Showing posts with label myths. Show all posts
Showing posts with label myths. Show all posts

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Lone Rider of Chinatown Wash

My dog was giving off an unusual bark at the screen door. Although it wasn't such a great idea, I let her charge out towards whatever or whoever was bothering her. It was a pretty, half-white horse and its human 'operator.' They were moving towards us on a mountain bike single-track trail. (Actually it is for other non-motorized users, too.)

I apologized to the horseman for my dog's barking, but neither he nor his horse seemed concerned. I guess they'd seen a dog or two in their day. They walked up to about one body-length from me, and calmly 'parked' themselves.

Just to put the reader into a Western mood.

I felt an instant affinity for the man and horse, perhaps because I too am a lone rider on the same trails, albeit with a dog and mountain bike, instead of a horse.

I watch DVDs of TV westerns these days; "The Virginian" in particular. Horses always look so big in the show. But here the horse looked smaller. His eyes were even with mine. Of course they were three or four times as large. The horse stared calmly at me the whole time.

People are always getting thrown from their horses in western shows, caught in the stirrups, and then dragged. Looking at the rider and horse in front of me, I wondered why modern horsemen didn't have a stirrup "safety release," like a mountain biker or skier.

The rider didn't even look that high in the saddle. Recently the ride looked so high when Jena Engstrom mounted the horse in an episode of the Virginian. I fell in love with her riding. She even did her own stunts, once falling off the horse. (And you could see her face -- it was no stunt-girl.) She had to lift her foot up to shoulder height to get on her horse. I almost laughed when comparing it to long-legged Chuck Connors's style of mounting a horse.

Then I peppered the rider with questions about saddle-making, bits, reins, etc. He didn't roll his eyes at my city-slickerish ignorance. He patiently answered the questions, and really seemed to enjoy it. He even gave a demonstration of his horse-handling techniques.

It was late afternoon, getting towards dusk. Finally he needed to get going. His wife was waiting on the main gravel road with the horse trailer and pickup truck. His wife didn't ride with him anymore. She had been thrown twice in one year, and she was, after all, 80 years old. He was 84. Something about that fact was soothing. America seemed basically OK if there were people like them still around.

Moments like this bring on nostalgia for a West that has mostly passed, but not completely. Recall the ending of Jack Schaefer's "Shane:"
"...the man who rode into our little valley out of the heart of the great glowing West and when his work was done rode back whence he had come and he was Shane."
But even better than his evanescence into western myth, look at this photo of Chinatown Wash, just as it hits a high, dry waterfall. Thenceforth the canyon is dark and vertical. The slow trickling-down of the Present abruptly becomes fatality and the Past...

And "what was corporeal, vanished, as breath into the wind..."

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Stubbornness of Some Myths

If a town like Coyote NM lacks up-scale glamor to a tourist, then this forest just made it worse:

Believe it or not, I sort of liked it. The altitude was over 8000 feet, so it was cool. It was flat enough to use more than one gear on my mountain bike. And there wasn't one Jeep Wrangler after another, as there soon will be in Colorado.

Getting all the damned trees out of the way just helps you admire the sky. It is the time of year when the sky gets more interesting every day, thanks to the swelling humidity. Although the onset of the summer monsoons is routine in some sense, nature is never totally predictable. So a peasant living close to nature always feels a certain amount of nervousness. The drama of the sky becomes interesting, once again. 

Besides, the trees' loss is the understory's gain. Think of it as as a French Revolution for the forest. But what were the humble verdancies that were bustin' out all over? Good eatin' for somebody?

It didn't take long to find out. We ran into the herd of young elk cows, again. This time they were agglomerated into one herd, between 50 and 100. We spooked them into the bowl beneath our trail. They raised holy hell with their bugling/squawking.

Then they ran uphill and crossed the trail 100 feet in front of us. My dog was as astonished as I was. She wouldn't even chase them! (Just to make sure, I snapped her back on the leash.) There were times when all those hooves in motion sounded like a cattle stampede in a Hollywood western.

The austerity and harshness of a burned forest adds to a sense of forlornness and loneliness.  This used to bother me more at the beginning of my career as a full-time RVer: my favorite sport was the least popular activity of "fellow" RVers. But I responded by getting a dog and taking it on every outing.

There has been another way to adapt. At the moment I am reading Owen Wister's "The Virginian," acknowledged to be the progenitor of the cowboy myth in America. The lone rider of the plains. Of course, America is not the "exceptional" nation that it thinks it is; South American countries have the gaucho mythology. And all Europe had the romance of the knight errant before that.

It may at first seem ego-centric or narcissistic to glamorize one's own sport as a re-invention of a myth. Actually though, I think it is the opposite of egocentricism to see yourself as just one more manifestation of a long-lasting or recurring archetype.

A mountain biker's claim to be today's "lone rider of the plains" is even better if he blogs anonymously and reinvents the "man with no name" of Wister's novel. When the forest service smacks him with more travel or camping restrictions, it pains him in a manner similar to the mythological cowboy who saw barbed wire fences going up.

There was a wisfulness in Wister's novel for a West that had disappeared in his time, 1902. But perhaps poignant nostalgia for a dead way of life is not the right attitude. Wister could not have predicted the invention of the mountain bike in the 1980s. 

More generally, the importance of a myth may depend less on its oldness or popularity than on its ability to survive obsolescence in an ever-changing world, by somehow reinventing itself in a newer world. Like the forest after a fire.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

A "Rez" Dog at the Stage Coach Stop

Cuba NM is a shabby rez town, like they all are. And yet, there was something I liked about it. It is the only real shopping between Albuquerque and Farmington, NM, on busy US-550. Travelers do need services, you know. There is something redolent of the old southwestern stagecoach way station in this place. 

When you drive in perpendicularly to the busy highway after seeing no population for 100 miles, it is gratifying to see people and stores again. You know better of course, but it is enjoyable to put that aside for the moment.

If any place were the modern equivalent of the old stage coach stop, it would be the McDonalds, convenience store, and gas station. Cars drove in and out in a hurry; it was like being back in the "real world."  It really is true what they say: 'busy-ness implies purpose in people's lives.'

I sat in my van, soaked up the free Wi-fi, and compared all the different motor vehicles coming in off the highway. Something grabbed my eye as not quite fitting in. It was a half-lab dog, a lactating female mother dog, presumably. She wandered around from the door of the McDonalds to the gasoline pumps, and somehow avoided being run over. Apparently she had experience. She seemed quite professional, friendly, and got attention from the suckers.

But she wasn't scoring much food. All of a sudden the pathos of this hit me: here was the reality of being in "harmony with nature." For a female that means being constantly knocked up, and desperate to feed a new litter of pups. Imagine what sort of condition the pups were in. Nowhere could the Darwinian struggle for existence be more grim for a mother dog and her pups than on an Indian reservation or some other third world country.

So I softened and bought a $1 burger for her.  When her vacuum-cleaner tongue touched my hand with the food in it, I was alarmed to see a bloody wound around her neck, as if she had had a biting collar on, and desperately struggled to escape it. (Think of that the next time you are visiting a pile of rocks in a national monument, and the white suburban PC college-educated ranger or volunteer is rattling on about this, that, and the next thing being 'sacred to the Native American.')

But even when a hungry dog's tongue touches your hand, a hand holding Survival itself, you are remarkably separate, as if inhabiting two parallel universes.

In the "Tholian Web" episode in the third season of Star Trek, Spock explains the importance of the "Interphase" in getting the Captain back alive.
Picture it this way, Mr. Chekhov. We exist is a universe which coexists with a multitude of others, in the same physical space. For certain brief periods of time, an area of their space overlaps with an area of ours. That is the time of "interphase", during which we can connect with the universe of the other ship...
Silly science? Sure, but that isn't the point. Science fiction provides metaphors and modern myths: it personifies the universal. We can't live without some of that.

A multitude of parallel universes overlapping in physical space, for short periods of time... Doesn't that account for much of the special-ness of travel? Think of some of the semi-classic travel movies: "Stagecoach" (1939) which made Monument Valley and John Wayne a star. Or "Baghdad Cafe."  Or any movie on a ship, or at a desert oasis, like "Casablanca."  Or the 'being trapped together' type disaster movie.

Of course the metaphor appears profoundly, but less frequently, in non-travel life. Such as just after the dreaded announcement is made at work, and your cubicle-mate is cleaning out his desk, but you aren't. Or a friend's funeral. 

The limiting case of the metaphor might be when holding your mother's hand as she lies dying in the intensive care unit of a hospital, the same hospital where you were delivered many years before. 

My dog playing mommie with someone else's Corgi pup, a couple years ago.