Category Archives: Life

Memorial Day Excerpt from ‘At Sea’

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Excerpt from At Sea

Jayee’s Lists (The Poor Sons of Bitches who Died) lay faded in a low kitchen drawer beneath batteries, broken pencils, expired dog food coupons, forgotten pink birthday candles, gum erasers, and other unsorted miscellany.

Superimposed over the small battlefield of the ranch where lambs and eagles met largely unrecorded deaths on a rangeland framed by fences and box elders and cottonwoods and a narrow creek carrying water off the backbone of the earth in years of drought and years of flood, the old man recorded soldiers’ names and souls.

He read the news from Vietnam with morning coffee and evening spirits, and with a fine surveyor’s hand, he tallied the bare bones of body counts between narrowed-ruled lines in light-weight Bluehorse notebooks intended for the wisdom of school.

After dinner he walked his dessert out through the bluebunch wheat grass and settling sheep to his ancient Studebaker pickup truck. He carried a sharp yellow pencil and a pack of Chesterfields, tools for doing his sums, “calculating Montana” in a cloud of cigarette smoke from “vintage tobaccos grown mild, aged mild, blended mild.”

On the first page of the first book he wrote, “Here are the poor sons of bitches who died.” On the last page of the last book, he wrote, “The dead, dying and wounded came home frayed, faded, scuffed, stained, or broken.”

On the pages in between, he wrote the name of each Montana soldier who was killed or missing in recorded battles far away. Sipping bourbon, smoking like a lotus in a sea of fire, he ordered, numbered, and divided the names by service branch, by casualty year, by meaningful cross references, by statistically significant tables, by the moon’s phases and sun’s seasons, by the cycles of sheep.

Jayee remarked from year to year that the notebooks grew no heavier with use. He saw fit to include the names of the towns where the dead once lived, fathered children and bought cigarettes. These names he learnt were also lighter than the smoke.

The current of his words between the pale blue lines of each thing page arose in fat, upper case letters that scraped the edges of their narrow channels. They began as a mere trickle from 1961 to 1964 that grew in volume in 1965 before the first spring thaw, to become a cold deluge that crested in 1968, wreaking havoc across the frail floodplain of pastures and pages, carrying the dark angry names scrawled with blunting pencil, and broken letters, through irregular grey smudges, over erasures that undercut the page deep enough and wide enough to rip away the heart from multiple entries. There was little respite in 1969. After that the deaths receded and most of the physical blood dried up by 1973.

The pages were dog eared, marked with paperclips already turning to rust, and fading to pale dust behind the list of towns: RICHEY, WHITEFISH, HELENA, CHOTEAU, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, KALISPELL, THOMPSON FALLS, THREE FORKS, STEVENSVILLE, TROUT CREEK, BILLINGS, CHOTEAU HINSDALE, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, SACO, SIDNEY, HAVRE, HELENA, GREAT FALLS, HELENA, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, DODSON, HELENA, ARLEE, REEDPOINT, HAVRE, BIG SANDY, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, WHITLASH, ROUNDUP, ROUNDUP, ST. IGNATIUS, HARLEM, BUTTE, BUTTE, WIBAUX, STEVENSVILLE, ABSAROKEE, LIBBY, WHITEFISH, GREAT FALLS, MISSOULA, HELENA, LIVINGSTON, CONRAD, GREAT FALLS, EUREKA, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, HELENA, JOLIET, BUTTE, MISSOULA, BROCKTON, MISSOULA, LEWISTOWN,  LAME DEER, SCOBEY,  ROSEBUD, GLASGOW, BILLINGS, ANACONDA, FT. BENTON, MISSOULA, KALISPELL, GREAT FALLS, HARDIN, ST. IGNATIUS, DODSON, MISSOULA, SHELBY, MILES CITY, CUSTER, GLASGOW, LEWISTOWN, BILLINGS, BELT,  LARSLAN, MILES CITY, BUTTE, BUSBY, MISSOULA, MELROSE, BILLINGS, LIBBY, BILLINGS, BAINVILLE, HATHAWAY, BOZEMAN, BILLINGS, BILLINGS, BUTTE, MCALLISTER, WIBAUX, BROWNING, MISSOULA, THOMPSON FALLS, THOMPSON FALLS, LOGAN, AVON, MISSOULA, ST. IGNATIUS, KALISPELL, BILLINGS, ROSEBUD, DENTON, CHARLO, ST. XAVIER, HARLOWTON, SANDERS, LEWISTOWN, LIVINGSTON, MISSOULA, LIBBY, BUTTE, BILLINGS, SUNBURST, TROY, BUTTE, CHINOOK, JORDAN, DODSON, GREAT FALLS, LIBBY, HELENA, BUTTE, ROSS FORK, GREAT FALLS, INTAKE, BUTTE, BUTTE, GREAT FALLS, LIVINGSTON, BILLINGS, REDSTONE, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, MCLEOD, FORSYTH, BILLINGS, HELENA, BILLINGS, MISSOULA, BOZEMAN, BUTTE, MALTA, KALISPELL,  ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, ST. IGNATIUS, INVERNESS, RONAN,  MISSOULA,  SCOBEY, ANTELOPE, BUTTE, MISSOULA, FORSYTH, BILLINGS, BUTTE,  BILLINGS, GREAT FALLS, DODSON, HELENA, GREAT FALLS, LAUREL, BUTTE, CUT BANK, WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, DEER LODGE, BUTTE,  HAMILTON, MILES CITY, KALISPELL, VALIER, SHELBY,  KILA, CHOTEAU, GREAT FALLS, MILES CITY, HAMILTON, GREAT FALLS, HAVRE,  LAME DEER, GREAT FALLS, TROUT CREEK, POLSON, PABLO, HELENA, BIG TIMBER, LAUREL, BILLINGS, GREAT FALLS, GREAT FALLS, BUTTE, MISSOULA, ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, MISSOULA, BOZEMAN, GREAT  FALLS, GLEN, GREAT FALLS, ST. IGNATIUS, FROMBERG, MISSOULA, KALISPELL, CORAM, KALISPELL, BILLINGS, HAVRE, GREAT FALLS, COFFEE CREEK, LIBBY, FT. PECK, BOZEMAN, FORSYTH, POLSON, MISSOULA, WOLF POINT, KALISPELL, BUTTE, FAIRVIEW, MISSOULA, MILES CITY, ANACONDA, GREAT FALLS, BILLINGS, WIBAUX, BILLINGS, CUT BANK, TERRY, ANACONDA, BUTTE, MISSOULA, FLORENCE, HAVRE, SUNBURST, EUREKA, BILLINGS, THOMPSON FALLS, RONAN, WOLF POINT, FLAXVILLE, GREAT FALLS, HELENA, KALISPELL, MISSOULA, ANACONDA, ALDER, VALIER, TROY, RICHEY, LINCOLN, CHOTEAU, BUTTE, MISSOULA, BILLINGS, CLYDE PARK, MISSOULA, MISSOULA, HAVRE, and TROY.

Jayee’s tallies added up like this:

USA  – 169

USAF – 16

USMC – 59

USN  – 23

TOT  – 267

 

The old man made 267 trips around Montana between 1961 and 1972 that no surveying jobs could account for. He said little to the family about it and they didn’t often ask.

During Jayee’s second trip to Havre in 1966, Mavis, a waitress at the Beanery, noticed a stack of 44-inch white crosses sticking out from beneath a tarp in his truck.  On each cross there was a name. When she suggested that Jayee was stealing them from roadside accident scenes, he said he made them per spec to repay old debts.

Mavis asked Katoya if Jayee was all right and Katoya said “right enough.” He returned to the restaurant multiple times to prove he was right enough and was sitting there on August 31, 1967 when the 77-year-old Great Northern restaurant served its last bowl of Irish stew and closed its doors for good. When the building was torn down the following February, he pounded “an extra cross” into the rubble where the counter once stood and said it was the best he could do.

Months passed and additional stories surfaced about an old man crisscrossing the state searching for the families of the fallen, and of warm conversations lasting long into the dark hours. Jayee remained solitary and taciturn in the face of public or private praise or blame and traveled from town to town methodically, as though he was marking chaining stations along an endless open traverse.

After each individual’s name, he wrote XD (cross delivered), XR (cross refused), or CNF (could not find).

On October 18, 1974, Jayee died (surrounded by old relatives and the close perfume of vintage tobacco) with a freshly sharpened yellow pencil, with a half-smoked pack of Chesterfields, with lists and spirits close at hand, “waiting,” he always told those who asked about them.

Reverend Jones stood before the mourners in the small church and read the names of those who wished to remember and to be remembered, and one upon one, they created a great hymn that rose up over the banks of their consciousness and flowed down the rivers of their perception in a crowned deluge.

Copyright (c) 2010, 2016 by Malcolm R. Campbell

For Mother’s Day – One of Mother’s Recipes

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Green Rice

Kathryn Belle Campbell

Mother kept her recipes on 3X5 cards in metal boxes, one of which ended up with me. This is one of my favorites because it works so well as a comfort-food side dish for many things, including fried or baked chicken, pork chops, pork or beef ribs, and even cubed steak or fried fish. As her recipe card said, “this rice dish is unusual and very good.” (Note: the rice itself is not green.)

  1. Cook 1 cup of long grain rice according to the instructions on the package.
  2. To the cooked rice, add 1 cup milk, 1 egg, 1 cup grated sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese, 1/2 minced green pepper, 1/2 cup of minced parsley, and 1 half clove of garlic.
  3. Mix thoroughly and pour into a greased baking dish.
  4. Pour 1/2 cup of olive oil over the top.
  5. Bake for 1 hour in a moderate (350 degree) oven. Casserole top will be slightly browned.
  6. Serves 6-8.

Notes:

  • Neither of us likes green pepper and since the taste in the casserole is pervasive, we omit it.
  • Fresh parsley tastes a lot better than dried. (No offence to the McCormick Company.)
  • We use a lot less olive oil: you can get the taste of it with 1/4 a cup or even a little less.
  • We cheat with a little garlic powder. (Yes, I know, Chef Ramsey would be ticked off.)

When I was recovering from kidney surgery a year ago, my wife found that this food was gentle on my stomach and hit the spot when served alone. It warms up easily in the microwave.

–Malcolm

Renewal

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“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Springtime and Easter bring thoughts of renewal as nature–and, perhaps, men–leave the often misunderstood darkness of Winter. That this brings many of us a reaffirmation of our spirituality, regardless of the name of our religion, cannot be doubted. Or, perhaps if can be doubted, but for many of us renewal is as natural as the seasons.

Symbols of renewal. Wikipedia Photo

Carl Jung, in his Red Book, referred to the spirit of the times as a force or set of forces that drew men into the temporal clutches of popular thinking. We often lose confidence in ourselves because the spirit of the times often seems so chaotic, fragile, focused on expedient ends, and sometimes predicts that one kind of doom or another is all the future holds.

It’s hard to ignore the spirit of the times because it’s our common currency. Yet, it sows doubt and can lead us to believe that renewal is something for another time eons into the future or am experience many steps or miles away from wherever we appear to be stuck at the moment.

The spirit of the depths, as Jung called it, appears as madness and insanity to those trying to live “properly” within the consensus spirit of the times. Yet that spirit contains all the great truths, everything that can be known about the cosmos and the Creator behind it and within it. We’re afraid of it and believe its truths are beyond us. So, we often speak of our spiritual journey as a lifetime or multi-lifetime trip. We look for destinations that “matter” and “steps that seem important” and experiences that seem to hold the keys to transformation. It’s vain to think otherwise, we believe, because the spirit of the times continues to lead us to believe that important goals take years to accomplish, and who are we to find the creator in a moment?

And yet, I cannot help but think that spiritual renewal–unlike the clock-like cycle of the seasons–has no timetable. Perhaps we rush hither and yon without grasping how we are changing and why we are going one place or another. While Springtime and Easter remind us of renewal, I rather think it’s always an eye blink away–whenever we’re ready. There’s no hurry: we’re ready when we’re ready, though it seems that we deny how close it may be by brainwashing ourselves to think it’s far away.

Like the “force” in Star Wars, it’s with us always. We’ll hear it better if we can tune out the loud and clamoring voices around us that tempt us to follow one fad or political party or spiritual journey of the moment.  That’s when we finally grasp that we’re already at the place where we’ve been going.

–Malcolm

Should I be writing about political issues?

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Arts, publishing and books websites are showing us a large number of links about writers and politics these days. Some writers are speaking out (from one side of the aisle or the other) at rallies, via letters to Senators and Representatives, and posts on Facebook profiles. Others are writing poems, entire poetry chapbooks, essays, book reviews, short stories and novels that reflect their concerns about a wide variety of political, economic and social issues that became part of the very polarized national debate during the Presidential campaign.

Somebody–I forget who–once said that all fiction and poetry is at one level or another political. Perhaps so. My contemporary fantasies can’t help but show sadness over a world that relies more on technology than spirituality. My two Florida conjure novels shine a light on the racism of the 1950s. Nonetheless, my primary intent with these novels was telling stories I was passionate about rather than creating “message novels.”

When I think about the folk songs of the 1960s–and a lot of the poetry and fiction as well–I remember them as being intensely political, about “the military industrial establishment,” segregation, poverty, and the Vietnam War. We seem to have come full circle back to writings of protest and resistance against conservative policies as well as writings suggesting that that previous liberal policies created a mess that needs to be cleaned up.

Of course I have opinions about the issues. One opinion of longstanding favors a better approach to the environment, conservation, protection of wild areas and natural resources, and more care about not polluting the environment. Since these views go all the way back to the days when I was in the Boy Scouts and first began to participate in conservation organizations such as the Wilderness Society and the National Parks and Conservation Association, I will keep writing about this–and referring to it in my stories.

While I respect writers and others who feel a need to speak out for or against the issues that now threaten to further divide this country into camps that refuse to work toward consensus, I’m not going to do it. For one thing, I have no credentials that give me any special insight into whether we should be doing ABC or XYZ.  For another thing, much of the debate in both the news media and the social media is being driven by biased or skewed news, sensationalism and other misleading information, and voters on both sides of the issue who approach discussion with a “my candidate right or wrong.” All of this divides us further and makes the truth harder to find.

So my “voice” is going to stay focused on environmental issues and in writing fiction even if the two things get stirred up together a little bit. None of the rants–even those I basically agree with–on Facebook and elsewhere are changing people’s minds. Why not? Because they’re skewed toward the far right or the far left rather than a more centrist approach where people can really discuss the issues sanely rather than throwing gasoline on the fire with dueling wisecracks and graphics.

I welcome those journalists and other writers who do their best to look past the hysteria and tell us the facts and/or to carefully analyze the practicality, ethics, and legality of the issues in their news stories, features, essays, poems, and fiction. Anything else is pretty much spitting into the wind.

–Malcolm

 

I gotta ask, ‘whose chair is this?’

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Every morning it’s the same.

chairwithkatyAfter the kitties are fed and the dishwasher is emptied, I find something figuratively described as breakfast and pour a cup of Maxwell House coffee which will be good to the last drop. Katy, a big-boned or a fat calico (depending on who’s describing her) follows me around while I do this.

Then I take the “breakfast” and coffee to my den. Katy follows. If I forget something, like my glasses, she follows me back to the kitchen while I retrieve them and returns with me to the den like a dog who’s just passed an AKC utility obedience trial and merits as CDX designation.

However, were the trial judge to follow us into the den, s/he would discard the CDX one nanosecond after Katy occupies 55% or more of my desk chair. Katy stays there until dinner, ebbing and flowing–one might say–to occupy smaller or larger portions of the chair. Sometimes, I feel like I’m about to be evicted and say, “Katy, I gotta ask, whose chair is this?”

She thinks it’s her chair. Well, that figures.

Malcolm

 

Human Trafficking Awareness Month

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nativehopeAlthough human trafficking “is a global issue, it is also prevalent very close to home. Native American women and children make up 40% of sex trafficking victims in the state of South Dakota alone. According to federal data, Native women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as women of other races. They are also subject to high rates of intimate-partner violence and other forms of assault. These factors, along with poverty, substance abuse, and foster care, can make them vulnerable to exploitation. Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, reiterates the ‘threat of human trafficking to Native communities and sex trafficking of Native Americans and Alaska Natives,” describing the ‘first citizens of the United States as some of the most vulnerable.’” – Native Hope

Read more at Native Hope

According to their website, 88% of the crimes committed against native women are committed by non-Indians. This is a long-standing and intolerable problem and, frankly, the kind of statistic we believe we’re more likely to hear from a third-world nation. Of course, many Indian reservations rank below many third world nations when it comes to health care, employment, sanitation and other services most of us take for granted, and quality of life. Nonetheless, the facts surprise me.

Most of us cannot do anything about this problem by ourselves. Yet, through working with others, we can create meaningful change and improve the lives of countless women.

You can help by clicking on the highlighted link above, learning more, and considering a donation.

And, as the site says, “If you believe someone you know may be a victim or is in a vulnerable position, read our article on signs to watch for. If you are a victim and need help, please call the hotline at the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.”

See also: National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center  and Wiconi Wawokiya – a Lifeway to a Better Future Without Violence in Our Community.

–Malcolm

The tragic losses of 2016

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Americans like statistics almost as much as baseball aficionados. As we wend our way toward the end of a year, we see them, those statistics.

  • Most important news stories
  • Best books of the year
  • Top-earning movies of the year
  • Deaths of famous people.

In the social media, people have been saying 2016 is a bad year for the high number of deaths of famous people, most recently Carrie Fisher and Watership Down author Richard Adams. And a few days ago, George Michael. Those who die younger than some unknown age are said to have died too soon. Even so, the loss of people who have lived well past the normal life expectancy is said to be tragic.

statsCelebrities impact us in larger-than-life ways. So, it’s not surprising that the deaths of well-known people impact us more than the numbers of people who died in Aleppo or the fact that traffic fatalities exceed the death tolls of most (if not all) of our wars.

So, we mourn the losses of the rich and famous whom we don’t personally know as though they are close friends and family. Those we don’t know, aren’t on our radar because–suffice it to say–in spite of the large numbers of dead in Aleppo, there’s no apparent connection between us.

That lack of an apparent connection is one thing that, quite possibly, keeps us sane as individuals, for we do not have the capacity to mourn everyone who dies with the same level of grief that’s present when we lose a spouse, parent, or child–or, apparently, a celebrity.

In some ways, celebrities are stand-ins for the heroes of old, and we celebrate them for doing and being what we believe everyone should be capable of doing and being; likewise, we chide them and turn on them when they disappoint us almost as though they’re our own wayward children.

How odd life and death are. We know in our hearts that everyone dies, yet express surprise when they do. As a writer, I often wrestle with this seeming paradox, but I have to tell you I haven’t come up with a suitable answer to it. In my other blog, I wrote that It’s hard to say goodbye to Princes Leia.  And it is. It seems natural that it is and it seems ironic that it is when those closer to home who are, say, friends of a friend impact me less. I hate to dismiss all this with something lame like “that’s just the way people are.”

Perhaps like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, I mourned the loss of Janis Joplin in 1970 while wondering why I was mourning her loss. Yes, I liked her music. But I never met her, never saw her in a concert, didn’t have an autographed picture of her, hadn’t memorized her discography, and didn’t drink Southern Comfort. But still, I felt bad about it more than just shaking my head at the lost potential of her “going too soon,” “dying too young,” and the other things people said when when she was gone.

I still don’t understand the tragic nature of death or why the deaths of strangers often impact us more than the deaths of people who, by all reasonable statistics, are much closer to us. But mourning is what we do in good faith and quite naturally, so other than wondering about it as an author might, I can only say that it’s the way things are. That’s okay, I guess.

Malcolm