The game is County Fair sketch. Players can sketch only as long as the ride or event lasts. Then you rush to the next thing. That’s how County Fairs are done.
Harper’s (August 2013) has an interesting article by Beau Friedlander, “A Brief History of Scent.” You’ll need a subscription to read the article (or ask to borrow my copy), but you can also listen to Friedlander on Brian Lehrer. The cogent points for my brief comments: some odors are universally offensive at a primal level; odors become related to time and place in very individualized ways; odors are linked to memory, but the linkage is not simple, and neither are the barrage of odors we encounter in some situations. (He also points out what I think every time I go to a big city, or even see them in the movies—“this place really stinks, in a permanent, embedded sort of way.”)
Here are some brief associations from my permanent olfactory travels and memories, which feature large in my mind, but rarely (if ever) get verbalized.
Dense, wet (alkaloid-rich) vegetation smells like adventure, relaxation and itching from insect bites. From many jungle treks in Belize.
Iron-rich red dust smells like brine, thirst and despair. From the Rann of Kutch after the 2001 earthquake.
Intense, blinding sun smells like salt water, limestone, pine, oregano, and sweat dripping into plant-lacerated legs. From surveying Greek coastlines.
Concrete, rebar, and helicopters smell like death and decay under a hot, rainy Mediterranean sun. This is from the 1999-2000 earthquake surveys. It took years for me not to recoil from this. I still smell it, just not as strong, and the recoil is gone.
Yellow-grey dust and limestone, without a vegetation overlay, smell like isolation, exercise, oatmeal, and an undercurrent of risk. From Oman; this is a different smell than Mediterranean limestone, which always comes with plants. The risk undercurrent is new, from our Musandam expedition. But we always ate a lot of oatmeal in Oman. Hey, is that Simon Donato, of Stoked Oats fame, in toe shoes?
In a few days I leave for the long-awaited 100 Miles of Wild-ND Badlands Transect. I’ll be in the field for 13 days, and one of the challenges is to pack enough non-perishable food in a compact form. I’ve developed my system over the years, and I prefer items I can buy more-or-less ready-to-go that require no prep beyond boiled water. It’s not a fun system, but food prep and cleanup takes away from limited documentation and note taking time (or if things are going rough, sleep and rest time).
A 13 day junk food binge would end poorly, however, so I’ve tried to pick the most reasonable options—real food ingredients, minimal chemicals, not jammed full of palm oil and killer fats.
For this trip I’ve got 2700 calories per day. That will have me running a calorie deficit (especially as it will be cold), but a deficit that will do me some good.
The daily menu is pretty much the same:
Boosted Oatmeal—this is rolled oats, mulberries, gooseberries, dates, flaxseed, walnuts, powdered milk with a dash of whey protein and brown sugar. No need to make this—just buy some Stoked Oats. I put 1 cup in a heavy plastic zip closure bag. Add 1.5 cups boiling water, shake it up, and eat. 300 calories.
Odwalla Super Protein Bars x 2. 420 calories
Larabar x 2. 400 calories
Almonds and Dried Cherries, 2/3 cup. 400 calories
Stinger Bar x 2. 380 calories.
Honey Stinger x 2. 320 calories.
Mountain Trail Pro Pak (2 servings): 480 calories
There are, of course, other ways to do this. Tuna fish pouches, soynuts, peanut butter. This is what works for me.
Special guest blogger today: Mike Black, a student from North Dakota State University, shares his perspective on an architectural inventory trip. (Some photos from the author).
We were somewhere around Buffalo on the edge of the desert when the prairie began to take hold. It had been years since I had ridden this straight-as-an-arrow concrete ribbon across North Dakota. It hadn’t changed much. A monstrous blob of grey concrete rose up on the approaching horizon and all manner of silos and elevators and gangways came into slow hazy focus. “Barley plant for Budweiser.” Makes sense. Go to The Source. We were traveling West to Napoleon to perform something called a Cultural Resource Management (CRM), a stilted name only a bureaucracy could love. Under the aegis of the North Dakota State Historical Society (NDSHS) and guidance of Dr. Richard Rothaus (RR) of Trefoil Cultural and Environmental we were to photograph and categorize the structures of the town for possible consideration by the National Register of Historic Places. I later saw it called a “Reconnaissance” which I much preferred. Much better to say you were on “recon” than “management”. I was riding with The Distinguished Professor Dr. Thomas Isern (DP) and a fellow student with a difficult name. Let’s just call him Chris. At the time, going into a weekend in close contact with two PhDs hadn’t raised a red flag; more on that later.
This was the kick-off of Spring Break 2013, such as it would be in Napoleon ND. When asked I was telling people I was “going south” for the break. Well, south of I-94 anyway. I then began adding onto and elaborating my Magical Made-Up Spring Break Fantasy by further saying that MTV was hosting (not) one of their bacchanals there and some people actually believed me. It just may be marketing genius for MTV to do just so; “Hutterites Gone Wild in Wishek”, something along those lines. You know, in an ironic, snarky way (memo to self: contact MTV).
The day was waning and there was no differentiating where the grey snow white land ended and the grey snow white sky began. Why try anyway? Just go with it. I It was nebulous and mysterious and beautiful and I wondered what it would have been like moving over this same plain 150 years ago on a horse. As the silver sun drifted North and down, glistening irregular geometric patches of wind-polished snow sparkled and shone in an ever changing kaleidoscope on the fields. Remarkable. I don’t remember seeing it in my youth. I grew up on the eastern edge of the Great Plains but left for over 30 years. As a teen I recall a handful of drives through the Dakotas. A fanciful Road Trip with my pals to Belle Fourche SD, the summer drives to golf tournaments, infrequent family vacations. But in your late teens you don’t notice things like you do in your late decades. You are pretty much focused on yourself. Of course there is that knowledge thing too. Who knew at 16 you were tramping on the same lands where dinosaurs and bison and Indians and Custer had?
We pulled into Napoleon and went straight to the 1904 House the DP had booked. A Grandma house in every sense of the word that had become what is known as a “hunter house” (HH). These are homes in small Dakota towns that are unoccupied but for groups of hunting parties that migrate through the respective seasons, using it as their Base of Operations for shooting pheasants, walleye, deer, each other, whatever. The Volkswagen sized hot-tub in the garage gave that away. Otherwise it was like walking into Grandma’s house. Family photos in the upstairs hallway with heavy rimmed eyeglasses and old timey soldiers, carpet on the landing of the stairs running three feet up the wall, lots of paper plants, the usual. Cozy though, very comfortable. The DP got first pick on the bedrooms (of course) and I lost a Roshambo throw to Chris for the second choice. Now that I think of it there was malfeasance. I should have protested. He blew the first throw (on purpose?) and said “Oh I messed up” as he looked down on my scissors choice. He then
threw a rock next toss to break that same scissor.
RR was somewhere between Sauk Rapids and Bismarck so he had no say in these matters. Still he made out. He ended up with what appeared to be the Grandma Suite on the main floor. Then we headed for the Downtowner Bar Restaurant and Hotel. We gnawed on rib-eye steaks and watched the semi-finals of the Class B basketball tournament. As in most small towns it is fairly obvious “you’re not from around here” so we were ogled by the locals before beating a hasty retreat to the HH for the second game. RR rolled in sometime later and we made a quick run through of his game plan for tomorrow. Photograph, Categorize and Move. There were 120 odd structures not counting the downtown commercial area and a massive stand of elevators and silos along the train tracks. He thought we could get maybe 1/2 of them done over the two days set a start time of 0800 the following morning.
After a nice, big breakfast we were on it. We split into two teams of a shooter and a writer, me with RR and Chris with the DP. This would be my high point of Architecture in Napoleon. Of our first six homes we had four for consideration by the NDSHS: Moderne, Prairie, Craftsman, Mansard. At noon we met at Reuben’s for lunch where I inadvertently insulted the Pulitzer Prize Committee and, by proxy or association, both of the Good Doctors. Apparently my naive disdain for a movie version (CHICK FLICK!) of Willa Cather’s book “O Pioneers!” and demeaning of “Wolf Willow” by Walt Stegner was justifiable cause for verbal abuse by the academics at the table. Whatever. RR did, however, take an unexpected liking to my description of the “Genesis” chapter in Wolf Willow, “…Stegner devolves into a bad Louis L’Amour…”.
Back on the street we switched mates and I rolled with the DP. The day had gone from brisk to chilly-windy to sideways snow flurries and we worked into the early evening. Then back to the HH and some of the DP’s bison chili. Apparently the cold had frozen brain synapses so I had to reboot (literally) and go beer hunting. Bagged some Grain Belt and life was good. Delicious chili with home canned bread and butter chiles and Fritos as croutons. Structure Tally for the day: 80!!!
Final game of the class B pitted the Indians versus the Germans. I watched from the garage near the vat of human stew, smoking a cigar and sucking The Grain. Somehow it got to be midnight and time to Go Out. The Doctors were down (and I don’t mean “…I’m down…”) so it was left to Chris and me to represent. And we did. We held an informal taste test of Jim Beam, Johnny Walker Red, Crown Royal and, because of a girl, Jagermeister. That girl was married to a young local man we spoke with who was part of a multi-faceted family company ranging from concrete aggregate to house framing to material supply. Before you knew it the Magic Hour came and we were turned out into the cold for the two block walk back to HH.
With the “spring ahead” hour lost, our start was not near as crisp and focused. 0900 found RR and me stalking the downtown commercial area while DP and Chris set off for the far flung NE quadrant on our satellite map. Cold, dang cold, windy and bright sunny. We found some interesting brick buildings with mysteries to solve. RR wove a deductive tale like some Sherlock Holmes of Architecture. I demurred. Before we knew it we were back at The White Maid for lunch. Tater Tots? Cannot even remember the last time I had those but I did and nummy. The young couple from the bar earlier that morning sauntered in around 1400 and we chatted a bit more. Small world, er, town. Indeed.
Another team split and we were back on the streets. As the DP and I worked the neighborhood north of the bowling alley a Sheriff’s SUV pulled beside us. A grumpy Wilford Brimley-type with hands the size of baseball mitts gave us the Third Degree, recorded our ID’s and told us the Old Ladies of the town have been giving him fits about people taking pictures of their houses. I commented that if we WERE up to no good we weren’t very good at it. Standing around in the street in full view for two days snapping away and writing on clip boards is not exactly a high crime nor an efficient way to “case the joint”. He was not amused. I told him there was another team and that they were the ones he should be interested in. A May/December love couple, both known felons and heinous sex offenders specializing in Blue Haired Spinsters and Barnyard Animals. But RR had been buying the Grain Belt and lunches so I didn’t actually say that. We were nearing completion of the survey and the mind numbingness of it was setting in. Napoleon ND would not make a shining example of historic and diverse architecture. We rolled back to HH, packed up and got out of town.
Close outside of town on State Highway 34 the DP abruptly veered off onto a snow covered hill. I was concerned about sinking frame deep into a ditch but the DP reassured me: “I’ve been here before.” In front of us was a line of threshing machines dating back into the early 1900’s. They were randomly (?) scattered and semi-lined up the side of a steep hill, forming a sort of ant parade of steam powered technology. I grabbed the camera and followed the DP out onto what I would find to be very dodgy, slippery and threatening snow that I had waxed so poetic about earlier. Kaleidoscope my ass! That shiny beauty could be treacherous to old people trying to simply walk across it (me). As I whimpered and cursed with nearly every (mis)step and near calamity, the DP was scampering, nay, flitting over and across it like some lithe snow fairy nymph. No small accomplishment for a 6 foot five, 250+ pound beast. I marveled at his balance and grace and stood stock still in front of the first machine. We got a series of pictures and then slip-slid (in my case) back to the truck.
The road stretched out before us, empty and endless. At times it was a band of grey receding into the distance thread thick, a small black line disappearing, reappearing, rolling up and over and around the couteau formations. Cattle stood in the waning sunlight staring vacantly, herds of deer worked the stubble fields and pheasants made good use of the proximity to grain farms. We wanted pie so we pointed towards Gackle to no avail. Then Jamestown. Closed. Gas station coffee for the DP and Chris took over driving the I-94 back to Fargo. I rode.
Christopher S. Stewart, Hunting the Tiger: The Fast Life and Violent Death of the Balkans’ Most Dangerous Man. Thomas Dunne Books, 2008.
Stewart’s work is an investigation of a country in the throes of a moral crisis, via the career of the gangster and warlord Arkan. The book is gripping and readable, and Stewart has dug deep into the history of the man. The activities of Arkan in one of the centuries most brutal conflicts are not something that can simply be pulled from the historical archives or newspapers. Stewart invested substantial time (and no doubt money)in interviewing people close the “the Commander.” One of the strengths of Hunting the Tiger is allowing the reader to glimpse the difficulties (and apparent dangers) of interviewing and sifting through the “legends” and hyperbole. Stewart does this in an open, but not boastful, manner, and gives the reader a glimpse at his own increasing obsession sparked by a personal brush with the horror and easy violence of the conflict.
One of the strengths of Stewart’s journalistic but thorough approach is a writing style that deals with ambiguities and uncertainties while maintaining an interesting narrative approach. Historical writing is often full of qualifiers, competing hypothesis and passive sentences; this is not a bad thing, but it does reduce the flow of historical writing. Stewart skillfully and consistently reveals when he is dealing with half-truths, conjectures and educated guesses, but does so in seamless manner that informs but does not waylay the reader. The work has a depth that would have allowed it to be a footnoted tome, but Stewart thankfully has done something else with the work.
Throughout the work, Stewart struggles with a question well worth struggling with: how do a region and so many people slip so quickly and deeply into evil? While Stewart is fully aware of the historical tropes of repressed ethnic aggression and overly-developed senses of historical destiny, his work carries the weight of looking at this at the topic at a more individual level: “It wasn’t that the entire population was evil. It was just that evil had gotten so deep into the core of the city that there was nothing to do but to be evil yourself. . . .” Out of context, the quote (pg. 205) may seem simplistic, especially if you are unfamiliar with the Balkans of the 1990s. Read the book–Stewart makes the case. We residents of the 21st century know about war atrocities, and we know about genocide, but fortunately most of us have no experience and limited understanding of those places and periods where morality seems to have simply disappeared.
Charles Sorley, a student and avid cross country runner, enlisted in the British Army at the age of 20, willing to do his part in World War I. He wrote When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead a bit before or perhaps during the Battle of Loos. Sorley was shot in the head by a sniper three weeks into the battle, and the poem was found in his gear. We will never know how great a poet he would have become, as someone tossed his life into a muddy hole, along with 75,000 other men in a pointless battle that gained no territory and achieved no goals. Sorley’s cold sonnet is a prescient rebuke of the militant sentimentality that led his country to send him to his death long after it was obvious the battle was a pointless slaughter.
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go, say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember, for you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, `They are dead’. Then add thereto
`Yet many a better one has died before’.
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew
Great death has made all his for evermore.
(John Kipling also died at Loos. John was an 18 year old whose eyesight kept him from enlisting. His war-enthusiastic father Rudyard used his influence to get him into the Irish Guards, so that he could be killed in the first and last military action he saw. John was sent to Loos with reinforcements and was blinded and fatally wounded as he arrived at the battle. I cannot imagine the burden the son of Kipling carried with him into battle, nor what he thought as he died in agony before even reaching the battles his father so loved.)
Review of Christopher S. Stewart, Jungleland, Harper Collins 2013
Jungleland is a fast-paced adventure into the deep jungle of Honduras. The book recounts a journalist’s quest to retrace the path of a mysterious explorer and finally reveal the truth of the lost city of ‘Ciudad Blanca.’ The clarity and pacing of the book will move you along quickly. You will not want to put it down, nor do you have to, as it is not overly long. Jungleland, however, is something more than it appears at first glance. Stewart, a writer and editor at the Wall Street Journal, has packed a remarkable amount of good content into a tight package, and combined introspection and history to ask questions about how we see ourselves, others, and the unknown.
Jungleland is about men who look for ‘lost cities,’ some of whom get close, and then decide to never go back. The book alternates, chapter-by-chapter, between Stewart’s journey into the Honduran jungle, and that of Theodore Morde, a WWII spy and adventurer. That, however, is a narrative structure that houses Stewart’s gaze upon more complex and subtle issues. The structure is deliberate and effective, and creates a dual-story line that locks the readers attention as effectively as a thriller. Stewart uses three men, Morde, himself, and Christopher Begley (the archaeologist who led Stewart through the jungle) to examine the thoughts, motives and fears of reasonably normal people who decide to look for lost cities. The travelers themselves are a foil for the Honduran men they encounter who live in a seemingly continuous jungle traverse.
Stewart is not a wordy or encyclopedic writer, and he credits his reader with a general understanding of the rainforest and an ability to draw meaning from the prose and detail. This is a welcome change from the trend of adventure books (especially those set in the rainforest) to be exhaustive encyclopedias of ecology and history. Stewart is not given to filler, and he writes with a terseness derived, perhaps, from his years as a journalist. Regardless, he embraces the idea that reading about an expedition need not be an expedition, something many readers will appreciate. Stewart (with a wonderful spaceman image from Begley) makes it pretty clear: travel overland in the rainforest is walking, and walking gets boring. Graciously, the reader is spared lengthy botanical asides or overarching historical musings. When the journey yielded nothing to report, nothing was reported. Stewart’s strength is in recording the details that build his story and drive his inquiry. When Stewart shares his musings about jaguars attacking his hammock from below, he sums up a thought all foreign hammock-swingers have thought, but also succinctly shares his sense of helpless immersion. Stewart’s comments and descriptions drip with verisimilitude. When he mentions buying machetes and taking them to be sharpened, in his terse fashion he reveals a mundane reality of the machete-wielding world—they are not sold pre-sharpened.
Stewart’s ability to understand and embrace the vagaries of archaeology and history elevate Jungleland above a book about self-discovery. Stewart dug into the history of Theodore Morde, and answered some questions about just what he was doing in Honduras. The investigation of Morde is an essential part of the book, and Stewart’s research addresses the more interesting questions about the man without becomingly side-tracked by vague clues about the location of a lost city. Likewise, Stewart digests the archaeological realities of the region and with the help of Begley quickly see how these are a part of the vision of Morde and others. Stewart weaves these elements into the narrative so well, that to say more here would reveal to much. Be assured that Stewart (and Begley) give the reader some solid answers and some thought-provoking interpretation.
It took me awhile to put my finger on what is unique about Jungleland. The pacing of the book and dual plot lines read akin to fiction, but there is more affinity than just structure. Stewart’s writing and meaning is in the imagery and meticulously chosen details. His perspicuity opens the door for readers, but there is no handholding or shoving. Stewart’s image of a flip-flop wearing young girl appearing out of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere, carrying a child and a battered chicken, speaks many truths about poverty, hardship, and the sliding scale of normalcy. The reader is offered no essay on socioeconomics, and no moralizing. Stewart leaves the unanswerable questions unanswered, while encapsulating his meaning in precise descriptions. Jungleland is a work that is worth with care, for the pictures and meaning imbedded in the details. These details are balanced, however, with a fast pace that makes the book a quick read.
Stewart’s refuses to be exhaustive and obvious in his writing Similarly, he does not deliver a hyperbolic adventure and treasure hunt. The work includes a painfully honest account of a city boy going to the jungle. His fear of snakes leads him to some questionable fashion choices. Irrational concerns push into his thoughts, and depression is always lurking, like a jaguar, waiting for a moment of weakness. When a comrade is hurt, Stewart reveals that he was partly glad, as that might mean the ordeal was over. These unusually honest moments will be cringe-worthy and familiar to other travelers who read the work, including Stewart’s conflicting desires to quest but also be home when his family needs him. Humor, however, pervades the book, and it is in part the dark humor of adventurers, where cars are destroyed without a backward glance, and threats of raccoons and jaguars have to be treated as equal.
Stewart deliberately contrasts himself to the fascinating Chris Begley, who is calm, competent and even nonchalant in situations far from ordinary. Stewart’s departure from the canonical traveler-overcoming-all-odds cliché is a strength of the book. In a world overflowing with ego-stroking, the lack of self-adulation and acceptance of mundane realities makes this work stand out. Stewart tells the truth of jungle travel—everyone gets blisters, no one escapes problems of hunger and water. For Stewart, these are not issues to ignore, but neither are they issues to dwell upon. There are no heroes, just individuals who manage to keep walking. This is a fairly harsh realism, and some readers will be horrified by this deviation from the formula. A man from the city who does not like to camp dared to accomplish such a trip. The cult is not destroyed, however. There is a hero, it’s just not Stewart (or Morde).
If I have one main concern, it is that Stewart sells himself short, and I think by doing so, he makes the journey seem a little too simple and himself a little too naïve. The areas Stewart visited are very remote. An inspection of his route on Google Earth quickly reveals that Stewart went much deeper into the bush than many similar trekkers tracing the routes of famous explorers. Cable channels are filled with faux-adventurers who rarely venture a few hundred yards off the beaten path, and someone who actually goes deep is worthy of note. The ‘bad guys’ Stewart encounters in Jungleland are probably not the first ‘bad guys’ he has encountered, nor are the guns likely the first he has seen. As the book is exploring the psyche of explorers, I felt a little deprived, wanting to know how Stewart’s earlier experiences played into this desire for a new quest. Stewart does not seem inclined to show those cards however, and it probably is not fair to praise an author for terseness while demanding more. The publisher, however, may wish to include a foreward in subsequent editions. I loved the ‘extensive’ biographical detail on the dust jacket: “He lives with his family in Brooklyn.”
(The title of this post are the last words of the book).
(You can see some photos from the trip here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.244309235698575.56501.237068053089360&type=3)
As a point of context, I know a bit about ‘Ciudad Blanca.’ In the late 1990s I did some satellite remote sensing in the area, and started an ill-considered project I quickly abandoned. (I’m embarrassed, but you can see it here on the Internet Archive: http://ow.ly/h0GV7). I had a website up for awhile, and things turned crazy pretty quickly. A lost adventurer called me on a satellite phone from a ridge above the Rio Platano. A helicopter had dropped him off separate from his gear, and with topographic maps spread on my floor in Minnesota, I navigated him to the closest village. That same winter, a group hunting for ‘Ciudad Blanca’ kept trying to hack into my computer system, no doubt thinking I had found something important. I went to Tegucigalpa to seek permits to ground-truth the satellite work, and spoke to some individuals who had traveled through the area, including some who insisted the area was full of ex-contras who would kill me on-sight. After that visit and a brief helpful phone chat with Christopher Begley, who graciously gave me a candid account of the very real security issues, I decided the fieldwork would be too expensive and time-consuming to demonstrate that geological anomalies in the Honduran rainforest can be seen from space. Reading Jungleland, however, make me think I might still go there one day. . . .
As a disclaimer, I note that I communicated with Stewart briefly via email when I learned he was writing the book. I found this out while idly searching for Theodore Morde on the internet, and I eagerly awaited learning more about the intriguing man. I bought my own copy, however, and no one asked me to do a review.
One note from Richard—my father kept this book on the shelf of books behind glass, near the Thurber. I read it a dozen time. One would think, what with me being an archaeologist and historian, I would have thought to talk to him about it before he died. . . .
[I’ve found that blog entries remain unwritten because I can’t stand sitting at the computer anymore. So I’m going analog on occasion. This also will help with my execrable handwriting. If anyone is actually reading this 1)hey, thanks for reading and 2)sorry.]
Why build the above, when the below is for sale?
W.H. Gardner, the U.S. Army Assistant Surgeon at Fort Abercrombie (ND) recorded some basic observations about wildlife in the area on 15 December 1868. He noted that Golden Eagles were common, and Bald Eagles were seen only infrequently. He also recorded this interesting story:
‘This Bird the Golden Eagle seems to be capable of some degree of domestication. There is one here which has been a pet in the Hospital of the Post for some time. He was taken in as a ‘patient’ with a gunshot fracture of the leg; with quietude and a splint applied to keep the ends of the bine in opposition, he has made a good recovery and can now bear considerable weight on the injured limb. He seems quite attached to the person who feeds him and shows no fear of person passing about.”
Gardner also wrote: “Our Indian Scouts inform us that westward from here forty miles at the Coteau des Prairies. . . [can be found] our common American marsupial—the Opossum with pouch well developed.”
Golden Eagles and Opossum are not common denizens of the area today.