Monday, November 20, 2017

Did I Mention? Masks and Random Objects.

Since the visit to the Denver Art Museum in September, I'm obsessed with Masks. The oldest one in this group:

this one, so simple, so expressive.  I find that if I try to draw a face, I do a better representation if I draw it as a mask.


A stone in the path somewhere in the Tetons, also from our visit in September 2017. Natural or placed by man? An old peoples' Valentine?

Could inspire a painting of lights and darks? At the Mormon village near the Tetons.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Three Books Non-fiction, because I'm trying to read more of this.

I admit I read too much random, eclectic fiction that I pick up as it crosses my path--little focus to my reading? So I'm trying to select more history, memoir etc.

First, to celebrate my own approaching "retirement", "Twilight at Monticello" by Alan Pell Crawford; should I find inspiration in the retirement years of a US Founder, I wondered?

It was a fascinating narrative of the final 17 years of the life of a principal crafter of the Declaration of Independence (though I learned from other reading that Benjamin Franklin guided his pen). Jefferson saw the wisdom and acted to acquire the territories west of the Mississippi River and commissioned the exploration.

In retirement, his major accomplishment was the nurture of the University of Virginia. On a personal level, he kept busy and physically active, up to the limits of his surprisingly frail health. He wrote extensively about the Bible. Sadly, he left his descendants in deep debt, due to very generous habits of spending, borrowing and lending to others. There is a 19th century photo of Monticello in ruins--sad. His grandson spent years working to pay his debts.   A good book.

Second, James Alexander Thom's "Long Knife-The Story of a great American Hero, George Rogers Clark".

The book is actually a historic novel, but so loaded with factual, researched information that is has a solid bibliography included. George Rogers Clark was a friend of Thomas Jefferson; he was the older brother of William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Basically, GRC and a very small troop of mainly Kentucky settlers ran the British out of the West and back to Detroit during the American Revolution. He lost none of his men in combat. His actions freed the Mississippi River of British involvement; it curtailed the British practice of paying bounties for the scalps of Kentucky settlers: men, women, children and even unborn babies.

His contributions were made at his own expense; he was never repaid. And he develped a drinking habit the shocked people, even then. A sad life. An interesting book.

This author writes in similar style about other regional American subjects. I read "Follow the River" in recent years, the story of the escape from Tribal captivity by an American woman about 1755.

Why has there not been a movie about the life of Isabella L. Bird? A hundred years ago, she was famous and known everywhere as an explorer, humanitarian and writer. The book I read was published in 1960, reprinted in 1985. Has any one heard of her now?

"A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains":

In 1873 she was a fearless 40 year old single British lady who decided, on her way back to England from exploring Hawaii, that she would go ride a horse (usually alone) around the recently explored Rockies, principally Estes Park. She rides alone for long days, finds lodging a bug invested camps, maybe she has a romance(?) with a local badass who is killed soon after she leaves on her journey back to England; he helps her climb Longs Peak to the summit---all in autumn approaching winter. She wrote the book in the form of letters which she mailed back to her sister in England. Her works were published during her life to help finance further travel.

I wish she had realized she was writing for the ages; explained more about the people, way they lived, especially the women she encounters. She was infected by the prejudices of her time: she detests the Mormons, she dismisses the Tribes (she encounters only the remnants, homeless and destitute) and she is not too supportive of women who are mere wives and mothers (most women of her time).

It's amazing she survived the Rockies. She lived until just after the turn of the 20th century, even as she was planning another faraway adventure. She had traveled through Asia, India, Japan and other places in the her life.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Mother's 98th Birthday Anniversary

Mom would have been 98 years old today. Sadly, she developed terminal dementia and passed away in 1999; way too soon. The photos are some lesser, more candid, random shots taken over the years.
She looks a little tired and fussy in the last photo.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

At the Denver Museum of Art...

Fascinating exhibit about the artistic ceremonial masks and cloaks styled by ancient and more modern Tribal people of the Pacific Northwest. Inspiring.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Backstreets of the West in Dubois, WY, on the way to the Tetons and Yellowstone...

Many of the Western tourist towns hold little charm or interest; this one was small, with walkable streets and a neighborhood to explore. I liked these "alley shots" of various old sheds, supplies like wood for the winter and novel decorations made by the residents.  Colors, textures and stuff, on a cloudy September day.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Home From a Two Weeks Ramble, with some visual Memories...

While trying to set up camp at Gros Vente near the Teton Range, we seem to have interrupted the grazing of this Mom and Baby Moose pair. The camp sites were fairly deserted, so likely the moose were catching up on nibbling in these areas which may have been crowded with poeple all summer. They were relaxed as long as we weren't too close. Interesting to be so near these big animals.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

An Old Fashioned, Feel-Good Horse Opera: "Thunderhead" by Mary O'Hara

Photo by Barbara Besler:  Battle of Wills taken at Keeneland September Sales about 2 years ago.

Sometimes, I enjoy reading a book (fiction or not) that was written, say, 70 or 90 years ago, when the author and readers did not know there was to be a WW2, atom bomb, Vietnam War, Beatles, etc.
Mary O'Hara lived from 1885 to 1980, was married several times. She appears to be a little ahead of her time, but probably she was right in tune with her ability to use her education and talent. "Flicka" was published about 1941, "Thunderhead" in 1943.

"Thunderhead" is a sequel to the very popular novel, "My Friend Flicka" which I have not read, but movies and TV shows based on the story were everywhere during my childhood. Both stories focus on the "coming of age" of pre-teen Ken McLaughlin at his parents' financially troubled "Goose Bar Ranch". His iron-willed Dad is trying to breed and sell polo ponies during the time of the World Wide Depression of the 1930's; he's losing his shirt, and he is angry.

Thunderhead is the name that was eventually lived up to by Flicka's foal, a colt who is a throw-back to the mysterious, legendary Albino; that stallion terrorized the ranchers of Wyoming by stealing their broodmares. One of the McLaughlins' mares fell for the charms of this bronco, but eventually was found--with foal.  Thunderhead is pure white, like his great-grandsire, Albino; strong and willful.

There are several plots that thread through this story: the boy, the horse, the head-strong Dad and much from the point of view of the (pre-womens liberation) Mother, Nell; she can do nothing to help her husband till he decides to alter his business plan for the ranch.

Best: the author (who wrote the books to help save her own family's failing ranch) had a talent for getting into the head of the horses to help the reader think like a horse. She did a wonderful job of painting the Wyoming landscapes with words. Perhaps the book could have been 50-pages lighter.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How Many More Butterflies Photos can I show Them?

The Butterfly Hotel will be closing it's doors for the year soon. There is one more Monarch chrysalis which will probably become a butterfly tomorrow. I have two Black Swallowtails which are either dead or else "of the second generation", meaning they should be the first flight of 2018. I have to figure out a place to stash these outdoors; I don't want them to become butterflies in January inside the house!

Probably we have sheltered about 25 Black Swallowtails and likely at least a dozen Monarchs.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Last Novel: The Swansong of Barbara Pym, "A Few Green Leaves"...

Photo by Barbara Besler for "A Few Green Leaves"

As a reminder, a theme of my reading is to catch up on the works of writers that I have missed over the last decades of working outside the home and raising a family. In my 30's, I tried a novel by Barbara Pym, but due to my own immaturity, was unable to finish it.

Now it is different. Probably, Barbara Pym is a literary genre all her own. Her novels seem like "cozy, British small village tales", but there is quite a sharp edge to her prose! It's all about those original on-liner observations she writes, choosing just the right words. It reminds you a bit of Jane Austin.

Barbara Pym was British, she lived from 1913 to 1980; by profession, she edited academic papers, preparing them for publication. She did not plan to support herself with her own writing, but her first few novels were published and she started out with promise. In the mid-1950's, her work began to be rejected by her own publisher and others. I think she fell victim to a fast change in "public taste" that occurred about that time in the arts, music, films, literature and clothing styles (and probably other areas as well.) She kept on writing, since it was her life time habit. She was rediscovered again the the 1970's.

Unfortunately, by that time, she had breast cancer. In those days, the disease was nearly always detected with a lump; usually the cancer had spread and most people died of the disease eventually.
(Now, with earlier detection, the results are often better.) Barbara Pym completed this novel just a few weeks before her own death--the shadow was over her as she wrote about village church grave yards, etc.

The main character in the novel, Emma Howick, is a modern, mid-30's, unmarried academic who finds direction and decisiveness in the course of the story. She's been floating on the currents of her life all these years, but hasn't learned to stand on her own ground. There is a gauntlet of village characters, two possible males she could end up with. Though no resolution is reached, Pym leaves Emma (and us) with a calm feeling that Emma is going to be alright.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Two Authors' "First Novels": one Noir and one, just plain Dark


James Anderson is a regional, Pacific Northwest writer of fiction, poetry, reviews as well as an editor and teacher. "The Never-Open Desert Diner" is his first novel.

I have mentioned my local book exchange often provides 'uncorrected proof; not for sale' books for advance readers, reviewer and I guess, the library.  I love these editions and always give them "a look". I find authors I never would have.   This book was one of those.

The Hero, Ben Jones, has an interesting business: he has a short haul (200 miles round trip everyday) truck service over an isolated desert route in Utah, south of Salt Lake City. His route is so remote that the Majors in the business hire him to carry their packages. Often, he's the only vehicle on the road.

Against this blank desert canvas, Anderson begins sketching the outline of various weird, eccentric characters Ben supplies with the things they need to survive, packages, things he sells from the truck, etc. (He is not a drug dealer.) The plot centers on an old man who runs a small but notorious diner-style restaurant with a violent, tragic history; it has been used in Hollywood films, we learn, due to its evocative appearance and location. So old Walt, the owner, has friends among the stars.

There is an interesting mystery woman who plays the cello, a cute sassy young juvenile girl who will become Ben's sidekick later in the book (an probably in novels to follow; this novel is intended as the beginning of a series). I will not discuss much of that: spoiler.

The writing is good, the main character is likable and evokes our sympathy, the plot is a little contrived (but aren't they all?), the atmosphere is camp and kitschy, as advertised, so if a person enjoys modern, slightly off-beat stories, this would be a "first novel" to try. The publication date was March 2016.

Just Plain Dark:

The late Mario Puzo, I have read, thought that "The Fortunate Pilgrim" was his best novel; I agree. As everyone knows, his best known work was "The Godfather"; between the novel and the films, that story is an American Iconic Classic.

The book I read recently was his first novel, The Dark Arena. He certainly titled the novel correctly!

Walter Mosca, a former American GI, once repatriated to the US directly after WW II, is unable to settle. He cannot re-bond with his family or fiancee; he has been through too much to simply get a comfortable American job, marry and have kids, as so many did. He has an emotional connections still in Germany, we learn. His mother has received mail from a German girl.

Walter Mosca joined the Army at 17 and stayed for the duration. He is 22 years old when the plot of this novel unfolds. Walter had fought in real battles, he witnessed but did not participate in atrocities, he was nearly killed in a landmine explosion (though the scars cannot be seen when he is clothed.) The book was published in 1953; PTSD was not in the vocabulary in those days, but Walter was surely a victim.

He reconnects with friends from the service who are working in the German reconstruction effort; he signs on as a civilian contractor to work in Bremen, a large German city in the industrial region of Germany, totally destroyed by bombs. His job concerns relations with German civilians working for the Americans. Mario Puzo used his own war experience as basis for the location and atmosphere of the novel. It's bleak: a year after the War, bodies are still entombed in the rubble and place still smells a little of death.  About the only services available to the people is the street car line. It is winter and all is cold, grey and dark.

Walter is pulled into an illegal, Black Market money making scheme by one of his American bosses; Walter is used for "muscle" in this operation; it is dangerous.

But Walter has a love interest, Helle. She was pregnant with his child when he left Germany; she had resolved to wait a year or so for him, then raise the baby herself and find another mate. But she lost the baby and she has documents to prove to him she is telling the truth. The two love one another, so they rekindle their affection, live together (illegally). She becomes pregnant again. They are happy, with plans eventually to return to the 'States.

But this is The Dark Arena, after all. Forces, the dark forces of the post-war rules and the Black Market economy and deep, dark despair and desperation of the German people to survive close in upon them slowly, like a vise.

Of the two novels in this post, "The Dark Arena" is the better quality: the writing a very good, the scene and the characters seem so true; you are totally transported to this awful place and time. The book reminded me of "Lie Down in Darkness" by William Styron (not an enjoyable read, but well done) and Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury".

Monday, August 7, 2017

Still "Hier"!

Having a great summer, having parties (this one brought both of our sons home (at the same time) for the first time in 7 years; and their sweet wives; it was great!).

A few more butterflies are nearing readiness for release; a few little trips still to come--and working steadily on trim painting details, etc. on the house.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Butterflies! Butterflies! and more Butterflies!

Above, the Before Picture"...

After about 12 days, the butterfly emerges from it's tight enclosure (on the lower left, above) with amazing speed, (like, 2 seconds) once it is ready. The swallowtail above was out for a few hours, since its wings are well expanded.

 After it has had time to dry off and expand, we take it--cage and all--outside. Sometimes they have to be coaxed onto your finger and lifted out, to fly away. Sometimes, they want to ride around on your finger for a while. They are surprisingly individual.

This one settled on a cone flower in the garden and sat for several hours, another perched in a tree for a while, others soar immediately and disappear.

When they first emerge, their wings are tiny.

Here is a glorious example! We charmed both sets our neighbors' visiting grandchildren with this venture.

The photos have all shown different butterflies--we've released about a dozen at least, by now. The one shown above was especially individual. After his/her purge, traveled around the cage for hours trying to decide where to settle; finally was happy with a place at the very top of the cage. Flew away immediately when the cage was opened; only had a second to snap his portrait.

The other day, I was on our deck--"the launch pad"--when a handsome large swallow tail zoomed into the yard, up to the deck and circled me twice before flapping away. Like, "Happy Mother's Day"!

Did I Mention? Masks and Random Objects.

Since the visit to the Denver Art Museum in September, I'm obsessed with Masks. The oldest one in this group: this one, so simpl...