• It’s been a challenging time here in Sisters Country. We essentially burned up the month of August and have been living for weeks under a pall of smoke. The impact on local businesses has been painful. The week-long classic bicycle trek Cycle Oregon has been cancelled; so has the annual Shakespeare Festival; and we’re now being forced to plan some radical contingency measures for next weekend’s Sisters Folk Festival.
Oregon and Montana are both burning up — hundreds of thousands of acres; hundreds of millions of dollars spent. Something’s got to give in the way we manage our forests. More on that later. The most recent fire, which is threatening Cascade Locks in the Columbia River Gorge and raining ash on Portland, was allegedly caused by teenagers throwing firecrackers off a cliff and filming it on a cell phone. Brilliant.
• Watching Emmylou Harris at the Ryman on OPB. She’s reprising her acoustic show with The Nash Ramblers. Saw that show twice in 1992, at Universal Amphitheater in L.A. and from about six feet away at the Crazy Horse Saloon in Orange County. Met Emmy once, when I was 16. She gave me a cookie.
I’ve loved that woman for about forever. Right at this moment, she’s covering Bruce Springsteen’s Mansion on the Hill and it’s so beautiful it makes me cry.
• Finally reading No Friend But The Mountains. It is worthy. Some excellent reporting from highland conflict zones across the globe. There are remarkable similarities in mountain cultures that otherwise should have little in common. It’s a slim volume, easily read in chunks.
• Hosted a bookstore talk on Warriors of the Wildlands last Friday. By design, it was more of a group discussion on race and history, built around the story of Texas Ranger scout and Confederate general Ben McCulloch.
We need to talk about this stuff — not shouting across barricades or shooting off Facebook memes, but sitting down with our neighbors and hashing through the persistent and profoundly difficult matter that is fundamental to American history and culture. Watching the body language in the crowd, it was easy to see that this was acutely uncomfortable for a lot of people — and hats off to them for coming out and putting themselves through it. A woman bought a book and told me as I signed it, “I’m getting more comfortable being uncomfortable. This helped me with that.” I consider that a win.
The study of history — the HONEST study of history — demands a certain level of comfort with discomfort. And if you let it, it can train you to thrive in it.
• Deuce Richardson scouted up a forthcoming Netflix project titled Outlaw King, telling the story of Scotland’s Robert the Bruce. Several of the key figures involved were on the masterpiece Hell Or High Water, which bodes very well indeed.
I have been waiting to delve into Season 2 of the Netflix production of Bernard Cornwall’s Saxon saga, The Last Kingdom. Perhaps it’s time…
It is a fine frontier tale, from the era when the Danes were campaigning hard in southern England and Alfred was the last, flimsy christian bulwark of the titular last kingdom. Uthred is a classic frontier “man of the middle ground,” caught between the cultures of his native Christian Saxons and the pagan Danes who raised him.
• Saw Wind River last week. Must say, a film thematically centered around lost daughters is not necessarily the ideal movie for a dad about to send his daughter off to college. It was kinda tough on me, I’ll admit. Taylor Sheridan is a man of brutal sensibilities. See it. It’s Frontier Partisan to the core. Also, as Craig Rullman said, the FBI agent Jane makes some pretty damn good mag changes. And I miss my .45-70.
• Fixing to head back down Colombia way for another season of Narcos, which dropped on Netflix on Friday, September 1. The first two seasons focused on the rise and spectacular fall of Pablo Escobar, and they were magnificent. It’s hard to imagine another tale clearing the bar set in the Escobar story, which is some of the best TV I’ve ever seen. Yet, as they say, the blow must go on. And by all accounts, Narcos S3 is every bit as good as the original — focused now on the Cali Cartel. The Orejuela brothers were smarter and less flamboyant than Escobar, and less likely to lash out in self-destructive acts of rage-filled violence. That, of course, made them all the deadlier.
Throughout, ‘Narcos’ remains tense — almost unbearably so at times — bleak and disturbing, the prevailing theme and main connective tissue being that authorities are ultimately playing an elaborate game of Whac-a-Mole, meaning that decapitating one drug honcho will, in this case, simply sprout four more.
And that’s the story of the Kingpin Strategy in a nutshell.
And… in October comes Damnation, which looks like a Western set in the Midwest during the Great Depression.
An epic saga about the secret history of the 1930s American heartland, Damnation centers on the mythic conflict and bloody struggle between big money and the downtrodden, God and greed, charlatans, and prophets. The pilot introduces Seth Davenport, a man masquerading as a small town Iowa preacher in the hopes of starting a full-blown insurrection against the status quo. Focused on his mission, he is unaware that an industrialist tycoon has hired a professional strikebreaker named Creeley Turner to stop the uprising by any means necessary. But unbeknownst to those around them, these two men already share a secret bloody past.