Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Lonesome Dove Series – a review of four books

 The Lonesome Dove Series of four books by Larry McMurtry can best be described as Shakespearean tragedy westerns.  They attempt to follow certain broad historical events dealing with a 60 year period in Texas but play loose with events and dates to make a story. Humour revolves mainly around whiskey and whores. While the books describe the bleak landscapes in some detail, they develop the characters to perfection. Each character protagonist or antagonist has weaknesses that eventually result in their deaths.  By the end of the series almost everyone is dead. None die of old age but Bolivar the cook, the rest end tragically in one way or another. Hamlet, Macbeth or Othello would have understood.

Dead Man’s Walk introduces August McCrea and Woodrow Call as young men in their late teens. Gus is lazy and prefers to spend his time drinking and womanizing while Call is the exact opposite, careful and conscientious. Both are capable leaders and fighters. The book is placed after the 1836 War of Texas Independence but prior to the 1846-1848 war between America and Mexico. They join a loose organization which becomes in time the Texas Rangers and set out from Austin to find a road direct to El Paso. The expedition is poorly organized and incompetently led. Hunted by Comanche and Apache, battling storms and thirst, the survivors are forced to turn back after crossing the Pecos.  We are introduced to Buffalo Hump, Comanche war chief.

On their return to Austin, Gus meets Clara, the love of his life, but promptly sets out with Call on another hair brained, badly organized and worse led, expedition to capture Santa Fe from the Mexicans. The normal route between San Antonio and Santa Fe was way down through Mexico, avoiding Comancheria completely. They decide to go straight across the high plains, fighting thirst and Buffalo Hump all the way.  Most turn back and are never heard of again.  The survivors are met by the Mexican army which is under orders to march them to El Paso where they will be dealt with.  Most of the way is barren waterless desert called the Dead Man’s Walk or Camino del Muerto. Twenty Texans make it to El Paso. They draw lots; ten are shot and ten including Gus and Cal are freed to make their way home.

Comanche Moon picks up about 10 or 12 years later.  Gus and Call, both in their late 20s or early 30s, have been made Captains of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers are tasked with preventing the terrible Comanche raids against the settlers slowly but inexorably pushing their way west. They are mainly unsuccessful against their nemesis, Buffalo Hump, who with the best horse thief in Texas, Kicking Wolf, often leave them afoot. While they are away chasing Comanches, Buffalo Hump mounts a massive raid on Austen in 1854, killing many townspeople including Clara’s folks.

Gus had no luck with Clara Forsythe who loves him dearly but recognizes she cannot hold him and marries Bob Allen, a horse trader from Nebraska, leaving Austen five days before the raid. Call takes up with a young whore named Maggie who falls in love with him and bears his child.  Call will not admit to being the father and breaks off all relationship with her. Maggie dies of TB leaving young Newt to be raised by the Rangers. We are introduced to Pea Eye Parker, Jake Spoon and Deets, as well as Blue Duck the son of Buffalo Hump and a Mexican captive, who is a renegade from birth.

Lonesome Dove (written first in the series) begins about twenty years later.  Call and Gus, now on the wrong side of 50, are retired to the tiny community of Lonesome Dove on the bank of the Rio Grande.  They own Hat Creek, a small run down ranch, and make their living stealing horses and cattle from Mexico. Call does most of the work while Gus drinks most of the whiskey. Newt, now in his late teens, lives with them as do Pea Eye Parker, Deet and Bolivar, the cook who is avoiding his wife in Mexico. Dish Boggett, a wandering cowhand, signs on to the ranch so he can stay close to Lorena or Lorie, a beautiful young whore abandoned by her pimp in Lonesome Dove. Dish loves her but Laurie does not return his love, falling in love with the smooth talking Jake Spoon who has returned after a 10 year absence. Jake’s stories Montana grasslands intrigue Call who decides to be the first to drive cattle to Montana establish a ranch. Gus goes along with the idea.

They steal 2500 head of cattle and about 150 horses from Mexico (their owner has died), hire several more riders and set out. Their epic journey is the real story. If you only read one book, read this one. It is the best of the lot.  As it was written first and Comanche Moon last, the stories do not mesh smoothly. There are also a few glaring historical inaccuracies. That bothers me but may not bother you.

Streets of Laredo set some 20 years later, finds Call as an aging bounty hunter living in a small cabin on Charlie Goodnight’s ranch. In Lonesome Dove he took Gus’s body back from Montana to bury him in “Clara’s orchard, near Austen, the only place he was ever happy.  Newt, whom Call never acknowledges as his son, is left in charge of the ranch but two years later is killed when his horse falls on him. Call disbands the ranch, half of which Gus left to Lorie. The riders disperse, with Pea Eye Parker going to work for Clara Allen near Ogallala. Lorie, who stayed with Clara when the herd went through Nebraska, marries Pea Eye and they go farming in the Texas Panhandle not far from the Red River. Call takes Pea Eye with him when he has a contract. Cal has one last contract, to catch Joe Garza, a Mexican bandit who is a highly successful train robber and sharp shooting killer.

Pea Eye finally refuses to go with him because he has a wife, five kids and a farm. He changes his mind and follows Call.  Lorie sends her kids to Clara and goes after him to warn him a psychopathic renegade killer Mox Mox, has reappeared after 13 years. Cal manages to kill Mox Mox and his small band but he is losing his abilities.  His fingers are swollen and stiff with arthritis. He walks into a trap and takes three bullets from Joe Garza. He is rescued by Lorie on her way to Pea Eye. Pea Eye gets lead into Garza but not enough to stop him and Garza is killed by his own people in his own village after he kills his mother and tries to kill his brother who is mentally challenged and his sister who is blind.

Pea Eye and Lorie take Call home along with Garza’s brother and sister.  Clara Allen has the children waiting at the railway station when they arrive. Call has lost an arm and a leg and carrying the third bullet in his chest. He slowly learns to adapt but is simply putting in time. A few years later, Clara is killed by a horse, meeting the same fate as her husband many years before. Pea Eye and Lorie add more kids to the family and expand the house. Fade to black.

For a very detailed map of Texas topography see this link:

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Purpose of Life

To quote Albert the Alligator from the Pogo comic strip: "Don't take life so serious, son; it ain't nohow permanent". (Diane Henders).

A sure way to insanity is to ask yourself why am I here? To what purpose do I exist? This is different than finding meaning in your life.  That is a personal thing. Purpose is the big picture.

Diane Henders hit it on the head in a comment. "In my darker moments, I realize that, like all living organisms, we exist only to eat, shit, reproduce, and die. And I haven't even reproduced".

She is right, of course. All living organisms are driven to reproduce, to pass the species DNA on to one more generation. Everything else is just incidental to that. It doesn't matter if you are an E coli, a tree, grass, a wolf, a house cat, or a human. All behaviour is simply adaptation to ensure there is a next generation.

It doesn't always work. Species die out for whatever reason, mostly that they didn't or couldn't adapt to a changing environment. Dinosaurs, mastodons, Neanderthals, and passenger pigeons being prime examples. One adaptation is that the less likely the next generation will live to reproduce, is to produce far more offspring than are needed to ensure some survive. Millions of little fish, thousands of baby turtles, families of 12 to 20 kids. 

Humans invented religions to try to explain both purpose and meaning.  Religion became a source of power of the elite over the masses.  Then they kill each other because the religions don't align. Isn't it fun?

I wondered if other species created mythologies to explain life or if they just do their thing from day to day and were satisfied at that? Diane Henders figured the latter as other species are smarter than we are.  She is likely right.

For someone who writes sexy spy novels starring her alter ego, she does have a good grasp of reality. Someday I need to go to the Island and meet her.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

College of Agriculture and Biosciences 1969 (50 years) Graduate Reunion

Nineteen Graduates from 1969 came to the reunion banquet on Saturday, January 12th, plus one came to the Friday get together but not the banquet. Not too shabby for a bunch of 72-year-olds. There could have been more but some never answered their emails, a  few said they had been to Saskatchewan in January and had no intention of repeating it.  But at least three flew in from Arizona, Mexico, and Hawaii just for the occasion.

Picture courtesy Jo Hammond.

The only girl in our class flew in from Kamloops. Her husband had to stay home to mind cows as they cowboy for neighbouring ranches since they retired. Less stressful than owning the cows.

What a great time catching up on all the intervening years. Some hadn't seen each other for 50 years, some 10 years, since the last reunion. I was at our 30th in 1999. The stuff we did in college had improved over the years with the telling and retelling.  Today, any of it would have got us expelled from the University.

One of the highlights of the banquet was introducing two graduates from 1939 (80 years) and 1943. They were 102 and 103 respectively. They looked healthy enough to make the next 10-year reunion.

The annual reunions are organized by Saskatchewan Agricultural Graduates Association (SAGA). Any graduate can attend but the focus each year is on the 10, 20, 30, etc. year grads. Next year the 50-year grads will be from 1970. SAGA has a program for 65 years and older grads who do not have to pay registration.  There were quite a few '54 and '49 grads plus the two centenarians.

On Saturday morning a number of us toured the new (opened in October) Beef Forage Centre of Excellence about 20 minutes east of Saskatoon.  It replaced and combined several aging facilities including the old feedlot where I did some of my MSc research work which had been built in 1962.

This three-minute video gives a pretty good overview of the new facility:

In my life, I have never wanted to relive one minute of it or be younger.  Once was enough.  But when I saw that new research facility and heard about the work being done and that could be done, I wished I was 40 years younger.  I would have signed up for a PhD program immediately. But it is a new generation that will have all the fun and that is OK.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

And Now For something Completely Different

My Surgery to repair my incision hernia is scheduled for January 22.  This is the last if all goes well and I can begin healing for the long term. They phoned to say it was January 17th and Tanya said she dreamed it was to be January 22.  When they called back to reschedule to the 22nd, Tanya looked like the cat that swallowed the canary.  My friend Enoch will be in the following week to get a second hip replaced. If he ends up in my room we will terrorize the nurses though we will not be in any position to chase them.

Tomorrow I had to Saskatoon by bus for the 50th reunion of the Agriculture class of 1969.  Not sure how many will make it but it will be good to see old familiar faces.  I don't expect to see them again as it is highly unlikely I'll be back in 5 or 10 years when the next reunion will be. We are not getting younger, any of us. Winters in Saskatchewan are not much fun for me.

On Sunday, Kylee-Anne and I will drive up to North Battleford to see Grandma L.  It will be four and a half years since I was to see her. She will be glad for the visit though she won't know who we are. She turned 99 last week, not something she wanted but had no choice in the matter.  She has been ready to go for many years and it makes me sad to see this once vibrant woman, full of life, dedicating herself to looking after everyone else, to be so lost and helpless.

Sorry about the personal stuff.  Not very interesting and certainly not funny but not much happens around here from day to day.

Western novels and movies are my go-to for relaxation. By and large, they all have happy endings where the bad guy gets his and the good guy gets the girl and sometimes even the ranch. Usually the movies are totally unrealistic. There are occasional stories that try to paint a less stereotyped picture.  Monte Walsh, The Oxbow Incident and many of Dorothy Johnson's short stories (A Man Named Horse, the Man who shot Liberty Valence, the Hanging Tree). I watched Lonesome Dove finally, thirty years after it was made.  The first three episodes were powerful enough but I was not prepared at all for the final episode. No happy endings for anyone. So I bought the books, a series of four novels of which Lonesome Dove is the third.

Damn movie made me all melancholy and philosophical.  Are there ever happy endings in this life? In the end, we all die. Whether that is happy or not, I'll let you know when it happens. There are happy beginnings and middles, I guess, for some folks but not for others. Didn't sleep until 6 in the morning, thinking about it all night. My head sounds like this:

Friday, January 4, 2019

Give us a king to judge us. or Why Trump Reigns as King Cyrus

One of the great puzzles of the last few years is why Trump (and his Canadian counterparts) have the support of the Evangelical Christians.  I call them Republican Jesus Christians as they are the antitheses of everything Jesus of the Gospels stood for, as is Trump.

It is more than the easy explanation that they are holding their noses so they get the supreme court stacked, or get abortion declared illegal, or get tax laws favouring the rich.  They actually love the guy.

Part of it is their expectation that the greater mess the world is in, the sooner Jesus will come again and rapture them out of it.  It is why the Christian Right does everything in its power to prevent peace in the Middle East.  For this reason, they support Israel, not because they have any use for the Jews.

Trump has been called the next thing to the Messiah and practically worshipped by the Religious Right.  Now he is the new Cyrus the Great, according to their interpretation of Isaiah 45.

An Opinion piece in the New York Times a few days ago shed some light on this Cyrus thing. I'll copy a few lines but it is worth reading.

Cyrus, in case you’ve forgotten, was born in the sixth century B.C.E. and became the first emperor of Persia. Isaiah 45 celebrates Cyrus for freeing a population of Jews who were held captive in Babylon. Cyrus is the model for a nonbeliever appointed by God as a vessel for the purposes of the faithful.

Today’s Christian nationalists talk a good game about respecting the Constitution and America’s founders, but at bottom they sound as if they prefer autocrats to democrats. In fact, what they really want is a king. “It is God that raises up a king,” according to Paula White, a prosperity gospel preacher who has advised Mr. Trump.

The great thing about kings like Cyrus, as far as today’s Christian nationalists are concerned, is that they don’t have to follow rules. They are the law. This makes them ideal leaders in paranoid times.

This isn’t the religious right we thought we knew. The Christian nationalist movement today is authoritarian, paranoid and patriarchal at its core. They aren’t fighting a culture war. They’re making a direct attack on democracy itself.
 They want it all. And in Mr. Trump, they have found a man who does not merely serve their cause, but also satisfies their craving for a certain kind of political leadership.

Of course, there is precedent.  Read 1 Samuel Ch 8. We know how that turned out.
Here is another article, the one I stole the picture from.