Wednesday, December 28, 2016

God's Secretaries, By Adam Nicolson; Book Review

Book Review: GOD'S SECRETARIES by Adam Nicolson: HarperCollins 2003
The Making of the King James Bible

The year is 1603: Elizabeth I, Queen of England has finally died in her querulous old age. She had no children; her 37-year-old nephew James Stuart, King of Scotland, is next of kin. England as a whole is looking forward to a prosperous future, and is receptive to the joining of the two kingdoms.
After decades of war, and religious differences between Church of England, Catholics, and Scottish Presbyterians, James saw his own royal duty to be a peacemaker. Since the invention of the printing press a hundred years earlier, many translations of the Christian Bible existed, each opposed---often violently—by the beliefs of other Christians. King James decided to convene scholars representing all major viewpoints to make a version approved by the Crown.
King James and Richard Bancroft (Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England) drew up rules for translators, At least fifty men took part in the new translation, divided into six groups, three assigned to the Old Testament, one to the books of the Apocrypha, two to the New Testament. Most were church leaders, chiefly Church of England, some from the opposing Puritans, some Scottish Presbyterians, a few were university officials of Oxford, Cambridge, or Westminster. England's Secretary of State, Robert Cecil, was a main organizer of the effort and assistant to the King. Work began in 1604; and they published it in 1611.
London was not entirely a holy city during this period. A terrorist plot to blow up parliament almost succeeded. The wife of one translator eloped with another man and her husband forcibly took her back, to wide publicity. Shakespeare was writing his plays. 120 colonists leave to establish the first town in Virginia; Henry Hudson seeks a North-West Passage to China; a group of Puritans will soon set sail on the Mayflower, seeking religious freedom in America..
The King James Bible, with its memorable verses, together with growing literacy in the English-speaking nations would be a “Christmas gift” lasting the next four hundred years and counting. The English language is continually changing as time goes on, but new ways of responding to the Bible stories constantly appear.

Excerpt from the King James Version (KJV):
And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace good will toward men.” (from Luke, chapter 2. King James Bible)

Examples of new ways of understanding the meaning in more modern English:

O little town of Bethlehem, How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight” (Phillips Brooks)

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor ornery people like you and like I -
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.” (Appalachian Carol, John Jacob Niles)

I questioned her plan to move from northern Montana to Colorado in the middle of winter, and in the eighth month of her first pregnancy.
Joe found work down there, and we need to stay together.” She seemed satisfied with her answer.
What will happen if you go into labor in the middle of a Wyoming blizzard?” I asked gently. “Cars do break down sometimes, you know. If you must go, at least take the bus.”
Can't afford it until we get a paycheck.” She smiled at the rusty clunker parked outside. “Joe just finished rebuilding the engine. And we'll carry a blanket. God'll get us there!”
The odds were strong against Jesus being born safely that night long ago. Mary must have had misgivings about the whole thing. Would a midwife be available? Or would the only person around be her husband? He was a good carpenter, but he didn't have much experience in assisting childbirth.
But when there are no alternatives to taking risks, the knowledge that God is with us can sustain us in our endeavor. And God-directed endeavors can change the world. (From “The Workplaces of Christmas”)

Baby Jesu . . . I'm a poor boy, too . . .
I have no gift for you . . . Shall I play for you . . .On my drum. . .
And he smiled at me . . . Me and my drum . . .
(from Carol of the Drum, translated by Katherine Davis)

Each gives from what we have.

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Polish Officer , by Alan Furst; book review

September, 1939: Four days after Hitler's German army, the Wehrmacht, sweeps across Poland's borders, Polish forces are still defending Warsaw but the outcome is only a matter of time. Captain Alexander de Milja is carrying out his orders to destroy government documents, when he is summoned by a Colonel Vyborg.
We want to offer you a job, but I emphasize that you have a choice. The nation is defeated, but the idea of the nation mustn't be. If you want to die on the battlefield, I won't stop you. Or, come work for us.” Vyborg is in Military Intelligence, and must get Poland's gold bullion reserves out of the city before the Germans' blockade is complete. Captain De Milja's assignment: take command of the six-car Pilava local train to it's usual destination, thirty miles away, and keep going, around the east end of German-occupied Czechoslovakia, and onward to the Romanian border, where the gold (hidden under the floorboards) will be forwarded to Poland's government-in-exile in Paris.
This is no easy task. Crowds of refugees struggle to get aboard; German warplanes are scouting for anything that moves, bandits roam the countryside, and Romania is 300 miles away. De Milja succeeds, however, and returns to Warsaw under fake ID.
He finds a printer and a pilot willing to take risks; They shower Warsaw with thousands of leaflets signed by Britain's air force. “We'll be back soon, and next time we won't be dropping leaflets. Give the Germans hell any way you can. Long Live Poland! Tenth Bomber Wing, RAF.” The small plane is back in its hangar before the Gemans can detect it.
The Germans' plan for Poland's future is quite simple: deliberate devaluation of the currency, replace the judges, direction of labor, registration of everybody. The Germans would know who and where everyone is. And would control where you work and how hard, and at what pay. “The essential mechanics of slavery.”
What the Germans find they cannot control is the safety of the trains crossing Poland to their then-ally Soviet Russia, their main source of crude oil. That's where De Milja and his colleagues operate. Incendiary devices attached to Russian oil tank cars, exploding at random. Bombs in iron ore shipments, set off by the heat when dumped into a German blast furnace.
The war in western Europe heats up, with the German end-run around France's massive Maginot Line, defeating the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk. The Polish Government-in-exile, now in London, transfers de Milja to Paris, where he had studied in student days. Different ID, different work, even a different assigned mistress. His job: cultivate contacts, gather information on German activity, especially on “Operation Sealion”, the planned invasion of the British Isles. Starting from where? Location of canals, number of barges, destination of trains, empty cargo ships at anchor. Take only 15 minutes to transmit in code, or German radio direction finders can locate and eliminate the operator.
Logic would launch the attack from Calais where the English Channel is narrow. De Milja focuses on that area after getting word that Germany will stage an invasion rehearsal. By mid-September, all trains to Calais and Boulogne are suspended. Military traffic only. De Milja and his superior, General Fedin explore the Calais waterfront, question bartenders, observe barges and tugboats.
The British offer a “rehearsal” of their own, based on information transmitted by de Milja's radio operator just before the Gestapo detects her location and arrests her. The first attack comes at 10:15 pm, Beaufort bombers. The Germans are waiting for them and respond with antiaircraft fire. The second attack comes at 11:16 and meets another firestorm. “One last thing to try,” says De Milja,and leaves his observation point to go down among the dock wreckage, its flames partially canceling the harbor's black-out. He locates a freighter, the Malacca Princess, whose name and cargo he recognizes from clandestine harbor records. He boards and accosts the lone watchman, a young Indonesian. The boy is cooperative; he has a family somehere, and this isn't his war.
They hear distant bombs hitting harbors up the coast, Nieuwpoort, Ostend. When they hear the third wave of planes approaching, they put all the ship's light switches to the 'on' position, and run for their lives. One plane's torpedo finds the Malacca Princess,and by the light of it's burning cargo, 100,000 gallons of naphtha, the planes have no trouble seeing every ship in the harbor. Operation Sealion never happens—Hitler's first defeat. As author Furst expresses it, Germans are brave, and not afraid to die. But they are afraid to fail.
Having extended his empire from France to Poland, and from Norway to North Africa, Hitler now attacks Soviet Russia, meeting initial success until the Russian winter sets in, and America begins its active role in the World-wide war.
Alexander de Milja is redeployed, back to his native Poland and the new eastern front.
Polish officers do not give up.
In some ways, this is a difficult book to read. Polish spelling can be hard to pronounce for those accustomed to English. And at close range, the realities of war and the lives that people must choose in order to survive, conflict with our own perceptions of patriotism and national glory. But In addition to being a best selling “spy thriller”, Mr. Furst's novel offers some deeper thoughts for the reader to ponder. Having a good world atlas on hand also helps follow the action.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Forgotten War, by Stan Cohen

     Mr. Cohen is a local author (Missoula, MT), and proprietor of Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, who writes and illustrates books chiefly about Alaska and Canada. This book is a succinct and documented story about the World War II campaign in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. It is the only time in the past 200 years in which American soil has been invaded by hostile soldiers on the ground.
     The author writes several pages of text in each of his seventeen topical chapters, but each chapter also has perhaps twice that many full pages of vivid photographs and maps, with brief explantory comments.
     Bought from Russia in 1867, the average American thought it a waste of the seven million dollar price. It had fish, and fur, and for a brief period a gold rush, but that was about all. Only in the 1930's did Canada and the USA begin to see war coming, and realize that Russia, Japan, and even Europe were much closer by the Polar route than by the wide oceans that separated us at warmer latitudes.
     The attack on Pearl Harbor not only destroyed much of USA's Pacific Fleet, but was a wake-up call on the vulnerability of all Alaska and the west coast to invasion. A highway far enough inland to be safe from hostile aircraft was needed to move troops and supplies to Alaska through intensely cold and mostly uninhabited land. Access to fuel required yet more roads. Military and naval bases were needed; there was only one in all of Alaska. The Alcan Highway—1,200 miles, 133 bridges and 8,000 culverts---opened (though still primitive) in eight and a half months in 1942.
     Meanwhile, Japanese forces had occupied the Philippines, were reaching for Australia, and advancing across the Pacific Islands. The turning point in the overall war came in June of 1942, when Japan's radio code was deciphered by the Allies. American Naval Intelligence learned that four Japanese aircraft carriers would attack Midway Island on June 4th. American carriers were waiting for them and sank all four, leaving airborne Japanese pilots no place to land. Japan sent two other carriers toward Alaska to attack the new U.S. base there at Dutch Harbor, leaving the Japanese with little naval power in the South Pacific.
    J apan did however succeed in occupying the islands of Attu and Kiska with around 9,000 men for a year. The purpose was to build a base to protect Japan's northern flank, and provide a possible route to invade Canada and United States. However, the battle of Midway had changed the balance of power, and the new American P-38 fighter-bomber proved superior to the Japanese “Zero”. Japan could still supply their Alaskan base by submarines, but subs couldn't carry the heavy equipment needed to complete their airfield on Kiska Island. Unable to defend against increasing American air power, Japanese destroyers raced in under cover of thick fog and evacuated Kiska. The battle to retake Attu lasted nineteen days, and was one of the first landing-craft invasions of the war; the Americans finally won, at great cost in lives on both sides.

The Japanese were not the only problem in the Aleutian campaign. Distance was another: Attu, the most western Aleutian Island is only 650 miles from the northernmost Japanese home bases, but 1,800 miles from mainland Alaska at Cold Harbor. Russia lost most of its air force when its former ally, Nazi Germany, attacked it. After America officially joined the Allies in December, 1941, it could build and fly “lend-lease” fighter planes and bombers via Alaska to Russian Siberia without danger from Axis forces. (Russia did not declare war on Japan until after the atomic bomb.) A route was set up from Great Falls, Montana through Edmonton Alberta, Whitehorse Yukon, and Nome Alaska, where Russian pilots would take over.
Violent weather caused more casualties than battle. Thanks to a warm Pacific current, Aleutian ports are ice free, but often fog-bound and stormy. The PT boats, so useful in the South Pacific while America was rebuilding its Pacific fleet, were tried in the Aleutians but were found useless in the rough seas. .And Alaska is cold This writer recalls reading a historical marker on the Alcan Highway commemorating a day so cold that the antifreeze froze in its containers.

By 1944 and 1945, the fighting in the north was mostly over, avoiding the massive death rates to both American and Japanese civilians and military in those years. But the war had positive effects on western Canada and Alaska: the building of infrastructure and economy might have taken decades longer, if the war had not happened. And Canada might not have been able to send most of its troops to win in Europe if required to defend its vast northern wilderness alone.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Path Appears

Book Review: A Path Appears, by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; non-fiction Knopf

This journalism team (husband and wife) has received Pulitzer Prizes for their work twice (1990 and 2009.) The present 2014 book is about people who think and work outside the box, for the benefit of humanity. The brief and fascinating chapters cover many more individuals and groups than can be summarized in a brief review. I have selected three as representative:
Yuri Jain, at Hindustan Unilever Ltd., was aware of the problems India has in supplying clean water to its more than one billion citizens. Public water systems are poorly maintained, and most people must boil their drinking water to avoid diarrhea and other life-threatening diseases.

Even though Unilever sold no water purification products anywhere in the world, he and his team pushed the corporation to develop a product meeting high standards of performance: filter out bacteria, parasites and viruses, portable and stand-alone, needing no electricity, fuel or other outside energy source, simple enough for the uneducated to operate—put water in, get water out—and shut off automatically when the filter can not take any more dirty water.

In 2004, Unilever introduced “Pureit” producing safe drinking water at about ½ cent per liter, with the initial cost of $35. For those in poverty, the company partners with local groups, the Grameen Bank for example, to furnish microloans,. Unilever itself is not a philanthropy, but appears to be doing its best to provide a reliable product at the lowest possible cost. Their goal: “to provide clean drinking water to hundreds of millions of people by 2020.

Dr. Gary Slutkin had spent his career freeing San Francisco of a tuberculosis epidemic, dealing with a cholera epidemic in Somalia and AIDS in Africa, where he had to hire local translators to ensure communication with his patients. Now, after job burnout and a failed marriage, he returned to his native Chicago, looking ahead. He began studying inner-city violence and noted the similarity in its spread with the contagious diseases he had worked with: “exposure among susceptible people with low resistance or compromised immunity". Like with his patients in Africa, he needed interpreters who spoke the local “street language”, and 'violence interrupters'—someone respected among the street gangs—often ex-cons with a long rap sheet, who can stop violence in its tracks.

He cites a dramatic episode where a wife has killed her husband in self defense. She's in jail, but his gang members want vengeance and are gathering outside her apartment to shoot it up. Five kids and their grandmother are inside, and Grandma calls the neighborhood 'violence interrupter'. “China Joe? This is Linda Harris. The Vice Lords, they're bangin' on my door. Come quick or we'll all be dead!”

China Joe, and some drug dealers he was counseling when the call came, arrive to find a crowd of angry Vice Lords. He and the dealers tell them,“You know you got no business messing with someone's family! Two of those kids are Brown's own! You ain't helping him, you're hurting him!” China Joe could soon knock on Linda's door and tell her “You're safe now.” He remembered later, “They were just acting out of emotion. Once you talked to them, they knew it was the wrong thing.

Working on the principle that urban violence is not solely a moral problem nor a criminal issue, Dr. Slutkin likened it to a disease epidemic spreading among people of low resistance. His organization Cure Violence, in neighborhoods of Chicago with high crime rates and vulnerability, has met with such success that its program has been used in many parts of the USA and other countries.


Elizabeth Scharpf's studies at Harvard Business School led her to investigate tropical Third World countries where she discovered a common problem: Sanitary pads are unaffordable, so women and schoolgirls stay home out of sight at their “time of the month”. One explained, “What if I get called to the blackboard, and I have a stain on the back of my skirt?”

After graduating, Ms. Scharpf began designing a company to manufacture “cut price sanitary pads for Africa and Asia, distributed by local women themselves, on a franchise system.” The cheapest pads in Rwanda, for example, made in China, sold for $ 1.10 for a pack of ten. Her own team of villagers, agriculture experts, and textile engineers researched locally available materials and found that banana trunk fibers really soaked up coke (their substitute for blood.) They engineered a biodegradable sanitary pad costing sixty cents for a 10-pack, still too costly for many women. The team organized 'Sustainable Health Enterprises' (SHE) a supply chain of 600 small-scale banana farmers, mostly women. Aid groups will help fund distribution at schools and refugee camps.

Problem solved? Although girls appreciate the help with menstrual hygiene, one study suggested that bicycles would help more girls attend school; another suggested that aspirin for the menstrual cramps would be more effective. Not every good idea proves successful.

Kristoff and WuDunn best sum up their philosophy of the source of new innovations by observing, “Earl Warren, as chief justice of the Supreme Court, had a huge impact on ending segregation. But so did Rosa Parks.”

Friday, December 16, 2016

A TOWN LIKE ALICE by Nevil Shute; book review

Book Review: A TOWN LIKE ALICE by Nevil Shute (fiction) Pan Books, 1961

London attorney Noel Strachan's client, Douglas Macfadden, has just died. A search for his heirs turns up only one, niece Jean Paget, age twenty-six, a typist in a London office. She is amazed to learn she has inherited fifty-three thousand pounds [in present day dollars, a seven-figure amount.] “It means I'll never need to work—unless I want to,” is her reaction.

She ponders her options for several weeks and finally tells him, “I've made up my mind what I want to do first of all. I want to go to Malaya, Mr. Strachan. To dig a well.”

She tells him about her childhood; her father had worked for a British plantation in Malaya [a British colony back then]; and she had learned the Malayan language as a child. In 1939 when World War II broke out she applied for a job with her father's former employer and was accepted.

She was 21 when Japan joined the war and soon the Japanese army occupied all of Malaya. British citizens were taken prisoner. The Japanese sent the men to labor camps, but Japanese commanders had no camps for women and children; they were marched from one area to another. In the first six months, the group of forty that Jean was in had shrunk to eighteen. She was caring for a one-year-old whose mother had died, and she had walked some 400 miles. At one point they met a couple of Australian prisoners, truck drivers, who helped them by stealing some chickens from the Japanese.The Aussies were caught, and the Japanese captain had one, Joe Harmon, beaten and literally crucified. The women were forced to watch, and then were sent on yet another march.

Eventually even their Japanese guard died of fever. The surviving women realized they would all die if nothing changed. Jean, the only one fluent in Malay, spoke with the headman of the village they had reached, offering that the women would work in the rice fields with the village women, in exchange for food and shelter. They stayed in that village three years till the war ended.

Now financially free, she wants to offer a gift especially for the village women, who must travel a mile to fetch drinkable water. The village women unite to convince their husbands to accept Jean's gift. Well digging is a special skill, calling for several men from the town of Kuantan, the place where Jean had been forced to watch Joe's death. The well diggers remember the event, but say the man did not die. Japanese military tradition required the executioner to grant the prisoner's dying wish; Joe had defiantly demanded a beer, and there was none in town, so the captain could not allow him to die.

Now, six years later, she delays going back to England and instead goes to Alice Springs, Australia, Joe's last known address. Alice Springs is a beautiful town with plenty of water, jobs, shops, just as Joe had described to her. He has moved on, however, and now manages a cattle station near Willstown, in the Gulf area. She travels by the weekly plane, and finds it a miserable place to live. There is nothing to do there; most girls can't wait to leave and find jobs in Australia's coastal cities. With the women gone, it's hard to attract men to work in the cattle stations. Joe isn't there either; a letter from attorney Noel Strachan brings the surprising news that Joe is in England looking for her. He has just found out that the baby she always carried on her hip in Malaya was not her own, and that she is single. He traced her through a previous address, and was referred to Strachan.

Strachan is a good judge of character; professional ethics prevent him from telling Joe where she is, but says she is traveling in the Orient, and he will write her about Joe. Meanwhile, he arranges contact with cattle experts in England to give Joe a chance to study the latest methods of cattle management while he waits for her reply.

Jean and Joe finally meet at the airport in Cairnes; each barely recognizes the other from six years ago, now that they were both recovered from their war experience. They spend a weekend at a small resort on the Great Barrier Reef getting re-acquainted. They both agree they want to get married, but there are matters to discuss first:

Joe knows in his heart that Jean would never be happy in a town like Willstown. She knows Joe will not be happy giving up the ranch he has built up. Her solution: “We'll have to do something about Willstown.”

Jean has studied how girls growing up in Willstown might be persuaded to stay. One old man shows her a gator skin he hunts and tans. Alligator shoes and handbags are one of the items her employer in London dealt with. She realizes that Willstown with its cattle and gators and carpenters has all the raw materials for upscale women's shoes. Her own efforts are amateurish, but remarkable enough to catch the interest of the townspeople, and even her London employer when she mails him a pair. She proposes a plan to Strachan, her trustee, if he will allow a withdrawal of part of the principal trust to invest. First, build a shop for local girls to make alligator shoes. Second, build a shop to sell ice cream, magazines, cosmetics for the girls and people in and around Willstown. She already has been talking with a girl she met in Alice Springs who is willing to come. Third, construct small reservoirs to retain the rainwater that all comes in two months of the year, and thus enable expansion of the cattle herds.

Strachan and Mr. Peck, Jean's former employer, confer about the shoe business. Peck has an experienced supervisor willing to come to Australia for a year to get manufacture on a professional level.

Jean has the first two projects up and running before the rains begin in December. But she hasn't figured on a rivalry that threatens their very lives.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Coeur d'Alene Diary

COEUR d'ALENE DIARY by Richard G. Magnuson; The First Ten Years of Hardrock Mining in North Idaho; Binford & Mort Publishing 1968

Mr. Magnuson was an attorney in Wallace, Idaho with a life-long interest in local history. He writes in diary format, putting events in chronologic order, but presents a great many threads of dozens of miners and the mines they worked in. Ranging in size from mere prospect holes to some more than a mile deep, they have produced massive amounts of silver, lead, zinc, gold, copper, and a host of chemical by-products over the past 130 years.

Other than a few Catholic missionaries to the Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe, one of the first explorers of the area was Army Captain John Mullan, charged with building a six hundred mile road connecting Fort Benton, on the Missouri River, with Fort Walla Walla on the Columbia. The one thing he did not want was any gold discovery to distract his 100-man road crew in 1859. It was not until Andrew Prichard and his partners discovered gold in a tributary of the Coeur d'Alene River's North Fork in 1883 that a gold rush started, drawing men from all over the West to what is now the town of Murray, a thirty-mile trek from the nearest railroad at Thompson Falls, Montana. The Mullan Road, built twenty-four years earlier was now little more than a muddy trail much of the time.

Small-time prospectors with only a shovel and gold pan apparently didn't do well on the North Fork; you needed a sluice box with water running through it to catch the heavy gold flakes in its ridges to make much profit. Some men moved to the South Fork finding veins in the rocks, not of gold, but of silver and lead. The towns of Burke, Mullan, Gem and Wallace grew up around some of these early mines, the Poorman, Tiger, Morning, and many smaller operations. Extraction of ore from hard rock involved drilling by hand, in tunnels lit by candles. Ore could be transported in sacks on a wagon to Cataldo Mission, some thirty miles west, transferred to a river barge, then transferred again to the railroad near Spokane Falls, another forty miles dowstream. Shipping in railroad car lots had to wait until the railroad finally reached Wallace and Mullan, around 1888.

In August, 1885, Noah Kellogg received a grubstake (food and equipment) valued at about $18.50, plus a mule,f rom two men in Murray, who sent Noah to explore the South Fork area. The first several weeks, he hadn't much success. Then, twelve miles west of Wallace, up Milo Gulch, as local lore has it, his jackass wandered away. He picked up a rock to throw at it. The weight of the rock made him look more closely: it was high grade galena (lead sulfide) which in this region has a significant percentage of silver also. It became the biggest mine of all, the Bunker Hill, original entrance about 4,000 feet elevation, eventually reached downward to below sea level.

But it wasn't all skittles and beer from then on; in 1887,when a Portland financier bought the Bunker Hill and several nearby properties for $650,000, Noah fought his grub stakers over who would get how much (Noah received $150,000 in cash and stock. A promoter had staked out the water rights in Milo Creek, and was also awarded a portion, as were the lawyers.

The Blake brothers arrived from Maine too late for the gold rush, but staked out farmland in a meadow up Big Creek. They happened to discover a vein of silver ore so rich it didn't need milling. They filled a wagon with it by hand and took it to town every two months, getting $75 to $400 per ton. Their Yankee mine was re-named the Sunshine when they later sold it, and became the nation's largest silver producer, up to seven million ounces per year.

Most of the 42 chapters deal with ordinary town development, and progress in the mines. The local economy turned from mineral exploration to mine production in the mid-1880s--stockpiles of ore piling up while awaiting the arrival of the railroad. Public water distribution came to Wallace, The first electric lights, the first electric drills, then compressed air to power the drilling. The telegraph came, as did miners' union labor. Fires destroyed several towns. , Miners' blew up mills, bringing in the national guard and martial law. Seemingly infinite amounts ore are still in the ground even a century later. A man sold his 1/4th interest in the Lucky Friday Mine for $750 in 1887. Over a century later, the Lucky Friday is still a major silver producer with workings extending two miles below the surface of the ground.

Magnuson ends his history of the early mining days with an astute observation: “The pride of a miner in his work provides the glue that holds it [mining] together, and the miner's sense of humor is the softening agent that keeps it from drying out and breaking up.”

The reader may find an interesting supplement to Mr. Magnuson's account of mining in Idaho's Silver Valley by reading Bankson and Harrison's book, “Beneath These Mountains” a more personalized portrait of some twenty of the prominent people of the early mining days. Both books were written in the 1960's

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Find Me Unafraid, book review

find me unafraid by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner non-fiction 2015 HarperCollins

Kibera slum in Kenya's capital city of Nairobi is a cesspool of poverty, joblessness, crime and frustration. Depending on the report, somewhere between 250,000, or up to two million people live there, with little hope of bettering their life. This book tells how its own people changed that.

We first meet author Kennedy Odede hiding from uniformed men who are searching for him to kill him. During the riots following a corrupt election in 2007, the powers-that-be do not want him organizing people in the slum.

He was born the first child of a fifteen-year-old single mom who had no steady source of income, but was fiercely independent. He grew up without schooling, learning to read by studying scraps of newspaper on the streets of Kibera. He dreamed of going to school, but there was never enough money even for food, let alone pay for school. For years he hung out with a street gang who lived by their wits, until one day a mob beat the gang leader to death.

As he grew older, he found occasional manual labor for a dollar a day, but a foreman might even cheat him out of that. There were always others waiting to take his place. One day he bought a soccer ball for twenty cents and organized a team. From there, he and six friends proceed to start a theater group, a small-loan cooperative savings group, a work day where neighbors pick up the trash from the streets. They call it “Shining Hope for Communities” (SHOFCO). Within a month, forty members were meeting in the open soccer field. Within two years they had built their first office, not much more than a bigger shack among the crowded little shacks of Kibera. By 2007, SHOFCO had attracted thousands of members, mostly women and young people, The World Social Forum, meeting in Nairobi, invites the theater group to perform, and invites Kennedy to speak. People in Kibera start calling him “Mayor.”

The other author, Jessica Posner, is an American college student, spending a semester abroad to supplement her studies in theater and community development. She believes in immersing herself in the local culture, and asks if she can stay with Kennedy's family. “Absolutely not!” is Kennedy's horrified response. No foreigner ever stays in Kibera. A single latrine serves one hundred families. There is no clean water, no safety, only two small rooms of cardboard and leaky sheet metal, closely surrounded by mud and noisy neighbors. When she visits his home, she is privately aghast, but is way too stubborn to back down. She finally divides her time between Kennedy's home and her “home stay” house, a fifteen-minute walk from Kennedy's, just outside the slum boundary. They soon develop a close relationship.

Late afternoons, after daily search for a job, many people come to Kennedy's house to discuss their problems. More and more, he and Jessica see that women have no protection against abusive husbands or neighbors who rape or rob. Police rarely take action without a bribe. There are few ways a woman can earn a living with no education. More violence is not the answer, but what is? In Kennedy's mind the idea of a tuition-free school for girls in the heart of Kibera slum takes root and grows.

But after the election riots in 2007, the urgent matter is to get him out of Kenya before he is murdered. He barely manages to escape into Tanzania, after vigilantes at a checkpoint kill all the occupants of the car ahead of him in line.

Kennedy's SHOFCO movement is widely known by now, and Jessica is able to get him a full scholarship to Wesleyan University and a student's visa despite his lack of formal education. Jessica enters him in multiple grant competitions. “Do you know somebody called Paul Newman?” Kennedy asks her one afternoon. He wants to meet us next week.” One of Newman's favorite sayings is, “There are three rules to business, and luckily we don't know any of them.” Newman wants to use his own personal luck to create luck in the lives of others.” His foundation's check for $50,000 to build a tuition-free-school for girls in the slum is soon followed by other donors.

But foreign benefactors, or visiting students who soon go back home, no matter how well-meaning they are, are not enough to create self-confidence in a people who  have never known hope. It took a young man who grew up among them, and had a dream and a twenty-cent soccer ball.

Read this story in its entirety: Kennedy's and Jessica's romance and eventual marriage, the six-year old kindergartner who organizes a strike, the brilliant student struggling with AIDS and TB, the growth of a small school building into a community center with clean water, a medical clinic, a safe-house for physically or sexually abused women and girls, and small businesses springing up, all in the middle of one of the largest slums in all Africa.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Growing Up Pine Creek: book review

Book Review: GROWING UP PINECREEK by Ryan Wood, Self-published 2004

Pine Creek is a waterway only a few months of the year, chiefly in March as the twelve-foot deep snow pack on the mountain peaks begins melting in earnest. By July, large stretches of it are dry. “Pine Crick”, to pronunce it correctly, identifies the neighborhood in which two families of boys grew in semi-isolation. Not that they were hill-billies in any sense. One of the fathers, Ron Wood, was a high school teacher. The other, Ray Dose, filled a special niche in commerce, manufacturing aluminum-alloy accessories for the horse-dawn buggies still driven by the Amish folks in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The five boys, Ronnie, Ryan, and Rusty Wood, Dave and Gary Dose spanned ten years in age, the Doses being a lttle older than the Woods. I have known some of them personally as adults, and after reading of their adventures in this book, I think survival may be among their greatest achievements. The birthday wagon kit is a case in point. That started out as two axles, four plastic wheels, and mounting brackets to attach them to wood furnished by the kids.

The “scientist/engineer” among them laid out the dimensions of a 3 ft long x 18 inch wide wagon box, while the artist/historian said, “what about building a [pioneer] covered wagon?” Everyone thought this a great idea; they added several hoops and a sheet, doubled the size to six by three feet, with a two man front seat and a handbrake on the side. “We need something to pull it.”

Figuring a rig to connect the farmyard pony might delay things by a couple days, “Let's just use the motorbike.” They hitched that to the wagon with some rope, and all climbed aboard. After several turns around the yard, they headed down the driveway toward the road, gathering speed. The wagon driver yelled “Slow down!” The one on the motorbike yelled back, “Just three more seconds and we'll be doing thirty miles an hour!” followed by a loud grinding sound and a lurch of the wagon as the plastic wheels melted and axles hit the pavement, shooting sparks like a rocket. “Then all was quiet . . . We just kind of picked up our gravel-coated bodies and gathered around what was left of “Project Wagon Death.”

But that didn't stop their experiment. Ryan analyzes six bad decisions made along the way. Then, after Gary comes up with some twelve-inch rubber tires and they gather around and begin “Project Wagon Death II”. (Bad decision # 1.)

Then there was the boat ride down Pine Creek in full flood one March day, in the remains of a rowbout salvaged from the burn pile behind the barn. Never mind that the wooden keel and gunnels had been burned away, leaving what was essentially a big piece of leaky sheet iron with enough holes in it to require constant bailing. It promised a great ride into the town of Pinehurst, six miles downstream. A pair of oars, a paddle to serve as rudder and a couple of bailing cans, and they were ready to go. Their parents did require them to wear life jackets, and would follow them in the chase vehicle.

The first mile was great. Then the East Fork joined the river, increasing the volume and speed. A white-water stretch crashed them into solid rock that crumpled the bow and tumbled the crew forward to weigh down the front end and raise the stern high to somersault over them as they wisely abandoned ship, diving into the icy water. They needed “less than two dozen stitches to close their wounds, and that is really nothing, up Pinecreek.”

I hate cats, Ryan writes, but I like my kid sister Shelly most of the time. Her pet cat, Shasta, had been missing for four days when Ryan heard a faint meowing, but couldn't locate the source. Two days later, he heard it again, coming from overhead. He finally spotted her, eighty feet high in a fir tree close to the barn. No branches in the lower twenty feet. Only one ladder on the property, about fourteen feet. Solution: pass the ladder from garage roof to tree trunk, with brother Rusty's weight to keep it from sliding. Ryan crawls over to lowest branch without looking down; climbs easily, but discovers six-days-worth of cat crap separating him from his goal. He adds his own vomit; manages to grab the reluctant cat, tucks it in his armpit like a football, climbs down, passes the cat to his sister, and races to the shower. But he remembers the smile on his sister's face to this day.
Ryan concludes this thirteen-chapter book with the overal point, “Growing up Pinecreek is not about the creek or a location. In essence, one could grow up Pinecreek anywhere. . . . a way of life, being able to live the way you want to and not caring about what other people think.”

The Wood and Dose kids not only survived, but thrived. In 2016, Ronnie Wood is now a farrier and heavy equipment operator, near Rose Lake. Ryan teaches consumer economics in Post Falls. Rusty is a physiotherapist in Kellogg. Shelly teaches second grade in Asotin, Washington. Dave Dose pioneered Fort Sherman Academy survival school, teaching overseas workers how to survive or evade capture by terrorists. Dave is also the artist who created the statues that decorate Kellogg, Idaho's streets (Fokker tri-plane, St. George and the Dragon, etc.) Dave currently lives in Coeur d'Alene. Gary Dose is the leader and mentor of the Silver Valley teens' mission trip to Peru in 2016. Rugged individualists one might call them. But that's what they grow, up Pinecreek.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Boys in the Boat: book review

Book Review: THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown, Penguin publ 2013

This is a true story from the years of the Great Depression—the 1930s—when many honest men and women had to struggle to survive without a job. At the age of fifteen, Joe Rantz stood in his family's farmyard near Sequim, Washington, and watched his family drive away, leaving him behind.

His father said, while his step-mother waited in the car with her two small sons, “The thing is, Son, Thula [Joe's step-mom] wants you to stay here. I would stay with you, but I can't. The little kids are going to need a father more than you are. You're pretty much all grown up now anyway. You have to learn to be happy on your own.” With that, Dad drove the family away. The scene had taken only five minutes.

As a child, Joe had moved often, when mechanic's jobs led his father from mining camp to lumber mill to hard-scrabble farm in western Washington State. Now, Joe learned to survive for himself. He continued in high school, learned to poach salmon from the Dungeness River while evading the game warden, scavenging the forest for edibles, helping an elderly neighbor. Playing guitar in honky-tonk bands. Working on a WPA crew laying asphalt on a highway. Operating a 75-lb pneumatic drill while suspended over a 200-foot cliff at the Grand Coulee Dam site, because that job paid 75 cents an hour instead of the standard rate of 50 cents.

Several other paths converged upon Joe's life: his older brother, a high school teacher in Seattle, who advised Joe to transfer to a city high school. The rowing crew coach at the University of Washington who came recruiting when Joe happened to be working out in the high school gym. A woodworker who emigrated from Britain to find more scope for his skills in Seattle, and who fell in love with the qualities of Washington's red cedar trees. A sixteen-year-old girl in Sequim who fell in love with her independent, self-confidant classmate, and followed him to college. A German dictator who decreed a huge athletic complex to host the 1936 Olympic Games and show the whole world the absolute superiority of Gemany's Third Reich. And several dozen young men whose aim was victory in the world's oldest athletic sport. Rowing a boat. 
Racing in a two-feet-wide, sixty-two-feet-long cedar wood shell as part of a coordinated team of eight oarsmen and a coxswain is an incredibly demanding physical and mental task. Not only is there no stopping to rest during a four-mile race, a rower's mind must focus entirely inside his boat, paying attention only to the commands of the coxswain, and never deviating from the in-unison rhythm of the team. Eight oar blades must immerse to the same depth, at the same instant, over and over and over. Physical pain, rain, snow or sweltering heat must be ignored. Only when all nine men are “in swing”---perfect coordination—is there any hope of winning. That takes long practice, under the watchful, intelligent eye of an experienced coach who can detect moods, illness, and other distractions.

After three years of training under freshman coach Tom Bolles and varsity coach Al Ulbrickson, Joe Rantz's performance was still spotty. Then master woodworker George Pocock invited Joe to visit his workshop and watch him work on the racing boats while they talked. Gradually Joe began to understand the difference between being totally self-reliant and being part of a team. The University of Washington's team swept all three races at the national competition in the summer of 1936, and moved onward to Adolf Hitler's Germany to represent USA at the 1936 Olympics.

Three chapters near the end of the book detail the team's experiences in Germany, with photographs both by American reporters and by Leni Riefenstahl, whom Hitler had personally commissioned to document the anticipated victories of the Third Reich. A thousand extra words here could not do justice to the stresses and emotional high points of Joe Rantz and his team mates in those weeks in Germany, both on the Olympic sports field and among the German people.

Brown's research and story-telling talents paint a vivid account of the Depression years and build-up to World War Two, through both anecdotes and photographs. A gripping tale.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Seeds in the Wind: book review

Book Review: SEEDS IN THE WIND by Doris Fleming: fiction, 2012)

Lizzie Van Ankum is a seventeen-year-old Canadian farm girl in Didsbury, Alberta, eagerly anticipating entry into nursing school in Calgary. We meet her as she arrives home, summoned back by an urgent letter from the family doctor. Her mother, Sarah, has been diagnosed as having cancer of her liver, and the family is in crisis. Zachariah, the father, is spending most of his time at his wife's bedside, leaving the farm chores to his older two boys, Willie and J.C. The younger children, twelve-year-old Jake, and Rosie, seven, and Anna, five, are at loose ends.

It is Dr. Martin who meets Lizzie at the railroad station, but who says very little during the eight mile ride to the farm through a blizzard. He wants her to see her mother before he tells her the bad news; Sarah has asked him to give her family the plain truth—Advanced stage, untreatable; she is dying.

She can't die—she is the one who holds our family together! is Lizzie's desperate attempt to deny reality. She looks at her father, who has lapsed into his native Dutch language. At her younger siblings: who will take care of them? And the stark truth hits her, If she dies, I'm trapped. I'll never get off this farm, never be a nurse.

Things get worse. Father hardly speaks at all; eats little. Spends most of his time at the bedside of the woman he loves, or staying up late at night in the barn workshop, alone, building a casket. But Sarah has quietly told him, she wants Lizzie to eventually go to nursing school, and meanwhile to be her own nurse, under the guidance of Dr. Martin's visiting nurse, Nadine. And Sarah insists that Lizzie return now to spend a day at nursing school making rounds with the nurses and doctors.

Lizzie visits nursing school, thrilled not only with her contact with the profession of her dreams, but also by a chance meeting with a young man, Daniel Winslow, whose listening ear and encouragement make her hope to see more of him.

Her mother's death comes soon. Neighbors and fellow church members gather in the rain for her funeral, bringing food to the family. Father Zachariah stays outside, his hand holding onto his wife's casket. Oldest son Willie notices, and comes back to gently pry his father's fingers loose and lead him into the house, where the guests have gathered.

As the days go by, Willie and J.C. take over the the dairy chores and the milk route; Lizzie gradually come to manage the house and meals and the younger children, wondering daily how her mother ever managed all of it. Twelve-year old Jake defies his sister, only five years older than he, and spends more and more time at a neighbor's house. Father rarely come out of his bedroom, eating little, saying even less, and angry at God.

It's early summer now. The two younger sisters, Rosie and Anna are learning to help with the chickens' eggs, and keeping the kitchen stove supplied from the woodpile. Zachariah finally begins to emerge from his prolonged depression, hastened by Lizzie's warning that the neighborhood gossip, self-centered Widow Foster, is asking about him and intends to come over and visit. He vows to be too busy if she comes, and starts paying attention now to the cows and the fence lines.

Another neighbor has concerns of a different sort. Rebecca Bannister has recently moved into the farm she inherited from her late husband. Mother of two pre-teen children, she has met none of the Van Ankums except young Jake, who has offered his services as a hired hand. Not accustomed to farm life herself, she has welcomed his offer, but is now concerned about his longer stays overnight in the barn. She meets Lizzie in church one Sunday, and the two of them agree to coffee at each others' homes some time soon. 

Zachariah has an unfortunate first encounter with Rebecca when she drops in expecting to find Lizzie at home. He is enraged to learn, a few days later, that Jake has practically moved into her house, and he stomps over to her farm to confront her. She has realized, in talking to Jake that he bitterly misses his mother, and resents his father's perpetual anger, and it is she who points out that his reaction to his wife's death is separating him from his son's needs. She turns Zachariah's life around, healing his estrangement from his family.

The healing in the Van Ankum family also changes Lizzie's life when her father and siblings recognize what she has given up in taking on her mother's role. A visit in their home from a traveling minister, Brother Lemont, intrigues her when, after he talks with her brother Willie about his hopes to move north to the new communities in Alberta, he turns to her. “There's someone I want you to meet, Lizzie. Someone who may be able to persuade you to come up north to learn your nursing. They'll be in church tomorrow,” he said, “Don't miss it.”

Author Doris Fleming lives in Wallace, Idaho.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Last Bus to Wisdom: book review

Ivan Doig's novels are set in western Montana, this one written last year, just before his death.
Donal Cameron is an eleven-year-old boy being shipped off to a great-aunt he has never met. His guardian grandmother, who works as cook for a large Montana cattle ranch, needs major surgery, and will be unable to care for him in these summer months of 1951.
Donal's story opens with him on a local bus to Great Falls to catch the Greyhound, with Manitowoc, Wisconsin his destination. Besides his ratty suitcase and thirty dollars pinned in his shirt pocket, he has only two things he values—his lucky charm arrowhead, and his autograph book. He whiles away his 1,500-mile journey by inviting fellow passengers to make entries in his book, collecting three soldiers bound for Korea, a waitress looking for a new job, a sheriff and his prisoner, and many others, one of whom tries to steal his suitcase.
Things get worse when he reaches Manitowoc. Aunt Kate is a self-centered old woman who has prepared a cot for Donal in the attic. There are no kids his age in the neighborhood; Aunt Kate's idea of summer entertainment is to dump a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle on a card table. She also co-opts him to her ladies' canasta afternoons. Without his knowledge, she has thrown out Donal's shirt with his thirty dollars still pinned in it, and he is dead broke. She argues loudly and endlessly with her husband, Herman, who spends most of his time in a greenhouse in the backyard to get away from her presence. Herman has an intense interest in cowboys and Indians and welcomes Donny's presence as one who has actually lived in the West and can tell him all about it. Herman, in turn can tell of his former job on a Great Lakes ore boat and the storm that sank the ship and disabled himself.
The last straw, for Kate, is when she catches Donny trying to recover his share of the canasta winnings she had denied him. She has him pack his bag and takes him to the Greyhound bus station. Herman has made himself scarce after another argument with her. As she waves goodbye to Donny, he glumly assesses his prospects. His grandmother is only two weeks post-surgery; someone else will have taken her job at the ranch; his options on his early arrival in Montana will be only the county orphanage or a foster home.
The bus seat next to him is suddenly filled by some man changing seats. “Hallo,” he says. It's Herman.
What are you doing here?”
Keeping you company, hah? Long ride ahead, we watch out for each other.”
Does she know you're here?”
Left her a note saying I am gone back to Germany.” Herman sees this as his own last chance to get out of that house for good. When they change buses in Milwaukee, they will have disappeared. Anywhere, as long as it's in the west.
Guided by Donny, they get off the bus at Crow Indian Agency, Montana, where the 4th of July rodeo and pow-wow of Indian nations is beginning. Herman gets his fill of bucking horses and Indian dances. Their adventures continue at Yellowstone park, where a pick-pocket robs Herman's wallet. To make matters worse, their pictures are among the “Wanteds” now posted at every post office and bus stop. Aunt Kate has reported them missing. They need a place to hide out for the summer until Donny's grandma has recovered enough to make Donny safe from foster homes and Herman, now without any papers, safe from deportation as an alien.
They find that place in a very small Montana town.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler: book review

Book Review: VINEGAR GIRL by Anne Tyler   novel 

My first reaction was to this book's cover: no human scalp could possibly grow all that much hair. But an author with twenty novels already published must have something on the ball; and a chick-literature version of Shakespeare in USA teen-speak is a new idea to me, so I'm giving it a try.

Kate Battista, age 29, single, is a teacher's assistant in a pre-school. Her defiant facial expression is only partly hidden by all that hair. The little pre-schoolers love her; their parents do not. Flippant and disrespectful are words frequently appearing on her work record. Tact, restraint, diplomacy, and thin ice are ideas often suggested by her boss. Kate understands that tact means saying things politely, diplomacy means not saying things at all. Restraint? She has
no clear picture of that—just one of those words that people throw into overly long sentences.

Her 15-year-old sister Bunny is a boy-crazy flirt, ending most of her sentences with an upward tone implying a question. Her current boyfriend lives next door. Big sister needn't fret about him, he is just there on the sofa with her to tutor her for Spanish class.

Kate's father, Dr. Louis Battista, a research biologist and widower, is forever just on the verge of success in his laboratory. Always preoccupied, depending on his two daughters to tend the house and the meals. His main worry is that his brilliant lab associate, Pyotr Scherbakov's visa will expire in just a couple of months if he cannot find a way to qualify for an extension. With singleness of mind, Father embarks on his goal: “Would you be willing to marry him?” he asks Kate.

What? . . . .Please tell me you're not serious. I don't even know him!”

Now, don't make any hasty decisions. You slightly know him. You'll have to marry someone sooner or later, right? He's a good fellow!”

You would never ask Bunny to do this,” Kate says bitterly.

Well, Bunny's still in high school. Besides, Bunny has all those young men chasing after her.”

And I don't,” Kate said. If she keeps her expression impassive, she might be able to keep the tears from spilling over. She walks out of the room with her chin raised. Slams her bed room door.

Her father won't give up. He and Pyotr are so close to success in their research. He uses every opportunity to get Pyotr and Kate together, documenting events with lots of photos, in case the Immigration Service became suspicious of a sudden marriage. Pyotr is cooperative; he likes Kate, and courts her as best a foreign scientist can do in the face of her opposition. Kate wants nothing to do with him. He tells her at one point that he and her father went down to city hall to get the marriage license. “Fine,” she says, “ I hope you two will be very happy together!”
But gradually Pyotr learns how to get her to talk with him. And he grows able to express himself in terms she can accept.
The word gets around town despite Kate's resistance. Aunt Thelma is thrilled to hear her niece is finally getting married. She begins making all sorts of plans for the wedding, while Kate struggles to maintain control. The teachers at the pre-school throw a surprise bridal shower. They want to see his picture. Kate shows them one on her cell phone, and they exclaim over his good looks. They all seem to see her differently now. She has status. She matters. And she realizes that she reads other people more clearly too. She limits the wedding guests to her father and sister. Aunt Thelma plans an elaborate reception in her own spacious home.

The wedding is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday. Kate drives Bunny and her father to the church; father is too nervous to drive. She is wearing a light blue cotton shift dating from her college days instead of her usual jeans. Bunny wears her angel-winged sun-dress. Father has been persuaded—ordered—to wear his only suit. He has the license; plans to clear Pyotr with the Immigration officials first thing Monday morning. Pyotr is at the lab feeding all the experimental mice and will meet them at the church. 
11:20, no Pyotr. Another wait . . . The minister suggests a phone call. Bunny texts Pyotr and waits. Finally, Pyotr texts back: “A terrible event”

Not wanting to spoil the ending, I'll stop there—except to add that author Anne Tyler's command of the English language is superb. She paints scenes with a sentence or two: the reaction of twin four-year-old boys in Kate's pre-school when she shows her ring, “Now who will we marry when we grow up?”

Or her description of Aunt Thelma's palatial house, “In the living room, sectional couches lumber through the vast space like a herd of rhinos, and both coffee tables are the size of double beds.”

In summing up this engaging novel, expect to see many of your acquaintances, and perhaps even yourself, in Vinegar Girl's pages.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Elephant Company: Book Review

ELEPHANT COMPANY by Vicki Constantine Croke Random House, 2014

Most Americans understand what 'horse-whisperer' means. Billy Williams was an 'elephant whisperer', and helped defeat the Japanese army in World War II Burma.

Demobilized with a captain's rank in 1920, Williams got a job with the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation, harvesting teak logs in the forests of Burma ( now called Myanmar.) Teak wood is highly prized in ship-building for its durability and resistance to rot, but it has never been successfully cultivated. Myanmar's forests produce 75% of the world's supply. There are no logging roads, no bulldozer access. Only elephants to move the two-ton logs to the dry stream beds, where the flash-floods of the next annual rainy season will float them downstream to the big rivers and the sawmills in the cities.

As crew boss of a dozen jungle camps Williams would be responsible for the health and efficiency of the men and their elephants out in the jungles. His own boss, Harding, is a crusty old Britisher who has only contempt for young newcomers. The first evening, the elephants on station line up for daily inspection. Harding has barely spoken to Williams since his arrival and now wordlessly begins examining the huge beasts one by one, making notes in each elephant's record book. No words for Williams until all have been examined. Then, “Those four on the right are yours, and God help you if you can't take care of them.” And Harding walked away.

Physically fit and self reliant, Williams surprised his boss after a few days by offering to start on his solo tour earlier than Harding had planned. “I'd like to start off tomorrow.” Before the old man was awake next morning, Williams and his four elephants, their drivers, a cook, two bearers, and two messengers were silently on their way. Fascinated by the way elephants communicated and cooperated with each other, and with their drivers, he was a quick learner. The elephants followed spoken commands, but only in the Burmese language. He learned the work routine of the timber camp elephants—they work till mid-afternoon, then they cool off and bathe in the river. He examines each daily for any injuries; their drivers turn them loose at night to forage in the lush jungle vegetation. Each driver knew his animal and can call it back next morning.

One of the four elephants was old, weak, always more tired than the others. One morning, her driver found her dead, not far from the camp. Williams did an autopsy there where she lay. Not easy on an eight-thousand-pound animal. He knew he would be held accountable when he returned to base camp, and he was correct. But he learned to argue, and to document his findings, and this pleased Harding. Elephants had been trained by being chained and beaten until their spirit was broken. Baby elephants were removed from their mother's care so she could continue her daily work, and many of the young did not survive. Williams proposed letting the young elephants “go to school” at age five, and be trained by rewarding, not punishing, and this proved to be both efficient and more profitable. Boys in their early teens were recruited as drivers, and grew up with the elephant they were assigned.

Williams rose through the ranks as his management methods gained respect. He even wooed and won a British girl who valued life in the forests as much as he did.

Then came World War Two. The British thought they were far from danger, until Singapore and then Malaya fell to the Japanese; Japan then attacked Burma, occupying its seaports and closing off escape for those in northern Burma with mountain ranges on the east, north, and west.
On January 20, 1942, foreigners were advised to leave, but the only remaining escape routes were over the mountains. Williams and his family and coworkers assembled at Mawlaik, Williams old base camp. From there, 40 women, 27 children, 83 men, and 110 elephants headed northwest on foot. The elephants carried supplies, not people. They reached the small village of Tamu at the border a week later, now crowded with thousands of desperate refugees. Altogether, about 600,000, including about 50,000 British, most of the rest Indian, would cross fifty miles of dirt tracks and mountain trails before reaching level plains in India. It's said that 80,000 died in the attempt.

Two months later, the Japanese controlled the “Burma Road”, the major supply route for China's armies. General “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell and his American staff (with “The Burma Surgeon”, Gordon Seagrave and 27 of his hospital's nurses) also trekked out on foot by a route farther north. China's armies would then receive their supplies, from India 'over the hump' via airplane.

After making sure that his wife and son and others entrusted into his care were safely beyond reach of the Japanese, Billy Williams offered his services to the British command in India. They were eager to commission him—a man by then fluent in Burmese, with a map of Burma in his head in detail, personally acquainted with half the elephants in Burma and their drivers, experienccd in bridge construction--he immediately had the ear of the higher-ups. He wanted a jeep and freedom to act on his own. He got it as part of Force 136, who worked behind enemy lines. Stealing elephants was easy in the night—no headlights or noisy engines betrayed their movements to the Japanese.

The Japanese supply lines were vastly overextended by then. Allied forces defeated them and turned them back at Imphal, but Japanese patrols were still a threat as late as 1944. Williams led another group of elephants and men in a harrowing journey through uncharted Indian territory, led by the greatest elephant of all, Bandoola, with whom he had almost telepathic rapport.

Ms. Croke has done excellent research to tell this true story of “Elephant Bill”; it gives a new view of innovative warfare to veterans, historians, and adventurers alike.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Magic of Cape Disappointment: book reviewok review

The Magic of Cape Disappointment, by Julie Manthey (a novel of magic, history, and romance)
Kay Baker has just completed medical school at the top of her class, but intends to open an art gallery in New York City before doing her internship and residency requirements. A two-page back-story identifies Kay as a fifth generation descendant of Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark's 1805 expedition that pioneered exploration of the Pacific Northwest. She has just now been notified that her DNA matches with Lewis's extended family. The only logical explanation would be that Captain Lewis took a wife from the Clatsop Indian tribe while the expedition wintered at the mouth of the Columbia River. Unfortunately, 400 pages of his expedition's journal have gone missing during the ensuing 210 years.

An hour before her art gallery is scheduled to open, her phone rings. Astoria Medical Center in Oregon notifies her that both her parents have just arrived by ambulance after a car crash. “We suggest you get here as quickly as you can.”

Kay catches the first plane to Portland, rents a car for the hundred-mile drive to Astoria on the coast. Delayed by a freak snowstorm, she arrives at the hospital at 2 a.m., finding her 97 year-old Gran asleep in the ER waiting room next to a dozing young man. A doctor tells her both parents died from their injuries soon after arrival. This leaves Kay and her brother Louis as Gran's only living relatives, and Louis is at sea for the next month or more. The young man is a neighbor who found Gran wandering the village of Ilwaco, and had guided her back to her house just before the hospital called. Gran has dementia, requiring almost constant attention. Kay, having made a promise to her now-deceased mother that she would never put Gran in a nursing home, is now morally bound to stay with her for the foreseeable future.

December and January pass. Surrounded by the townspeople of Ilwaco Kay gradually adapts to small town life where everyone knows everyone else, and where many recall that Kay's mother and her failing grandmother are keelalles, legendary medicine women of the Clatsop Indian tribe. Her helpful neighbor Sam comes in for coffee one day and has a letter for her—from her mother. Asked why he waited two months to deliver it, he puzzled her further by saying that her mother told him to “wait until the day after the dog bite. My dog bit you yesterday, so here it is.”

The letter was written the day before her Mom died, and tells her to find John Lane, the Clatsop tribal chief, who can explain the things Kay will need to know about the old ways. “The world needs a powerful healer,” Mom writes, “Embrace your destiny, for you are powerful beyond measure.”

She goes with Sam on his motorcycle to Seaside, Oregon, to meet John Lane and the tribal council, comprised by, in real life, a computer tech, a retired college professor, a retired lawyer and an operator of a bed-and-breakfast.

Tribal lore has it that every tenth generation of medicine women since the powerful
keelalle, Saghalie, will be empowered by the coyote spirit to influence the weather, the power to heal, and the power to know the future. Saghalie protected the people from the great wave of 1700, caused by the Cascadia earthquake of that year. Her fifth generation descendent Tamahna was the last keelalle to have all three powers. “You, Kay, are the fifth generation after Tamahna. The next great Cascadia quake is already overdue; it might come any time now. Your powers are only effective within the Clatsop tribal area. The tribal Council is glad to welcome you home.”

Her mother had often called her the coyote girl. Kay had always thought it was just a nickname describing her independent personality, but now John Lane, the computer tech, says no—the coyote is the animal that has empowered the greatest keelalles down through the centuries. His own spirit is the raven, that of a tribal chief.

Things normalize somewhat over the next two months. Romance proceeds apace; Kay's brother turns up just in time to say goodbye to Gran before she dies peacefully. Free of responsibility for her grandmother, Kay debates returning to a less dramatic life in New York City. But she discovers that she now has an increasing love for all her people in the tribal land. She decides to stay
A few days later, the ground begins to tremble. . . .

Although first-time author Julie Manthey needs to research natural phenomena to make them more believable, there is nothing wrong with the magic of her imagination. She melds love, frustration, Indian tribal lore, history, and a spirit world that almost touches reality just off the coast at the light house on Cape Disappointment. Good writing!