I had promised a different piece this week, but had a friend and his wife stop in for the weekend and that threw me off my game. They were up from Paso Robles, California, where they raise wine grapes – Syrah, Petite Syrah — on a magnificent chunk of the central coast, and also to pick up some elk meat I’d been holding for them in our freezer since our hunt last fall. And, as things go, the weekend vanished in an insalubrious 72-hour fete that left me feeling like I’d spent the weekend with Robert Plant and the boys in a chapter from Hammer of the Gods.
I was reflecting the other night that, other than chase cows on the desert, play shortstop for the Yankees, and do some decent shooting, I’ve only ever wanted to write. I published my first piece when I was five. That’s a grandiose vision, and meant to be funny, but it is also true although it wasn’t really writing. It was a picture I drew — an alligator sliding into a swamp — which even after all these years isn’t really that bad for a first effort. I’m still drawing alligators sliding into swamps, it seems, and we are fortunate these days to be able to share our thoughts and visions broadly.
Each year on St. Patrick’s Day my wife and I celebrate our wedding anniversary. 18 years ago on St. Patrick’s day we eloped and were married at the Chapel of the Bells on 4thStreet in Reno. Ten minutes earlier there had been a funeral in the same chapel, and I was so broke I couldn’t even afford the VHS tape of the nuptials. Two decades later I wouldn’t change a thing.
Busy days here on the Figure 8. The first order of business has been to compile an accurate BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) following a series of snowstorms that camped over Central Oregon in late February and early March. So far the damage has been significant. Both the turkey and chicken pens collapsed under the weight of snow. The birds are fine because when there is 3 feet of snow on the ground they don’t come out of the henhouse. They are uppity that way.
Out here in the mountain west water is always precious, particularly when living on the east side of any of the hundreds of mountain ranges between the Sierra-Cascades and the Rockies. Out here, the east side of anything is always the drier side, the rain-shadow side, and so eastsiders live within a perpetual loop of drought and diminishing returns. The diminishing returns are a result of aggressive settlement beyond the 100thMeridian, which is desert, and has been a desert since before the end of the last Ice Age.
I stopped believing the weather woman about 2 months ago. This was a deliberate act of rebellion because riding the prediction roller coaster was damaging my nerves and upsetting the dogs. Calls for snow this winter have too often dissembled into blue skies, warm chinooks, and mud in the paddocks, and although I have sympathy for anyone who signs up to predict the weather in Central Oregon my stores of good humor were used up three fake storms ago.
After a delay in recording brought on by the horrors of technology, Craig, Jim, and “Oil Can” Rathbun are back in the bunkhouse on the historic Figure 8 Ranch to bring you another episode of the Running Iron Podcast. In this episode Lane Jacobson, owner of Paulina Springs Bookstore in Sisters, Oregon, sits down for a wide-ranging discussion about books, artificial intelligence, algorithms, and his vision for what a great small-town bookstore looks like.
On a clear day from Winter Ridge, high above the broad expanse of Summer Lake in south-central Oregon, it is possible to look far into the eastern desert at a low-slung formation called 5 Mile Point. It was way out there, in 1937, that archaeologist Luther Cressman began excavating the Paisley Caves. Today, the U.S. Forest Service maintains a tidy cabin up on Winter Ridge, at the place where John C. Fremont came out of the woods in the winter of 1843 and first beheld the breathtaking reach of the Great Basin.
It is Tuesday, which is the day I’m supposed to publish another piece here at Running Iron. Sadly, my attention has been drawn away this week to other writing projects, which means I have nothing to offer.
Nobody can talk to anybody because everybody has been sucked away on the algorithms meant to charge the dopamine response in their brains, and they are almost incapable of entertaining information that comes from outside of the bubble that AI has created for them based on their own preferences. The effects of digital isolation are so bad that an entire industry now exists merely to re-teach human beings how to sit down in the same room and have a conversation.
If the now ubiquitous American Freak Out is evidence of anything, perhaps it is a symptom of our lives on the new frontier. Maybe it’s happening because we are culturally marooned, neither here nor there just yet, but rather groaning through the death agonies of the old myths that once sustained us, while fighting savagely over the invention and control of the new myths we will eventually live by.
Over the years I have paid particular attention to my family history. Not because my family is in any way unique from anyone else’s, only that from a very young age I have been imbued with an abiding appreciation for the experiences of my ancestors. I’ve wanted to know them, or at least about them, and so maybe learn something about myself as I’ve traveled through this life. And it is the Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri branches of my family — Norwegians, Germans, and Dutch — who all wound up farther west at one point or another, that I have learned the most about