Chicago Tribune 2.28.15
Chicago Tribune 2.28.15
ECONOMIC THOUGHTS suggested by Patrick Nugent
To do good, blood must circulate. Money must circulate, too. Money must be distributed throughout the body politic, not be concentrated in the pockets of a few. . . . A maximum wage linked to a decent minimum wage would help every family and every community live healthy lives — and restore balance to a nation ravaged by unbridled greed.
The greatest country, the richest country, is not that which has the most capitalists, monopolists, immense grabbings, vast fortunes, with its sad, sad soil of extreme, degrading, damning poverty, but the land in which . . . wealth does not show such contrasts high and low, where all men have enough — a modest living — and no man is made possessor beyond the sane and beautiful necessities.
|Posted: 20 Jan 2015 04:00 AM PST
Dave King is the co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,
A client recently asked me why English is so bizarre. She was trying to explain its quirks to a precocious, bi-lingual eight-year-old, and not doing very well. Not that I did much better – English is a genuinely freaky language, with random spelling rules, no particular sentence structure, and far more words than any reasonable language needs.
Part of the reason it’s so confused is that it’s perfectly happy to steal useful words from just about anywhere it can get them, from Hindi (“shampoo”) to Tshiluba, one of the languages of the Congo (“chimpanzee”).But the root of English strangeness comes from the way it was formed when two sources of language flowed together. Old English originally grew out of Anglo-Saxon, which is more-or-less Germanic. Then Old English was conquered literally and figuratively by Norman French, which was still fairly close to Latin at the time. As a result (outcome), English at its heart (essentially) has at least two words (expressions) for every concept (thought), one from each of its two mother streams (foundations) of language.
But while this hot mess of a history makes English hard to use, it does give writers a chance to control how their work feels just by picking which source they draw their language from. Short, consonant-packed words grounded in Anglo-Saxon have strength and punch, while longer, vowel-infused Latinate derivatives feel more cerebral and anemic. There’s a reason all of the most effective obscenities come from Old English. Calling someone a coprophagous, copulating, progeny of a female canine just lacks . . . spunk.
Consider the list of typical adjectives above (thanks to Ben Blatt ofSlate). Note that five of J. K. Rowling’s adjectives have their roots directly in Anglo-Saxon, and some of the others (“famous,” “magical”), while Latin at heart, are still brief and punchy. Seven out of Stephanie Meyers’ ten, on the other hand, are polysyllabic, vowel-enriched Latin. This helps explain why the Harry Potter world has an earthier, friendlier feel compared to the Twilight Saga. (Ms. Collins’ Hunger Games books fall in between on both counts.)
Or consider the following passage:
The elements consist of particles called atoms. These are extremely small; one gram of hydrogen contains on the order of 2 X 1022 of them. Most atoms combine to form what are called molecules. Thus the hydrogen molecule contains two hydrogen atoms, the oxygen molecule contains two oxygen atoms, etc. (Some elements, such as helium, remain uncombined; others, such as iron, form crystals in their natural state, and there are further possible combinations.)
Ordinary, somewhat dull, high school atomic theory, right? Now try this version:
Suddenly the passage sounds like something from the eldritch scrolls of ancient wisdom.
The second version is drawn from “Uncleftish Beholding,” an essay in which Poul Anderson translates common scientific terms from their Greek or Latin roots into their Anglo-Saxon equivalents – creating what Douglas Hofstadter dubbed “Ander-Saxon.” The information is literally identical. The feel of the passage is completely transformed.
But there’s more at stake than the feel of your language. Paying attention to the source of your vocabulary gives you control over the pace of your sentences. Even if you are using the same number of words, shorter, Anglo-Saxon ones make your writing feel like it’s moving more quickly. “This isn’t exactly what I envisioned would occur,” takes longer to get through than, “This isn’t quite what I thought would happen.”
Note that the second example also feels looser and more authentic – more like something someone would say in conversation. As we say inSelf-Editing for Fiction Writers, all dialogue is a formal construct. The trick is to hide the formality – to make it seem natural and flowing. Choosing words rooted in Anglo-Saxon helps you do that.
Which stream you draw your language from is a powerful tool for character creation, as well. More educated characters tend toward Latinate terms in general. It was, after all, the language of science, medicine, philosophy, and law for centuries, and still infects the jargon of these professions and the people exposed to it. If you push the use of Latin roots to the point of self-consciousness, your characters come across as pretentious even if readers aren’t consciously aware of how they’re using language. On the other hand, simpler, less ostentatious words often convey the sense of simpler, and often more likable, characters.
So if you want to loosen up your dialogue, control how your readers see your characters, or just make your fictional world feel a little less bloodless, pay attention to where your language comes from. Lean toward words that have found their home in English for a millennium or more, and your language will become more expressive.
Or, in Ander-Saxon, your toungishness will wax forthwringing.
Thanks to George Lynch for spotting and suggesting this piece. rjn
No good deed goes unpunished. Oscar Wilde
Jury saw a crime but didn’t ruffle feathers. Helper of 2 injured eaglets ‘did it wrong’ but found not guilty
OTTAWA, Ill. — Moments after Steve Patterson was acquitted on charges of illegally taking a pair of injured eaglets from a wooded area in 2013, juror Larry Kerestes stood outside court and acknowledged he felt a little conflicted.
“He did it wrong,” Kerestes said of Patterson, a retired carpenter and longtime wildlife enthusiast. “But, with his state of mind, he thought he was doing the right thing. We just couldn’t say no. He’s guilty, but it’s tough.”
From Tuesday through Thursday in this town about 75 miles southwest of Chicago, Kerestes and others on the LaSalle County jury found themselves at the center of an emotionally charged trial that carried few legal consequences. But the case generated enough passion to bring about a proposed change in state law and an online petition drive with more than 66,000 supporters calling for prosecutors to drop the charges.
The tempest traces back to June 1, 2013, when Patterson saw that two bald eaglets he had been photographing for months were grounded and injured. He scooped them up, took them to his garage, started calling authorities and conservation officials, then contacted Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation in Barrington, which dispatched a team to pick up the birds. The center nursed the birds back to health, releasing one into the wild Jan. 1, while the other continues to gain strength. Flint Creek Director Dawn Keller said staff will know by late spring if the bird will be strong enough for release.
Eight days after her team took the eaglets from Patterson, conservation officers issued four citations to Patterson, two for each bird. He was charged with taking a bird of prey and taking a protected species and retaining it alive. Conviction on each violation could have led to one year in jail and $2,500 in fines, although it was more likely that Patterson’s penalty would have amounted to no more than several hundred dollars in fines.
Instead of pleading guilty or accepting plea agreements offered by prosecutors, Patterson elected to go to trial. He contended that a trial was the only way to restore the reputation he believed prosecutors had damaged. The decision led to Patterson racking up what he estimated were $20,000 in legal costs. In closing arguments Thursday, LaSalle County Assistant State’s Attorneys Zach Milus and Hope Nickel emphasized that Patterson had options other than taking the birds to his garage. And they noted that when authorities did reply to his initial calls, Patterson declined to tell them he had the birds. But Patterson’s attorney, Thomas McClintock, maintained that his client felt that state conservation authorities were neglecting the birds, which had fallen from their nest after a storm, and that they were in dire condition. From Patterson’s perspective, his actions were necessary to save the birds, McClintock said.
Kerestes agreed. He and the others deliberated less than two hours. The verdict came at the end of Patterson’s second trial. One ended with a hung jury in October. “We believe, from his testimony, that he believed it was necessary in order to save the birds’ lives,” Kerestes said. The juror also noted that Patterson clearly was not interested in keeping the animals “for his own use or pleasure.” Patterson’s eyes welled with tears when Judge Daniel Bute read the verdicts. The eaglet retriever softly repeated, “Thank you,” while looking at the jurors. Next to him, McClintock kept his head bowed for about 30 seconds. “It was worth it when we released the first eagle January 1st and received word that the female is doing fine,” Patterson, 63, of nearby Oglesby, said in the courthouse lobby. “That’s what this was all about.”
State’s Attorney Brian Towne said he was “saddened and disappointed” Bute allowed McClintock to use the necessity defense, which states that a person’s illegal conduct is justifiable to avoid injury greater than what would result from the individual’s conduct. “Under the law, necessity applies to humans,” Towne said, “not animals.” Towne has asserted that conservation officials were monitoring the birds and are best-suited to determine whether a wild animal needs rescuing.
He also pointed to research indicating that wild animals retrieved by humans have a very low likelihood of surviving if released into the wild But Towne found himself under attack by popular opinion. In addition to the Change.org petition drive calling on him to drop the charges, the state’s attorney said he received angry and threatening correspondence.
Another petition drive has prompted a legislative push to enact a “Good Samaritan” law in Illinois. The measure would allow a person who finds a distressed wild animal to get the animal to a sanctioned rehabilitation center in 24 hours without penalty. After the verdicts, Patterson was asked how he was going to celebrate the victory. He said he hadn’t thought about it. Flint Creek already has honored him. Staff named the female eaglet Patti, a feminine twist on Patterson’s last name. The male was named Sam, for Samaritan. email@example.com
HAILEY BRANSON-POTTS/TRIBUNE NEWSPAPERS
PIE TOWN, N.M. — When Kathy Knapp first set foot in this rugged little mountain town, something was terribly wrong. There was no pie in Pie Town. Knapp’s mother had spotted the place on a map and, amused, insisted they stop for a slice while driving through on vacation. But the town forked up only disappointment.
A sign on the door of a ramshackle trading post lamented: “There used to be pie but there ain’t no more.” “It’s just not right!” Knapp’s bewildered mother kept saying, long after they’d left New Mexico. “It’s not American! Somebody needs to put the pie back in Pie Town.” It seemed so silly. But there was something in her mother’s voice that Knapp hadn’t heard in a long time: desire. So Knapp, a Dallas advertising executive, bought the trading post, “certain Mom would make a few pies and get over it.” That was two decades ago.
Today, Knapp, 59, is the queen of the oven at the Pie-O-Neer cafe, a pastry pilgrim who left her cozy life in Texas to bake on the mountaintop. She’s got a license plate that says “PIELADY,” quite a reputation for her apple and green chile pie, and streams of visitors from all over the world. “We are what I call the crossroads of pie and life,” Knapp said. “I’m just fortunate to be the one holding the rolling pin.”
You’ll find Pie Town at a break in the pine trees on the Continental Divide, along a desolate stretch of Highway 60 about 170 miles southwest of Albuquerque. There are no sidewalks, no stoplights, no gas stations. The main roads are dirt, and the population is about 70, depending on who you ask.
Pie Towners trace the sugary moniker to a Texas prospector named Clyde Norman, who came to New Mexico in the 1920s searching for gold. He filed a mining claim in current-day Pie Town for what he called the Hound Pup Lode. He never found any gold, so he opened a gas station and started selling homemade apple pies. The desserts were such a hit that Norman’s place became known throughout Catron County as Pie Town.
When locals applied for a post office in 1927, they insisted on the name, despite objections from authorities who wanted something a little more conventional, said Arthur Drooker, an author and photographer writing a book called “Pie Town Revisited.” From the beginning, Pie Towners were hardy folks, Drooker said. Early residents were mostly homesteaders who fled the Dust Bowl in West Texas and Oklahoma and lived in cabins with no running water or electricity, eking out a living by dry farming. Pie Town has remained isolated — it’s about 80 miles to the nearest hospital — and its residents, mostly ranchers and retirees, are an independent lot. Kathy Knapp’s mother fit right in.
A few weeks after their disappointing stop in Pie Town, Knapp bought the Thunderbird Trading Post for $150,000 and handed it over to her mother, Mary, who hauled a stove up the mountaintop and set up shop while Kathy financed the operation from Dallas. Mary Knapp got herself a shotgun and a hound dog and served steak and potatoes — and, of course, pie. “She was the Annie Oakley of pie,” Knapp said. “She had a little kitchen and a lot of ambition, and she was hellbent on staying there.”
Mary Knapp loved Pie Town, and Pie Town loved her. But after about two years, she was diagnosed with emphysema, a condition exacerbated by the town’s 8,000-foot elevation. Her doctor urged her to leave, but she stayed in the kitchen, baking with her oxygen tank in tow. Knapp finally persuaded her mother to move to California. But Knapp was left with a pie shop without a baker. She hired a cook and tried to run the Pie-O-Neer from afar, but in time her mother’s dream had become her own. Knapp moved to Pie Town in 1998, even though she knew little about crusts and fillings. “There were a lot of phone calls to Mom, a lot of ruined pies,” Knapp recalled. But she learned. On the phone one day, after a local magazine ran a story about Knapp, her mother told her, “Sweetheart, you might get yourself a felt-tip pen. You’re going to be signing autographs.” Mom was right.
JOHN HARRELL/FOR TRIBUNE NEWSPAPERS Kathy Knapp left her cozy life in Texas to become the “PIELADY” at the Pie-O-Neer cafe in Pie Town, N.M.
On a recent workday, with snow on the ground and a subfreezing wind whipping through the trees, a dozen people waited in idling cars and a big-rig truck in the Pie-O-Neer’s dirt parking lot an hour before it opened. At 11:30 a.m., the door opened and customers crossed the creaking wooden porch into a room invitingly warm, the air rich with the sweet aroma of cinnamon and fruit. “We’ve only got one server,” Stanley King, Knapp’s business partner, told the customers, “so be nice to her.” The full cafe was no surprise. Motorists — as well as cyclists and horse riders traversing the nearby Continental Divide Trail — will come a long way to see if a place named Pie Town is a joke. Knapp grinned at the customers, but she was too busy to talk, laying out the pies one by one on a counter. Sweet potato, pecan and oat, apple cranberry, chocolate with walnut and red chile. She stoked the wood-burning stove in the middle of the cafe and apologized as she rushed back to the kitchen.
From behind the counter, King appraised the crowd as the server jotted down orders. “Just take it one at a time,” he told the server, handing her a slice. “When people come in, I tell them we’re not in New York City or San Francisco,” he said. “We’re not in a hurry. We’re in Pie Town, and the clock stops in Pie Town.”
Great Lakes ice cover may bring cool spring Liam Ford Tribune reporter 2.20.15
The Siberian Express that has imported northern Russia’s weather into North America is leading to a second year of fast-growing ice cover on the Great Lakes, setting up the Chicago area for the possibility of another cool spring.
By Wednesday, the lakes were 85.4 percent ice-covered, above the 85.2 percent Feb. 18, 2014, according to the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. With below-average temperatures predicted for at least the next week, the lakes could approach last year’s levels of 92.5 percent ice cover, the second-highest level since records began in the early 1970s.
It’s far from the only factor in spring weather, but a sizable and late ice season can lead to a cooler spring — and even a cooler summer, forecasters say. “By April or May, usually the ice is gone, usually probably anywhere from early to late April,” said George Leshkevitch, a scientist with the research laboratory. “Last year, we had ice throughout May, and even lingering into June. If that happens again, we’re likely to have a cool spring — which is good for the fruit growers along Lake Michigan; saves them from possible killing frost,” because fruit trees tend to bloom later in cool springs, when hard frosts are less likely.
Ice forecasts aren’t issued for the Great Lakes as a whole, but Leshkevitch said that the longer the current cold snap persists, the more likely the lakes are to continue icing over. Persistent ice cover could affect any hot weather headed Chicago’s way this spring or summer. “It will just moderate the climate for a longer period of the springtime,” said Bryan Peake, a service climatologist at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center in Urbana, Ill. “In the Great Lakes region, usually, when you have high ice cover, you’ll have a little bit cooler summer.”
For those looking forward to warmer months, monthly weather service long-term forecasts issued Thursday show an above-average likelihood of a cold March in much of the Midwest, but also an increased likelihood of a warmer-than-typical April, May and June. The cool 2014 spring was caused by “a persistent pattern, getting the same type of weather over and over,” and that doesn’t have to be our fate this year, Peake said. More to blame: the jet stream bringing cold Arctic air. firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, February 20, 2015
Updated as the News Happens
Frozen in place, no progress made Thursday
2/20 – Noon update – The Griffon arrived off Ashtabula before noon, the Griffon and Bristol Bay are backing and ramming through the ice and appear to be trying to break their way east to Cleveland.
8 a.m. update – Friday morning the CCGS Griffon was slowly making progress toward the USCG Bristol Bay’s position off Ashtabula, they are about 8 miles north and passing through the ice at 2 MPH. The Griffon will assist the Bristol Bay into Ashtabula or Cleveland for refueling and resupply. Last night a helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Detroit delivered food to the crew of the Bristol Bay, who report ice 8-10 feet thick in Lake Erie.
The USCG Hollyhock is expected to join the CCGS Samuel Risley in escorting the Peter R. Cresswell through the lower St. Clair River. The Risley will then head for Lake Erie. Arthur M. Anderson remains stuck off Conneaut on the 15th day of what would normally be a two and a half day trip.
Original Report – The Arthur M. Anderson and USCG Bristol Bay remained frozen in place on Lake Erie Thursday. The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Griffon was able to complete repairs Thursday evening and has been making the 20 mile trip south to assist the Bristol Bay at 2 MPH.
The Griffon will likely assist the Bristol Bay into Ashtabula to refuel and then both breakers can open Conneaut for the Anderson.
The northerly winds that have packed the ice into Lake Erie’s southern shore are expected to turn to southerly winds on Friday. The change in direction will alleviate pressure on the ice piled up outside the piers allowing easier access.
The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Samuel Risley was expected to assist on Lake Erie after escorting the Peter R. Cresswell through the lower St. Clair River. The Risley spent Thursday working to assist the Creswell and open a track on the river but by nightfall no progress had been made and the vessels were stopped off Harsens Island.
Check back for updates.
Thanks, Robert Frost
Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought…
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
and it brings strange peace that itself passes
into past, easier to bear because
you said it, rather casually, as snow
went on falling in Vermont years ago.
Robert Frost poems I’ll always remember:
A PATCH OF OLD SNOW
There’s a patch of old snow in a corner that I should have guessed was a blow-away paper the rain had brought to rest.
It is speckled with grime as if small print overspread it, the news of a day I’ve forgotten– if if I ever read it.
Once when the snow of the year was beginning to fall,
We stopped by a mountain pasture to say, ‘Whose colt?’
A little Morgan had one forefoot on the wall,
The other curled at his breast. He dipped his head
And snorted at us. And then he had to bolt.
We heard the miniature thunder where he fled,
And we saw him, or thought we saw him, dim and gray,
Like a shadow against the curtain of falling flakes.
‘I think the little fellow’s afraid of the snow.
He isn’t winter-broken. It isn’t play
With the little fellow at all. He’s running away.
I doubt if even his mother could tell him, “Sakes,
It’s only weather.” He’d think she didn’t know!
Where is his mother? He can’t be out alone.’
And now he comes again with the clatter of stone,
And mounts the wall again with whited eyes
And all his tail that isn’t hair up straight.
He shudders his coat as if to throw off flies.
Whoever it is that leaves him out so late,
When other creatures have gone to stall and bin,
Ought to be told to come and take him in.
About Robert Frost
More Frost poems
The deserted graveyard called Vunivesi sits silently by a small brook obscured by a mangrove canopy on the South Sea Island of Fiji. The mass gravesite, abandoned decades ago, is unknown even to most Fijians. No one knows how many are buried there, but many of the dead likely spent their final moments lying in the nearby water for relief from fever and suffering. Across the Pacific Ocean, 5,000 miles away, are the trendy West Los Angeles enclaves of Santa Monica, Brentwood and Beverly Hills, among the world’s wealthiest communities. What could these affluent neighborhoods possibly have in common with the quiet graveyard of Vunivesi? Measles. In 1875, one of deadliest outbreaks of measles in modern history devastated Fiji, killing one-third of the island’s 100,000 inhabitants. Measles was Fiji’s first gift from Great Britain upon becoming a member of the British Empire. To celebrate Fiji’s entrance into the Commonwealth, a British ship escorted Fijian leaders for a state visit to Sydney, then the closest British government seat. The entourage stayed at Sydney’s finest hotel, amazed by the conveniences of the modern world. Unfortunately, they were also infected by a measles epidemic coursing through eastern Australia. They carried the disease back to Fiji, and within weeks, measles swept over the island, killing thousands. One medical historian wrote, “Death drums sounded incessantly in seemingly deserted villages. So many die so quickly that timely burial became impossible. Graves were only half dug because no one had the strength to dig.” Lacking the strength to find food, thousands more died of starvation. After the outbreak, one British missionary described the eerie stillness of the deserted villages. One hundred and 40 years is not that long ago. Many baby boomers’ great-grandparents, and some grandparents, could have been born around 1875. Among America’s greatest achievements in that time has been the near eradication of vaccine-preventable diseases. The numbers for measles are impressive; in the pre-vaccine year of 1958, there were 763,094 cases and 552 deaths. In 2004, 37 cases — a historical low — and not a single measles death was reported.
But measles is making a comeback, and the “hot zone” is Southern California. Researching the story, The Hollywood Reporter found “the local children statistically at the greatest risk for infection aren’t, as one might imagine, the least privileged — far from it. An examination of immunization records submitted to the state by educational facilities suggests that wealthy Westside kids — particularly those attending exclusive, entertainment-industry-favored child care centers, preschools and kindergartens — are far more likely to get sick (and potentially infect their siblings and playmates) than other kids in LA. The reason is at once painfully simple and utterly complex: More parents in this demographic are choosing not to vaccinate their children as medical experts advise. They express their noncompliance by submitting a form known as a personal belief exemption instead of paperwork documenting a completed shot schedule … (in some schools) numbers are in line with immunization rates in developing countries like Chad and South Sudan.” The current anti-vaccine movement had its roots in a 1998 study by a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield. His now-discredited study was published in the world’s most prestigious medical journal, Lancet. Lancet retracted the paper after discovering Wakefield’s methods were sloppy and unethical, his conclusions unwarranted, and he had failed to disclose significant financial interests. The U.K. General Medical Council declared he acted dishonestly and irresponsibly. Despite this, celebrities including Jenny McCarthy, Kristin Cavallari, Donald Trump and Robert Kennedy Jr. have spearheaded the anti-vaccine movement. This marks a dramatic reversal from a time when Hollywood celebrities enthusiastically endorsed the fight against polio. In 1956, at the height of his popularity, Elvis Presley posed for his polio vaccination. Parents, witnessing the tragedy of death and paralysis, lined up to have their children inoculated with the still incompletely tested polio vaccine.
The medical community must exert greater leadership. The new surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, having been out of residency for less than a decade, may lack historical perspective. He has been on-point but tentative: “The most important message I have is to please, please, please get your child vaccinated … I recognize that some of the concerns parents have about vaccinations come from a place of wanting to do the best to protect their children … I believe that on this topic, the science is very clear.” No mention of the lax immunization requirements in states like California. Murthy’s comments, like those of Republican presidential hopefuls Rand Paul and Chris Christie, may be tempered by political concerns. But Murthy should look for example to one of his predecessors, C. Everett Koop. Koop, surgeon general during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, infuriated many conservative supporters with candid, medically accurate statements about HIV. He was forceful and undeterred by politics. “Everything I ever said caused controversy,” he said. “That’s the nature of the job … It’s a controversial job and you have to have a very thick skin, and you cannot let yourself be pushed by political pressures.” Right now, that type of candor is needed. Those unfortunate Fijians at Vunivesi were victims of something they were unaware of and could not control. If future Americans fall victim to a severe strain of measles or another vaccine-preventable disease, the fault will not be in our stars but in ourselves.
Our yard animals have a system. The smaller birds eat seeds at the feeder 6 feet off the ground, tossing out the seeds they don’t want. The doves and squirrels, too big for the feeder, eat those discarded seeds down below, as do the chipmunks.
In moderate weather, we have a flock of 15 to 20 sparrows feeding along with some finches, chickadees, nuthatches and other small birds. Now, since deep cold has hit, the small birds are few and the squirrels and a dove or two find little on the ground. I’ve fed them a bit. Once in awhile a squirrel manages to defeat the system and climb to the top of the feeder and get some seeds or suet. I don’t know what has happened to all those sparrows and other birds. The chipmunks hibernate under our front steps.
On a summer morning,
raucous sparrows, dozens,
fill small trees across the street,
call and rise and flit and settle.
At this frozen dawn, the birds
sit still on barren branches, rows of black fruit waiting to fall.
I like to watch the gray squirrels. Seem to be terriorial and chase invading squirrels away. Black squirrels are alien, never tolerated. I first saw black squirrels one day as I was going work at the public library. There was a small tree full of them. I was amazed!
Some squirrels show what I think are signs of escape from a hawk, owl, maybe a coyote: scars on their backs or a missing half-tail. I’ve seen one with no tail.
Some people dislike squirrels. Alice’s cousin Betty, who runs an apple farm in Wiscoinsin, has a complex of bird feeders outside her picture window–wonderful to watch. I asked her once whether squirrels are a problem at the feeders. She said, “Not since I shot them all.”
LAS VEGAS — There it was, abandoned for the ages, propped up against a juniper tree in far-eastern Nevada’s Snake Mountains, a Winchester Model 1873 repeating rifle: the gun, as legend goes, that won the American West.
For archaeologist Eva Jensen, it’s something much more — a mystery that continues to baffle the staff at Great Basin National Park: Who owned it? A luckless hunter or miner? Maybe an outlaw on the run? And how on earth did it get there? The search for answers has taken the 57-year-old veteran scientist out of the field and into tiny research libraries — scouting out old newspapers, 130-year-old bills of sale, family histories and yellowed letters in several Western states. Everyone, Jensen said, has a different theory about what happened. “That’s the lure of this find,” she said.
Her quest began in early November when Jensen and a team of archaeologists were walking a remote hillside in the massive park four hours northeast of Las Vegas. The group was on unexplored terrain searching for Native American artifacts or petroglyphs prior to a scheduled burning of vegetation. Suddenly, something caught Jensen’s eye. It was the rifle — its wooden butt jammed into the ground and supported by a few rocks, so weathered and gnarled it looked like part of the terrain. The barrel was propped against the tree and, chameleon-like, blended in, covered with juniper debris.
“It was an ‘Oh, my gosh!’ moment. I sort of let out this exclamation — then I couldn’t say anything,” Jensen said. “At first the staff thought I’d fallen off a cliff. It was just so unexpected that it took a little time for my mind to catch up.” She circled the tree several times. There was no mistake about it. This was a Winchester. And there had to be a story behind it.Speculation started right there in the high-desert wilds. “One thing we all assumed was that someone here had a very bad day,” Jensen said. “One of the staff said, ‘Why do you set your gun down and forget where you put it? That just doesn’t happen.’ ”
There was more conjecture. Maybe a cowboy or shepherd had been out looking for a lost steer or sheep. Or some prospector got flustered when he thought he’d struck the mother lode. The rifle’s location — on a wooded, craggy hillside with a commanding view of the valley to the east — suggested a good strategic spot for a gunbattle. Maybe the gun jammed and was abandoned. The .44-caliber rifle wasn’t loaded. Nobody knew. But Jensen was set on finding out. The Winchester company, based in New Haven, Conn., produced 720,000 of the model from 1873 to 1916. The original often featured an oil-finished walnut stock, blued-steel crescent butt plate and a 20-inch-long octagon barrel. Every gun was stamped with its own serial number.
So Jensen consulted the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyo., and determined that the rifle in her possession was made in 1882 — an eventful year in the Old West and beyond. That’s when outlaw Jesse James was killed by Robert Ford, when gunfighter Billy Claiborne, who survived the showdown at the OK Corral, was shot dead in the streets of Tombstone, Ariz. It’s the year Congress outlawed polygamy and John D. Rockefeller created theStandard Oil Trust. Charles Darwin, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Mary Todd Lincoln all died in 1882. Jensen even found the weapon’s order number. She knew the rifle was shipped from the Connecticut warehouse that year. But she couldn’t locate who ordered the gun or where it went. The case went cold.
So Jensen consulted newspapers of the day — the Ward Reflex and White Pine County Record — that chronicled the then-thriving mining industry in northern Nevada. She found tantalizing tidbits, including ads from dry goods stores selling Winchester rifles, even the name of a gunsmith in the area. But there were no stories of any gunbattle or outlaw search that might have put a history to the rifle. She found a picture of a member of a prominent family holding a Winchester, but it was the wrong model.
In 1873, the Winchester originally sold for $50, but the price dropped in half during a subsequent recession, Jensen said. Sales remained brisk because the weapon was a Western trendsetter: the lever action meant it could fire 15 shots without reloading. Think of actor Chuck Connors, with that steely-eyed glare, quickly pumping his Winchester in the opening of the old TV series “The Rifleman.” The rifle went on display last weekend in rural Baker, Nev., before becoming part of the park’s public collection. For now, Jensen said, it’s being kept in climate-controlled storage. Park officials are keeping the location of the rifle’s discovery a secret. “It would have been wonderful to just leave it as we found it,” Jensen said. “But once people hear about this thing, they will go looking for the spot.” Even if the mystery is never solved, Jensen feels lucky to be on the case. “In archaeology, things happen when you have the right light,” she said. “We found the gun right after lunch, in the early afternoon. If the sun had been in a different spot, it might have been shaded and we would have never seen it.”