Revisiting Lonesome Dove, the Western EVERYONE Should Read


My life has been all filled up with books, but only a surprising few have been as all-consuming, enjoyable, and emotion-wrenching as Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove

But there are a lot of reasons I might never have read it, were it not for a coworker’s bothered insistence:

  • It looks like a grocery store paperback 
  • It looks like it belongs on my grandparent’s bookshelf of cowboy knickknacks and western ephemera…
  • I have not often been a reader of fiction, especially fiction with the dimension of a brick, stretching toward 1,000 pages

These little reading prejudices would have kept me from one of the greatest reading experiences of my adult life, so I imagine there might be other readers similiarly misgivin.

But you should consider these factors as well:

  • Pulitzer Prize winning
  • People of all backgrounds, not just Western knick-knack collecting grandparents, have their hearts laid barren by this great novel… read some online forums where people sing the praises
  • I am jealous of anyone that has not read it, because the story still lies ahead of them like untouched country! If I only I could stand there again!

This is the sort of book that left me immediately sentimental, confused, lonely, and misplaced upon finish. Sort of afraid to move, or pick up a new book, as it might disrupt the aura.

Here we arrive at my title, Lonesome Dove revisited.

There’s a sequel. (And prequels!? We’ll save those for another day.)

Streets of Laredo.

Now this is a controversial matter.

While I’ve had a second-hand copy for 6 months or more, I’ve been hesitant to reopen and perhaps desecrate the Lonesome Dove corners of my heart. While I wanted the story to go on, there was also the great fear that McMurtry might somehow spoil his own saga.

But here’s what I have to say having just finished chapter 1 of Streets: though time has passed in my life as in the story, little by little McMurtry’s writing is reanimating the aura that I was so careful to protect. It just feels good to be back in his writing. 
I go through little reading droughts, or spend time with less immersive (understatement!) nonfiction.

This is just the sort of book I need to take a mental vacation, to be transported away from our news-cycles, and perhaps more refreshingly, away from my own head and perspective. 

A few pages spent with Woodrow F. Call, and I find myself settling in, not only to a new story, but the comforting presence Call has in the world. A quiet character, polite, brave… but always apart from things, from civilization, from even his men. Somewhat confounded by simple things others seem to take for granted, like affection.

It doesn’t hurt to find a character I can read myself into and sometimes in that reading seem to know myself better.

I found Lonesome Dove to be much like Stephen King’s The Stand, because the novels each cycle through a sort of deep point of view perspective and thought process for various characters with different personalities and positions, before charting the way they interact with one another. 

We’ll see how chapter 2 goes, but for now, I’m tipping my hat to McMurtry, and saying that I value the chance to experience a new story more than my need to protect the sacredness of the first book. 

Like my grandpa said, and perhaps this is even a McMurtry quote, nothing feels better than riding into new country on a fine horse. 

Once again, it feels like I’m doing just that!

JRD

3.8.17

A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World

There were 110 years between Columbus’ 1492 voyage and the pilgrims’ arrival… what happened in between?

That question stumped author Tony Horwitz, college history major, as he visited the touristy Plymouth Rock site and realized our popular history is missing about a century long chapter.

So there’s the simple premise of the book, digging into that time period with a combination of research and firsthand travel.

I’ve never read Horwitz before (Blue Latitudes,Confederates in the Attic, Baghdad Without a Map, One for the Road) but was hooked into this book by this interesting focus. The easy tone and style of the short introduction gave me the sense that Horwitz would take me alongside as a friend on a pleasant, humorous journey.

Maybe that’s the fun of this sort of nonfiction, making the journey of discovery together as novices, rather than being spoken down to by all knowing academic texts. If I sound a bit defensive, it’s true– my lack of formal history study has bothered me as an oversight of my education. Ha! Well, this history-degreed author knows nothing more than I do! It’s a good feeling to start a book with.

Picked up secondhand, had been sitting on my bookshelf… waiting to be discovered.

No better way to start a book, is there?! A beautiful map across the fold

I studied the map at length, really letting TH’s premise set in. Of course these names are somewhat familiar (I even taught a similar map to 8th grade students!) but what do I really know about these early European Explorers? What about the European mindset and events of this time period? A blur. I’m certainly fascinated by the major overland routes of De Coronado and De Vaca.

Part 1: Discovery

A lot going on here! Are those deer aboard the ship? What exactly are the European wizards offering… a bejeweled chalice? What are the emotions of the indigenous group? Okay, yes, we’re talking about an artist’s rendition… but this is an interesting artifact of FIRST CONTACT (FYI, that’s the best Star Trek movie, IMHO). How did European’s react to this news back from Columbus? 

Chpt 1: Before Columbus, be there Vikings

The author begins the book proper by taking a road trip across Newfoundland to the viking settlement and Parks Canada National Park at L’Anse aux Meadows. This now extremely remote and little populated fishing village was the first confirmed archeological site of pre-Columbus European SETTLEMENT. Not just a visit or drive by, the vikings set up shop and spent some time battling the indigenous inhabitants before deciding the natives were a bit too dangerous.

TH spends a week in the fishing village visiting with the locals, many of whom have worked as Viking living-history actors at the park. As the fishing industry became less lucrative, the Canadian government sponsored programs to retrain these remote fishermen as historic reenactors… which led to unemployed fishermen becoming unemployed actors!

The Norse history here is brief, half bloody, half domestic, and quite interesting.

Viking history is mixed with conversations with the charming locals. A highpoint of this chapter, it portrays a slice of life pretty removed from the modern world.

Takeaway point: The Brutal Vikings Retreated Because the Natives Were Too Much of an Ongoing Threat.

The Vikings called them the derogatory “Skraelings,” but in lore, the local inhabitants mounted fierce attacks from hide-stretched canoes (including catapults) that eventually drove them back to Greenland where their colony eventually perished.

Curious about the native history, and decedents, TH heads south through bug-infested mainland to a POWWOW at the 500+ mile distant Micmac reservation. Comic mishaps ensue as he gets a little too involved (perhaps) with the ceremonies and local cuisine, before heading home and ending the chapter.

Excited to begin this book, it’s broken my reading drought

While I’m fatigued from writing this too-long entry (apologies!), I’m very excited to continue this Voyage with Horwitz (let’s call him TH, we’re on a road trip together after all, a nickname feels appropriate.) I certainly feel the thrill of travel to new places, conversation with locals (something I cherish in real life, but don’t have the opportunity for often), and with each page… I feel a lightness in my chest as my guilt-about-lack-of-history-knowledge is at least temporarily relieved with new (old) knowledge.

“Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it”

That quote above my 7th grade history teacher’s blackboard has always stuck with me. I’m excited to see how filling in the gap of this forgotten century rounds out my knowledge and opens new doors.

11/29/16

getting started

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Greetings.

I’ve been thinking about starting an outdoors oriented blog for awhile now. Something along the lines of… “easy way outside.” How to get outdoors with minimal cost, worry, research, etc.

I tend to overthink things, to super-shop the many options of any purchase. I sometimes spend more time fawning over outdoors things than actually getting outdoors. While I’ve had some years when I slept outdoors more days than indoors, I’ve also had some years when I went to REI more than I went hiking.

While outdoors equipment is useful, I think there’s a sort of mental trap where the magazine and catalogue narrative starts to interfere with my actual experiences. 

The thinking is like this:

If I had x, then I’d be living a more active/happy/connected life.

Where x =

  • new bike(s) (disc breaks, gravel, fat bike, etc)
  • electronics: GPS, heart rate, cycle computer, swim watch
  • newer, lighter backpacking things
  • JACKETS!!!
  • Bags.
  • etc

My hope is to find a balance.

How do I keep my connection with the outdoors and nature vital even as I live a suburban, family, job, and house anchored life?  

I’m not a skier or snowboarder, rock climber or mountaineer, organic farmer or rancher… I’ve even shied away from mountain or road biking. So how do I relate to the outdoors?

Well, for the most part, the easy way.

Walking in open spaces and interesting neighborhoods.

Hiking the rural periphery of the city.

Casual bike rides on the path system.

That’s what I’m already doing. I suppose I want to go a step further. To recapture the best parts of my outdoor experiences from the past– backpacking, river trips, some mountain climbing, desert exploration, mountain town living. And most importantly, sharing the sense of connection and community that comes from having these adventures, and sharing those outdoor meals, with others.

What does that look like for adults unable to spend the entire summer, or year, working outdoors?

  • To get better at planning, and take on some major yearly adventures– even just camping nearby.
  • To anchor year round activities with planning and conditioning, so even winter feels meaningfully linked to summer adventures.
  • To build community around the outdoors– to find others to explore and adventure with.
  • To find new ways to relate to outdoor spaces. If I only see ski resorts and mountain biking trails on the map, I’ll never see a spot for myself, or understand exactly how to relate and engage. What about looking to the empty spaces on the map, and developing a more holistic view of them: ecology, geology, human history, land management, et cetera?
  • And of course, share what I already know, and what I’m learning, with others.

Okay. Sounds easy enough! So let’s get started.