Note: Roughing It was published in February 1872.)
Earlier in this blog, I wrote about my beloved cat, Sergeant Gumball. (My great American buddy, June 12, 2018) and before that, an original poem, From an American poet: Cat, Feb. 22, 2018.) So you can see I have an affinity with cats. What I never before realized is that Mark Twain also loved them.
While Twain entered into the world of literature with his short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” in 1865, his longer account, Roughing It, revealed a “Wild West” tapestry of land, legend and people…barely after the Civil War ended. It is on this tapestry we find miner Dick Baker and his remarkable cat, Tom Quartz
I first read this several years ago, and I still find myself laughing whenever I read it. First, the frontier vernacular is exemplary. Consider the following, in all its Twainian glory:
“…then he would lay down on our coats and snore like a steamboat till we’d struck the pocket, an’ then get up ‘n’ superintend. He was nearly lightnin’ on superintending. “
Second, Twain was an author and knew the elements of literature. Case in point—Irony. Why would a cat be named Tom Quartz, when quartz mining was the undoing of him.
Finally, and this is what has made “Dick Baker’s Cat” so memorable. When Tom Quartz is minding his own business, asleep on the gunnysack, and Dick and Jim light the fuse to blast the quartz shaft, forgetting that Tom is there, a scene, reminiscent of slapstick unfolds. It is not unlike the dog without hind legs who defeats the dog needing to fight a dog with hind legs in a battle of attrition, or a frog full of quail-shot who suddenly can’t jump and turns out not to be the “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” It seems that Twain’s literature is full of these kinds of eye-openers . I once taught A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and I made an emphasis at the end of the book when The Boss builds his electric fence, and electrocutes the knights—only to find the bodies stacked up around them with no way of getting out. This was not unlike Hiroshima, and the trap of dead bodies: the Atomic Age/Cold War in which we find ourselves presently.
(Oh, one other thing. In the papers from the University of California, there are a number of brackets and incidents of type, all related to academic notes. In my judgement, the reader of this post is not interested in that extra baggage but would rather enjoy the story as a casual reader. And by no means does a casual reading of “Dick Baker’s Cat” subtract any enjoyment from the story. Any way you read it, you can’t help but see the genius of Twain. (No wonder that William Dean Howells called him the “Lincoln of Our Literature.”) So if you need to write a thesis about Roughing It, and need to explore the “behind the scenes” of the novel, (Dick Baker is based upon a miner whose actual name was Dick Stoker.) I recommend the text and annotations from the Mark Twain Project Online ( http://www.marktwainproject.org/homepage.html ) of the University Of California, which I have used extensively here.
So enough analysis—let’s enjoy “Dick Baker’s Cat.”
One of my comrades there—another of those victims of eighteen years of unrequited toil and blighted hopes—was one of the gentlest spirits that ever bore its patient cross in a weary exile: grave and simple Dick Baker, pocket-miner of Dead-Horse Gulch. He was forty-six, gray as a rat, earnest, thoughtful, slenderly educated, slouchily dressed and clay-soiled, but his heart was finer metal than any gold his shovel ever brought to light—than any, indeed, that ever was mined or minted.
Whenever he was out of luck and a little down-hearted, he would fall to mourning over the loss of a wonderful cat he used to own (for where women and children are not, men of kindly impulses take up with pets, for they must love something.) And he always spoke of the strange sagacity of that cat with the air of a man who believed in his secret heart that there was something human about it—maybe even supernatural.
I heard him talking about this animal once. He said, “Gentlemen, I used to have a cat here, by the name of Tom Quartz, which you’d a took a interest in I reckon—most anybody would. I had him here eight year—and he was the remarkablest cat I ever see. He was a large gray one of the Tom specie, an’ he had more hard, natchral sense than any man in this camp—’n’ a power of dignity—he wouldn’t a let the Gov’ner of Californy be familiar with him. He never ketched a rat in his life—’peared to be above it. He never cared for nothing but mining. He knowed more about mining, that cat did, than any man I ever ever see. You couldn’t tell him noth’n’ ’bout placer diggin’s—’n’ as for pocket-mining, why he was just born for it. He would dig out after me an’ Jim when we went over the hills prospect’n’, and he would trot along behind us for as much as five mile, if we went so fur. An’ he had the best judgment about mining ground—why you never see anything like it. When we went to work, he’d scatter a glance around, ’n’ if he didn’t think much of the indications, he would give a look as much as to say, ‘Well, I’ll have to get you to excuse me,’ ’n’ without another word he’d hyste his nose into the air ’n’ shove for home. But if the ground suited him, he would lay low ’n’ keep dark till the first pan was washed, ’n’ then he would sidle up ’n’ take a look, an’ if there was about six or seven grains of gold he was satisfied—he didn’t want no better prospect ’n that—’n’ then he would lay down on our coats and snore like a steamboat till we’d struck the pocket, an’ then get up ’n’ superintend. He was nearly lightnin’ on superintending.
“Well, by an’ by, up comes this yer quartz excitement. Everybody was into it—everybody was pick’n’ ’n’ blast’n’ instead of shovelin’ dirt on the hillside—everybody was put’n’ down a shaft instead of scrapin’ the surface. Noth’n’would do Jim, but we must tackle the ledges, too, ’n’ so we did. We commenced put’n’ down a shaft, ’n’ Tom Quartz he begin to wonder what in the Dickens it was all about. He hadn’t ever seen any mining like that before, ’n’ he was all upset, as you may say—he couldn’t come to a right understanding of it no way—it was too many for him. He was down on it, too, you bet you—he was down on it powerful—’n’ always appeared to consider it the cussedest foolishness out. But that cat, you know, was always agin new fangled arrangements—somehow he never could abide ’em. You know how it is with old habits. But by an’ by Tom Quartz begin to git sort of reconciled a little, though he never could altogether understand that eternal sinkin’ of a shaft an’ never pannin’ out anything. At last he got to comin’ down in the shaft, hisself, to try to cipher it out. An’ when he’d git the blues, ’n’ feel kind o’ scruffy, ’n’ aggravated ’n’ disgustedknowin’ as he did, that the bills was runnin’ up all the time an’ we warn’t makin’ a cent—he would curl up on a gunny sack in the corner an’ go to sleep. Well, one day when the shaft was down about eight foot, the rock got so hard that we had to put in a blast—the first blast’n’ we’d ever done since Tom Quartz was born. An’ then we lit the fuse ’n’ clumb out ’n’ got off ’bout fifty yards—’n’ forgot ’n’ left Tom Quartz sound asleep on the gunny sack. In ’bout a minute we seen a puff of smoke bust up out of the hole, ’n’ then everything let go with an awful crash, ’n’ about four million ton of rocks ’n’ dirt ’n’ smoke ’n’ splinters shot up ’bout a mile an’ a half into the air, an’ by George, right in the dead centre of it was old Tom Quartz a goin’ end over end, an’ a snortin’ an’ a sneez’n’, an’ a clawin’ an’ a reachin’ for things like all possessed.an advantage taken. But it warn’t no use, you know, it warn’t no use. An’ that was the last we see of him for about two minutes ’n’ a half, an’ then all of a sudden it begin to rain rocks and rubbage, an’ directly he come down ker-whop about ten foot off f’m where we stood. Well, I reckon he was p’raps the orneriest lookin’ beast you ever see. One ear was sot back on his neck, ’n’ his tail was stove up, ’n’ his eye-winkers was swinged off, ’n’ he was all blacked up with powder an’smoke,an’ all sloppy with mud ’n’ slush f’m one end to the other. Well sir, it warn’t no use to try to apologize—we couldn’t say a word. He took a sort of a disgusted look at hisself, ’n’ then he looked at us—an’ it was just exactly the same as if he had said—‘Gents, maybeyou think it’s smart to take advantage of a cat that ain’t had no experience of quartz minin’, but I think different’—an’ then he turned on his heel ’n’ marched off home without ever saying another word.
In ’bout a minute we seen a puff of smoke bust up out of the hole, ’n’ then everything let go with an awful crash, ’n’ about four million ton of rocks ’n’ dirt ’n’ smoke ’n’ splinters shot up ’bout a mile an’ a half into the air, an’ by George, right in the dead centre of it was old Tom Quartz a goin’ end over end, an’ a snortin’ an’ a sneez’n’, an’ a clawin’ an’ a reachin’ for things like all possessed.
“That was jest his style. An’maybe you won’t believe it, but after that you never see a cat so prejudiced agin quartz mining as what he was. An’ by an’ bywhen he did get to goin’ down in the shaft agin, you’d a been astonished at his sagacity. The minute we’d tetch off a blast ’n’ the fuse’d begin to sizzle, he’d give a look as much as to say: ‘Well, I’ll have to git you to excuse me,’ an’ it was surpris’n’, the way he’d shin out of that hole ’n’ go f’r a tree. Sagacity? It ain’t no name for it. ’Twas inspiration!”
I said, “Well, Mr. Baker, his prejudice against quartz miningwas remarkable, considering how he came by it. Couldn’t you ever cure him of it?”
“Curehim! No! When Tom Quartz was sot once, he was always sot—and you might a blowed him up as much as three million times ’n’ you’d never a broken him of his cussed prejudice agin quartz mining.”
The affection and the pride that lit up Baker’s face when he delivered this tribute to the firmness of his humble friend of other days, will always be a vivid memory with me.
At the end of two months we had never “struck” a pocket. We had panned up and down the hillsides till they looked plowed like a field; we could have put in a crop of grain, then, but there would have been no way to get it to market. We got many good “prospects,” but when the gold gave out in the pan and we dug down, hoping and longing, we found only emptiness—the pocket that should have been there was as barren as our own. At last we shouldered our pans and shovels and struck out over the hills to try new localities. We prospected around Angel’s Camp, in Calaveras County, during three weeks, but had no success. Then we wandered on foot among the mountains, sleeping under the trees at night, for the weather was mild, but still we remained as centless as the last rose of summer. That is a poor joke, but it is in pathetic harmony with the circumstances, since we were so poor ourselves. In accordance with the custom of the country, our door had always stood open and our board welcome to tramping miners—they drifted along nearly every day, dumped their post shovels by the threshold and took “pot luck” with us—and now on our own tramp we never found cold hospitality.
Our wanderings were wide and in many directions; and now I could give the reader a vivid description of the Big Trees and the marvels of the Yo Semite—but what has this reader done to me that I should persecute him? I will deliver him into the hands of less conscientious tourists and take his blessing. Let me be charitable, though I fail in all virtues else.
Some of the phrases in the above are mining technicalities, purely, and may be a little obscure to the general reader. In “placer diggings” the gold is scattered all through the surface dirt; in “pocket” diggings it is concentrated in one little spot; in “quartz” the gold is in a solid, continuous vein of rock, enclosed between distinct walls of some other kind of stone—and this is the most laborious and expensive of all the different kinds of mining. “Prospecting” is hunting for a “placer;” “indications” are signs of its presence; “panning out” refers to the washing process by which the grains of gold are separated from the dirt; a “prospect” is what one finds in the first panful of dirt—and its value determines whether it is a good or a bad prospect, and whether it is worth while to tarry there or seek further.
This poem is actually a lyric to a song penned under a different name. The song was part of a song list used when my wife and I would sing as part of a larger folk group.
The lyrics are simple, but I believe they paint a picture of my Savior, Jesus Christ. In the times in which we live, circa 2019, we sing the praises of this religious figure who on an historical level is considered with the Buddha, Mohammed, and Confucius. But Jesus was so much more…yea…is still so much more. He had so much to prove and yet didn’t need to prove a thing. Someone has said that Bob Dylan’s lyric about the fictional John Wesley Harding alludes to Jesus, who in the song “..was never known to make a foolish move” (Compare that to the antics of the real-life outlaw John Wesley Hardin in the Wild West.)
I once asked a friend a question like “What proof do you have that Jesus is all that he claims to be.” Actually I was venturing into a world of apologetics (which isn’t bad in itself), and in this present world of Christian Fundamentalism and Evangelicanism, for many, apologetics is the way to go. However, to paraphrase him, his reply to me was simply, “I don’t need all kinds of proof. I know what Jesus has done in my life.”
I don’t know how long it took me to write “My God Is a Shepherd,” but I never intended it to be complicated. I think that is what motivated men like Tyndale to translate the Bible into English, the vernacular of his nation—simple words for simple people. (not simpletons) Someone once said that [a picture is worth a thousand words.] and some pictures are. I hope that the following poem and its initial metaphor reveal a picture greater than others in this blog: a legendary race horse, or mountains in Wyoming, or whales in Alaska. Indeed these were made by the master sculptor himself. But instead of just creating and remaining aloof like some deities—my God is a shepherd.
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31, NIV)
My God is a Shepherd. He brings in all the lambs Into His cote protected from this weary land. And though the wolves surround me, His staff is standing by, And my God will protect me all the while. My God will protect me all the while. . My God is a Teacher--a Lighthouse in the dark. He shows the way more perfectly when my boat has embarked. And though the waves of confusion may bend a sweeping tide, My God will direct me all the while. My God will direct me all the while.
My God is a Captain--so mighty and so sure. He fights my foes so deadly--engaged in cosmic war. Though mountains shake and stars may fall And smoke rise to the sky, My God, He will triumph all the while. My God, He will triumph all the while.
My God is the best friend that anyone could be. He sent His Son, Lord Jesus Christ, from sin to set me free. And on that bright third morning He rose and death did die. And my God still walks with me all the while. My God still walks with me all the while.
For years I have wanted to go to the Rocky Mountains. It’s not that I have never seen mountains…I have seen great mountains on the coast of southeast Alaska. I also spent time in Boulder, Colorado, which was the first time I ever saw such majestic mountains. I was on my way to sea duty in the U.S. Coast Guard and was scheduled to fly to Juneau, and then Sitka, Alaska where my ship was docked.
When I viewed these mountains, it was at night; and from Boulder, the faint moonglow gave them a very surreal look…almost like, “I know you’re there, but then, I’m not sure.” Later, I learned these particular rock formations were known as the Flatirons, and they did not occupy a lot of the natural real estate outside of Boulder. They were the beginning of the Front Range; the foothills so to speak, and I felt pretty blessed to be there.
But I am here to talk about another range of mountains. I have not seen it in person. Yet I have had no lack of blessing, thanks to the miracle of the PC and the internet. A website that I have enjoyed over the years has been http://www.sangres.com. It has a second title, “For Your Daily Dose of the Wonders of the West.” This website shows the beauty of the Rockies, state by state, and it was here that I discovered the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This comes from the words Sangre (“blood”) and Cristo (“Christ”.) When you put the Spanish preposition between the two words, you have Sangre de Cristo, not to mention that this is a proper name and a geographical name, which puts it in its rightful form and place on maps of New Mexico. (In the western U.S. there are dozens of place names that trace their name origins to Spanish; e.g. Colorado and Los Angeles.) And no wonder; the Spanish were the first European settlers here.
But why does this mountain range have the privilege of an association with Jesus Christ? I’m sure that those first off the boat with the flag of Spain decided that this land was theirs for the taking (no matter if anyone was there before them) So “if the land was theirs,” Then it would follow that they could create the maps and the local place names in their language too. But what of the place name of this mountain range? Those who first came to this area from Europe noted that the hue of the mountains themselves would change depending on the time of day…particularly morning and evening…sunrise and sunset. It was as if the mountains themselves were turning red in color. And what those religious Spaniards saw was red…the color of blood…the blood of Christ.
I don’t know much about Mr. Tolkien and Middle Earth, but I think I remember a hobbit named Bilbo saying, “I want to see mountains!”
Now, I think I recall a Mt. Doom (appropriately named) and the Misty Mountains being there. And didn’t that he-devil, Saruman, live in those highlands? Where was it that the Fellowship went or where the old hobbit met his end for eternity?
But I am an American, all you short and tall gentleman—gentle creatures of Middle Earth. And I live in Middle America—the Midwest—fly-over country where the wheat, corn, and soybeans grow…where great rivers run to the sea. But where do many of those rivers begin? They begin in the mountains.
I too, want to see mountains. Let me show you mine.
First, there are the old men: the Ozarks; grizzled in their age from the Mississippi River to Oklahoma. They are full of springs and creeks with sand pines along their banks. Then throughout the plateau, an assortment of hardwoods are arranged on a palette to display an autumn effulgence on a bright October day after a frost. Ah, Legolas, you would never find a finer tree to make a bow.
Then there are the Appalachians, and all their children from Maine to Georgia: the White and Green Mountains…the Berkshires…the Alleghenies…the Adirondacks and Catskills…the Blue Ridge and Smokies—The Great Smokies… with a rising haze as if someone lit the forest on fire without a flame—only the smoke. In these eastern lands, north and south, are the passes and hollers that met Boone and the pioneers on their way west. This is the land of Sevier and the Over-Mountain Men who defended those Carolina farms from the arrogance of a king and his army at Cowpens and yes, in all its irony, Kings Mountain.
But then there is the West with its Cascades, Sierra Nevadas, and Rockies. It is a place, beyond the plains and prairies, full of glory but also sadness…a place of humiliation and a displaced people. It is reminder of a flawed earthly history. Some once called it a frontier. But in fairness to all people, perhaps it can be a reminder of a newer hope in the hearts and minds of all people. And might this hope be fixed on a point that is newer than all? It is a kingdom, greater than all kingdoms, which has a King, greater than all kings.
All these earthly mountains, east and west…north and south, are still wonderful because the great King created them. The ones in the West are still mighty and have the names that the great King allowed women and men to put on their maps. Their names are Wind River… Sangre de Cristo…the San Juan Mountains in the Ucompahghre…the Grand Tetons…the Flat Irons…the Anaconda Range southwest of the Mussellshell…the Black Hills…the Wasatch… and the Land of the Canyons in Utah. Oh yes, and then there is the canyon…the Grand Canyon.
Over in California are the Sierras with their gold and big trees. East of that in Nevada, is Virginia City, Gold Hill, and the Comstock. And out of those hills, Gimli, you could mine silver…the finest in the world, and which sustained a nation for a time.
Follow the Cascades north, and you will find Rainier, that great volcano, which some say is warm at the top. Further north, is Denali in Alaska. It is the earthly mountain that looks over all the mountains on the continent. And then, in the middle of the western ocean, are the Islands. They hold mountains shining with the fiery possibility of their own danger.
Mountains…East and West…North and South…all upon this great continent. Climbed…cursed…on calendars…on postcards…photographed…painted…and in some cases, worshipped. But what of a mountain rich in history…with nations at war for its divine wealth…a mountain that indeed moved kings, caliphs and presidents…yet, nobody’s property but those to whom it was given…someday sought by all…someday adored by all: a holy hill named Zion.
My son shared this story with me the other day. He is a member of the Antiochan Orthodox Church, one of the oldest congregations in the world, having its roots in the first century. In fact, in the book of Acts in the New Testament it is written that “they were first called Christians in Antioch.” The closest source that my son could find for the story, though I’m sure it is public domain, is in the existing writing of St. Paisios, as translated by John Sanidopoulo. I personally think that there is great wisdom to be gained from the story.
“Once on Mount Athos there was a monk who lived in Karyes. He drank and got drunk every day and was the cause of scandal to the pilgrims. Eventually he died and this relieved some of the faithful who went on to tell Elder Paisios that they were delighted that this huge problem was finally solved.
Father Paisios answered them that he knew about the death of the monk, after seeing the entire battalion of angels who came to collect his soul. The pilgrims were amazed and some protested and tried to explain to the Elder of whom they were talking about, thinking that the Elder did not understand.
Elder Paisios explained to them: “This particular monk was born in Asia Minor, shortly before the destruction by the Turks when they gathered all the boys. So as not to take him from their parents, they would take him with them to the reaping, and so he wouldn’t cry, they just put raki into his milk in order for him to sleep. Therefore he grew up as an alcoholic. There he found an elder and said to him that he was an alcoholic. The elder told him to do prostrations and prayers every night and beg the Panagia to help him to reduce by one the glasses he drank.
After a year he managed with struggle and repentance to make the 20 glasses he drank into 19 glasses. The struggle continued over the years and he reached 2-3 glasses, with which he would still get drunk.”
The world for years saw an alcoholic monk who scandalized the pilgrims, but God saw a fighter who fought a long struggle to reduce his passion.
Without knowing what each one is trying to do what he wants to do, what right do we have to judge his effort.
-A story of St. Paisios, translated by John Sanidopoulos
” A Nation that kills its own children has no future.”
Pope John Paul II
It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.” Likewise, as I thankfully had not been the aborted, so far as reason leads me, I would not be the one who performs, condones, requests, legislates in favor of, or undergoes an abortion. We both speak of democracy more than we think.
This post is not an easy one. No doubt, I may be misunderstood. Roe v. Wade introduced a complex if not controversial situation. On one hand not all pregnancies occur under the same circumstances…no “one size fits all.” There are rapes. There is incest. All demanding careful consideration and not the rapid, indifferent judgment of the mother by her peers. Once the “baby bump” appears, so does a scarlet letter of sorts, unless the pregnancy was “cleared” as legitimate; i.e. a visible couple in many cases with shared vows and wedding bands.
Abortion in its most fundamental examination and possible application (not all mothers who think about abortion, have abortions) is actually a horror. Plain and simple…no matter how you rationalize it, a human with life is there and then gone: the life snuffed out. But we are not just talking about any creature…pig or platypus…we are dealing with human DNA, at least according to science. And I know that many in science determine life according to certain time factors, but still far too many lives…legitimately classified as “living” are terminated. Just ask Dr. Gosnell.
But in the following poem, something sinister is suggested. Not because women set out to be “monsters,” but that in our present society the real ethics have not been examined enough. As I listened to the recent Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings, I was surprised to hear one senator refer to “abortion on demand” as a code word. Since when couldn’t “abortion on demand” refer to just that, abortion when you want it. And what is unreasonable about a minor needing parental consent to get an abortion. I mean, yes, there are irresponsible , even abusive parents who have questionable authority in their children’s lives. But what of the truly loving, caring parents who are genuinely concerned about the future of their children? And I don’t mean parents who count it as caring for their children to attend Harvard. In fact some of these mothers may indeed have gone through the guilt and regret of having abortions themselves, and they do not wish their daughters to go through similar experiences. But mostly I couldn’t help but notice so much emphasis on the victimized mother…and I am by no means saying that great forces beyond an individual’s control do not turn the abortion debate into something of a “game of Pong.” But could someone have at least mentioned what was inside her womb?
That is what this poem attempts to do.
A ghastly sight is she.
A sisterhood of blood they must be.
(Yes, even the unborn bleeds.)
And she suffocates in salt
And moves in pain:
The woman in the womb.
She will be no lady of the house
Or princess arrived to the ball.
She will never govern or influence
The affairs of men
Or mankind at all:
The woman in the womb.
No glass ceiling will she ever approach,
Let alone crack or break it when
Judges of this generation pass sentence
And a Slaughter of the Innocents
Comes to pass
Because of women
In their wombs.
Sisters, mothers, girls and
Aged matrons who demand
Their legal pound of flesh.
Rock stars, movie stars, and Nasty Women
Who shout, “It is the law!…It is the law!”
“And those of us who uphold this law
Think perhaps it is a better death
Than back alley and coat hanger surgery.”
So we each come to decisions:
“My future at stake!” decisions, (spoken and unspoken)
Some even say legislative decisions,
But nevertheless, life and death decisions.
While womankind is shrinking,
Until a generation is missing.
And future generations ponder
What of a people who in war, crime and peace
Killed their own?
Without even one weapon!
To fight for your life
Against the stranger and the machine
That sucks out every limb and organ.
Is there anyone who has a heart,
Or even simple, thoughtful, kind regard?
But so… at the inn there was no room.
And the sound of laughter might come to ruin.
And life goes on from midnight to noon.
And babies are still nursed in hospital rooms.
And fathers take to heart either glow or gloom,
But make damn sure there is food in their spoons.
Whether in poverty or in wealth…from one parent or two…