My Work

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Winter. Pagan Party Time?

The concept of a winter festival dates back before the Romans and usually had more to do with the winter solstice than anything resembling today’s religions, and evolved into a Christian holiday.

Today, if you look around, this holiday and festival period has devolved back to a pagan party. Drive through the neighborhoods, walk through shopping centers, and watch television, you will not see very much religion. For that matter, most of the music you’ll hear will be winter related, not Christ related despite the name, Christmas Holiday.

When the earliest people recognized the winter solstice as being the day with the least amount of daylight, and that the following days’ light increased slightly one to the next, it was obviously party time. The next solar year was under way, and they needed to celebrate that. It was a gradual moving ahead, advancing toward the awakening with the arrival of the spring equinox.

Our most ancient ancestors lived by the solar year. They planted, hunted, married, and bred their animals based on where the sun was in the sky. Grand monuments exist even today to attest to that. Think Stonehenge, and many traditional farmers around the world depend on the ancient solar year knowledge.

But, let’s get back to the party thing. Norse, that is Viking, invaders wee probably the last of the Europeans to continue the winter solstice pagan rituals and brought many of those into their invaded lands. Yuletide became Christmastide, for instance. The original Yule log and its burning was pagan as was the hanging of evergreen wreaths.

The Roman church found that it was far easier to incorporate pagan holidays into their religious program than to deny converts their pagan holidays and festivals. Think Saturnalia for example. Whew.

Regardless of what it is you’re celebrating, on or about December 21st, the world will welcome the winter solstice and six weeks later the ground hog will tell us there will be another six weeks of winter, and then six weeks later we will celebrate the spring equinox. Funny how that works.

The idea of the days getting longer brought joy to the so-called pagan world, and today, the period around the winter solstice brings warm fuzzy feelings to businesses across this vast nation of ours.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Lodge Night Frolics

A bunch of us were sitting at the bar at our lodge the other night after I mouthed off about something during the meeting. “You talk almost as much as you write,” one of the guys said. I had to chuckle at that. I spent so many years in radio talking up a storm that it seems to flow with little outside help. As a newsman, writing was something one did if one wanted a paycheck on Friday.

“You don’t have much trouble grabbing a wrench, old son,” I replied, signaling our barman brother for another round. He nodded and the light came on. He was always first to help a brother if his truck broke down or the fridge quit.

“Yup,” he said. “It’s what I do.” We sipped a bit and he continued. “So, what do you like writing the most? For me, I’d rather work on an older car than these new-fangled jobby-dos.”

“News is good to write but sometimes it’s difficult to keep your own opinion to yourself. Novels are very gratifying, particularly when you write ‘the end’ on that last page, but short stories, there you’ve got lots of problems.”

“Why?” A couple of the old boys asked at the same time, and I kind of understood the question. “Seems like a little old short story would be easier to write than a big old long novel,” Pinky said.

“Seems like it,” I said. “But, just ain’t so. With brevity in every part of your mind you tell just the essence of a particular instance in someone’s life or situation when writing a short story, while writing a novel, you tell the entire life and all the situations.”

“You got a favorite short story?” I think it was old man Peebles that asked. I’d autographed three of my novels for him and remembered him saying that he’d never really read many short stories. He said something about they end too soon.

“Actually, I have several that I really enjoyed writing. Two that you can get right now are available on Amazon. Others were published in magazines and would be difficult to find. I really enjoyed writing Miss Minerva’s Sheriff. It was part of an anthology but it is available as a stand alone short story.” I wrote down the Amazon URL for the guys.

“The other one that tickles me came out last year at about this same time in a holiday anthology. You might remember when we took that ride into the mountains to cut Christmas trees for those families that couldn’t afford one for themselves and I read it out loud. Slick’s Special Christmas.”

“You’re always reading something out loud,” Peebles laughed. “I remember that, though. It’s still available?’

“Yup,” I said and wrote down the URL for them.

“You see, guys, telling the story is the most fun I get from all this. That sheriff never knew what hit him when Minerva came to town, but the entire episode had to be told quickly, and long involved details weren’t important to the crux of the matter.

“Same with Slick. He was tore up bad, bleeding, infected, and what happened to him two weeks later wasn’t important. What was important was what was happening at that moment in time. That’s the pleasure and the pain of the short story.”

“Well, just quit talking, now,” old man Peebles said, laughing right out loud. “Drink your beer and we’ll just sit here quietly and think about all this.”

I didn’t say a word, just motioned to our barman brother for another round of cold ones.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Mele Kalikimaka

The holiday season is fast approaching and I thought maybe we could have a quick discussion about some of the aspects of this particular season. Our ancestors thousands of generations past whooped it up some from the winter solstice to the spring equinox and it seems as though we’ve forgotten the concept of having fun. If it doesn’t have something to do with either spending money or making money, it doesn’t exist.

As an example: Black Friday. The initial attack on Thanksgiving was the major box stores putting up Christmas decorations a week or so before Halloween, thus taking a lot of the fun out of celebrating All Hallow’s Eve. But by slamming every square space in retail outlets with Christmas all through the month of November, they diminished the celebration of Thanksgiving.

Traditionally, Thanksgiving was a time for family, for celebrating the harvest, for giving thanks for what we have and for that which we strive. There was some fight by many who wanted the Thanksgiving pleasures, but those that make money and those that spend money fought harder. Thus: Black Friday.

And they weren’t through. If they started the Black Friday sales early, such as maybe on Thursday, Thanksgiving would be but a memory, for in our society today, making it to a sale is far more important than having the family sitting together spinning tales of yesteryear.

As I write this little missive, we are a full two weeks from Thanksgiving and I saw an advertisement this morning for a pre-Black Friday sale to begin tomorrow. All of the blame for this cannot be laid at the feet of the retailer for it is not the retailer that responds to the sales.

With Thanksgiving wiped off the calendar, there is now no less than nine weeks in which to entice us to buy, and buy we will. Whether we buy Christmas gifts or Holiday gifts, or Seasonal gifts, we’ll buy, and in droves.

Obviously Christmas began as a Christian celebration but was absorbed into general society easily since non-Christians were already celebrating the winter solstice with their parties and hooplas. Simple gift-giving has changed slightly more than exponentially over the last two thousand years or so. The gift, it seems, is meaningless. It’s the sale that counts.

If you took the words Christmas, Holiday, and Seasonal out of the picture, took any nine-week period in the calendar, and spent the effort and money that is spent on what we call the holiday period, you would have the same affect. No one seems to give two hoots and a holler about Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the winter solstice. No, it’s the sales that are far more important.

Madison Avenue has not won yet. Advantage: MA. But there are still beat up old zealots like myself fighting them off. I’m not the biggest Halloween nut you’ve ever seen, but I do enjoy the fun of it. I am a Thanksgiving nut and really get into the idea of having lots of family around and spending many hours in the kitchen and at the table.

The winter solstice parties evolving in the Christmas celebrations are big-time around our household, with lights blazing, Yule logs burning, and of course, the Wassail cup must be full at all times. The gifting? That’s fun, but not the driving force. It’s the music, seasonal or religious, and the gay colors and lights, long nights with roaring fires, and family and friends.

Mele Kalikimaka.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Nevada Day ... Why?

Abraham Lincoln signed the papers making Nevada a state on October 31, 1864 and we celebrate that wonderful moment on the fourth Friday of October as a holiday, and then on Saturday, a grand array of special events in the Capitol city, Carson City. A parade, championship hard rock drilling contests, magnificent beard contests, and an opportunity to just have fun.

Only a few states celebrate their admission to this fine Union and I hope Nevada never lets it simply fade away. Every state feels itself unique in some way, and those of us in the Silver State have lots to talk about in that respect. It was the discovery of silver in the Virginia Range that old Henry Comstock declared was his, thus the Comstock Lode, that is basically the reason Nevada became a state.

The area belonged to Spain, then Mexico, and finally, the good old USofA. It was part of Utah Territory, then became Western Utah Territory, then Nevada Territory, and as now, the State of Nevada. Silver was king, cattle and sheep were economic drivers, and the along came Las Touristas and legalized gaming.

Those three today are still the economic drivers of the state. Nevada is the largest producer of gold in the Americas, North, South, and Central. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that there were news releases each year proudly proclaiming that there were more cattle in the state than people, and today, those same newspapers declare the number of tourists that visited set new records.

Only one river in Nevada can say its waters make it to the Pacific Ocean, all the others drain to a lake in the state, go underground to an aquifer, or settle in a sink. The Owyhee is a tributary of the Snake River, which flows into the Columbia River, which mixes with the saline of the Pacific.

Three major rivers, the Walker, Carson, and Truckee have their beginnings in California. Some say the Virgin begins in Utah. The Colorado of course flows through several states and two countries. It’s the Humboldt River that’s homegrown, beginning at what is called the Humboldt Wells. A town grew up near those wells, called itself Wells, then moved when the railroad came through to take advantage of that economic driver. It’s still called Wells.

The Great Basin National Park is home to Lehman Caves, and parts of the Death Valley National Park are inside the state. Hoover Dam is pretty impressive as is Lake Mead, and the largest Lahontan Cutthroat Trout ever was caught at Pyramid Lade.

Sarah Winnemucca was the first Native American to have a book published, the Black Rock Desert has been home to mastadons and burners, and the city of Las Vegas glorifies in its massive over-use of water.

Well, there you are. This is why we celebrate Nevada Day. If you run into me in Carson City Saturday, be sure to say howdy-doo.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fire in the Mountains, Run Boys, Run

That was a pretty good little scare we had on Friday. A wildfire burning across a mountainside close enough that some of our neighbors were put on alert to evacuate the premises. Black smoke billowed from burning brush and piñon pine, cedar, and sage. Controlling anxiety, panic, is most important in a situation like this, and most difficult.

Were we ready? Patty and I have discussed what to do in the event of a wildfire forcing us out. If it were just us, it would sure as hell be easier. Grab the laptops, some documents, a change of clothes, jump in the truck, and go. We have two horses, a dozen or more rabbits, and eight chickens. And one overweight, elderly dog.

Those little problems weren’t enough for us to contemplate yesterday. Our truck was in the hospital and we didn’t have access to it. This was our wake-up call. Our so-called battle plan just went the way of Dunkirk. It wasn’t a battle plan any longer, and it has forced us to seriously face reality.

We know we can’t bring the rabbits and chickens to safety. Maybe a few, but the rest will have to be set free and hope they can survive. Our horses must be brought out. The plan has been altered and over the next few weeks we will hone it down to a workable battle plan.

What goes? What stays? Prepare a kit that can go in the truck, if it’s available, and in either saddlebags or back packs if it’s not. If the truck’s available, Patty takes the most important stuff, what few rabbits and chickens we can get in cages, the dog, and flees. I take bare necessities, ride Poco and pony Sundance, and ride for safety.

If no truck, we each ride for safety with saddlebags and back packs full of most important stuff.

As far as safety goes, being on the horses will be far safer than moving with traffic trying to flee the conflagration.  We can go cross country and they can’t, we won’t be caught up in road rage problems, and you know they will exist, and we can base our direction on what the fire and wind is telling us, not just where pavement has been laid.

It’s the being ready that’s most important right now, because we discovered the stark truth that we were not ready Friday. The fire was almost close enough to feel, fire retardant had been laid behind homes that were close enough to be seen easily. Sheriff’s deputies were telling those people to pack it up. And we weren’t ready.

If there’s a next time, and living in northern Nevada you can bet there will be a next time, we will be ready.  Fire moves fast, has no friends, no will of it’s own. Que sera sera.

To everyone who offered help and good thoughts, thank you, thank you. We’re safe and out of harm’s way, this time.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Score One or a Score

It was in the Viking era that one of today’s less used words or terms came into existence. At the time, it would have been considered most useful. They spelled it skor and we spell it score. It meant to make a mark, that is score or scratch a mark, maybe on a piece of wood, a stone, or something that would be kept. That mark or skor, represented twenty.

So, if you were running cattle in Iceland you would hold a stick in one hand and your knife in the other and as the cattle came through the gate you would make one mark on that stick for every twenty that moved through. We hold little clickers in our hands today and are not any more accurate than the Norseman in 823 AD counting his cattle or sheep or pigs.

In the 1800s, a twenty dollar gold piece was also called a score. To ‘score’ meant you came into possession of twenty bucks by some means or another. Of course ‘to score’ today has an entirely different meaning and may cost you far more than twenty bucks.

Words and how we use them are not set in stone. Trying to read Olde English makes that point understood. Even trying to read the relatively later English spoken by those living at the time of the American Revolution, can be difficult. It is also sadly ironic that many today with a limited knowledge of the language condemn immigrants for not speaking perfect English upon arriving on our shores.

A writer attempting to write in the vernacular of a specific area or era can find nothing but alligators and crocodiles waiting to pounce. If one lives in the hills of West Virginia and tries to write as those living there speak, it should work out fine. If one lives in northern Nevada, has never been to the hills of West Virginia or even known someone from there, it is best not to try to write in the vernacular. You would not score a victory.

Our language changes constantly, generation to generation. In 1870 someone having a gay time means something vastly different than today’s gay time. When reading the Dime Novels of the 1800s one will often find phrases and words that don’t seem to make sense and it takes a little getting used to finding them. It’s like reading Shakespeare for the first time. What am I reading? What does that mean?

Jump now to the year 2210 and picture yourself with a reading instrument of some kind and you’re reading a Ralph Cotton western. Fugm, fugm all, he said, and you say, What? I think it’s time for me to try to score a cold beer. Or a score.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Of Fear and Despair

This is the time of year that is filled with hope and fear of despair. That may not seem likely unless you, too are one who plants a garden each year. You wait, just as the seed package advises, until the last frost before planting, but that is an unknown time in these parts. It could be the end of April, the middle of May, or even the first week or so of June. There’s the despair.

The ground is worked, the rotted manure is spread and tilled in, seeds are ready, and the forecasts change daily. Rows are plotted out, maps are drawn, and the only thing missing is that last frost. When will we feel safe? Tomorrow? Next week? Next month?

Pity the farmer who doesn’t have an out. No, not a greenhouse, but something that takes up the time that would be spent working in that beautiful garden, filled with green and yellow and red things that taste good and are good for you. In my case, I’m lucky to be a writer. I pound on this keyboard until my fingertips ache. I learned to type way back in the fifties on an ancient Royal. I don’t have the foggiest idea how someone can type with finger’s pads. One must pound those keys, with emphasis, using fingertips.

No one typing before the advent of electric machines and now computers had elegantly styled fingernails. They wouldn’t last through the morning’s memos. When spring arrives, I spend the first two or three hours in the office, say from 5:30 to about 8:30, writing the next great American novel, but unlike the winter or mid summer, at scene breaks or chapter breaks, I’m running outside moving the water, chasing those pesky cottontails, or shooing off the ravens.

The seeds are in, I have trust in NOA, that is, the weather bureau, and we’ve had our last frost. But have we? The furrows are geometric designs for the ages, the water system covers everything, and now, the sprouts are emerging.

No! What do you mean cold front arriving overnight? No! I just spread the last of the straw for the chickens. I wouldn’t need it for the garden. The last frost, remember?

Come morning and the thermometer reads 41, not 31. Whew. Write two chapters and at sunrise walk through the garden, searching for that frost burned squash leaf, and can’t find one. Back to book three in the Ezekiel’s Journey series, a smile, not a frown, and the garden is safe for one more night.

The sprouts take form, get strong, grow toward the sun, the corn will be thigh high on the Fourth of July, and the cucumbers and melons will mature, beans will grow long and sweet, and pea pods will fill nicely. Spring is finally over, the garden made it one more time, but I’m not sure about my id.

The garden is green and orange and yellow and red, Ezekiel’s Journey book three now has more than 20,000 words and a new character, Terrence Corcoran is born and his first book has about 5,000 words pounded into its manuscript. In the summer, it’s a case of doing the proper amount of watering, getting down on your hands and knees ripping those blasted weeds from their homes, and picking what’s ripe for tonight’s meal.

The words flow, the garden grows, and there is no fear of Jack Frost. Oh, spring, you tease and taunt, and from time to time you let me win. It’s a time of fear and despair, and at 5,000 feet above sea level in northern Nevada, sometimes, joy.

Until next time, read good books and stay regular

Johnny Gunn
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