Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Archaeology, travel & a kiss or two

No, this is not a painting of George Armstrong Custer at the Little Big Horn. Until the time of the Custer battle, the destruction of Captain William Fetterman and eighty other cavalry troopers, infantrymen and civilian scouts at the hands of two thousand Lakota Sioux warriors near Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming had been the single-most greatest defeat by the U.S. Army during the Plains Indian Wars. This painting, "The Fetterman Fight," by Montana artist J.K. Ralston, illustrates the battle which took place 147 years ago -- on December 21, 1866. A couple of points: The painting is very accurate in a topographical sense + I like to sleep on old battlefields = I spent a night in 2001 sleeping on the pinnacle of the rise at left center in the painting. This is the location where Captain Fetterman's body was found and where a monument stands today. If you wish to know what this has to do with New Year's Resolutions, you must read on a bit further. Ah, yes-s-s-s, the music. I have been known to say Grace Slick is my favorite female rock voice .... but, I also have been known to say it is the voice of Ann Wilson or of Stevie Nicks or, in a sentimental sense, the all-round performance of Jan Kuehnemund (RIP). No matter which has the edge (and, there might be others, too), I enjoy all of them and have Stevie on stage with this end of the year post.

I solemnly do pledge
I cannot recall the last time I made a New Year's Resolution.  I recall thinking about them; I do not recall making them. This, probably, is because, as happens with most people, I know I will forget them in a matter of days.
On occasion, none associated with the arrival of a new year, I have made up my mind to make a change in my life and done it. One such change was to quit smoking. One day, I woke up in the morning a man who smoked three-plus packs a day, as well as a cigar or two daily, and an occasional pipe load in the evening. That night, I went to bed a non-smoker.
I am going to try a few resolutions this year. Nothing fancy, nothing major, nothing really permanent .... mostly for fun, I suppose, to see how long I last. So, in no particular order, here are a few resolutions I intend to make and hope to keep for and during 2014:
As noted in the "cutlines" for the painting/illustration, I spent a night sleeping on the site of the Fetterman fight. I also had spent most of a day there, and the only other visitors were a boy, his father and his grandfather, on one of those "generational trips," who stayed no longer than fifteen minutes. It was literally a dream for someone like me to have a rather significant battlefield all to myself for a day -- walking and wandering the entire length and breadth of it .... absorbing it and becoming part of it, listening to the voices of those who had fought and had died there.
A few years later, I returned there for a couple of weeks as an amateur volunteer during an archaeological survey of the battlefield. A few years before that, I had done the same thing at the site of an ancient Native American encampment in Michigan. So, this is one resolution, a rather simple one: I will find another archaeological project which accepts amateur volunteers and spend a couple of weeks walking or crawling, as the case may be, searching for the past. I think I would prefer a location outside the U.S. I want to touch the past again, rather than simply read about it.
A similar resolution is to return to Poland again, to spend a week or two in Warsaw, then to travel on to a town in Germany. Some of you might recall a post I wrote on February 24, 2013, and some follow-up information in an April 13, 2013, post about a Browning Model 1922 pistol that had been carried by a German airman during World War II. This is what I wrote April 13:
"I have identified the original 'owner' of the pistol. I know he was in the German Luftwaffe. I know his name, when and where he was born, and when and where he died. I know a few other things as well, but the only other one I will mention is this. He died in March 1945, less than six weeks before the war ended."
So, I wish to go -- and, I resolve to go -- to the town in Germany in which there is a memorial bearing the name of the man who carried the pistol I now have, as well as the names of others from this town who lost their lives during World War II. Just to add a bit of mystery for future revelation, I will not post the name of the town until I am there.
Another resolution is to kiss a woman I have never kissed before .... maybe, two ....
As usual, what I write gets longer and longer .... I think I will break this into two parts .... to be continued .... Happy New Year ....

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Norwegian Bachelor Farmer

Before you become too critical of my photograph, remember, for me it is meant as an illustration to accompany the words in the post, not as a representation of any manner of "good photography." Although, I have won two contests in journalistic photography and I can take an occasional neat one when luck is on my side. This photo is to illustrate the current wolf lair of the "Norwegian/German/American Bachelor Whatever" = me. Put simply, this is still another view of where I dwell at the moment. So, read on if you want the rest of the story. The music is Sarah Brightman and her "A Winter Symphony" album. A copy of this arrangement was given to me as a going away present in December 2009 before I left for Europe. I listened to these songs over and over again back then. This music has both enjoyment and symbolic meaning for me, and probably will have for every Christmas as long as I walk the Earth.

Remembering childhood & Christmas
You probably have to be from Minnesota -- or, maybe, from the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin, too -- to have heard and to understand the concept of the "Norwegian Bachelor Farmer."

Well, I am not going to try to explain it to you in detail, mostly because the details vary depending upon who is providing them. In a sense, the words are self-explanatory. What amazes me is how many of these fellows there were, and, still are, if you simply look for them. I have a cousin who is among them right now. I know of families who are not of Norwegian ancestry, but, never-the-less, who boast or tease or joke about having a Norwegian Bachelor Farmer among their numbers. The image emerges from an actual historical character evolving into folklore.

One note in background data: Germans, followed by Norwegians and then by other Scandinavians, were the primary immigrants to Minnesota during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This is when and where stories of the Norwegian Bachelor Farmer originated.
I have written four posts in recent days, but "torn" them up simply because it is Christmastime and I am trying to be nice for a few days. This is difficult for me, a devotee of "Bitter Bierce," as I occasionally point out. It is my nature to be doubtful and skeptical. We shall see how this post registers.
Since my mother died a number of months ago, my thoughts frequently have gone to my childhood. Since it is Christmastime now, my thoughts frequently are merging with childhood Christmases -- the ghosts of Christmas past. They are all good, pleasant, comfortable ghosts.
I have mentioned in previous posts that my parents were divorced and, for all intents and purposes, I grew up without a father playing an active role in my life. Until my mother re-married when I was age sixteen, we lived with her parents. Consequently, Christmas was the four of us when I was a child -- grandpa, grandma, ma and me. But, on Christmas Eve, there was a fifth member present -- my grandmother's brother, Harry -- our Norwegian Bachelor Farmer.
And, I have mentioned Harry in past posts, too. He is the one who taught me how to shoot shotguns and rifles and handguns when I was ten years old. He is the one who taught me how to drive, beginning with sitting in his lap and steering, long before my feet could reach the pedals. As my legs grew, I "graduated" to sitting on a wooden box and, finally, on the car seat itself.
Harry was more than a farmer, although he operated one for a number of years. He had gone off to war as a young man and seen a bit of the world before he came home to take over a family farm. At a point along the way when economics dictated, the farmland was leased out to "corporate operations" (the curse of American agriculture, from my point of view) and he took over the task of running the police force in a small Minnesota town. I suppose he turned into the Norwegian Bachelor Cop when that happened.
Harry was a "career bachelor." He never married, never had a family of his own. What he did have were siblings who sort of looked after him in many ways. He came to our house every Christmas Eve for supper and participation in the gift-giving. On Christmas Day, he went to another sister's home for dinner.

In a way, he had life good in that sense. Most Sunday and holiday dinners were consumed at the home of one of his sisters; he had his own house in the country in which to hang his hat and he lived life free as a bird -- working, hunting, fishing. He was an always-welcome guest in the homes of four sisters who lived nearby. There was no one to put the reins on him. He had no real responsibilities to anyone or to anything other than to himself and to his work -- but, he also gave as much as he received, and was there to help whenever and wherever he was needed.

Anyway, I had very good Christmases when I was a boy. They form the basis of wonderful memories -- including some of our family's Norwegian Bachelor Farmer. I hope this Christmas is forming a wonderful memory for those who pass by this way and who read these words. Merry Christmas ....

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Over the river & through the woods to ....

I had thought I would do just one post this month. That is why the last one was so long. Three segments plus the photograph and its lengthy cutline = a month's worth in a single post. But, my fingers got the better of me again. They just start typing at times, no matter what I think or want. So, here is another post for December. You will note the assorted archery gear on the table. My senses are confused. I wish to be using them, but this hardly is the appropriate time of the year in my part of the world. And, as I often do, I am tying my archery thoughts in with the novel and subsequent film, "Deliverance," by James Dickey. I have written posts about Dickey and his masterpiece in the past. But, to return to the topic: A few days ago, I was asked to go on a mountain hike this spring. My reply was, "Make it a river canoe trip and I will consider it." This has been on my mind since the suggestion was made. But, back to "Deliverance:" The bow on the table is my Bear Kodiak Magnum, the Ferrari of recurve bows during the "Deliverance" era and a collector piece today. In the film, Burt Reynolds (Lewis) used a Bear Victor Kodiak take-down and Jon Voight (Ed) used a Bear Kodiak Hunter. By the way, there is no music with this post. It has been replaced by a clip from "Deliverance" and another of Dickey reciting his poem, "For the Last Wolverine," and another depicting a bit of Zen archery, Japanese style. I think my mind is swirling at the moment -- lost in summertime in the midst of woods, water and wilderness. Christmas? Did you say it is nearly Christmas? Are you sure?

The illogic of logic ....

It seems strange when thoughts enter your mind at illogical times.
Today, I was thinking about archery, about spending some time sending arrows into targets. Why this did not enter my mind last summer -- when temperatures were mild and days were sunny -- I cannot imagine. I only know that today I found myself stringing a bow, placing an arrow upon it, closing my eyes and drawing the bow string back, back, back.
I suppose I could have let the arrow fly, broken it and put a gash in the wall (probably put the arrow through the wall), but, I did not. I relaxed the bow string, put down the bow and sat down on a love seat to think about it.
My interest in archery probably began with seeing it in films. I recall having bows and arrows before I was in school; taking money from my savings to buy materials to make my own arrows while I still was in elementary school; hunting big game (as hunter slang would put it) with archery gear before I was out of high school.
Among my favorite books as an adolescent was, "Zen in the Art of Archery," by Eugen Herrigel. Without reviewing or discussing the book, in short I believe I "learned" from it to be somewhat adept at becoming one with the bow and the arrow and the destination of the arrow. (For those unaware, I also became quite fanatical about Japanese-style judo for a few years, and actually taught it in two widely and wildly different formats.)
Later in life, I became enthused about James Dickey's masterpiece, "Deliverance," which involved three loves of my life at the time: Wilderness survival, canoeing and archery. One of my favorite paragraphs in "Deliverance" is this:

"Lewis is still a good shot, and it is still a pleasure to watch him. 'I think my release is passing over into Zen,' he said once. 'Those gooks are right. You shouldn't fight it. Better to cooperate with it. Then it'll take you there; take the arrow there'."
Those lines really are poetry more than they are prose. Dickey was more a poet than anything, I think. I have written posts in the past about him and about "Deliverance." I once heard him speak as a guest lecturer at the University of Tennessee, and was among a few able to talk with him for a while after the event.
Why am I writing this piece? So much of what happens to us is because we are at the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. Why do I think of archery now, when the temperatures are ranging to a dozen degrees below zero Fahrenheit and there are four or five inches of snow on the ground? Maybe, it is because so much of what we want –- or think we want -- is distant from us in time or space .... which might be a major factor in why we want it: It is inaccessible.
I cannot go back to places or to people in the past (although, I have tried), but I can bypass contemporary time and/or space and go to people or places simply by boarding an aircraft and traveling to my destination. In other words, I could fly to Florida tomorrow and shoot arrows until my arms and hands are able to do it no longer. Or, I can defy contemporary time and/or space and stand in the Minnesota cold and snow and "become" one with my arrows on their flights to the targets.
I think our minds are as strong or as weak as we allow them to be, but, sometimes, we cross one too many rivers on our journey through the woods and on to the sea.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

The metamorphoses of December

There are historic events which affect us personally even though we were not directly part of them. Today, December 7, is the anniversary of one such event: In 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on Oahu, Hawaii, to bring the United States into World War II. The worn, bent "Remember Pearl Harbor" pin with the artificial pearl in the photograph belonged to my mother. She wore it as a school girl. The bayonet (long blade) was brought home by a soldier who fought in Europe during WW II. The KA-BAR Marine Corps combat knife (short blade) was made in 1943, carried by a Marine during the battle of Okinawa during WW II and again during the Korean War. (It also has been a few places with its second owner.) The pistol, a .45 caliber Colt Model 1911, is of later vintage (made in 1963), but ones like it were the official side arm of the U.S. military for more than half a century. The "clip" of ammo is .30 caliber armor piercing (black tip) for the M1 Garand, the primary U.S. military rifle during WW II and Korea. Yesterday's enemies often become today's allies, but the memory of both the good and the bad of a nation's history should never be forgotten. From my biased viewpoint, the most important area of study for young students is history. Study of the past reveals the answers to most questions, whether by or about an individual or the civilization of which he is a part.

Metamorphosis ....

Franz Kafka was thirty-two years old when "The Metamorphosis" was published. It took me a few years beyond that age, but I think I finally have realized what he had experienced and what he meant. What I am saying is that I think this short work of fiction is not all fiction, but an account of an event which occurred within his mind, if not actually to his body. Not all of us, but some of us, undergo a metamorphosis during our lifetimes -- perhaps, more than one.

It is tantalizing to imagine where our minds might carry us should we find ways to cut the societal bonds which encase them and to block out the constrictions which our bodies place upon them. In terms of metamorphosis, I looked at a photograph of a high school football team a few days ago. I recognized no one, not even myself. Everyone, including myself, was a stranger.

Of course, I am speaking more in a figurative sense than a literal one. I still recognize the smiling face as my face, but I do not know who he was and have a difficult time accepting that he ever was me. It is like seeing a photograph of someone I once knew, but have not encountered for years and remember only vaguely. Do you understand? Probably not. We shall leave it at that ....

Religion ....

The cruelty of this world is that we eventually have to say goodbye to everyone and to everything we love and hold precious in our lives. For this reason, it is easy to understand how religion entered our thought patterns as a primitive species. But, there are those like me who use that same fact as a reason not to accept a de facto god or an organized religion. That said, we should allow everyone who wants organized religion to have it without suffering secular ridicule from we, who are incapable of finding religious faith.

I am among those who do believe religion, in particular, Christianity, is under attack by any number of sources in the United States and around the world. In some countries, Egypt, Pakistan and North Korea, for instance, Christians have been imprisoned and even killed. At the risk (he says with a smile) of being labeled an infidel and a Crusader, I feel obligated to defend organized religion although I, personally, do not believe in it. This is my position because, unlike the current resident of the White House and some members of Congress, I do believe in the rights and responsibilities outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

For many, religion was and is a way to accept the harshness and difficulties we face in life. Living life today for most of us -- at least those of us who live in counties with relative economic and political stability -- is simple, easy and without much threat or danger. We are the lucky ones among those who have inhabited the earth to this point in time, and luckier still are those who genuinely possess religious faith to help them through the rough times.

Whatever ....

The third part of this had been meant to be about the dishonesty and corruption among politicians, in particular on the part of the one occupying the White House. But, I suppose I am not quite ready to print that yet. It is coming. I will wait for our megalomaniac president to mire himself even deeper in the quicksand of his own deceitful words and actions. I think it has been three or four years since I first pointed out Barack Obama is a habitual liar -- very possibly, even a pathological one -- but it takes time for "true believers" to actually see beyond the counterfeit smile of their idol. Some never will because his failure is their failure in selecting him.

So, instead of continuing down that path, I will mention that December 7 also is the anniversary of my argument with wife No. 2 -- the quarrel which eventually led to our divorce. I finally am getting used to living alone, and I need to write about that. Sometime. Not now. This post is getting very long just as it is. But, I do wonder how others living alone feel about it. Tell me, if you would, please.

And, in a few days, on December 10, it will be sixteen years since I quit smoking. Talk about a metamorphosis: Cold turkey from a few decades of three to four packs a day of Salems and Camel straights to absolute zero. I do expect to resume smoking at some point in time. I miss it, especially the cigar with brandy after a meal.

And, again, I will mention the music. In my last post, I included Jon Bon Jovi and his song, "It's My Life." It is a great song, I think. With this post, I include the same song, but this time with Bon Jovi performing it as a ballad rather than as the hard rock rendition which made it popular worldwide. The entire album, "This Left Feels Right," is on YouTube. Try it. I will bet big bucks you like it. I guess this just goes to show the accuracy of the cliché, "You cannot judge a book by its cover."

Hmmmm .... I guess that applies to politicians as well as to books and to music.

Something special ....