Coincidentally Thematic Book Haul

Notice how about half of them are about mountain men and the American West? And the other half are about: Scotland, gnomes, language, and “The All-Beef Cookbook.” Seems like a haul tailor-made for me, no?

Guess where this came from.

A friend, who works at the library, showed up with a pipe-smoke-scented box of books that were being thrown out.

That’s right.

This haul was selected for my reference library by God Himself.

Also, the photograph of a nameless old shack was in the box too.

Searching for Color Inspiration

casting on the yarn

This is going to be kind of a rambling post. It’s going to start with knitting.

Yes, I knit stuff sometimes.

I wouldn’t say I’m part of the “knitting community,” at least not the online one, because I don’t think they’d have me. Yet, I knit.

Recently, I knit my very first pair of socks.

the finished product

They are not quite as comfortable as store-bought socks, since the yarn I used doesn’t have any elastic in it, but they are perfectly serviceable, nice and warm. And, most importantly, they are in colors that I don’t mind showing off in my Minnetonka moccasins.

and again …

I’m not a huge fan of the fancy, picot-style top edge, but that’s how the pattern that I used was written, and I decided to follow it exactly before I branched out. I also learned to use the “kitchener stitch” to close the toe of this pair of socks.

Anyone who knits (or does any of a number of other handicrafts) will tell you that they are always looking for inspiration for new color schemes. Sure, it’s fun to stroll through the fabric store and take your inspiration from the yarns that are there, but I’ve found that the most fun colors to knit aren’t always the colors that you will end up wanting to wear. (Example: pink shades are really fun to knit, but I don’t gravitate towards fluffy pink items of clothing. Whenever I wear one, my kids tell me that I remind them of Dolores Umbridge. Not a good look.) (Another example: black knits are the coolest, very sophisticated, and you can often gift them to people who don’t want to look like they’re wearing a knitted item. However, pure black yarn is harder to work with because it’s harder to see what you’re doing, and it doesn’t show the stitch pattern as well when you’re finished, which might be a disadvantage or possibly an advantage if the piece didn’t go real well.)

All that to say, I have found my latest inspiration in the colors that seem to be signature of the Shoshone/Bannock Tribes.

The Shoshone/Bannock reservation (Fort Hall Reservation) is located in my neck of the woods. In fact, I drive through the rez whenever I go to town to get groceries. Fort Hall was a stop on the Oregon Trail, and there is a replica of it in Pocatello. Shoshone-Bannock type beadwork comes in all different color schemes (such as floral on a white or light blue background), but one very commonly seen type uses the primary colors. The blue is a light blue, the red is very vibrant, and the yellow can be used with white. It’s a little hard to find links to examples of this beadwork, but try looking here.

Now, if I was going to use primary colors in a design, I would probably make at least two of them very dark. Light blue would not be my first instinct, and it certainly wouldn’t occur to me to turn all three colors up to 11. But this color combination looks fantastic in Fort Hall. The beadwork looks especially good against shiny brown or black hair. Also, it is what you might call organic. If you click here, you will see that the three vivid colors are echoed in every Idaho sunset. Grounding them with a little black just adds to the sunsety impression.

Color inspiration. No, I am not just going to steal these colors willy-nilly. I am not going to dress head to toe in them or something like that. But I don’t think it will cause offense if I incorporate them in one or two knitted items. The Shoshone-Bannock folks I’ve rubbed shoulders with (figuratively, of course; Covid!) seem pretty friendly and chill. And they have the coolest cloth masks!

P.S. Naya Nuki was Shoshone. Click here for my review of her biography.

The Word is Murder: A Review

“Why do you think anyone would want to read about you?” I asked.

“I’m a detective. People like reading about detectives.”

“But you’re not a proper detective. You got fired. Why did you get fired, by the way?”

“I don’t want to talk about that.”

“Well, if I was going to write about you, you’d have to tell me. I’d have to know where you live, whether you’re married or not, what you have for breakfast, what you do on your day off. That’s why people read murder stories.”

“Is that what you think?”

“Yes!”

He shook his head. “I don’t agree. The word is murder. That’s what matters.”

Anthony Horowitz, The Word is Murder, 2018, p. 25

The blurb on the back of this book calls it a “meta-mystery,” and that’s a perfect description. It is so, so meta.

Horowitz writes about himself, Anthony Horowitz, the guy who has created the TV series Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War and who has written a popular series for kids, and is now trying to break into the adult market. He has just published The House of Silk, a Sherlock Holmes novel in the style of Conan Doyle. He’s approached by this ex-detective, Hawthorne, who still sometimes does consulting work for the local police force. Hawthorne’s idea is that Horowitz will follow him around as he investigates, turn the investigation into a crime novel, and make both of them rich and famous. The problem is that the investigation has just begun, and it’s unknown whether Hawthorne will solve it and, if so, whether it will have a satisfying ending. Also, though Horowitz naturally has to be present while Hawthorne interviews suspects, he is under no circumstances supposed to interrupt, ask his own questions, or contribute in any way. If Hawthorne misses something due to one of these interruptions, it’s Horowitz’s fault.

But How Meta Is It, Really?

I still don’t know how much of this novel is truth and how much is fiction. I think the whole thing is made up. But references to Horowitz’s past books and TV shows, and his descriptions of the industry, seem to be real.

There’s a very funny, agonizing scene where Horowitz is in a meeting with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg to show them the script he’s written for a planned second Tintin movie. He’s been working on the script for months, and he’s feeling excited as well as startstruck to be in the same room as Spielberg. But Spielberg abruptly tells him that the Tintin book he has turned into a script is the “wrong” book, even though that’s the one he and Jackson had agreed to use. Into this tense moment, Hawthorne bursts in. He fails to recognize Spielberg, but recognizes Jackson and compliments him. He then insists that Horowitz leave with him. The directors insist that Horowitz leave too, saying they will call him back, which they never do.

That sounds awfully realistic, even if it didn’t happen with Hawthorne. Even if there is no such person as Hawthorne. There is also no such person as Damian Cowper, the British movie star, recently relocated to Hollywood, who is at the center of the mystery.

So, on the whole, I think this actually is, as they say, a “fiction novel,” weaving in nonfiction glimpses into Horowitz’s career, modern London, and the conditions in the publishing and movie/TV industry. Horowitz’s insights about writing and marketing his work are enjoyable. And the novel is extremely professionally written. The characters, the writing itself, the clues, and the satisfying nature of the mystery all show that Horowitz has been writing mysteries for many years.

The Tintin Rant

I do have to take one side trip to rant about a rant of Horowitz’s. If you will pardon a long quote:

Tintin is a European phenomenon and one that has never been particularly popular across the Atlantic. Part of the reason for this may be historical. The 1932 album, Tintin in America, is a ruthless satire on the United States, showing Americans to be vicious, corrupt and insatiable: the very first panel shows a policeman saluting a masked bandit who is walking past with a smoking gun — and no sooner has Tintin arrived in New York and climbed into a taxi than he finds himself being kidnapped by the Mob. The entire history of Native Americans is brilliantly told in five panels. Oil is discovered on a reservation. Cigar-smoking businessmen move in. Soldiers drive the crying Native American children off their land. Builders and bankers arrive. Just one day later, a policeman tells Tintin to get out of the way of a major traffic intersection. “Where do you think you are — the Wild West?”

The Word is Murder, p. 148

Side eye.

O.K., Mr. Horowitz.

First of all, I can tell you the exact reason Tintin isn’t popular in the United States: It’s just not available. Oh, sure, it’s available now. Now we can get anything, with the Internet. But when I was a kid, there was just nowhere in the U.S. that you would see Tintin albums for sale. I was first exposed to them because we knew a family who had lived in Europe for a time, and once we knew of his existence, my siblings and I enjoyed Tintin just as much as any kids would. The same goes for Asterix and Obelix, by the way. It’s still kind of difficult to get good-quality A&O albums. When I tried to buy some for my kids, one arrived with the pages falling out.

Secondly, it never occurred to me, reading Tintin in America in the 1990s, that it was a “vicious satire” of America. I just figured it was all the silliest and most extreme stereotypes about America, which is the same treatment that Herge gives pretty much every country he portrays. And, the idea that Americans would be shocked by this portrayal? I don’t know, maybe in the 1930s. But this generation Xer would like to point out that gangster movies are one of our most beloved film genres, and that we are taught from knee-high about the injustices done to the Native Americans (besides many films and books being made about same). And in fact, Herge’s portrayal of the way the Indians talk would not be considered acceptable in America today. So, yeah, Mr. Horowitz, I realize you are very smart British author — and it’s obvious from your craft that you are smarter than I will ever be — but I think you may have overestimated Americans’ provinciality just a tad, while also underestimating our IQ.

The Detective

The best thing about this book, in a way, is the detective, Hawthorne. He is also the most unsatisfying thing. He never does allow Horowitz to get to know him. He really does prove to be brilliant, and Horowitz sort of ends up playing Hastings to Hawthorne’s Poirot. This is all the more frustrating for Horowitz (and for the reader) because Horowitz is not dumb and he knows it. He’s an adult with a good career well underway, and he knows his way around a mystery novel. He just hasn’t had direct experience with real-life investigating.

Hawthorne is the sort of person that all of us have had to work with at one time or another. He comes off as unwittingly controlling, always telling Horowitz his business. He doesn’t like the title “The Word is Murder,” for example. He wants it to be “Hawthorne Investigates.” (Spielberg and Jackson back him up.) He doesn’t like the way that Horowitz sets the scene in the first chapter. Although not a writer, he thinks that Horowitz should methodically introduce every detail that Hawthorne would notice, without any atmosphere or description. He gives advice about choice of words. Whenever Horowitz objects “But I’m the one you asked to write it!”, Hawthorne says something like, “Hey, don’t get all upset! I was just trying to help.”

This is the kind of person that you cannot be around for very long. Unless you are pathologically conceited, all their “help” can’t help but make you doubt yourself. Although we cannot work long-term with such a person, it is nice to see one portrayed in fiction (if this … is … fiction?). It lets us know that even pros like Horowitz have had the same experience.

Cooking with Clay Beads

Clay “cooking balls” of the kind used in the Poverty Point culture in what in now Louisiana

Original title: “Cooking with Balls.” I didn’t have the … you know, courage … to go through with that one. But it’s not my fault! “Cooking Balls” is, I promise you, what they are called in the source material.

Although we know little about the Poverty Point people and their extraordinary center on Bayou Macon, we do know a great deal about their cooking habits. The most typical of all the artifacts is — surprisingly enough — a small baked clay ball, only one to two inches in diameter and two to three ounces in weight. The odd-looking balls, most often molded in melon, oblong, cylindrical, spiral, and biconical shapes, were used in cooking. Thousands of them have been unearthed so far. Indeed, so ubiquitous are these tiny finds that they are simply called Poverty Point objects.

The Poverty Point people used them not only more intensively than others [who cooked with heated stones], but also more innovatively, for a new style of cooking: pit-oven baking.

Mysteries of the Ancients Americas, The Reader’s Digest Asscn, Inc., pp. 113 – 114

The Poverty Point people, reconstructers think, would wrap fish, meat, or potatoes in wet leaves, place them on a bed of hot coals, and then cover them with a layer of hot clay balls. You know, they basically made what at camp we used to call a “hobo dinner.” Except we were always eating our hobo dinners half-raw, because we were not as patient as the people at Poverty Point.

In the Out of Babel blog tradition of writing about some ancient practice and then pretending that we are still doing it, I would like to show you my own cooking beads.

“Cooking balls” of the kind used by the modern mom

Not the greatest lighting on this photograph, but here they are, sitting in a nest of aluminum foil, on my ultramodern, convenient electric stove. The only modern use of clay cooking balls that I am aware of, is to make baked pie crust shells. If you bake the pie crust with nothing in it, it bubbles up, warps, and then it can’t hold the instant pudding later. You have to weight it down with something. You can use just two layers of aluminum foil, but heavier is better. For a while I was using uncooked lentils (per Martha Stewart). They worked OK, but they had a certain legume-y smell when baking and besides, clay cooking balls are so much cooler. I suppose that in a pinch, I could use them for pit cooking. Let’s hope it never comes to that.

According to archaeologists, the Poverty Point cooking balls “could be used about 10 times before they cracked apart.” And yet, they put so much effort into them, making pretty designs and everything! I can imagine that making these little items was a creative outlet as well as a chore. Whereas, my cooking beads are completely plain (and still look like they were a hassle to make in such quantity), and I expect them to last for years. Of course, I don’t use them daily, and certainly not for the two hours it apparently takes to pit-cook food.

10,800-year-old Gardens in Amazonia

10,800 years ago, Early Humans Planted Forest Islands in Amazonia’s Grasslands

Much in this article is speculation, like the idea that there was an 8,000-year gap between people planting gardens and “full-blown agriculture” (whatever that is). Also, as always, the exact dates.

But this does seem to support the general picture that has been building … namely, that people got to the Americas a very long time ago, traversed them very quickly, and started gardening almost immediately … or perhaps already knew about agriculture before they got there, even if they had abandoned it for a generation or two while traveling. Or, as we like to say around here … (drumroll) … ancient people were already very sophisticated in the earliest records we find of them.

Yes, Virginia, There Is A … Wyoming

Ready for the latest fun conspiracy theory?

Wyoming doesn’t exist.

This theory uses the simple but brilliant logic that unless you have first- or second-hand experience with a thing (in this case, a state), then you cannot really accept it as proved. First-hand experience is demanded in the question: “Have you ever been to Wyoming?” Second-hand experience: “Do you know anyone from Wyoming?”

Delightfully, “One definition of Wyoming in the online Urban Dictionary says the Cowboy State is a fictional place and that people who try to drive north over the border will find themselves mysteriously transported to Canada, confused and sans clothing” (ibid). So, it’s a sort of Wyoming Triangle. This tickles me even more because, What about Montana? Montana is between Wyoming and the Canadian border. Do the conspirators not realize this? Is Montana so obscure that it doesn’t even get its own conspiracy?

Well, I am happy to tell you kids, that Wyoming does exist. I know because I live in its equally obscure neighboring state of Idaho. Wyoming is actually only a few hours from me, and if I drive an hour north, I can see the mountains on the border.

For further proof, here are myself and Mr. Mugrage (cropped out for privacy) standing in Wyoming, overlooking Jackson Hole (note the sign), on a big anniversary recently. The whole picture is in Wyoming, but for those who need extra proof, I have an added an arrow that helpfully points to Wyoming.

It’s cooold in Wyoming!

Finally, here is a trailer for a movie that is set in Wyoming:

At last, a conspiracy theory that I can personally put to rest. This might be the first (and, possibly, last) one.

Misanthropic Quote of the Week, from MawMaw

Teenaged J.D. goes to see his beloved grandmother, MawMaw, in the hospital where she has pneumonia. J.D. knows that older people often die of pneumonia.

J.D.: Are you going to die?

MawMaw: I don’t know.

[repeat several times]

J.D.: Just tell me. Are you going to die in here?

MawMaw: I don’t goddamn know.

J.D.: People know. Some people do.

MawMaw: No they don’t.

J.D.: Native Americans.

MawMaw: They’re called Indians, like the Cleveland Indians. And they don’t know, any more than other people. They’re not magic, just ’cause they don’t have microwaves.

from Hillbilly Elegy, on Netflix

Scary Thing: Bears

A Terrifying Bear Attack

So, this month I finally watched The Revenant. (It’s been out since 2015.)

The way the movie usually gets summarized is, “Leonardo DiCaprio’s character gets mauled by a bear, and his companions leave him for dead.”

Well, they don’t exactly leave him for dead. There is a lot of back and forth. There is money involved, and racial tensions, plus the difficulty of carrying a grievously injured man through rough country on a litter. But yes, basically, he does end up getting left for dead at some point, after efforts have been made to save him (and other efforts to finish him off).

Anyway, after watching, the big question in my mind was the same as in everyone else’s after seeing the movie: How in the world did they film the scene where he gets mauled by a bear?

It looks really real. I have embedded a YouTube clip of it at the end of this section, which you can watch if you have the stomach for it. At one point, the bear steps on the supine man’s head, stretches its neck forward, and snuffles directly at the camera. The glass fogs up from its breath.

Please tell me they didn’t use a real bear.

The first step, of course, was to study the credits carefully. Let’s see … Native American and First Nations acting agency … thanks to the Pawnee and Arikara nations … cultural consultants …. this stuff is fascinating. (One thing I loved about the movie was that subtitles, not dubbing, were used whenever characters were speaking Arikara, Pawnee, or French.) Oh, here it is. Animal wranglers. Wolves supplied by. Horses supplied by. Eagle supplied by. Hmm. There were no actual bears mentioned, but there were “animal puppeteers” and tons of animators.

It looks like it wasn’t a real bear.

Next step: Google. I found this article, where I learned that no, it wasn’t a real bear. It was a man in a blue suit. Even so, it took them four days just to shoot the six-minute scene, and then the bear’s muscles, skin, and fur had to be animated in separate layers.

The other disturbing thing was this: the only reason they didn’t use a real bear, was that captive bears nowadays are all too fat to be realistic.

I think that was a good move on their part.

Watch it if you dare.

Yes, in some ways the violent and unscrupulous humans are scarier, but actually … no. They are not. The scariest thing is the bear.

Euphemisms for Bear

It may surprise you to learn that the English word bear is not actually the original Indo-European word. It is a euphemism. The word used by the Indo-European ancestors, on the Ukrainian plains, was something like hrtko. My Indo-European dictionary explains in a sidebar:

The Proto-Indo-European word for “bear,” rtko-, was inherited in Hittite hartaggash, Sanskrit rksah, Greek arktos, Latin ursus, and Old Irish art.

But in the northern branches [of the Indo-European language family], the word has undergone taboo replacement. The names of wild animals are often taboo to hunters … Among the new expressions for “bear” were “the good calf” in Irish, “honey pig” in Welsh, “honey eater” in Russian, and “the licker” in Lithuanian. English “bear” and its other German cognates are also the result of taboo replacement, as etymologically they mean “the brown one.” (see bher-)

The American Heritage dictionary of Indo-European Roots, p. 74

(In case any linguistics purists are reading this, I should note that important diacritic marks are missing from the Indo-European, Hittite, and Sanskrit words in this quote.)

We can imagine that there were a number of terrifying attacks behind this taboo replacement. Or perhaps there was just one, well- (or horribly-) timed one, early in the northern Indo-Europeans’ journey towards their eventual homelands.

So, here are some euphemisms for bear:

  • bear/bruin (“the brown one”)
  • Beowulf (“bee-wolf”)
  • Medved (“honey eater”) (honey = mead)

In my books, the family ends up calling bears “the bad one.”

I like bears. But only as an idea. As actual creatures, they have earned their place on this October’s list of … Scary Things.

Weed of the Week

(Sounds better than Wildflower of the Week, don’t you think?)

This … is Rubber Rabbitbrush. Or, as I like to call it, “False Yellow Sage.” Or maybe, “Not Actually Yellow Sage, Dummy.” (I am getting the hang of this botany thing. You can just make up any descriptive name, pretty much.)

When I first started noticing this species, I naturally assumed it was some yellow-flowered variety of sagebrush. Reason: it is the same general size, shape, and even color as Silver Sagebrush, and it grows everywhere that Silver Sagebrush does.

Observe:

Here it is growing happily interspersed with Silver Sagebrush, overlooking the spectacular views of Baker, Oregon. But it doesn’t only do this in Baker. It does it in Idaho as well. I see it doing this sneaky little trick everywhere.

Assuming, as I did, that this was some kind of sagebrush, I was completely stymied when I could find it nowhere in my trusty Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers guide, by the illustrious H. Wayne Phillips. Not under Sage or Yellow Sage. Not even in the “yellow flowers” section (the guide is arranged by color). There was no way, I thought, that it wasn’t native to the area. Look at how deserty it looks!

Anyway. long story short, it’s Rabbitbrush. And here is a partial excuse for why I couldn’t identify it until after my trip to Baker. The photograph in the guide shows the leaves looking very grey, as in the first picture above. But most of the Rabbitbrushes that grow around my house look much more green. I had to go to the Oregon Trail Museum in Baker and see, growing around it, an awful lot of different individuals of these plants, in all stages of growth, before I could understand what I was looking at.

For example, here it is when very young.

By the time it is dying, it just looks like hairy brown sticks with dry yellow puffballs on top.

The guidebook says,

Ericameria nauseosa, Aster family. Previously known as Chrysothamnus nauseous. Nauseosus implies that the plant produces sickness or nausea. Jackrabbits often hide under the cover of rabbitbrush to conceal themselves from the watchful eyes of golden eagles soaring overhead. The Shoshone people of Nevada use the plant to stop diarrhea and as a remedy for coughs and colds. The Cheyenne used it to relieve itching and treat smallpox.

Central Rocky Mountain Wildflowers, p. 107

“Don’t Eat My Family”

Here is Ikash, who was a teenager when he was the protagonist of my novel The Strange Land. Now he is a husband and father, and he is doing what husbands and fathers do … trying to protect his family from the scary things in the world. (Of course Hyuna could help with this too, but as you can see, she recently had a baby, so she needs him to do the heavy lifting.)

This exact scene does not happen in my third book (at least not yet!), but it does illustrate his basic stance throughout that novel.

The black and white drawing did not scan great … a lot of detail was lost … but I needed something to post.

Are you perhaps feeling like this right now?