Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Angus, Nebraska Sandhills (Photo, Ron Scheer)

BITS is going on hiatus indefinitely while I take care of some health-related matters. Hope to be posting here again soon with more movie and book reviews. Happy trails, everybody.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Hombre (1967)

Based on Elmore Leonard’s 1961 novel of the same name (reviewed here recently), this film offers an interesting example of adaptation. The basic plot is unchanged, but the screenwriters have introduced and substituted different characters. The result is a rather different story.

Plot. Leonard’s novel revisits the central situation in John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939). An assortment of stagecoach passengers gets into trouble while crossing a stretch of perilous desert terrain. Instead of a wanted man (John Wayne) who joins them, the pivotal character is a white man raised by Indians (Paul Newman). Instead of undergoing attacks by hostiles, the coach is held up by a gang of thieves.

Leonard's novel
The gang takes a hostage, the wife of an Indian agent, but Newman kills one of them, and a stolen bag of money is retrieved. Set afoot in the desert with little in the way of food and water, the passengers must reach safety before the gang finds them again to reclaim the money—and either leave them to die or kill them outright.

Characters. Newman’s character, John Russell, besides being twice the age of the 21-year-old created by Leonard, seems very close to the man we find in the novel. He is single-mindedly focused on survival—his own. What the others do, whether they stick with him or not, is their own business. Expressing nothing but cold, calm determination, he seems never roused to an emotion.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Glossay of frontier fiction: I, J
(ignus fatuus – jerk-line)

Below is a list of mostly forgotten terms, people, and the occasional song, drawn from a reading of frontier fiction, 1880-1915. Each week a new list, progressing through the alphabet, “from A to Izzard.”

ignus fatuus = will-o’-the-wisp; a phosphorescent light that appears in marsh lands. “At the time he was following that ignis fatuus, Holy Grail, pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, which was to him his Duty.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

I’m a Chinaman = derogatory reference to Chinese, expressing surprise and disbelief. “‘I’m a Chinaman,’ says Billy, ‘if it ain’t a kid!” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

I’m a Mexican = derogatory reference to Mexicans, expressing surprise and disbelief. “I’m a Mexican if this yere Sal don’t come wanderin’ in, a-cryin’ an’ a-mournin’ powerful.” Alfred Henry Lewis, Wolfville.

Man with imperial
imperial = small part of a beard growing below the lower lip. “The snapping black eyes, with the straight brows almost meeting over the nose, suggested Goethe’s Mephistopheles, and Flemister shaved to fit the part, with curling mustaches and a dagger-pointed imperial.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

in bond = a term applied to the status of merchandise admitted provisionally to a country without payment of duty, to be kept in a bonded warehouse or for shipment to another point where duties will be imposed. “She gave final and minute orders to tailors and dressmakers, instructed them to send the trousseaux in bond directly to Great Falls, Montana.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

in high feather = in good spirits. “The tireless little animal followed him along the fence rails for perhaps a hundred yards, seeing him off the premises and advising him not to return, then went back in high feather to his task.” Charles G. D. Roberts, The Backwoodsmen.

“In the Baggage Coach Ahead” = a sentimental song popular at the turn of the last century, written in 1896 by African American composer Gussie L. Davis (1863-1899). “For nine months I have heard nothing but ‘The Baggage Coach Ahead’ and ‘She is My Baby’s Mother.’” Willa Cather, The Troll Garden.

in the sulks = unhappy. “But he was divided between his impulse to send the trio on a double-quick about their business and the doubt as to what effect it would have on the tribe if they were sent back to it in the sulks.” Marah Ellis Ryan, Told in the Hills.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

John Reese, They Don’t Shoot Cowards (1973)

In a John Reese western, nothing is likely to be what it seems. Despite a wide, well-traveled trail across the genre’s terrain, you can expect Reese to take you someplace you haven’t been before. Try guessing what this novel is about from the title, the cover art, and the cover copy (“Cahoon had a killer’s reputation and a yellow streak down his back”), and you’ll be maybe 10% right.

Characters. The premise of the novel is actually not so unusual. A man has acquired a reputation as a gunman, but has nothing of the required constitution or skill. Honker Cahoon’s is the story of an ordinary drifter cowhand trying to keep from attracting trouble. The problem is his frighteningly scarred face and a peculiar disorder—like a form of Tourrettes. When terrified, he explodes in angry outbursts so threatening that even the meanest men are intimidated.

And Reese gives his condition a further twist. Cahoon loses his hearing during these episodes and has no idea what he is saying. He lives in fear that someday he will meet a real gunman who decides to draw on him.

1974 edition
He is befriended early in the novel by a 14-year-old runaway, claiming to be 18, whose name, Johnny Smith, sounds so fictional Cahoon calls him Beansie. Against his better judgment, Cahoon cannot resist entertaining the impressionable boy with tall tales of imagined confrontations with notorious gunmen. The two get a job in a bustling mining camp in the California Sierras, supplying slaughtered beef for Bill Shenker, the owner of a highly profitable tent saloon.

Trouble brews as the camp’s merchants hire a gunman, Dewey Score, to provide protection from a criminal element, and they grant him the authority to collect his own pay. Soon he is raising the price of his services and demanding a share of Shenker’s substantial profits. Thanks to young Beansie, who never misses a chance to brag about Cahoon’s assumed prowess with a gun, the two men are destined to confront each other.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Chino (1973)

Despite the raggedy and apparently pirated copy of this film currently showing on amazon, this movie shines through as a quiet gem. An Italian-French-Spanish production, shot in Spain, it is not your usual spaghetti western. Based on Lee Hoffman’s The Valdez Horses (reviewed here recently), it is faithful to the heartfelt spirit of that novel.

Characters. Cast as the title character, Chino Valdez, Charles Bronson delivers a persuasive and nuanced performance as a reclusive breeder and trainer of horses. His rough appearance, which can turn a scowl or a grimace into a chilling expression, suits the character of a gruff man who prefers the solitude of a lonely cabin on the open range.

When the youngster Jamie Wagner (played by 16-year-old Vincent Van Patten) shows up looking for work, Bronson at first seems to resent the intrusion. Eventually, a bond builds between them, and the boy becomes a trusted companion.

Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland
Romance. The half-sister of a business partner (Bronson’s real-life wife, Jill Ireland) is next to intrude. As she asks him to choose and train a horse for her, he ridicules her for intending to ride sidesaddle. Unaccustomed to western riding, she strikes him as a poor horsewoman, and he has a good laugh.

The tables turn when she finds him taking a bath and, refusing to look away, observes suggestively that he has not only the personality of a horse but the appearance of one. Before long he is courting her, and as they happen to witness Bronson’s stallion mounting a mare, they yield to nature’s urging as well. Very Euro.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Julia Robb, Del Norte

This dark western novella from Texas writer Julia Robb begins appropriately with the gravestone of a murdered man. The stone leans against an interior wall of a saloon, the Del Norte of the story’s title, owned and operated by a Mexican woman, Magdalena Chapas. We’re in a dusty garrison town in West Texas. The year is 1870.

Characters. Robb gives us an ensemble of characters, several men and women who have fetched up on this isolated outpost. The battlefield carnage of the Civil War is recent history for two of the men, who share a memory of deprivation and disgrace in a POW camp in far-off Elmira, New York. Thomas, a decorated Union officer, bears wounds to both body and spirit. Wade is a doctor, a consumptive, and unable to practice his profession because of injuries to his hands.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

One sentence journal, Jan 12 – 18

The Birds

Time marches on . . .

1/12, Sunday. Thanks to Lynda, who had the grit to spend an eternity on the phone to a technical support center somewhere on the globe, the new Roku is now set up, and switching it on is like arriving at the ticket counter of a multiplex and discovering that a thousand movies are playing.

1/13, Monday. So it turns out again that I’m a poor diagnoser of my own ailments, since a doctor at Urgent Care says what I have is not carpal tunnel, but something more like tennis elbow.

1/14, Tuesday. Pigeons flock to a house on the corner where a retired gentleman lives with a Basset Hound and throws out snacks for the birds, who hang out all day like they’re waiting to audition for a remake of a Hitchcock movie.

1/15, Wednesday. After waiting a week and a half and then spending another hour in the waiting room to see a specialist who takes all of two minutes to send me to another specialist, who can’t see me for another 2 weeks or more, I’m thinking, I’m going to get a lot of reading done before this is over.

1/16, Thursday. Good grief, I wake up in the middle of the night realizing that I have been dreaming of composing one-sentence journal entries, and I’m wondering, is this such a good idea?

1/17, Friday. A bump under my chair in the middle of an episode of “Justified” on the TV, the dog giving me a startled look, and I check usgs.gov later to discover a 3.0 seismic disturbance over in Yucca Valley.

1/18, Saturday. Koan for the week: Don’t search for the truth, simply stop having opinions, and I’m thinking if that were generally put into practice, 95% of what’s on the Internet would disappear.

Image credit: Ron Scheer

Coming up: Julia Robb, Del Norte

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: H
(hide hair and horns – hurroar)

Below is a list of mostly forgotten terms, people, and the occasional song, drawn from a reading of frontier fiction, 1880–1915. Each week a new list, progressing through the alphabet, “from A to Izzard.”

hide hair and horns = completely. “You rec’lect what he said in them Civic League talks o’ his: said these politicians had stole the road, hide, hair an’ horns.” Francis Lynde, The Grafters.

Emma D.E.N. Southworth, c1860
Hidden Hand, The = a wildly popular novel set in antebellum South by best-selling author Emma D.E.N. Southworth (1819-1899), originally serialized in the New York Ledger from 1859 to 1883, with numerous stage productions. “I’ve seen ‘Uncle Tom’ and ‘The Hidden Hand,’ but ‘Ten Nights in a Bar-room’s’ finer than them.” Elizabeth Higgins, Out of the West.

high banker = a logger’s term for a pretentious person. “All the blasted high-bankers between this and the booms of hell can’t hang us up.” A. M. Chisholm, The Boss of Wind River.

High Tippy Bob Royal = a very important person; a show off. “He’s a regular High Tippy Bob Royal! That’s what I told Mart Young yesterday.” A. B. Ward, The Sage Brush Parson.

high wine = a distillate containing a high percentage of alcohol. “His poor stomach kept trying to crawl out of his body in its desperate strife to escape Wilmore’s decoction of high-wine.” Frederic Remington, John Ermine of the Yellowstone.

high-ball = a railway man’s hand signal to set a train in motion. “‘Nobody in sight,’ said the brakeman wearily. ‘Might as well high-ball, Charley.’” W. C. Tuttle, Thicker Than Water.

High-Five = an American trick-taking card game derived from Pitch, also known as Double Pedro or Cinch. “Beside the stove Scully’s son Johnnie was playing High-Five with an old farmer who had whiskers both gray and sandy.” Stephen Crane, “The Blue Hotel.”

highbinder = a thug, corrupt politician. “On his way through Chinatown he had noticed Stratton entering the house of a certain merchant and highbinder.” Ada Woodruff Anderson, The Heart of the Red Firs.

highstrikes = hysterics. “If you don’t get us out of this quick I’ll have high-strikes.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

G. F. Unger, Last Chance Camp

G. F. (Girt Fritz) Unger was the Louis L’Amour of German western writers. Over more than half a century until his death in 2005, he wrote, by one count, 742 western novels, selling over 300 million copies. Born in 1921 in Breslau, he studied mechanical engineering and served on a U-Boat during WWII, until he was captured by the British.

After winning a prize for a radio play in 1949, he took up novel writing, producing sea adventures until trying his hand at westerns. Giving up a job as construction supervisor for Siemens, he became a full-time writer in 1951. Like his American counterparts, he published under various pen names. At the time of his death, he left a number of unpublished manuscripts, which have seen print posthumously. A number of his novels are currently being released (in German) by Bastei Entertainment as ebooks for the kindle.

Overcoming a lifelong aversion to German, I picked a title at random, Last Chance Camp, and have been reading a page a day with the help of a German-English dictionary. I can say that from what I have read so far, the book is a corker.

Plot. The hero, Jim Whittaker, shows up at a gold mining camp much like Deadwood. He is the sole survivor of an Indian attack on a cattle drive. He has lost everything, including his boots. Riding into camp, starving, no saddle, shirt torn, and barefoot (barfussig) he is approached by a cook offering him $100 for his horse (Pferd). Meat is in short supply.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Train Robbers (1973)

This John Wayne western should be better than it is. Individual parts of it are notable, but put together, it’s a 90-minute lead-up to a surprise ending. Wayne plays himself in the role his fans love—gruff and no-nonsense but with that disarming grin. 

The all-star cast includes Ben Johnson and Rod Taylor, both at their relaxed best. The hyphenated Ann-Margret provides the required female component. Ricardo Montalban, like someone looking for Fantasy Island, watches from afar and puffs on long cigars.

Plot. This is a Burt Kennedy film, directed from his own script. So the elements are familiar—a long trek across hostile terrain with several men and a woman. This time around, it's an assembled gang of former partners in crime accompanying the woman, who enlists them to retrieve a half million in stolen gold. It is stashed in the desert in an abandoned train locomotive.

Johnson, Guest, Taylor, Wayne, Ann-Margret
Wayne and his gang agree to help her find the gold so she can return it and supposedly clear the family name of a deceased husband, while Wayne and his men collect the reward. An immediate problem as they ride off together is that they are being followed by a troop of riders eager to separate them from the gold once it’s found.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ben Bridges, Draw Down the Lightning

Review and interview

For starters, Ben Bridges is the pen name of writer David Whitehead. This year, 2014, marks his 30th as a published writer of western fiction. His first novel, The Silver Trail, featured a character named Carter O’Brien, and it was the start of a series that reached #14 with this one, Draw Down the Lightning

Originally published in 2007 by Robert Hale Ltd., it has now been revived as an ebook and can be read on your kindle. London-born and British enough to have worked for the BBC, Whitehead has an ear and a feel for the genre that are estimable.

Character. His Carter O’Brien is a likable protagonist pushing middle age, his lumpy ears showing signs of having lived a rough and bruising life. He throws a good punch and carries a .38 Colt Lightning, which he uses as needed to discourage villainy on the 1880s frontier.

Given to offering his services to others in trouble, he refers to himself, with amused self-deprecation, as “Old Dependable.” Helping others get out of jams seems to be what he does best. When a sheriff says to him, “A man has to do what he does best and do it as long as he’s able,” O’Brien concurs.

He doesn’t enjoy violence, and after putting a bullet through an assailant, he is likely to feel “quivery” inside. Physical pain doesn’t slow him down—at least not so much that it sidelines him for long. He gets a beating and kicking that leave him unconscious, but in no time he is on a horse and riding off after the villains, broken ribs and all.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

One sentence journal, Jan 5 – 11

Jerk Alert
Time marches on . . .

1/5, Sunday. So I sit up watching CBGB last night, and today I’ve got the Talking Heads singing “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around” repeating in my head.

1/6, Monday. A walk around the neighborhood unleashes an unending chorus of dogs barking from yards and houses, each setting off the next like falling pins or block-long strings of firecrackers.

1/7, Tuesday. Thanks to whoever and wherever I was on January 1, 1988, when I mixed a cassette tape called “Uppers,” which I put in the player today and discovered it was clips from old comedy albums by Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Groucho Marx, Lily Tomlin, and Steven Wright.

1/8, Wednesday. Gratitude Department: On a walk today in Palm Springs, making breezy laps around the Wellness Park, we are gratefully reminded of a similar outing a year ago using a walker and still deep in the oh-so-slow recovery process following spinal surgery.

1/9, Thursday. With my left arm half-numb and half-useless with a wrist brace, my usual clumsiness has increased by a factor of at least 10, and I am giving up thoughts for now of growing old gracefully.

1/10, Friday. Not given much to rants, I would sure as hell anyway like to see the recycling truck dump a full load in the front yards of the don’t-give-a-damn jerks who discard their old TVs and furniture in the desert.

1/11, Saturday. Finishing up draft 6 of the book on early frontier fiction I’ve been writing, after deciding a couple months ago (with the help of a candid reader) that draft 5 needed a major overhaul, and in a day or two it’s off to an editor.

Last week: Dec 29- Jan 4

Image credits: Ron Scheer

Coming up: Ben Bridges, Draw Down the Lightning

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: H
(habit – hickory shirt)

Below is a list of mostly forgotten terms, people, and the occasional song, drawn from a reading of frontier fiction, 1880–1915. Each week a new list, progressing through the alphabet, “from A to Izzard.”

habit = a costume designed to be worn by a woman on horseback; riding-habit. “You’re not going to try to ride Ginger in a habit!” William Lacey Amy, The Blue Wolf.

Woman in riding habit
habitaw = a backwoods dweller, e.g. trapper, hunter (French, habitant). “Why, she’s hotter now ’n Billy Buell got last October when that loony haibtaw cook o’ ourn made up all our marmalade and currant jelly into pies.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, The Red-Blooded.

hackle = an instrument with steel pins used to comb out flax or hemp. “Upon either thigh he had countless scars, as though he had been whipped with a flax hackle.” Cy Warman, Frontier Stories.

hair brand = a brand made by burning the hair but not the hide. “You ponder on that and get it fixed proper in you—no hair-brand—but plumb well in.” Frederick Niven, Hands Up!

hair mattress = a beard. “Have you seen that there feller up ’t the casa? Him with the hair mattress on his face?” Adeline Knapp, The Well in the Desert.

Hair wreath, 1800s
hair wreath = decorative wreath made from the hair of dead and/or living people. “And I suppose there is a hair wreath and perhaps some worsted flowers in deep frames on the wall.” Mary Etta Stickney, Brown of Lost River.

hairpin = a fool, simpleton. “I’m my own boss, as I say, and I’m goin’ to stay my own boss if I have to live on crackers an’ wheat coffee to do it; that’s the kind of hair-pin I am.” Hamlin Garland, Main-Travelled Roads.

half-calf = leather book binding. “He waved a hand at the formidable rows of half-calf and circuit bindings in his bookcase.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

half-hitch = a knot made by passing the end of a rope around the rope and then through the loop thus made. “All the time Llano had been throwing half-hitches of his rope at the flying hoof.” Edgar Beecher Bronson, Reminiscences of a Ranchman.

Half hitch knot
half-seas over = drunk, intoxicated, inebriated. “Tryon came down a few minutes ago, considerably more than half-seas over, and said he was ready to take his engine and the first section of the east-bound midnight—which would have been his regular run.” Francis Lynde, The Taming of Red Butte Western.

halo = Chinook jargon for no, not. “Halo cuss word—no bad word—no. D-a-m, ‘dam’.” A. M. Chisholm, Desert Conquest.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Elmore Leonard, Hombre (1961)

After the muddled The Bounty Hunters (1953), Elmore Leonard’s skill as a novelist took a quantum leap forward with this novel. Hombre is a tense western thriller that is also a fascinating study of an enigmatic character. That character is John Russell, the “hombre” of the title.

The story is set, like other Leonard novels, in southern Arizona. The year is 1884. A stagecoach is held up by road agents, and all the passengers are set afoot in the desert. The robbery doesn’t go quite as planned, and the passengers are able to retrieve a saddlebag full of money. They strike off across the desert, pursued at some distance by the thieves, who have taken a woman hostage.

Character. Russell is a young white man raised during his boyhood by Apaches. The narrator, one of the passengers, believes he is three-quarters white and one-quarter Mexican. There is about him a coolly calculating mentality that often puts him at odds with the other passengers. However, he has superior survival skills, and though he seems indifferent to them, the urge is strong to stick with him.

The premise of the plot is brilliant in its simplicity. Yet there is a complicity of cross-purposes among the handful of characters that allows several stories to be told at once. For starters, if they stay together, do they let Russell make all the decisions? Then does survival depend on confronting their pursuers or running and hiding?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Zen (2011)

Bit of a departure today, this is a review of the BBC series Zen, with Rufus Sewell as Italian police detective Aurelio Zen. The character is based on the novels of British crime fiction writer, Michael Dibdin. Unaware of the existence of this series, we came upon it at amazon, where it and countless other movies and TV shows are streamable free with amazon’s Prime service.

The series is set in modern-day Rome, where Sewell’s Zen is, one gathers, nearly the only resident not guilty of some crime, whether petty or capital. Merely by having a reputation for rectitude, he gets reluctantly involved by high placed government officials in cases of murder and kidnapping. And there’s always more at stake than simply solving the crime. Typically, he is being pressured to achieve results that are at complete cross purposes with each other, with his own life and career on the line no matter how things turn out.

Meanwhile, his personal life is nothing to brag about. He and his wife are separated and headed for divorce. Like the stereotypical Italian male, he lives with his mother. A leggy and stunning colleague (Caterina Marino), another casualty of marriage Italian style, has her eye on Zen. Almost diffident, he lets her make all the seductive moves.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Richard S. Wheeler, The Richest Hill on Earth

Review and interview

This is a novel for every reader who wanted Deadwood to go on indefinitely. In The Richest Hill on Earth, Montana writer Richard Wheeler turns his particular storytelling skills to an account of the copper mining town, Butte, at the turn of the last century. Here there are familiar names: William Andrews Clark and the other copper kings as they dig fabulous fortunes from a mountain slope near the Continental Divide. And there are the many who do the digging, as well as those scratching out a living above ground.

Besides the widow of an Irish miner and a woman with second sight, Wheeler’s novel follows an ambitious newspaperman and an enterprising mortician. There are also glancing appearances by a cop on the beat, a miner dying of consumption, a union boss, a woman on the hunt for a wealthy husband, and the residents of the red light district. Meanwhile, the bustling and rapidly growing town is a blighted, noisy, toxic environment, the often-wintry air laden with arsenic.

Butte, Montana, c1910
Plot. The stories of the novel’s several characters interweave. What lies at the center of them is a portrayal of monumental avarice that feeds the appetites of a few and leaves a host of others hungry. There are a lot of ways to take an attitude toward such extreme social disparity. You can imagine what a writer like Emile Zola or Victor Hugo would do with the material. And you would end up with Les Misérables. A Dickens might give us a Bleak House.

Wheeler finds a more ironic tone. One irony is that he does not villainize the three capitalists who compete for control of this “richest hill on earth.” They are no more evil than nearly anyone else around them, just vastly cunning in their deployment of their resources, and largely unaffected by the consequences for others. Pitting three of them against each other—Clark, Marcus Daly, and Augustus Heinze, Wheeler encourages a fascination in this gladiatorial contest among titans.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

One sentence journal, Dec. 29 – Jan 4

Parking lot supervisor

Time marches on . . .

12/29, Sunday. I recommend the mindful preparation of a batch of chicken vegetable soup with Tord Gustavsen on the CD player and a winter wind gusting outside the kitchen windows as a perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.

12/30, Monday. How is it, I keep wondering, that a blogger friend in Switzerland, who hardly knows English, knows ten times what I do about American pop culture?

12/31, Tuesday. Department of Simple Pleasures: I have rigged up lights around the house to turn themselves on and off during the evening and into the night, and it delights me that a string of them over one kitchen cupboard is already warmly glowing in the morning darkness, lighting up a corner of the room as I get up to make coffee.

1/1, Wednesday. The desert has its own bird population, and my favorite has to be the cactus wren whose rollicking call is a great greeting for the new year as I step out into the back yard, the rays of the rising sun lighting up the mountains and valley below with a golden glow.

1/2, Thursday. Under a brilliant, cloudless, sun-bright sky, a Costco parking lot supervisor, muttering and ruffling his feathers, observes as I return my shopping cart.

1/3, Friday. A new wrist brace on my left hand and an appointment on the calendar in three weeks to see a doc about what seems to be a case of carpal tunnel, I am discovering how much I have taken the gift of two fully functional hands for granted—and incidentally how hard it is to type with just one.

1/4, Saturday. Three days crossed off my new calendar, and I’m feeling the new year already beginning to slip away.

Image credits: Ron Scheer

Coming up: Richard Wheeler, The Richest Hill on Earth

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Glossary of frontier fiction: G
( gold cure – “The Gypsy Countess”)

Below is a list of mostly forgotten terms, people, and the occasional song, drawn from a reading of frontier fiction, 1880–1915. Each week a new list, progressing through the alphabet, “from A to Izzard.”

gold cure = treatment of alcoholism consisting of hypodermic injections of strychnine and atropine, the solution being gold in color; also “jag cure.” “I took my friend Major Hampton’s advice, availed myself of the gold cure at his expense, an’ by the great horn spoon, I’ll never drink nary another drop.” Willis George Emerson, Buell Hampton.

gold tip = cigarette holder. “They out with their gold tips after lunch, and maybe you think they don’t know how.” Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil.

golden glow = a tall plant cultivated for its large, yellow double flower heads. “He’d better screen the fence with golden glow, set out pretty thick the whole way, between the nasturtiums and the fence.” Samuel Merwin, The Road-Builders.

golondrina = a poisonous weed native to the Southwest; used formerly to treat rattlesnake bite. “The little pinto one had died of a rattlesnake bite, from which no golondrina weed had been able to save it.” Gwendolen Overton, The Heritage of Unrest.

gomme / gum = a sugar syrup with gum arabic as an emulsifier used in many classic cocktails. “You’ll get your death-a-cold if you stand round soaked like that. Two whiskey and gum, Joe.” Frank Norris, McTeague.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Lee Hoffman, The Valdez Horses (1967)

A warning should come with this western novel: “May Break Your Heart.” Hoffman lets the bittersweet sadness of her story creep up on you unsuspected for the length of this short novel rather like Jack Schaefer’s Shane (1949). In a similar narrative device, Hoffman has her story told by an older man remembering an episode from his youth. The boy, Jamie Wagner, is a teenager looking for work when he comes upon the horse ranch of Chino Valdez, a reclusive man of few words.

Plot. Chino does not welcome the boy and has no job for him, but he does not object much as one day leads to the next and Jamie stays on. He does whatever chores he can find to do and watches Chino with his horses. Eventually, he stays for good, and much of the novel is simply about the slow, slow building of a relationship between the two.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The year in snapshots

Somehow another year has flown by. Here’s a glance back at mine before charging ahead into 2014.

January. Day trip to Los Angeles; a stop at Starbucks in Union Station.

February. An early spring day at Whitewater Conservancy.