The Saga of a Self-Made Man: 'Jack London: An American Life'

Although the highest-paid author in America, with a million books sold, Jack London found himself pitching "crackerjack" serials as "a dog writer" to grab "the biggest public I have".

Jack London: An American Life

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Length: 480 pages
Author: Earle Labor
Price: $30.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2013-10

The subtitle of this book, "An American Life", has been applied by many previous chroniclers of other people's lives, but in Jack London's case, it fits well. Earle Labor has made London's life and work his lifework during the past half-century. Labor introduces a man who roamed not only the Americas but Asia. He set off when only a teenager. Labor corrects London's boasts by corroborating his claims against testimony of his friends and family-- and the historical record.

Sympathetic to London's compassion, energy, and ambition, Labor compiles a sober, smoothly told, careful study which will prove a definitive, comprehensive biography. Labor emphasizes the life far more than any work, so this is not a critical examination of his writing, but a retelling of London's career.

As an early pal saw London, he strove "to be the conqueror". This, Labor argues, was London's greatest asset and his greatest liability. A born tale-teller, he embellished his own family's hardscrabble but never truly impoverished condition. He was raised around the Bay Area, where he was born in 1876 in San Francisco. His putative father denied paternity, and London appears to have been born illegitimate.

He came of age during the settling down of the frontier, and his family tried to farm on and off around the Bay Area without lasting success. Tough times by the 1890s, akin to our own Great Recession, found many conniving employers trying to profit from their own start-ups: the factory system with its increased automation, doubled workloads, and slashed payrolls. London had, in shoveling coal for the electric utility and in running a laundry, twice to do the work of at least two men laid off before he was hired. The first job reduced him to a wreck. After the second such lowly paid and repetitive, dangerous job feeding a machine, he refused to bow to the "work-beast" again.

Instead, he relied on his strength, his determination, and his wits. A voracious reader, he yearned to be a writer, but he failed for a while to get even his imitative hackwork accepted. Nineteen hours a day, he turned into another kind of machine, calculating what the mass-circulation magazines wanted, as improved technology accelerated a cheaply made, illustrated medium, an action-packed short story for busy but "virile" male readers. He finally sold a couple of "yarns" at the age of 21. Most writers at this stage would have little to go on from their experience. London had plenty.

Labor takes us through London's early years, already crammed with possibilities for the later London to draw upon. At 14, he worked in an Oakland cannery. At 15, he was an oyster pirate in the tidewaters and estuaries around his East Bay. At 16 he tramped across America, becoming the hobo's highest rank, the "profesh", before returning back home to sign on as an able-bodied seaman, quite a feat for a 17-year-old. He went off to Japanese waters, gaining the global exposure he would soon put to good use for his stories and reminiscences.

At 18, he joined millions of desperate, destitute men in Gilded Age America marching east to protest at the Capitol, as part of General Kelly's Army of the Unemployed. A grifter with a smile, London could talk up a smooth line to finagle goods and generosity. He stuck it out until the Midwest, where bad weather and wary townsfolk put an end to his schemes. He went on, riding the rails to Niagara Falls. He watched its moonlit vista until midnight. That next morning, arrested for vagrancy, he was sentenced to a harrowing month in Erie State Penitentiary.

Nineteen found him at Oakland High School, cowing his classmates with his "truculent" Socialism and his gruff manner. His curly hair and open-faced good looks undoubtedly improved when he received an upper plate to fill in his missing front teeth, and when he started to brush them for the first time ever. He crammed for admission to the University of California but soon, finances forced him to drop out. After his experience as menial laborer, he vowed to find a better way to make a living.

Then, the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush spurred him and his uncle north to the Yukon. Labor memorably captures the excitement and dread of this hyped event. While we never learn how London eked out his five dollars worth of gold, this is not Labor's concern. He wants us instead to learn how London began to listen, watch, and ponder what he saw all around him. Out of this, soon after, nearly 80 stories would emerge when, finally, he left hard labor behind for a career as a paid writer.

What distinguished London from his contemporaries who had beaten him back to cash in on writing about the Klondike and the Northland, Labor finds, was London's "human interest, romantic imagination, and sympathetic understanding". He gets the silence in, the primitive pull of the landscape, where its woods and animals lurked, and where foolish men fell to the harsh climate. Although late to the rush to get the Yukon down on paper, London's fiction remains in print today.

A popular writer, one whom before Labor chose him for his dissertation in 1961 lacked respect among the professorial establishment, London for Labor represents not only a dynamic, clever hustler, but a man in thrall to his own vitality, however dampened by his weakness for alcohol -- as a teenager, already he had a near-fatal poisoning one night. He scrapped, he connived, and he conned. He watched other men give in to weakness, and among tough guys, he soon got the hang of survival.

London wisely slowed down, somewhat, once he found a publisher. At a thousand words a day, six days a week, by 1900 this "Self-Made Man" was acclaimed as "the American Kipling" with a similar knack for conveying high-minded ambitions in vernacular, jocular terms, and with a commitment to convey on paper the voice and temperament of an observer vowing to remain "original". Both were inspired by Western efforts to colonize and civilize the wild reaches. Yet, London resisted imperialism.

Drawing on his own radical tendencies and encounters on the road of hobo and tramp sailor, London balanced his hard-headed nature to cash in as a professional, stable writer (he was the first to combine his reportage with photography) with his political and social concerns. He ran for Oakland mayor on the Socialist ticket, gaining only 246 votes. As fame beckoned, he tried to remain unpretentious. While his romantic life turned rocky -- on the rebound from his muse and eventual if brief mistress Anna Strunsky, he proposed four days later to another woman, Bessie Maddern -- he gained renown as he was drawn into the inevitable "Crowd" of Bay Area bohemians. His tales earned him success.

The Call of the Wild (1903) remains his best known book; he signed away the rights to Macmillan for $2,000, but on the other hand, he rationalized, that publisher put out many of his lesser-heralded works, to even the accounts. He helped invent, long before Tom Wolfe, the New Journalism ca. 1902 when he went undercover into the slums of London's East End, for The People of the Abyss.

Fighting depression, he channeled the breakup of both his marriage and his affair with Anna into a love story inspired by his Japanese voyage, The Sea-Wolf. He fell in love with Charmian Kittredge, schooled by her aunt in "free love" and unmarried into her thirties, having wooed married lovers herself--and possessing typewriting skills admired by London. A friend of Bessie's during his affair with Anna, Kittredge had earned no attention from London until he made a pass at her when she was packing him food that Bessie had sent her to buy for him, as he was off to the resort of Glen Ellen, where London had sought a shelter from his crumbling marriage. No pushover despite her open-mindedness, she resolved to have an affair on her own terms. Playing London to her advantage, Kittredge came out of their first week with a lifelong lover. "To protect Charmian from suspicion, Jack advised her to stay in touch with Bessie, adhering to her role as confidante." This scandal perhaps bettered any fiction.

Confused by his passion for Kittredge, his guilt over Bessie and their little daughters, and his wanderlust, London went off to cover the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 for the highest bidder, William Randolph Hearst. Deep in Korea after he watched mounted Cossacks charge an old walled city, London learned that due to a blunder at Hearst's Enquirer, Kittredge's letters had been forwarded not to himself but to Bessie. Expelled from the conflict after he decked an insolent Japanese officer's groom who had stolen fodder meant for London's horses, the notoriety boosted his career. Teddy Roosevelt cabled a diplomatic protest to the Japanese, who released London from custody.

Docking in San Francisco, London was served with divorce papers, and a headline in the hometown Chronicle. Bessie on her lawyer's advice in what they thought was a sealed case had chosen to defame Anna rather than Kittredge. A newspaperman gained access to the file and made his scoop.

His relations with Kittredge proved rocky after, but she proved loyal when he did not. London amused his friends by his socialist proclamations when he hired a valet-cook-housekeeper: Manyougi, the same helper who had caught the groom's theft in Japan. Yet, his affection for his companion endured despite his bourgeoisie habits, and his expense account--lessened considerably after Bessie's alimony.

Restless, he wandered on the waters where once he stole oysters, and he toured the lecture circuit, preaching revolution to acclaim in Berkeley and shock in Stockton. One night at Glen Ellen he slept a whole eight hours, double his usual quotient, and he marveled at the difference. In 1905, he moved to the Valley of the Moon, his rural haven, 50 miles north of the Golden Gate: "I found my paradise."

Still, he would be pursued. He needed money to expand his holdings in Sonoma County. On a lecture tour in Illinois he married Charmian only to find out he violated that state's law. The newspapermen circled again, and the negative publicity of one who had abandoned wife and children in retrospect seems to have increased attention for his rabble-rousing, radically leaning lecture tour back East.

The year 1906 found him an eyewitness to the fires after the San Francisco earthquake. Sparked by Jane Addams' Hull House in Chicago and Upton Sinclair's invective against the stockyards, London stirred up a potboiler predicting revolt. Yet The Iron Heel, despite in Labor's terms being London's bravest, if not his best book, met with a tepid reception from the socialist press. However, with the rise of fascism and its communist enemies, his book earned a belated audience.

Sailing the sloop Snark to Hawai'i and the South Pacific, London and Kittredge landed on the Solomon Islands, eluding a volcanic eruption. The couple and their crew suffered malaria, yaws, fevers, and for London, hives and fistulas. Its indentured natives fared worse, in what Labor equates to the Belgian Congo as the "most damning evidence of colonial rapacity". The pair fled a harsh copra plantation, where two of its British overseers soon after were beheaded, and a third succumbed to dysentery.

Back in California, the charm of Beauty Ranch and a custom-built Wolf House provided retreat in Sonoma County. In Carmel, Sinclair Lewis struck up a brief story-swapping deal, while in Los Angeles, amidst "hackwork", London supported anarchists in the Mexican Revolution, and met with agitators Emma Goldman and Lucy Parsons. His stress increased, worsened by a set-up fight he was drawn into, amidst the sorrow of losing his daughter with Kittredge, Joy, after only 36.

More publicity followed. By 35, London was "firmly established as headline copy for every newspaper in the country" and as Labor reminds us, before radio, the press possessed massive influence. London welcomed attention, but he also needed a rest, as his health suffered from the tropics. Inspired by the ranch and his love for Kittredge, he wrote his longest novel, The Valley of the Moon.

At the start of his unlucky year of 1913, he contributed installments of his "Alcoholic Memoirs" to The Saturday Evening Post. Blight, death, shootings plagued the ranch, where Kittredge, after a miscarriage, flirted diligently. A jealous London, recovering from an appendix operation and with kidney ailments, had to mortgage one ranch property to finish Wolf House before winter. Four days later, the new home burned down. Joan, one of London's older daughters with Bessie, sparred with him. His investments failed him, too. By the end of the year, he had $10 as his total bank balance.

He split with the Socialist Party, beginning with the Mexican revolt, affirming a firmer "big brother" in the guise of Uncle Sam was needed to save the nation from "herself". On his ranch, faced with bankruptcy, he had to turn entrepreneur and write to support his family and his beloved retreat. His schemes to lend his name to grape juice and his earnings to plant eucalyptus trees floundered. Although the highest-paid author in America, with a million books sold by Macmillan, he found himself pitching "crackerjack" serials as "a dog writer" to grab "the biggest public I have".

Another Hawaiian cruise and a visit with Wyatt Earp and film director Raoul Walsh in Hollywood followed, but London's system had filled with poisons. His dissolution deepened, his animosity towards his daughters grew, a lawsuit over riparian rights on his ranch consumed him into his last month alive. Ranting, he wrote, faithful to his routine. But his longtime allies began to keep their distance.

Late in 1916, despite or because of a daily diet of duck, he succumbed to uremia. He was buried "beneath a giant lava boulder rejected by the builders of Wolf House". Labor concludes with a nod to the pilgrims who continue to visit the grave, nearly a century after London's death.

Those visitors continue to read London's fiction and journalism. Outside of this circle, for whom Earle compiles this intimately told account, fewer may recall much about this media-savvy author's impact. Labor amasses the details, drawn from reliable sources. While his results may cause the curious to marvel more at London's frenetic pace rather than the more than fifty books he found time to produce, his life remains engrossing.

Perhaps London pioneered the style of the bestselling adventurer and rogue; his lecture tours anticipated the talk shows and book signings accorded his equivalents today. Separating the claims of many previous biographers from the facts, Labor's report of London's vital if too vigorous (given his premature demise) gadabouts tells his own brawny epic.


Spawning Ground

David Antrobus

In this ancient place of giant ferns and cedars, it seems the dead outnumber the living; the living fall away too quietly, too easily, taken away by stealth. There is tremendous natural beauty here, but its hold is tenuous, like moss clinging to rotting bark that will ultimately break and sink into the forest floor.

If I were to choose a visual symbol of my adopted home of Mission, an average-size town in the impossibly green western Canadian province of British Columbia, I would probably come up with a rotting carcass in a verdant pasture, a vision of death amid life. If this sounds harsh, hear me out and I'll tell my own truth about this place.

Clinging to the swift-scoured, salmon-haunted northern bank of the mighty Fraser River like an ailing lamprey to the deadly smooth flank of a Great White, this town, situated about 70 kilometers east of Vancouver, owes its entire existence to the water of its rivers and lakes, and to the wood harvested from the dense, surrounding forest. Settled in the mid-19th century, Mission has managed to survive despite two serious floods, a bridge collapse, the ominous early signs of malaise in the natural resource sector (did we really think the salmon and the great conifers were infinitely, magically renewable?), and a general reputation for unfocussed, redneck belligerence.

It all comes down to the Fraser River. The river has brought both food and trade; it provides a thoroughfare upon which the people of Mission (among others) float the great log booms that are the defeated renderings we humans fashion from the vast tracts of coastal rainforest (cedar, spruce, fir, hemlock) in our seemingly inexhaustible compulsion to exploit her resources and bring Mother Nature to her matronly knees — in part because (we believe) we can.

But the details about life in this town — the jeweler murdered in a robbery, the pretty high school graduate killed by a drunk driver, the 14-year-old suicide — in fact, all the jostling narratives crowding like paparazzi, each insisting on exclusive front page drama, bubble and coalesce and ultimately conspire to reveal the hidden Mission. There is a dark vortex lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface; the ominous shadow of something ancient beneath sun-dappled waters. Even the countless apparent banalities playing out on the town's rural borders disguise something deeper, more clandestine: the hobby farmer up in MacConnell Creek bemoaning his exhausted well; the entrepreneur hungry for an investment opportunity, eager to transform the hillsides of quiet, bucolic Silverdale into sudden, lockstep suburbia; the hiker mauled by a black bear in the mountains north of Steelhead. And always, the numerous lives derailed by marijuana grow-op busts. For all the gradual liberalisation of laws at the consumer end of this local economic rival to wood and water, those who supply the celebrated crop usually feel the full force of Canadian justice, anyway. There are times when nothing in Mission seems devoid of some kind of meaning.

A monastery sits above this town, a Benedictine haven of alternating silence and the evocative clatter of Sunday Matins bells. Its tower is phallic and disproportionately defiant, rising above the landscape like a giant darning needle, casting its intrusive shadow over the patchwork quilt of human settlement as if to stitch a final tableaux, symbolically and definitively, of the history of the original inhabitants and their mistreatment at the hands of the white settlers. Said inhabitants were (and are) the Stó:lo people (their language, Halq'eméylem, was an exclusively oral tradition, so the words are spelled phonetically nowadays). Stó:lo territory stretched along the river valley from present-day Vancouver to Yale in the Fraser Canyon, a 170 kilometer swath of virgin, fecund land, teeming with such totemic creatures as salmon, ancient sturgeon, deer, black bear, cougar, coyote, beaver, and wolf.

The Stó:lo, a Native American (or First Nations) people belonging to the larger group of Central Coast Salish, settled this area around 10,000 years ago. Europeans, attracted by rumours of gold, arrived in the 1850s. The resulting clash of cultures did not work out well for the indigenous people, and today they are still recovering from the trickle-down effects of at least one generation having been torn from its extended family. Residential schools, for which the monastery in Mission is a present-day symbol, were sites of a particularly virulent form of cultural genocide. First Nations children across Canada were taken from their homes, often exposed to physical and sexual abuse and occasionally murder, their mouths scoured with soap if they even dared to utter their own languages. St. Mary's in Mission, founded in 1861 and relinquished in 1984, was the last residential school in Canada to close.

There are 82 Indian Reserves in the Fraser Valley. There are eight correctional institutions, two in Mission alone (Aboriginal people represent around four percent of the Canadian population, yet account for 18 percent of the federally incarcerated population). Somebody — something? — really likes to control and segregate people, around here.

This fragmentation is reflected in the odd demographics of the town in general. Leaving their multicultural mark have been, at various times, Italians in Silverdale, Swedes in Silverhill, the French in Durieu, the Japanese in the early years of the fruit industry (as in the US, the Japanese were rewarded for their labours by being sent to internment camps in 1942), and immigrants from India in the early days of the shake and shingle mills. (The Western Red Cedar, with its straight grain, durability, and imperviousness to the incessant rain, while inspiring Native culture with the quixotic grandeur of totem poles, grabbed more prosaic European imaginations in the form of the shake and shingle industry, which provides reliable roofing and siding components for homes.)

In some ways, Mission is a vibrantly conflicted example of Canada's multicultural mosaic. With just over 30,000 residents (of which 3,000 are First Nations) mostly crammed into a relatively small area, bordered by the river to the south and the mountains to the north, mill workers and biker gangs, artists and Mennonites, muscle car boys and summer folkies, soccer moms and Sikh Temple-goers, merchants and pagans, Freemasons and caffeine addicts, street people and Renaissance Faire anachronisms all rub shoulders with varying degrees of friction, occasionally achieving harmony in spite of themselves. Perhaps the relative accord is due to the overall youth of the population (73 percent are under 35-years-old).

Earlier, I mentioned the presence of death. Why? Because it is everywhere here, its proximity eerily palpable. It inhabits the sly rustle of the towering conifers. It taints the air with the swampy pungency of skunk cabbage in springtime. It hums incessantly in the sub-woofer buzz of the hydroelectric dams. It shuffles along in the downcast, scuff-shoed limp of a lone child returning to a chilly home. From a distance, even the monks in their dark cassocks, knit-browed and bound by their vows of silence, seem eerily close to the Reaper caricature. For actual evidence of its pervasiveness, though, one need not go far back in time.

The bodies of three women were dumped between here and neighbouring Agassiz back in '95. Suicides and the furtive aftermath of murder, barely registering in the town at all, have spattered Burma Road, a potholed strip of rocks and dirt skirting the shore of Stave Lake. In 1997, Doug Holtam of Silverdale (a small community west of Mission) bludgeoned his pregnant wife and six-year-old daughter to death with a hammer. Against all odds, his young son Cody survived the attack. In 1995, a drunk driver, leaving in his wake not only the proverbial outpouring of community grief but also a devastated twin sister, killed 18-year-old Cindy Verhulst during the week she and her peers were busy celebrating their high school graduation. There was the little boy who slipped away from his day care centre and drowned in the swollen Fraser River. The 12-year-old boy found hanging from a school washroom towel dispenser. The elderly pilot whose body was discovered in dense forest a full two years after he had gone missing. And there was Dawn-Marie Wesley, a 14-year-old Native girl who took her own life in the basement of her home after enduring relentless bullying at school; barely noticed in life, Oprah material in death.

As disturbing and tragic as these stories are, however, there was little precedent for the breaking news in the summer of 2003. This one will need a little background.

Since the mid-'80s, women have been disappearing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Canada's poorest postal code. Partly due to the initial incompetence of the Vancouver Police Department and jurisdictional issues with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), partly due to the amorphous (read: investigative nightmare) nature of the disappearances, and partly because so few people cared about missing hookers and addicts, more and more women went missing, with nary a ripple in the public consciousness (or conscience). In fact, as of this writing, a horrifying total of 65 individuals are currently on the Missing Women list. For years, law enforcement didn't even refer to their disappearance as crimes, and it wasn't until 1998 that an official task force was even assigned to investigate.

Finally, in February 2002, Robert William Pickton, a pig farmer from the Vancouver suburb of Port Coquitlam (approximately half way between Vancouver and Mission), was charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two of the missing women. More charges followed in the months ahead. Pickton currently faces 15 counts of first-degree murder with seven more expected. DNA samples of 31 women have been linked to his 10-acre farm. In short, potentially the largest serial murder case in Canadian history is now underway just 35 kilometers from Mission.

Given the frequent intrusion of death into the area, I suppose it should have surprised no one when, on 20 July 2003, the missing women's joint task force announced they would be searching an area of wetlands near Mission. Just south of Highway 7 (aka the Lougheed Highway) and the man-made body of water known as Silvermere (itself the subject of a delightfully creepy urban legend or two), the area is basically marshland bisected by a meandering slough. Immediately following the announcement of the search, the site was fenced off with temporary chain link, and the highway's wide shoulders — traditionally home to roadside fruit and flower vendors hawking their locally grown products — were suddenly and unequivocally off-limits.

Driving this formerly innocuous stretch of blacktop, especially under the after-dusk arc lights, with their swirling bug armadas and liquid island oases in the dark, now touched off an indescribably eerie feeling. It was a relief when, on 8 August, the entire ensemble of law enforcement personnel (numerous forensic investigators plus 52 anthropologists) took up their tools again and vanished. They gave no word of what they had uncovered or even whether anything had been found at all, leaving our community to its familiar, fitful dreams once more. Mission's part in this unfolding story, as it relates to the wider world, remains amorphous and indistinct, with its usual chilly glints of barely suppressed horror flickering amid the overall grey.

Here, it seems, empirical proof takes a back seat to rumour and anecdote every time.

Sometimes, while hiking alone in the tree-bejeweled mountains west of Steelhead, east of the dams, I have suddenly felt the fetid breath of graves, a harsh raven-shadow lurking behind the abundant emerald and olive greens of this sodden paradise. Inexplicable noises in the deep tangled brush; distant rending, gnashing. Something skulking and hungry. With all the assured rationality of the white male immigrant, I've been known to smirk at the idea of ghosts, and yet stumbling along a jade-tunnel trail bristling with old man's beard and devil's club, I've occasionally recoiled from something, the skin of my arms prickling with gooseflesh. There are spirits here, all right, something not too far removed from the capricious tricksters who inhabit indigenous myth. Spectres of a kind, nursing some nameless, hollow ache of unrequited need rendered manifest, paradoxically, by a landscape dripping with life.

The closest we Europeans get to perceiving this (however inadvertently) can be heard in the low extended rumble of the nighttime freight trains as they call out in the dark, hunching parallel to Railway Avenue long after most residents are asleep, lonely as a buffalo herd that's somehow seen and almost comprehended its own approaching ruin.

Of course, my telling is by no means the complete, illustrated history of Mission, a town that can barely hold onto its own name (since 1884, take your pick: St. Mary's Mission, Mission Junction, Mission City, Village of Mission, Town of Mission, and currently the District of Mission). Not by a long shot; this lurid splash portrays but a small corner of the canvas. How can any one person paint the full picture of a community, after all? No, despite my perverse zeal to stir the viscous mud below the bright surface, great deeds and happy memories adorn the history of this place, too, adding the sparkle and lustre of life above and hopefully beyond the stillness and silence. And yet, no matter how much joie de vivre this community may exhibit on its special days, like a red-carpet celebrity when the cameras start rolling — whether it be the laughing children with their maple leaf flags and pancake stacks celebrating Canada Day up at Heritage Park, or the benevolently stoned crowd at the annual Folk Festival, or even the choked air and sharp adrenaline at the Raceway — surely one thing cannot go unremarked: nearly half of those missing-presumed-dead women were of Aboriginal descent. This adds one more layer of indifference to a jaded populace apparently caught somewhere between the small town rural cruelties of its past and the uneasy suburban shrugs of its gathering future.

I know this. I worked with the street kid population here for years, witnessed their hardscrabble resilience. Few people ever gave a genuine damn about the plight of these children, even though some of the throwaways had not yet reached puberty. Two-thirds of street-involved youth in Mission are Aboriginal. Many are sexually exploited by family members, neighbors, pimps and selected citizens, but few speak of it. Some of these kids head west to Vancouver for a date with misery, stretching already tenuous community ties to the breaking point. My job as a street worker was to speak for these lost children, to ensure some semblance of the child welfare system would kick in through advocacy with social workers or teachers or families or counselors or probation officers. In a world in which the so-called "bottom line" — money and the politics of money — has become drawn too garishly, these already marginalized youth were, and continue to be, largely abandoned by a system designed to protect them. Sometimes I stand beside the town's failing heart, its run down main drag (1st Avenue), taking in the pawnshops and thrift outlets and dollar stores, and I'm convinced I truly hate this place... but only because I've loved it so deeply. In life: death. In death: life. The great inscrutable cycle.

In this way, the perennially troubled summer Pow Wow, always skirting the edge of ruin (corrupt, inept politics and sporadic funding, take a bow), yet often prevailing regardless, seems to me a far more accurate symbol of the clutching, ragged breaths that secretly haunt the sleep of this community. The fleeting vibrant colours of traditional dancers whirling in bright regalia — poignant as the plumage of endangered birds, flying amongst the high wailing melismas of the Northern-style singing and the vital, aorta-punching drums of the circles — somehow speaks more of an unavenged wound in time and place, set amid the cruelty that underlies so much beauty, than anything else this conflicted human settlement seems capable of offering.

An absurd contrast, really — this vibrant gathering and the judgmental silence of all those surrounding stories of the dead — the whole place holding its breath waiting for these mortal sorrows to purge themselves before the pristine lawns and asphalt and vinyl sidings are allowed to spread and eventually suffocate every fucking thing that ever felt like something here.

For here, tenacious as the town itself alongside relentless churning waters, the living will no doubt cling to hope and the perpetual dream of life until the muscled river — unnoticed, stealthy, taken for granted — wrestles away everything (horror, joy, splintered wood and the final word) at long last, sending it all tumbling toward the planet's dark and pitiless seas for good.

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