It Was Murder

This is a bit long.  I’ll post it in three parts.



Spring of 1872, with a half-dozen vaqueros and Chinese cook, twenty-three-year-old Peter French pushed twelve-hundred shorthorns from Sacrament’s grassland to Oregon’s Malheur Valley.  Within two decades French’s “P” ranch ranked among top beef produces in America.

Drawn from Giles French’s Cattle Country of Peter French, “It Was Murder” is a minimally-fictionalized telling of a fated cowman’s final ride.


Part I

A full moon.  Hoarfrost on the outhouse and pole fence.  A draft team, still as stone, vapor plumes over their muzzles.  Hung from a shed roof in silhouette, stiff as corpses from a gallows, saddles, halters, bridles, harnesses.

Two paces from the fence, in a board and batten wall, a single ten-inch glass pane.  Beside it a faded, palm-size, tin holder–“Dr. Geo. A. Palmer’s Stomach BittersORIGINALNONE BETTER!”–a thermometer flirting with zero.  From the window sill, drifted snow peeks through frosted dendrites.

From the isinglass eye of a squat cast-iron stove an apricot tint plays about the room.  Above the workbench aged antique gray, nails in a board wall hold hammers, pliers, hoof nippers, wire cutters, turned to brass by the firelight.

From the stove, dividing light and dark, a quavering boundary crosses the floor, stair-steps a stool and horseshoe box, zigzags up wooden shelves, tapers to a point on the ceiling.

In the shadow below, Stetson pulled low, the boy, Hank, perched legs crossed on an oat bin.

By the stove, stiff leg propped on a nail keg, the aging Mexican, Buck, uses a pocket knife to trim a frayed end from a leather cinch strap.  Shadow plays at the angular jaw, the weathered crevices beside the eyes, the ominous dent in the nose, the cheekbones pressing under chestnut-brown skin, the eyes hidden in shadow, the collar-length hair black as obsidian.

Calloused fingers guide the knife blade in a precise semicircle.  Holding the strap to the stove’s eye, the artisan studies his work.

“I seen Peter French get killed.”


Part II soon

Leo Love and Detta Fay

The shoemaker in my home town was Leo Love.
Leo Love had a fat wife named Detta Fay.

they repaired shoes on an ancient hand-crank machine.
Leo would guide the shoe;
Detta Fay would turn the crank.

The Loves were very poor.
They had no children.
When Leo died
Detta Fay grew very thin.



Deja vu

It’s said when Warren Harding was campaigning for President his handlers were instructed, “Keep Warren away from people.  Someone will ask him a question and the dumb bastard will try to answer.”



Think of all the windows you’ve ever seen.

Funny things windows; they’re there but I seldom notice.  Windows let in light.  They keep out bugs and burglars–and the wind.

There are big picture windows that sit on hills and look out across meadows and creeks and oceans.  There are tiny widows with wood frames painted shut, windows that look up at brick walls, or down on rooftops with vent pipes and pigeon droppings.

Some skyscrapers are nothing but windows.  Other building have no windows at all.  There’s something wrong with a building that doesn’t have windows, something suffocating, even sinister.  I don’t trust buildings that don’t have windows.

Some windows have been painted over.  I wonder about that.  Why would you go to the trouble of installing a window and then paint it?  I suppose the fellow who installed it was not the one who painted it.  Then there was something to see, now there’s not–or there’s something to hide.

Whoever designed our house had no imagination at all–or didn’t care.  The big window faces the side of the neighbor’s house.  It’s a nice house but not something you sit and admire, like a Mount Hood sunrise or a Pacific City sunset.  The fireplace is where our picture window should be, looking at Karen’s garden.

I like windows.  They keep me in touch with the word.

I remember the old Moxim Hotel in Salt Lake City over seventy years ago.  The best windows were up front right above the street, great tall windows.  At night in summer Daddy would leave the windows  open and a soft carnival light from the hotel sign would fill the ten-foot ceiling.  I’d lie awake and listen to sounds of the street: car tires, horns, shoes on pavement, voices.  I’d eavesdrop.

Today I stay in much nicer, much more expensive motels with vinyl framed windows and air conditioning so you don’t have to open the windows and drapes because there’s nothing to see outside, except cars in a parking lot.

There was something special about lying awake at night with the windows open in the old Moxim Hotel in Salt Lake City over seventy years ago.  Something magic.  Something extremely important I’d lost.  Now, age eighty one, I remember what it was.

Stop the Craziness

With the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre only five months back already a fading memory and the next mass shooting closing in–me, you, who?–we must keep the tragedy of  gun craziness alive.

If you hate gun violence check out and join.  Some of their facts:

Every day 96 Americans, 13,000 a year, die by guns!
For every 1 killed by guns 2 are injured!
62% of suicides are by guns!
7 children and teens are killed every day by guns!
Every month 50 women are shot to death by a husband or partner!
Black males are 13 more times to be killed by guns than white males!
A gun in the home increases the chance of a woman being killed 5 times!
America’s gun homicide rate is 25 times that of the average high-income country,  7 times second place Canada, 361 times Japan and Korea!

Google “mass shooting statistics in the United States–Washington Post” for a June 29 update.

On the heels of Parkland, knowing this too will blow over, with NRA checkbooks out, Trump and Congress said, “Now is not the time to act.”  Pardon me that’s Bullshit!  Now is the time to act!

If you never have and never will again, please share this!

Putin’s Man Revisited

With Super Patriot Trump insulting and snubbing decades and centuries old allies while kissing up to Vladimir Putin  this bears revisiting.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Putin’s Man

For invading and annexing Crimea Russia was kicked out of the “Group of Eight” leaving the “G8” the  “G7”: Canada, France, Germany,  Italy, Japan, The United Kingdom, and The United States, countries who account for two-thirds of net global financial worth.  In his latest instance of siding with Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump calls for Russia’s reinstatement into this body.

Intelligence agencies and Congress are convinced Putin worked to engineer Trump’s election.  Donald disagrees.  If Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is a “Witch Hunt” why waste time and energy obsessing and trying to kill it?  President Trump calls an American exercising his right peaceably to protest a “son of a bitch,” but says not a negative word, not a single negative word, against a leader who murders opponents, who rigs his own and meddles in American elections.

Amicable relations between individuals and nations are always good.  I wonder, however, at the motive behind President Trump’s repeatedly sucking-up to an off-again on-again adversary while sometimes rebuffing centuries-long allies?

Exotics of international finance and relations aside, could our President’s defense of Vladimir Putin have more prosaic roots?  Given Donald Trump’s financial wheeling-and-dealing, confessed and alleged sexual shenanigans, paying $130,000 to a porn star, visits to Russian, and given that Moscow bedrooms may have eyes, I wonder?  Does the Dictator in the Kremlin have the goods on Our Guy in the Whitehouse?

Of course Putin may have no leverage whatsoever with Trump.  Leverage or not, the fundamental questions is, in America’s 2016 Main Event why did Russia’s Heavyweight Champion choose to sit in Trump’s corner?  Simple.  Vladimir knows among seasoned punchers and counter-punchers in the International Arena Donald’s a Lightweight.  Photos of “Arab Spring” bouts taped to his locker room mirror, Vladimir Putin is acutely aware that matched toe-to-toe Hill and Bill’s tag team would take him down.


A pink caterpillar,
You crept across the freeway of childhood
–fragile, vulnerable, trusting.

Safely across,
You wrapped yourself in the chrysalis of adolescence
–and wondered.

Now, reborn a woman,
You unfold in the brilliant morning sun and fly
–on iridescent, Technicolor wings!



As far back as I remember I knew I’d be a writer.  Besides people, the only thing I really love is writing.  Two obstacles: I have as much talent or interest in English grammar as ballet lessons.  And I am, in the end, a Southern Utah farm boy.  Despite these handicaps, over the decades I’ve continued to scribble, now keyboard, journals, poems, stories, even a novel.  Will I be “published”?  Self-publishing is a narcissist’s last hope.

Mama was  a teacher.  She loved language.  Mama read me the Mother Goose Book of Fairy Tales  more than once.  I have her Major American Writers.  Do American Literature classes today read Irving, Cooper, Bryant, Emerson, Hawthorn, Longfellow?  Mama memorized poetry and “Dramatic Readings.”  Now we’re sophisticated.  Mama’s poems sound melancholy and saccharin.  Dramatic Readings is  forgotten.  The writing Mama loved is as archaic as cooking on a wood-burning stove.

Mama took “Ideals”, a magazine devoted to “old-fashioned ideals, homey philosophy, poetry, music, inspiration, and art.”  I emphasize “old-fashioned ideals.”  Launched on the heels of World War II “Ideals” reflects a time America was optimistic.  A large part of ideals is innocence.  Has America lost innocence?  Have we lost optimism?  Did ideals go the way of black and white television?  Despite how discouraging things seem right now, thinking of folks I know I think not.  “Ideals” is still in print.

In High School they told us to be engineers.  I had as much interest and aptitude for engineering, science for that matter, as learning to knit.  I’m a writer.  I know how to write.  I learned the sound of good writing from Mama.  But there’s this old bugaboo, grammar!  Nominative case, objective case,  subjunctive case, participles, infinitives, and coordinate conjunctions make my head hurt.  Diagram a sentence?  I’d rather have an enema!

BYU Freshmen had to take English.  Each term we met with our professor.  After going over my assignments Dr. Lyman asked if I had considered majoring in English.  English for god’s sake!  I couldn’t have been more stunned if he hit me in the face with a water balloon!  This fellow slashed up my papers with a red pencil.  Did I have to point out that for me English was out of the question?  I could never conquer grammar.  Seeming bemused Dr. Lyman assured me grammar was not a problem.  For me, fresh from a dozen years of public education, this was as believable as being told water runs uphill.  Decades down the road Natalie Goldberg and James Fry finally clarified and confirmed Dr. Lyman’s claim.  And it’s not mastering English grammar!

Cormac McCarthy’s craftsmanship and skill in revealing nature and letting people act and speak for themselves takes my breath away.  Rereading The Orchard Keeper or No Country for Old Men is like seeing Van Gough’s “The Starry Night” for the tenth or hundredth time; it’s far beyond mere words or paint.  It’s said, “Art holds up a mirror to life.”  McCarthy’s writing is a flawless, transparent pane through which readers view the world and see and hear characters with nothing whatsoever in between.  Cormac McCarthy would flunk Freshman English.  Correcting No Country for Old Men Dr. Lyman would need a fistful of red pencils.

As I see it understanding the “mechanics” of English Grammar has as much to do with good writing as a gift for auto mechanics does to French Cuisine.  Having said this, I understand the need for my Harbrace College Handbook.  It’s linguists’ and editors’ heroics in discovering or imposing order on the chaos of the English language, its exhaustive and meticulous organization of mind-numbing issues, leave me in awe.  I confess occasionally to falling back on its carefully ordered contents.  (“To occasionally fall back” would split the infinitive.  Right?  I could use the gerund “falling” back.  Just showing off.  A little learning is a dangerous thing.)

Obstacles notwithstanding, Handbook at my elbow, and ever haunted by the specters of punctuation, verb tense, participles and sentence structure, I continued to scribble–now keyboard–ideas, poems, stories, essays, one and the skeleton of a second novel.  Not surprisingly, a dozen or so queries yielded boiler-plate rejections.

There’s consolation in knowing what gets published depends not on the craftsmanship or value between a book’s covers but economics.  And rightfully so.  Ink on paper is only the end product of a very spendy business.  What gets published is what a publisher believes will sell.  Written today, Hamlet would make it to theaters, bookstores, libraries and classrooms, only if someone believed sales would at least cover expenses.  Nevertheless, walk into a library or Barnes and Noble, browse a hundred-thousands square feet of shelves, bookcases, and tables piled chest-high.  I’m humbled and bewildered  by what gets published: Baking With Goose Grease, The Complete Book of Buttons, All About Butter Churns, Courtship of the Sub-Saharan Dung Beetle.

Natalie Goldberg and James Fry write about writing.  They finally clarified Dr. Lyman’s assertion regarding English grammar.  Fry , if memory serves, “Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, or grammar.  That’s why we have editors.”  Natalie’s Rule 7 for writing, “Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, and grammar.”  I knew that!

Only now I recognize the second issue frustrating my writing.  I’m an Emery County farm boy!  Emery County farm boys do not become writers.  Emery County farm boys become farmers, ranchers, cowboys.  They brand and castrate calves.  They use pocket knives to spear roasted Rocky Mountain Oysters from a ’38 Packard hub cap on a branding fire.  Emery County farm boys become mechanics, drive dump-trucks and bulldozers.  They pound, dig, and chop.  They lug sacks of wheat.  They heft bales of hay.  Emery County farm boys grow-up to sweat, swear, and spit!  They do not read T. S. Eliot.  They damn sure don’t  memorize “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  (Have you read it?)

While I write, the Emery County farm boy feels guilty.  Rather than tapping away on this silly keyboard, pushing words around a monitor, I should be hammering, shoveling, pitching hay, milking cows, feeding hogs, mucking manure!  Doing something useful!  I should be outside mowing the lawn–Karen does it.  Washing the car–Take it to the car wash.  Splitting firewood–We don’t use firewood.  Trimming the roses–We don’t have roses.

James Fry has a second assurance for the boy.  As I recall, “Don’t tell people you’re a writer.  They’re puzzled and wonder why you don’t get a job.”

I’m 81, happy, content, and unpublished.  People and Life got in my way.  I could have pestered publishers more aggressively.  Robert Pirsig queried over a hundred before one took a gamble.  The result, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, my hands-down, all-time favorite.  Still, in my book you’re not a writer if you’re not “published.”

A handful of bogus scriveners, like me, who can’t cut it commercially self-publish.  Sites like WordPress are cheap and easy.  Hoping to guilt-induce defenseless family, friends, and other unfortunates into reading, we shamelessly dump our verbal rambling onto the internet.  I’m reminded of the boy who received a book about penguins from Grandma.  When Mama insisted on a thank-you note the lad wrote, “Dear Grandma.  Thank you for the book.  It tells me more than I want to know about penguins.”  Blogging’s like that.  It’s an ego thing.

So I’ll end with a shameless suggestion.  If you know someone who is burned out on Youtube and Social Media or otherwise needing distraction consider pointing them my way or telling me.

That Troubles Me

I am amazed and troubled by how far a dropped object can travel.  Drop a multivitamin in the bathroom.  It has to be within a three-foot drop zone.  After ten minutes on hands and knees, despite a flashlight and magnifying glass I give up.  Karen worries.  Her dog, Jamie, can sniff out a flea in a coal bin.  For Jamie a half-inch capsule is a dog biscuit.  For me it’s not a problem.  Dogs needs vitamins.  Karen finds the pill under a sock on the bedroom floor.  That troubles me.

Finding is a women’s thing.  Finding and gathering is in their genes.  They’re born to it.  Men are hunters not finders.  It’s said some men can’t find milk in a refrigerator.

Drop an aspirin in the kitchen?  Don’t waste time on the obvious places.  Look in the family room under the coffee table.  Never mind the door between is closed.  That troubles me.

When America’s military needed chocolate that “melts in your mouth not in your hand” Mars Incorporated came up with M&Ms.  Loose a red M&M on the living room carpet.  After crawling, moving furniture, and lifting the couch you give up.  A week later your wife finds a red M&M in the upstairs bathroom behind the toilet.  That troubles me.

There are more brown M&Ms.  I wonder about that.  Are reds, blues, yellows, and greens smarter?  Can they move faster and farther?  Are browns less clever or agile?  If dropped, a brown M&M may not make it out of the room.  Installing the 48 inch flat screen TV a year later, you find a brown M&M by the baseboard behind the entertainment center.  That troubles me.

Invented not only not to melt but to last M&Ms have an extended “shelf life.”  I have no problem dusting off and eating a year-old brown, or any color, M&M.

When a bridesmaid lost a diamond earring, wedding guests crawled around the altar, moved flower arrangements, checked seats two rows back, and came up empty.  Feeling responsible, at $100 an hour the father of the bride hired a private detective.  After meticulous investigation around and a hundred feet from the nuptials site and querying the wedding party, the Super Sleuth could not crack the case.  A month later, taking the erstwhile flower girl’s wedding frock from a closet her mother heard a “click” on the floor, the truant jewel!  Wedding videos revealed that at no time were the bridesmaid and flower girl closer than ten feet apart.  That troubles me.

Regarding spirits, ghosts, channeling, telepathy, UFOs, and Sasquatch, all that “paranormal” nonsense, I’m a skeptic.  Still, when I drop a peanut on the living room rug, then tip up my recliner and crawl around and Karen finds it at base of the refrigerator I wonder.  That troubles me.