Thursday, April 29, 2010

New Link Added

Probably not many of you who look in here regularly also check out the Links page (top-line tab). So … I figured I’d insert a heads-up on a new link that I have added there.

The genesis of the addition is interesting because it involves a lucky coincidence. Back on April 9, I reviewed the book The Good Times Are All Gone Now, written by Julie Whitesel Weston. Her book, of course, centers around mining activities in Kellogg, Idaho. (If you didn’t read the review, you really should.)

Coincidentally, a major event took place near Kellogg on May 2 -- and you’ll see the “On This Day” item for it shortly. During my research, I discovered an excellent video about the event. I thought Ms Weston would also be interested, so I sent her an e-mail about it.

During the subsequent exchange, I happened to mention that I really liked the music that plays in the background while you view her web page. She said it was created by Gavin Morrison, which I’d have known if I’d paid more attention to the credits displayed at the bottom of her home page.

She also said he had his own web page – “Manzanita” – and provided the link. So I visited, and if you like upbeat “easy listening” tunes (as I do) you’re at the right place. So go to my Links page, look under the Writers, Artists, etc. subhead and follow it to my new link. It's really a very attractive web page ... and he has sample tunes.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Looking Forward To: Fur, Fortune and Empire

The future-release book I mentioned in yesterday’s “Blog Modifications” item is called Fur, Fortune and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America. The author is Eric Jay Dolin, and the projected release date is this coming July. I have already added Dr. Dolin’s web page to my Links page, but here is the link again: Fur, Fortune and Empire. (Cover art, W.W. Norton.)

As you’ll see there, his previous release was Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. If his new book does half as well as Leviathan did in the awards category, we truly have something to look forward to. As his site recounts, it was “selected as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007” by several metropolitan newspapers, won two maritime-related history awards, and some others honors.

According to the overview, the book takes a comprehensive look at the American fur trade, starting in the early 1600s and running roughly to the dawn of the Twentieth Century. Dolin is very clear about what the book does not cover: [it] “does not address the American fur trade as it evolved during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, nor does it cover the current highly charged political and ethical debate over animal rights and the propriety or – many would say – the impropriety of wearing fur. ”

Eric followed much the same approach in Leviathan. He provided rigorously-documented detail, spiced with colorful anecdotes and descriptions, but examined the whaling industry in its own pre-Twentieth Century context. For this, he was chastised by some “the glass is half-empty” reviewers. (Most reviewers, by the way, found the book enjoyable and authoritative.)

 The naysayers seemed to feel the book was “incomplete” because he didn’t engage in modern-day finger-wagging about the environmental damage done by the historical industry. How anyone can call a 480-page tome, with 90 illustrations, “incomplete” is a mystery to me. I expect those people will have much the same reaction to Fur Trade in America. This is no lightweight airplane-flight read, by the way: 464 page with (again) 90 illustrations.

There is no doubt that Dr. Dolin could, if he chose to, provide a learned discussion about ecological impacts, the nuances of environmental policy, wildlife and game management, and so on – just check out his biography, and his other publications.

By (my) good fortune, he is scheduled to be at the Museum of the Mountain Man during the 2010 Green River Rendezvous (July 8-11) in Pinedale, Wyoming. (Personal photo.)

The event actually precedes the formal release date, so this will be his first chance to talk about the book. (Eric assures me that the books will be available at that time. However, I'm guessing that a shipment won’t have made it to Pinedale – truly the middle of nowhere – by then.) Anyway, my wife and I are checking our summer schedule to see if we can be there.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blog Modifications

Those of you who follow the blog may have noticed a couple new changes in its structure. These are both extensions of what I described back on April 5th, when I created the top-of-the-page tab that leads to a list of often-used references.

As I promised back then, I also created a “Comment Help” tab. At first, I only provided a link to the blog post where I provided step-by-step instructions for leaving a comment. This latest mod puts the instructions directly on that page, and adds a bit more detail. So now you can get help with just one click.

The other changes involve moving the list of interesting websites and blogs from the left-hand column to a “Links” tab.

I had been thinking about doing this for awhile, and then I received an e-mail about an upcoming book release. I wanted to add the author’s web site to my list, which made that skinny column on the left even longer. Putting the Links on a separate page allows me to include some explanation of what each linked website or blog is about.

Now that left column contains just my Profile, the Categories for blog posts, the Followers display, and the Archive. Can’t get away from the Profile and Archive, but I’d move the Categories list and Followers display if I could figure out how to do that.

I like the Followers feature … just wish I had more of them. In case you’re wondering what that’s all about, it’s basically a way to be informed, automatically, when I add a new post to the blog. A bit like having a Bookmark, but with the added benefit of knowing when there's new material.

I’m researching the new book release and will probably have more about that tomorrow.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Review: Good Times All Gone

The Good Times Are All Gone Now. Author: Julie Whitesel Weston. Publishing: University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. © Julie Whitesel Weston, 2009. [All images from the book.]

Catalogs and reviews bill this book as a “memoir of place,” which is certainly accurate. Still, in the end, it’s the people in a place that really make it memorable. (You may recall the buildings or landscaping where you worked before. But what you remember most, for good or ill, are your former co-workers, and bosses.)

We do read passages about rusty junk, tumble-down structures, polluted ponds and streams, and heaps of toxic waste. Only shrubs grew on the mountainsides. The timber was cut for lumber or scorched by forest fires, and never grew back. Constant (but largely ignored) swirls of acrid smoke and pollution blighted the growth of new trees.

I started the book with a misconception. The publicist’s e-mail asked if I’d like to review a new release from the UO Press. From the brief description, I expected a history of the Kellogg, Idaho, mining area. Since what I “do” is Idaho history, that sounded great to me.

When the copy arrived, I plunged right in, expecting a “normal” history approach. I missed that phrase about “memoir of place.” Thus, the mix of anecdote and commentary was somewhat off-putting. Despite that, the stories drew me in. Stories about people, sometimes told in their own interviewed words.

They resonated with me for two special reasons. First, the author and I graduated from high school the same year. Perhaps more importantly, we both grew up in small towns. (Actually, I spent those years in the country, or in towns even smaller than Kellogg.)

However, you don’t need to be older or a small-towner or a country boy/girl to get something from these narratives. For, in the final analysis, these are tales of human courage and endurance. But the funny thing is: they, by and large, did not view themselves as courageous or enduring. They were not “coping” with brutally dangerous working conditions or a degraded, harmful environment.

No, this was simply life – some good mixed with some bad – and they were just living it. I myself knew many individuals like them.

Do not think, however, that these people did not feel the pain. They did, as anyone would. Still, while some might not even know the word “stoicism,” they displayed it. Nor were they blind to the occasional hard times. They “muddled through” as best they could, and were later proud of having “made it.”

To a considerable extent, they coped through a sense of community. Everything in their lives, directly or indirectly revolved around the mine. That common bond helped them support each other through hard times and grief.

Back then, “No one locked their doors.” Like Weston, I clearly recall my mother sticking her head inside a front door and calling, “Yoo-hoo. Anybody home?”

Along with many fascinating stories, we learn of Julie growing up. You sense a certain wonder from her present self at what her younger self accepted as “normal.” Children only avoided the most poisonous soil and water; they swam in and played on the rest. And only outsiders reacted to the acidic smog. Her father, a physician, treated a steady flow of injured miners. She only knew that all those cases kept him late at the hospital.

Consider that hospital. Almost universally, commentators frame the term “company town” in a pejorative sense. “Sixteen tons and deeper in debt,” goes the song lyric. In that view, the company store in the company town turned men into wage slaves.

That is not how the folks in Kellogg saw it. “Uncle Bunker” provided the hospital, and also built a new high school gym. It bought uniforms and instruments for the band, awarded numerous scholarships, and distributed other perks.

Cynics will say, “They just wanted to keep those poor deluded employees happy, so they’d work harder.” Perhaps. But, for many reasons, most would have stayed and worked hard even without those extra benefits.

In any case, we also learn much about Julie’s tangled view of her father. A god to the townspeople, “Doc” was subject to angry, hurtful flare-ups at home. Still, she longed for his approval. It’s not clear that she ever really got it. He supported her education, but she describes their later relationship as “an uneasy peace.” His approval was, I infer, grudging at best.

We can all relate to her high school years: a town mad about the local sports teams, seeking peer group approval, boys, trying to build a unique “personhood,” and all that. One story was rather sad, but telling. She studied hard and excelled in the school’s band ensemble. That should have been worth some praise from her music-loving father, a skilled musician himself. Yet she gave that up to join the drill team. Her point: “Excellence and intelligence didn’t matter. I wanted to be pretty.”

Weston’s narrative opens, and then ends, with scenes from after the mines have closed. Toppling the giant smelter stacks becomes a symbol of the final end of Kellogg’s old-style “good times.” Of course, the mines had long been closed by then and the town had nearly died. When she visited for the demolition, the town’s rebirth as a destination resort had finally begun to “take.”

As I asserted above, “place” is really about people. This book chronicles the stories of those who lived in Kellogg during its mid-century prosperity as a mining town. It also suggests how life there shaped Julie Whitesel Weston’s character and expectations. By the final scenes, however, most of the people she knew were gone. New hotels and condos dwarfed most vestiges of its mining history. She ended on a hopeful note, but also admitted, “Kellogg was no longer my town.”

Monday, April 5, 2010

Reference Repetition

Those of you who have followed the "On This Day" feature of my blog for awhile have no doubt noticed that some basic references appear again and again -- Hiram T. French and James H. Hawley, for example.

To reduce the repetition of those citations, I have included them on a separate page, which you can access by clicking on the "References" tab at the top of the blog page -- right next to the "Home" designation, below the "South Fork Companion" header. Detailed citations will still be provided for references that are specific to a particular item.

Over the next week or so, I plan to go back and edit my previous posts and make this change in their references also (I hope it only takes that long).

 This is a very nice feature provided by, by the way.  I may re-do my linked "Comments" instructions using the same approach.