Author Archives: Chris

About Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and lives in Missoula, MT.

Killing: The Great American Hypocrisy

About the tragedy: A week ago I had just left the Danbury/Newtown, CT, area, after spending a few days there for work. The people I worked with were kind and generous with suggestions of how I might spend my hours alone, easy to work with, and made me feel welcome. It makes this entire tragedy all the more personal to me. As a parent; hell, just as a human being, I can’t imagine anything worse than what is being endured by the poor people trying to live through the aftermath of what has happened there. Certainly some of those folks I worked with have been affected, if not directly, then a degree or two removed. If I were a praying man, they would certainly be in them.

I’m a gun owner. I know many reasonable people who love their kids and their neighbors and also own guns. I am acquainted with some folks who also have permits to carry guns, which they do. Generally those folks creep me out, but I give the folks I know the benefit of the doubt. Most of the people I see around here carrying also seem caught up in the image of it with their camo-themed clothing and various other tactical gear hanging off their belts. Those dudes scare me, and I give them a wide berth. They are pretty much all middle-aged white guys too.

When it comes to an armed citizenry, the last thing I want if someone pulls a gun is to have a bunch of other jackasses pull theirs and start slinging lead. So even though I believe in the right to keep arms, you can still sign me up as one of the people who do believe that something needs to be done. For an excellent essay on the subject that I agree 100% with, I’d direct you to my writing and Instagram pal Neliza Drew’s blog, HERE. An excerpt:

I need a license to drive my car. It’s big (compared to a human) and it’s dangerous when used improperly. I had to take a class. I have to follow rules. I have to renew the license. I have to carry insurance. I have to have a title showing I bought it from somewhere – even if it was my cousin and I paid him a dollar (note: where do I find such a cousin?). If it turns out there’s a problem, like my cousin stole the car from his neighbor, his dad, the mall parking lot, he either won’t have a title to give me (red flag not to buy) or what he’ll give me is a forgery, which can be tracked back to him).

You have a gun? Sure. Where’s your license? The title? This thing came from a reputable seller, not some kid on the corner, right? You have a permit to purchase ammo? Sure. No, sir, I can’t sell you rounds for a gun you don’t legally own. No, sir, I can’t sell you 100,000 rounds at one time. No, sir, there’s no reason for you to need an automatic weapon or an assault rifle. If you think you need one of those to hunt deer or wild boar or pheasant, you’re not a very good hunter and should probably stay indoors for the safety of all involved.

She says what I would say, so I don’t need to say more. Well done, Neliza.

I will add that there is a knee-jerk political side to all this that I find depressing, and equally sickening. I have seen this quote, or variations of it, a couple different times both on Facebook and via Twitter:

“4.3 million NRA members hold 312 million Americans hostage.”

That is utter bullshit. The reason we don’t have more gun control is because Americans really don’t want it. If those 312 million people really want to do something about it, it is only their own apathy stopping them. We have the laws we’ve allowed. We have the government full of millionaires we’ve elected. We have the media we prefer (the media being another target of much self-righteous twit-book postings). We live in the nation we’ve created and actively allow to continue. Enough with the “Someone needs to do something!” stuff. This from another excellent little commentary I read today:

It reminded me of the dichotomy between the two sides of this argument regarding gun rights. There’s a world full of people who just want to live their lives, not hurt anyone, and just be honest and sincere. Then there’s the world where a corporation wants to sell you whatever it’s making by any means necessary. This is where the NRA operates.

I can tell you this—most of the people I’ve met from the NRA don’t believe the bullshit they’re selling. Their ethos conforms to whomever pays their salary. That’s a trap much bigger than most of us bother to notice. But let’s take this small bite as we talk about how to keep people from shooting up kindergarten classrooms. Gun lobbyists, the guys drawing the big checks, aren’t nutjobs and they don’t love the Constitution any more than you do. They’re Americans in it for a buck. They’ve taken a profitable position selling a lifestyle to frightened people who buy that lifestyle, ironically enough, from the very industry that funds their fear. They’re not fanatics; they’re just capitalists. Don’t be afraid of them.

Like everything else in the USA, it’s about money and attention spans. The vast majority of people raving about gun control and cursing the NRA will have forgotten all about it by New Years. One of the funniest little social commentary one-liners I saw on the lead up to this last election was this: “If the Republicans win, does that mean Democrats will be anti-war again?”

My heart breaks for the deaths of innocent people. No more for the families in Connecticut, though, than it does for those people in Pakistan who are under a constant and deadly barrage of drone attacks that have killed far more innocents than the murderer in Newtown did, courtesy of the American taxpayer. So when I see these Obama sycophants drop comments like, “Thank you so much for the heartfelt message President Obama!” I want to puke. Until those people step up and hold their guy as accountable for mindless slaughter in our name as they did when Bush was president, or that they would if some other Republican were in charge, then all their finger-pointing at the NRA is only so much hypocritical posturing. Fuck those people. Their hands are no less bloody than those of the folks who oppose gun control.

Stopping the war is an act of social change in which we’ve failed. I predict gun control will be the same thing. This country has made changes in the past, but they are expensive in time and energy and will. I question how willing most of us are to carry these kinds of efforts out anymore, because it is so easy to point across a line and blame someone else.

There needs to be common ground on issues like this. When it comes to guns and indiscriminate murder, you’re either for killing, or you’re against it. You can’t give “your guy” a pass in one arena while pointing your fingers at the “other guy” in another one.

 

 

A Strange and Oddly Edible World

From Meat Eater: Adventures from the Life of an American Hunter by Steven Rinella:

Now I cringe at how many times I’ve corrected people who mentioned that mountain men ate beaver tails. “No they didn’t,” I’d say. “They were eating the back legs, like the tail end.” I kept this up for at least a couple of years. Then I happened to be reading yet another account about mountain men that included a litany of specific beaver tail references that could hardly be confused. “Their [beaver] meat is very palatable,” wrote a man who visited an encampment of mountain men in the Rockies in 1839. “The tails,” he continued, “which are fat all through, are especially regarded as delicacies.” Another man had this to say: “The beaver possesses great strength in his tail, which is twelve or fifteen inches long, four broad, and a half inch thick. This part of the animal is highly esteemed by trappers, and assimilates a fish in taste, though it is far superior to any of the finny tribe.”

By this time, however,  I had quit trapping. As much as I wanted to reassess the beaver tail situation, I was woefully short on beaver. My chance didn’t arrive until a decade later, when I happened to be camped in a cave in Wyoming. According to local legend, the famous prospector and cannibal Alferd Packer had camped in this same cave in the late 1800s after allegedly murdering and eating some of his travel mates in Colorado. On this night I finally happened to have in my possession the tail of a freshly dead beaver that I’d caught in a snare earlier that morning. I built a fire and then cut a willow switch down along the creek and pierced the beaver’s tail onto a sharpened end. I wedged the other end of the switch into a crack in the rock near the fire so that the tail hung about twelve inches from the flame. I let it hang there for almost an hour, and reached over now and then to rotate the tail with a multi-tool. First, the scaly skin got kind of bubbly. Next, the skin started to get crispy and thin, almost like the skin of a baked potato. Finally, the skin started to pull away to reveal the shiniest and nicest block of fat that  you’ve ever laid eyes on. It resembled what you might find on the edge of a fat beefsteak.

I sliced away a shaving, as thin as a slice of prosciutto. The fat melted in my mouth like butter, leaving a gristly bit of leftover that felt like a combination of beef jerky and Styrofoam. It was wonderful. I had another slice. And another. Perhaps my enthusiasm for the beaver tail was nourished by the fact that I was camped in a cannibal’s lair and I didn’t want to be upstaged, but I really did like it. After eating, I went out to the mouth of the cave with my flashlight and looked around for the weird bits of mysteriously human-like bone that had supposedly littered the entrance at some forgotten time. Looking back in, I surveyed the corner of the cave where I had sat to eat the beaver’s tail. It was pretty much the only comfy spot there, and it was easy to imagine the old cannibal Alferd reclining there during his own mealtimes. What a world, I thought. What a strange and oddly edible world.

 

Wise Words From a Wise Woman

Here are a couple more passages from Paddling North by Audrey Sutherland, that I noted as I was reading. This will easily be one of my favorite books of the year.

On Sitka, AK:

Sitka suited me. It was about as small as you could get and still have the five things a town needs as a place to live: 1. A community college to take or teach classes. 2. A good public library. 3. A National Park for access to the knowledge of the naturalists and historians. 4. A warm-water swimming pool. 5. A thrift shop. Use money for plane fare, boats, and good wine, not for clothes and oddments you can buy second-hand. My “TS principle” isn’t Eliot or Tough Shit, it’s Thrift Shops.

On life in general:

“If you had a year to do anything you wanted, and had all the money you needed, and could come back to where you are now, what would you do?”

Most people had been living on expediency: what needed to be done that hour, that day. They’d never asked the big question. When they had the answer, my next question was, “Why aren’t you doing it?”

Then came the obvious answers. “I don’t have the money. I do have kids, a family, a job, a mortgage.”

“When can you do it? Can you do part of it? How can you plan toward it?”

We all need to ask those questions every five years, then act on the answers. You get plenty of advice on planning your whole life, but five years is long enough. After age 50 you can narrow it down to a two-year plan. Beyond 60, it’s a one year plan. Beyond that?

And one more:

Doing what you want to do isn’t a question of can you or can’t you, yes or no, but deciding what your ultimate desire and capability is and then figuring out the steps to accomplishment. It’s “I’m going to. Now how? What gear will I need? What skills will I need? What will it cost? When will it happen? When I succeed, what next?”

 

Mississippi Solo

From Mississippi Solo: A Memoir, by Eddy L. Harris:

“Let me tell you,” he said. “When you’re wading out in the stream and the water is swift and cold and the bottom is rocky and slick and you’re fighting hard to keep your footing and stepping slow and you’re squinting with the sun in your face and you’re cool from the hips down and hot from the waist up and feeling just right, oh! there’s nothing like it in the world. It’s not just fishing; it’s making love. You’re making all the right moves, whipping your rod just right, your body is relaxed and your wrist flexible and you’re moving into the right position, slipping a little bit, finding your balance, tension, release, tension again. Aw! it’s beautiful. You know, or you think you know, the right fly to use, what time of year it is and what stages the insects in the water are in, how the fish are feeding, what types of nymphs or flies the fish are hungry for, whether you want to fish the ripples around the rocks or the still pools in the shade, cast upstream and let the fly drift back down to you, yeah that’s really fishing; fishing for the thinking man and if it works just right and that fish strikes, it’s absolutely beautiful. You’re riding a horse, not fishing. The feeling is all in your hands. And in your heart. Exhilaration. No. It is making love, the way you’re playing that fish, milking it of its energy, making it come to you, and your reel just squeals and sings with delight and excitement.”

 

Thanksgiving and Jack London

Thanksgiving morning in Missoula and we have a fresh little skiff of snow on the ground. It won’t last; it’s supposed to be up in the mid-30s today. I can remember actually going snowmobiling on Thanksgiving Day as a kid, right from the front yard. We had a couple of those boxy old machines with a top speed of maybe 30 mph. An old Evinrude and an Arctic Cat or two. We’d tear around out in the field, my dad with two or three kids falling off the back. Those days are long gone, though. Still, it remains possibly my favorite holiday. Not for any of the traditional reasons, certainly, so I’m not entirely sure why. I think it’s because this tends to be my favorite time of year, and I associate it with snacking all day, mom producing delicious food smells in the kitchen, stuff like that. Today will be low key for us, mostly a chance to relax. I think we are going to venture up Rock Creek with our fly rods. Don’t expect to catch a damn thing, but it will be beautiful to be out. If all goes as planned, I’ll get to watch my favorite movie this evening, which I also associate with the season: The Last of the Mohicans. I hope everyone has a peaceful day.

Jack London country near Glen Ellen, CA, from my visit last August

Today also happens to mark the 96th anniversary of the death of one of my writing heroes, Jack London. I was fortunate to visit his grave site at Jack London State Historic Park back in August. I would have liked to spend more time there, but it was actually about to close when I arrived. I snuck in anyway so I could visit the grave, but didn’t explore at all beyond that. I ended up locked in the parking lot with my car on the wrong side of the gate. Luckily a guy who lives on premises had a key and let me out. When I apologized for the trouble, he said, “Well, it’s Jack’s land, and he wouldn’t mind.”

Jack is under that big rock

The Call of the Wild was a book I loved as a kid, and still love. I have been working my way through a collection of his short stories this year and intend to complete it this weekend. He lived an active life that fueled his writing, something I am striving to achieve as well before it’s too late. Visiting where he lived in California, the lands where The Call of the Wild begins, only makes the images that much clearer. I’m pleased to have the opportunity to see these places.

So Jack will be part of my holiday this weekend as well. Who knows, maybe I’ll watch White Fang or something. I’ll definitely be looking over his photography.