Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Signing at Centerville Sesquicentennial ... and More

The first of our two Sesquicentennial booking signings [blog, Aug 27] went very well. The only slight downside was the weather – temperatures in the high 90s. Thus, because of that heat, my wife Caroline stayed around our hotel room with our dogs (Miniature Schnauzers).

Skip Myers and I first set up our table at the Centerville Fire Station and Community Center. Sales got off to a slow start, so I put up some signs and handed out brochures. Luckily, once people got the message, we had a steady stream come by.

The scheduled sesquicentennial program started a bit after noon, and included some remarks by Idaho’s Lieutenant Governor, Brad Little. After those “festivities,” we moved the table over to the new Interpretive Center. The Center is located in the building that once housed the New Centerville railway station.
Book Signing Setup at Interpretive Center
Fewer visitors came to the Center, but the organizers have made a good start on what could become a very nice period museum. For the day, we sold and signed a couple dozen copies of Boise River Gold Country, which we considered not bad.

Sunday Adventure
On Sunday, Caroline and I visited the Boise Basin together. After a stop in Idaho City, we drove to the Interpretative Center, and then on to view the Station where the Sesquicentennial had kicked off on Saturday. If anything, it was even hotter on Sunday, so we could not leave our dogs locked in the car for any longer hikes.
View from Near Grimes Pass
From there, we continued on the same road through Pioneerville. We intended to go all the way to Grimes Pass, where we could see the renovated George Grimes monument. However, we discovered that the turn onto the pass is rather tight, and we missed the small area where we might have parked. Before we quite knew it, we were headed downhill. We did get a good look from the top, but we rather assumed we could quickly go back up.

That, unfortunately, was not the case. Although we did find some slightly wider sections, there was no place where a car could safely turn around. In fact, most of the road (by far) was too narrow for two cars to pass. We did meet one motorcycle coming up, and that was not too bad.
Grimes Pass Road
By the time we passed the motorcycle, we had decided to go on down -- even if we had found a place where turning around was possible. Neither of us is particularly fond of narrow roads with big drop-offs, so we simply had no desire to go back up.
Road View. Note how close the road edge is (bottom) ... we're stopped right in the middle.
 Anyway, we’re not sure how long the white-knuckle descent took, but we finally made it. Luckily, we were down to a mostly wider stretch when we met a car coming up. We stopped to chat (and warn them), but the driver said he had been hunting the area for years ... and knew all about it. The road, by the way, drops over a thousand feet in a bit under 2 miles -- over a 10% grade.
Grimes Pass Road from Below
Heading out, we followed the Payette River, where we saw an almost uncountable number of people -- on rafts, kayaks, and inner tubes -- floating the rapids. Beautiful white water, but incredibly crowded. (Understandable, given the hot weather.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sesquicentennial Signings in the Boise Basin

In August 1862, George Grimes and Moses Splawn led a party of prospectors into the Boise Basin, 25-30 miles northeast of today’s Boise. They soon found gold at the spot that became Centerville, and set off a gold rush into the region. Before the year was out, numerous gold camps sprang up. Towns in the Basin are now set to celebrate the Sesquicentennial of that event.
Opening events will take place on the morning of Saturday, August 28th, in Centerville. For a look at the schedule, visit the Boise Basin Boosters web site

Book Signings
Skip and I plan to be at the opening events in Centerville to sign copies of Boise River Gold Country. Our book, of course, covers more that the 150 years of the history of that region. For more information and the Table of Contents, follow the link to my earlier post about the book.

We definitely plan to be in Centerville, at or near the Community Center, starting around 10:00 A.M. on the 28th. However, our overall arrangements are somewhat open-ended because – as some of you may know – Centerville does not have a lot in the way of business infrastructure.

Watch for our signs.

Also, if we have a lull, I will be wandering around handing out brochures about the book to those who might be interested.
Fixing Flat, Road into Idaho City, ca 1923.
Matters get a bit more complicated on the following Saturday, August 4th, for the closing ceremonies. We plan to spend a couple hours at Donna’s Place in Idaho City (200 Main Street), starting about 9:00 in the morning. We will then relocate to Donna’s Place in Placerville (110 East Granite) about 1 P.M. We will stay there, basically, as long as there are people who want to buy books and have them signed.

We are also trying to set up additional book signings during the week. If you’re interested, contact me through Sourdough Publishing: 208-524-3868 or e-mail Sourdough(at)

Sesquicentennial Events
The sesquicentennial celebration has a “plethora” (a bunch) of neat events: pancake breakfasts, aerial flyover, gold panning, music and dancing, living history re-enactments, carnival games, tours of historical sites, and more. (You can even listen to remarks by “legislative dignitaries,” if you so desire.) Driving and walking tours will continue throughout the week. We plan to be in and out all the time, and hope to see you there.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What Happened during the Night? Sorcery, Sewing, Sex, and More?

According to the latest research, nighttime in pre-industrial society was not just the haunt of criminals, astrologers, desperate commoners, or “things that go bump.” This essay was, in fact, inspired by a discussion in one of my Groups on the LinkIn forum. Thoughts there arose about time keeping, sundown and sunrise, and how all that impacted people’s behavior. That brought to mind the results of one of the most thorough studies of pre-industrial nighttime behavior, which are described in the book by A. Roger Ekirch, At Day's Close: Night in Times Past.

One of his key findings had to do with what he calls “segmented sleep.” People slept differently when simple flames (fireplace, candle, or smoky lamp) were their only sources of artificial light. Depending upon the season, they generally went to bed no later than nine or ten o’clock. After roughly four hours of “first sleep,” they awoke. After an hour or two of wakefulness, they dropped into another four hours of “second sleep.” Ekirch focused mostly on accounts from Western Europe, with some emphasis on the British Isles ... and on the years before about 1750.

However, the professor also cites results obtained by modern sleep researcher Dr. Thomas Wehr. Wehr found that test subjects deprived of artificial light for several weeks reverted to a pattern of segmented sleep. Overall, Ekirch makes a strong case that awakening in the middle of the night was the norm in pre-industrial societies. That gives it some relevance to Americans pioneers living in the countryside away from cities, and on the Western frontier.

Ekirch found references to “first sleep” in translations of the Homeric epics, recorded almost three millennia ago. He also cites Plutarch’s Lives (written in roughly 50-80 AD). Although he did not give specific instances, I easily found several. In the “Life of Marcus Brutus” (he of Julius Caesar and the “Ides of March” infamy), Plutarch writes, “... after his first sleep, which he let himself take after his supper, he spent all the rest of the night in settling his most urgent affairs.”

People had good reason to fear the night -- criminals attacks, of course, plus accidents of many kinds, and “the unknown.” Even so, during those normal periods of wakefulness, they did not sink into paralysis. They studied the sky (for astronomical knowledge or “portents”), played games, went to a tavern or restaurant (whatever their equivalent), or visited their neighbors. According to Ekirch’s research, groups would gather with a shared light source (each contributing to the cost), to tell stories and/or engage in communal tasks such as sewing, mending, and so on.

It is significant, I think, that almost without exception, pagan religions had a deity to personify the Moon. We generally think of those deities as goddesses, but that’s largely our Greco-Roman bias. The early Greeks worshiped the moon goddess Selene, whose attributes are indistinguishable from those of the Roman goddess Luna. The Greco-Roman pantheon also included female deities for the dawn (Eos in Greek terminology, Aurora to the Romans). However, worldwide, societies seem about evenly split as to whether their moon deities were male or female.

Early stargazers went outside at night to do more than just bow down to their deities. They discovered that knowledge of those objects in the sky could warn them about momentous events: when the Nile River would rise, impending lunar eclipses, when to plant crops, and more. From there, they made a very natural progression: If we can predict an eclipse by studying celestial objects, surely we can foretell what might happen to a specific individual. Even as they do today, early astrologers -- most of whom sincerely believed in their art -- worded their prophecies with careful ambiguity.

When you understand the very real dangers, and the fears (rational and irrational) that preyed upon the ordinary people, you have to marvel at their determination. First of all, they faced the crucial problem of just getting around. Even with bright moonlight, night shadows play tricks on your vision. The feeble lanterns of the time would have only ruined your night vision, without casting enough light to walk confidently. According to a Smithsonian article, “People began as children to memorize their local terrain -- ditches, fences, cisterns, bogs.”

Naturally, night travelers could not avoid mishaps -- often injurious and sometimes fatal -- under these circumstances. They would stumble over newly-present obstacles, fall into forgotten pits, or walk off a rude bridge. Also, as Ekirch noted, “Accidents were especially common when alcohol was involved.”

Given those totally realistic fears, many people did stay home. They might then perform many mundane activities: relieve themselves, make sure the banked fire is okay, check the livestock, and perhaps have a smoke. Women might do some wash, prepare ingredients for the next day’s meals, and do some further mending.

Of course, those gaps during the night played a role in sex and procreation. Recall that most people in pre-industrial societies spent their days in brutally difficult physical labor -- men and women alike. They surely slept “like logs” during their periods of “first sleep.” Sex would have been the last thing on their minds. But ... refreshed by four hours of solid rest, that would surely change.

The medieval church knew all about segmented sleep -- they designed their nighttime prayer services to fit them. We tend to see monastic prayer sessions deep in the night as a sacrifice, an imposition on what we moderns consider “normal.” That was not at all the case. They were designed to fill those normal hours of wakefulness, and, not incidentally, steer the monks and nuns minds away from “sinful thoughts.”

Similarly, the night watches aboard early ships -- especially warships -- seem not quite so onerous when considered under these observations about sleep patterns in the absence of artificial light.

Of course, all that changed as artificial light -- gas lamps and then electric lights -- became more common.

It’s a shame that we have no comparable documentation on these matters from the frontier, or from Native American societies. Still, given the results from Wehr’s sleep research, it is not unreasonable to suspect that the same sort of nighttime activity patterns might have held there.

It is somewhat encouraging that Dr. Ekirch’s research is gaining more and more recognition, as in this recent article in the BBC News Magazine.
References: A. Roger Ekirch, At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, W. W. Norton & Company (June 2005).
Michael Jordan, Encyclopedia of Gods, Facts on File, Inc. (1993).
Joyce and Richard Wolkomir, “When Bandogs Howle & spirits Walk,” Smithsonian Magazine (January 2001).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Conference Update and Book Signing Announcement

Promotion Alert! Yes, here I am “plugging” my book, Boise River Gold Country, again. (I do try not to overdo it.)

The next planned book signing will be this weekend – July 7 – at the Barnes & Nobles Booksellers store at the Grand Teton Mall here in Idaho Falls. The official signing will start at about 1:00 PM and, if there is sufficient interest, go until the store closes at 10:00. Those of you in the area, please come by. To refresh your memory about the book, visit my earlier blog about it.

Conference Brief
The book signing at the Jackson Hole Writers’ Conference basically ... wasn’t. I “gave a signing and nobody came.” As predicted by the conference chair, only the most popular authors signed any books at all. Oh well, my fellow attendees expressed a lot of interest, so we may see a bump in online sales. (For some strange reason, people who face long airline flights – like to Atlanta or Boston – don’t want to load themselves down with heavy mementos.)
Downtown Jackson. Tourism photo.

The organizers revamped their schedule this year, starting earlier on Thursday and ending on Saturday evening. Eliminating the “rump” session, Sunday morning to noon, was probably not a bad thing. They still had plenty of excellent presenters, both for individual talks and for their panel discussions.

The “craft classes” were very good. Except for one (which will remain nameless), they could have gone on much longer and still have sustained our interest.

 One of the most interesting was “Going Digital.” The two presenters Lise MClendon and Jeremy Schmidt, first gave a passing nod to some of the exciting new forms that have become available for electronic publications. They then spent a good deal of time on digital publishing in terms of print on demand (POD) and electronic readers (Kindle™, et al). Lise is now re-issuing her “backlist” of books. These are earlier novels that her traditional publishers have declared “out of print.” Readers who discover her new novels and want to read the earlier ones – especially those with a series character – can now buy fresh copies rather than making do with a “Used” from

In all the back and forth, I did not quite catch whether or not Jeremy is re-issuing his backlist yet, but he is certainly considering it seriously.

I do have to say the organizers might have tried to squeeze in perhaps too much, in a couple areas.

First, to fit in more “student readings,” they cut the time allotment from 4 minutes to 3. That worked fine for the poets, but made life difficult for the rest of us. And I’m not just saying this because I did not find out about the cut until just before the readings began. In several cases, readers had just got to the climactic part when they had to stop. Others seemed rather rushed. (Unless you have a lot of experience, or practice a lot, it’s hard to gauge how long a reading might take.) I had about decided not to use my time slot, but was able to prune it down while still keeping the best parts.

They also reduced the face-to-face time for the writing sample critiques to just 15 minutes. Even the critiquers (is that’s a word?) seemed frustrated by the tight time limit. If they stick with that length, I shall not be submitting in the future.

Overall, as usual, a great time to meet and chat with other writers.