Her latest, First Cow, is set in the muddy woods of 1820s Oregon, where a weary cook working for a whiny band of trappers meets an on-the-lam Chinese man who murdered a Russian after they killed one of his friends.
It’s not the elegant Jane Austen 1820s of England, with lush green lawns and sprawling estates — but the messy, struggling, brawling world of men trying to establish some sort of life in still-new-to-them America. There are native characters and even un-subtitled dialogue in a native tongue. You feel absolutely in the era.
The contrast between most residents’ mud-floored shacks and the beautifully painted house of the area’s wealthiest man are something — he holds a tea party, yammering on about the latest fashions in Paris and London — while everyone else slips and slides in filthy, ragged clothes.
It’s full of quirky and unexpected moments, like when the wealthy man’s wife, in ruffled burgundy silk, speaks in native tongue and admires the ornate wampum necklace of a visiting chief’s wife.
The film centers on the friendship of the two men, Otis “Cookie” Figowitz and King-Lu, who both really need a break. They have no family or education or money but King-Lu, who has already traveled the world, is filled with ambition. So when the area’s first dairy cow arrives, by boat, their scheme is hatched — they’ll milk her at night and hope no one sees them.
Only broken by….the squeaks of dozens of prairie dogs, the first time I’d ever seen one.
A caldera is the bowl-like depression in the landscape after a volcanic eruption — in this case 1.25 millions years ago, 300 times larger than Mount St. Helens in 1980. Valles Caldera is one of the world’s best examples of an intact volcanic caldera.
Since then, of course, the land was inhabited by natives and later (after 1500) by Spanish settlers.
The site contains a few log cabins, from 1915 to 1963, but no one is allowed to stay in the park overnight although hiking and skiing in winter are allowed.
It’s a stunning place in its scale and also gave me my first sightings of wild iris and elk — we could only see a large herd of elk thanks to a telescope offered by the park rangers.
The caldera is about a 90 minute drive northwest of Santa Fe.
It’s a pretty American way to spend a summer evening — and, despite years of living in the U.S., albeit in the Northeast — I had never been to a rodeo.
It is, I discovered, a huge sport, with its own governing body and men kept loping past us bearing huge golden and engraved belt buckles, evidence of their earlier prowess.
The idea is to showcase, competitively, so many of the skills that ranchers and cowboys, men and women, use in their daily life.
So Jose, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico, bought us box seat tickets, which meant two battered bare metal folding chairs in the shaded section, at the front ($27 each) and took me to my first rodeo.
I knew, intellectually, competitors could get badly injured and hoped they would not, and only one man limped out of the ring.
The first event had very small children — ages four or five, each wearing a helmet — each trying to stay on top of a large sheep for as long as possible, clinging to as much muddy and matted wool as possible. Most lasted about a second!
More men came out, racing, to lasso a steer, jump off their horse and lash three of the steer’s legs together, fast.
Then men came out in pairs to do the same job.
There was a rodeo clown.
The rodeo clown, a legend in his field photo: Jose R. Lopez
There was only one official photographer in the ring, a man in a pink dress shirt; it was very difficult (as you can tell from my cellphone images here!) to get good photos as only cellphones were allowed for the crowd to use to take pictures.
The rodeo queen and princess thundered by on their horses, with gorgeous turquoise chaps.
Women rode around the ring with large flapping flags of each local advertiser.
Could she possibly be more badass?!
Then a woman came out — of course — riding atop two racing horses at once. Then jumped through flames.
The winner! photo: Jose R. Lopez
The barrel racing was my absolute favorite, with women competing to gallop into the ring, round three large barrels at top speed without knocking one over (a loss of five points for each accident) and gallop back out; the fastest, of course, was a 10-year-old girl who did it in barely 17 seconds.
It was so much fun!
It began at 7:00 pm and was done about 8:30 as all the kids went next door to the visiting carnival to enjoy the small Ferris wheel and other rides.
There were corn dogs and tacos and soft-serve ice cream and (!) deep-fried Twinkies and we had a great chat with a woman who — of course — had lived in Toronto when I did, and a woman named Stephanie, wearing layers and layers of spectacular Navajo jewelry (some of which she was selling), who had hoped to barrel race her horse, Teller (she showed us his picture on her cellphone) but registered too late. She was, for sure, in her 50s, maybe beyond.
There were little boys in chaps, old men in cowboy hats, women in mini-skirts and weathered cowboy boots. The sun set over the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the sky became a watercolor wash of violet.
Welcome to hell — and Augie, a horse with, for the moment, nowhere safe to go. But read on…
All images in this post — NO REPOSTING! — courtesy of photographer PeterDaSilva.
By Caitlin Kelly
As anyone watching the news knows, parts of California have been devastated by wildfires, causing thousands to flee their homes and, so far, 71 to lose their lives — with more than 1,000 people missing — the state’s deadliest fire in 17 years.
First responders and firefighters are helping residents flee to safety.
Including many pets and animals.
Members of the UC Davis Veterinary Emergency Response Team, Ashley Nola (left) and Catherine McFarren (right), tend to burns on a dog that was brought in to the Butte County Fair Grounds where large animals are being sheltered during the Camp Fire, as it continues to burn through the region, fueled by high winds in Butte County, California.
Redding policemen who promise to return, found a trailer to rescue Augie the horse after his owner had to leave him in a shopping center parking lot, as fire grew closer and she had to leave him since she had no way to get him out as the Camp Fire burned out of control through Paradise, California.
But so are some amazing journalists, one of them a dear friend, San Francisco-based photographer Peter daSilva, who I first met in 2012 when we worked on a New York Times story about Google together. He is a kind, gentle, meticulous professional.
I’m honored that Peter has allowed me to share his story here of helping a fleeing California woman save her beloved horse —– he’s been inundated with media requests, almost all of which he’s refused— but said I could tell it here, and to include his images, all of which were shot on assignment for the European Press Agency.
With his permission, I’ve reprinted the story (slightly edited) from his own Facebook page:
To Hilary Johnson and Augie of Paradise, Calif.- I just wanted to let you know that the three Redding law enforcement officers and myself kept our promise.
I met Hillary and Augie in a shopping center parking lot on the afternoon of Nov. 8th. She had just escaped the flames of the fire that burned through Paradise, CA with just the clothes on her back, riding Augie to a safe place.
Hillary lost her home and everything to the fire.
As she stood watching the impending movement of the fire with other residents of Paradise, law enforcement were encouraging all of us to leave, as the flames were just burning across the street.
While standing in the lot, Hillary in tears walked passed me. I stopped her to ask what was going on.
She had made the decision to set Augie free since there was no transport for him and she could not just leave him tied up in the lot.
As concern grew, three Redding officers who had rescued dogs left behind in abandoned homes talked her out of this decision. They were not going to let this happen…as instantly a brain storming session started on how to get Augie a ride. Aided with the help of locals, they were directed to a U-Haul location where they might be able to commandeer a trailer.
So off they went, setting off on a quest to save Augie.
So Hillary said her good byes, Can’t tell you how hard it was to watch that.
And yes I kept my camera at my side.
I promised her that I would stay as long as I could, to then cut Augie loose before the fire took over the area, as she and the other residents prepared to drive off to safety, with Augie tied to a shopping cart cage moved to a opening in the lot.
So there we were, Augie and I, standing in a parking lot ALONE with flames visible in the near distance, smoke turning day into night. Hoping for the officers to have found a trailer.
Funny what goes through your mind when you’re standing with a horse with hell surrounding you…
I put a blinking red LED light I use during protests on him, so he could be seen in the darkness of the choking smoke, if I did let him run.
Smoke continued to thickened darken the skies, when a truck with a utility trailer drove near — those three Redding officers!
With smiles on their faces, seeing we were still there. They spent no time getting the trailer opened. It took a little bit of coaxing to get him in to the trailer. About 5-10 minutes. Augie was amazingly calm and did what he needed to do.
Now it was time to leave, with three trucks, one with a utility trailer and myself. We convoyed through fire-lined streets of Paradise where I left them to continue to safety as I went back to work.
I have no idea if Hillary was reunited with him.
But I know I did the right thing.
Then the great news!
Hillary and Augie have been reunited!
Law enforcement officers from Redding were able to contact Hillary shortly after rescuing Augie, now being cared for at a ranch near Gridley.
Hillary is OK, banged up from a fall she took with Augie as they navigated four miles of fireand others fleeing, which spooked Augie the whole way from their home to the parking lot. She told me that she was sleeping in the back of a pickup truck somewhere in Chico.
First, I want to thank the true heroes…the first responders, firefighters and law enforcement officers from all over the state who put their lives on the line to save the residents, their animals, property and to protect what is left of the greater Paradise area.
I’m honored that you think I’m a hero, but it’s them you should honor.
As a member of the Press, not the “enemy of the people”. I and fellow colleagues bring you the information of what is happening in and around the fire area, the voices of your community when you are not there to witness it yourselves.
Please remember, we understand your heartbreak and sorrow, sometimes we are victims of these tragic events themselves, and that includes the first responders who are also affected by the loss of homes and lives. And they still have to continue doing our jobs.
We are all human when it comes down to it.
Sorry we ask hard questions and make images in seemingly the worst moments of your lives. We are your eyes and ears when you can’t be there. So please bear with us.
I can’t speak for my colleagues, but every time I cover events like this, it changes me. Sometimes for the better and some time for the worst. Just glad I can share my experiences through outlets that inform the world for the better of all mankind.
I just adhered to my personal moral obligation, to comfort a stranded new friend — it was not heroic.
I’m still working, doing 12-14 hour days covering the fire, working in the communication dead zone of the fire area most of the day. And then commuting back and forth to Sacramento for the night since all the available rooms are taken up by the displaced residents.
Augie and other animals are being taken care of, but their loved ones who care for them on a daily bases are VERY much in need too.
If you do care and want to be part of this moment, find an organization and donate to help the survivors of this tragic event.
Imagine being 13 — and wanting to do something that only men have ever done.
Imagine having to climb a terrifyingly steep cliff to capture an eaglet from its nest.
Imagine living in a landscape of such beauty it defies description.
A new documentary, The Eagle Huntress, must be one of the most beautiful films you’ll ever see, filmed in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia and focused on Aisholpan, a young girl — who daubs her nails with purple polish, who lugs cans of fresh milk from her family’s cows, who lives five nights a week in a dormitory at her school.
Her grandfather and father have long been champion golden eagle-hunters, a sport that requires each hunter to find, capture and train a young eagle to hunt on command. An annual competition, complete with scorecards and stopwatch-wielding judges, determines who gets bragging rights as the best. The event draws men of all ages, and she is the only female.
Imagine the pressure!
Aisholpan is a joy to watch, everything you’d expect of a 13-year-old — and much more. She’s calm, determined, easy-going and brave.
No Ipads or cellphones for her; technology for these ger-dwelling nomads consists of a transistor radio and a portable solar panel.
Her quest to find, train and work with her eagle makes a terrific story, and an unlikely but likeable young heroine, with many obstacles along the way. While the film’s main focus is on the annual competition, it also shows her and her father trudging for miles in bitter cold and through snow so deep their rugged horses struggle to move, determined to have her eagle hunt, capture and kill a fox.
The cinematography is astounding, using everything from a GoPro to drones.
I’ve been wanting to visit Mongolia for years, ever since I did some film research on it. Now I’m even more curious.
Sometimes, as a journalist, I get to write a story I know is going to help a lot of people.
This is one.
I discovered the story when I recently read a friend’s status update on Facebook; their beloved terrier had almost died of heatstroke. Not, as everyone knows now, locked inside a car.
Out walking, or hiking, or running.
The world is hotter than ever; temperatures today in California are up to 105 Fahrenheit.
And our dogs want to keep us happy — they won’t stop running, even panting so hard they might burst — until they’re in very rough condition. By then it can be too late, and they’re already in organ failure, sometimes soon to die.
Dogs are dying of heatstroke. The symptoms are easy to miss.
While no statistics are available on the number of dogs that are injured or die from heatstroke, vets agree that paying careful attention to your dog’s behavior while exercising with them outdoors, especially in high heat and humidity, is essential.
Unlike humans, who sweat and cool down as the sweat evaporates, dogs shed excessive body heat primarily through their mouths.
“The main way that dogs lose heat is through evaporation through their tongues and their respiratory tract,” said Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the animal behavior clinic and a professor of veterinary medicine at Tufts University. “If it’s hot and humid outside, that really limits the dog’s ability to lose heat by its primary mechanism. Then if you add running in the heat and humidity on top of that, between the temperature gradient, humidity and the heat they’re generating as they run, they end up having more heat inside than they can lose.”
As a dog’s body temperature rises to dangerous levels, though, the signs can be easy to miss, he warned. Its temperature can “suddenly take off,” rising rapidly to 105, at which point multiple organs are rapidly failing.
Jose and I don’t have a dog at the moment, but if and when we do, we’ll be much wiser about worrisome signs of heatstroke.
I assume many of you have already seen this amazing video of a seal climbing onto a surfboard in England?
If not, spare 2:04 minutes of your life for a lovely, charming reminder of something we often forget — we’re just another species.
I’m writing this on our top-floor balcony, listening to the wind in the trees and the buzzing of passing bumblebees. Birds twitter. One recent evening, at 2:40 a.m. we bolted awake to the howling of a pack of coyotes.
But we live 25 miles north of New York City, able to see the city’s skyscrapers from our street, not some Montana ranch!
Our planters are bursting with flowers and our woods are filled with deer, raccoon, squirrels, chipmunks.
I fear for our planet when so many children and teens are suffering from nature deficit disorder, because you can’t fight for legislation and other protective behaviors if “nature” remains something you’ve only seen or heard mediated through a glass screen.
You have to feel it, taste it, touch it, know it. We all need intimate, consistent, ongoing connections to the natural world, not just simulacra or a packaged bit of it in plastic at the grocery store.
I’m grateful for having spent my childhood and teen summers in the wild of northern Ontario at summer camp and on multi-day canoe trips. I love a loon call, the peel of a birch tree, the striations of granite.
We are still, as homo sapiens, only one of millions of other species in our world, some furry, some feathered, some scaled, some noisy and some mostly (to our ears anyway) silent.
A few years ago, a red-tailed hawk landed on our 6th floor balcony railing, which is only 12 feet wide. He stared at me silently, and I felt like prey. Having written about raptors, I know they can see for many miles. I wondered what he saw when he gazed into my eyes.
We don’t have any pets, so any encounter with a (non-threatening!) animal or bird is a real joy for me — especially horses and dogs; I’m the person who always stops to say hello and pat other people’s dogs (with permission.)
My young friend Molly recently fell off an elephant into the Mekong River.
I don’t envy the fall, or her ruined camera and lens, but elephants are my favorite animals of all. I rode on one myself in Thailand, sitting on his neck, and dreamed of a second career as a mahout.
The first thing I did upon my return from a working week in Nicaragua — the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti?
I took a long, deep, hot bath. In our time there, we only encountered heated water once, in the Best Western Hotel in Managua.
It was the first of multiple culture shocks…
The morning after my return to suburban New York, I got into our 12-year-old Subaru and drove; I hadn’t driven once, as we had drivers there, or took taxis in Managua.
The road at home was smooth and paved. I had never thought to question, or appreciate, that.
Our old car started smoothly. That, too. Here’s a push, in 98 degree noon-time heat:
I drove quickly and easily to my destination, with no bumps or potholes to dodge.
Here, I travel by foot, public transit or car. The bus ride from Bilwi — a 90-minute flight by Cessna — takes 24 hours.
Here’s the dugout canoe in which we crossed the river to watch Linda work her fields.
Here, I walked into a white tiled bathroom, with metal stall walls; this is the toilet at Linda’s home in the countryside.
Normal work for me, and many of you, means sitting at a desk, indoors. Here’s our photographer Rodrigo Cruz working in the Wawa River:
I got into the elevator at my destination this week to ride up five floors — I hadn’t used an escalator or elevator in a week; most Bilwi buildings were made of wood, and two storeys high at most.
The streets here in New York have no animals on them, unless they’re road kill; on our final morning in Bilwi, a brown horse ambled past our hotel, riderless, unaccompanied. At Linda’s house in the countryside, we were always surrounded by them: a gobbling turkey, a contented, muddy pig, a flock of cheeping chicks, the Brahmin cow who wandered over to the well at sunset and kept me company while I bathed — and many piles of fresh dung!
We saw very thin dogs everywhere, but only two cats. Life without the companionship of animals feels lonely!
Buildings and houses here in New York are black or white or gray or brown, a sea of blandness. The houses we saw, everywhere, in Bilwi and the countryside of RAAN were painted in glorious colors: turquoise, emerald green, fuchsia, brilliant yellow, often using wood cut into patterns or laid on the diagonal for visual interest on a verandah. Beauty relies on imagination, some tools and a can of paint.
Instead of breakfast alone at my dining table, we ate together from containers on our laps. Here’s a typical lunch:
Here are Joshua, WaterAid’s country director, Jennifer Barbour and Alanna on Linda’s porch; she has a separate building next to her sleeping quarters for the kitchen.
Here’s Linda’s (typical) stove/oven:
Because it is still winter here in New York, the landscape is dull — still brown and sterile. The morning we left Bilwi, the town on the Atlantic coast we stayed in, brilliant red hibiscus glowed in the morning sun, as did wide, green palm fronds and lilac bougainvillea. Pale yellow butterflies flitted past us.
The tropical rain forest glows green with towering banana and coconut palms and curved, feathery bamboo. It felt like walking into a painting by Henri Rousseau.
On our final night in Bilwi, the team went out to a disco, where men and women — 80 percent of whom live with no running water in their homes — arrived in stilettos and make-up and sequined tank tops. As we stood on the sidewalk afterward, a young man, clearly high and ill, drooled and begged and dropped to the pavement to caress Joshua’s shoes. The national police, rifles slung over their shoulders, cruised past us in a black pick-up truck.
My breakfast blueberrries in New York came from (!) Chile. One afternoon our rural RAAN hosts chopped open some coconuts from their tree with a machete — fresh juice and meat!
Our view here is of other buildings and the Hudson River. Here’s the view from Linda’s home.
We ate lunch in Managua in an upscale cafe, its prices marked in U.S. dollars, ordering food common in the U.S. — panini and cappuccinos. After a steady diet of Nicaraguan food: rice, beans, plantains, fish, a bit of meat — no green vegetables and very little fruit — it was disorienting. There was a case filled with cupcakes and cheesecake and cookies; no restaurant we had been to, in a poor town, had ever offered dessert or sweets on the menu. I’d never considered fruit, vegetables or sweetened foods a luxury or oddity. They are, for many people.
At home I work alone, all day every day. Here are Dixie, our translator (in the hammock) and Laxi, WaterAid’s community liaison, on Linda’s porch in the village we visited. Working with a dedicated and easy-going team is a blessing.
As we canoed the Wawa River in a dugout, we sat on seats freshly-hacked from a piece of bamboo by Ailita’s machete. How refreshing to watch her casually, quickly — and generously! — make it herself. That sort of self-sufficiency is something so many of us now lack.
Every day, The New York Times — even as it runs front-page stories about poverty or income equality — runs ads from luxury purveyors like Chanel ($1,500 shoes) or Tiffany or Seaman Schepps, an old-money jeweler; recently offering a gold bracelet at $18,750.
That’s eighteen years’ of an average Nicaraguan’s annual income.