Tag Archives: tracking

In the Old West, without GPS, if they wanted you, they’d find you

16 Nov

Cormac McCarthy

Everyone knows we’re being tracked. You leave a trail with credit cards, cell phones, cookies and social media. Cameras take pictures at traffic lights.Auto dealers hide GPS devices on the cars they sell. Even U.S. passports have a chip embedded in them.

But in the Old West, in the days of the horse and buggy – mainly because of the horse and buggy – it also was easy to track people. People back then left tracks, the old-fashion kind.

Blood MeridianI point this out after reading Cormac McCarthy’s 1985 novel, “Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West.” In it, a band of characters travels endlessly across vast expanses of plains, desserts and mountains. They always seem to find each other. Their enemies always seem to find them, and they their enemies.

There are some major skills involved here, as Cormac suggests. But the basics are hard to miss. In today’s times, we forget about giveaways like smoke from a cook fire, dung and urine from animals and humans, the simple imprint of foot, hoof and wheel. Either way, it’s pretty much a sure thing that after crossing the dessert everyone is going to end up at the well or creek. A great place to wait for your prey.

While it is frightening to think that today’s phones reveal where we are and where we went, it’s also a scary thought that you could ride or walk for days and nights, in the heat and cold, possibly without water and food or even clothes, across the harshest terrain, and the person trailing you will find you and kill you in the most brutal fashion.

This lesson, among others, I learned from Cormac McCarthy and the book they call his masterpiece.

No country posterIf you don’t know McCarthy from his many novels – almost all of them filled with horrific violence – then you might know him from the films made from his books. Perhaps the most famous is “No Country for Old Men,” which in 2007 won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Some see McCarthy as the equal or near equal of Faulkner. While I was amazed by “No Country for Old Men,” I’m embarrassed to say I had overlooked McCarthy, then and even after. I only came to know him after briefly watching a so-so TV movie with an unfamiliar name – one I don’t even remember — and hearing several pieces of brilliant dialogue.

I admire a good sentence and these were unlike anything I’ve heard on TV – with the possible exception of “True Detective.” They came from deep within some dark, mysterious, knowing soul.

I checked and found they came from Cormac McCarthy. And so I went on to read “Blood Meridian.”

If you read it, or even just look at it, you’ll notice some things right off. First, there are no quotation marks (even when there are quotes). Cute, but only idiosyncratic. Next, there are all these words you won’t understand because they are archaic and rarely appear anywhere. Doubly troubling are the passages in un-translated Spanish – the common tongue of Cormac’s characters, who are American, Mexican and Native American.

But the most obvious and disturbing thing about McCarthy is the violence. Nearly every page is covered in blood. I recall thinking that while the writing was terrific, the plot line had to come from a thoroughly sick and disturbed mind.

Glanton gang
Then I began to listen closer to the tone, attitude and motif phraseology of his characters. I came to realize this was not made up. This was all true. It was history, and the writer must have relied heavily on journals and first-hand accounts.

While McCarthy is not in the habit of discussing his work, I searched for confirmation of my theory and found it on good old Wikipedia:

The majority of the narrative follows a teenager referred to only as “the kid,” with the bulk of the text devoted to his experiences with the Glanton gang, a historical group of scalp hunters who massacred Native Americans and others in the United States–Mexico borderlands from 1849 to 1850 for bounty, pleasure, and eventually out of sheer compulsion . . . .

 

. . . McCarthy conducted considerable research to write the book. Critics have repeatedly demonstrated that even brief and seemingly inconsequential passages of Blood Meridian rely on historical evidence. The Glanton gang segments are based on Samuel Chamberlain‘s account of the group in his memoir My Confession: The Recollections of a Rogue, which he wrote during the latter part of his life. Chamberlain rode with John Joel Glanton and his company between 1849 and 1850.

 

Unlike many people, I try not to look for meaning in creative work. Beauty alone is enough for me, and “Blood Meridian” is beautiful. The best art is an open presentation of depth that allows the consumer to add the meaning. It really doesn’t come with it.

Still, my favorite parts of the book are the philosophical pronouncements of the character known as “the judge.” I sense he sounds a lot like Cormac McCarthy at a cocktail party. The judge accepts violence. In total, what the book does for me is calm my frustration at man’s inhumanity, convincing me – if only for a short time – that violence is NOT inhuman, but rather perfectly and intrinsically human.

I’ll end with a passage and invite comment.

“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.”

Lanny Morgnanesi

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Biker/Writer Shares Experiences With Fracking

14 Apr
Author Seamus McGraw

Author Seamus McGraw

I recently attended one of those events where an author discusses his or her work in an intimate setting. From the outset, it was clear this would be interesting. After all, how many writers show up in leather pants, leather jacket, a Triumph T-shirt, shaved head, goatee and with a bike out front?

Upon entering the room, he placed a can of Drum tobacco and a pack of Zig-Zag papers on the table in front of him. He didn’t smoke during the talk, but he did roll. His best points were made while gesturing with the unlit fag.

After 45-minutes, he excused himself to go outside and feed his habit.

Lunch was served, but he said his lunch would be coffee. Do you have any?

He said he was a liberal but that 90 percent of liberals are idiots.

In the middle of the talk, he invited us – and anybody, for that matter – to a huge barbeque he holds every year.

Seamus McGraw-book coverThe man’s name is Seamus McGraw.

I’m embarrassed to say I did not read his book, but I will.

It’s about fracking.

Fracking is the common term for hydraulic fracturing, which is used to extract oil and gas from shale. It does so through a horizontal drilling process that pumps large amounts of water and chemicals, under extreme pressure, into the shale. The shale shatters and the gas and oil are released.

Fracking has put a glut of natural gas on the market and kept prices low.  It has caused coal-fired power plants to shift to the cleaner, cheaper natural gas. Most unexpectedly and perhaps most important, it will help the United States become energy independent in the coming decade.

It also may poison life forms that dwell near the drilling sites, or maybe even beyond them.

When Seamus is asked, “Are you for or against fracking?” he answers, “Yes.”

His book is, “The End of Country: Dispatches from the Frack Zone.” Those who read it said they didn’t see evidence of any leather-clad biker in it. Maybe the book is where he goes to hide.

Seamus failed at college, early careers and several marriages. He stumbled into journalism and writing, became successful, and then looked for a way to stumble out of it.

Around that time someone knocked on the door of his home in northeastern Pennsylvanian and offered him money for the fuel underneath it. He signed the papers and decided, “OK, one more book.”

What resulted got him attention, so now there is another book coming. It is on conversations about climate change — how we talk about it. Seamus believes that in politics and life we are divisive because we self-polarize. He said we are too blind or to stubborn to learn that under the surface we often believe the same things. His goal is to get to the point where we recognize this, and then move on to fixing our problems. Top on his list would be a national energy policy.

Seamus, soon to be 55, is a supreme raconteur. He seems incredibly knowledgeable on almost every subject. And, of course, his presentation is unique.

After his talk, I wished I could have seen him ride out of there. Unfortunately, I missed that. I guess I’ll have to wait until his next book.

Lanny Morgnanesi

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