Sunday, May 31, 2009

History becomes a celestial city

Present in the photograph above are three of the books written by Will and Ariel Durant, while the inset photograph below shows them late in life. Perhaps the greatest lesson noted by the Durants in their study of history comes in the form of the following words, found in Volume 3 of their 11-volume series, "The Story of Civilization -- Caesar And Christ -- Epilogue: Why Rome fell:"

"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within. The essential causes of Rome's decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars."

The lessons of history often determine survival

Part II

Arriving today is the concluding half of a brief survey of the book, "The Lessons of History," which is a summation of the conclusions, thoughts and beliefs drawn by Will and Ariel Durant after four decades spent studying and writing about civilization as it has evolved since the dawn of history.

This book was written by the Durants after completion of their 11-volume study titled, "The Story of Civilization," and meant to be more-or-less the concluding chapter to their work -- a look back at what history has to say about the nature, the conduct and the future prospects of mankind. Here, then, is the final chapter:

VIII. Economics and History

Normally and generally men are judged by their ability to produce -- except in war, when they are ranked according to their ability to destroy.

Since practical ability differs from person to person, the majority of such abilities, in nearly all societies, is gathered in a minority of men. The concentration of wealth is a natural result of this concentration of ability, and regularly recurs in history ....

We conclude that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution.

IX. Socialism and History

These abuses (price manipulation, business chicanery, and irresponsible wealth) must be hoary with age, for there have been socialistic experiments in a dozen countries and centuries ....

The fear of capitalism has compelled socialism to widen freedom, and the fear of socialism has compelled capitalism to increase equality. East is West and West is East, and soon the twain will meet.

X. Government and History

Hence most governments have been oligarchies -- ruled by a minority, chosen either by birth, as in aristocracies, or by a religious organization, as in theocracies, or by wealth, as in democracies ....

Does history justify revolutions? .... If race or class war divides us into hostile camps, changing political argument into blind hate, one side or the other may overturn the hustings with the rule of the sword. If our economy of freedom fails to distribute wealth as ably as it has created it, the road to dictatorship will be open to any man who can persuasively promise security to all; and a martial government, under whatever charming phrases, will engulf the democratic world.

XI. History and War

War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy. In the last 3,421 years of recorded history only 268 have seen no war. [Durant compiled those numbers based upon the year the book first was published, in 1968.] ....

Some conflicts are too fundamental to be resolved by negotiation; and during the prolonged negotiations (if history may be our guide) subversion would go on. A world order will come not by a gentlemen's agreement, but through so decisive a victory by one of the great powers that it will be able to dictate and enforce international law, as Rome did from Augustus to Aurelius.

XII. Growth and Decay

On one point all are agreed: civilizations begin, flourish, decline, and disappear -- or linger on as stagnant pools left by once life-giving steams ....

Life has no inherent claim to eternity, whether in individuals or in states. Death is natural and if it comes in due time it is forgivable and useful, and the mature mind will take no offense from its coming ....

Nations die. Old regions grow arid, or suffer other change. Resilient man picks up his tools and his arts, and moves on, taking his memories with him. If education has deepened and broadened those memories, civilization migrates with him, and builds somewhere another home. In the new land he need not begin entirely anew .... Rome imported Greek civilization and transmitted it to Western Europe; America profited from European civilization and prepares to pass it on, with a technique of transmission never equaled before.

XIII. Is Progress Real?

Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again .... We may not have excelled the selected geniuses of antiquity, but we have raised the level and average knowledge beyond any age in history ....

If progress is real despite our whining, it is not because we are born any healthier, better, or wiser than infants were in the past, but because we are born to a richer heritage, born on a higher level of the pedestal which the accumulation of knowledge and art raises as the ground and support of our being. The heritage rises, and man rises in proportion as he receives it.

History is, above all else, the creation and recording of that heritage; progress is its increasing abundance, preservation, transmission, and use. To those of us who study history not merely as a warning reminder of man's follies and crimes, but also as an encouraging remembrance of generative souls, the past ceases to be a depressing chamber of horrors; it becomes a celestial city, a spacious country of the mind, wherein a thousand saints, statesmen, inventors, scientists, poets, artists, musicians, lovers, and philosophers still live and speak, teach and carve and sing.

The historian will not mourn because he can see no meaning in human existence except that which man puts into it; let it be our pride that we ourselves may put meaning into our lives, and sometimes a significance that transcends death. If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much as he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children. And to his final breath he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Lord, what fools these mortals be

Ariel and Will Durant are pictured on the dustcover of their book, "The Lessons of History." This brief, 91-page book summarizes their collective conclusions from a lifetime as students of religion, philosophy and history, and as authors of undoubtedly the most exhaustive account of world history ever written, the 11-volume series, "The Story of Civilization."

The lessons of history are there for all to learn

Part I

There have been more than a few times I have mentioned Will and Ariel Durant here -- as well as in newspaper columns I have written previous to these times -- and how influential their work has been in shaping my own ideas. My estimation of the Durants, for better or for worse, credits them with producing the most significant wisdom offered in book form by mere mortals during the 20th Century.

William "Will" Durant, November 5, 1885 -- November 7, 1981, was prepared to become a Roman Catholic priest until what he learned through his studies drew him away from religion. His next love was socialism, but that, too, turned out to have been only an infatuation as he came to realize the ineffectiveness of it as a political and economic system. For a while, he taught Latin, French and English. All the while, he studied philosophy. His first writing effort was a book still read today and titled, "The Story of Philosophy."

I "met" Will when I was in college and was myself intensely reading religion and philosophy and smoking cigarettes until the room was clouded, very late into most nights. He wrote that he had sought refuge through the study of religion. He had not found it. He said that he next sought it through the study of philosophy. Not there, either. He gradually came to realize that his refuge, his truth, was to be found through the study of history. He hooked me then, and still has me.

Chaya Kaufman, who later became Ariel Durant, May 10, 1898 -- October 25, 1981, was born in the Ukraine and arrived in America as an infant. She was a student of Will's, who was nearly 13 years her senior. She married him when she was 15-years-old. She used her roller skates to travel the distance from her home to a courthouse for the ceremony. Say and think what you will, but the proof of this union is in its longevity: Their marriage lasted their lifetimes. They died within days of each other. All people should be so lucky. They are buried in Los Angeles, and a pilgrimage to their grave site is on my list of things that I would never forgive myself for should I fail to mutter an agnostic's prayer from the earth above them.

The youthful Ariel preferred the company of artists and poets to that of teachers and philosophers, but something between Will, philosophy and history won her over. The couple grew to become full-fledged intellectual and writing partners, as well as household and bedroom partners, and eventually won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature.

The magnum opus of the Durants, there is no argument, is their 11-volume series, "The Story of Civilization." My own warped opinion is that this group of books should be required reading before the conferral of a bachelor's degree from any legitimate college or university. Oh, well. The dilettantes and the pedantics rule, not the realists. Pass the escargot, dear, and make certain the wine list is appropriate for the meal.

"Captain of our fairy band ….
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!"

(Sorry, Fram the First says, with a laugh on his lips, for making me, Fram Actual, interrupt with those lines, but you know him. The lines were predestined; Will's original nickname for Ariel was Puck. Fram the First absolutely could not resist tossing this quote from Puck into the fray. But, it just dawned on him. Does he actually have to reference Shakespeare, too, for readers to recognize those lines? He hopes not. But, just in case: "A Midsummer Nights Dream," act 3, scene 2. Anyway, moving right along.)

Should a reader here wish to learn more about the Durants, I will use a phrase I am prone to say: Do your own research. You will be better for the effort and from what you learn through reading them. To read the writing of the Durants truly is an intellectual test to determine a measurement of your own knowledge of history and of civilization's march.

My intent with this post, split roughly in half between today and (probably) Sunday, is to introduce you to Will and Ariel through some quotations from their book, "The Lessons of History." I re-read it during my Memorial-weekend excursion. This is not a book review per se, but meant to be a "taste" of the Durants and their thoughts. There only are 91 pages, not counting notes and guides and contents. It is a very simple reading task to accomplish in a brief amount of time. And, I believe there is more wisdom present in those 91 pages than anywhere else short of Ecclesiastes.

(Here we go again. Fram the First reminds me there may be those among us who do not know that Ecclesiastes is a book in the Old Testament of the Bible. It is hereby so noted.)

Ecclesiastes, by the way, was written by the "preacher," who was said to be on a search for the true meaning of life. It also is worth the time to read, and to think about, for anyone who has not already done so. Now, on to the Durant's "Lessons," chapter by chapter:

I. Hesitations

Obviously historiography cannot be a science. It can only be an industry, an art, and a philosophy -- an industry by ferreting out the facts, an art by establishing a meaningful order in the chaos of materials, a philosophy by seeking perspective and enlightenment.

II. History and the Earth

Geography is the matrix of history, its nourishing mother and disciplining home. Its rivers, lakes, oases, and oceans draw settlers to their shores, for water is the life of organisms and towns, and offers inexpensive roads for transport and trade.

III. Biology and History

So the first biological lesson of history is that life is competition .... The second biological lesson of history is that life is selection.

Nature smiles at the union of freedom and equality in our utopias. For freedom and equality are sworn and everlasting enemies, and where one prevails the other dies. Leave men free, and their natural inequalities will multiply almost geometrically ....

The third biological lesson of history is that life must breed.

IV. Race and History

A knowledge of history may teach us that civilization is a co-operative product, that nearly all peoples have contributed to it; it is our common heritage and debt; and the civilized soul will reveal itself in treating every man or woman, however lowly, as a representative of one of these creative and contributory groups.

V. Character and History

It is good that the old should resist the young, and that the young should prod the old; out of this tension, as out of the strife between the sexes and the classes, comes a creative tensile strength, a stimulated development, a secret and basic unity and movement of the whole.

VI. Morals and History

We must remind ourselves again that history as usually written (peccavimus) is quite different from history as usually lived: the historian records the exception because it is interesting -- because it is exceptional .... Behind the red facade of war and politics, misfortune and poverty, adultery and divorce, murder and suicide, were millions of orderly homes, devoted marriages, men and women kindly and affectionate, troubled and happy with children.

VII. Religion and History

Religion does not seem at first to have had any connection with morals. Apparently (for we are merely guessing, or echoing Petronius, who echoed Lucretius) "it was fear that first made the gods" -- fear of hidden forces in the earth, rivers, oceans, trees, winds, and sky.

Hear the appeal of the agnostic Renan in 1866: Let us enjoy the liberty of the sons of God, but let us take care lest we become accomplices in the diminution of virtue which would menace society if Christianity were to grow weak. What should we do without it? ....

If Rationalism wishes to govern the world without regard to the religious needs of the soul, the experience of the French Revolution is there to teach us the consequences of such a blunder.

To be concluded in a day or two ....

Thursday, May 28, 2009

There are Jomsvikings yet living

Here is a woodcut illustration of the execution of the Jomsvikings captured in the Battle of Horundarfjord (Hjorunga Bay) in A.D. 986. Fram the First is on a sentimental journey, dreaming and drifting, recalling the old days, and suggested we do a post about this event as a reminder.

The Old Norse had their own brand of humor

Warfare has come and gone since before history was recorded, and to study those times reveals much about the nature of the societies which conducted it. Today, students, we will briefly examine one bloody encounter that took place slightly more than a thousand years ago: The Battle of Horundarfjord, in A.D. 986.

The Old Scandinavians often fought each other when there was profit to be made. In this instance, Earl Hakon, the ruler of most of Norway, crushed an invading fleet of Danes. No fewer than five Icelandic "skalds" (storytellers/poets) took part in the clash, so the battle was well "reported" in the news of the day.

This was a major battle that was fought aboard ships in a fjord. To add to the mystique of this engagement, a storm broke out in the midst of it, and the combatants were pelted with large hailstones. The Norwegian force numbered 150 ships, while the invading Danes had 60. Some among the invaders were "Jomsvikings," members of a warrior community who lived a Spartan-style life in a fortress named Jomsborg. Women and children were not permitted in Jomsborg, and life centered round daily preparation for combat. They were, in reality, 10th Century mercenaries.

The heavily outnumbered invaders lost the fray. This is a portion of one story of the aftermath of the battle when 30 Jomsvikings (the number varies by the source) who had been taken alive were brought up for summary execution. As one author put it, ".... this story gives us men who know how to die. They look death unflinchingly in the eye and with a jest on their lips. They love life, but would not be able to survive the taunt of having begged for it .... It would be difficult to cite in world literature a parallel to that unforgettable scene:"

Eighteen (again, the number varies by storyteller) already had been executed by a Norwegian lord named Thorkel Leira, through decapitation with his sword (or axe, depending on the version read), when this event took place:

Then there was brought up a young man whose hair was long and golden yellow like silk. Thorkel asked the same question (he had of the men he already had slain), "What do you think about dying?"

The young man said: "I have lived the best part of my life. I do not care to live after those who have died here. But I want to be led to the slaughter not by a slave but rather by a man not lower than you; nor will such a one be hard to find -- and let him hold my hair away from head so that my hair will not become bloodstained."

A man from Earl Hakon's bodyguard stepped forward and wound the long hair around his hands. Thorkel slammed down with his sword, and at that moment the young man jerked away his head, and the blow fell on the arms of the one holding his hair and cut them off at the elbow.

The young man leapt up and said: "Whose hands are in my hair?"

Earl Hakon said: "A great mischief has been done. Kill that man at once, and also all the others who are left, because these men are too unmanageable to guard against.”

Earl Eirik (Hakon's son) interrupted and said: "Let us first find out who they are. What is your name, young man?"

To which, the young man replied: "They call me Sigurth. Not yet are all Jomsvikings dead."

Earl Eirik asked: "Whose son are you?"

The young man answered: "I am said to be the son of Bui."

(Bui was one of three chieftains who led the Jomsvikings. When both his hands were severed by a sword stroke during the battle, he took a chest of his personal treasures in his arms and jumped into the sea.)

Earl Eirik said: "You are truly likely to be the son of Bui. How old a man are you?"

The young man replied: "If I live through this one, I shall be eighteen years."

Earl Eirik then said: "You shall. Would you have quarter?"

The young man replied: "That depends on who offers it."

Earl Eirik answered: "He offers, who has the authority to do so -- Earl Eirik."

The young man said: "I would, if you give it to all of us who yet live."

Earl Eirik said: "Release them all from the rope," and accepted them into his personal bodyguards.

Eighteen of the captured had been killed and twelve received quarter. To which, the young man, Sigurth, said to be the son of Bui, noted: "There are Jomsvikings yet living."

This tale, I think, opens a doorway to any number of fascinating questions regarding sociological attributes (or detriments), and about life and death, now and then, particularly from a male viewpoint. Those executed before the young man also posed philosophical or practical thoughts before they were killed. The young man was the eleventh in the line. I like the number, and this more-or-less is the end of the event. The slain Jomsvikings had equally interesting words to say, but the length of the entire piece prohibits running it.

The final thought: No matter who you are or where you are, Fram the First advises to study your origins, and to learn from them.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Music & mystical thoughts pass this way

The going & coming of Fram Actual

Fram Actual has returned from Kansas, the land of Dorothy, to Minnesota, the land of ex-wives, without much to say other than the sky is blue.

It gave me an eerie feeling to stand on Kansas soil on Memorial Day morning since I had an ancestor killed there in 1867 by a war party of Sioux and Cheyenne, led by a fellow named Pawnee Killer. My ancestor was in the 2nd Cavalry, out of Fort Sedgewick, with a patrol of 11 troopers and a Sioux scout. Possibly, the twilight zone does exist, but that would be too long a story for this evening. We shall leave it at that for now.

In other late-breaking news, Fram the First presented Freyja with a 24-karat gold Thor's Hammer on Sunday as a token for his proposal of marriage. She accepted it, commenting that any guy who has been following her around for 30,000 years or thereabouts has earned his way into Folkvangr, and to sit by her side in her hall.

I ran across a version of the Guns N' Roses song, "November Rain," that is spectacular as a video, but no longer can be considered unique since nearly 32 million have viewed it.

Perhaps it was the "rain song" combined with speaking a few days ago to a friend about a canoe trip, and later recalling being storm-bound for a day but, in any event, I awoke from a dream last night in which I was crossing an endless lake in a thunderstorm. I could feel the sting of the wind and the spray from the waves on my face. Black and gray clouds passed over me, fleeing from the storm as I went toward it. I was happy in my dream until my sleep was interrupted.

At the time of the actual trip, our group was storm-bound from travel on Lake Superior, but the weather was not so violent as to prevent me from battling out, onto the lake, and surfing the waves back in, shouting into the wind, then running with it. Thunderstorms are heaven-sent for the right person in the right place at the right time. I was happy on my lake until I was exhausted.

Back to the music: "November Rain" -- great song; great band; great voice, great guitarist; great video. I have listened to it/watched it ever so many times since I arrived home Monday evening. It was the last thing I heard before I fell asleep early this morning, and the first sound I initiated a couple of hours later after a ringing telephone had jarred me from sleep. There is enough time for reality tomorrow ....

In case you are in the mood for musical fantasy:

Friday, May 22, 2009

A day for remembrance

These are the times that try men's souls ....

Memorial Day will be observed on Monday, May 25, this year. As you might guess, I prefer the traditional (the actual) Memorial Day, but Congress and most "patriotic Americans" do not. No three-day weekend necessarily when the traditional was observed, and we all know our priorities, do we not? I will be gone from Friday morning until Monday evening, or Tuesday, and otherwise would have posted this photograph on Monday.

Hopefully, this photograph, of an American cemetery in Normandy, France, where I spent a few hours walking among the stones in 2004 -- 60 years after the deaths of these young men during World War II -- will be a reminder for each of us to spend a few minutes in prayer or in commemoration or in remembrance for those who died in the cause of individual liberty and freedom -- and, not just for Americans, but for all people everywhere.

Stay safe, picnic in peace, as well, remember your heritage and the price so many have paid to ensure your right to be the .... never mind .... it is your freedom to retain or to squander .... at the ultimate cost so many others have paid for it ....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Generations the same; planets different

Everyday decisions often change our lives

"I think it is true that [Ernest] Hemingway's tales of hunting and fishing and war appeal mostly to men, and mostly to young men, at that, but some of his work carries with it timeless truths, and he will be read long after [we] have gone to the happy hunting grounds.

"His stories also carry very romantic and deeply emotional moments for the young ladies. His life was filled with worldwide travel, with art and with artists in all disciplines.

"We mostly read the poets who sing to us and the writers of novels whose stories we either have been a part of in our own lives or wish to become a part of before we die. My life as a young man was very similar to Hemingway's. The departure came in that he was wise and went to Paris after his war; I was stupid, and returned to Minnesota after mine. Cosmopolitan Ernie; provincial Fram."

This is absolute truth, not just for me, I think, but for most. I wrote those words in response to a comment about my piece on Ernest Hemingway a few days ago, trying to explain a bit further why his life and his work have appealed to me over the years.

As we pass through life, we make decisions which we believe are best not only for ourselves, but for those around us, family and friends. Too many considerations might affect the wisdom of our decisions. But, even without considering family and friends, we do not always make the soundest choices. Narrowing the process down to determining our decisions based solely on ourselves, only on our self-interests, does not guarantee the best choices.

Possibly, I am making a poor decision now in terms of myself, to leave my work and to "hit the road," and to do it without regard for friends or family. Poor decision or not, I think it is time to wave goodbye and to just start running without care or concern whether the end result ultimately is to my benefit or not.

I read the poets I prefer. There no longer are teachers to give me assignments. I read the novelists I enjoy. There no longer is the advice of others to consider unless I ask for it. No governments to serve; no work to "keep me occupied." No nationalism or political parties to recognize, much less to parrot. The time to gallop blindly into the future has arrived, for me, I actually believe.

Our individual lives are ours to do with what we choose. Too often, I have listened to government plutocrats or to employers or to family before making decisions. A man once described me as a politician, able to negotiate anything and with the ability to reach a compromise on anything. I was flattered at the time; I am ashamed of it now.

We are what we eat. We are what we drink. We are what we believe. We are what we smell, hear, see, read and dream. The people I feel most sorry for are those in their late teens or early 20s, for they are the ones who most likely swallow the bait -- hook, line and sinker -- no matter if the prophet is Marx or Lenin or Nietzsche or Russell or Hitler or Reagan or Obama. Those "leaders" are all alike in one sense: They are ardent zealots in a particular belief, and will promote it to their last breaths.

I think it is time for me to allow Semper Fidelis to fall by the wayside, and to permit Nature to envelop me. She (Nature) rules, at least in these times. I cannot describe how much I want out of this country, but there is no place left to actually be a free man. I am tired of listening to absolute idiocy in the form of platitudes presented by narcissistic hedonists whose primary talent is being good at giving a sermon. More rights and freedoms have been taken away from the American people in the last 90 days than in the 190 years preceding them.

How was that? Noisy or what?

There is a novel I have read a few times entitled, "Fathers and Sons," written by a noted Russian author named Ivan Turgenev. As an aside, I will mention the politically-correct crowd has made efforts to re-title this book, "Fathers and Children." It actually has been printed with that title. In my mind, this is censorship at its absolute worst. This is more corrupt than burning the book.

In any case, among my favorite lines from the novel are these:

"I finally told her that she was incapable of understanding me: 'We belong to different generations,' I had said."

I still love those lines, but the difference is not so much generational these days as it is planetary.

Music Note: Listening to Boston ....
Specifically, "Boston"
Some out of sequence lines from "More Than a Feeling:"

I looked out this morning and the sun was gone
Turned on some music to start my day
I lost myself in a familiar song
I closed my eyes and I slipped away

So many people have come and gone
Their faces fade as the years go by
Yet I still recall as I wander on
As clear as the sun in the summer sky

When I'm tired and thinking cold
I hide in my music, forget the day
And dream of a girl I used to know
I closed my eyes and she slipped away
She slipped away. She slipped away.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gunfire echoes & plans slowly evolve

Three semi-automatic pistols this time: A .22, a 9 mm and a .45

The sound of gunfire carries on the winds of May

We have done this before. I remember. It will, however, almost certainly be the last time for a while. My final day at work was Friday. Quitting a job without going to another immediately is sort of like setting out in a canoe for the first time on a particular river. A touch of excitement, a taste of nervousness and a trace of anticipation. "Here I Go Again," to quote Whitesnake.

Life goes on, and so does the gunfire. My fifth range trip in eight weeks took place on Saturday. With each excursion, I become more comfortable, more relaxed, more natural and less artificial in movement. It is just like James Dickey with his archery; the Zen of delivering the missile, whether arrow or bullet, from me to the precise point sought. Less aiming, more pointing; more speed, more fluidity; less thought, more like gentle breathing; more dream-like. You really should try it.

Saturday's selections begin on the top with a .22 caliber Ruger Mark II Government Target Model. As the name implies, and with its heavy "bull barrel," this pistol was primarily designed for target shooting at medium to long range. They also have been used for first-step military training for inexperienced handgunners because there virtually is no recoil. With its six and one-half inch barrel and reputation for accuracy, the military found other uses for it, as you might well imagine. Mine has the original grips replaced with rubber wrap-arounds from Pachmayr.

In the middle is another Browning Hi-Power. You already have seen one Hi-Power in this space before, however, the configuration is different on this one. It has what is called a "tangent sight," and is adjustable to 500 meters down range. So much for the range limitations of handguns, hah? Pistols with sights such as these generally were issued to artillery units who were behind the front lines and might engage in long-range, defensive firing. They were popular in Canada and European countries, and often came with a wooden holster that could be attached to the pistol as a shoulder stock, turning it into a "mini-rifle" for more accurate shooting. It is in 9 mm caliber, and was made in Belgium.

Last, but not least, is a Tanfoglio, made in Gardone Val Trompia (Brescia), Italy. This version was distributed as a Springfield Armory pistol in the United States. It is in .45 caliber, and a double-action, semi-automatic handgun. Most of these now are made for competitive shooting and personal defense, but mine is set up in more of a military configuration. I bought this a number of years ago, and will sell it at some point because it is a bit too large for my hand. Otherwise, it is a neat pistol.

Saturday dawned sunny for me, but with the temperature at 34 degrees Fahrenheit and a stiff breeze blowing. At first, I wished there was no wind, but the goal of shooting is to do well at it no matter what the external conditions. Within moments, I was appreciating the wind, and wishing to also shoot again in the rain, or as dusk draws down. Those times will come again for me, too, I am certain.

When all is said and done .... who knows?

I was asked last week how my summer plans are progressing. I am sorry to admit I am being a bit indecisive on this situation. But, to toss out what I do know: Either Thursday or Friday, I will be leaving home to attend a graduation ceremony in another state, and not returning until the following Monday (or, possibly, Tuesday).

Then, there will be a few days of being a bum and trying to get my house and property in order. Then, from June 8 or 9 until July 2, I will be handling business for a friend to allow his family crew an extended vacation. I agreed to do this way back around Christmas. This will be the important time for me to finalize my own plans.

Greece definitely remains in the cards, sometime after, say, about July 4. Two to three weeks there, then, who knows? Maybe longer roaming in Europe a bit; maybe not.

The odds probably are one in a million that I will stay with my original plan, which was to look around southern France for a place to settle in for a year or so. My half-plan there was modified some weeks ago, and mentioned here at least once before. Upon return from "vacation" to the U.S., I now want to do something of a driving tour, seeing the sights and looking for a place to hang my hat; searching for a potential, new Sanctuary/Refuge. I have been looking at maps and geographic descriptions for a few minutes nearly every day recently. It is on my mind more than anything right now.

If everything falls into place, I will be relocated before the snow flies again, ideally, but not necessarily, to a place where the snow does not fly (at least, not often). If everything does not drop into place, I will turn my house into a home for wayward young ladies who play the guitar and love rock and roll. I probably could tough it out for another Minnesota winter under those circumstances .... whatever ....

William Shakespeare
Sonnet 55

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme;
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
You live in this, and dwell in lover's eyes.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Even Hemingway tried a bit of poetry

Ernest Hemingway was a young man when he posed in his World War I uniform, and old before his years when he sat for the photograph shown at the right. He walked among us from 1899 until 1961.

Bitterness & vitriol were Hemingway's specialties

Just to be mean to you, I am going to toss some "macho" poetry at you.

Ernest Hemingway came into the world a generation before James Dickey, and never-ever was noted for his poetry. I assume anyone who reads this does know Hemingway primarily was a novelist and short story writer, who won both a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. In case everyone does not, it now has been mentioned.

Hemingway did have some poetry published in magazines. Most of it bitter, angry, even venomous diatribes, aimed at professional critics, governments, religions and a woman here and there. He is lucky his speciality was fiction. Some attention was turned to his World War II love poems to Mary Welsh, the woman who became his fourth wife, but again, he really has no credentials as a poet.

Just to give you a taste of "Old Ernie's" stuff, here are a couple he wrote in the 1920s – 1930s. These, I consider some of his better ones, his shorter ones and definitely some of his more mellow ones.

The Ernest Liberal's Lament

I know monks masturbate at night
That pet cats screw
That some girls bite
And yet
What can I do
To set things right?


He tried to spit out the truth;
Dry-mouth at first,
He drooled and slobbered in the end;
Truth dibbling his chin.

Chapter Heading

For we have thought the larger thoughts
And gone the shorter way.
And we have danced to devil's tunes,
Shivering home to pray;
To serve one master in the night,
Another in the day.

Along With Youth

A porcupine skin
Stiff with bad tanning,
It must have ended somewhere.
Stuffed horned owl
Yellow eyed;
Chuck-wills-widow on a biased twig
Sooted with dust.
Piles of old magazines,
Drawers of boy's letters
And the line of love
They must have ended somewhere.

Yesterday's tribute is gone
Along with youth
And the canoe that went to pieces on the beach
The year of the big storm
When the hotel burned down
At Seney, Michigan.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Deliverance = truth, lies and artistry

Here are three views of James Dickey, novelist, poet, teacher and the author of "Deliverance." The photograph on the left shows him as he appeared playing the role of Sheriff Bullard in the film version of his book.

Existence in the form of story-teller & chameleon

Part III – The Author Of The Story

For the sake of admitting author admiration, I heard James Dickey lecture and respond to questions once upon a time at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. It was during his tenure down the road as a professor of English at the University of South Carolina. (Yes, I do get around at times, in case you still have not figured that out.) I have been a fan of his work since first reading him as a college student.

While these posts have been intended to offer some of my thoughts about the novel "Deliverance" and the motion picture based upon the book, and not about Dickey per se, I never-the-less decided it is impossible to discuss them without also including more than the name, rank and serial number of the author, as well as some comments about how he is viewed in the literary world.

Dickey, whose time with us began in 1923 and lasted until 1997, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and spent his early years there. He played college football, was a combat pilot with 100 missions during World War II and the Korean War, was a very successful advertising executive for the Coca-Cola Company, was a tournament archer and expert bow hunter, was a National Book Award-winning poet, was a poet laureate consultant for the Library of Congress, was a college professor and poet-in-residence for nearly 30 years at the University of South Carolina, and he was the author of poetry books, literary criticism, novels and children's books.

Although I believe Dickey would have called himself first a poet, above all, to me, he was the author of "Deliverance."

Screw his critics, and there are many, more about his lifestyle and his personality than about his literary accomplishments. Not one of us is "perfect." Have Dickey's detractors place their own credentials alongside his, and we shall see who wins.

Yes, yes, yes. Drifting off course there. Back on it again.

Students of literature and ordinary readers alike learned of Dickey's awful and even unlawful behavior during the 1950s and 1960s, just as they learned of Norman Mailer's activities and the stunts of other "big-name" writers. Dickey called things such as alcoholism, mania, suicide and depression the "occupational hazards" of being a writer of poetry. He cited Hart Crane, Dylan Thomas, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton and others as examples of what he meant.

He insisted the writer of one authorized biography title the book, "James Dickey – The World as a Lie." The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, professed that the world of time and space is "a vast dream, dreamed by a single being, in such a way that all the dream characters dream too." Following this pathway, Dickey believed that the world could be viewed as a dream or lie or invention -- something created mysteriously and majestically out of the void by a "First Maker" -- in which all the characters dreamed or lied, too.

From living his life in such a manner, Dickey endorsed the notion that a writer must unleash the imagination without concern for conventional truths or morals. Society endorses and depends on role playing and lying, and that is the way Dickey lived his life. He said his life was more complicated than that of Lawrence of Arabia because he wore more masks and played more roles than had Lawrence, and he agreed that he was "the sum of all the roles he played." Dickey thought himself to be the chameleon poet/writer/teacher.

This is demonstrated in his "tall tale" about the basis of the "Deliverance" story stemming from a true-life experience of his own. In Monday's post, I noted how, after getting each of the major actors and the director of the film alone and pledging each to secrecy, Dickey told them this "lie." The facts about this incident only began to surface about five years after the movie had been made when John Voight (Ed Gentry) and Burt Reynolds (Lewis Medlock) happened to sit down together for a casual conversation which included talk about "Deliverance."

Another area of controversy surrounding Dickey was the overt (and sometimes "unusual") sexuality often expressed in his writing. I pointed out the epilogue originally part of "Deliverance" in Monday's post. There was another "confusing" sexual element, as well, which the publishers insisted on omitting from the novel. It took place during Ed's ascent of the sheer, rock cliff.

Sexual overtones are present throughout Dickey's poetry. In the poem that thrills me and chills me, for example, "Falling," the stewardess who has fallen from an airplane and is plunging to her death strips her clothing as she descends. Dickey expressed sexual imagery of the stewardess preparing for a marriage with the soil rather than with a man. He relied on his sexual and mythical fantasies for the poem's material. He described it as a "last superhuman act" that arouses the reproductive energies of the boys, girls and fields of Kansas. Read the poem before you judge it.

A couple of other thoughts along these lines before we drift away from Dickey. His son, Christopher, said this in relation to his father's "tall tales:"

"But, you know, I've come to think that my father's biggest lie was about his lying. My perspective was as an uncertain child growing up in a world of small fantasies and great ambitions. (Critics) seemed to miss the point with many of the tall tales, holding Jim Dickey to a standard of probity that was not applied to his other sources, many of whom told plenty of tales of their own .... As for "Deliverance," (the) two rednecks are villains and a deputy sheriff (related to one of them) is pretty vile, but the other people encountered in the mountains are just naturally suspicious of outsiders and many of them are generous and helpful. Sheriff Bullard was in many respects one of my father's heroes, which is one reason he played him in the movie."

Of Dickey's life after "Deliverance," one biographer concluded: "The novel made him rich; but wealth, fame, and alcoholism slowly eroded the talent that made his previous books so potent."

Upon Dickey's death, another novelist of his generation, Pat Conroy, said this:

"He (Dickey) tried to live a hundred lives and succeeded in living about ninety-five of them. No American life has been so restless in its pursuit of expertise in to many fields. He inspired the Jeffersonian Renaissance man and the Rabelaisian hell-raiser alike."

And, as I said earlier, let his critics place the breath of their literary accomplishments on the table next to Dickey's, and we shall see who has the last word.

This has been a sense of the author. This has been a taste of the novel. This has been a glimpse of the movie. Read it. Watch it. No trickery here. You have a finger-hold on the story now, pretty much, which will not ruin either the book or the movie if you are looking for artistry rather than commercialism. If you require used-car-salesman-like gimmicks to be lured into a book or a movie, look elsewhere. No fluff or gimmicks permitted on these grounds.

If a person allows himself to become immersed within "Deliverance" rather than simply reading it, I believe he will find himself in the midst of one of the most frightening stories ever written. It makes Stephen King books look like the simplistic Halloween spook tales they are. "Deliverance" delivers. Dickey has a handle on actual evil in human form. The only other novel I have read that approaches "Deliverance" in that magnitude is Norman Mailer's "An American Dream."

To anyone who actually has read these pieces about "Deliverance," a special thank you. You have earned the touch of my luck.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Deliverance = the personal cost for survival

The mountain man with a rifle and Ed (Jon Voight), with his bow and arrow, face off in the ultimate contest of who lives and who dies, as shown in this photograph from the film, "Deliverance." Purely by coincidence, I assure you, I have acquired a bow such as the one Ed is using and a rifle identical to the one the mountain man is using. James Dickey, author of the story, it is said, obsessively contemplated stars and cosmic origins. I wonder what he would have made of that?

A genuine protagonist or a freak of nature?
Part II – The Story Behind The Story

Until the publication of "Deliverance" and the subsequent film, James Dickey primarily had been recognized as an advertising executive "gone bad." This is to say, Dickey left a high income, respectable career, went back to school for a master's degree (the draft of "Deliverance" had been his thesis), and became a successful teacher and poet. His poetic masterpiece (to me), is the god-awful and poetic-wonderful poem, "Falling," which presents the thoughts of an airline stewardess as she plunges earth-bound after falling from an airplane. Others from among his poems, such as "Buckdancer's Choice," are considered to be better work by the critics, but little do I care. "Falling" is the one that forever resides in my mind.

As one who appreciates those all too seldom lasting movies, my admiration goes toward the acting in this film, particularly the work of Burt Reynolds (Lewis Medlock). His performance demonstrates one of my axioms of life: Put an average actor in with a good script, other good actors and a good director, and he will excel beyond his natural ability. Now, apply this theory to the living of life: Put an average man in with a good script (good and decent parents), other talented actors (good teachers and benefactors at a job) and a fine director (a giving and truly loving mate), and he will excel beyond his natural ability.

Here are a few footnotes regarding the book and the movie:

-- Dickey went to some lengths to ensure accuracy about details in the book. He consulted an expert mountain climber, for example, to make certain the times and the distances he used when Jon Voight (Ed Gentry) scaled the sheer cliff in his story matched with actuality.

-- There are many nuances in this movie that probably only a person who has spent a great deal of time in a canoe would recognize. The same is true regarding hunting, particularly those who hunt with bow and arrow. Dickey was a man who had done both extensively.

-- "Deliverance" was Ned Beatty's (Bobby Trippe) first movie, and it apparently haunts him still. According to what Reynolds said in an interview, the sodomy scene was shot with five cameras in one take, and it was doubtful if Beatty would have done a second take. Much of the dialogue in that scene was ad-libbed.

-- The actors worked without insurance because no company would insure them due to the kinds of risks they were taking.

-- Voight actually did climb the cliff, in sections, not all at once, and it measured 175 feet.

-- Ronny Cox (Drew Ballinger) actually could pull his shoulder out of joint at will, and did so for the gruesome appearance when the body of Drew is found wedged between the rocks in the river.

-- This is one of those rare cases when the movie closely follows the book. Perhaps a decent director, John Boorman, and having the story's author, Dickey, on the set made the difference here. But, wait:

-- Sam Peckinpah, director of "The Wild Bunch" and other violent, action movies, was originally selected to be the director, however, arguments between Peckinpah and executives from Warner Brothers, producers of the movie, ended that plan. Can you imagine what "Deliverance" might have been like with Peckinpah at the helm?

-- Dickey was drunk when his scenes as sheriff were shot. Looks it, too, I think.

-- Dickey had considerable arguments with Boorman and Voight during the making of the film, and was kicked off the set for a while. Their disputes were over changes the director and the actor wanted to make in the script. Dickley was the official script writer, as well as the author of the story. However, Dickey was very pleased with the final version.

-- Doing so individually and swearing each to secrecy, Dickey told all the major actors in the film, as well as Boorman, that the story was based on actual events involving himself. There is nothing to indicate this was the truth.

Returning to Dickey and his story line, I would challenge anyone to produce a novel better suited to demonstrate that an average man can rise above himself. Lewis could have led the modernists to survival because he lived in both the past and the present, and was prepared for such an event, but his horrendous injury from the canoe spill put him out of game. That left unprepared, city-boy Ed to lead the group in the struggle for survival. He did it, by climbing a sheer, rock, 175-foot cliff and, with bow and arrow, killing the antagonist who may or may not have been trying to kill them.

Ed found the inner strength to go beyond any physical or mental feat previous in his life. Still, Ed might not have been able to achieve the task had it not been for Lewis, who with breaths whispered through excoriating pain, told Ed he must enter into the world of the primitive and become a ruthless hunter. It was the only chance to achieve the survival of the present.

Through this, there is the lingering, albeit remote, possibility the man Ed kills is someone other than the second mountain man and, even if it were he, doubt that he actually had shot Drew.

While the ending to the book is very satisfying to the reader as it stands, the original ending might not have been. It would have changed the entire tone of the novel. Dickey's first version included an epilogue in which the "hero," Ed, is revealed to be a sadomasochist who whipped his wife. His publishers said no.

Said Dickey: "I wanted to implant in the reader's mind a couple of things. First, that the narrator without his knowing it, has been a monster all his life, a born killer as well as an 'ordinary suburbanite,' and this one chance episode which gave him a chance to energize this hidden part of his personality has, in a sense, freed him of it. His monstrousness may now take other forms; ones that are imaginary and harmless. That's why I've added the final sexual scene with his wife."

In the end, Dickey conceded to his publishers that the scene was unnecessary and it was omitted. Frankly, I think its inclusion would have ruined the book. It would have changed the character of Ed from being a genuine protagonist into being just another freak of nature. No mythology, no lesson, no good vs. evil. Moving sideways, both some of Dickey's poetry and "Deliverance" were subjects of censorship efforts along the way, and such an epilogue added to the novel would have lessened the quality of the story and only served to fuel the flames of censorship.

This has become so lengthy that I am certain it will scare potential readers away just in that sense. Which means, as you might suspect, I am going to break this post into still another section, which means three rather than two. The third part, centering on the author, James Dickey, will arrive here sometime on Wednesday -- I hope.

At the close of the motion picture, Ed (Jon Voight) awakes from a nightmare about a body rising from the lake which has been born from the dammed river (maybe damned river, as well). This ending is very different from the close of the novel, in which the surviving characters have gained a certain wisdom and knowledge from their struggle for survival on the river, and have grown to live with the deaths which occurred there.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Deliverance = intrigue & the endless river

The first day canoeing the "Cahaulawassee River" creates thrills for Lewis (Burt Reynolds) and Bobby (Ned Beatty) as they shoot minor rapids in this photograph from the film version of "Deliverance," which is based on a novel by James Dickey. In the background, Ed (Jon Voight) and Drew (Ronny Cox) await their turn.

Harmless adventure becomes senseless tragedy

Part I – The Story Itself

I am not certain how many books exist that really intrigue me. (Probably many, but I get caught up in them one at a time.) Since mentioning James Dickey's novel, "Deliverance," a couple of days ago, it has been on my mind. It is an intrigue. It seems I re-read this book, published in 1970, every four or five years. Some time ago, I mentioned that it is not unusual for me to watch the 1972 motion picture adaptation of the novel two or three times just about every spring. Until mentioning it a few days ago, I had no interest in seeing it this year, probably because I had no thoughts of canoeing this season.

The novel intrigues me because it transports man-the-modern and largely unprepared into primitive survival conditions, in a struggle against both nature and other men. It is brutality in the midst of beauty -- the natural, unblemished world of woodland and river. It is harmless adventure turned to senseless tragedy. It is triumph over evil. I am not certain there has been another novel like it, before or after.

From my point of view, I think "Deliverance" easily is a masterpiece, a modern-day epic adventure with timeless literary merit. It is a story of four "big-city" guys who set out to canoe a stretch of Georgia river, the Cahulawassee, before a dam erases it forever and turns the area into a huge man-made reservoir. While their city of residence is not mentioned by name in the book, it obviously is Atlanta.

In the movie version, Burt Reynolds plays Lewis Medlock, an outdoorsman and man of action who is the instigator of the trip and the leader on the river. He lives off the proceeds of inherited rental property. This is a partial description of Lewis as given by Ed, the narrator of the story:

"Lewis wanted to be immortal. He had everything that life could give, and he couldn't make it work. And he couldn't bear to give it up or see age take it away from him, either, because in the meantime he might be able to find what it was he wanted, the thing that must be there ...."

Jon Voight plays Ed Gentry, who with a partner operates an advertising agency. The story is told as seen through his eyes. Along with Lewis, Ed decides to bring along archery gear, and hopes for a chance to hunt deer during their adventure.

Bobby Trippe is a typical city-bred insurance salesman, played by Ned Beatty. He wants to bring liquor on the trip. The quiet, introspective member of the group is Drew Ballinger, played by Ronny Cox. He is a sales supervisor for a soft drink company, and asks if he can bring a guitar on their voyage. "Deliverance" is one of the best action films ever made, I think, in large part because of excellently cast contrasting characters.

The canoe trip starts out peacefully enough. At the end of the first day, the group sets up camp, and Lewis provides supper through his outdoor prowess by shooting trout with bow and arrow. The drama heightens the second day as Ed and Bobby, who launch their canoe down the river several minutes ahead of Lewis and Drew, encounter two mountain men with sodomy on their minds. Held at gun point, Bobby is raped by one mountain man. Ed is about to be forced to perform oral sex on the other mountain man when Lewis and Drew silently arrive on the river.

Lewis dispatches one of the mountain men with an arrow, while the second mountain man runs off into the forest. The four of them decide, with Drew protesting their decision, to cover up the obvious case of self defense by burying the mountain man near the river. Their logic is simple. Bobby does not want anyone to find out what happened to him, and Lewis worries he might be convicted of murder by a local jury made up of friends and neighbors to the mountain man. Since the entire valley eventually will be covered by a large lake through the construction of a dam, they assume that no one ever will find the body.

Running rapids on the flight down river, Drew is killed. His death is a mystery because his behavior had been strange and awkward moments before he capsizes his canoe in the rapids. Lewis is certain Drew was shot before the canoe capsized and they went into the water. There seems to be little doubt they are being stalked, and the natural assumption is that the stalker is the surviving mountain man who is seeking revenge.

Lewis has sustained a broken leg from being flung into the rocky rapids after his canoe capsized. A departure from the book is found in that an ordinary fracture is changed to a compound fracture in the film, I suppose to make it more horrifying to movie viewers.

The three survivors are more or less trapped on a ledge at the base of an 175-foot sheer cliff. If they should try to canoe away, a rifleman atop the cliff could easily finish them. Lewis, the obvious man in the group who could remedy the situation, is helpless with a broken leg. Bobby suggests canoeing out after dark, but they cannot pass through the rapids in the dark. Ed concludes that the only way they can survive is for him to climb the cliff and to kill their attacker.

In the movie, Ed asks Lewis: "Lewis, what are we going to do?"

To which Lewis replies: "Now you can play the game."

In the novel, the discussion is a bit more drawn out, and ends with this:

"Don't let him see you," he (Lewis) said. "And don’t have any mercy. Not any."

"I won’t if I can help it."

"Help it."

I held my breath.

"Kill him," Lewis said with the river.

"I'll kill him if I can find him," I said.

"Well," he said, lying back, "here we are, at the heart of the Lewis Medlock country."

"Pure survival," I said.

"This is what it comes to," he said. "I told you."

"Yes. You told me."

Ed then climbs the sheer cliff and, in an encounter between archer and rifleman, kills their stalker. Upon examination of the dead man's face, Ed cannot determine if he actually is the second mountain man, but believes him to be. Ed and Bobby submerge the body, with stones tied around it, in the river.

Drew's body is located down river, hung up between rocks. There is speculation whether he drowned or whether a mark on his head was made by a bullet graze. Lewis is the deciding factor: "Grazed," he says.

With Lewis incapacitated with the broken leg and Ed having eliminated the second mountain man, Ed has emerged as the defacto leader. He makes the decision to sink Drew's body in the river as well, to avoid questions about his death.

It is the fait accompli: "A faint light came through Bobby's eyes, then either darkened or died. 'There’s no end to it,' he said. 'No end.'"

Upon reaching "civilization," the three report their "accident" in the rapids and their "missing" friend. They "survive" questioning from the local sheriff, played by author Dickey in the movie, and return to their "big-city" homes.

While the movie version closely follows the book, the film ends with Ed in bed with his wife, awakened from a nightmare about a body rising to the surface of the lake. I believe the ending to the book is preferable. In it, Bobby moves to Hawaii. Ed and Lewis both buy cottages on another lake created by another dammed river, where they remain friends and fellow archers.

Says narrator Ed: "Lewis limps over from his cabin now and then and we look at each other with intelligence, feeling the true weight and purpose of all water. He has changed, too, but not in obvious ways. He can die now; he knows that dying is better than immortality. He is a human being, and a good one."

Ed says of himself: "The river and everything I remembered about it became a possession to me, a personal, private possession, as nothing else in my life ever had. Now it ran nowhere but in my head, but there it ran as though immortally. I could feel it -- I can feel it -- on different places on my body. It pleases me in some curious way that the river does not exist, and that I have it. In me it still is, and will be until I die, green, rocky, deep, fast, slow, and beautiful beyond reality. I had a friend there who in a way had died for me, and my enemy was there. The river underlies, in one way or another, everything I do."

To be continued (probably on Monday) with thoughts, comments, some biographical information about the author, James Dickey, notes about the film and, maybe, an answer to the question if the story was based on an actual event ....

The second day canoeing the "Cahaulawassee River" brings tragedy when Drew (Ronny Cox) apparently is shot, pitches from the canoe and Ed (Jon Voight) tries desperately to main control of the craft in the rapids. The canoe manned by Lewis (Burt Reynolds) and Bobby (Ned Beatty) crashes into the other.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thinking about a canoe trip, are you?

Being able to hear the "Dueling Banjos" song was one of the fringe benefits from the movie version of James Dickey's novel, "Deliverance." Drew (Ronny Cox), on his guitar, and a mountain boy, on his banjo, cut loose in a race of the fingers to see who could play a particular song the faster. A while later, as the canoeists set off down the river, the mountain boy stands on a bridge spanning the water, silently watching them depart.

Preview of coming attractions

I have decided to write a post about James Dickey's novel, "Deliverance," and the subsequent motion picture. But, I am not quite ready. How 'bout that?

In the meantime, I am going to run a couple of "teaser" photographs from the movie. My assumption (correctly or not) is that most people have seen this movie, but few have read the book.

My belief is that those who have neither read nor watched are missing one of the best novels ever written, brought to life even more through the stunning visuals and the stellar performances by a number of actors in the movie. Until tomorrow .... or Sunday .... or ....

Lewis (Burt Reynolds) fishes the archer's way, while Ed (Jon Voight) leisurely keeps the canoe from drifting too rapidly in the river current. For aficionados, Lewis is using a Bear bow, Bear arrows and fishing accessories. The two men are in a 17-foot Grumman canoe -- all the gear the best of the best.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Frances & Sarah fill in for Fram

I have not posted since Sunday, and actually feel a bit guilty about it. What can I say? Since I have not been in the mood to write anything the past few days, I have decided to post another painting by Frances Anne Hopkins. "Shooting the Rapids –1879" is the title. If you look closely, you will be able to see Frances in her usual location, seated next to her husband at approximately the middle of the voyageur canoe. "That be me," incidentally, standing in the rear of the canoe -- the steersman who guides the craft. Between looking at the canoe paintings of Frances and mentioning the canoe novel "Deliverance" in a comment I made the other day, my mouth is beginning to water and my eyes are commencing to glaze over and my body is starting to twitch.

Paddle Your Own Canoe
By Sarah Bolton, 1851

Voyager upon life's sea,
To yourself be true,
And whatever your lot may be,
Paddle your own canoe.
Never, though the winds may rave,
Falter or look back;
But upon the darkest wave
Leave a shining track.
Paddle your own canoe.

Nobly dare the wildest storm,
Stem the hardest gale,
Brave of heart and strong of arm
You will never fail.
When the world is cold and dark,
Keep your aim in view;
And toward the beacon work,
Paddle your own canoe....

....Would you crush the giant wrong,
In the world's free fight?
With a spirit brave and strong,
Battle for the right.
And to break the chains that bind
The many to the few
To enfranchise slavish mind,
Paddle your own canoe.

Nothing great is lightly won,
Nothing won is lost,
Every good deed, nobly done,
Will repay the cost.
Leave to Heaven, in humble trust,
All you will to do:
But if succeed, you must
Paddle your own canoe.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Guns, guns, guns & the way it is

A .45 semi-auto; a 9 mm semi-auto; a .357 magnum revolver

The guns of March, April & May ....

Yes, I know. I know. I know.

Some of you undoubtedly are asking, is this guy a gun nut or what? It all depends upon your definition of "nut," I guess.

My fourth day at the range during the past six weeks was Saturday. Another 300 rounds gone. (Any idea how much money that is these days? Nearly a night at the Sir Francis Drake.) I feel very comfortable and confident again. Maybe once more at the range before summer; maybe enough for now.

This time there will be no political, pro-gun rant coming from me; this time no lecture on the physical fitness benefits from my style of firearm's training. No comments about fast cars or rock music. This time there will be just a few words about the handguns used this time around for those (if any) interested in this sort of thing.

Shown at the top is a Remington Rand 1911 in my usual .45 caliber. This piece dates from World War II, and I have modified it into a long-range combat pistol. It has a Bo-Mar adjustable, target-type, rear sight (for long range). The thumb safety, slide release and magazine release are all over sized to assure no fumbling around during reloads (for combat). Of course, it has been fine tuned internally. The grips are traditional 1911 style, made of Rosewood and made by Herrett.

In the middle is a Browning Hi-Power. This was John Browning's idea as an improvement on the 1911, which had been his design, as well. While very popular, it never did gain ascendancy over the 1911. It was, however, widely used by the European military and police communities from its introduction in 1935 into the 1980s. The one shown here is 9 mm and in factory configuration with no modifications.

Resting on the bottom is a Smith & Wesson Model 19 in .357 magnum caliber. These revolvers were among the primary handguns used by police departments throughout America from the 1950s well into the 1970s. Once upon a time, they were carried by all FBI field agents. My first experience with a Model 19 was using one borrowed from a FBI agent on a FBI Practical Pistol Course range. (Government ammo, too. Nothing like free shooting.) My shooting was atrocious that day. The Model 19 still does not like me, but I still like it, and enjoy playing with it on occasion.

Thus, endith this tale of the gun.

The way it is ....

Mary Hemingway wrote a book called, "The Way It Was," about her years with old Ernie. To paraphrase her title for these few paragraphs, we shall call them, "The Way It Is."

The past few weeks, I have been asked, directly and indirectly, for photographs of myself and to divulge my real name more often than anytime since beginning this blog in mid-January. (Must be spring.) I am going to use some of the words I wrote about privacy on one occasion in response:

"Strange? Weird? Just something I decided way back then. I like being low profile. I'm a natural-born reporter. I like to remain in the background and observe, draw my conclusions and write the story from a clinical point of view. I've gotten into places and talked to people where other reporters have not been able to simply by being invisible in the crowd and a chameleon during the interview."

This is me. Take me or not. Like me or not. It is the way I am and always will be. If any of us should meet or it is certain we will meet, I suppose I would offer fair warning in the form of a photograph and additional information about myself.

Some people choose to use their actual names and photographs on their blogs. Some do not. It may involve trust or it may not. My position is that absolutely nothing about my life is anyone else's business unless I choose to reveal it. The same is true for you and you and you.

If anyone asks me a question, I will either answer it openly or say I choose not to answer it. This is not deceit. This is believing one's own privacy is among the most valuable of possessions. Guess you got a bit of a rant after all ....

Music Note: Listening to Bad Company ....
Specifically, "Here Comes Trouble"
Some lines from "How About That?"

last night
when the moon was new
I couldn't sleep
I was thinking of you
and how much I need ya

how bout that?

I act like like I'm tougher than steel
with a heart like stone
but ya know it ain't real
I really need you baby

how bout that?

if ever you need time and space
don’t run away just tell me face to face yeah

how bout that?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

True confession: I love these two girls

"Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall"

Frances went everywhere & painted what she saw

As is the case with favorite poets and favorite novelists, my favorite artist, Frances Anne Hopkins, is long dead. She was born in England, lived from 1838 until 1919, and spent 12 of her years in Canada. Her subject matter includes a series of "voyager paintings." This is one of them, above. There is no doubt this group of paintings strongly influences my designation of her as my favorite. Some of these paintings are huge as well as magnificent.

Frances was the granddaughter of a well-known British portrait painter, whose clients included the royal family. Her father was an admiral in the British navy, an explorer, author and artist of considerable talent. She married young, to Edward Hopkins, who was a chief factor in the Montreal office of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Frances arrived in the vicinity of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, at age 20. She accompanied her husband when he went on an inspection tour of Fort William in 1864. Fort William began as a French fur trading outpost in the late 1600s. It is located on the banks of the Kaministiquia River in what today is Ontario, next to the northeastern tip of what today is Minnesota. Fort William and an adjacent city, Port Arthur, were merged in one and renamed Thunder Bay in 1970. The logical way to reach Fort William in 1864 was by water, by Lake Superior, by voyager canoe.

This was the first of at least three extensive canoe trips she made with her husband. Among the results of these trips were at least four "voyager paintings," as they came to be known. The most reproduced one, which was accepted for exhibition at the Royal Academy in London in 1869, is known as "Canoes in a Fog, Lake Superior." While I have never done any research on Frances, my impression is that she worked primarily in watercolors and oils. She was attracted to any number of settings and subjects to paint.

One of the signature characteristics in her paintings was including herself among the characters. In our painting today, "Canoe Manned by Voyageurs Passing a Waterfall," she is clearly shown seated next to her husband at approximately the mid-point of the canoe. Frances might be the only European woman to have seen and known first-hand the world of the fur trade and the life of the voyager.

Reflecting a moment, I think Frances not only is my favorite painter, but one of my half-dozen or so all-time favorite women.

Dorothy could write & and handle a six-shooter

While I am at it, I think I will toss out the name of another of my all-time favorite women: Dorothy Marie Johnson.

Between movies such as "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," "A Man Called Horse" and "The Hanging Tree," I was not aware there was a common thread. It was not until I dove head first into studying the (once again) magical latter years of the 1860s and picked up a non-fiction book entitled, "The Bloody Bozeman," written by Dorothy, did I learn all those movies were based on stories written by her.

Dorothy’s life ranged from 1905 to 1984. She tried marriage, and gave it up after three years. She tried living in New York and working in advertising, and gave it up. She was editor of "The Woman" magazine, and gave it up.

Dorothy began and ended as a Montana newspaper woman, and also taught journalism at the University of Montana.

"She was kind of funny-looking. She was short and dumpy and had those Coke-bottle glasses," a colleague once described her. "Her speeches were always hilarious." A story about her relates how when a rattlesnake was found in a neighbor's house, she descended the cellar stairs clad only in a muumuu and "clutching a long-barreled six-shooter in her trembling hands .... fortunately, no shots were fired."

She was prolific, producing 17 books, 52 short stories and countless articles that spanned a 60-year career as writer and editor. In 1957, the Western Writers of America gave Dorothy the organization's highest award, the Spur award, for her short story "Lost Sister." Time magazine once compared Dorothy's stories to those of Bret Harte and Mark Twain.

And, believe it or not, Dorothy was a collector of handguns. See me smiling.

Music Note: Listening to Styx ....
Specifically, "Come Sail Away -- The Styx Anthology"
Some lines from "Come Sail Away:"

I'm sailing away
Set an open course for the virgin sea
For I've got to be free
Free to face the life that's ahead of me
On board I'm the captain
So climb aboard
We'll search for tomorrow
On every shore

A gathering of angels appeared above our heads
They sang to us this song of hope and this is what they said
Come sail away
Come sail away
Come sail away with me
I thought that they were angels
But to my surprise
We climbed aboard their starship
And headed for the skies

Something special ....