Monday 29 April 2019

Killers of the Flower Moon - a review

In the early part of the 20th century some of the richest people in America were the Osage Indians in Oklahoma. Like many tribes, in the 1870s the Osage were forced from their ancestral home in Kansas and relocated to a part of Louisiana, land that was “broken, rocky, sterile, and utterly unfit for cultivation”. However it did sit on vast oil reserves.

And so, by the 1920s, the nascent oil boom was making the Osage wealthy beyond their imaginings. Mansions dotted the countryside (staffed with servants), most families had at least one motorcar (often with a chauffeur), and the wells kept pumping. Then the murders began as, one after the other, dozens of Osage land owners met untimely ends.

This is the story of those murders and the work done by dogged investigators of J. Edgar Hoover's fledgling FBI to uncover the secrets and bring the perpetrators to justice. It’s also a story of racism, greed, and a lawless territory where corruption among lawmen, judges, bankers, and others in positions of authority were, seemingly, the norm. A far, far cry from the Roaring 20s as we normally think about them.

This is a series of events in American history that had largely gone under the radar until author David Grann began poking about in the dusty archives to bring the story to life. It’s a fascinating read and highly recommended.

Tuesday 23 April 2019

California Road

It was a beautiful day today so I thought I’d take a run down California Road to see how much spring runoff damage there was.

There was still snow in places and the swamps and ditches were full of water. The road was muddy and wet but passable until I got five kilometres in, to find it had completely washed out.

This spot regularly floods in the spring, but usually just over the surface of the road. This year the spring runoff took the road out completely and even managed to shift the culvert (put in a few years ago to avoid this happening) about 30 feet downstream.

As I wasn’t about to start chopping trees to build a 30-foot bridge, that pretty much halted my forward progress.

Being a seldom-used back road, California seems to attract a number of people who view the world as their personal garbage pit. It gets particularly bad during hunting season when all sorts of interesting trash appears under the cover of darkness.

For example, this boat. A couple of kilometres from the nearest body of water larger than the puddle behind it, someone decided it would make a nice roadside attraction. Filled with rubbish, the registration numbers were all removed so finding the previous owner would be near impossible.

And this mattress, queen-size I believe, was left at one of places where hunters pitch their tents for a couple of weeks in November. Except for the mattress the site had been nicely policed and cleaned up, so perhaps it was some local left it over the winter and here I am blaming the hunters. Doesn’t change the fact though that some moron thought it was perfectly okay to toss this old mattress in the woods.

I just don’t get the mindset.

However in the making-lemonade-from-lemons tradition, I did find enough beer cans and bottles to pay for my gas.

Every spring the local community bands together and has a roads cleanup day. We make a bit of a celebration of it with a BBQ and prizes for the most outrageous trash discovered in the ditches. Mattresses are, unfortunately, pretty common, but I may enter the boat this year.

Saturday 20 April 2019

Three steps back

No, this is not in reference to any 60's dance craze.

I did get the second little Kawasaki running. Not great but good enough to warrant proceeding with a carb refresh and making a few other repairs like brake master cylinder and caliper rebuilds. Then, while waiting for the carb kits to come in, I though I’d pull the rear wheel to check and clean the rear brakes. And it was while spinning the wheel I first heard the “clunk”.

It was coming from the front sprocket, so I pulled the cover off and, sure enough, at one point in the rotation the drive sprocket drops a couple of millimeters. This is NOT good.

I might as well forget about carbs for now; the entire engine needs to come out. Fortunately I have engine no. 3 in the shed so I guess I’ll be doing a swap in the near future.

Friday 19 April 2019

Starting to itch

Here we are again, in April. Finally, after a long winter, we’re starting to see some relief from the cold. The snow is mostly gone and the sun’s heat warms the soul. But there’s still enough frost in the ground that paved roads are randomly buckled and pot-holed and gravel roads turn into a kind of gumbo that sticks to every exposed surface like cement. Frequent rains, sometimes torrential, swell the creeks and rivers to overflowing, but haven’t yet washed enough sand, salt, and other debris off the roads to make two-wheeled travel any less exciting. And periods of below freezing temperatures and multi-centimetre snowfalls can still surprise at any time. In short, April’s capricious weather can drive one to drink, sometimes making it seem the longest month of the year.

Yet some are riding, mostly city folk who venture out on the four-lane and back again, but not many. The rest are using the time to get their bike(s) ready for a new season, changing oil, charging batteries, checking everything twice. And then it’s a matter of wait, wait, wait, until the rains stop and the roads clear up. And try to ignore the itch.

Sunday 14 April 2019

A special guest

Our small rural area is home to a vibrant community centre. Managed by locals for the benefit of locals, the centre hosts all the usual sorts of events and activities one would expect – euchre groups, yoga classes, dinners, a garden club, and so on. It’s a busy place.

But yesterday was extra special. The Live ‘n Learn group had arranged for a visit by an Ottawa historian and author, Tim Cook. Tim is the Great War historian at the Canadian War Museum and the author of numerous books focused on Canadian military history, for which he has received many awards, including the Order of Canada.

I first came across his work several years ago when I was given a copy of At The Sharp End: Canadians Fighting the Great War, 1914-1916.  Having greatly enjoyed that book I proceeded to acquire additional volumes and now I can say I have read most of them, including his most recent, The Secret History of Soldiers: How Canadians Survived the Great War, which I reviewed here. I am a big fan.

So I was very much looking forward to meeting Tim and hearing him talk about his research and his writing. And he did not disappoint, keeping us all enthralled as he talked about his latest book and took the audience back to what life was like for those young men during those terrible years.

The time flew by far too quickly, but to have such an accomplished individual come and spend even a few hours with us was indeed a pleasure. Thanks Tim.