Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Story

The old cowboy rode along at a slow walk, he’d owned cars and trucks for more than 20 years, maybe time passed him by, he didn’t care, it was 1952 and he remembered a time before automobiles , a slower, gentler time and then the wars, two big ones, changed everything. Something in the wind moved him back to 1952 again. He tipped his nose toward the sky and sniffed. It was wood smoke. A half hour back, before the wind freshened, he thought he smelled smoke but passed it off, thinking if old people could start seeing things and hearing things maybe he started smelling things that were not there. But now he was sure, it was smoke.
But that couldn’t be, not in December, matter of fact it’s the 24th, Christmas Eve. Good memories started to fill his head but he pushed them away as quickly as they had come on. Christmas was just another day in December, nothing special, at least to him, not anymore.
People didn’t camp this high up in December, hunting season was long past and the only house, except for his five miles away, was the old Godfrey place. It was maybe three quarters of a mile over the ridge to the north. The smell of burning wood was coming with the north wind, but that place had been vacant for what, 20 years, at least 15?
Clark Banks pulled up to think, but only for a moment, he had to know, that was the kind of guy he was. The sun was setting, it would be late, long past dark, when he got home, but he tapped his heels in his gray gelding and loped north picking his way though flat rocks and yucca.
He always liked the old Godfrey place, isolated, but picture perfect, like a bank calendar picture. The place set in a natural mountain park surrounded by junipers and berry bushes. Years ago when he and Bette last visited the Godfrey’s they were old and frail and the place had been falling apart. Couldn’t be much of anything left now.
Another minute and Clark Banks reached the crest of the hill overlooking the long deserted place. Only three times in his 65 years had something left him speechless, the day he got married, when their only child was born and now as he looked down on the old Godfrey place.
It was spectacular, the Junipers were sparkling with thousands of multi-colored lights. The cabin he remembered in complete disrepair was larger, much larger, than he remembered. It was old but perfect, looked sound, complete with light showing through the windows and the smoke he’d smelled was wind angling north from the chimney in great black and white puffs. There was a large barn that hadn’t been there 20 years ago along with half a dozen out buildings and four large corrals.
Banks had not taken a drink of alcohol for years, right now he needed a drink, but he settled for a thorough rubbing of his eyes and another look at the scene below, a scene that did not change. He let the gray pick his way down the steep hillside, he had to see, he had to know, that’s just the kind of guy he was.
A thought crossed his mind as he neared the twinkling cabin, what if this place is full of outlaws, escaped convicts or crazy people. This could be his last minute on earth, then he smiled at the lights twinkling as dollar sized snowflakes started to fall. If this is his last minute to live it would not be too bad. He warmed as the snowflakes splattered his face, chuckled to himself, and then laughed aloud, “don’t think bad people decorate for Christmas,” he said to no one or to the snowflakes and cold.
The old cowboy tied his horse to the rail in front of the cabin, stepped on the porch and the door opened as if he were expected. A white bearded gentlemen in a red vest smiled and motioned him in. Banks felt rather young looking at the old fellow, thinking,“This guy has me by at least 20 years.”
“Can I get you something to warm ya up, Tea, Arbuckles’, whis”
“You have Arbuckles, real Arbuckles, haven’t tasted that since before I went off to France in the first war, love some.”
Banks watched the old man take a one pound bag of Arbuckles Ariosa Blend from the cabinet and make coffee on the massive wood stove in the kitchen part of the cabin. It was good, better than anything the old cowboy had tasted in years, but how did he do it, Arbuckles’ hadn’t made coffee, let alone Ariosa Blend for years.
The two men sat and talked for hours, talking about everything and chatting about nothing, like two old friends they talked into the dark of night.
When the old cowboy woke up he could not remember falling asleep. Now he was stretched out on the couch, his boots beside him on the floor. He was toasty warm as he rolled back the red and green feather comforter and turned to get up. He was all alone. He thought the old man must be outside. Slipping on his boots he walked out on the porch, half a foot of snow covered everything in sight, his horse was gone, but he knew it was in the barn. He also knew he was all alone, he could feel things, just the kind of guy he was.
Banks went back into the house, he was hungry and he wanted to taste that Arbuckles one more time. A skillet of bacon sat on the stove, beside a pot of mush and a fresh pot of coffee, and of course it would be Arbuckles, he thought. Funny but he was sure there was nothing on the stove when he stepped outside, must have failing vision along with everything else in his old age. Then he felt it, or didn’t feel it, he had no aches and pains, the ones that had been with him since his army days. The coffee was good but he wasn’t sure it had magical healing powers.
It was time to go home, he wished he could say goodbye to the old timer, thought he might ride back up here in the spring. But now it was time to leave, he had things to do, and he felt different, happy and healthy. Walking to the barn it seemed almost warm, Banks felt like he had stumbled upon the fountain of youth.
Tracks near the barn stopped him, some kind of sleigh tracks, but the animals pulling it were not horses, smaller like deer tracks, but larger, really big deer. He saddled the gelding and rode out of the barn right into the bright sunlight of his own place. How it happened he did not know, but he was home.
Was it a dream, did he have a stroke and die, was he in heaven now? Nope, he was pretty sure his place would not do for heaven. Didn’t matter, he had things to get done.
Clark Banks rode to town in a gallop; it was early, old man Tatum would open the store for him, especially after he told him he intended to buy a present for every kid in town.
He wasn’t sure why he had so much Christmas spirit, maybe it was just the kind of guy he was.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Writing Blues

Retired from my day job,  at the end of May, and have written very little since then. Seemed like playing golf, fishing, hiking and gardening was taking up my time—now it’s cold out and time to write.
Some of you that have been kind enough to read my, off and on, posts for years know that I have a completed novel that I have not published or attempted to publish. Now I have another and a nonfiction. The problem-I love to write, hate to rewrite--- well maybe someday.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ride Proud Rebel & Rebel Spurs

I consider myself to be a prolific reader (100+ books a year) and once in a while I run across something accidentally that is really terrific. The two novels in the title kept me very interested and eager to turn pages, I wish this was a trilogy, I need to know more. The first is set in the Civil War with the protagonist a scout for the Confederacy. The second is set in early Arizona immediately after the war.

Andre Norton (1912-2005) wrote the two novels but she (Born Mary Alice Norton) only dabbled in historical fiction, most of her writing efforts, and she published over 100 books, were science fiction and fantasy for young adult and children readers. And she was really good at it as evidenced by the dozens of awards she won in her more than 70 year writing career. Her novel, The Beast Master, became a classic to sci-fi readers and movie goers.

Ms. Norton, who published more than 30 books after the age of 80, also wrote under name of Andrew North and Allen Weston. Wish she would have published a few more westerns.

NOTE - I came across the first novel in a two dollar Kindle download of a 25  western megapack and found the second for free download. Both are worth the reading and each is only around 200 pages, (estimate).


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Between Wyoming’s, wish it could have been more

 From time to time I review books, more for my own enjoyment than for others. The following review is of a non-western book, but one I never the less thought would be a good read.

Growing up in the 60’s and loving the music of that era I thought this book would be a natural for me. And the fact that it is named after the state I live in, how could I go wrong?

I knew of Ken Mansfield and felt like a road trip with him would be a lot of fun. Well, it was not. It took me nearly two years to get through this book, I started and stopped a dozen times, just could not get into it.  I felt like a thief in the night, getting this book for free, and then not reviewing it. In the meantime I have read 60 plus books, but not this one. I retired in May and forced myself to finally read, Between Wyoming’s, in its entirety.

This book just never hit the mark with me, much too long to tell what seemed to be not much of a story, or a series of short encounters stretched to make a book. The storyline of his journey to Christ seems to be lost in the endless stories of the 60’s.

The entire book reminded me of a self published memoir that only family and friends cared about. I hope others find this story better than I did.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Comanche, the Only Survivor

 A childhood interest in the west: cowboys, Indians, mountain men and explorers lead to a lifelong job as a history teacher (now retired). I remember well my first lesson in the Indian wars, Custer and the famous last stand, what else?

That day we learned everyone died in the fight on the Greasy Grass river (Little Big Horn), everyone. None of us questioned this fact. But what about the Indians, why didn’t we ask? Not sure, but years later I still remember being taught that the Calvary horse Comanche was the only survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn. Maybe we didn’t really study the Indian wars in the west, we were just told about them. Told about them by a teacher not so many generations removed from the plains battles and maybe still just a little bit prejudiced.   

My question since I became a teacher of western history has always been why had Custer not followed General Terry’s orders, instead following his own wrong instincts? He should have known of the great camp of Cheyenne and Sioux, must have known. Some historians speculate he knew but expected the warriors to fight and retreat to fight another day, (a common practice among plains tribes). But this day they outnumbered Custer and the 265 members of his 7th by such a huge margin that they stood their ground and in less than two hours the battle was one for the history books.

 Hundreds, or maybe thousands of Indians survived and much of what we know of the actual battle comes from their stories. Much has also been made of Benteen and Reno and the rest of the 7th that day, but that will be for another time.

I hope that today’s teachers are doing a better job of presenting both sides of the western Indian wars today than they did in the past. That is if today’s schools have enough time to squeeze in some history as they fight battles over, No Child Left Behind and the multitude of  new government mandates to teach better and for students to learn better than they have in the past. But that will also be left for another time.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Black Hills Weekend

Spent a nice weekend in the Black Hills, sorry to see fires burning there much like the ones we have here in Wyoming. Love the night lighting of the faces at Mount Rushmore, very patriotic, something every American could enjoy. (We have been there for the lighting before and will do it again)
We took along our seven year old grandson; he really enjoyed the trip, his favorite places, Reptile Gardens, Bear Country and Flintstone Village.
Some neat and inexpensive museums and a lot of western entertainment can be found throughout the hills, from cookouts to trail rides and don’t forget Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried side by side in Deadwood. But you might have to circle wide around the one armed bandits in Deadwood.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Of Westerns, Family and the Good Ol' Days

Family reunion weekend is over and maybe it answered some questions about the Western for all of us. Maybe remembering the old days is fading and only kids of the 50s and 60s still remember the western on TV. For my kids the old days were the 1980s. At the reunion my aunt talked about Indians moving to a new camp spot in the summer near their Iowa farm in the 1920s and how scared her German immigrant mother was of the Indians.  She remembers the old days, getting their first TV in 1951, and reminisced about watching all the western programs on TV.

TV westerns like western novels almost always had a moral, personal responsibility and family were important and if the cowboy had no family he cared for his horse first. Cowboys never relied on the government for help and were more often skeptical about it than libel to trust it for much. Good triumphing over evil may not be as popular as it once was. Today it is often the bad guys that get the glory, not the good guy in the white hat.

Today’s kids are watching video clips, listening to 30 second sound bites, downloading music and playing video games when we were watching and reading westerns. For today’s young adults, Magnum P.I., Matlock, and Remington Steel were the good ol’ days of Television. And books from the good old days were: THE HORSE WHISPERER, MEN ARE FROM MARS, WOMEN ARE FROM VENUS, ANGELA'S ASHES, and JURASSIC PARK

I still love a good western, but my kids would rather hear about the 60s.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Reading Westerns and Mysteries and Western Mysteries

Most readers that like westerns seem also to be avid readers of mystery novels. My favorite reads are books that have great elements of mystery but are set as westerns in the old or new/modern west. It is not always easy to find this type of western as most seem more to lean toward crime fiction, historical fiction or western romance. Seems like there are a lot of modern westerns, Tony Hillerman’s stuff comes to mind, that have sold a ton of books twisting great mysteries in a western setting but not as many set in the old west.

Mysteries with a red herring or two thrown in can’t be beat in my estimation.  I am constantly searching for new authors to read and try to find writers who write both mystery and westerns. This is the way I found Elmore Leonard, long ago, before the internet.

Some writes seem to write great characters that fit well into the new west but really are not meant to be westerns, Lee Child’s, Jack Reacher comes to mind. (I have really enjoyed this series of books). Two other authors of modern westerns, C.J. Box and Craig Johnson (I may be prejudiced here as they are both Wyoming writers) write great modern western mysteries and are well worth the read. Johnson’s ongoing character, Walt Longmire, has been made into a very good A&E television program-LONGMIRE (airing every Sunday evening)

Happy Reading, enjoy the twists and turns of a great western mystery.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Summer Reading

My reading seems to slow down in the summer and speed up in the winter. Guess that makes sense for someone living in Wyoming. Fishing, Golf, hiking, walking and gardening seem to be taking up most of my daylight hours. But I still get through a book every week or ten days and the one I am reading now is terrific.

 Six Bits a Day, is another of Elmer Kelton’s, Hewey Calloway novels. The most famous of the trilogy, The Good Old Boys, was published before this one but the Calloway brothers of this novel are the same but younger, making this book a prequel and the three books, the other one is, The Smiling Country, a very nice western trilogy.
This novel is fun and moves along at a good pace. I like the way Kelton throws in enough facts to make the book come to life. It is nearing the end of trail drives and open range and maybe the cowboy but Hewey Calloway is a real fun loving, honest to goodness, cowboys, cowboy.

 Kelton spun many great western tails; this one is a fine example and might even make a good read for people that are not necessarily western novel fans.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fourth of July at Fort Laramie

Celebrated the fourth watching a parade in our little town then spent the afternoon at Fort Laramie.  It’s been a while but we (my wife and I) have spent an Independence Day there before-but many years ago. We live only 18 miles from Fort Laramie so it is not too much of a drive. Watched the kid’s game, gunny sack races, sampled some army bread, and listened to a very good presentation on Plains Indian culture. The highlight of the day was the 38 gun salute, along with cannon, to celebrate the fourth. Some people in period uniforms made the day memorable and a family entertained playing music under a tarp attached to their covered wagon.

As we walked the grounds I started to wonder, not about Fort Laramie and the history of the west, but wondered about old fashioned fun. No water park, no rides, no glitz, just a hot day on the grounds of the old Fort and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Did not see one person with headphones or connected to an iPod, listening to their own music. It was refreshing-almost as refreshing as the bottle of old fashioned Root Beer I sipped as we walked the grounds.

All and all a nice relaxing afternoon, no fireworks at night when we got home as we are in a fire ban area, did miss that. We live in Wyoming and wildfires have been as close as two miles from us this summer. One burning now, about 40 miles west of town, 90,000 acres, think I have seen enough real fireworks this summer for one lifetime.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4th on the Oregon Trail

July 4th, Independence Day, but it was a lot more than that for travelers on the Oregon Trail. July Fourth was the day to reach Independence Rock (thus the name) almost in the middle of Wyoming. If you reached the rock by the fourth you could make it through the passes before the snows. Legend says (because I cannot find a better fact here) that Independence Rock got its name from Ashley’s men who camped there on July Fourth 1825. By 1840 there were so many names carved into the rock that Father DeSmet referred to the rock as,   “the register of the Desert.”

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Long time Ago

Wow-Did you ever leave something alone and then come back to it a year or more later? It will be either better than you remembered or filler for the trash. In my case I was happy with the novel I put away-two years ago, better than I thought, still needs some grammar and punctuation stuff but all in all I like the story. Time to get back to work; hope to peddle this before the first of September

Monday, July 2, 2012

Been away a long time-much too long for me and I hope for my followers. Since I last posted I have retired and moved to a nice little town on the Oregon Trail just east of Laramie Peak. No, I didn’t go crazy, I just retired, (still live in Wyoming, will never leave). Retiring was a tough decision, but a decision almost everyone will make some day. Not sure what a typical retirement will look like yet, hope to rev up my blogs again, write a bunch and travel. This month we have had grandkids most every day- but school will start again and September will tell what our real retirement will be. I am sure it will be both good and bad, I feel bad that I will no longer spend my days with a classroom full of high school students, but am happy to not have to read any more papers, post any more grades, or attend any more in-service.

Maybe I will sell a book. I have one completed, one in re-write and one at 30,000 words. Maybe retirement will not last and I will end up writing full time.

In the words of a former California governator, “I will be back,” and soon.