The Wealth of Characters


, March 27, 2021- As long as I have been an educator, the antics of Beatrice (Beezus) and Ramona Quimby have been a staple of my after lunch read-alouds, to children from 6 to 10 years of age. “Lonesome Dove” was both a favoured read and good television viewing, in the mid- to -late 1980s.

Beverly Cleary and Larry Mc Murtry, two beloved American writers, died a day apart, each leaving a legacy of work that will sound like clarions, for generations yet unborn. Mrs. Cleary’s work was drawn from her own childhood experiences, in the Portland of the 1920s and 30s, a time of rambunctious personal freedom, followed by harrowing economic ills-all playing out in an undercurrent of Victorian attitudes towards children, which would fuel young Beverly’s rebellious anger. An only child, she determined that her characters would have at least one sibling and a number of both friendly and adversarial contemporaries. Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy, his friends Robert, Murph and Beatrice (Beezus), all characters from the 1950s, are sensible, but get into their share of mischief. Beatrice’s younger sister, Ramona, tops them all in the mischief department, constantly getting into tiffs with “That Grace”, her schoolyard rival.

There was, likewise, all manner of mischief to be had in the world of Lonesome Dove, which was the Texas-Mexico border of the 1870s to 90s. There were cattle drives, going from Texas to Montana, thus giving us a picture, through Larry Mc Murtry’s eyes, of the Great Plains in both tradition and transition. Mc Murtry, in reviewing the public response to his opus, referred to the Old West as “the phantom leg of the American psyche”. The Eighties were a time when many people were still mourning the passing of John Wayne, and with him, the Old West of mythology. Indeed, the original game plan of Larry McMurtry was to cast John Wayne in the role that eventually went to Robert Duvall. John Ford, with whom “The Duke” is closely associated in the Western movie genre, opposed the project, which languished for twelve years, making it to the small screen in 1989.

The characters remain memorable: Duvall’s Gus McRae; Tommy Lee Jones’ Woodrow Call; Danny Glover’s Joshua Deets; Diane Lane’s Lorena Wood; Robert Urich’s Jake Spoon and, in the sequel, Frederic Forrest’s Blue Duck. There is a coming of age element, with Rick Schroeder as Newt Dobbs. The series did not, as is America’s wont, portray the Old West as it really was, brutal to the core-and in an equal opportunity way, to people of all ethnicities. It is said that Larry McMurtry got deeper into that aspect, in his screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain”, which I have never seen.

Thus, as we bid farewell to two authors who were memorable characters, in and of themselves, let us bear in mind just how close their concocted people are to some of us, or to all of us. That, the mirror, is the true value of fiction, across genres.

Sixty-Six for Sixty Six, No. XXII: Wonders of the Middle Realm


April 9, 2017, Prescott- Yesterday, I wrote of the western third of the contiguous United States, which is where I have spent most of my time, since 1992.  Being from the East Coast, and preferring surface travel over flying,  especially when the weather is good, I have developed an affinity for the regions which many call “flyover country”.  The Great Plains and South Central regions may not have the jaw-dropping grandeur of the Mountain West or Alaska, but there is plenty worthy of spending one’s time.

The Rockies, of course, are the heart of the Mountain West.  In many visits to the heights of Colorado, I have felt most at home in Longmont, Loveland and Denver, where I have family.  Manitou Springs, Garden of the Gods and Seven Falls have helped make Colorado Springs another “feel at home” stopover.  One of these years, I will find my way to the summit of Pikes Peak.  Boulder, also, has welcomed me, several times, with wonders ranging from Pearl Street Mall, and Boulder Books, to Eldorado Canyon, which I hiked in the rain, whilst carrying an umbrella.  The Tetons and Yellowstone invite me back, as well, with visions of geysers and Grizzlies.

As the Rockies recede into the Great Plains, I find Spirit Tower (forget the name, “Devil”), Medicine Wheel, the Badlands, Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak), Scott’s Bluff and the determination of the Indigenous People of the prairie as riveting as any great mountain or canyon.  Little towns like Deadwood, Belvedere and Custer(overlook the name) (SD), Burlington, Granada and Walsenburg (CO), Wellington,Dodge City and Hays (KS) have been as welcoming as any place in the West.  There is, to my mind, a goodly amount of sophistication and culture to be found in Omaha, Lincoln and Wichita, as well.

Friends in Amarillo and Enid (OK) have helped make those cities almost necessary pit stops, on any eastward trek that takes a southern route.  Texas, like California, is a world unto itself.  I was captivated by the warmth I felt, across the state, from the great cities of El Paso, San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston to small communities- Grand Saline, South Padre Island, Laredo, Marfa, Sanderson, Quanah and Temple.  There wasn’t much happening in Luckenbach, when I happened through there, but the locals were glad I came, anyway.  Revelations abound, across the Lone Star State, from the view of the Rio Grande’s confluence with the Gulf of Mexico, to Pedernales Falls, northwest of San Antonio, or the wild canyons of the Llano Estacado and the Trans-Pecos region.  My favourite museum section remains the Music Hall, at Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History, near the Texas State Capitol (itself an extraordinary edifice).  Then, there are the five missions in San Antonio- a very full day of discovery!

Oklahoma has no end of variety, but I will content myself with sending kudos to Lake Texoma and Lake of the Cherokees, Black Mesa(the state’s highest point, at its juncture with New Mexico and Colorado), Tonkawa and its monument to Chief Joseph, of the Nez Perce, and the heartfelt, humbling memorial to the victims of Oklahoma City’s tragic bombing, in 1995.  Oklahoma City remains the only place where I have been mistaken for a county employee- being invited to an employee barbecue, as I walked by, on the way to the Memorial.

I will continue to skip the temptation to fly over, as long as the weather is not too harsh.


The Road to 65, Mile 209: A Triangle of Towns, Part 3- Lewiston and Its Two Rivers


June 25, 2015, Lewiston, ID- This eastern half of the Lewis and Clark twin cities announces itself from a place at the foot of winding path, coming down a steep desert hillside.



Like so many Inland Northwest towns, Lewiston presents a charming and arts-oriented downtown.  Named for Meriwether Lewis, it has, as a centerpiece, Lewis and Clark State College’s Center for Arts and History361

Revolving art exhibits take center stage, on the first floor.  On the day I visited, the Sandpoint-based artist, Kelly Price, offered an astonishing array of Sacred Circles, making a very strong case for the interconnectedness of all things in the Universe and the security which may be found within an orb. Ms. Price’s exhibit clearly shows the universality of the notion that the circle, symbol of completion, is universally held sacred.  (As is my practice, no photos were taken of her exhibit, nor of the presentation of Scott Kirby.)


Scott Kirby, a pianist based in Boulder, CO, transitioned into painting scenes of the Great Plains, after an afternoon of drawing and painting with his daughter.  The flow of his art work certainly evoked a vibrant musical background.


On the second floor of the Center, lies a tribute to suffering and perseverance:  Beuk Aie (“Buckeye”) Temple.


The Temple was built by immigrants from Guangdong, China, who practiced a particular blend of animism and Buddhism, which called for this sort of temple to be used in worship.  It was housed in two consecutive structures, until 1959, when the second structure fell into disuse.  The sacred altar and relics were preserved by Mr. Ted Loy, a Lewiston businessman, until his death in 1981. They were then curated by his family and transferred to Lewis and Clark Community College, for safekeeping.

The Beuk Aie Temple also serves as a memorial to the 34 victims of one of the many shameful incidents of persecution aimed at Chinese residents in the Pacific Northwest:  The Deep Creek Massacre.  In May, 1887, the victims, all miners from Guangdong, were slaughtered by White miners in Wallowa County, OR, who then took the gold that the Chinese men had mined.  While the identities of those involved were determined by investigators from Lewiston, the State of Oregon, which had jurisdiction in the case, found no one guilty.  There is a memorial plaque on the Oregon side of Hells Canyon, but there the matter has rested.


In fairness, the people of the Pacific Northwest have made enormous strides in White-Asian relations, and the major source of friction in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries was mainly economic.  Then again, isn’t it always?  Fighting over crumbs seems to be our wont, as a species.

My thoughts turned to the indigenous residents of this area:  The Nez Perce Nation, symbolized by their leader, Chief Joseph (“I will fight no more, forever”) and the Shoshone, symbolized by Sacagawea, the woman who guided Lewis and Clark through this then rough wilderness.

The confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers has been a key resting and gathering place for humanity, for thousands of years.  Now, a bridge connects Lewiston with Clarkston, WA, which I did not visit this time, as a walk along the Idaho side’s Riverwalk captivated me for nearly an hour, before it seemed time to head down to Lapwai, Nez Perce Nation and further south.



The people of this area feel a great connection to the Pacific, which both feeds, and receives from,these great rivers.


The Lewis and Clark Pavilion, at the northwest corner of the Riverwalk, honours the explorers and Sacagawea.  A sculpture with her likeness graces the entrance to the small kiosk.


I will come back through here, and spend more time in both Lewiston and Clarkston, as well as connecting with a Baha’i friend who I did not realize lives in Lewiston.

After having dinner at Donald’s Restaurant, in Lapwai, it was time to move through the salubrious mountains and canyons of western Idaho.  Hell’s Canyon would have made for some fine photos, but the traffic was horrible, so I went further, to Salmon River Canyon.


This trestle is one of seven built between Lewiston and Grangeville, to help move gold and other goods.


The area is among the most rugged parts of Idaho, which is saying quite alot.


The rest of the day’s drive was through more sanguine territory, from Grangeville to Payette, then east to Ontario, OR, and a rest at the Oregon Trail Motel.  The Beaver State’s Big East awaited.

The Road to 65, Mile 209: A Triangle of Towns, Part 2- Pullman, WA and ITS University


June 25, 2015, Pullman-  It’s hard to not crisscross between Idaho and Washington, when in this part of the Palouse.  Pullman, a scant eight miles from the University of Idaho, at Moscow, has the equally estimable Washington State University.  I parked in a two-hour spot, downtown, and used these steps to visit the University.


The school was begun about the time that Washington became  a state, in 1889.  The Palouse was already drawing farmers from the Great Plains, and the small Midwestern colleges were models for the initial Normal School.

With many of the settlers being of Germanic or Scandinavian ancestry, the turreted structures found in universities in northern Europe found emulation here.


The Clock Tower, a nearly-universal feature of institutions of higher learning, was also one of WSU’s early structures.


The university library was quite busy, as summer session was still in full swing.  I noted that was true at UI, and, a year ago, at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.


This touching memorial met me, along the South Fork Palouse Riverwalk, as I returned downtown from the hilltop University.


Cities worldwide are embracing outdoor murals, and Pullman’s celebrates its railroad past.


The town has a smaller art scene than Moscow, but young people here are every bit as proud of their joyful noises, as their counterparts to the east319

South Fork Palouse Riverwalk is heavily used by locals, though in the lunch hour, I had the path virtually to myself.




The Nez Perce influence is still felt here, at the western edge of that great nation’s rangelands.323

I enjoyed a hearty lunch at Heroes and Sports, in the building on whose exterior the railroad mural is shown, above.  Two WSU ladies cheerfully welcomed about twelve of us in from the increasing heat, and I relished a Philly steak, before heading off, towards Lewiston, and points further south.