Whenever I want to remember what the year 2001 was like, I pop 2001: A Space Odyssey into the DVD player. That year, the worst thing that happened to us was some mysterious aliens gave us the creepy-baby treatment. At least we kept it secret from those Soviets. I really should have gone on vacation to the moon that year instead of New Mexico.

On conservation and sentiment

I do not care if some professor in some rabbit warren of a concrete university office building calls my thinking inexact and sentimental. Sentiment— call it love— for the wild is  ultimately why Will and I became rangers. Sentiment is why any of us bother to raise children, who sometimes don’t appreciate what we do; why we care tenderly for elderly parents after age has deprived them of the memory of our names. It is why we try to salvage the juvenile delinquent, the alcoholic, the drug addict. Without it we are not human.

Jordan Fisher Smith, Nature Noir

Summer reading, summer not

I’ve neglected my “book reports,” so here’s a summary of summery readings.

Perhaps because we’ve discussed taking a trip there, the book Mount Rushmore: An Icon Reconsidered by Jesse Larner caught my eye at the library. It’s not about the impressive technical achievements of the monument, but about its meaning and how that meaning has changed from the time it’s conception and and creation until today. Larner argues that ignoring intended meaning of the monument (one of white conquest and supremacy), or changing the meaning to make it more palatable to today’s sensibilities is a dishonest treatment of its history. I’m a little uncomfortable with the monument and found this book useful for untangling its complicated legacy. It would be even more useful book with an index and without some glaring errors about the history of our national parks (“Devil’s Tower National Monument is the oldest park in the National Park system, inaugurated by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906.”), facts that could have been easily checked.

I had no idea Ray Bradbury was still alive when I heard news of his death. It seemed like as good a time as any to read another of his books, so I checked out The Martian Chronicles. Like Fahrenheit 451, it is surprisingly visionary and cynical for a book written in the early 1950s. Looking at it from 2012, I can’t tell if he was using creative license or if people just didn’t know about environmental conditions on Mars before the Mars Viking expeditions. So the Earth men arriving in their “rockets,” walking around and breathing on Mars without suffocating or being incinerated by ultraviolet radiation seems a little quaint.

End This Depression Now by Paul Krugman will come in handy, if I can memorize it, for disarming arguments against deficit spending on economic relief. Krugman deserves credit for being able to write about economics without giving his readers nosebleeds. Too bad nobody ever listens to him. I wonder sometimes about his dismissive characterizations of efficient-market theorists, though.

In case anybody doubts that Gregory Maguire is sick of cashing in on his Wicked franchise, he subtitled Out of Oz  “The Final Volume of the Wicked Years.” The Wicked series functions as a sort of alternative history of Oz, where the Wicked Witch of the West is a symbol of resistance against Emerald City tyranny. Maguire has a real talent for vivid, imaginative writing (he’s great at describing little details like sounds), but this book is on par with the previous two installments (both okay but not as smashing as the original Wicked), and it follows the Lord of the Rings pattern a little too closely.

And now I’m reading Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Graeme-Smith, on recommendation from a friend. So far it’s fun but perhaps a little too aware of itself as a parody of vampire-slayer stories. The author uses a strange technique of alternating between third-person narration and first-person “excerpts” from Lincoln’s long-lost journal.

AUTHOR’S NOTE 8/29: Oh, and I totally forgot The Monkey-Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. On my first trip to the Four Corners region I brought a copy of Desert Solitaire, Abbey’s account of his summer as a ranger at Arches National Monument. I found Abbey’s voice in Desert Solitaire arrogant and condescending, but he had a clear vision and passion for what the wild outdoor experience ought to be. That passion comes out in the fictional The Monkey-wrench Gang but his ego is divided and distributed among the four principal characters, so it’s a bit more tolerable.

State fair

A belated gallery of photos from last Sunday’s trip to the fair.

The quinquennial pilgrimage

I last went to the Iowa State Fair five years ago. Once might be enough but I thought my wife should experience it. The state fair has a lot of educational value for me since I can learn about where my food comes from, but it’s also a sort of pilgrimage of Americana. Among other curiosities and amusements, we saw the Butter Cow (which I didn’t see last time) and made off with some swag from the Iowa Egg Council.

Speaking of butter, you can buy it fried from one of the food vendors, along with fried Oreos and Twinkies. Which in fact is one of the things I think is great about this country: you are free to eat a fried stick of battered butter. There’s nothing wrong with eating that way every once in a while (and once a year is way more than enough). Unfortunately, many in attendance looked like they were practicing all year for eating at the State Fair.

At any rate, I didn’t eat the fried butter for lunch but rather a more conventional corn dog. It’s hard for me to eat fried stick food at a fair without hearing my uncle’s disembodied voice in my head: “Don’t walk around eating your food. You’ll look like a scavone.” I don’t know what a scavone is, or even if I’m spelling it right. It’s one of those unwritten antique Sicilian or Calabrese dialect slang words, the meaning of which would be obscure except for its context. Presumably, a scavone is like a slob.

A man about to chomp on a corn dog at the state fair.
A scavone

We missed by two days the Nuremberg-like rally led by Hank Williams, Jr. (as noted in DailyDisgust). Free to eat fried butter, free to be an idiot. God bless America!

The rain

Well, it finally rained yesterday. And how. For about an hour, right in the middle of our celebration of Herbert Hoover’s birthday, the sky just opened up and dropped water and wind and fire on us. Lightning struck a tree about 100 feet from where I was holed up in Herbert Hoover’s birthplace with another ranger and a couple of event exhibitors.

While we needed the rain, I suppose we could have waited another day.