. The young woman simply gets into the driver’s seat and follows. While they argue, a huge yellow dump truck arrives, loaded with women who want to vote. But one is twelve -- she must be sixteen to vote. “Why?” the women demand. “She can marry at twelve, so why can’t she vote?”

The adobe cubes of the almost-settlements and homesteads are enlivened by collections of brightly colored plastic tubs and buckets, scattered every which way. The women wear many yards of bright, thin, printed fabric, draped and wound ingeniously. One woman has a plastic visor over her face with opaque color except for a strip of sunglass material to see through. When the young prospective bride doesn’t like the soldier’s questions, she simply pulls her drapery over her head, disappearing for all practical purposes.

When I went to to check out other reactions, I was surprised to see how many comments there were. The pace is definitely Third World -- clockless -- and the subtleness and subversiveness, the existentialism, of the whole thing is nearly Beckett. I was reminded of a Chinese movie (and in my usual senile fashion I can’t remember the title) in which the young woman’s husband is kicked in the balls by their landlord. Highly indignant because she considers children a crop and thinks the family “seed” has been damaged, she goes to the authorities. Of course she is stone-walled, so she appeals to the next level up. Same result. She goes the next level up. Eventually she gets to the top and gets satisfaction. The determination of energetic young women can change the world no matter how repressive or primitive governmental provisions may be.

That’s one conclusion of this film and a good one. But also there is a lesson in the subtle attachment that develops between these two unlikely people, rather like the American Western plots that play off nuns or schoolteachers being thrown into a common cause with outlaw hardbitten cowboys. Cooperation and growing understanding don’t lead to romantic attachment, but they certainly do form small strands of affection and familiarity. These two people will never see each other again, but one hopes that four years from the election portrayed here, the next agent will arrive to find soldiers who aren’t so blind-sided.

I don’t know why I put this movie and “Landscape After Battle” on my Netflix list -- it was a long time ago. But I wish someone would make movies of this thoughtful quality about contemporary high prairie. Maybe they do, but I just don’t know it. The major cost of modern media is not in the actual shooting and editing of a movie -- it’s in the advertising so that you know it exists. That means “branding” and hyping to a predetermined audience defined by someone sitting in a major city: who THEY “think” will like the movie. They’re often wrong.

There’s another twist to this. Iranian is a repressive country that keeps the lid on education, but this movie was made by an Iranian who lives in Toronto. What is the relationship of diasphoric members of an ethnic community to those who stayed home? Is it disruptive or is it a call to the future?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


One of my ideals has been to live an “unfiltered” life -- that is, I suppose, one that was not pre-edited by teachers, parents, authority figures, friendship circles, and the media. Life magazine didn’t just confuse Jackson Pollock about what was important, it confused all the rest of us, too. The most valuable (and slowest) realization I got from the University of Chicago was that there’s no such thing as an unfiltered life. At best, one chooses one’s filter.

One’s filter determines one’s identity. There’s only so much time in a life and that amount is never determined ahead of time -- I might be destroyed tomorrow or I might live another thirty years but not another fifty years. One can only be one place at a time. And events come down like cards in a poker game, except that there are a limited number of cards in a deck. So the Indians are right -- it’s a bone game, a stick game, a gamble no matter what you think you know.

Barrus brings me back to the ideas of the Sixties and Seventies, which for me were overlaid onto a small rez town in a very large landscape alongside an obsessed sculptor operating partly on Edwardian assumptions and partly on old WWII movies. And that pesky Life magazine insistence on geniuses and being the BEST. Barrus, born in 1950, overlays those same idealisms and aspirations -- “be where you are, let it be a dance, one day at a time” -- onto the necessity of survival. Just about the time he was beginning to have a little confidence in life, along came the AIDS pandemic and wiped out his world while officialdom stood around with its finger in its ear.

If we get this book published and “out there,” today’s media reporters will be totally stumped. They “get” the Life mag stuff, which they frame mostly in terms of money or did, until money turns out to be fungible. Fungible. Vivid mental image. And they’re slowly beginning to pick up on the necessity of survival in a world they assumed they were entitled to. Unemployment rises while every grocery store around here advertises for checkers and stockers, because all those kids sent off to college to be rich and brilliant think they are too good to bag cat food. In the past all they had to do was kick up a loud embarrassing fuss and someone would fix life for them. Now -- not.

I do not filter death. People are dying in this town, people are dying in Cinematheque, people are dying on the Mexican border, people are dying in Somalia, and so on. (I’m very glad that captain survived. I don’t filter heroism.) Last night I watched “Landscape After Battle,” a Polish movie about the concentration camp people left after WWII and their confusion, to say nothing of the confusion of those charged with managing them. The protagonist is a poet who tries to keep his face in a book, but fails. It won prizes but no one wants to see it -- too depressing. As a people, we filter depressing. Now we’d better not.

Contemporary media-driven filters are so strong that my identity is filtered out. No villages, rural life, Diabetes II, fat cats allowed to go outside, low incomes, teeny old pickups, highly educated people who are not glamorous and powerful. . . Everything I’ve done in my life is wrong according to this filter -- therefore I don’t exist.

But the Sixties/Seventies -- Aquarian? -- revolution supports me. Except that THEIR filter would say that I’m not hedonistic enough. I don’t take enough risks. I don’t know enough music. I don’t get angry enough at oppression. I should put down my books and get involved.

Then there’s the liberal filter -- is that what it is? “Nice” people who know the “right” way and try to help that huge mass of unfortunates out there who need instruction. Lots and lots of filters, which the U of C would call “method.” If you cut an apple crossways, you get stars. If you cut it lengthwise, you get moons.

Barrus just sent me the url for a YouTube animation accompanied by Alan Watts’ remarks called “Music and life.” (I LOVE it!) The truth is that Watts’ messages and the other “third force” or “humanist” messages come to me more through a funnel than a filter. But I didn’t die of alcoholism at age 58, like Watts. (Pollock died younger.) I don’t even drink. I don’t trust hedonism. Did that save me, or was it something else? Simple pleasure is enough and more than that, satisfaction at getting challenging things done. I don’t even care a lot about getting them done “properly” as Watts, essentially Brit, would put it. Is that last a mistake?

I hate quoting Wikipedia, since VizJim (James Mackay) makes such a hash of the Native American stuff and no one cares enough to update it. (My efforts get deleted -- so much for the "peoples" voice.) But I’m assuming that the person who posted about Watts got it right when he said, “he maintains that the whole universe consists of a cosmic self playing hide-and-seek (Maya), hiding from itself by becoming all the living and non-living things in the universe, forgetting what it really is; the upshot being that we are all IT in disguise. In this worldview, Watts asserts that our conception of ourself as an "ego in a bag of skin" is a myth; the entities we call the separate "things" are merely processes of the whole.” Accurate or not, I can agree with it, metaphorically speaking.

But somewhere in my mountains of printouts that slip and slide around this so very unofficial “office” there is an anthropological concept called the “gathering bag.” It’s just a simple metaphor really, though there are many examples in many cultures. A woman’s metaphor: the shopping bag, the backpack, the root basket -- usually accompanied by the metaphor/actuality of the digging stick, the garden knife, the prod. That’s my method: bag lady. So many women dread being a homeless bag lady, but I’m not so worried about the idea of poverty. I’m too beguiled by the idea of moving along from one “find” to the next. Non-fungible. No mushrooms, magic or not for me. ROOTS!! As in radical.