Friday, June 4, 2010

Excerpt From "Bluebeard" by Kurt Vonnegut

From chapter 8 - advice by an old newspaper editor to a young Rabo Karabekian...

"'I never prayed before, but I'll pray tonight that you never go to Europe as a soldier.  We should never get suckered again into providing meat for the cannons and machine guns they love so much.  They could go to war at any time.  Look how big their armies are in the midst of a Great Depression!

'If the cities are still standing when you get to Europe,' he said, 'and you sit in a cafe for hours, sipping coffee or wine or beer, and discussing painting and music and literature, just remember that the Europeans around you, who you think are so much more civilized than Americans, are looking forward to just one thing: the time when it will become legal to kill each other and knock everything down again.

'If I had my way,' he said, 'American geography books would call those European countries by their right names: 'The Syphilis Empire,' 'The Republic of Suicide,' 'Dementia Praecox,' which of course borders on beautiful 'Paranoia.'...

That was an ordinary way for a patriotic American to talk back then.  It's hard to believe how sick of war we used to be.  We used to boast of how small our Army and Navy were, and how little influence generals and admirals had in Washington.  We used to call armaments manufacturers 'Merchants of Death.'

Can you imagine that?"

* * * * *

We don't learn from history.  We don't learn from our mistakes.  We are sheep.  We are lemmings sprinting for the cliffs.  We have forsaken reason to fulfill no more than our most primitive needs - ego and revenge.  We are the center of the world.  And we are bordered by 'Fear' and 'Paranoia.'

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

An Excerpt From "The Wild Marsh" by Rick Bass

Taken from p.134 in the chapter "May"...

"In our valley, we have but fifteen such gardens of any significant size left.  They require a minimum size of one thousand acres to be classified as potential candidates for wilderness designation - formal, permanent protection by Congress - and in order to qualify must not ever have had any roads built into them.

Such has been the frenzy of extraction on this forest, the subsidized liquidation of the biggest and best of the timber - well over a million loaded logging trucks have rolled out of this forest, out of this valley, and out of this impoverished county (Where did all the money go?  Was there ever any money, or was it all simply given or traded away?) - that in the million or so acres lying between the Canadian border and the curve, the bow, of the Kootenai River, east of Idaho and west of  Lake Koocanusa, these fifteen gardens are now scattered in a gasping strand of one wild archipelago, and are refuge not only to the last threatened and endagnered species such as wolves and grizzlies and caribou and wolverines but also to those reservoirs of spirit.

Fifteen gardens: and worse yet, not a single one them has any form of permanent protection whatsoever.  Despite the living, pulsing, breathing wilderness of this landscape (a biological wildness, rather than a recreational wildness - perhaps the wildest valley in the Lower Forty-eight, in that regard), there's still not a single acre of designated wilderness protected on the public wildlands of this valley.

It's a big injustice.  I hate the flavor, the taste, of that injustice.

I love the scent, the taste, the feeling - and certaintly, the ecological justice - back in the farthest hearts of those fifteen gardens.

I've said it before: This isn't a place to come to.  It's a place to dream of.  It's biological wildness, full of frog roar and swamp muck and tangled blowdown and mosquitoes and deeply angry, suspicious people, none of whom would be pleased to see your happy, vacationing face."

Land is not worth only what you can extract from it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fly Verse

I stand with a creel void of conquest - a lesson in life once more.
You can not catch that which does not wish to be caught.
But I am a fisherman.  So I turn, smile, and cast once more,
Wading upstream, hat-in-hand. - F.H.W.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Blame It On The Wolves!

Ravalli Republic -- Wolves, Constitution Hot Topics at Forum

... hosted by the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, Monday night.

"Not one had a good thing to say about wolves, but they were all in favor of the Constitution," summarized Ravalli Republic reporter Perry Backus.

A comical observation, but what did you expect from a dog and pony show hosted by an organization that has forgotten that wolves fall under the heading Wildlife and deserve as much respect and conservation effort as elk and deer.

"We are totally losing everything we have in this state simply because we have this protected animal," says Bob Lake, republican running for the senate in district 44.

Everything... really, Bob.  Every Republican needs a boogieman to campaign against, whether it be the liberal elite, pinkos, the feds, biased media, taxing Dems, etc.  In the Bitterroot Valley, it's a four legged predator that comes out of the mountains to raise taxes, stymie capitalism and teach evolution in the classroom.

"We need to get the wolves out," said Dan Cox, Libertarian candidate running against Lake. "The best way to maintain the estimated $11.3 million that hunting brings into Ravalli County is to get as far away from the federal government as possible."

As business is practiced now, wolves may present a hit to the pocketbook to business owners and outfitters that directly profit from the hunting industry in the valley.  But to most members of the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association and other hunters in the valley, the only thing they suffer from is a little penis envy.  The wolf is a great predator, one that perhaps rivals man in the ability to take down an elk.  Hunters don't like the fact that their annual migration into the mountains in search of big game and tall tales has become a little more difficult.  They use money as justification for not giving wolves equal status as elk in the wild. They have forgotten that taking an animal is not a right, but a privilege.  They have forgotten that competition is at the heart of what it is to be a sportsman.  They have forgotten that WE nearly removed them from the lower 48.  And they are looking for something or someone to blame for their fears and are letting their emotions get the best of them.

... but what else is new.

After looking at websites of candidates seeking election in Ravalli County, it appears that the only platform necessary is "Wolf bad.  Constitution good."  Jeff Burrows writes on his website that "we are faced with a number of issues from non-native wolves destroying big game in the forest to outrageous taxes... We must return to a government that works for the people and not the other way around."  He also writes that "up until about a year and a half ago, I had never even read the US or Montana constitution.  Since then I have been diligently studying and trying to learn what these 'rights' were that have been slowly taken away from us."

I applaud that Burrows is taking an interest in his federal and state constitutions, but the fact that he states that he never read either constitution up until this past year makes me wonder what he was doing in school, because federal and state constitutions are covered in most civic and U.S. history classes.  His lack of attention in school may also explain why he considers wolves non-native.  I wish him luck in his paranoid search for these rights that are being "slowly taken away from us."

Burrows is a Republican anti-establishment candidate running for MT HD 87 and is committed to the abolishment of the IRS and federal reserve, the return to a commodity backed currency with an emphasis on local barter and credit clearing system, and is seven kinds of crazy.

But the title of head loon for the evening went to Richard Stamey, Republican candidate for MT HD 89, with his comments:

"They should be killed.  All of them.  You should be able to shoot, poison, kill any predator that comes on your property, period."

I hate that varmint!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Review of "Breakfast of Champions" By Kurt Vonnegut

Oh, Vonnegut...

"Breakfast of Champions" left me torn. On one hand...

I found "Breakfast of Champions" to be an immature collection of rantings complete with illustrations. The frequent reference to assholes and "wide open beavers" that was at first necessary to set the dark tone for the book, quickly segued into something that would only captivate an adolescent (think "Catcher in the Rye"). Oh, he said beaver... tee-hee.

On the other hand...

I found "Breakfast of Champions" to be a autobiographical introspective, a tale of two characters, both extensions of Vonnegut, both seeking the answer to the question: "What is the meaning of Life?" Dwayne, a successful self-made man, seeks to know the significance of his own existence and suffers from the excuse of an "imbalance of chemicals in the brain".  Kilgore Trout, the second main character, is an impoverished author of many dark pessimistic writings who after living his life in obscurity happens to have the good fortune of catching the eye of a wealthy benefactor.  The two are at a crossroad headed in opposite directions.

We know that Vonnegut is personally invested in these characters because he shares similarities with both.  Dwayne, the champion of the free-enterprise American way of life, owned a auto-dealership and was a widower due to suicide.  Vonnegut operated a Saab dealership and lost his mother to suicide.  Trout is a free thinking, anti-establishment character that comes up in several of Vonnegut's writings ("God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater", "Slaughterhouse-Five", "Timequake") and is said to be based on Vonnegut contemporary and friend, Theodore Sturgeon. Vonnegut in life was an outspoken critic of war and conventional religion.  In the novel, Vonnegut writes himself into the story, casting himself as a somewhat biased observer who already knows the outcome of the narrative, but does not interfere.

"Breakfast of Champions" culminates with the meeting of Dwayne and Trout. Trout unknowingly supplies Dwayne with the/an answer to his question in one of his works - that basically, he can do no wrong because he is the only living being with the ability of "free will".  What is the meaning of his life?  For the world to revolve around Dwayne.  This fuels a destructive rampage in which Dwayne seeks harm or vengeance on half the town, because... there will be no consequences for the misdeeds of THE ONE.  "Breakfast of Champions", perhaps, is Vonnegut's parody of the egocentric nature of American society.

I give this book two stars out of five. One star because though it was an introspective narrative, it was not as entertaining as Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle".  And one star because it is better than "Catcher in the Rye", my baseline for over-hyped classics.

One final thought...

I can't help but think that Vonnegut is sitting under the shade of an ethereal oak somewhere, puffing on a cigarette, and having a laugh at our (my) expense, because he was paid to put in print the same things that many of us contemplate often, but can't seem to effectively relay to paper. But, I guess that is what makes him a writer, and me... not.

So, what is the meaning of life?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fly Verse

The dissonant nay-sayers from the asphalt of life are diluted by the chorus of songbirds and the ramblings of the river.
No longer am I a cog in the human machine. I am in tune with the stream, preparing to cast a simple melody. - F.H.W.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Watery Destinations

Magazines and newspapers dressed in photographs of trout, fly-rods, and remote waterways draw my attention like fish to a fly.  The images are a combination of sport and solitude and are glimpses of the secrets held within its pages, a tease I find difficult to ignore.  Today's New York Times printed an article on floating a lesser known section of the Colorado River, below the Glen Canyon Dam.  The article provides good detail of the float, local outfitter contact information, and streamside attractions worth pausing to appreciate.  The accompanying images of fly-fishermen, kayaks, sandstone cliffs and tranquil waters, whet the appetite, which leads to brief descriptions of other "Rivers Less Paddled".

I enjoy photographs and reading articles of remote, lesser viewed destinations, and I understand the irony.  It's a sad fact that broadcasting the location and sharing the allure of lesser known watery destinations immediately makes them less so.  Because, through print, the secret is out and people will come.  Sad.

But... I am a hopeless addict.  This understanding won't stop me from picking through the news kiosk in search of more articles to peruse and learn about new destinations.  This, in turn, fuels the commission of more fishing articles and the sale of more destination magazines.  I am part of a sad cycle.  And the funny thing, the sadly humorous part, is that in the gathering of all this information, I hope to never find reference to my secret places, my fishing spots.  Because... until it reaches major print, it still a secret... in my mind.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Reel Happy

The bottom line is that a long day of shopping the big name box stores for a reel push mower didn't pay off. We returned home tired, dejected, and a little upset. Fortunately, there was a silver lining. The few mowers we did give the once-over gave us a better idea of what we were looking for, or to be more accurate, what we were NOT looking for. So, we left Big Box Store U.S.A. behind and took our business on-line.

One of the positive aspects of shopping on-line is that you have access to a large selection of products in order to compare. In our case, it would be like having a neighborhood lawn care store next door that sells nothing but reel mowers. You could select old reliable, or ergonomic and trendy. You could choose lightweight, or go gang-reel mad. The number of possibilities seems limitless and perhaps a little maddening if "ALL I WANT IS A MOWER!" We narrowed our selection by taking into account cutting width, handle style, weight, and cost. We also took into consideration where the mower was manufactured and the opinions of previous shoppers.

Three mowers stood tall.

Pro-Mow, an Indiana based company better known for its gang-reel mowers, offers a 20" 5 blade reel mower for $149.00. This was the most expensive mower we considered, and at 38 lbs., it was also the heaviest.

The Prison Reel Mower is a 16" 5 blade mower that tips the scales at 32 lbs. This robust mower is hyped as a "tough piece of equipment designed to withstand heavy use," and as its name suggests, this model is commonly sold to prisons and correctional facilities. The solid construction aside, this mower should be considered merely to have the opportunity to "mow like a convict." The mower is billed at $119.00

Another Indiana manufactured mower, this beauty from the American Lawn Mower Company (ALM Co.) has 7 blades, a 16" mowing width, and is designed specifically to cut low growing, creeping grasses. It weighs 28 lbs. and was listed at $79.99 at at the time of purchase.

So, without surprise (because I just told you), the winner was...

We selected the ALM Co. mower because it best suit our needs, but it didn't hurt that it was also the least expensive.

The Pro-Mow was the largest, heaviest, and most expensive of the three mowers we narrowed it down to. The price was reasonable. However, for the minuscule size of our lawn, we didn't feel we required a 20" mower. Also, there was a foreseeable problem, based on some unfavorable reviews of the Scotts Classic, with the handle that both the Pro-Mow and Scotts share. Several reviewers called the handle of the Scotts Classic "flimsy" and prone to twisting as the nuts loosened. A few reviewers mentioned having to weld or reinforce the handle in order remedy the problem. The T-shaped handle available on the Prison and ALM Co. mowers is stiffer and less apt to twist and loosen over time.

I was intrigued by the Prison Mower. I liked the fact that it was a solid metal design with a history of taking abuse. It didn't hurt that I had a picture in my head of pushing my new Prison Mower across the lawn on a Saturday morning decked out in an orange jumpsuit, sucking down a Stroh's, with the initials D.O.C stamped on my back. It would have been good for a laugh and a story down the road. I didn't see any drawbacks with this mower. The only disadvantage it has is that it cost slightly more than the ALM Co. mower.

Weight didn't play much of a role in the decision. Though many reel mowers are hyped as being lightweight, at ~30 lbs., all three mowers were light enough for my wife to handle. In retrospect, after purchasing and using the ALM Co. mower, my one complaint is that the mower could use a couple extra pounds. The mower tends to skip through uneven sections of the lawn. A few more "lbs" would help the mower ride a little smoother through the the divots and ruts. This, of course, represents one of the drawbacks of shopping on-line - the inability to take a product out for a "test-drive".

We have now owned and used the the American Lawn Mower Company 16" Bent Reel Mower for two weeks. Gone is the wasted time spent winding up the old gasoline mower. Gone is the wasted fuel, the annoyance of listening to the whine of the engine, and returning to the house smelling like oil and exhaust. In trade, we cut the lawn a little more often than we used to and we get a little bit more of a workout pushing the mower up the hill, but we accepted this before we signed-on. Ya, we feel pretty good about our purchase. And I think our neighbors are happy that our front lawn isn't a weed choked jungle anymore. We're happy. They're happy. I guess you could say we've made everyone happy, reel happy.