Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Very Long Western Story, Part Three: An American Garden of Eden

Here on this mountain top
I got some wild, wild life
I got some news to tell you
About some wild, wild life.
--Talking Heads, "Wild, Wild Life"

The Black Hills of South Dakota take their name from the Lakota Sioux who considered the area sacred. Paha sapa they are called in Lakota. They are an interesting formation, a sort of oval range, alone in the plains, surrounded by a valley playfully called the racetrack and containing several peaks in excess of 6000 feet. It is no wonder that many American Indians considered this area to be some sort of ground zero for creation. It is like a ragged, jagged Garden of Eden that Monkey and I were set to explore.

An early Monday night (after a meal of pork and sauerkraut at the Horse Creek Inn), led to an early morning at the table of our hosts at Emerald Pines. Mrs. Pines cooked up a scrumptious breakfast of french toast and bacon, with plenty of hot coffee, and some scones on the side. Monkey and I were well fed as we headed out to gaze upon the grandeur of Mount Rushmore.

I was prepared for a tacky 1960s-style North-by-Northwest version of Mount Rushmore. Something along the lines of a Graceland for George Washington, a gift shop full of shot glasses and rubber tomahawks, and coin operated telescopes. I did not get what I expected (except for the coin-op scopes).

Mount Rushmore is a pretty amazing sight. No doubt, even had the gift shop been full of plastic, glow-in-the-dark models of the heads, even had the cafeteria been doling out Mount Rushmore versions of Klondike ice cream bars, the monument itself would be spectacular. It was made more spectacular by a gorgeous day: clear, slightly windy, a bit of a chill in the air (some who came from the lowlands were in shirt sleeves). It was made even more spectacular by the off-season crowd.

Not many people were around on this fine late October Tuesday. It was great. We took a guided walk around the monument and trail around the grounds, and got to spend twice as much time with our Parks Service guide than we would have been able to in the summer. It was an awesome sight, and the interpretive center and museum were fascinating. I won't go into some sort of Modern Marvels shpeil about the wonders of the work that Gutzon Borglum and his crew did, but I will say that it is a story worth investigating. I would like to take this opportunity, however, to alert anyone thinking about taking a trip to Mount Rushmore in the off-season: use the restroom at the welcome center before you walk the trail around the park.

Another warning that is worth disseminating: be wary of belligerent burros while driving through Custer State Park, our second destination of the day. Near Wind Cave National Park, Custer is a large state-owned piece of land that is home to "wildlife-at-large," like so much of this area of the western US. We were amazed to see a herd of bison watering at a hole just a few hundred yards from the park's borders. After gazing in wonder at these magnificent, seemingly docile beast (yet we were warned by signs that they are "dangerous"), we motored on, only to be waylayed by a herd of wild burro astride the park road. We stared at them, and they stared at us. We inched The Penguin forward, they held their ground. We sat stalemated for a good fifteen minutes before these belligerent burros decided to let us through.

Beauty was everywhere on the other side of the asses. Not only in animal form, but the few deciduous trees still in leaf were blazing in color. against the backdrop of the grass and pines, they stood out, little accents to this western American Garden of Eden.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Very Long Western Story, Part Two: Black Hills Fever Dreams

When I was a child, I had a fever.
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now, I've got that feeling once again.
I can't explain, you would not understand.
This is not how I am.
--Pink Floyd, "Comfortably Numb"

When I was a small boy, I had some disease. My mother once told me it was Scarlet Fever, but I was under the impression that that was fatal, so let's say it was something else. At any rate, I remember very little about the time except these amazing fever-induced (I'm assuming) hallucinations or visual interpretations of images from the television.

During my convalescence, it seems, according to my memory, that I watched a great deal of TV. I remember a cartoon about a girl choking on a chicken bone. That was vivid and very blue--it had a Shel Silverstein meets Maurice Sendak kind of feel. When my grandmother was pretty sick, she used to like when I read Where the Wild Things Are to her. Ironically, it always reminded me of that dreamy childhood sickness feeling. Strange, but I just thought about that. Anyway, I also remember an episode of Soul Train in which every one had very large heads and they were levitating. Then again, that could have simply been the hair- and shoe-styles of the day making them look like that. I still to this day, when I have a fever, feel as if my own body has grown immense, and that, while I know if I look at my feet they will be right there, five and a half feet or so away from my eyes, they feel like they are a hundred feet away. It's a weird feeling, let me tell you. One other thing I remember is an image, from what I cannot recall, in which a metal, robot-like, pterodactyl-looking thing with orange wings fell burning from the sky. It writhed and roared on the oily street as reddish flames engulfed it. I was horrified.

The farthest one might be able to get from the oily street, writhing, burning pterodactyl or not, might be a long stretch of the plains of southwestern South Dakota. It was a veritable sea of rolling brownish hills, resplendent in its dry grassiness, as it crested and receded under the wide blue sky. This was the predominant view as Monkey and I drove through Wind Cave National Park, where visitors can find Wind Cave (which I'll tell you about next time). In addition to Wind Cave, the park is home to a host of free-ranging (at large, they like to call them) prairie ruminants. We literally stopped the car in the middle of the road at the first sight of pronghorn antelope, not 300 yards from the road. We also saw, on a forty-five minute trek up US 385, through the park, bison, elk, coyote, and prairie dogs.

Yes, prairie dogs, as far as the eye could see, acres and acres of prairie dog town. Time would show that these towns were merely villages, compared to some, but that is (like Wind Cave) another story for another time. However, at this particular point in time, it was a thrill to see these little sentries of the plains up close. Monkey and I had seen prairie dogs (not dogs at all really, but, I think you know that) on our treks back and forth to Oregon. Once, in Wyoming, a little scamp ran out in front of Monkey and nearly wrecked her. Boy, that was fun!

Passing out of the park, however, did not end our views of nature, nor our startlements (as the Tiresias-blind railway handcar driver says in O Brother Where Art Thou?). With so much land and so few people, there are a great number more deer and elk and such running loose up in SD. The side of the road is like a waiting area for wild undulates, looking to collide with a speeding vehicle. Lucky for us, we never met with one of these suicide mammals, but we kept a nervous, watchful eye while in the area.

As we approached our destination, Hill City, SD, our nervous, watchful eye gazed upon the unfinished (perhaps never-to-be finished) startlement known as the Crazy Horse Monument. Really just a face and an arm pushing forward out of a mountain side, the monument seems to rise up above everything nearby. From a business standpoint, that doesn't seem very wise (especially when you're charging ten bucks a pop and your sculpture isn't done yet), but for the roadway gawkers (hello!) it is a boon, let me tell you. We had plans on visiting the monument proper on Tuesday, so we just snapped a few polaroids at seventy miles per and kept on rolling. After all, we had been rolling for about eight hours at this point, and the driving was getting a might tiresome. Little did I know that by the time we were done with the trip we would have covered two thousand miles over five days, but, that's another other story for another other day.

Of course, we rolled into Hill City at about four o'clock, an hour ahead of schedule, because we missed the damned Carhenge. We couldn't check into our lodgings, so we decided to wander about the town for a few minutes. It's a small town, with a population of about 700; we figured it wouldn't take long to see what was to be seen. After a brief pause for the cause at the local Exxon, we came upon a sight that filled me with wonder and awe. A true startlement, inducing dizziness, fainting spells, and pseudo-fevers in the author. For there, perched upon the Black Hills Dinosaur Museum, wingless, and no longer aflame, was a thirty-four year old vision from my past.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Very Long Western Story, Part One: Approaching The Land of Rocky Raccoon

Somewhere in the black mountain hills of Dakota
There lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon
--The Beatles, "Rocky Raccoon"

You may have wondered where I've been, since it's been over a week since my last post. Or, you may not even be concerned, since it is not unprecedented that I take a long lay off now and again, for sometimes good and sometimes not so good reasons. Be you the former or the latter, I will tell you that Monkey and I have been a-roaming the western section of South Dakota and the eastern section of Wyoming (and a little bit of western Nebraska, too), these past five days.

We set out before daybreak on Monday morning, finding ourselves a hundred miles to the west before the sun made its way into the eastern sky. Our first destination of the day was to be Chimney Rock National Monument, near Bayard, Nebraska. It is billed as the most famous landmark on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Pioneer Trails. Many early westerers marked the site as the beginning of the west. Others knew it as the "Elk's Penis." Still others knew it as "that place a couple days east of Scott's Bluff." At any rate, it is an important enough site to be represented on Nebraska's state quarter, making it somewhat as famous as New Jersey's side of the Delaware River, West Virginia's New River Gorge, Connecticut's Charter Oak, New Hampshire's late Old Man of the Mountain, California's Yosemite Valley, Missouri's Gateway Arch, Oregon's Crater Lake, and Wisconsin's Block o' Cheese. Using the same logic, Chimney Rock is thus as well known as the entire states of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Massachusetts, South Carolina, New York, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Alabama, Michigan, Texas, Minnesota, and Idaho, all of whom put the outline of their state on their quarter. But, I digress.

As with most good road trips, a destination or two arises in the moment--a magical spot one is drawn to without premeditation, without even knowing the spot existed before driving upon it (or the sign post or bill board advertising it). Monkey and I were passing through Ogallala, Nebraska, when I spied a sign post for "Boot Hill." I just had to stop. As a child, I had as much of a love for the romantic idea of the west as any American boy of a certain age. For a long time, the only books I read were western adventures by the likes of Louis L'Amour (a decidedly un-western nom de plume) or biographies of western heroes. As a young child of the seventies, I was a kinder, gentler consumer of the western myth: I had a certain empathy for the American Indian. I understood (as much as any nine-year-old can) the unattractive aspects of the western legacy. However, I still feel that innocent, gullible, romantic joy, sometimes, when I think of the legends of the west. And, as a former devotee of such legends, I knew Boot Hill meant wild western history (some of which actually might be based on some semblance of facts).

Boot Hill, of course, is the name of many cemeteries in the west. Some are more famous than others. I didn't know that Ogallala had one, but I was excited to find it. So, on a chilly Monday morning, I maneuvered The Penguin through a residential area of tiny Ogallala, Nebraska, climbed a set of forty or so stone stairs, and there, on a hill in the west, I gazed upon the empty, but marked graves of some of the former residents of Ogallala, all presided over by a larger-than life (of course) bronze cowboy, meditatively, one leg hooked over his saddle horn, gazing off to the horizon. It was awesome (in an unabashedly nine-year-old-boy-enamored-with-cowboys way). But, we could not tarry for long....

We arrived at Chimney Rock in the early afternoon, and spent about a half an hour at the State Historical Society's Visitor Center. It was okay...not great. We did learn about the "Elk's Penis" there, so it wasn't a total waste. Alas, there are no trails, and no way to approach the site except upon the road that leads to the little visitor's center. I'm not sure if the monument is on private land, but I am relatively certain that it is surrounded by private land. So, no getting near it.

Rumors of wagon ruts from the Conestoga wagons of yore were not confirmed. I was bummed. I really wanted to see some wagon ruts.

We proceeded north, looking to find Carhenge. Unfortunately, due to one of the following, we were unable to find it:
a) the sun was in our eyes
b) a train was blocking our view
c) absolute, temporary blindness
d) it just wasn't meant to be.

At any rate, after we realized that we had totally missed it somehow, we drove on with tears in our eyes, saddened by missing Carhenge, but excited by the prospect of South Dakota, just a hundred miles or so, ahead.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What You've Heard? It's All True.

Love it or hate it, I have to admit, there truly is no place like Nebraska.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Bird Of Paradise Flies Up My Nose

Lest it be said that only the darkness is allowed to pervade Central Standard, allow me to relate to you that I have had a pretty good week, so far. We're talking Cornopolis-style, lads and lassies. I have felt pretty on my game at school. As well, I have given myself a good talking to and decided to permit myself to be imperfect. This will, if past experience is any indicator, only last a week or two, and then I'll be right back to kicking myself for the littlest things, but, hey, I gotta be me.

In addition, I got an email from NaNoWriMo , reminding me that it is time to sign up. In 12 days, it'll be writing time, again! Woo hoo! I don't know if I can pull it off this year. Of course, I didn't know if I could do it last year, and I did, but this year, with all of the changes.... Already, I am making excuses. Boo! However, I did not complete Script Frenzy this June due to the move, so a precedent has been set (and an unfinished film script needs more attention).

And, to top it off, I nailed a trey from the top of the arc at basketball Wednesday, so, you know, I've got that going for me. Along with the fact that, after tomorrow's half-day of finals, I have a week off, and Monkey and I are going to South Dakota! We plan on seeing the half-finished Crazy Horse, the giant president's heads, the Badlands, the Black Hills...lots o' clash of cultures history. I am pretty psyched.

Now, if we could just get the football team up here back on track, life in Nebraska might start looking up.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ninety-nine Posts For The Year

Ninety-nine posts for the year on this blog.
Ninety-nine posts for the year.
Click on one.
Read it for fun.
Ninety-nine posts for the year on this blog.
--sung to the tune of "99 Bottles of Beer"

After a really depressed weekend, in which I hated this town, my job, the weather, everything, today was pretty good. I spent a few days in PoP, but things are looking mostly Nader, this evening. At the very least, I never felt like throttling any of my kids. I still get the feeling from some of them that they are merely tolerating me, that I am some kind of underclass peon, and they subtly make sure that I know it. It's weird. A different vibe, that maybe I am putting on others rather than picking up from them. I don't know. I came across this quote from the 1949 film version of The Red Pony that really put some of my blues in perspective: "It's not where you are that makes you a stranger, it's why you think you're a stranger."

I'm still a stranger at my new school, but I truly sense that it might be because of how I feel about it. I still feel like it's a temporary thing, that next year, I'll be back where I should be. But I won't. I need to convince myself of that. I need to convince myself that I belong in this place, because a) I do, and b) I have to. I am awfully tired of coming home hating my job and my own ability as a teacher, and I know the only person who has any ability to affect change in my life is me. Knowing and doing, of course, are two different things.

That's enough of that.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Next Worst Hard Time

I am currently reading Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time, the story of the folks on the High Plains who didn't leave during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. It's like a non-fiction companion piece to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. I had heard of this book last year. During a trip to the Hyve, I heard Egan on some public radio show. He was discussing his book and the film (which he also discusses in the book) The Plow that Broke the Plains. The film sounds fascinating--a 1930s documentary of how the farming practices of the 1920s contributed to the Dust Bowl conditions. I really want to see this film (it has something to do with that other lives stuff I was talking about in my last post, but, I digress...).

As luck would have it, The Worst Hard Time was selected as the Lincoln One Read Book last month, so the public library featured it prominently during my last foray for publicly borrowed Johnny Cash CDs (I found one). Perhaps it would have been more fitting if I had been looking for Merle Haggard CDs, but, that is not the case, and, in this instant, I have decided not to exercise my right of artistic license. Johnny Cash was whom I was searching for when I found The Worst Hard Time. So, having previously been interested, I picked the book up.

It's been a slow read to start with. That could be because I have not been reading it except for when I am abed. Bleary-eyed and thinking about how much sleep you can get before the alarm goes off at 5am is no way to enjoy a book. But, I am enjoying some of the stories. I sometimes wonder: how entertaining can three hundred pages about flying dirt be? At such times, I remind myself that it is really about the human drama of determination in the face of economic and natural forces.

Underneath it all, however--underlying the stories of the farmers beaten down by the depressed price of wheat, the mortgagees getting foreclosed on, the citizens beating on the closed door of their empty, penniless bank, the desperate and stubborn fighting the drought, locust, and swirling sediment--is the story (reiterated from The Plow that Broke the Plains) of humanity's disregard for the natural world and the consequences of humankind's actions. It is a story we need to hear today more than ever; however, those that need to listen the most, have their ears closed the hardest.

As the ice caps shrink and walruses come ashore far south of the receding ice flow, as oceans rise and temperatures soar, as drought takes hold of larger areas of the planet, and forests are decimated at record pace, as species become extinct before we even discover them, we must make it clear to those that doubt that our actions are surely responsible for these occurrences. It is not a natural trend. It is not something that will soon reverse itself. It is the vision of our future, and it is not pretty.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Enemy Lends His Support (And Suffers Some Existential Angst)

I sat down here at the old keyboard, perfectly intent on ranting about how ridiculous George Steinbrenner is for even contemplating the firing of Joe Torre. Don't get me wrong, as a life-long Yankee hater, it would be a good thing for me. Torre is an excellent manager, and the Yanks would be hard pressed to find an equal replacement. However, the mere fact that an owner is public threatening to fire a manager who has won four Championships and been to the playoffs twelve times in the past twelve years is simply disgusting to me. That's the short version of what I wanted to say.

When I logged on to Blogger, I found a link to Post Secret, which I have visited before. I meandered over there (as we all have a tendency to do when we are faced with the universe-like infiniteness of the internets), and got a bit lost. I got to thinking of all the little dramas that are being lived in the world right now. All the deviousness and joy. All the betrayal and communion. I began to think of the timbre of other lives, and then I began to think of the lives that I might have lived. That ever happened to you?

I guess that's why I love reading and writing so much. I can experience and create so many different realities to live in for a little bit of time. Escapist? You bet your ass. Have you read the newspaper lately? Milk has doubled in price since 2004, and highly qualified supervisors are losing their jobs because some spoiled rich dude can't buy himself some esteem.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Miscellaneous Comment-Inspired Haiku (For La Fashionista)

On H.P. Lovecraft:
I know the name, not the work.
Scary? Whatever.

Predicting the score.
But shouldn't I remember:
At home, forty one?

stevecarter *dot* com:
Creepy old album covers,
Scrawny naked men.

Poor, poor whistle pig,
Like Ol' Punxatawney Phil,
Gets the shaft, again!

Fairview fifth grader:
"Today--CoMo holiday;
Chicken nuggets! Yum!"

Anon AMV
B run-on sentences! And
six-syllable name!

Friday, October 05, 2007

All Apologies

What else could I write?
I don't have the right.
What else should I be?
All apologies.
--Nirvana, "All Apologies"

After a pretty low week, Friday struggled to make a full recovery, when the very same student who had sent me into a Wednesday tailspin came into my room (a different room than he and I have class in and two blocks before our class) and apologized to me for what he had said. I told him I was very impressed with him for doing such a thing. Completely unprompted. That is pretty impressive for a sophomore. Isn't it?

From there, the workaday quality of this muggy Friday was almost like the best day ever. Compared to Wednesday, I have already had two "Best Days Ever."

Anyway, not much else to report, except that a) John Hodgman was brilliant on The Daily Show last night (if you missed it, check it out at Comedy Central (click on Mentally Ill Money)), and b) most folks here in Big Red country are on pins and needles over Saturday night's upcoming Mizzou-Huskers game. Let this transplanted transplant go on record as prognosticating: MU 52-Huskers 49. Go. Fight. Win. Tigers.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Beer Cheese Soup

Thanks to all of you for the kind words during my period of slithering through the benthic slime of depression and self-doubt. They helped (note to Comoprozac: reminders are always useful, even when we are already logically aware of a thing, yet we emotional feel completely differently). My colleagues were also spectacular yesterday and today. Of course, the best way to get over the sweep of my emotional (-x,-y) parabola (plot that, y'all!) was to head to the scene of the crime and grab the bull by the horns (bang-bang cliches, there). Which is just what I did. I am feeling much better after today's class. I think we may have worked some things out in that class, but, one day is no evidence. I must still be diligent.

I am in a district book group (we get priofessional development credit for being in it) that focuses on literature of the non-dominant culture. We meet once a month and discuss a particular book. This month, we read Flight, Sherman Alexie's new novel. Many of you may know of my enjoyment of Native American literature. I am a big fan of Louise Erdrich and James Welch. I love Alexie's short stories. This book was pretty good, and a very easy read. It's a bit on the side of magic realism, and the main charcter is an adolescent mixed race boy in foster care. It is violent and funny and kind of heart-warming. I'm not a big fan of the ending, but it is an entertaining diversion.

As part of the food committee for this week's group meeting, I made beer cheese soup. It was pretty good. And not too hard to make: potatoes, celery, carrots, bacon, chicken stock, beer, and cheese; paprika, white pepper, and some smoked salt. To borrow a line from Raising Arizona: "Just like makin' popcorn."

Try it, you'll like it. Something else you might like: check out the link to Cool Dry Place. I had no idea the old homestead was getting such national attention over a monkey. It's a good thing I know where my Monkey is.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Feeling Totally Nadir

A miserable day today. I tried not to let it be, but I couldn't ignore it. I had to keep a sophomore student after school today for throwing something across the room. When he said he would leave instead of staying after school, I suggested that that would be a bad choice.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because I would have to refer you to the office, then."

He then proceeded to tell me that I was the worst teacher he'd ever had. It was a mini diatribe, too, not just a tossed off phrase.

And that was the end of my day. Literally (it was the end of the day) and figuratively (it kind of sucked).

There is more to the story, but the point is that that just messed me up. I am already struggling with my sophomores, and this little episode didn't fill me with any more confidence.

To top it off, after I decompressed and processed with my mentor, I came home to find that the dog had puked on the carpet in the office. Can it get any better?

I shouldn't let the quality of my day be determined by the capricious whims of fifteen year olds. And yet, I do.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Happy Anniversary to Central Standard

There is a city by the sea,
a gentle company--
I don't suppose you want to?
The Decemberists, "Los Angeles, I'm Yours"

This lyric has no connection to this entry, except that it is playing right now as I type. Of course, by the time you click on the "What I'm Listening To (Right Now)" link, I will be listening to something different. But, that is what is rolling in the brain case right now.

When I started this endeavor in October of 2005, I anticipated it being a sort of note board for me to keep those I know and love posted. In this fluid world, fewer and fewer people stay put; many of you can understand that many people are left behind in the wake of all that moving around. I hoped to keep in some form of contact with them through this.

For the most part, I think that initial idea has come to fruition. Central Standard has become more than that, however. In many ways, it is a journal and a solace. In addition to "what we did today" type entries, there are more than a few diatribes and digressions. There may even be a jeremiad or two. There are silly shout outs to friends and family, chronicles of doggy mishaps, and half-assed reviews of books, movies, music, etc.

Most importantly, as I rocket through my days trying to help others improve their writing, it gives me an opportunity to make myself sit down and write. It's usually not much, and, as most informal, extemporaneous writing is, it's usually not great, but it does give me a chance to work the writing muscles.

As we recognize two years of blogging, I want to thank you who visit regularly. It helps me miss you all a bit less, knowing that somehow we can commune here for a few often silly moments, in the vast electronic arena known as the Internets.

And now, just for shits and giggles (as the Rev. Wayne Coomers likes to say), my top ten posts of the last two years (in no particular order).

The Fat Puppy Dog
This was big news...poor puppy dog.

Promises Made
Writing from the perspective of the new sofa.

And On The Eighth Day, They Shoved Their Heads Up Their Asses
Any time you can bash Kansas....

The Dream List
Just weird.

My Dog Don't Know From Tornado Warnings
True story...really.

Temporary Anachronism
I reveal my shortcomings in the eyes of my family.

At Rest
Lots o' pics!

School Lunch
Gotta have a post about chicken nuggets.

School Days on Ice Planet Hoth
I really ran with this Ice Planet Hoth thing this past winter.

Key Lime, a Natural History (Without Salt)
Simply perfect.