Wednesday, December 23, 2009

IF EVEN THE POPE "GETS IT?"

The day after Warren Buffett bought BNSF railroad, a little line of grain cars with one locomotive stopped at the Valier rail line spur to load up and left itself parked across the highway for minutes. Bad planning: long train, busy grain-shipping season.

Last week I went to Shelby, a major BNSF rail/truck shipping transfer yard, and was blocked again because I didn’t use the town’s bridge over the tracks. I could have but I like to watch the trains. This one was long and entirely truck trailers stacked two high. There were very few marked Hanjin, which usually dominates the trains, because this train was coming from the East and the Hanjin traffic crosses the Pacific, coming towards the East.

In the news: Buffett and a staff of about 20 people in Omaha oversee a collection of Berkshire operating companies that employ more than 200,000 and sell goods and services including energy, candy, clothing and luxury flights. Burlington Northern brings Berkshire another 40,000 workers, and Mr. Buffett said the takeover won't have an effect on employment.

"We've got 20 people in Omaha, and there isn't one of them that knows how to run a railroad," Mr. Buffett said. "You'll be running the railroad, and you'll run it in an efficient way, and when times are good, you're going to have more people employed than when times are bad."



Brian Kahn
, who runs a Yellowstone Public Radio program as well as Artemis Common Ground, this week interviewed Daniel Finn, St. John's Professor of Theology and Economics, discussing Pope Benedict's recent encyclical, which calls for major restructuring of the global economy to "achieve justice." This was new info for Kahn and me, too. You can listen to it at:
http://www.yellowstonepublicradio.org/programs/local/home_ground.html


One of the remarks Finn made was that in Europe it is often assumed that the employees of a major corporation will sit at the table with the board of investors and managers. This is a shocking idea for the democracy of America, which is often stuck in a model some brought from England in the 19th century, which had defied the Pope and invested in prosperity as a marker of God’s approval. See Finn’s credentials at http://www.csbsju.edu/sot/facultystaff/finn.htm He received his Ph.D. at the U of Chicago the year before I arrived in 1978, so I feel confident that Jim Gustafson and David Tracy, both strongly humanistic men working within the Catholic context, were major influences on him. I also want to mark that St. John’s is Benedictine, a place where the arts are loved. The best religious thought has always been humanist: what is good for human beings, acting on this planet for the greater good of all including nature. There is a long tradition of this INSIDE the Catholic history. We’d be fools to reject it.

The advice I keep seeing in essays and hearing in radio talks is that the crying need over the next decade will be in the twofold character of management: first, the motivating and guidance of employees and second, logistics, the getting and scheduling of things and events. The two main models we’ve be following have been athletic and military, with a lot of overlap. They make very little room for humanities patterns for management. What does that mean?

Both the athletic and military models are based on the assumption of adversarial relations outside the group and strict control inside the group. They are also based on force and hierarchy as well as strategy, often secret strategies. But the most crucial strategy is not that on the battlefield: it is logistics. The general that outruns his supply lines has lost his army. No boots, no food, no fight. Warren Buffett knows this and that’s why he bought a railroad as well as empowering the workers. Aside from motivating workers, including them means far better logistics.

What might be humanistic management strategies? I would point to transparency: understanding what is going on and the necessity for ordinary stuff like schedules and inventories and bookkeeping. I would point to the honoring of those who do the small jobs -- as they say in the theatre, there are no small parts, only “small” actors. Yet after a generation that drove their kids to be big and important, white collar, heads of companies, major players, and that had few kids so they could put them all through good colleges and grad schools “so they won’t have to work as hard as I did,” we’ve come to a place where we have to either outsource work or import workers to get things done. That means not just being able to speak a language besides English, but also learning a kind of meta-culture, an ability to look at human basics beyond what is conventional in the local place, the taken-for-granted community.

Nationally Obama is doing this, but it scares the wits out of people who don’t know how to get to that level of thought. They are still way back there, stuck in the belief that anyone not just like them is not even American. Locally, Valier’s town council is young (from my point of view) men whose success has come from the hard and often stubborn work they learned to do in high school, usually on athletic teams. They are about to meet their new mayor, a woman from “outside” who has been in the corporate world and who considers herself a poet. I will be fascinated and take a lot of notes.

The major problem of this area in the coming years will be the management of diminishing water resources. In the past the water has gone the same way as the management of Blackfeet trust funds: with a big white thumb in the pie. The law is there, was there all along. The problem will be managing the transition from thumb-in to thumb-out, which will hurt a lot of people. The more all parties involved can keep their goals clear and reasonable, the more they can mix practicality with idealism, the less damage and desperation there will be. I worry about a town that resented learning Blackfeet history because “it has nothing to do with us.” But I also worry about a tribe run by resentment and entitlement. Both sides are largely Catholic. That might be an unexpected plus, if the priests are on board with their Pope.

Monday, August 20, 2007

BARRY LOPEZ' WRITING ADVICE

BARRY SAYS:

Once I was asked by a seatmate on a trans-Pacific flight, a man who took the liberty of glancing repeatedly at the correspondence in my lap, what instruction he should give his fifteen-year-old daughter, who wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know how to answer him, but before I could think I heard myself saying, “Tell your daughter three things.” Tell her to read, I said. Tell her to read whatever interests her, and protect her if someone declares what she’s reading to be trash. No one can fathom what happens between a human being and a written language. She may be paying attention to things in the words beyond anyone else’s comprehension, things that feed her curiosity, her singular heart and mind. Tell her to read classics like The Odyssey. They’ve been around a long time because the patterns in them have proved endlessly useful.

Second, I said, tell your daughter that she can learn a great deal about writing by reading and by studying books about grammar and the organization of ideas, but that if she wishes to write well she will have to become someone. She will have to discover her beliefs, and then speak to us from within those beliefs. If her prose doesn’t come out of her belief, whatever that proves to be, she will only be passing along information, of which we are in no great need. So help her discover what she means.

Finally, I said, tell your daughter to get out of town, and help her do that. I don’t necessarily mean to travel to Kazakhstan, but to learn another language, to live with people other than her own, to separate herself from the familiar. Then, when she returns, she will be better able to understand why she loves the familiar, and will give us a fresh sense of how fortunate we are to share these things.

Read. Find out what you truly believe. Get away from the familiar. Every writer, I told him, will offer you thoughts about writing that are different, but these are three that I trust.


Barry Lopez, quoted by Robert Macfarlane, via The Book Depository
Then quoted by Fretmarks.blogspot.com.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

WORKING WITH PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES

WAYS OF WORKING WITH PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES:

1. Mark off prepositional phrases in sentences.

In the morning we go on the bus to the tournament playoffs in Great Falls.

2. Finish prepositional phrases where the preposition is there but the object must be supplied.

After last night’s ______________.

3. Finish prepositional phrases where the object is there but the preposition must be supplied.

____________the last half

4. Identify which question the prepositional phrase answers and thus whether it is an adverb or adjective phrase.

The cattle on the range (WHERE) drifted before the blizzard (also WHERE). 2 phrases, so two questions:

__________________ _________________

5. Supply the question and ask for a prepositional phrase that answers it:

Where?___________________

What color?_________________


6. Make up nonsense words for objects:

between the long green ______________

7. This gets harder: mix a list of prepositional phrases with NOT prepositional phrases and cross out all those that are not.

taking a break
on the grand piano
to be
after we get there

8. I’ve never tried mixing Spanish or French prepositional phrases with English ones, but I expect it is possible and might be useful. But it would be impossible with Blackfeet because the modifier would be added as a particle of the word.

GRAMMAR - MODIFIERS

Once a person can dependably identify the noun-verb combination in a sentence (noting as an aside that a verb can be a sentence all by itself -- as in a command -- but a noun, not so much) then attention turns to the modifications to that central “hinge” or “engine.” It’s still important to know a wide range of nouns and verbs with specific connotations and associations, in particular the verbs, but much of the essence of style and clarity is in the modifiers.

MEMORIZE THE FOLLOWING:

Modifiers of nouns answer the questions:
What kind?
What size?
Which one?
http://www.esldepot.com/product.php/14/5/How many?
Whose?

Modifiers of verbs answer the questions:
Where?
How much or to what degree?
When?
In what manner?


Almost more importantly, in English one-word (adjective) modifiers of nouns always have to come just in front of the noun they modify. It’s the opposite in romance languages like French or Spanish -- they give you the big concept and then modify it with the adjectives: “house -- big, white, porched, and dirty.” In English one must keep all the adjectives in mind until coming to the noun: “a big, white, dirty, porched dog.”

One-word adverbs can come almost anywhere and it is often by moving the adverb around that one can improve clarity. It helps to think in terms of what the reader needs to know first.
“Lately I’ve felt lazy.”
“I’ve felt lazy lately.”
“I’ve lately felt lazy.”
“I’ve felt lately lazy.”

Some of these arrangements have a kind of arcane feeling, some emphasize the laziness and others seem to say it’s not usual.

The next step is that prepositional phrases can be either adjectives or adverbs. Adjective prepositional phrases always come AFTER the noun they modify, but again the adverb prepositional phrases can go anywhere. They answer the same questions as one-word modifiers.
“In the morning we’ll go.”
“We’ll go in the morning.”
“We will in the morning go.”

Breaking a verb phrase by putting a modifier in the middle of it (the verb here being “will go”) is usually a no-no, but can be right if it’s meant to give emphasis or to track a speaker’s train of thought.

So now one has to stop and learn by heart the prepositions, because a prepostional phrase is a set of words that always begins with a preposition and ends with a noun. There might or might not be modifiers ahead of this noun. My position when teaching high school was always that a preposition without a noun is an adverb, so I suppose one could maintain the reverse: that a preposition is an adverb with an object.

in, into, to, by, for, at, up, upon, of, off, above, beside, beneath, before, around, down, beyond, past, between, behind ... I can’t say these automatically anymore. Maybe part of the reason is that once one grasps the concept of a prepositional phrase, they stick out of the sentence as a whole. In my classroom I used to have a poster of pigs trying to climb in, into, to, by, around, down, beyond . . . You get the idea. Prepositional pigs.

http://www.englishclub.com/grammar/ At this website you can BUY a list of:

# 150 English prepositions including

* 94 one-word prepositions
* 56 complex prepositions

Or look in your grammar text. Maybe someone who took English from Agnes Carter in Portland, Oregon, in the Fifties will read this and send her list. If anyone else has a good list, feel free to put them in the comments.

One of the most helpful exercises for beginning grammarians is to mark off the prepositional phrases by coloring or bracketing or underlining. In fact, with modern fiber tips, I think it’s very useful to use assigned colors to the parts of speech and regularly mark up sentences on printed out worksheets. I’ll post some on merryscribbler.blogspot.com. It’s useful to take sentences out of books or even to write down sentences heard on the radio and mark them up. There’s one NPR news person who drives me crazy because she’s in the habit of asking a question, then adding to the original sentence one prepositional phrase after another -- the listener can’t tell when the question is going to end. “Mr. X, did you enjoy going to this country in this season by yourself in a Land Rover with a contract for a book from a noted New York publisher for the third time?”

As a rule of style, if one values the concise, one should press towards reducing prepositional phrases to one-word modifiers and modifiers to vivid nouns or verbs.
“The horse went along the trail with its inclines.” or

“Along the trail with its inclines the horse went.” (The horse doesn’t have inclines so the prepositional phrase has to go with the trail.)
“The horse went along the steep trail.” or

“Along the steep trail the horse went.” Not so tricky since there is only one prepositional phrase to move.

“The horse scrambled.”
Note that the differences are in feeling tone more than in meaning. One can play with ambiguity this way -- more or less? Which serves the purpose?

This kind of grammar thinking is a lot more fun and a lot more useful than categorizing words according to some Latinate system.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

THREE THINGS MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN SAGGING BOOKSHELVES



Having a cat in the "in" box is a very good idea. She will keep the papers from blowing around and also keep them warm. If a nearby lamp is on, she will appreciate THAT heat and stay there! This is "Killer" who was indeed a formidable hunter. This desk was in the teacherage in Heart Butte, a remote foothills village on the Blackfeet Reservation, 1989-91. The view out the big window over this desk was of the town a couple of miles away, but a lot of bull pines grew along the bluff just outside. One quiet afternoon I went out with a saw and made a hole in the bull pine branches so I could look at the town and on past into the infinity of the prairie. Killer was more interested in the nearby grasses which sheltered a lot of voles (like big mice with very short tails).



This is the opposite wall where I stacked orange crates (remember them?) to shelve my overflow books. These orange crates started being bookshelves in the late Forties when my father used them in our basement in Portland for his accumulating paperbacks. (We had orders NEVER to let the fire department come in the house. In those days they came to inspect for fire hazards.) The little rectangles cut in the top boxes were made by me when I used the still empty boxes for dollhouses. My hands were just large and strong enough to saw the holes with a coping saw. When I finally gave up hauling these orange crates around, I nearly wept. The inheritor welcomed them gleefully!




This is the SW corner of my present front room in Valier, which is about thirty miles from Heart Butte but farther out on the prairie. I've been here since 1999. This cat can't get into the "in box" because there is too much stuff in it. You might recognize the chair she's sleeping in. She is what I call a "confetti calico," but most people would call her a tortoiseshell. The object of beauty here is meant to be my red desk, which is oak and comes apart into sections that are still so heavy that I can barely pick them up. Bob bought it for me so I could do paperwork in what we called the "Indian Room" of the studio he built. I painted it the color of Stroud cloth, a kind of red wool fabric Hudson's Bay Co. used to sell to the Indians for making things like a beaded horse crupper that hung on the wall.

I use it to display objects rather than to house books and the desk part is my bill-organizing center. I don't have a digital camera or I would make a photo of the objects on display. They include a silver chalice my brother made with garnets inset as though drops of blood, an Inuit stone carving of a narwhale, a chunk of geode with amethyst crystals, a teeny seal made of seal fur, a hot pad for the table made of sweetgrass, birchbark and porcupine quills, an old porcelain doorknob I picked up in the debris of a destroyed house in 1957 on the way to Montana with my parents, a baculite I found fifty miles from here, and the front incisors of a beaver that the dog brought home once in Browning. Other times, other faces. I suppose I was different then. But I like to remember. It helps with my work, since I write.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW HOUSE





There’s a “meme” going around about desktops and books, so I thought I’d throw this in. In 1991 I was fired on trumped-up charges from Heart Butte School.

Though I wanted to stay on the reservation, I couldn’t think what to do. There are very few jobs other than teaching. I had enough money to stick for the summer if I could find a cheap place to stay. It just happened that Don Schmidt stepped forward to rent me this little “mother-in-law” house. It’s actual dimensions were 20 feet by 20 feet -- not one room, but the whole house: front room, bedroom barely big enough for a double bed, a teeny kitchen and even teenier bathroom. I couldn’t fit my belongings into it unless I stored at least half but there were no storage facilities in town. Then the motel owner across the street volunteered to let me store belongings in an unused motel unit. So I was saved for a little while. This town often reaches out this way, quietly providing solutions, but it is the reason one cultivates good will. If they think you are not deserving, they will stand back and watch you sink.

In an earlier incarnation in a studio apartment in Helena, I had bought a great many cardboard file storage boxes and covered them with contact paper. Stacked, they made pretty good furniture. I always set up a surface in front of a window for a cat to sleep on. This cat is “Killer,” a calico I inherited along with its name. In Helena I’d also bought many rough baskets which kept things more or less gathered up.

I had a folding “cavalry table” 4’X4’ and a big sturdy “loom” chair -- most people would call it wicker, but it was actually wire wound with paper and then painted. I bought it out from under a guy in a service station in Cardston, Alberta. He had a companion chair with rockers but wouldn’t sell it. This has been my reading chair for many years. These shelves were plastic and came apart into ends and shelves. I finally gave them to my brother. I always set up a U-shape: computer table on one side, typing table on the other (in those days -- now it’s my references), and a big folding table in the middle.

A few people will recognize the first computer I ever owned: a LISA, the earliest of the Apple/Macintosh sequence. When I couldn’t find a job and had to move to my mother’s house in Portland, my childhood home, the only 3-prong plug she had was in her laundry corner in the basement. I sat down there and pounded out one document after another on that LISA. It wasn’t until I finally found a job (a terrible one working for the City of Portland) that I moved into another studio apartment and connected to the Internet.

Sixteen years and several computers have passed since I spent three months in that teeny house. It was so small that one had to come out of the bathroom into the kitchen to dry off after a shower -- there wasn’t enough room to manage the towel otherwise. I had only the barest minimum of belongings. Yet I was quite comfortable there and sometimes I still think about the place.

This house in Valier has some of the same qualities, though it is bigger. Here I have five permanent working centers set up with a mug of pencils, scissors, staple pullers, a Flair fibertip, various pens and high-lighters, a small ruler, a comb (for shedding cats), a nail file; plus a coaster for coffee cups; a small clock. I’m working on an eMac now. My bookshelves are to the ceiling and are wooden. My file cabinets are metal: ten of them. There are two cats and more windows, all with surfaces for a cat.

But when I start to work, all that disappears and my very much bigger and more complex mental interior unfolds. This reassures me when I think of very old age when I might have to live in a tiny studio apartment again. When it’s warm enough to go out on folding tables in the garage/studio, I’ll begin to empty those files into the wood stove. I’m still keeping an eye out for a rocking chair.

Monday, February 12, 2007

JIM HARRISON PARAGRAPH

The New York Times Book Review that reached me today has Jim Harrison on the cover and a review of “Returning to Earth,” a meditation on dying.

In the column about “best sellers,” the columnist recovers a paragraph from a review Harrison did in 1972, which the columnist considers brilliant, “a strange masterpiece, practically a prose poem.” (The review is of Barry Hannah’s first novel, “Geronimo Rex,” which the columnist considers a “wild man on wild man pairing.” Harrison loved the Hannah novel.)

You might look at the world of the first novel as a gunny-sack race in the gathering twilight at a county fair, a festival that is on the verge of obsolescence anyhow. It is very hot and dusty even in the lengthening shadows of the grandstand (capacity 300). One can smell the lime in the toilets underneath and hear the bawling of the cattle in the stock barns. A mixed group of 50 have entered the race this year. The prize is a warm watermelon that someone has deftly entered with a razor blade and filled with a coral snake wrapped around an eyeball and a tumor. This is all plainly not as healthy as summer camp or the 4-H.”

Surrealism, eh? A poisonous gothic next-to-last image and then the sarcasm about summer camp and the 4-H, as if to say, “I suppose all you middle western fair-goers thought that was the world. Well, what do you think of a garish desert snake? What do you think of staring at everything honestly -- even cancer? (Which was systematically denied for many years when “proper people” didn’t discuss cancer anymore than they discussed sex -- particularly when they themselves had either.) Summer camp and 4-H are part of the same world as the county fair -- innocent sack races, pit toilets carefully limed, cows.

What about that “entered” and then “entered?” Should someone have edited that? Was it a mistake? Two kinds/meanings of entered? (A sexual overtone there, maybe? Snakes as the male euphemism. I suppose even “warm watermelons” -- sometimes violated by snaky males -- full of danger.)

I don’t know the novel, so there’s no way to say whether the review is doing it justice, but it’s interesting to see what the columnist thinks is “a strange masterpiece, practically a prose poem.” These days reviewers seem to put a high value on shock, surprise, the breaking open of kinder-gentler worlds.

You might look at the world of the first novel as a gunny-sack race in the gathering twilight at a county fair, a festival that is on the verge of obsolescence anyhow.

Direct address to the reader: you might do this thing: “look.” Then a string of prepositional phrases:
at the world
of the first novel
as a gunny-sack race
in the gathering twilight
at a county fair


now an appositive with a subordinate phrase full of more prepositional phrases:
on the verge
of obsolescence

and the adverb “anyhow.”

It is very hot and dusty even in the lengthening shadows of the grandstand (capacity 300).
Specifying the capacity instead of saying this is a small event in a small place.

One can smell the lime in the toilets underneath and hear the bawling of the cattle in the stock barns.
Basic sensory information that establishes this is in the past (pit toilets, well-limed which means attended to) and rural.

A mixed group of 50 have entered the race this year.
People? Horses? Lot of entries for a race, which are usually sorted, not mixed. Sounds more like a melee than a proper race.

The prize is a warm watermelon that someone has deftly entered with a razor blade and filled with a coral snake wrapped around an eyeball and a tumor. This is all plainly not as healthy as summer camp or the 4-H.

Shock, surrealism, and sarcasm.

I don’t think a person often writes this kind of paragraph by consciously planning, “Oh, I’ll list a lot of images, then throw in some ambiguity and at the end shock everyone. But that might be a sort of pattern that develops if a person writes a lot. It would be interesting to look for just this sequence in more of Harrison’s writing. And in Hannah’s, too, of course.

But it doesn’t strike me as “wild man.” That columnist must lead a sheltered life.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A DOIG PARAGRAPH ("Bucking the Sun, p.26)

The Missouri River had maundered through enough of Charlene’s life already. Her father had been the barber in the little riverside town of Toston, a place with none too many male heads to start with, and those there were in the habit of a haircut only about every sixth Saturday night. Her mother passed her days trying to pretend there was eough clientele among Toston’s females, even fewer and more set in their hairdo habits, to justify her beauty parlor in a partitioned-off area of the barber shop. Both of these scissor merchants devoted their spare time, a nearly unlimited amount, to trying to catch every fish in the Missouri River. In short, with these parents who had about as much enterprise as pigeons, Charlene Tebbet spent her Missouri River girlhood sweeping up hair and raising herself and her younger sister, Rosellen.

The Missouri was only twenty miles old at Toston but already five hundred feet wide and so implacably smooth you knew it had to be deep, drownable deep. When the Tebbet sisters played along the riverbank, beneath the flight paths of fish hawks and just above the swim zones of muskrats, Charlene simply assumed that the responsibility for not falling in was hers, for both of them. Not that Rosellen was a careless or reckless child, but she could be mischievous enough that Charlene felt obliged to order her around for her own good. Rosellen took the bossing without open warfare over it, but by the time Charlene packed up for a store job in Bozeman and Rosellen was about to start high school, they both knew that the older-sister superintendence had run its course.

...I haven’t had a line from Rosellen since Christmas, the little rip. Will write her anyway as soon as I finish this.


These three paragraphs are as good as any to illustrate the idea that though Doig is often consciously poetic, he is essentially a journalist imparting information. And since he often tells it “cute,” sometimes the imparting thickens the information to the brink of excess.

The Missouri River had maundered through enough of Charlene’s life already. (Charlene had grown up on the Missouri but wasn’t attached to it. Maunder: To move dreamily or idly.)

Her father had been the barber in the little riverside town of Toston, a place with none too many male heads to start with, and those there were in the habit of a haircut only about every sixth Saturday night. Her mother passed her days trying to pretend there was eough clientele among Toston’s females, even fewer and more set in their hairdo habits, to justify her beauty parlor in a partitioned-off area of the barber shop. (Sounds like the parents are dreamy and idle as well. Parents=river? Why not just say they were? Well, the word is “show, don’t tell,” isn’t it? But this is not a word picture of a barber shop/beauty parlor with a “gone fishing” sign in the window.)

Both of these scissor merchants devoted their spare time, a nearly unlimited amount, to trying to catch every fish in the Missouri River. (“Scissor merchant,” “an unlimited amount” of spare time, and “catching every fish in the Missouri River” are the kind of joking talk of many small town people, at least in Doig’s world.)

In short, with these parents who had about as much enterprise as pigeons, Charlene Tebbet spent her Missouri River girlhood sweeping up hair and raising herself and her younger sister, Rosellen. (But this is not “in short.” In fact, this is crucial information as the plot evolves, but it takes a sharp reader with a good memory to register all this. Or one could take notes. Note that “Missouri River” is a phrase repeated four times in two paragraphs.)

The Missouri was only twenty miles old at Toston but already five hundred feet wide and so implacably smooth you knew it had to be deep, drownable deep. (Again, “Missouri" as the first word of the paragraph. Note the slide from length to time: “twenty miles old” which could trip the unaware reader. Implacable: 2 meanings. 1) Impossible to placate and 2) unalterable, inexorable. Of course, the point of the Fort Peck enterprise is to alter the river. The emphasis of “deep, drownable deep” is foreshadowing of what the Fort Peck dam would create.)

When the Tebbet sisters played along the riverbank, beneath the flight paths of fish hawks and just above the swim zones of muskrats, Charlene simply assumed that the responsibility for not falling in was hers, for both of them. (Here’s where the “poetry” comes in: the parallels of “flight paths” and “swim zones” but there is no real connection to the girls. They don’t admire or catch hawks or muskrats. They are natural history touches. One might say the girls themselves have “life paths.” The fact that Charlene feels so responsible is key to the plot.)

Not that Rosellen was a careless or reckless child, but she could be mischievous enough that Charlene felt obliged to order her around for her own good. Rosellen took the bossing without open warfare over it, but by the time Charlene packed up for a store job in Bozeman and Rosellen was about to start high school, they both knew that the older-sister superintendence had run its course. (The issues of “mischief” and “ordering,” “bossing” and “superintendence” are constant themes of the tale, from the defiance of one brother against another, through Darien’s political defiance and sabotage, on up to the military engineering hierarchy to President Roosevelt himself.)

...I haven’t had a line from Rosellen since Christmas, the little rip. Will write her anyway as soon as I finish this. (Underlining the matter of Charlene feeling like the boss but not being in control. Doig is used to writing from real letters which were important sources for “This House of Sky.” They lend reality, authenticity, even when they are made up letters.)

This thick, allusive writing is hard work for many readers, but satisfying for those, like engineers, who have a head for detail, structure, and forces.