Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Bridge of Straw -- In Memory of My Father

Keith Edwards  2/2/1918--12/8/2011

Last month my father Keith passed away after a short and rapid decline.  He lived a full life--93 years--and we knew that, even with good health, his passing was imminent.  When death comes at the end of a long life, there is no surprise.  He died from failing systems; the weakening of age; and the exhaustion of the long war against dying.  Still, we were not as prepared for it as we thought we would be.  It seemed that he was more prepared than his family was.  One of the last things he said to me was that he was crossing a bridge of straw.

With his older brother

He was born in Big Sandy but soon moved with his family back to South Dakota where the land was not as harsh.  When they returned to Montana a few years later they made the trip back in a railroad car containing their belongings and their animals.  The homestead, located in an area called Lonesome Prairie, was a tough place to survive, but his family, like others equally stubborn, suffered through the bad times and eventually flourished.  He once told me the area’s best and brightest had all left, leaving the dumbest and the dimmest.

Teaching me to ride

He suffered through chemotherapy 20 years ago, suffered a horrific horse accident that broke his neck, and a few years ago cracked his skull.  He was accident prone, but tough as hell.  As an adult, I was fortunate to be able to work with him, and I spent a lot of hours with him.  I knew him well--the good and the not so good.  He could have said the same about me, and probably did.  He expected a lot of himself and those around him.  His expectations of his children were simple: to do the best we could.  

My brother built this box for Keith's ashes

It is frustrating to attempt to sum up his life in a few words.  It would take a book to reveal his nuances.  He had a brilliant mind, an abundance of generosity for the less fortunate, and deep concern for his family.  He was a farmer, a rancher, a poet, and a dreamer.  He pushed himself mentally and physically.  He died with regrets--all great men do--with the knowledge that he made mistakes, and could have done better.  In his last days, he said to me: "everyone has to start at the beginning."  Life's journey ends with a walk across the bridge of straw.

                                          by Keith Edwards

Welcome to the K Bar R.  The boss says to show you 'round.
That's a big order, known' it covers lots of ground.
This old ranch has history, every part is worth a yarn.
And these old buildings too, the houses and the barns.
Over there's the main corrals and then the calvin' pen
That one-room cabin on the hill, that's where you'd find old Ben.

Ben rode in when the ranch was young.  Must of lived here 50 years--
Long before the rest of us was dry behind the ears.
Some of the other hands who've been here quite awhile
Claimed that no one on the ranch had ever seen Ben smile.
So he was a stern old cuss, we called him Captain Grim.
And tales we heard from the distant past said, you didn't mess with him!

At first he rode the rough string, tamin' the mean ones down,
Got 'em mellowed out enough to ride with your girl in town.
They say one time he roped a wolf and hung it in a tree,
and he traded lead with men now dead, who'd committed larceny.

Ben was foreman here for years, the boss's right-hand man,
But age got in the game and dealt   Ben a sorry hand.
His bones were a mess of fractures, from the broncs of years ago,
And he was asked to run machinery whose quirks he didn't know.

When the ranch was third-generation, a grandson ran the show.
He says to Ben, "you've been here,  since the buffalo,
That old log shack you're living in, it's yours for all your days.
But it's time to hang your saddle up and turn your pony out to graze."

One fall the meadowlarks was gatherin'   to go to Mexico
Or wherever it is they fly,  to escape the cold and snow.
Ben was dozin' in his chair when he heard the window crack--
A meadowlark had struck it and was lyin' on its back.

Its eyes were wild and red as it fluttered to be free.
It pecked at Ben in panic as he held it on his knee.
He studied how to fix    the broken, bloody wing.
Then he patched and splinted, with toothpicks and some string.

The months of winter passed, the bird no longer wild.
It thrived on seeds and tallow, as peaceful as a child.
It started making little trips as it flew from bed to chair
Or landed on Ben's shoulder as it seemed to like it there.

One day when the snow was meltin' in a February thaw,
Ben had the shack door open, even though the wind was raw.
The lark flew out the doorway, in lopsided crooked flight.
Then came back to the cabin, much to Ben's delight.

Ben woke early EasterSunday, still dark around the shack.
He heard the chirps and rustlings, the meadowlarks were back!
They swooped around the cabin, as dawn came bright and warm.
They settled in the sagebrush, in the branches, in a swarm.
The larks outside were ready to build their prairie nests.
Ben's bird heard their message, it was time to join the rest.
Ben watched from his chair, the door was open wide.
The lark perched upon Ben's hand, and then it soared outside.
A ranch hand came riding past, checking the calving pen.
He stopped at the open door just to say hello to Ben.
But there was no reply from him, he'd gone beyond the voice of men.
The ranch hand told the boss, "It's hard to understand,
There's a smile upon his face, a little feather in his hand."

 They dug a grave for Ben, up the hill a ways,
And called in the preacher,   to say some words of praise.
Then the little crowd was silent,  as they shoveled in the hole
A meadowlark sat above them, perched upon a pole.
It swelled its breast and warbled,  its sweet melodious trill,
Do you suppose it was a farewell song,  to the old man on the hill?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

On Acting and Redacting

J'nai Verploegen & Norton Pease
Last week I had the opportunity to be an extra for the upcoming film, "Winter In The Blood."  Based on the James Welch novel, the film stars Chaske Spencer (Twilight Saga) David Morse, and of course many others.  I was in two scenes, one set in the 1950's, and the other in the 70's.  Both scenes were filmed at Blackie's Tavern west of Havre, MT.  We (the extras) were instructed to remain silent during filming and to not make eye contact with the real actors. My friends J'nai and Norton, pictured above, should have had their own scene, in my opinion, though their style may be too Bergmanesque for this film. 

Darcy J Campbell & Russ Crites

 I was asked to bring my own wardrobe, if possible, so for the 50's scene I donned my grandfather's suit, and for the 70's, I raided my closet and found an authentic blue polyester shirt.  After wearing that shirt for a couple of hours, I realized why I was so angry in the 70's.  That shirt, which was typical for the time period, was the most uncomfortable garment I have worn for 35 years.  Hot and scratchy, as if made out of freshly removed porcupine hide, it did not return home with me.  

It was an interesting experience, and well worth the hours of sitting around while the crew adjusted lights, makeup, and extras.  Hopefully I will not end up on the cutting room floor.  There was some concern voiced by the cinematographer that my silver hair was causing a hotspot in the scene, so they may have to apply CGI to my head.  Other than that, the only downside to the day is that I'm now addicted to herbal cigarettes and fake beer.  

Star Trailers

Russell Patrick Moes

 Speaking of stars, a short time ago I had the opportunity to once again witness the transcendent genius of the brilliant actor, Russell Patrick Moes.  His only fault as an actor is that he is, at times, too big for the stage.  Director Fredrick Breem puts it this way: "Russell exudes so much energy and power--it permeates the venue.  Even when motionless and silent, his presence can overwhelm the other actors."  Indeed, casting him in any role other than the lead is not just a waste of brilliance, but in some ways a detriment.  Still, any role he plays elevates the production.

"The Salt Fiend"
His work in one-act bar room theatre is groundbreaking.  Clearly autobiographical, and rich in impact, "The Salt Fiend" examines ego and regret wrapped in a foreboding package of relentless grief and abnormality.  I  witnessed bar patrons wailing in anguish at, and beyond the 2 hour mark.

Scene from "Ladies in Waiting"
As an auteur, "Ladies in Waiting" is his masterpiece.  The opening scene, pictured above, draws the viewer into a world that one expects to be only mildly uncomfortable, but the film rapidly descends into an increasingly bleak and musty future where no one can escape the recapitulation of the past.  To say any more might ruin the ending.

Relaxing with the Fabulous Karen

His Humble Abode

Other Recent Roles of Note:
"Star Wars, the Musical"

"The Nerd"

"Laundry--The Fifth Dimension"

"Who Are You, Really?"

It's a good question--who is Russell Moes, really?  Shaman?  Magician?  Savant?  It shouldn't matter, and to anyone who cherishes pure performance, it doesn't.  Yesterday evening, well after dark, I stood outside and gazed at the stars.  Without warning, a meteor burst into our atmosphere and burned with alien brilliance as it made a path through our world.  Enough said. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Caffeine & Vicodin -- Harvest 2011

Insect Tracks

The winter wheat harvest is complete, and as usual it was a marathon of stress and fatigue.  The photo shown above shows insect tracks on the concrete floor of a quonset, but is also a fairly accurate depiction of my movements within a 6 mile radius over the past 3 weeks.  At times, the harvest experience feels like the journey of Odysseus, but once it's over, it is just what it is.  A lot of hard work.

Winter Wheat

Approaching Storm

Our Crew

Travis & Trent Cline
We hired Trent and Travis to do some harvesting for us.  They live down the road and over a bit.  Below is their support crew.

Ihmsen Well Road
I'll leave the romanticizing of the harvest to poets or perhaps my old age.  Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes:  "Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.  What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?"  
My friend Steve put it this way:  "We work for those who don't."

Monday, June 6, 2011

Spring -- Weddings, Gypsies, & Mud

Spring has sprung here in upper Montana, bringing with it rain, rain, mud, and more rain.  It's the beginning of the wedding season, and the time when cute furry animals are born.  It's the time for gypsies to emerge from their trailers, armed with a winter's worth of arts and crafts, fortunes, and sales strategies.

Antelope -- Minutes Old

Miranda the Gypsy Mermaid

Miranda the Gypsy Mermaid rolled into Havre, MT and set up shop at Walmart.  I am quite sure that she is not a mermaid.  No, I did not see her legs, but a quick glance inside the van revealed no hand operated driver controls.  I'm not so sure about the Gypsy part either...I thought gypsies had to be Romanian or Irish, but maybe it's just a state of mind.  To each their own.  I suspect that the crowd that she attracts is as interesting as she is.

And finally, this photo by an unknown photographer which illustrates the perils of farming in NorthCentral Montana.

Monsters Be Here

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Meaning of Life

Lissa Captures the Meaning of Life
Last week, more or less, I traveled to Missoula, MT for the Montana Professional Photographers Annual Convention.  It was an informative and entertaining event, tarnished only by the fact that the hotel didn't have a lounge.  Of course, I don't consume alcohol, so no big deal to me.  One evening, headed by Master photographer Steve Helmbrecht, we went to an alley in downtown Missoula to do some photography.  

The photo of yours truly shown below was done by Mark Bryant, who is obviously a creative genius.  Taken in the alley, and while I'm not positive, I think he used his Iphone.

Before our professional model showed up, I served as his stand in, and I must say that it was a surreal sensation, standing very still with 20 cameras taking shots at me.  Many of the photographers there were students from Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.

Arianna, Roman, & Sarah

Random Strangers

I didn't ask who they were or where they were headed, but they were cool.  This photo makes me feel cool.  Why?  Because the two young guys are also wearing hooded sweatshirts and share my color palette.  Plus, the cat is the only one horrified to be posing with me.

Thank you Lissa for the great photos and for helping me order at the Mexican Restaurant.  For some reason, I am always confused by those menus and have never truly understood the difference between a chalupa and a chihuahua.  I understand that the distinction is clear to most people and that I am an anomaly...I can only surmise that I'm missing a gene or two.

I do, however, know what a cookie is, and when they are free, I'm there.  Apparently, there is no such thing as a free cookie, because when they told me they weren't free, I was incredulous.  Does or does not the sign say free cookie?  A brief and mostly friendly conversation with the manager ended unsatisfactorily. When I suggested that they make the cookies look like little pizzas, he told me to get out or he'd call his mom.  I guess he thought he was pretty hot stuff.  Upon reflection, I still think the pizza cookie is a good and highly salable idea.

They Lie

I Only Thought About It

Friday, April 1, 2011

MOMMA Finale: Post Middle-aged Blues

This could happen to you

Creepy Rock

After a short night at the KOA in Williams, AZ, we headed to Vegas with clean clothes and renewed vigor.

Laundry: The Fifth Dimension

Vegas--we had a nice dinner and went to a show

Russ teases the human statue

Headed home

Northcentral Montana Monument

So, I'm home again, and I believe that all three of us had our own accomplishments and failures:  Russ learned that he could levitate after five martinis, but he could not be trusted around campground night managers.  I learned how to take pictures of complete strangers, but I also ruined many group photos by quietly inserting myself into the group.  Steve successfully navigated us through the Southwest and the city of Las Vegas, but mistakenly entered the newlywed suite at the Venetian.  That was awkward.

A big thanks to Steve for teaching me about Venn Diagrams.  Apparently I missed the Venn day at school.  A pity, since they would have been very helpful to me in the past.  But, there is no time like the present, and I have created one that captures the essence of our trip:

Venn Diagram

A friend of mine who has been following this blog made the comment that at 54 I am no longer middle-aged.  Webster disagrees, and I don't care what either one thinks. It's true that my cranial retention isn't what it used to be, but I still learn new things every day.  Like Venn diagrams.  

Thomas Wolfe wrote "you can't go home again."  Wolfe was wrong--you can go home again, and should.