Monday, August 17, 2015

Fire Season in Idaho

Some years it's worse than others. But every year there's always something burning up. This year is looking to be a big year just about everywhere. While I do not remember too many burns that made it all the way down the canyon to river level, I do remember looking up and seeing burned over patches on both the Salmon and the Middle Fork. Biggest memory of all though is watching a huge chunk of burned tree, like a Ponderosa pine, tumbling down the canyon. We could hear it long before we could see it. The last pitch ending in the river, we finally saw it and realized what it was. This big old chunk of tree landed with one end in the water right across from us on the other side of the river. The skid down the canyon also brought along a hail of stones and debris, some of which made it across the river with enough velocity to put three holes in the raft in front of us. The image of the tree tumbling down the canyon is one that has stuck with me for a long time.....
Local Fire report

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zoo

I know. I know, What a let down. Final day of the challenge and all I can do is come up with probably the plainest and most expected of all the "Z" words. There's zabra, which actually comes close to fitting my theme. There's zaffre, which also comes close to the theme. There's even a zarf, which I could have worked in.

For "Z" though, zoo fits best. The Vilas Zoo is one of the wonders of Madison. It's in the neighborhood where one of my River and Ranch and New Grass Growing MCs grew up. It's worthy of use in fictional world building, and it's also worthy of mention in reality.

The Henry Vilas Zoo sits on 50 acres of land donated by William and Ann Vilas in 1904. They specified that the 50 acres be used "for the uses and purposes of a public park and pleasure ground". The park was named in honor of the Vilas's son, Henry, who died at a young age from complications related to diabetes. The family stipulated that the park always be admission-free. It seems to me this is a charitable and magnificent way to honor the loss of their young son. He must have liked animals and running around outside, as most little kids do.

This ends April 2015. I'm sure May will bring plenty of surprises! Maybe even a few pleasures and likely even a few necessities.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y is for Yankee Fork of the Salmon River

The Yankee Fork of the Salmon River meant I was getting close. Over the years of my life in Idaho as a guide on the Salmon, I remember driving by the Yankee Fork and never stopping. I remember feeling anxious to get to the guide shack in Salmon, so I always blew by the Yankee Fork. I remember an old broken remnant of a dam that the water was always piling up on and that's about it. Below is a great shot of the old Sunbeam Dam, courtesy of Osprey Packs

The dam was just upstream from the Yankee Fork. It was built to provide water for the mining operations on the Yankee Fork. The early history of area reads much like any other prospecting-based exploration of an unknown area. Eventually gold was discovered and mining began in earnest. That mining, especially in the WWII era, is a fascinating look at what humanity can do when it puts its mind to it. In 1939, the New York-based Silas Mason company was basically looking for gold. As fate would have it, they decided on a 5.5 mile stretch of the Yankee Fork as the site for their mining efforts. They then commissioned Bucyrus Erie to build a dredge in situ on the Yankee Fork, which when complete would provide the main means of mining that stretch of the Yankee Fork. Have a look at that dredge and how small everything else is around it. Tragically stupendous. Ultimately Simplot (see the first link top of the page) got left holding the bag. I'm unsure of their liability or how they came to assume it.

Wow. People can do the strangest things.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for Xenotime

Xenotime is a rare earth phosphate mineral. According to Wikipedia, the rare earths dysprosium, erbium, terbium and ytterbium as well as metal elements such as thorium and uranium (all replacing yttrium) are the expressive secondary components of xenotime.

Much of Cale and Lane's Special Forces careers have been involved with China and preventing China from overrunning and destroying rare earth resources outside of China. Part of the plot in River and Ranch is centered on a south China "pirate" and his grandfather. They have built up a lucrative empire based on illegal mining of rare earth bearing ionic clays found throughout Guangdong province. As their empire has grown, they have become more protective of it. They send groups of saboteurs out to destroy newly discovered economic deposits of rare earth minerals in order to maintain their near monopoly on the "heavy" rare earth minerals.

Xenotime is one of those minerals in which the rare earths: dysprosium, erbium, terbium and ytterbium can reside.

What makes this interesting and hopefully fiction-worthy is the real life aspect of this. The entire rare earth topic is factual. China truly does have a huge problem with the illegal strip mining of ionic clays in Guangdong Province. The Chinese government has even gone so far as to create an industry group GRAD, intended to unite and control heavy rare earth oxide production in Guangdong Province. At least part of the intent of this industry group is to rein in the out-of-control and illegal strip mining of the rare earth bearing clays found throughout south China.

Zho Ming and his grandfather have hijacked GRAD and run it as a cover for their ongoing illegal efforts mining and selling heavy rare earth oxides to desperate and unscrupulous industrial clients. While Zho is fictional (as far as I know), the illegal strip mining and reselling of heavy REE oxides to western industrial clients is literally ripped from the headlines.

The real crime in all of this is the pollution that is being generated from the mining and processing of these ionic clays bearing the heavy rare earths that are so lucrative and in such high demand. China is rapidly creating its own cesspool of unlivable places, where no living thing can survive. No clean water, soil so polluted nothing grows and more. Much like the USA did in its infancy unfortunately. Or like the current mountain top strip mining for coal in West Virginia. Who are we to throw the first stone after all? Many of the miners doing the actual work in Guangdong Province are doing nothing more than trying to support their family. A truly interesting problem in many tragic ways, both for the earth and for humanity.

Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for Whiplash on the Main Salmon

Mile 89.9. A wall, strong eddy lines, a tough entry, and no clear route through it. At the right level Whiplash has everything needed to be the toughest chunk of whitewater on the Main Salmon. In my years guiding on the Main, I never saw Whiplash come out and gobble boats. Kind of glad about that. There's plenty of stories about what that drop can do.

For Cale, one of the main characters in River and Ranch, Whiplash is where things get started. For him, the river is high enough to bring Whiplash out (generally >6.0 feet on the Corn Creek ramp) and it gobbles him up. Raft and passengers are spared. Not him though. His time in the water at Whiplash changes his life, and that is what River and Ranch is all about. Except for all the other "stuff".

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for Veil Falls

Dimly remembered, but a check of Google tells me it is still there. A check of the Middle Fork guide which I have managed to hang on to all these years informs me it is mile 80.7. I remember the iron stains (I think it's Iron anyway) on the walls of the hollowed out space beneath the falls. The Veil Falls I remember was wide and whipsy, almost like the wind was blowing it as it fell.

While the Middle Fork is in the midst of large wilderness areas with little accessibility, the country is not pristine. It's been lived in for a long time. First by Sheep Eaters and later by gold miners, homesteaders, fortune seekers, settlers and hermits. Earl Parrot comes to mind.

Veil Falls is in the same stretch as Big Creek, Waterfall Creek, and Elk Bar more happily remembered places on the Middle Fork, and all worked in to the stories running through the pages of River and Ranch and New Grass Growing.

Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for Ursula aka Sula

Sula is a tiny little town up at the high (southern) end of the Bitterroot Valley. It is reputed to be the spot where the first white child was born in the area, a girl named Ursula Thompson, sometime around 1887. Back in the day when she was born it was known as Ross' Hole and is famous for being the spot where Lewis and Clark first met and talked with the Flatheads.

Today Sula is mostly a wide spot in the road, maybe a population of 10. I don't know if it ever was much more than that. Regardless of size it has a cool legend for its name though.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

T is for Tendoy

Tendoy is a tiny little town 12 miles past the middle of nowhere on Highway 28. It is the closest collection of buildings to Lemhi Pass, which is where Lewis and Clark first crossed the Continental Divide, no doubt peering down from the Montana side and seeing only more mountains on the Idaho side.

The Tendoy Store might well be the biggest draw in Tendoy. Viola Barrett Anglin is the longtime proprietor. 63 years in fact. Discovering the podcast linked to above from Montana Public Radio proved too compelling to avoid. Viola and the Tendoy General Store are real and they also exist in the world of River and Ranch.

This is a remote part of the world and getting emptier. The US Post Office is shutting down some of the small town post offices, which are at the core, in general stores, of why these wide spots in the road exist.

To my regret, back in the day when I was living out there I never stopped in at the Tendoy General Store. I don't even remember it. I hope to fix that this summer when I am back there for the first time in 25+ years. I hope Viola is still there. I hope the store is still there. I even hope the Post Office is still there.

Good stuff. A fertile base for fiction and imminently worth paying attention to in reality.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S is for Sharkey Hot Springs

Sharkey Hot Springs is another one of those many places I never knew about or even heard of when I was living in Salmon. It's on my list of places to check out when I go back to the area this summer (after 20+ years away). I can only imagine what this was like back in the day when Sacajawea or Lewis and Clark were here. No concrete lined soaking pools, jsut hot water oozing out of the ground and flowing away.
Next time you are in the middle of flyover country, stop in and check it out! Sharkey Hot Springs

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R is for rare earth minerals

Finally. Today we arrive at one of the most relevant letters in the alphabet when it comes to the plot of River and Ranch. Of course "River" fits the letter and so does "Ranch", but the Salmon and sidebar-T both are covered in many other places. "R" evens fits "rafting", which is another big part of this series.

However, I think those pale next to today's intended phrase for "R" - rare earth minerals, at least in terms of being an unexpected core piece of this fiction AND of the reality for this part of the American West. For me, the actual real-life presence of rare earth minerals on Lemhi Pass is one of the big surprises in fiction I have ever come across. This combination of reality and fiction to match it, has never happened to me before.

Rare earth oxides, the processed results of rare earth minerals, are at the foundation of numerous objects in the military world, but they also provide crucial parts in the civilian world. In both cases, the most common objects are magnets, smaller, lighter and stronger magnets that allow for continued miniaturization of all manner of products from hard drives to wind turbine rotors.

In reality, this is a very interesting time in high tech R&D and the closely related and crucially necessary process of discovering material sources. The downsides are two in number - the presence of thorium and the absence of domestic processing. How the slowly revitalizing domestic mining industry handles these issues remains to be seen.

All in all the Last Chance vein, found high up on Lemhi Pass, for me, is one of the most fascinating stories I have ever come across in the category of "high tech".

Monday, April 20, 2015

Q is for Quake Lake

Quake Lake is the offspring of the 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake. For the people fast asleep near midnight in mid-August of 1959 there was precious little time to wake up and react before the landslide covered them. 28 people perished in this aftermath of a Montana earthquake. The Madison river was forever changed. For Mother Earth it was likely just another day in the office, one more nudge to keep things aligned and in adjustment. A tragedy on the human scale, a tiny little event in the context of all the other events on the earth's crust at that point in time.

I've driven by Quake Lake a couple times now. Peaceful. Green. People out enjoying themselves, perhaps mindful of the tragedy a lifetime ago. The people seem to forgive and forget especially in the face of something so powerful like Mother Nature deciding it's time to drop a mountain into a river. Nature has no memory though. It has limits of elasticity beyond which rocks break and no longer bend. It has limits to tension and compression, beyond which adjustments have to be made. There is no soul in these things, just cold hard limits beyond which rock break and snap or move. Humanity loses when old Mother Nature decides to make a change.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

P is for Pipeline - a wave on the Lochsa

The Lochsa - one of the great wild rivers of the continent. If you consider roadside service a plus then this river jumps right to the top of the list, as Highway 12 runs along pretty much the entire length of the Lochsa. If it's any consolation, while there is a road next the Lochsa, the valley holding both river and road is one of the emptiest you'll ever find. Even with a tarred two lane highway, it is still empty, remote, and desolate.

In River and Ranch there are two teenage girls. One of them is a surfer. So of course I have to work in Pipeline on the Lochsa, since the guides go right past it on the drive around back to Salmon (if they go the north route). In reality it really does exist and it really is a famous stop for all those who want to do some river surfing. It's a great wave. While I don't know these surfers, I have no surf footage of my own, so here's a bit just to show what it looks like.
all credit to Steel Horse Journeys, it is their video and soundtrack

Friday, April 17, 2015

O is for Ouagadougou

Deepest darkest Africa. "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?"-type of place. Or is it? Maybe it's Containerized Living Units with air-conditioners going full bore, the slow roar of jets landing overhead, and the smell of smoldering garbage? the Congo of classic old explorer's Africa or the heat and stench of poverty-encrusted new Africa?

A world dominating Britain sending individual explorers and missionaries into Africa is the classic view of Africa, a place turned inward, unaware of an external world, trying only to survive. Now we have a sullen Africa loaded with years of external aid as crops and water fail year after year. Now an overpopulated continent can no longer support itself. Too many people are living and not enough food is growing. Refugee camps become cities where kids grow up and boredom breeds the brains of the next generation of terrorism.

Livingstone's Congo is the Africa of old. CLUs making their own city next to the airport on the edge of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso is one real view of current Africa. A continent still largely dark, still the birthplace of humanity, and increasingly broken. A place in need of aid and a location that is increasingly viewed as the birthplace of the next round of extremists wishing ill upon the rest of the world.

All of this is true by the way. Ouagadougou does exist in Burkina Faso and there are many other sad stories of broken lives in a famine-ridden continent. But there is also another true story, that of China's fast growing presence on the African continent, seeking to exploit natural resources for its own ravenous maw. China's on the dark continent now, offering guns and money in exchange for access and those resources. And America is intent on being there as well, if not to stop, then at least to monitor the many ruthless ills that China seeks to foist on a long suffering population. That is, if you believe the western view of what China is doing.

Ouagadougou is a big location for American military. Camp Lemonnier remains the only OFFICIAL presence of US military on the dark continent, but there's a host of other places as well.

All of that and then some is the background of what Cale and Lane have been immersed in for the last decade, as their small group of Special Operations Forces monitors China's ruthless scramble across Africa.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

N is for North Fork

The letter "N" is proving troublesome. I am spending a ton of time just looking for an "N" word that I like. My original was North Fork, but I went away from it thinking that I could do better. Now I'm back because nothing better came along.

North Fork is the gateway. It's where the tar ends and the gravel starts. You take the turn at North Fork and spend the next twenty or so miles anticipating the Corn Creek trailhead and put-in. North Fork is named after the river that enters the Main at this point. I don't remember it, but after 25 years that shouldn't be surprising I guess.

It is one more point on the Lewis and Clark route. This is thought to be the point where Old Toby took Lewis down the Main Salmon to show him how impassable it was. Lewis was said to be pretty bummed out on his return to the camp at North Fork. The group then faced the mountains again and began the climb up what is now Lost Trail Pass. The climb to the pass starts fairly close to North Fork and again Old Toby figures in, because he got the group lost as they tried to find the pass, thus giving it the name it carries today.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M is for Middle Fork

Where to start? I've already used the term 'flyover country' too many times. Idaho - yes that's true too. I haven't covered the severe infestations of Sasquatch...probably because it does not exist, although the country is certainly big enough to hold a few Sasquatches.....

In River and Ranch, Cale is a river guide on both the Main and the Middle. This is part of his cover story as he works on his last project, but it is also part of his 'recalibrating' to life as a civilian after years of high stress, high kinetics Special Operation Forces work overseas for Uncle Sam. River rafting is the prescription for a mind that has seen and experienced the violence and stress that most do not even know exist, and for that matter, Cale and his partner generally cannot even talk about.

In life as in fiction, Idaho and its Main and Middle Fork provides what many seek. In the quiet of the mountains, the energy of the rapids, and the peace of a dark night on a river beach, we all find the cure for the aches we carry along.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

L is for Lemhi

Lemhi County, Idaho is firmly in the heart of flyover country. A river, a county, a mountain range and likely other features in Idaho all carry the label of an old Mormon saint. Mormon missionaries at some point in the 1800s set something up in the valley and began naming things Lemhi. At some point afterwards, I believe the locals showed them the door, but the names all stuck even after the Mormons were gone.

Why write about Lemhi? Because it is the fictional space where Dana and Cale begin the next chapters of their lives. It is also another of the real places and spaces upon which my fictional world of River and Ranch and New Grass Growing are based. It's real that the Lemhi River used to be wall to wall salmon. That's why the Northern Shoshone, who are part of both fictional and real worlds are the "Agaideka" - the fish eaters. It's real that Lemhi Pass, which Lewis and Clark crossed in their search for a northwest passage, is now again relevant for its rare earth mineral-rich ore bodies, something that has long been known but gone unused. In fact here's a great article on ranchers in the Lemhi valley working to revive salmon habitat.

It's part of the big space that we collectively call "out West". I was lucky enough to live "out West" for several years, including a fair amount of time in Salmon, a small town at the confluence of the Lemhi River and the Salmon River. It's big and wide open, full of history and mostly just gloriously empty and big, waiting for someone to take a random turn up an old Forest Service road and see what they see.

Monday, April 13, 2015

K is for Kootenai Creek

The Bitterroot Range is a lovely and jagged chunk of the northern Rockies. Viewed from the right spot, it appear as if the mountains on the east side of the valley slid off the top of the Bitterroots and that is pretty much just what happened. With the big slide done and over, every mountain's mortal enemy immediately went to work. Erosion. Over the next few kajillion years snow and rain happened, which had to go somewhere. Thus was born Kootenai Creek, Blodgett, and a host of other creeks all draining the high range that is the west side of the Bitterroot valley.

It's an amazing place, one that remains high in my book of memories. Cale and Lane like it too.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

J is for Jerry Johnson

Back in the day when I was a mere lad, there was no gate on the Warm Springs Creek packbridge across the Lochsa River at about mile 152 of Highway 12 coming down off of Lolo Pass heading west. That was quite the descriptive run-on there wasn't it? You could go into Jerry Johnson's just about any time you wanted. Which of course led to all sorts of crazy. The crazy is still there I suspect, it's just more restricted to when the gate is open.

Yes Jerry Johnson's Hot Springs are now known quantities and have been for a good long while. But they are still really neat things to see. There's three of them, one pouring out of a cliff face and into pools right next to the creek, while the others are set back off the creek and are more stand alone.

This is good and remote. Further down this stretch of Highway 12 is (or was) one of my favorite signs. I just wish I had a picture of it from back in the day "No Services for xx miles" - I want to say 63? can't remember the number. Narrow canyon, thick forest and emptiness. Can only imagine what this stretch was like for Lewis and Clark.

Friday, April 10, 2015

I is for Idaho

There's beaucoup to like about Idaho. Books have been written extolling its many virtues. Other than the work of Carrey and Conley, I will leave it up to you the reader to find your own books. Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley have written my favorites on Idaho though....

Anyway, my number one favorite thing about Idaho is...wait for it....the Salmon River and its tributaries. Let's just call it the whole watershed.

What next after that though? No this is not a Top Ten. It's a Top Two. drum roll please....

My second favorite feature in Idaho is the Snake River Plain. Years ago my wife gave me a map of the USA. That is where I first saw the SRP. It's this strange half moon shaped landform in the midst of Idaho. Mountains all around and poom this smooth plain thing.

Well it gets better. Turns out that the SRP basically is the record of an underlying hotspot as the continental plate that is the USA "floats" over it. Yes. The hotspot is basically a volcano down in the crust. The continental plate is "light" so it floats on top of the crust and this crust is moving. The hotspot is basically searing its mark in the plate as the plate moves over top. Here's what the Snake River Plain looks like as that feature. You'll see it straight away in the lower middle of the image.
The eastern tip of it is Yellowstone Park. Yes the hotspot that the continent is moving over is what is providing all the kinetics in Yellowstone. As always, Wikipedia provides a superb article on the Snake River Plain.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

H is for Hole

There is that old saying - "Nature abhors a vacuum.." or at least I think it is an old saying and that it goes like that. In any event, it fits water in a river and water in a river is where River and Ranch gets started.

Amongst other things you'll find in River and Ranch, Cale is a river guide. A whitewater rafting guide to be more descriptive. On the Salmon River. In Idaho. Awesome place, I've been there myself for two of the better summers of my life. If you have your summers off and are looking for a job that pays you badly to play, under the guise of fairly hard work at all hours under bad conditions, river rafting is a job you should look at. Heat, cold, risk of death, immense responsibility for keeping innocent people alive, wet, dry, even snow in the early season. This is a job that has all the hazards, right down to rattlesnake bites and food poisoning. Odds are you will love every single minute of it. I did. I wish I could go back.

Whiplash is one of those one of the job hazards that both fictional and real river guides encounter on the Main Salmon, but only under the right conditions. For Whiplash, that condition is a fairly high water level, typically found only in spring runoff of a good snow year.

Think of a hole literally. It is a hole in the water. The kicker is that the hole is created by a rock just upstream from it. The rock forces the water to split around it, or to go over it. The hole is behind the rock where the water would be if the rock were not there. As soon as the water is around or over the rock it then "falls" back down or "moves over" and reoccupies the "blank" (aka vacuum) space behind the rock. The water moving back into that space is directional, it has a current and it can be very very strong. Strong like hold you down and keep you there for awhile strong. End your life strong. Keep your boat strong. Thankfully, water is dynamic. It pulses, ebbs, and flows, so the current making the hole is not a strong steady thing, which is one of the things that enable an escape if you are caught in a hole. Also, there is still a current moving out of the hole as there is always "new" water coming back together behind that rock. The "old" water has to make way for the "new" water. This current generally is at the very bottom. So if you are caught, one way to get out is to go down and find that bottom current. Hopefully it's there and you find it in time.

Holes are part of running a river. Unless a new rock falls in and makes a new obstacle (e.g. Cramer Creek on the Main in ~2011), the hole tends to be the same and become a well known entity. So if a guide has run the river more than once, they tend to remember each rapid and each hole and the sequence of moves to go through so as to maximize the enjoyment of the whitewater and minimize the risky part of the whitewater.

So next time there's a big runoff event on the Main, watch for mile 89. That's where Whiplash lives.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

G is for ghost towns

Ghost towns are quirky things. Garnet, Montana is the ghost town I most remember. It's in the middle of nowhere as most ghost towns tend to be. Why there? and why not any more? In River and Ranch, the ghost town of Leesburg, out behind Salmon a few miles, pops up in a chapter.

For me, I have come to realize that part of the answer to location and longevity is recognizing that things have not always been the same. Garnet, for example, is accessed via a gravel Forest Service road. You wind around, go up a few really steep hills, around a few corners and there's Garnet. It takes about an hour to get there from Missoula going up the Blackfoot river valley, as I recall. It used to be much longer than that to get there, and Missoula was not always the nearest town.

Why is Garnet way up there in the middle of nowhere? Why not down in the valley by the road? That's an assumption on my part that many people make. We assume the road has always been there and we follow on with the assumption that the road has always been the easiest way to get there. A hundred or more years ago, those assumptions were not always the case. One important answer is building a town to keep the workers close to the stamp mill or mine. Remember, back when ghost towns were live towns, most of the time commuting meant walking to work.

The landscape of the 1880s is not the current landscape. Bridges, rest stops, hotels, and gas stations have really conditioned us to expect things a certain way when we travel. Also, travel is no longer viewed as an adventure or life threatening. On a wagon trip you checked your horses or oxen in the middle of the night. You carried rifles for your own protection, as well as for protecting your critical horses or oxen from wolves, etc. You carried ALL of your own food, or you shot it and picked it, as it presented itself. Also worth noting, there were no faucets for clean drinking water, not were there toilets. Toilet paper may not have been available. Speaking of which, here's an interesting link on the history of toilet paper, for today's digression.

Today when we take a trip, we generally return back to where we started. It may lack the excitement of going to the spot, but we do go back home most of the time. A long trip in a wagon to some far away spot, also meant an equally long trip in the wagon if you wanted to go back. People typically did not travel for work or pleasure. Wagons were generally one way vehicles used to start a new life.

Today's ghost towns are yesterday's destinations. Many arrived after arduous, life threatening journeys, in which there were no bridges, or rest stops, or restaurants to get food as you wanted. Their desire was to stay and start a new life. For some that worked, for most not so much. The places that turned out, have names. Those places that did not, like Garnet, now have books written about them with "ghost" in the title.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

F is for Faith

It's taken me a long time to recover from all the damage that Catholic schools and Catholic church have inflicted on me. Nope nothing dramatic, just years of dour old unhappy Irish men trying and failing to make people feel good about anything. Guilt and some brimstone can only work for so long. At least for me. My parents remain unhappy with my being a bad Catholic. I tell them it fits right in. They're supposed to be unhappy. That's religion.

I'm on the brink of digressing. I'm staring into the void of digression, but I pull myself back. The point of bringing this up is that one of the sleeper themes in River and Ranch is faith. Faith in different colors and packages, something the average religious person may not recognize so much. It's not in an epistle, there are no songs about it. The faith theme in River and Ranch comes quietly when the time is right, when Cale is under stress. Cale has come to accept it as his personal private guardian angel, a kuan yin with a bit of modification from over in the Hindu camp.

Several episodes in the past for both Cale and Lane are exclusively in the religion camp. They get to see and encounter what corrupt individuals do to innocent people in the name of religion. Whether in Africa or Afghanistan much, if not all of the bad and sad, tends to be driven by men (almost exclusively) who think that their view is what counts and that others should do what they say in the name of religion. There is no tolerance, no kindness, and really no religion as we think of it in the western Christian sense. I've learned that while men can really mess up Catholicism, they really can't hold a candle to what men do when it comes to subverting the good in Islam and acting only upon their own twisted version of what remains good at its heart. Again we see that art, the fiction of River and Ranch, imitates life, the reality of culture dominated by religion in many African countries and Afghanistan.

Yesterday's entry was almost "education" because perhaps the most effective means of fighting back against the many corrupting aspects of religion is an ability to think. Thinking gives one the rational ability to listen to the declaration of a mad man and realize they are wrong, that what they declare has no basis in fact and therefore should be seen as something from the madman and not from anyone else. Education encourages an awareness of two sides, of there being a right and a wrong. Education encourages a nuanced view point in which there are many shades of gray in a spectrum in lieu of only two end points. Those seemingly in charge of religion want their religion to be accepted "as is" based on what they declare to be true. Believers of religion need to believe what they are told, and in many cases not what they think or see.

Faith is the refuge of Cale. He may not seek it out, but it is there. Faith lends a hand, faith keeps him going. Faith shows him the right way to be a good human. When he is not, faith is right there waiting for him to come back.

No my writing is not religious. It portrays religion in a mostly negative light. It seems to me that while religion may have served a crucial purpose back in the day when common sense morality needed a boost, as humanity evolved, religion was corrupted. For me, as for my characters, faith is a private personal thing, influenced by personal beliefs, not those of others, and untainted by the questionable issues religion is now carrying along everywhere it goes.

Monday, April 6, 2015

E is for Elk Bar

I remember climbing a steep hillside and topping out on a bench. There was a cave of unknown dimension over on the edge of the bench, of course built-in or dugout or naturally occurring right on a cliff face. Big old Ponderosa pines dotted the bench. Other than the trees it was wide open, unknowable and unseen from the sand bar below where we were camped. I do not remember what inspired the climb up that steep slope, but I am glad we went. The revelation of that bench was like the discovery of some secret place that no one had seen prior to us emerging over the lip of the climb. I'm sure reality was/is different, especially now 25 years later.

I also remember a couple bighorn sheep jumping out of the cave mouth in alarm as they heard us approaching. The ease in their exit was impressive, especially after we tried to climb up to the cave mouth and really couldn't even get close due to love of life and lack of rock climbing skill.

A multi-paragraph lead up to the word of the day is getting to be habit. Hopefully the discerning reader noted the inclusion of the hint phrase "sand bar" in the verbose foreshadowing of today's word. Yes that sand bar, that gorgeous luscious bar of whitish sand next to the gorgeous luscious Middle Fork is Elk Bar, which is today's word.

As always, this is one of the actual real sites on the Middle Fork that our cast of characters float by and camp on in the course of the adventures taking place between the covers of River and Ranch. I am trying to use real places throughout this series. I am a big fan of geography, particularly this area of the USA, flyover country to most, Big Sky country to some and full of places a person can spend a lifetime (re)discovering. This book series is fiction with the exception of the land. Most of the geography did at one time reach up and trip me while I was walking by. I passed two amazing summers as a river guide on both the Main and Middle Fork of the Salmon. I would be remiss in failing to mention that I am also an alumni of the University of Montana. The hootch that Cale and Lane live in is the house on Pine Street that I lived in. All the place names mentioned in Missoula exist and are as truly described as memory allows. Of course 25 years of winters, spring floods and development can also bring about significant changes.

A huge exception is the Lemhi Pass area. I had little occasion to go down Highway 28, past Leadore, Tendoy, Sharkey Hot Springs and the myriad gravel roads leaving the highway and going off up into the hills. Those real roads are the actual basis for the Cayuse Creek road leading up to the Turner ranch. The whole rare earth mining aspect (a plot give away hint hint) that is, in fact true in real time, as I write this blog entry, was a gleam in the eye of unknown people back in the early 90's when I was there, although the Last Chance vein was already a well known quantity in Idaho mining history.

Thanks for reading this far! The always mysterious letter "F" awaits your visit tomorrow!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

D is for Djibouti

Djibouti beat out drama and Devil's Teeth Rapid in today's fierce competition to represent the letter "D" in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. In the event that Djibouti cannot fulfill its term, the first and second runnerups, drama and Devil's Teeth Rapid, will take Djibouti's place in fulfilling any remaining obligations.

With that bit of contractual paranoia now firmly in the rear view mirror, we can plow new ground in furthering the background of River and Ranch which, as mentioned before, is at times ripped straight from the headlines and at other times merely from researching.

Cale and Lane are two of the MCs in River and Ranch. In a long running series though, there has to be room to go back in time and develop earlier episodes and pieces of storyline. Africa proves fertile ground for that. Even better, the quiet roar that is the steady growth of AFRICOM, provides abundant bits of truth, which I greatly enjoy using as the kernel of truth around which my fiction is wrapped.

Camp Lemonnier is the USA military's largest and most official entity in all of Africa. I'm tempted to ramble through the interesting history of this military post. Suffice it to say that a garbage filled swimming pool, the French Foreign Legion, and free roaming goats are all part of that history. If pool, goats, and French Foreign Legion all appearing in the same sentence have piqued your curiosity, by all means click on the link above and read up on the abundant details in the excellent Wikipedia entry on the Camp.

In today's first digression, a bit of mostly relevant history pops into my head. The USA's entry into the European theater of WWII started with an invasion force going ashore in north Africa. In relying on memory and distilling what I remember, some small part of the reasoning for this first step was that the US military was "rusty". Not much had been done since WWI and there were very few leaders or followers with live experience. So the first step was on African soil, because it was perceived as perhaps the easiest place to start and get some seasoning (for lack of a better word). The big players in WWII got up to speed fighting (and getting beat quite often) by the wily old desert fox, Erwin Rommel, as he was known. Eventually he was pounded into submission, as Americans then as now are the badasses of the planet and while we lose on occasion, we do not give up and eventually emerge standing on top (sorry my American pride and ego popped up there).

Fast forward to now and these first "official" steps on African soil may remind some of first steps taken back in the day by Eisenhower and his fighting forces. There are many many differences, but I do bring this bit of history up as it is interesting to see steps made on African soil, a couple generations apart. Afghanistan and Iraq are of course HUGE differences between then and now, but steps onto Africa are facts then and now. Then it was over on the coast of Morocco, heading towards Libya. Now, it is the Horn of Africa aimed at the Sahel and points unknown or undivulged.

The shepherd's hook is out and the music is growing louder. I must concede the floor and hope that you will return for tomorrow's monologue on the letter "E".

Friday, April 3, 2015

C is for China Bar

Mile 269 on the Salmon River marks the Lemhi Bar, which many know as China Bar. Cale floats by it on every trip he takes in River and Ranch. As a guide myself, back in the 80s, I did too. It is one of the many many spots on the river that were mined and lived and homesteaded and probably more. From 1882-1884 Chinese miners toiled on this spot. How they got there, other than packing in from Warren, history does not say. Who they were, history does not say. Where they went afterwards. Unknown. How they spent their money/gold, likewise unknown. Then as now "the Orientals" were known and seen as hard working and quiet, likely due to language issues more than anything. Most everyone I think, just left them alone.

I see a big gap when I read about "Orientals" in historical non-fiction. Remember that "China" did not exist back then. Other than "the Orient", I'm not sure what present day China was called. It's not that the authors were prejudiced. I don't see that coming out. What I see is a vacuum. Somehow these men (and a few women) from "the Orient" got here. How? Few have written about this. Who were they? Again very little is known. In most accounts these recent arrivals landed on the West Coast, most in San Francisco, put their heads down and carried on. Some went all the way to the Salmon River. Why there? Some spent two years of their life mucking around in a placer mine at mile 269. Then one day they left. Why? Poor returns for their effort is the likely answer, but history does not record any interview with them. Could they speak English? Could any European guys speak Chinese? Was their language even known as Chinese? Maybe it was Cantonese? China as we know it now, did not exist back then. What did exist was a country with a 5k+ year history, while the US was 1/50th of that at the time.

Writing River and Ranch fascinates me, although at this point rewriting and editing are the better terms. I started out simply wanting to write about what I know. Digging in and looking for background in this effort, is every bit as interesting as writing the original fiction that comes from the history I peruse. As a fortunate citizen of the USA I am left with a sense of awe (for lack of a better word) at what our predecessors did. China Bar is a good example. The effort just to get there. The effort to survive and simply feed yourself. Back then it was just what people did. No big deal. Part of everyday life. Just think though. No roads. No grocery stores. Rice. If I stay in line with the stereo type and it is at least partially true, where did "the Orientals" get rice? My knowledge of American history does not have anything about rice being grown in the U.S., especially on the west coast of the late 1800s. I find it interesting to wonder about the shock they faced as they likely had to leave behind the main staple of their lifelong diet and adjust to whatever was locally available.

Back in the day (1978) Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley published, via Backeddy Books, what I regard as one of the best non-fiction books ever. "River of No Return" is a simple tome that starts upstream and works downstream discussing the humanity that left their marks on the Salmon River along the way. Tons of pictures, all in black and white, support simple clear and interesting writing that these two somehow garnered from interviews, archives and I don't know what else. They did a masterful job and deserve much credit for what looks to me like a labor of love as well as a labor that no doubt required numerous trips down the river. Lucky them!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

B is for Bitterroot

"River and Ranch background" seems to be a pretty good theme for this A-Z blogging challenge. Much of River and Ranch takes place on the other side of Lost Trail Pass, in Idaho. However, two of the main characters, Cale and Lane, are working on their PhDs in Geology at the University of Montana up in Missoula. To get to Idaho from Missoula, you go south, UP the Bitterroot Valley.

In this way do we arrive at the first cool thing about Bitterroot. In keeping with this notion of geology, the Bitterroot Valley is generally a north-south oriented feature. No big deal there. However, within that valley, the Bitterroot River flows NORTH, joining the Clark Fork river just west of Missoula. That would be the cool feature. From your childhood social studies you might remember the Nile over in Egypt, as perhaps the most prominent north flowing river on the planet. The Bitterroot joins that small club of north flowing rivers. So up the valley is down south. Downstream is up north.

Those map lovers in the crowd may have also noticed that the Middle Fork of the Salmon, another major feature in this book series, is also a north flowing river. One might wonder why two major rivers, fairly close together, both flow north. At a regional level, my first thought points at a centrally located uplift event on the North American continent that would serve to start water flowing north. The main bulk of the Rocky Mountains, mostly to the south of both rivers comes to mind. The Laramide orogeny is the geologic term for the continental plate deformation (aka upthrusting) that kicked off the ascent of the Rockies. That would be the event that gets my finger of blame for inspiring the northward flow of both the Bitterroot and the Middle Fork.

History provides another topic for Bitterroot. Lewis and Clark made their way over the southern terminus of the Bitterroot valley at Lost Trail Pass. The group made their way down the Bitterroot valley, all the way to the stream now known as Lolo. At that confluence they turned west and headed up the Lolo valley (Collins Creek), eventually topping out on Lolo Pass and descending down the Lochsa drainage and ultimately the Clearwater River, as the group made its way to the Pacific. Notes from both men reveal this segment of their journey to be among the most trying portions of their entire trip. Speaking of notes, many people have spent time retracing the path that Lewis and Clark chose as they crossed the continent. The Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation provides extensive content relating to the initial journey of discovery as well as the myriad followup expeditions that others made in an effort to retrace those famous first steps.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

a book about Idaho and fishing and romance with roots in Africa

I think we can all accept as fact that "A" is for Africa.

River and Ranch is one book in a series. I'm starting towards the back of the series because that's how I started out with my set of characters and places. As River and Ranch matured in my head, the back story and where I wanted to go developed. So there's lots more in the past and in the future. But for now Cale and Dana are in Idaho.

Africa is one of those places in the past for Cale and his partner Lane. The bulk of their time in Special Operations Forces was spent on African soil in numerous countries chasing the bad guys. In between missions they were in places like Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, or Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Researching the African part of this plot is fascinating. In reality, the US is very active on the African continent. As is China I might add. Neither of which makes many, if any, media headlines. The largest U.S. military presence is in fact at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. There is in fact, another outpost in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. I'm a big fan of geography, so while I had heard of Djibouti and Burkina Faso, I had no idea where they were, and I had not heard of either of the locations.

The U.S. military's pivot into Africa was one of the two the biggest surprise of all though, in doing my research. In reality, there is much going on throughout the African continent, much of it tangentially related to the growing Chinese presence on that continent, but probably more related to the concern over the growing likelihood of terrorist operations taking place in several remote, near lawless locations in the African outback. All of which is perfect back story for the characters in River and Ranch.

Hang tight for that other big surprise uncovered in research. Unfortunately it comes more toward the end of the alphabet, the letter "r", but it is a significant surprise and cornerstone of many plot lines in this series. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction at times.

Tom's Dispatch offers up a great article on this U.S. military activity in Africa.

I hope you will tune in tomorrow for that thrilling letter "B".

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Art Imitates Life?

Let's just call River and Ranch contemporary fiction, or maybe a new Western, or maybe even a sweet romance. Whatever I call it, it is based on several realities. One reality in particular just keeps on giving. The geology of the Lemhi Pass area, contains rare earth minerals. Some would call them deposits, ores, or formations. Regardless of what to call them, rare earths really do exist and they really do have a crucial place in the real world. The iphone or Samsung Galaxy you could conceivably be reading this on right now, in fact, contains rare earth metals refined from ores that were likely mined in China. Over the next few years that could change as the mining company holding the claims on Lemhi Pass could conceivably begin activity on their claims.

What makes this unique is that much of what is on those claims are tailings piles that have already been mined from existing works. New mining is not required, rather new mining could actually be described as transporting old tailings. This is a unique circumstance, maybe even historical. I find it fascinating and well worth following.

The major challenge for US-based rare earth miners is the complete lack of US-based processing ability and facilities. Not only does China have a stranglehold on production of the raw materials, China contains virtually all of the knowledge the world has on processing and refining the raw ores into concentrated metals ready for industrial use.

The real life story of rare earth metals is fascinating, not only for the geology of it, but for the issues surrounding rare earths. How to revive a refining industry that has been dormant for decades, how to raise cash for building new facilities, even new research that is suggesting new ways to process not only rare earths from its host materials, but rare earths from each other. There are seventeen rare earth minerals and they mostly occur together. Industry needs them apart. Yet one more critical step in the workflow that only China seems to understand.

Will American ingenuity and brain power comes to the rescue? This is not a heading from a book. It is a headline that one could see in a newspaper. One more case of truth equaling the strangeness typically found in fiction!