Thursday, October 28, 2004

The Power of the Internet

Tonight I got and sent an email from Pete over in Thailand. He's busy with his life, his new wife and trying to start his bronze business. Anyhow, i'm trying to connect Pete with my new friend Hossein, who is Iranian. hossein has some friends who make and sell pottery and I thought he and Pete could somehow cross-network.

Here's a glimpse at how my twisted mind works when I have too much time on my hands. While daydreaming about how all this could lead to some sort of adventure in iran for me, a Greg Brown playing in the background made me start day dreaming. my thoughts of Iran floated to Turkey and thoughts of beautiful rugs and wonderful people and then my mind floated to a dusty corner and the name of Ela Aktay popped out. Ela was the first girl I thought I was in "real" love with and that would have been about 20 years ago. I have some funny stories about meeting her parents (Turkish emmigrants to the US) but I'll save that for another time. So suddenly I was thinking of Ela and I remembered how I found her about three years ago, from a paper I came across that had an E. Aktay of Evanston, IL as the author. I sent her an email and she responded very promptly. We started to exchange emails back and forth but they soon faded. So here I sat, daydreaming and all sorts of wondering filled my head, as it often does when I think about life and the journey we all make through it.

So I googled her...and I not only found her and the reviews she's done, but I found a bio on her and a picture. Wow! 20 years. Pretty amazing. from the sounds of it, she's still married to Matt Booty, a guy I never met him and a guy who had a made up image in my head that has been locked up in one of those seldom visited corners of my mind. He might be a swell guy, seeing how Ela's been married to him for quite some time, he must be. Hmmm. interesting.
Ela 2004.bmp

Monday, October 25, 2004

Being Mad at Blogger

I haven't posted for a week or so because I've been mad at Blogger. See, I wrote this very wonderful review of the third day at Yellowstone...quite detailed and blogger lost it. I know that sounds absurd, but I posted the damn thing and it just never appeared. no search found the glitch and this isn't the first time.

But I heart blogger and I heart my little corner of the owrld, so I am back 9but I'm still mad).

I'll write another 3rd day review soon.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Our Yellowstone Adventure, Day 3

Sorry for the hurdy-gurdy approach to my journal these days, but I wanted to put the final touches on the Yellowstone National Park adventure I had with Mom, Dad, Chris & Nicole. If you haven't read the prior posts, you may want to before reading any further.

I awoke bright and early Sunday, as Dad went outside for a smoke and the sound was just enough to roust me from my slumber. It had gotten cold the night before, and the morning sun was already busily melting the frost on the Hoosier's Hotel roof, which was plop, plop, plopping onto the sidewalk.
Cooke City was quite tranquil, either because the locals were sleeping off the Saturday night fun had at the Miner's Saloon or perhaps they were already up and out hunting or something. As I said before Cooke City is an end of the road sort of place. We had breakfast at one of three places open, and the Chinese waitress (with a wedding band on...I'm thinking international matchmaking) was also serving as cashier and cook when we arrived (later a woman who was either Estonian or Ukrainian came in to help...very odd). We downed the oversized pancakes and bad sausage and headed out of town (but not before a fewpictures), back into the park for the last time.
The morning just kept getting better, as we spotted plenty of bison and Elk heading back through the Lamar Valley. The valley floor, so full of activity just 16 hours earlier, was quiet and serene. We decided to try and get back to Missoula before night fall and I had secretly decided to make it to Dillon, so my brother could get to do one of the things he really wanted, stop at the Patagonia Outlet. We made pretty good time to mammoth Springs and stopped there for some Yellowstone souvenir shopping and some grub.
We drove past the sights that two days earlier had been so alien that I felt like I was on the moon and headed west towards West Yellowstone. Our bald eagle was busy somewhere else and we quickly worked our way past packs of cars stopped to look at Elk...Elk! Ha! We'd marked Elk off on Friday....Amateurs!

Heading out of West Yellowstone we took the back roads. The countryside was expansive and lonely...the only people who seem to habituate that part of the state are ranchers and fishermen. We drove past miles and miles of vast ranch land before heading back into the Horn Mountains, clearing Reynolds Pass and meeting up with the famous Madison River. We passed feeders like Deadman's Creek, Secret Lake, and Papoose Creek. The area is just gorgeous. We finally reached the town of Ennis, where the road turns west towards Twin Bridges. Along this stretch we passed through Virginia City and Nevada City, the latter being a complete ghost town (now maintained by the state). The area had the misfortune of being part of the gold rush and was heavily mined using the abhorrent hydraulic technique, which has left the entire stretch from Virginia City to Alder looking like one big messy gravel pit with huge piles of Rick and tailing ponds scattered along the way. Disgusting.

It was at Twin Bridges that I revealed my plan, "it's 4:30 PM", I said, "...we're 28 miles from Dillon and the Patagonia Outlet, which closes at 5:00 PM. I think we can make it." my brothers eyes lit up as he tried to act cool, "only if you want" was his response. So I turned south on Montana 41 and drove like a bat out of hell to Dillon. We passed some amazing farmland, all green and shiny contrasted against the brown of the surrounding Ruby Range. We arrive in Dillon at 4:55 PM and, to our delight, were welcomed into the store. We spent the next hour or so, the only customers in the now closed store, shopping and telling the employees about our adventures. They loved us!!! And they loved our cash too!!!!

We arrived back in Missoula about 9:30 PM, tired and happy. What an adventure we had.The gang

Book Review: A Rumor of War


I am somewhat of a history buff, including military history. Over the past 10 years or so I've tried to learn more about the history of various parts of Asia, Europe, Africa and the United States. I've also read quite a few books on various wars and conflicts, both modern and historical.
From the moment the United States invaded Iraq, comparisons to the US involvement in Vietnam began to surface. And as time has worn on, the comparisons to me seemed to merit some sort of personal research. My friend Rick is also an avid reader, especially of military history and he suggested I read A Rumor of War, which has been touted as one of the defining pieces on Vietnam.
This book is brutally honest...not only in detailing the often surreal events in Vietnam and the consequences suffered by soldiers and civilians alike from often farcical decision made somewhere far off, but also in the depiction of what can do to perfectly sane and otherwise moral individuals.
It can be disturbing at times, but is so forthright in the presentation of human tragedy that every night I closed the book I sat wondering what I would do if thrust into such a situation.
The western world today seems to have some notion of War that is insane. There seems to be a sense amongst Americans and Europeans that our technology has advanced to the point that "precision" is the only acceptable conduct of War. I think Wendell Berry said it best when he said that if you can accept that death is part of War then you must accept that ANY death is part of War. This book reminds us that War is devastating and ugly and death makes no distinction between color of uniform or uniform at all.

Here are the publisher's comments:
When it first appeared, A Rumor of War brought home to American readers, with terrifying vividness and honesty, the devastating effects of the Vietnam War on the soldiers who fought there. And while it is a memoir of one young man’s experiences and therefore deeply personal, it is also a book that speaks powerfully to today’s students about the larger themes of human conscience, good and evil, and the desperate extremes men are forced to confront in any war.
A platoon commander in the first combat unit sent to fight in Vietnam, Lieutenant Caputo landed at Danang on March 8, 1965, convinced that American forces would win a quick and decisive victory over the Communists. Sixteen months later and without ceremony, Caputo left Vietnam a shell-shocked veteran whose youthful idealism and faith in the rightness of the war had been utterly shattered. A Rumor of War tells the story of that trajectory and allows us to see and feel the reality of the conflict as the author himself experienced it, from the weeks of tedium hacking through scorching jungles, to the sudden violence of ambushes and firefights, to the unbreakable bonds of friendship forged between soldiers, and finally to a sense of the war as having no purpose other than the fight for survival. The author gives us a precise, tactile view of both the emotional and physical reality of war.
When Caputo is reassigned to headquarters as “Officer in Charge of the Dead,” he chronicles the psychological cost of witnessing and recording the human toll of the war. And after his voluntary transfer to the frontlines, Caputo shows us that the major weapons of guerrilla fighting are booby traps and land mines, and that success is measured not in feet but in body counts. Nor does the author shrink from admitting the intoxicating intensity of combat, an experience so compelling that many soldiers felt nostalgic for it years after they’d left
Vietnam. Most troubling, Caputo gives us an unflinching view not only of remarkable bravery and heroism but also of the atrocities committed in Vietnam by ordinary men so numbed by fear and desperate to survive that their moral distinctions had collapsed.
More than a statement against war, Caputo’s memoir offers readers today a profoundly visceral sense of what war is and, as the author says, of “the things men do in war and the things war does to men.”
This edition includes a twentieth-anniversary postscript by the author.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Yellowstone Park 2004, Day Two

We awoke early Saturday with every intent to get into the park before the weekend rush. The first of October is the official rate change date, when summer rates go away and many area shops begin to close. Yellowstone is huge and mountainous and the weather changes fast. In the winter, the only road that stays open all season is from the Gardiner entrance to the NE entrance at Cooke City, everything else shuts down and becomes accessible to snow mobiles and winter enthusiasts. So this first weekend in October is just about the last weekend of crowds in the Park and is by far much less crowded than high season...still we really enjoyed Friday and hoped to not get in too many crowds.

I forgot to mention that our night in West Yellowstone ended with a huge bus pulling up and coughing out what may have been the entire male teenage population of some small Montana town, the football team which came down to battle the West Yellowstone high school team. In the morning, they evidently tried to eat anything not nailed down in the Brandin' Irons kitchen. Free continental breakfast was included with our stay, but the high school boys literally ate them out of house and home. It was actually pretty funny and the amount of testosterone floating around the hotel, if bottled, could certainly have given some of the herbal Viagra's a run for their money.

So, with not so full stomach's we headed back into the Park. Chris was the first to spot the Bald Eagle...perched high on a dead Pine Tree overlooking a river. It was a beautiful sight, that early in the morning. The sky was blazing blue and the fall colors were in full display. The Eagle was huge and so regal. It gave us all a big smile. We'd heard there were grizzlies over in the Hayden Valley, which happened to be on the opposite side of the park. We decided to swing back down past Old Faithful and zip through the West Thumb, so we could see some of the beauty around Yellowstone Lake. This also gave us a chance to stop at some more paint pots. We saw waterfalls, bison, elk, hawks, deer and some other greyish birds that i've been unable to identify in my birding books.

We made it into the Hayden Valley and saw more Eagle and a few coyotes, but no grizzly. We saw plenty of stupid people though, some getting to within 5 feet or so of full grown bison...it was amazing. Every year people get gored or cars get totaled because they forget these are WILD animals. Some of the buffoonery has led to death. Just two weeks before we arrived, a man got gored badly by a bull elk in rut, getting up close and using a flash camera on the poor beast. The result was the man went to the hospital with a big hole in his belly, the elk caused $25,000.00US in damage to nearby vehicles and had to have his rack cut off to try and ease his aggression. Anyhow, we headed up to Canyon Village and the infamous Yellowstone waterfalls, quite possible the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in person.

The waterfall is just simply amazing and the canyon it has carved is proof of the awesome power of nature. We were all in complete awe. Afterwards we decided to forego a trip south to Jackson and instead head back up and around to the Lamar Valley, a place of renown for wildlife viewing. We decided not to stop for anything and get straight to the valley, although we did make one detour, taking the Blacktail Plateau scenic route, a 7 mile dirt road that goes into the high country. Pretty amazing.

We came across a viewing area high above a massive meadow and pulled in. There were 5 or 6 other groups of people, some in lawn chairs with scopes set up looking out into the meadow. I talked to a wonderful older couple who'd been there all day...they told me a pack of wolves had killed a cow elk sometime in the middle of the night before and supposedly a male grizzly had also been feeding on the carcass. They were there all day hoping the wolves would return. We decided this might be our best chance to see a grizzly and set up shop too. There were big herds of bison, antelope and elk scatterred across the meadow and it was a beautiful sight,as the sun started to set and the gold of the grass was set off by the blaze of the sun. More and more people came, soome staying some moving on but a very nice couple set up next to us with a huge scope. Two men arrived next and they knew the couple who was next to us, so they too joined our band. The man next to us spotted a black bear (Mark it off!!!!) and so about 15 scopes and sets of binoculors all swerved over to see the bear, loping across the meadow where it rose to meet the mountainside. About that time a young girl, who had said, "is that a grizzly?" about 20 times, shouted, "I think there are some grizzly bears eating the elk"! No one really moved their scopes but sort of looked with some interest out towards where the carcass lay, near the rivers edge. Then the girls' father looked in the scope and I heard an, "I'll be damned" come from his lips...all the scopes swung in unison and sure enough, somehow a full grown sow and the griz cubs had made it into the meadow without any of us seeing them. Apparantly she used the setting sun as camoflouge to hide her approach. It was like something straight out of a nature show. We sat up there watching her and the cubs feed for about 20 minutes, cubs eating, fighting and playing, mother eating and constantly sticking her snout in the air to smell for any danger. The crowd swelled as news of a grizzly traveled. And here we were, looking at not one, but 4 grizzly bear! About 20 minutes into it, momma griz sniffed and sniffed, stood and looked and then took off into the sun, with all three cubs in single file. Soon a three legged coyote came into view...surely a coyote couldn't scare off a grizzly bear? About that time a truck pulled up and a guy jumped out holding an antennae and some sort of reader. He was with the Friend of the Yellowstoine wolf and was tracking a pack...and boom, they came, the wolves in a pack to reclaim their kill. It was astounding to see, these pack animals swooping in, the coyote running for dear life. Excitement abounded and I have to admit to more than a few high fives with the people all around me. It was one of those life experiences for us. We quickly packed up as the light faded and tried to head down the road to see another pack of wolves we'd heard about...unfortunately we only think we saw them as the light just wasn't good enough to tell. So a 30 mile drive through Yellowstone in the dark...a dangerous proposition, lay ahead of us to reach Cooke City, an end of the road town that spends the winter socked in with only one reliable road in and out...the road back through the park and to Gardiner. We stayed at the Hoosier Motel, which featured satellite TV (all 5 channels) and ate dinner at the Miner's Saloon, a local...and I mean local...bar and grill. There were plenty toothless men and spent women whooping it up on Saturday night. A true experience.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Yellowstone Nat'l Park, Prelude & Day One

Mom & Dad arrived in Missoula last Tuesday afternoon. The weather here was unbelievable; after two weeks of wet, cold and blustery weather Mother Nature decided to shine down on the northern Rockies...it was perfect. We went to The Depot for dinner and the service & food were both wonderful. I worked on Wednesday, letting Mom & Dad have a free day to enjoy our Indian Summer. We spent the evening looking at maps, going over accommodation possibilities and laughing about the fact we'd been planning this trip for two months but still had no idea what we were going to do or what direction we were headed.
My brotherChris arrived Wednesday night with his girlfriend Nicole. Thursday morning we all packed up, stood around the map and finally decided to head to Gardiner, Montana at the northern tip of Yellowstone. I came into the office to wrap up a few things before we stopped at Worden's Market on the way out of town for one of their awesome sandwiches. Worden's is a Missoula landmark and I always take visitors there for the food and the funky people watching.
The drive down to Gardiner, MT was fun because Chris and Nicole had never been to Montana, let alone the mountainous region of western Montana. Every turn shows something new. We stopped just east of Butte to get a photo of all of us at the Continental Divide. We laughed about that one quite a bit. We stopped in Bozeman and visited the Wheat Montana bakery, a very cool bakery where all the products are made from Montana spelt and wheat flour. We got some muffins for the next morning and some 9 grain cereal to make cookies with. Just east of Bozeman we got caught in a pretty hellacious rainstorm and the weather turned quite nasty. The drive from Livingston down to Gardiner was beautiful though, with big puffy rain clouds and spots of blazing sun combining to cast amazing shadows across the open meadows and on the mountain sides. Daylight was running out but we decided to pull a National Lampoon-esque stunt and zipped over to see Chico Hot Springs, the famous and quite quaint resort nestled at the foot of the mountains.
Gardiner is a small and historic town that serves as the Gateway to the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The town was named after a man whose last name was Gardner, but local yore says the people who named it were Easterners who pronounced Gardner as Gardi-nerr and nobody knew how to spell anyway, so over a short period of time Gardner became Gardiner. There were French and American trappers in the area in the very early 1800's but it wasn't until 1872 that Ulysses S. Grant made Yellowstone the first National Park.
We stayed in a hotel overrun by what seemed like hundreds of Japanese high school students. When we checked in they were all over the first floor, crammed into conference rooms and any other open spaces, performing some type of experiment. None of them spoke any English, as far as I could ascertain, and their Japanese and local hosts were too swamped for me to try and figure out what the hell they were doing. A really funny side note is the clothes they all were wearing. The boys were wearing what I can only describe as Japanese-American western wear. Most of them had big huge belt buckles and boots but they also sported some very strange t-shirts and accessories. My brother came around a corner to find two of them doing back bends DOWN the stairs. They all had crazy hair working, with cowlicks and oily matted hair being the style du jour. It was a very surreal evening.
The next morning I awoke to the smell of cooking rice...Seriously. When I walked down the hall I saw at least 10 huge rice steamers lining the conference room with the students busily gulping down brekkie. We decided to eat at the Town Cafe and Hotel, a place Mom had called and was asked to call back because the woman answering the phone was also the waitress, hotel clerk and cashier. The food was your normal Mom & Pop cafe type grub..cheap and filled the stomach. I made the mistake of asking her what she thought of the possible introduction of a state sales tax...not a good idea. She proceeded to 'educate' me on the evil tax system and how Montanans knew not to let government get into their pockets because it would never leave. Interesting conversation at 8:30 AM.
We entered the park through the Original Entrance to Yellowstone and it had all the makings of a cold and cloudy day. Not to be deterred, Mom and I decided to take a soak in the Boiling River...a spot that up until last year was a sort of local secret. Now it has been discovered and as many as 200 people a day soak in the river during the high season. We were lucky to meet two couples from Steamboat Springs, Colorado and enjoyed the steaming pool with them. They've been coming to Yellowstone for 20 years and still haven't seen it all!
Soon afterwards we saw our first Elk and heard them bugle...a really cool sound that brought a big smile to all our faces. We cruised down to Mammouth Hot springs, stopping along the way to watch Mountain Goats, deer and Elk. At Mammouth we got to see the first geothermal activity at the mineral terrace. It was amazing. We then were treated to the first of two sightings of the rare and elusive black wolf. We actually stumbled across the first wolf by accident, having stopped to view some Sandhill Cranes feeding in a grassy meadow. A man next to us had a large scope and was watching a Bison, far off in the field when he spotted the wolf coming out of the treeline. He allowed us to look through his scope, which was so powerful the wolf appeared to be right next to us instead of the 1500 to 2000 yards away he really was. At one point I thought he was looking right into my eyes and it gave me goosebumps. My Mom started what soon became our mantra when she said, "I guess we can mark that off our list". Later it just became "Mark it Off", something we said often over the next two days.
We headed down to Old Faithful, stopping to see vents, coyotes, waterfalls and Bison along the way. Yellowstone is huge, covering something like 350 million acres, so the drive from Gardiner to Old Faithful is quite long. We arrived late in the afternoon and took our spot among the hundreds gathered to watch one of the world's three 'Old Faithful' geysers erupt. There are actually many geysers around Old Faithful and over 10,000 in the park! Old Faithful erupts every 92 minutes now and is slowing a bit but it was still a glorious sight to see. After such as big day we decided to back track a bit and head west to the West Yellowstone entrance. This is when things got really fun, because the closer it got to dusk, the more wildlife we got to see. There were massive Elk, river otters, bison and another black wolf seen. We even got to see two Elk face off across a meadow, bugling away, marking their territories as a large group of cows grazed nearby. It was a marvelous day.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Jeff in Puglia

Hey, my buddy Jeff Gromen is now in blogland. Jeff is from Indy but now lives in Italy. It's a great way to to hear about an american in Italy. Jeff in Puglia

Monday, October 04, 2004

Yellowstone National Park 2004...An intro

Not much time to write this morning as I need to get back to vacationing! Mom, Dad, Chris & Nicole arrived last week and we've spent the past 4 days down in Yellowstone National Park...it was everything advertised and more!

We saw Eagles, Grizzlies, Black Bear, Bison, Elk, Otter, Coyote, Mountain Goats, Sheep, Deer, Antelope, Black Wolves and Grey Wolves! We saw geysers, paint pots, mineral springs, thermal holes, mountains, waterfalls, canyons, mud holes and more.

It was an amazing adventure. I'll write more later.