And Other Stories
(Pleasure Boat Studio)
Part IYou want bleak? Merely superb writing and story telling like Cruz Smith and de Maupassant, Poe?
Alaskan field biologist Irving Warner has the story-writing skill, knowledge, along with a feel for bleak and quiet horror ... for nature and outback boondocks.
Not fuzzy, warm, cute: bleak. Not science's "Nature" --- consoling warm, predictable, rational, dependably random. You can rely on that Nature. It won't babble answers like priests, Puritans or psychiatrists, but it won't lie to you either.
Maybe you can trick that Nature into limited, probable, contingent answers and better questions, but only if you trip it up and trap it. "Gotcha!"
First you must admit ignorance. Try explaining it to an Intelligent-Design mouth-breather. Duh? Ask what's with Black Death, bird flu, polio, and female cancers while you're at it. We're talking red-in-tooth and maw-bleak horror here, Burke's "nature." Solitary, mean, nasty, brutish and BOO! unexpectedly terminal.
Warner writes so evocatively and with such a terse, spare dialogue you get to see the horror ... the horror in his clutch like a self-absorbed, introspective, isolate Alaskan Kurtz. And you dread going there with him.
U.N. PHILOSOPHER KINGS
CHOOSE TO GO ---
TRAVELING ON BLUE DIP PASSPORTS?
Had a philosopher king friend with big classical degrees in Sciences, Bio and Social Sci, Economics as well. Deep in India Pale Ale, Limburger cheese, raw onions, hot mustard and crackers. At McSorley's one night I asked the killer question:
You've traveled the known world and then some on that enviable blue U.N. dip passport of yours. You've been to every known hell of nature and some I prefer to not even think about (if green Mambas are involved). From Kirghistan's icy mountains and deserts to Cape Horn and back on foot, burro and bush planes with coughing Wasp engines. You've seen every possible fragile and delicate ecosystem and sorted them out for Ecological Preserves because of the wildness of them.
You've been to the everlasting midnight hell of freezing Anwar and broiling Morocco, too. You're an old man now. The Killer Question, George.
If you had to travel on your own dime and your own passport, which of those mysterious places draw you back?
The answer came quickly if thickly amid McSorley's noise and fug....
Then we all returned from civilization: Uptown, back home where our annoyed, warm, sleepy wives disgustedly ordered the windows opened while moving way away across the bed. Ridding the bedrooms of surcease and smells of civilization.
BACK TO WARNER'S COLD HORROR
In Memory of Hawks can bring on physical and psychological chills (shades of Poe and Jack London). Cold horror without the humor. The Telltale Heart, the Cat in the Wall, The Sea Wolf, To Light a Fire? Like that...
Warner's bushed Tekky goes slowly and observably mad. Gorgeous. Like Poe's stuff: You just know you don't want to be there and would like to stop reading right now. In "Fever,"
this dream seemed unusually powerful ... In it he was driving the snowmobile much too fast ... [There] was the dog bounding along and howling its usual chaotic greeting ... It bounded heedlessly at the speeding snowmobile ... In the dream it knocked the dog thirty feet, snapping its neck.
That's it for his only winter companion. Take that.
§ § § A DIGRESSION
AT LONELY YORK FACTORY
His trapper, observably going nuts, like the failed Lutheran minister turned evangelist I knew of. After a breakdown and a lost God, he turned Environmentalist history-site curator. Posted to tend a small unappreciative Metis flock up on the Bay. Rotting, lonely York Factory, an abandoned post, a failed grain port. In the Cold Lands iced-in three of four years. Four Years.
Lookout tower had graffito. Way up high in the Factory-widows-walk where Bay ships couldn't peek in past the ice, for years.
Climbed way up above the huge fur room with its huge spiral screw and huge press --- the entire room like an old book press. Wonderful graffiti in bastard French scratched on the wood:
Marie Antonette has a prolapsed uterus...
Lucky Pierre discovered this. Me.
I read one fine graffito in bastard Quebecois. "Sam Hearne eats moccukisens" read another sic. (signed, "Sam Hearne," in Gothic script). "That Git, Lu'd Selkirk did us with enclosures! Suck haggis, Kirkky-baby" read another in the carved, rude script of the day ...
with a kilt and a burr and a skirl of pipes.
§ § § DON'T BE MISLED;
IT'S NOT YOUR NATURE
Why didn't the poor Lutheran Git read the York graffiti before he went to hell? Go nuts in civilized comfort? Electrofry 'til Blue his failed lobes and synapses in Winnipeg or Minneapolis? Stir things up up there. Chew Thorozine. No stunning Sierra Club money-spinning calendars, filmed in Vaseline-lensed gauzy focus there. Like a Doris Day movie. Not at York Factory. Nope. Nor in Warner's Alaska either.
Warner's graphic narratives are cold as charity ... prescient horror-triggering imagination bereft of streams that go "plash." No comfortably graying moss-decked tree trunks. York's and Warner's have mats of handsome mouldy fallen leaves all right, but moss clings treacherously all around tree trunks. You can't tell compass north from York's or Warner's mossy trunks. Warner's bleak is accomplished, learned and supremely observant of Nature's furious broken claws and suppurating maw and fangs. Bleak as the black huge hungry ravens, bigger than turkey vultures eyeing Solitaries speculatively ... waiting, waiting ... We're talking bleak. Real bleak! Get my drift?
§ § §
MILD PRAIRIE HORROR IS A PUSSY
COMPARED TO WARNER'S BLEAK NATURE
In Memory of Hawks can bring on The Chills. I once learned that failing Saskatchewan bush farms are bad enough at thaw: Depressed Yeomen Isolates simply reject another dismal season of falling prices and failed crops. "Boom-Boom," "Bang-Bang" with a hey and a Ho and a Hey-Nonny-Ho echo over rural prairies at spring breakup.
Old Mortimer ate his 12-shot last week. All alone hisself. Had a real bad year last year. Two-bit wheat, Red River hard too. Heard it clear over at the Reeves' office. ''Boom.'' Like that.
Hell of a thing. Right in the town water tank. Now why'd he do that? A thing like that? Whole town lost the day scrubbing her out with bleach. Hell of a thing. Old Mort.
§ § §
BLEAKNESS AND HORROR IN
WARNER'S SECOND CHAMBER
That's tame and cozy compared to Warner's The Second Chamber. Tripping gaily off to a remote abandoned Alieut pretty-much-usually-inaccessible island goes the failed husband and father, a field biologist, to search out his missing and probably dead failed son. Trawler captain notes worriedly a cockeyed Bob is on the way, as he lands the biologist for twenty-four hour lonely search. [With all this there is knowledgeable background of remote biology, zoology, meteorological, and other flora and fauna in detail. Terms and scientific vocabulary read plausibly.]
Down, crawling down, into barely accessible dank tunnels and caves goes the searcher. Think Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Injun Joe. Our spelunker emerges in a BOO! roomful of ancient leathery freeze-dried Abo notables seated in musty reflection.
A council with beads, trinkets and travel-gear found the last good last place. Ancient but well preserved. Good looking for their age though. Dozens. Rough enough to be there hundreds of feet down with a fading flashlight, Driven Dad, hagridden by guilt's Furies chooses to ... return? Go up to the lowering storm?
Heck ... let's give the Second Chamber a shot before getting the hell out of Dodge. He crawls on, narrower and narrower. BOO-SQUARED! Suddenly, he sees boots. His own. Well!
Read on gentle reader. You like your stuff rude? Bleak? Real? This is rude.