Category Archives: ancient history

Greazy Muzic

600full-aretha-franklinI’m a child of the sixties. Or more accurately, that’s the decade of my adolescence. Curse or blessing, my generation grew up in interesting times. We went from Beaver Cleaver to Easy Rider and Sputnik to the Moon in a little more than a decade. The Times They Are a Changin’  was a fitting anthem for the era. And when Buffalo Springfield sang, “There’s somethin’ happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear,” they were expressing what was on the minds of most Americans.

Popular music was riding the crest of that wave of change. We were already all shook up coming out of the fifties and were headed to the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. One of the best parts of this long strange trip was the mainstreaming of Black music. The radio stations in my little Western Minnesota town exposed my to the joy of soul music, and that shaped my musical taste for life.

I recently watched the documentary Muscle Shoals, the story of the Muscle Shoals Sound and the tiny Northwestern Alabama town on the Tennessee River where some of the best of that Black music was recorded. Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Aretha, Joe Tex, Clarence Carter and the list goes on all recorded there. And I drove around Moorhead in our Chevy wagon with the windows down and fell in love with Soul. Black Music.

Continue reading

Firenado Part 2

fire tornadoNow for the story of the actual firnado encounter. As I mentioned, we’d spent the summer digging line around clearcuts with the intent of doing controlled burns in August.  The time had come, and we were preparing for our first burn of the season.

In a controlled burn your crew is taken to the top of the clearcut and spread out along a logging road with propane torches, kind of like flame throwers, big tanks strapped to your backs. Researching control burn images, I see that these days they use something called drip torches, little cans of flammable material (kerosene?) with long necked spouts. They really don’t know how to have fun anymore. Anyway the crew, about 20 strong, spreads out across the top of the cut and starts moving down the slope, lighting the slash piles as they go. Since file burns uphill, everyone tries to move together and stay on the downhill side of the burn. If you’ve every had a pyromaniacal urge, this is the job for you. Continue reading

Firenado

I’ve seen a coufire tornadople of examples of “firenados” posted around the web lately. That brought me back to my youthful days in the Forest Service,  when I had the opportunity to see some firenados up close and personal. I worked for the US Forest Service in the Coeur d’Alene National Forest back in the summer of 1972. I was just out of college and my pal Bill Benson and I had driven out to Wallace, Idaho to look for work. He was a writer and I was an artist and our plan was to find seasonal work that would allow us chunks of time to follow our creative dreams. Or maybe it was to play basketball all the time, which is more like what we did.

cfiles45216Our initial plan was to work on the only remaining incomplete section of I-90 between Boston and Seattle. The valley that Wallace was in was so steep and narrow that it made the construction of an interstate challenging. At that time if you wanted to drive coast to coast on 90, you would have to drive through downtown Wallace and negotiate the only stop light on the route. Wallace had other claims to fame, at that time the population was about 2,00images0 and there were 5 brothels operating quite openly, in fact they had neon signs.  Mining was the main industry and the ratio of single men to single women in the Silver Valley was way out of proportion. Let’s just say that prostitution was tolerated. The summer I spent in Wallace probably generated more stories than the rest of my life combined. Continue reading

One of My Encounters with a Giant

I’ve been meaning to start Horizontal Ambition up again, and although there’s been plenty of things going on in my life to write about, but I guess I’ve been blocked. By who knows what. So, in hopes of having a laxative effect on my writing, I’m going to tell you a story from way back in the past. 1975 to be exact. Or fairly exact, the time blends together. I spent the early years of my adult life supporting my self with a wide variety of jobs, seasonal and part time, in order to have blocks of time to work on my art. They way that worked out is another story. I have lot’s of stories, this one’s a bartending story.

Continue reading

My brief career as a runner.

Not quite sure why I’m writing about this now, except for the fact that it somehow came to mind while I was showering this morning. I get a lot of blog ideas in the shower, but please don’t assume that the dearth of posts lately correlates to a dearth of showers. I’m still maintaining a respectable level of personal hygiene.

This all happened in the distant past, Junior High, so the events may not be quite as dramatic as I remember them, but what fun are memories if you can’t embellish them. In the spring of the yea, still hanging on to hopes of having an athletic career of some kind I was out for the track team. The summer before I had discovered I had a smooth easy stride and since I didn’t have much weight to carry, I could run pretty much forever. Because I was ridiculously skinny and had absolutely no appetite for contact, my last venture into football had been very unpleasant that fall. The words “Keller, what the hell was that?” coming from the coach after a particularly half hearted tackle attempt in practice, are burned deeply in my memory. I tried out for basketball. They didn’t cut many people in ninth grade, but I was one of them. I remember during one scrimmage there was a turnover in my offensive end and the other team got out on a one on none fast break. I ran the guy down and blocked his shot from behind. I thought surely that would put me on the team. But when I looked over at the coaches they were in deep conversation and hadn’t seen it. I made a lot of excuses for getting cut, I thought I was better than some of the players kept, but that they’re families were more prominent in the community. But looking back on it now, given my well deserved reputation as a disruptive influence in the classroom and inveterate goof off (today I think the call it ADHD), if I were the coach I wouldn’t have wanted me on the team either. So I pinned all my hopes for athletic glory (and a cool black and orange jacket with an “M” on it) on becoming a middle distance runner.

My race became the quarter mile (the sixties equivalent of 400 meters) and all though today it’s a sprint, in those days for a ninth grader it kind of qualified as middle distance. I was the third best runner in the event and had some good races where I used my long stride to float the backstretch and then sprint around the last turn, finishing strong and leaving nothing on the track. The coaches took notice. During a pep talk the coach who cut me from basketball deemed me the “most improved athlete” on the team. I was feeling pretty high about myself, even if I hadn’t cracked the top slots on the team.

The final meet of the season was the Fargo-Moorhead Junior High championships, held at the Moorhead State stadium. I don’t know how much the college, now university, has grown up around there now, but in those days the stadium was on the eastern edge of the town, exposed to the viscous prairie weather. I was slotted to run the anchor leg of the sprint medley, a relay consisting of a 110, then a 220 and then another 110 followed by the 440, the last event of the meet. The meet was in the evening, under the lights and the weather just kept getting nastier and nastier. By the time they started calling the medley, the wind had picked up and freezing rain had turned to sleet blowing horizontally down the backstretch. We needed to finish at least second in order to win the championship. There shouldn’t have been much pressure because we were a team loaded with speed and I figured to have a lead going into the anchor lap. But I think most runners will tell you that pre-race jitters well up to the point of nausea, and then disappear as soon as the gun goes off. I was almost double over with stomach cramps by the time the race started. Not to mention that, clad in nothing but my track uniform, I was in danger of frostbite.

The race started and true to form, we opened up a huge lead, smooth handoffs and our superior speed opened up about a 20 yard gap by the time the third runner came around to me. I was thinking, piece of cake, even though Jim Henry, by far the best quarter miler in the area was running the anchor for North Jr. High, our arch rivals. He’d beaten me by twenty yards and more several times already that year, but I knew I only had to finish second to win the meet, and beating them would just be frosting on the cake. Then, disaster. I can’t remember the details of how it happened but I either started too soon or too late as by teammate approached for the handoff. We completely botched it, I think I may have actually dropped it and had to come to a full stop instead of the running start you’re supposed to get in a relay. Henry had passed me, but two other runners had as well. Adrenalin took over.

I realized that there would be no floating down the backstretch, no conserving energy to blow by people coming out of the turn, I had to run like hell just to get back in the race. I started out at a full sprint and passed one runner in the turn, but Henry had opened up a big lead and the second place runner was half way between us, ten yards ahead. Coming out of the turn I hit the wind, and sleet. I put my head down and tried to push through it, the frozen rain was stinging every exposed inch of skin, but I was gaining on both of them. Over the length of the backstretch I reeled them in, catching the number two runner at the head of the turn, passing him as we went around. We came out of the turn and I thought I had a chance to catch Henry. The wind was at my back and I tried to start my kick. But I had nothing. I broke form, started to stagger. Henry had just been playing, he turned on his far greater speed an was pulling away. And the third place runner was catching me. I was at the point where I wasn’t even sure I was going to finish, I wanted to collapse into the infield. I wanted to be home if front of the fireplace with milk and cookies. I wanted to go back to being the know it all nerd that was the laughing stock of the football team. And then I  heard the cheering from the crowd. I bore down, I forced my feet to plant themselves one in front of the other and tried to maintain balance and I made it to the finish line, taking second place. We won the meet. I collapsed on the side of the track. I was spent and puking unable to do anything but sit with my head between my knees as the sweat froze on my body. Then I heard that we’d been disqualified for going out of the hand off box. I remember vividly that I started sobbing, right there in front of everyone. After a short delay we found out that the officials ruled that it was a legal exchange and the meet was ours. I don’t remember much else.

The following summer, I came down with Guillain-Barre Syndrome spent a couple weeks in the hospital and came out with very weakened legs. I went out for cross country in the fall, but I couldn’t get my easy stride back and couldn’t psychologically overcome that first little pain you get before you’re really running. I had a very bad relationship with the coach on a lot of levels, I’m surprised he didn’t just kick me off the team. He was a fundamentalist Christian and a survivalist, he had a fallout shelter and was training his kids to survive the nuclear attack that was always hanging over our heads in those days, so they could continue the fight against the godless commies.  Surprisingly we didn’t see eye to eye and we argued a lot. I continued to go out for track and cross country, but I didn’t make much of an effort and I may have been the only person ever to go out for a sport all three years and not get a letter. I never got to wear that cool black jacket with the orange “M”.

A small fire in the canyon

It was a small fire that didn’t warrant air support. A construction vehicle had backed into a brush pile along the North Fork of the Coer d Alene, where the canyon wall is steep and close to the river. His exhaust touched off a fire and it burned up the Canyon wall and started spreading out near the top where there was more vegetation. We had what looked like a big collapsable swimming pool that we put on a flat spot up near the limit of how high you can pump water. Then we dragged the pump up. It had a tube welded to it so we could run a pole throught the tube and climb the cliff with two guys supporting it on our shoulders. Then they sent me down to get the gas for the pump. It really wasn’t that dangerous. The ground was mostly rock with only little fires burning around me. As long as it didn’t leak I was perfectly safe. When I got to the top, so tired I had to be pulled the last 5 feet, my crew boss said to me, “As long as you’re resting, go get a hose pack.”
So back down the cliff, strap on 80 pounds of hose and start back up. These packs had one end of the hose hanging out of the bottom and were coiled inside so that you could just hook the hose to the pump and take off with it, stringing it out to where you needed it. Now the boss wanted someone to string it out over a little rise and out into the open area on the other side. At that point I had my 22 year old dander pretty high, and was going to show the boss what a tough guy I was, so I just kept the pack on and took off, laying hose behind me. I was about to die when I came over the top of the rise and then saw, spread out over the hill, the all woman fire crew, digging line. You should have seen me perk up. I pulled that hose across like I was the king of the woods, look out Mr. Grizzly.

I was in such good shape at the end of that summer.