Monday, November 6, 2017

Child of Steens Mountain

Child of Steens Mountain

I love to read about life in wild places in the past, and this book didn't disappoint.  Indeed, I enjoyed the perspective of a girl growing up as a different one than many of the books about eastern Oregon written by men.

Steens Mountain, if you've never heard of it, is one of the most remote areas in the United States, outside of Alaska.  Even in this day and age, it's a 2 hour drive from the area where the author's parents homesteaded to Burns, a small town of less than 3000 people.

Despite many modern innovations becoming available during her childhood in the 30ies and 40ies  - cars, airplanes, radios, and so on, the life Ms O'Keefe lived on the southern flank of Steens mountain in the 30ies was probably closer to that of Laura Ingalls Wilder of "Little House on the Prairie" than that we enjoy today, in many ways.  Stories of animals both wild and domestic abound, as well as the ever present sense of being very isolated and independent, as it wasn't likely for help to come quickly if you got in trouble.  On the other hand, she also talks about a deep sense of neighbors helping one another out, and the pleasure of other people's company when they were around.

This is not a lengthy book; it's simple and interesting, with a number of anecdotes woven in.    Rabid coyotes, rattlesnakes, freezing winters and hot summers, wandering sheepherders and an automobile more or less held together with bailing wire all make their appearances.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

The latest from Neal Stephenson, this feels like an apple that hasn't fallen far from the tree. Somehow familiar in that it mixes bits in the past with present day science fiction, it reminds me a bit of Cryptonimicon, one of my favorite books ever.  I wouldn't quite put Rise and Fall in that category, but it was certainly entertaining.  The central concept of the book is unique and interesting, even if perhaps it tugs a bit too much at the limits of the plausible, even for science fiction.

As is often the case with his books, the ending is not 100% satisfying, although it's not actually bad or depressing.

The fact that an eclipse plays a central role in the book made reading this book over the summer, around the time the big eclipse crossed central Oregon, that much more entertaining.

I'd give it a read - it's fun - if you like Stephenson's writing, but wouldn't put it among his best works.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Kit Carson: The Life of an American Border Man

Kit Carson: The Life of an American Border Man

First a hero in dime novels, and subsequently reviled as a killer of Native Americans, this book tries to look beyond both and describe Kit Carson as he actually was; a product of his time.

Going back in time, his family is described as Scots-Irish, a people used to rough justice carried out in person, and often retributive in nature, rather than carried out by the authorities.

Life on the frontier, where Carson grew up as his family migrated west, was similar.  The law was a somewhat distant concept.

This is a central theme of the book - how many of Carson's actions should be viewed in the light of the times he lived in.  Some are brutal from a modern viewpoint, but perhaps he should not be judged so harshly, the author states.

I wish the book had dealt more with Carson's travels throughout the west, and given more of a sense of place to his journeys, as that was my own interest in reading it.  In any age without automobiles, Carson traveled through a vast area of the country in a time when relatively few people of European extraction had been there.

An interesting look, in any event, at a figure who grew to be 'larger than life' despite being fairly modest and unassuming.  The leader of the mapping expedition Carson joined, John Fremont, was far more of a self-promoter.

The author's task is not made easier by the lack of much in the way of a written record from Carson himself.

A solid effort, but I'm not sure I'd recommend the book.