Saturday, July 17, 2021

Call Sign "Tamer" and Gates of Fire

General Jim Amos was the 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps from 2010 to 2014. His tenure as leader of the USMC was distinctive on several measures.

The Marines typically select their commandants from the ranks of the infantry. Jim Amos, however, was the first (and to this date, the only) naval aviator selected to lead the Corps. His call sign “Tamer,” General Amos flew the muscular F-4 Phantom and later the F/A-18 Hornet.

He was one of only two commandants to have their careers punctuated by short stints in the civilian world: the 11th Commandant, Major General William Biddle, retired in 1914 but returned to service during World War I. General Amos got out in 1978 and flew commercially for Braniff Airways for a couple years before rejoining the Marines in 1981 (around the time I was a young lance corporal).

Monday, March 1, 2021

Two writers who don't write about war

I have not mooched a cigarette from novelist Philip Caputo (A Rumor of War, Horn of Africa). I have not traded email with writer Karl Marlantes (Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War). 

I have, however, spent a little time with Tim O’Brien (The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato): I’ve cadged two or three of the Carltons he smokes incessantly and traded stories about spending time in casinos. 

I’ve also corresponded with writer Steven Pressfield over the past several years, and could call him a friend I’ve never met in person.

Both Tim and Steve have inhabited the world of war as the stage on which they write, but neither of them would consent to be labeled “a war writer.” 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A Review of "A Man at Arms," by Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield’s newest novel, A Man at Arms, opens on a roadside in Judea in the year 55 AD, some two decades after the crucifixion of a Hebrew prophet whose followers continue to prove troublesome for the Roman Empire. 

A caravan of merchants and other travelers pause at the foot of a grade, knowing from experience that the summit is a favorite spot for brigands, bandits, and thieves to lay in ambush. We’re introduced to the novel’s main characters. First, a local boy, David: “son of Eli, age fourteen, unlettered but of sturdy limb and abundant ambition.”

Among the pilgrims and peddlers milling about and fretting on how they might continue on the road to Damascus without being waylaid and robbed blind at the top of the hill, David takes note of a father with his young mute daughter in tow. David is “struck by the child’s apparition. Feral, dirty, with bare soles and hair so matted it seemed neither comb nor brush could be pulled through it, the girl seemed more a wild animal than a human being.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Finding perspective in awe


My browsing this morning brought me to an article in The Atlantic by science writer Marina Koren. In her story, "Galaxy Brain Is Real," she says:

Nebulae in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

"Imagine yourself at a scenic vista somewhere on Earth, such as the rim 
of the Grand Canyon or the shore of an ocean stretching out past the horizon line. As your brain processes the view and its sheer vastness, feelings of awe kick in. Looking at a photo is not the same, but we might get a dose of that when we look at a particularly sparkly Hubble picture of a star cluster.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Grief: Insights and Tips for Teenagers

The mail came today. I got to open a box to see this book in print. 

In addition to insights and quotes from writers and poets and philosophers like Pat Conroy and Terry Tempest Williams and Cormac McCarthy, Mary Oliver and Rita Dove and Robert Frost, Seneca and Khalil Gibran and Marcus Aurelius, this book also contains insights from six teenagers who were brave and generous enough to share their stories about what it was like to lose a parent or sibling or best friend.

Some were eager to share and some were reticent, but all of them were willing -- willing to share their experiences in the hope they might help other kids who find themselves on the same path. The publisher sent me a half dozen copies. I'm signing those and sending them to Grace and Dexter, to Bailey and JDB, to Kate and Logan. 

Available 23 November 2020:

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas on the Fifth Floor

In his heart and in his bones, Arch has always been an athlete. Baseball was his passion growing up.

Even though his parents named him "Timothy," all his friends call him "Arch" -- after his childhood sports hero, NFL quarterback Elisha Archibald "Archie" Manning.

While Arch is an athlete in his bones and in his spirit, his muscles have their own agenda. The dystrophy that most of his siblings also inherited started showing up in high school. On the baseball field, Arch began to notice it was becoming harder to swing a bat.

Friday, October 18, 2019


There’s a high-school reunion this weekend. It’s got
one of those milestone dates that make you say: “Who? Me? It can’t have been that long... Can it?”

They’ll give us a tour tonight of the school that was built the year most of us were born, and show us what’s changed there since we were 17 and 18. They’ll walk us out to an alumni tent where we’ll hope to find some hot dogs, and then into the stands for the last home football game of the season.

Monday, October 7, 2019

King of the Koniackers

Putting some meat on the biography of an Indiana
gunsmith, I find Joseph Wood on the 1860 census for Clark County, Indiana. He's listed as "gunsmith" born around 1830 in Ohio.

"That's odd," I think. "Looks like he's living in one big house, with a bunch of other guys." I look at the top of the census page and see that it IS a big house: the Indiana State Penitentiary at Jeffersonville.

In the census column for "Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict," Joseph Wood was noted as being locked up for "Passing Counterfeit Money."

Friday, September 6, 2019

Boy fishing, two miles up

Lower Mohawk Lake is just at the tree line at elevation 11,861 in the White River National Forest. After our three-hour climb, I went to put my feet into water that was cold from snow melt. 

I walked around some boulders and found a boy, maybe age 13, at the water's edge and organizing his fly rod.

"Are you getting started or finishing up?" 
"Getting started." 
"You casting from right here?" 
"I was thinking about it."

Not wanting to get between a boy and his fish, I moved 30 yards 
down and found a slope that got me close to the water. I took off my boots and socks and waded in. It was alpine cold and it felt good.

I waded back to shore and sat on a rock to let my feet dry. I could see a pair of cutthroats lazing in the clear water below me.

The boy had waded into the water and was casting out toward the center of the lake. I called, "Hey buddy." He looked. 

I held up two fingers. Two fish. 

I pointed to the rocks in the water below me. Right here. 

I held my hands about 10 inches apart. This big.

He nodded and waved and turned to cast his fly toward the rocks below me. I watched him work his line for a couple minutes and then left him to his business.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Morning Greetings

It can get boring to show up at work and greet your friend with the same old "Good morning, Aaron" or "Good morning, Joe" every day. 

Somewhere along the way, somebody changed it up and threw in a

Which turned into "Howdy, pard."

Thus started the daily ritual of non-conventional morning greetings. Whomever spoke first, the other guy had to counter. The exchanges sounded like this:

08:00 AM greetings:
“’Morning, marshal…”

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Three Heat-Moons

Like three William Least Heat-Moons, Jill and Lauren and I were sticking to Colorado's blue highways.

We drove southwest on US 258 just north of Bailey, heading toward a rendezvous with Michelle's ashes in the San Juan Range. Now, though, it was time for some lunch.

“Scoob,” I said, “Punch up Yelp and find us some grub."

After a minute, she said, "Crow Hill Cafe. About 10 miles ahead."

We found the turn-off that took us past High Country Trucking, the Platte Canyon Fire Station, and into a row of storefronts leaned against a hillside. Our

options appeared to be a pizza joint, a liquor store, the Bailey Depot Feed and Supply Company, and an abandoned gas station. Nothing that looked like a cafe.

"Keebs, are you sure?"

Friday, August 9, 2019

Boundary Threshold

In The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell gives us a map. On this map, there is a boundary – a threshold. It’s pretty soon after the “denial of the call to adventure.” In stepping across the threshold, the

hero moves from the “ordinary world” into an extra-ordinary world. 

Think of Skywalker: “I can’t go to Alderaan! I have moisture-farming to do here on Tatooine.” Then he meets Obi-Wan. Then they cross the threshold and off they go on a journey. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019


For some of us, it wasn’t our first time in a wilderness area. For others, it was all firsts. The plan
this time was for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness – a million acres of forest, rivers, and lakes left behind after the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet 17,000 years ago. 

Last year, it was fathers and sons in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness. This summer was husbands and wives in northeast Minnesota. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Lime and Rum

His guayabera hung cool and loose as he spun her to “Santiago de Cuba” on the jukebox. The cinderblock walls were painted aqua and cornflower yellow. The roof was thatched. They were sweeping each other off their feet, likely to finish the night at her place, or his.

A breeze came off the bay, making the oil lamps flutter. She tasted of rum, and he of limes. His hand cupped the small of her back as he dipped her to Benny Moré's piano guajeo and she laughed. 

His hands were large and not soft. They first appeared soiled, but his fingers were stained not by earth, but with ink. As he turned her across the dance floor, the lamplight reflected what seemed to be fine filaments of silver braided through the ink stains.

At the anvil, these would be the hands of the blacksmith. Holding a chisel or a brush, the hands of an artist. At the small of her back, the hand of a lover.

By the time the moon rose, the salsa had quieted and there was only the sound of the surf.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Nets of Ink and Paper and Stone

I drove a hundred miles south and they drove a hundred miles north. Dave and Marvin and I covered a lot of ground, before and during a three-hour lunch

One topic was remembering those who came before us. Great-grandparents, or second or third greats. Their names and dates get cut deep into stone, but the elements are implacable. Mountains don’t survive, so what hope has a headstone?

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Hawk: Skirmish on the Ouabache

A piece of short historical fiction, published in "The Tomahawk & Long Rifle" (Vol 44, No 1),
the official publication of the American Mountain Men.


My father was captain of the militia and men was saddling up. In the dark I could hear horses snorting and the jangle of bridles. Mother lit a oil lamp as my father pulled on his boots and had words with his corporal.

The Piankeshaw had attacked again, this time at Hardin’s cabin. The corporal lowered his voice so my mother might not hear the worst of it.

“They peeled his top knot, cap’n. Set the roof afire and took the missus captive.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Moccasins Felt Familiar

"The Moccasins Felt Familiar: An Outsider Recounts His First AMM Camp Amongst a Brotherhood of Men" 

Published in "The Tomahawk & Long Rifle" (Vol 44, No 1), the official publication of the American Mountain Men.
If Larry Mayes had his way, I’d have run into the AMM camp naked, hollering about a band of angry Shawnee in hot pursuit.

“It’ll help you get your mind into the period,” Larry said as we stood at the rear of his truck. “Here’s the scene. You’ve been held captive. You escape. You run through the woods until you find us.” He gestured up the dirt road toward a ridgeline. “You run into camp bare-assed and that’s where I hand over your clothes.” He seemed satisfied with his scenario.

I pointed into the bed of his pickup. “You mean the clothes in that box? The one that says, ‘Clothes for Joe’? I appreciate your sense of drama, Larry. But I see my pants right there.”

Friday, February 15, 2019

Inhaling and Exhaling

My eyes are always seeking the raffle of turkeys along a tree line, the doe and her fawns gleaning corn in a harvested field, or skeins of geese moving from nesting to feeding, or back. My eyes will find the solitary red-tailed hawk hunting from its perch on a tree branch or a power line or a fence pole. I’m rarely at the right place at the right time to see the hawk’s patience pay off.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Fathers and Sons and Brothers in Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness

Here is a three-minute highlight of a six-day, 50-mile trek into NW Montana's Bob Marshall Wilderness. 

We're submitting this as one of two entries to the 2nd Annual Public Land Owners Film Fest, sponsored by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.