Writing Prehistoric Fiction with Bonnye Matthews

 

Glacier Bay Alaska

Glacier Bay Alaska

Today I’m happy to have Bonnye Matthews as my guest.  Bonnye is an award-winning author of prehistoric fiction concerning early man. Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC received Alaska Professional Communicators’ first place for fiction,  and second place for fiction from the National Federation for Press Women in 2013.  Manak-na’s Story, 75000 BC also received Alaska Professional Communicators’ first place for fiction in 2014.  Bonnye lives in Alaska, and can be found at http://www.booksbybonnye.com, on Facebook and Twitter @Bonnye Matthews. She is also a member of the Goodreads group Prehistoric Fiction Writers and Readers Campfire.

What is the general premise of your books, Bonnye?
There are three: the first, people inhabited the Americas long before Clovis; the second, various attributes of the human

Bonnye Matthews

Bonnye Matthews

may have evolved, but human intelligence has remained at the same level, just applied to different environmental situations and growing upon the foundation each group has managed to build and keep; the third, since I carry 2.9% Neanderthal DNA and 4% Denisovan their “viable young” continue on in me. These humans don’t meet the definition for separate species because their mating produced viable young—so, then, are we not all the same species? I don’t see a we—they, I see an us.
Why are you interested in the time period of 50,000 BC to 75,000 BC?
Well, it’s not that specific time frame as much as it seemed a convenient starting place. I began with Mt. Toba’s eruption, and I wanted to show an interaction among Neanderthals, Cro-magnons, and Homo erectus. Denisovans enter in Book Two. I’m stretching it, but it’s remotely possible. Certainly, it can’t be disproved. There is, also, a lot of data on the area I chose for the first book (southern China). My first three books fall into the 50,000-75,000 BC timeframe, but currently

Ki'ti's Story

Ki’ti’s Story

I’m working at the 35,000 BC level. Some day I may go backwards in time from that, because I think it would be a fascinating exploration. Book Five, however, will be an Atlantic crossing in the 20,000+ BC timeframe.
My interest developed because of my reaction to a History professor’s telling me that “the powers that be” would disapprove of my comments regarding the Clovis Barrier. Did those powers research? Do they reason? What power do they have that they can force study into a narrow groove? Well, that did it. I decided to continue my research. I pursued it for five years. Eventually, I decided to write, but I wasn’t credentialed for non-fiction. It had been done by experts. I could, however, write novels and reach an entirely different set of readers. The “powers that be” have no power over a novelist. The niche at that time for a systematic series on the pre-Clovis peopling of the Americas was vacant. I dived in.
If you met a Neanderthal in your imagination today, what would you ask her?
I’d want to know: what her name is and what it means; what her greatest hope/fear is; living in her world, what’s the most important thing to know; what does she most enjoy/dislike in life; how does she survive life’s tough times; what’s the funniest thing she’s seen in life; how did they keep sinew flexible once they used it for sewing. That last one’s driving me crazy. I haven’t found anyone here who knows. I have visions of a grease strip along seams.
How did you research early humans?
I did a research paper in a history class. My pursuit was “Who Were the First Alaskans?” That should have led me to the

Manak-nas' Story

Manak-nas’ Story

first Americans, because people in the USA are taught that the first Alaskans are the first Americans. Well, my research quickly showed that to be highly doubtful. I kept going. I enjoy prehistoric fiction, because it’s fiction. In my research I kept running into fantasy that academics called fact. I got angry sometimes—well, maybe more frequently than sometimes. For example, Tim Flannery wrote a book called The Eternal Frontier. When I got to the part about Berelekh in northeastern Siberia, I pulled out a map. He says, “People settled on the shore of the Arctic Ocean at Berelekh.” Huh? Berelekh is more than 50 miles from the Arctic Ocean. How does he define shore? He says, “There they hunted mammoth; more than 7,000 bones from these great beasts have been found near their campsite.” I researched. I sought and found the material on the campsite. The bones are UPRIVER from the campsite. Prehistoric people are not going to foul their water supply! Flannery calls it a “kill site” assuming people did the killing. There is no consideration that the prehistoric people might have been gathering bone for tools and fires and ivory for art carving. Reading the translated Russian, the campsite and the flood kill were not concurrent in time. I threw the book across the room. In my opinion the book was trash. It was pretending that fiction was fact. People would buy it and believe it, and it was pure trash. That’s how I research.

Zamimolo's Story

Zamimolo’s Story

I also had a run in with the “ice-free corridor.” The ice-free corridor was not derived from evidence but rather from a conjecture of W. A. Johnson at the Geological Survey of Canada in 1933. The term “ice-free corridor” was coined by Ernst Antevs in 1935. Dr. Lionel E. Jackson, Jr. of the Geological Survey of Canada, along with Canadian archaeologists, searched carefully to establish the presence of the ice-free corridor in Canada in the 1990s. They went there. They concluded, after the application of science, that there had been no ice-free passage from 21,000 to 12,000 years before the present. With science out there, people today are still writing about the “ice-free corridor.” To turn fantasy to fact is frightening. What kind of academic foundation do we have when we do that?
Another example of how I research is first I do a subject search. That leads to journals. Eventually, I do a journal search by taking a journal, such as Quaternary International or The American Journal of Physical Anthropology, or The Journal of Human Genetics, or American Antiquity, and I read the contents page of the first issue. Then on to the next issue. Anything interesting, I’d read. (A couple of times I had to sit there with my French dictionary to get through an article in French.) If an article had any contribution, I’d add it to my Bibliography. You can see why my initial research took five years. Don’t get me wrong. I love to learn. I don’t like being a student, but I will pursue a subject until I’m satisfied I have gained what I can.

Bear with salmon

Bear with salmon

What are you working on next?
My current project is Tuksook’s Story, 35,000 BC. It’s the first time in my series that the People come to Alaska. I have fallen in love with this book. The People come to the Cook Inlet area of Alaska. When they arrived in Alaska, Cook Inlet didn’t exist. This book has a fully fleshed out Introduction. I didn’t start off writing Ki’ti’s Story, 75,000 BC knowing what it was to write a novel. With each book, I learn. One thing I hesitated to do in the first three books is to bring to life the spiritual part of the lives of the individual People. Oh, it’s there. They have Wisdom and they have their stories. The reader can sense it, but I didn’t feel comfortable making it part of the story. In doing that, I cut my People short. Tuksook’s Story, 35,000 BC fills out the picture. I have finally let them come into themselves. And, I’m finding it’s fun! Why it took me so long, I don’t know. Maybe lack of courage.
What do you like best about living in Alaska?
I moved to Alaska in 2005 after wanting to be here since 1974. I stood outside my new home and looked into the clear night sky. The northern lights formed a brilliant humming and crackling white ribbon and headed directly toward me. Right before me in the sky, the ribbon split into two parts and formed an ellipse around me overhead, returning to the single ribbon as it continued on its journey. It was like a hug from the lights. Another night when the lights were out, they formed what looked like vivid green netting across the entire visible sky. That green netting pulsated like a beating heart. I’m way more than a little spiritually open. In both experiences with the lights, I lived the moments spiritually. Incomparable!
Alaska brings out my spirit and makes it dance! I’ve flown over the Harding Icefield and seen glaciers float in the Pacific once spring unleashes them. Sometimes you can see them roll over. From the sight of a sleeping whale in Prince William

Iceberg in Alaska

Iceberg in Alaska

Sound to the humpback that surfaced beside my ferry just three feet lower than my feet (fantastic, but they really stink), to the braiding rivers that make me think of land being created, to Denali—the tallest mountain in the USA, to the wealth of information on the Native culture, to our famous earthquake, to the water tours available to tourists and residents, to the little squirrel that steals my insulation to stuff in the birdhouse, to walking on a couple of glaciers and rafting a river with 4-sized holes in it—all of it makes me feel more alive than in any other place on earth.
I love the cool summers with their crystal clarity and vivid color and adore the snow’s gently smoothing out sharp shapes to curves in black and white in winter. I love moose and bald eagles in my yard. I carry on conversations with ravens in my trees, even though we speak two different languages. They are birds like no other! The downside: a bear out on the point on my creek eating a salmon—that was pushing it. I’d rather not have to carry a gun just to walk the yard.

Thanks so much for being with us today, Bonnye!

 

Author Gary McCarthy Revisits Mesa Verde Thunder

Mesa Verde Cliff Palace

Mesa Verde Cliff Palace

I’m pleased to welcome award-winning Western author Gary McCarthy to the blog today. Gary has written over 50 books about the American West, with over 3 million books in print. His work is available in trade paperbacks as well as ebooks. Learn more about him at http://www.canyoncountrybooks.com or Amazon.

Gary McCarthy

Gary McCarthy

  Your book Mesa Verde Thunder is set in the famous prehistoric cliff dwellings in southwestern Colorado while most of your other novels are either westerns or classic historical novels. Why did you write MESA VERDE THUNDER, a prehistoric novel? I’ve often traveled over to the Four Corners area while visiting Lake Powell and the beautiful and rugged country all around there. I’ve been in Canyon de Chelly and have seen their ancient ruins as well as in many other national monuments. But of all these cliff dwellings and ancient ruins, none can compare to Mesa Verde National Park which is the largest archeological preserve in the United States with over 4,700 sites, 600 of which are cliff dwellings.

Mesa Verde Thunder

Mesa Verde Thunder

Who were those ancient peoples and what were they really like? Hunters and gatherers, sure, but if you look at the petroglyphs and pictographs in those deep canyons, you have to believe that they were also a very SPIRITUAL people. They were called the Anasazi which I believe loosely means “ancient enemies” by the Navajo. Today they are generally called “Ancestral Puebloans” which reflects their modern descendants, the Hopi and the Zuni. When I first witnessed Mesa Verde as a small boy, I was awestruck…not only by the cliff dwellings, but by a perfectly preserved body of one of the cliff dwellers. The small mummy rested in a glass coffin out in front of a government building and I couldn’t help but stare and wonder what that man or woman’s life had been like. Of course their lives were much shorter and harder than ours today, but were their hopes and dreams so very different? Even as a boy I thought not.

Before I began to think of a storyline for Mesa Verde Thunder, I revisited the national park many times and

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

talked to the park ranges, anthropologists and archaeologists. I asked endless questions of them….what do the writings in stone really tell us today? Why did the “ancient ones” come to Mesa Verde and why did they suddenly leave around 1300 AD? I found myself on fire with curiosity about these little known people. What did their names sound like and what or  who were their gods? Every people have a creation story…what was theirs? The experts differed on almost all their answers…but in the end they said that if I studied the Hopi and Zuni, their traditions and beliefs, I’d get a better understanding of those long ago cliff dwelling peoples. And so that is exactly what I did and out of it slowly begin to emerge a story, with the RAVEN CLAN and its many characters some of whom I liked and disliked with names like ECHATA, LI-TIA and STORYTELLER.

How did you come up with a plot for the novel when so little is actually known of the people? I wanted to tell not only the story of the “ancient ones” but also how Mesa Verde was discovered and then, sadly plundered. So I began to write TWO stories, one in recorded time beginning around 1888 that set up a clash between those early preservationists who fought to save the ruins for posterity and by careful excavation and study what those cliff dwellers were like…as opposed to those who were simply interested in profit. And this is a clash between opposites that continues to this very day not only in America, but all over the world. I enjoyed the more modern characters, but honestly not as much as the wonderful characters that I created who lived, loved and hunted, lusted and dreamed inside the deep, stony silence of Mesa Verde.

Mesa Verde in Winter

Mesa Verde in Winter

And as for why did they arrive in Mesa Verde around 1AD and why did they leave around 1300 AD, what I heard most often was that these small, tough little suvivalists of the ancient Southwest behaved like all prehistoric peoples…they went where they had the best chance to survive. Where there was game, good soil to plant in, plenty of wood burn for warmth and protection and most certainly most important of all, where there was water. And so, that is why the Anasazi left Mesa Verde…because dendrochronology (tree ring analysis) shows without a doubt that the Southwest was gripped in a terrible drought.

Try if you will to imagine those peoples as year after year of drought drained their hope and their strength which also meant their ability to fight of wandering peoples who would surely kill and plunder a weaker clan or village. What I think happened is that, as the drought around the Southwest intensified over many decades, the Anasazi grew weaker while they had to work ever harder. Deer and other game would have left the area in search of grass and water. Nearby trees that had long provided fuel on the mesa tops would have been harvested making wood gathering ever more difficult year after desperate year. Less food and less fuel for the hard winters costing much more precious energy. And here is the great and most interesting

Climbing Ladders at Mesa Verde

Climbing Ladders at Mesa Verde

question…did they one day sit down with the starving remnants of their people and have a meeting and decide to leave Mesa Verde all together for protection against what they might face in unknown places? Or, as I think more likely, did families in small groups seeing their old and young starving and even their people in the prime of their lives growing increasingly weak…did they just quietly leave those magnificent stone dwellings and walk away into the unknown? Some would no doubt have been killed off by peoples stronger and more numerous than themselves, others would likely have been welcomed and integrated into new cultures. What fascinating stories they could tell us about their long ago exodus!

What is your latest novel? I just finished one set in the period 1972-1977; a big time difference from the

Elvis and Cowboy Charlie

Elvis and Cowboy Charlie

Anasazi but not so far in terms of physical distance. It’s called Elvis & Cowboy Charlie and I loved writing the novel because so many Elvis fans just wished Elvis had met a man like Cowboy Charlie and would have turned his life around. It was a “what if” novel and something I’ve wanted to write for years because I was a big fan. I sure can’t change history, but it’s fun to play with it as long as the reader knows the real story.

Why does the American West hold such a fascination for you? I grew up when cowboy westerns were popular and we watched great shows like Bonanza, Gunsmoke and the great movies where silver screen heroes like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Gregory Peck brought the struggles of the West to life. I still love westerns, although they have fallen out of favor…but Russell Crowe and especially Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall have brought a new slant to the American West and with Dances with Wolves and other great movies, people have a chance to better understand what we did to Native Americans and how they still managed to remain strong and vital with their cultures and traditions intact.

With 50 books, you’re a master. Do you have any tips for beginning writers? I believe they should write what they love and not try to copy other writers and jump onto whatever is currently popular. I have always thought that it is the CHARACTERS that we create that are most important…not the plot or the setting. Create complex, deeply developed characters in your novels and it doesn’t matter if they are flying around in space…or sitting in a New York apartment or hunting deer with an atlatl as the Anasazi did long ago. Readers love great characters above all and they are the hardest thing for any writer to create. I wish I could tell you how to create them…but my only advice is just to love and hate and enjoy them and if you are true to your craft, the characters will magically just take on their own lives and even change your plots as their personalities become as real as our own.

Thanks, Gary. I appreciate you sharing with us on the blog. 

Peyote Fire is coming…October 25, 2014

Here's preview of the last chapter of Peyote Fire

Here’s preview of the last chapter of Peyote Fire

Can you feel it?  Peyote Fire is coming!  This has been a labor of love for four years now, but the book is about to become a real, physical thing!  The official book launch will be at the Texas Archeological Society annual meeting in San Marcos, Texas, Oct. 25, at 10:00 am.  The first 25 people at the talk will receive a free copy in either paperback or ebook format.

I’ve got a ton of work to do between now and then, but I…feel…it…coming!

Taste of the Past with Leslie Bush

 

IMG_1883

When from a long distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered . . . the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls . . . [They] bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection. – Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

Dr. Leslie Bush, owner of Macrobotanical Analysis  (www.macrobotanicalanalysis.com), joins us today for Part 2 of her conversation about cooking with native plants. See the Archives for June, 2014, for Part 1.

Dr. Leslie Bush analyzing ancient plant remains.

Dr. Leslie Bush analyzing ancient plant remains.

Leslie: Sure. The important thing to know here is that I don’t have a garden in my yard – I was cooking with native Texas plants that grow uncultivated* in many parts of the state. Lots of people are eating uncultivated plants these days, whether at the “World’s Best Restaurant”, sticking to an allegedly Paleo diet, or eating the weeds. I won’t say “wild” because human influence is so pervasive on the landscape, even in remote areas, that all of the planet is effectively under human management. (See the work of ethnobiologist Eugene N. Anderson.)  Here are some things I’ve tried:

Kunuch Cake

Kunuch Cake

Kunuche Pecan Balls  for Cherokee Nut Soup Traditional Cherokee nut soup is made from hickory nuts, usually black hickory (Carya texana). The most common hickory in the Austin area is pecan (Carya illinoinensis), so I made the soup balls from pecan nuts.

Step 1: Pecan Balls. To make the balls, I cracked each pecan nut on my concrete porch with a grinding stone, then picked out and swept away the larger pieces of pecan shell. I put the nutmeats and the remaining bits of inner shell into a basalt molcajete and ground it into a coarse paste. I formed the paste into balls about 2 inches in diameter. The balls can be frozen for a few months or put in a ziplock in the refrigerator for a few days until you’re ready to use them.

Step 2: Pecan Soup. To reconstitute the balls into soup, just add boiling water and stir. Use one ball for a large coffee mug. Let the soup settle for a few moments so that the pecan shells drop to the bottom. Be sure not to drink the last drops, or you’ll end up with shells in your mouth! You can flavor the soup with dried cranberries (my favorite), dried corn, or even bits of turkey jerky.

Sumac-ade This recipe for sumac-ade comes from my friend Neal Stilley, whose many talents include primitive arts such as fire-

Simmering Sumac-ade

Simmering Sumac-ade

making and cooking uncultivated plants. The batch of sumac-ade I made this spring was from flameleaf sumac (Rhus lanceolata) harvested in February. Harvesting when the fruits have been on the plant for such a long time doesn’t make the best-tasting tea. I’m eager to try another batch in a few of weeks when the fruits will be fresh.

  • Wash sumac fruits under cold water.
  • Bring 1 part sumac fruits and 5 parts water to a simmer, being careful not to boil.
  • Simmer for 2-5 minutes, then turn off heat and let stand for 10-15 minutes.

 

Mesquite Cake

Mesquite Cake

Mesquite Cake Grinding mesquite pods into flour is a tedious undertaking. It’s probably best done with a big group of girls and women, sitting in the shade, singing songs, sipping cool beverages, and speculating on the activities of your neighbors. In ancient times, Native women used a gyratory crusher, a sort of funnel-shaped metate, to crush mesquite pods with a heavy wooden pestle. The crushed pods fell through the hole into a basket. The beans and the brittle, outer pod were winnowed out, and the inner pod parts were re-ground into fine flour. Since I live in central Texas and not the Sonoran Desert, I had to make my pods “desert-dry” by roasting them in the oven at low heat before I tried to grind them. I used a flat-bottomed cobble to grind pods on my concrete porch, but it was a very slow process without the walls of a metate to keep the pods under my grinding stone. I decided pretty quickly that

Mesquite Cake

Mesquite Cake

producing and tasting a couple of teaspoons of flour would be enough old-school experience to satisfy me. Most modern mesquite eaters use a high-powered blender or a hammermill to process mesquite – and now I know why! Mesquite flour is very sweet, even before you add sugar to the recipe. The high sugar content makes baking with it difficult –the centers of baked goods tend to stay soft and mushy. I recommend baking very thin things such as these thin yellow cakes I made with mesquite flour from The Mesquitery.

Yucca Petals (raw) The flowers of all the yucca species I’ve tried have been edible and delicious. They

Yucca Blossoms

Yucca Blossoms

have a texture like green onions but with more substance. Most plants I’ve tried taste like radishes. A few lack that spicy kick and taste more like carrots. Some people eat the pistils and all the inner flower parts, but I stick to the petals. You can even eat them straight from landscaping in the mall.  (See blog articles from the Archives for June and July, 2012, for my own yucca experimentation–MSB.)

Woodsorrel Greens (raw) Woodsorrels have cute little heart-shaped leaves in a clover-like configuration. Here in central Texas, we have two woodsorrels: yellow woodsorrell (Oxalis dillenii), a branched plant with small yellow flowers, and Drummond’s oxalis

Wood Sorrell

Wood Sorrell

(Oxalis drummondii), a single-stemmed plant with larger, pink flowers and a bulb below ground. The wonderfully sour, refreshing leaves can be sprinkled on salads or tossed in cream sauce over pasta. Be careful not to eat too many of the raw leaves at a time, though: oxalic acid interferes with iron absorption, and too much of it can be very serious for people with impaired kidneys.

Commercially Available Sources For the May meeting of the Native Plant Society, I rounded out the table of native plant snacks with purchases from the local grocery store: agave syrup, prickly pear soda, nopalitos, and pecans. I’ll have to see what’s growing in my yard for the Caldwell County Genealogical and Historical Society next month . . . .

Grocery Store Snacks from Native Foods

Grocery Store Snacks from Native Foods

Animation Nation, Eagle Nest Canyon Style

Skiles shelter in Eagle Nest Canyon

Skiles shelter in Eagle Nest Canyon

 

How do you measure and record the irregular surface of a rock shelter? Archaeologists are using new technology to accomplish this complicated feat. Click the link below to see the latest in 3D animation from the Ancient South West Texas project.  Thanks to Charles Koenig and Steve Black for all their efforts.

Skiles Shelter 3D Animation.

How to Eat Bugs and Like It

Dr. John C. Abbott, Director of Wild Basin Preserve

Dr. John C. Abbott, Director of Wild Basin Preserve

My guest today is Dr. John C. Abbott, Director of the Wild Basin Creative Research Center (http://think.stedwards.edu/wildbasin/) in Austin, Texas, a part of St. Edward’s University.

Thank you for being with us today, John. Tell us a little bit about Wild Basin. The Wild Basin Creative Research Center serves as an extension of the St. Edward’s University main campus and includes 227 acres within the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve system. The preserve is open to the public for trail hiking and events. Wild Basin also offers volunteer opportunities and guided school tours.The Wild Basin Creative Research Center is an educational resource that provides extensive learning opportunities for students and the general public.

I understand you study dragonflies and damselflies. How did you get interested in insects? I have been interested in insects since I was a little kid. They have always fascinated me, I think largely because of their amazing diversity in numbers, form and behavior. I didn’t, however, develop a particular interest in dragonflies and damselflies until I was an undergrad in college. I was helping a graduate student in the lab I worked in, when he pointed a dragonfly out to me and said, no one is really working on this group, you should….the rest is history.

Insects in Thai market

Insects in Thai market

 I heard you say something about eating insects. Are you kidding? Not at all. The US and Western Europe are among the few cultures that don’t regularly eat insects. This isn’t because other countries are poor and they have no choice, it is because it makes sense, both nutritionally and efficiently to raise, harvest, and eat insects. They contain large amounts of protein and other nutritionally beneficial vitamins and minerals we need. They are abundant; there are more insects on the planet than any other group of animals (some 1 million species currently known). In fact, they are so numerous that they are impossible to keep out of our food supply, even if we wanted. I call this FDA sanctioned entomophagy, which is the practice of eating insects.  The government allows a certain amount of insects (or insect parts) in all our foods because you simply can’t keep them out. If you have ever eaten peanut butter, salads, or fig newtons, you have eaten insects.Most cultures around the world actively practice entomophagy (or eating insects). In most Asian markets, you will find numerous types of insects available. In Mexico they have a stink bug festival where not only do they eat stink bugs, but they also crown a Ms. Stink Bug!

Why would anybody want to eat bugs? Insects are plentiful, easily raised or harvested, and nutritionally beneficial.

Bug sushi

Bug sushi

They are also a sustainable food resource. So it is a simple matter of economics, for your pocketbook and the planet. Raising insects is much cheaper and has much less of an impact on the planet than see raising cattle. An economist at the University of Wisconsin, David Madison, once calculated that 1 person could collect 18.5 lbs. of Mormon crickets in a single hour. This many crickets contain 23,500 calories or the same as 87 chili dogs, 49 slices of pizza, or 43 big macs….think of how much effort has to go into producing those foods vs. just one hour collecting insects. Companies are ultimately concerned with their bottom dollar recognize this. One common example of an insect that is regularly used in our American food supplies is the cochineal. It is a type of scale insect that you can find on prickly pear cacti in the south. They actually raise them on cacti in large greenhouses in Mexico. They produce a deep red pigment that is better than artificial pigments for food coloring. So, many bright red foods (Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice, Gummy Bears, Mentos, Maraschino Cherries, etc…) get their red color from these insects. Companies list it write on the ingredients label.

Bug pizza

Bug pizza

Can you share any good recipes with us? The typical insect has a nutty taste to it, but in general they will pick up the flavor of whatever you cook them with or the spices that you use. So, we (well, really my wife, she is the cook in the family) often make desert items with insects when we are introducing the idea to others, because who doesn’t like sweets! You can also make some nutritionally healthy flour from insects, by drying them and then grinding them up. Some of my favorite items are Chocolate Chirp Cookies and Waxworm Fritters. There are actually a number of cookbooks out there focused on insect recipes (http://tinyurl.com/op4d2th). There is even a newsletter (http://www.foodinsectsnewsletter.org/)!

Are all insects edible? What should the novice insect gourmet look for? No, some insects are not edible because

Grubs and insects are eaten in many parts of the world.

Grubs and insects are eaten in many parts of the world.

they are toxic, or simply so small or hard to collect it wouldn’t make sense to harvest them as food. One source lists some 1400+ insects (out of the 1 million currently known) that are regularly eaten around the world. The big groups are ants, bees, and wasps, beetles, butterflies, and finally grasshoppers, roaches and crickets. It is the softer-bodied immatures of most of these insects that are used for food. They are more easily digested and easier to collect, so we are talking about eating caterpillars or beetle grubs, not an adult butterfly or big, hard beetle. You want to look for easily collected or obtained insects to use in food. Many insects are easily raised in large numbers. A good place to start is with mealworms (beetle larvae) that can be easily obtained from your local pet store.

Chapaulines, or grasshoppers, in Oaxaca, Mexico

Chapaulines, or grasshoppers, in Oaxaca, Mexico

Where can I try some? In the US, most edible insects are sold as novelty items. A company by the name of HotLix makes lollipops with crickets, mealworms and scorpions for example. You can often find these in novelty stores, but they are also available online. You might try local grocery stores catering to specific ethnic groups (Asian markets, Fiesta, etc…). Little Herds (http://littleherds.org/) is a local nonprofit that just got started. They are actively promoting insects as a sustainable food resource and have events where you can try eating insects. If you want to try cooking your own insects, you should make sure the insects have not been exposed to any pesticides. In other words, it isn’t wise to collect insects locally, especially in urban environments, because of all the insecticides that are used. There are several companies however, that raise insects specifically to be used as a food source for pet reptiles and amphibians. You can purchase insects from them, knowing they have not been exposed to insecticides and then cook them for use in your own recipes.

Many thanks, John. I learned a lot. Time for some crunchy cricket chips!

 

 

 

Jack and Missy Harrington: Landowners and Benefactors

Jack and Missy Harrington

Jack and Missy Harrington

I’m glad to welcome Jack and Missy Harrington from Comstock, Texas, to the blog today. They have lived in the Lower Pecos area all their lives, maintaining family ranches and contributing to the small town of Comstock in many ways.  Comstock is located 29 miles west of Del Rio, Texas, near the Rio Grande, in a region known for rock art that is thousands of years old. The town was founded in 1882 when the railroad built a station there. Currently the town has a population of 223.

Thanks for being with us today.  How did your family get to Comstock?  Missy: My great-grandfather bought the land sight unseen because he was told it had rivers on three sides, about 9000 acres. They lived in Mexico at the time. Five of their kids died of smallpox when little. When the two girls got older the family moved across the river to the property. They didn’t know there were steep cliffs to get to all the

Paintings of Painted Shelter rock art by Forrest Kirkland

Paintings of Painted Shelter rock art by Forrest Kirkland

water, and that the cows couldn’t get to it!  Grandmother didn’t want to live out on the ranch with a baby, so they got a house in the town of Comstock.

Tell me about growing up here. What did you think of the rock art?  Missy: I was born and  raised in Comstock, but Jack was from Del Rio. We used to have picnics at Painted Shelter [ on grandfather’s property], and I thought everybody had paintings on the wall. Kids could play in the water in the creek there, and the grown ups liked the deeper holes.  I wish I had known more about the rock art when I was a kid. The rock art’s not gonna last for ever. It makes sense to educate people about it. I remember when they built Seminole Canyon State Park. My family owned that property. I remember my grandmother was so mad cause the state wanted it so they could “take care of it.” Who did they think had

Harrington Campus pavillion at Shumla School, near Comstock, Texas

Harrington Campus pavilion at Shumla School, near Comstock, Texas

been taking care of it for 100 years?

A few years ago you donated land to the Shumla School, an outdoor experiential school and research center for rock art and archaeology run by Dr. Carolyn Boyd.  Yes, now they have the Harrington campus. After hearing Carolyn’s ideas to have a school, we decided why not? We deeded about 70 acres to Shumla as a non-profit about 1998. We had two field experiences for teachers before we had any facilities of any kind. They used portable showers in plastic bags. The pavilion and bath house were built first.  Bath house finished the Friday before the Monday.  Immediately we had a teacher training for all Comstock teachers the end of August. It was 112 degrees.  The workshop impressed the teachers for years. We’ve both worked with Shumla ever since.   Now they do programs for kids–all the Comstock and Del Rio kids have come–and for teachers. Each spring Carolyn holds a rock art workshop for adults. This past spring the Harrington campus was used by Dr. Steve Black for his Ancient Southwest Texas Project through Texas State University.

How did you and Jack meet? Missy: He used to date my neighbor. But he decided to check around for other quail. The way it was, Comstock girls had to date Comstock boys, but not the other way around. I broke out of that. We started going together when I was a junior in high school, and now we’ve been married 47 years.

Congratulations! That’s a pretty good record!  You went to college in San Antonio, right Missy? I went to Incarnate Word San Antonio. My degree is in biology, with minors in chemistry and math. I had a job lined up in research. I didn’t plan to teach school. But we decided to move back, and the only job was teaching school in Del Rio. I’d never seen a grade book before in my life. But I taught 31 years all together, 3 in Del Rio, 28 in Comstock.

Comstock ISD

Comstock ISD

Tell me about teaching school.  Missy: Well, I went to school in Comstock, K-12. We had about 90 kids back then.  We had 125 when I taught, a lot of small classes, maybe one or two kids. Sometimes 20.  We had three computers Apple 11e . You wear a lot of hats in a small school. I taught every science from 6th grade  to 12th grade. Now there are about 200 kids. One day a boy was swinging a dead rattlesnake around his head scaring the girls. I made him throw it away, and he coiled it in the trash can to scare the janitor.

Jack, you were on the Comstock ISD school board for 20 years. Yes,  I have a soft spot in my heart about school. It’s remarkable what some of these kids can do. This year we were ninth overall in UIL in Division 1A, and tied for first in physics. Diego Fausett, did that. His coach is Dr. Phil Dering, who teaches science in Comstock now, instead of Missy. Nobody falls through the cracks in Comstock ISD. Class size capped at 18. More

Students from Comstock ISD in Shumla Scholars program  work with Ancient South West Texas Project in Spring, 2014

Students from Comstock ISD in Shumla Scholars program work with Ancient Southwest Texas Project in Spring, 2014

individualized, one on one. Good teachers. Lot of home-grown teachers. Strong culture of the school. Many teachers were Missy’s students. K-12 intermingle. It’s good cause the little kids look up to the older one, and older ones model good behavior. They’re sisters and brothers. Older kids can work with the younger ones. Everybody takes care of everybody. The kids are safe and they know they are. Comstock ISD has over 2000 sq. miles, but only 50-60 kids live in CISD. The rest come from Del Rio. Three busses bring them. Kids have to apply to come to Comstock. They can’t have bad grades, failed tests, or bad behavior. If they break the rules they go home. We don’t compromise. We set standards and we hold ’em. Missy: I planted the cottonwood trees when I was a freshmen in high school. There were only two trees on campus when I was in school. Our principal bought about 11 trees. Now there are about 40 trees and lots of grass.

You were also with the volunteer fire department, right Jack?  I was a volunteer with the fire dept. for 40 years. There was a fire around Juno [ now a ghost town]  in the 1990s burned over 20,000 acres, took about two weeks to put out.  This spring there was one near Pandale, then around Juno too. Burn bans are serious. Forest service came in for this one, and another big crew came to cook and set up a kitchen. They had a huge mobile kitchen and 18-wheelers full of food, and big refrigerated trucks. There were over 300 fireman. We served dinner in the school cafeteria. About 6 of these volunteers and 5-6 of us local Comstock folks.  We cooked breakfast, made sandwiches for lunch, and made dinner at night. They would come at daylight.  Volunteers came from everywhere:Wisconsin, Colorado, Montana, California, fireman from everywhere. The kindergarten kids made laminated placemats for the firemen. The men took them home with them.

What makes Comstock a good place to live? Missy:  It’s nice and quiet. We don’t even have a key to the house. We’ve never locked the house, even when I read Helter Skelter. It’s just a different way of life. We grocery shop like a rancher, go to town once a week. The two custodians at school across the street keep their soda water in our refrig on the breezeway. It’s peaceful. No traffic. Might have to worry about a cow or two on the road, though.

Thank you both for talking with us today! As of this publication date,  Jack and Missy are in Houston awaiting the call for a  medical procedure. Best wishes, Smilin’ Jack! We wish you only good things!

The Canyon Transformed: Again, June 24, 2014

Rain storm in the desert

Rain storm in the desert

Yet more rain fell near Langtry, Texas, yesterday, transforming Eagle Nest Canyon again. This time only about one-third of an inch created a flash flood that roared down the canyon as the crew worked in Eagle Cave. Please click on the link to see photos of this remarkable transformation.  Note that the big willows and other trees are completely gone.

The Canyon Transformed.

The Canyon Runs Deep: Flooding at Eagle Nest

The normally dry Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas

The normally dry Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas

June 20, 2014, saw a catastrophic flood in Eagle Nest Canyon near Langtry, Texas. They had 11.6 inches of rain in about eight hours. That’s almost the average annual rainfall in that place! Please click on the link below to see a photographic timeline of this event–and a moving documentary on the power of water.  Thanks to the Ancient Southwest Texas Project for posting these photos. click here  The Canyon Runs Deep.

Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope: The First Modern Excavator of the Holy Land.

We have many outstanding women in archaeology working in Texas today, but it wasn’t always that way. I’m delighted to share this story of Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope who led an expedition to Egypt in 1815.

Archaeology Fantasies

Lady Stanhope dressed in men’s Turkish garb. Image via Wikicommons.

There is so much that has been written about this incredibly stunning woman. I’m not even going to try to and repeat it all, rather I’ll just link you to one of the better posts about her which is  Elizabeth Kerri Mahon‘s post over at Scandalous Women. She gives a very thorough recounting of Stanhope’s life.

Briefly though, Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope was born of a fine pedigree in 1776, one of three daughters born to Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope, by his first wife, Lady Hester Pitt. She was educated and outspoken. She flaunted convention in her life, never married, but took several lovers, and traveled extensively. She made a home for herself in the middle east, obtaining the title of Queen not through marriage but through presence and guile. In her height of power she maintained an army to…

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