A Blog by Jameson Parker
The Span of Life
The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.
- Robert Frost
The old dog barks backwards without getting up.
I can remember when he was a pup.
- Robert Frost
I got an email the other day from my friend the world-renowned award-winning photographer, Jay Dusard. In case any of you are unfamiliar with his work, the photographs sprinkled throughout this blog are all his (and these are just the first ones I snatched out of my files) as well as the book reproduced here,
which is just one of many he has published.
Jay is co-instructing—with Bruce Bambaum (http://www.barnbaum.com) and Bill Ellzey (http://billellzey.com) a photography workshop that will be held in the High Sierras and Death Valley this coming October 25th through the 31st. As Jay’s email pointed out, these are some of the most beautiful and spectacular landscapes in the American West (I would have said the world) and at one of the most beautiful times of the year to be there.
If any of you are passionate about photography and wish to study with the best of the best, visit Bruce Bambaum’s website (http://www.barnbaum.com) for more information. I can’t recommend these guys highly enough, and—as Jay pointed out—while they’re all still in good health, none of them is getting any younger, and the end of the workshop trail is on the horizon.
What is especially troubling about the predictable calls for gun control that come in the wake of every horrible tragedy, is that the more obviously insane the shooter, the more strident the attempts to place the blame on guns. It is almost as if people are afraid to admit that we have a problem with mental health issues in this country. It is a kind of willing blindness, comparable to the reactions of politicians who, when cities with already draconian and constitutionally questionable gun laws set new records for gang-related homicides (think Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, DC,) invariably place the blame on firearms, never on the breakdown of the family unit, or poor educational opportunities, or a complete lack of viable job options, or a societal construct that glorifies violence, or despicably corrupt, irresponsible, and self-serving administrations, or the too frequent combinations of those causes.
One could make an argument that anyone who commits murder, regardless of motive, weapon, or number of victims, clearly has mental problems, but in the case of the recent highly publicized shootings that have caught the public imagination, name one where the shooter or shooters were not clearly unstable to a greater or lesser extent, in one way or another. Columbine? Newtown? The Aurora movie theater? Charleston? Virginia Tech? The Gabby Giffords shooting? Yesterday’s WBDJ shootings in Virginia? Does anyone believe that any of the people responsible for these acts was sane? Technically, in the eyes of the law, where the definition is reduced to an understanding of the difference between right and wrong, perhaps they were, but who among us would have wanted to live next door to any of those people?
And yet, whenever any suggestion is made to do something about mental health in America, people immediately invoke their right to privacy. They cite the fourth amendment, even though privacy is not mentioned anywhere in the constitution and that amendment was intended to protect people from governmental abuse in the form of “unreasonable search and seizure.”
People cite the potential for abuse by health insurers and employers. But mental health is not the same as physical health; having diabetes isn’t going to be the propelling factor that makes you grab a weapon and slaughter your fellow workers. Being schizophrenic very well may.
Clearly no one can predict who is going slide off the deep end, but every time one of these shootings occurs, people come forward afterward to talk about what a looney tune the killer was, how angry or disturbed or clearly out of touch with reality that person was. After I was shot, people in the neighborhood, people who had lived next to my attacker in other neighborhoods, people who dealt with him in various work situations, all came forward to talk about how afraid they were of him, how angry and violent he was, how clearly dangerous he was.
Today’s New York Times and Washington Post both, predictably, railed against firearms, as if an inanimate object were somehow responsible, but neither of them, nor the Governor of the State of Virginia, nor the President, even mentioned the question of mental health. Is it politically incorrect to even hint that an angry, narcissistic, irrational man with a history of picking fights and holding grudges, might somehow be responsible for his own actions?
The Times, the Post, the Governor, and the President, and all the other usual suspects, have used this tragedy to repeat their call for expanded universal background checks, but if there is no means or structure in place for reporting aberrant behavior, what the hell good would expanded universal background checks have done? If no one voices their concerns, and if there is no way for legitimate concerns to be investigated, mentally unstable people will continue to be able to legally purchase firearms and commit atrocities with them.
People with mental illness shouldn’t have their rights trampled on, but neither should law-abiding gun owners.
President Obama Calls Opponents of Iran Deal “Crazies”
Headline from multiple online news sources
Crazy, I’m crazy for trusting Obama
I’m crazy, crazy for voting him in
I knew he’d use me as long as he wanted
And then one day he’d make friends with Khamenei too
Worry, why do I let myself worry?
Wondering what that old A-bomb will do
Crazy for thinking America mattered
To Obama or someone like John Kerry too
I’m crazy with worry Iran’s got the big one
I’m crazy for trusting the President’s view
Crazy for thinking security mattered
God help us, oh what are we all going to do?
With apologies to Willie Nelson and Patsy Cline, and a big thank you to my musical wife.
Dave’s memorial service was held yesterday. It was everything a memorial service should be.
For starters, it was a packed zoo, with far more people in that large church than the Fire Marshall would ever have allowed; standing room only, with an overflow out into the lobby and entrance hall; so many cars over-crammed into the parking lot that some people, including Dave’s daughter, Kristi, just gave up and parked illegally out on the street.
It was, as a memorial service should be, a time of joyous and sentimental remembrance, laughter and tears pooled in the stories and anecdotes, the memories, the photographs projected on the screens of a beloved and doting father, son, husband in all his various manifestations: dentist, gold miner, hunter, indulgent grandfather, superman, baseball player, coach, rancher, fisherman, and—perhaps most remarkably—in one photograph as a giant painted doll playing happily with his children amid among real childhood toys. He looked like something out of a Renaissance festival pageant.
Boxes of tissue passed from hand to hand along with the quiet memories shared during hugs of friends unseen for a long time, along with the sudden bursts of laughter at this memory or that, the chatter of voices, smiles and waves across the room.
But I want to tell you of the golden moment that represents the best of America. Dave’s oldest son, Jason, was speaking, and he introduced Sheriff Donny Youngblood, the man who spearheaded the manhunt for those dreadful eighteen days; Lead Homicide Detective Juan Trevino, who did so much, above and beyond the call of duty, for Dave’s family; and wounded SWAT officer Michael Booker, all of whom were there among the mourners.
Think about that for a moment. Three tired professionals, who for almost three weeks had done little else but push themselves to the limit in their efforts to catch Dave’s killer, all of whom have their own families and their own much deserved need for rest, and yet there they were, on a Sunday when they might legitimately have wanted to recharge their batteries and spend time with their loved ones, offering sympathy and support at Dave’s memorial.
And when those three officers were introduced, the entire body of mourners stood and gave them a prolonged standing ovation. They didn’t rise in sequence, inspired by a single person; instead the entire crowd rose as one to pay their respects and express their gratitude.
We need more police protests like that.
Back in May I wrote a blog (http://www.readjamesonparker.com/archives/2409)
about two young sisters, Sam and Alex Kimura, who were travelling across country in a van, looking for a bone marrow transplant match for one of them who has aplastic anemia. Since Darleen’s only child died of aplastic anemia, the idea of one of these girls being cut down by that horrible disease seemed just too… Just too. Hence the blog.
What with one thing and another, I got distracted (and isn’t that always the way; we try to do the right thing and then go on our merry unthinking way, patting ourselves on the back, and forgetting all about the issue that moved us) and only just now thought to check in and see how they’re doing.
They have created a bone marrow registry, Sharing America’s Marrow (SAM, the name and acronym being in honor of the sister who has the disease) that has the potential to save many other lives than hers and they have a website (http://www.sharingamericasmarrow.com/) I encourage you to visit. The home page announces ninety matches have been found, but whether that means ninety matches for Sam, or ninety matches for other people is not specified. I hope both.
The website has their itinerary posted and tomorrow (August 22nd) they are going to be at the New Belgium Brewing Company (just because you’re on a mission doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself!) in Fort Collins, CO. If you’re anywhere in that neck of the woods, I encourage you to go, get swabbed; you never know if you might be a match. And while you’re there, have a Fat Tire (one of New Belgium’s beers) for me; it’s one of my all-time favorites.
If you can’t make it there, check out their route, and see if you can help out somewhere else down the road.
About a year ago, I was asked to write an article for Sporting Classics magazine about a ninety year old man who was starting up a clothing company. Intrigued, I asked the company to send me a shirt so I might have some idea of what I was saying. I was stunned. Quite honestly, I’d never seen anything like it in terms of quality. I guess they liked the article because they recently sent me some of their newer offerings, and the quality remains consistent. It’s unbelievable stuff. If you’re the kind of person whose idea of roughing it in the great outdoors consists of planting geraniums in the window-box of your apartment, you can probably skip this post; but if you need, or just like, the best of the best, read on.
When I first moved to New York back in the early seventies, the world’s greatest sporting goods store stood on the corner of Madison Avenue and 45th Street. Its name was Abercrombie & Fitch.
Today Abercrombie & Fitch is most famous for making the kinds of clothes you won’t let your daughter wear and marketing them in the kinds of catalogues you don’t want your wife to catch you reading, but back in the day it was the place to go when your dreams of adventure were greater than your wallet would allow.
In addition to Griffon & Howe rifles and Randall knives, A&F sold safari gear, artic gear, Himalayan gear, boots and hats and tents and every kind of hunting equipment, everything you might possibly need or want for outdoor adventure, much of it made by Willis & Geiger. Today, Willis & Geiger is no more, a fallen victim to corporate greed and the Walmart mentality, where cost trumps quality, but “pre-owned” items (including clothing, believe it or not) still occasionally appear for sale on E-bay at extraordinary prices, and that should tell you all you need to know about the quality of Willis & Geiger. It should also tell you something about Burt Avedon, the man—along with his partner, Susan Colby—behind Willis & Geiger for the last twenty years of the company’s life, and the man now behind Avedon & Colby.
Some men manage to cram more living into a lifetime than others. Burt Avedon got his pilot’s license at the age of twelve and qualified as a multi-engine pilot at sixteen. In between those milestones, before he was old enough to legally drive, he and his brother built hotrods and raced them. He got an appointment to West Point, but went to UCLA instead, “on an interrupted basis,” where he played football for the school. But that was far too dull for him then, so by 1941, when he was seventeen, he lied about his age and went to China, flying for the American Volunteer Group, otherwise known as the Flying Tigers and sometimes regarded as a mercenary unit. After Pearl Harbor he joined the Navy and became a fighter pilot, serving in combat during both World War Two (with thirteen confirmed kills) and the Korean War. He has been a test pilot and a Top Gun instructor. Both in those capacities and in combat he did some things—some authorized, most of them not—that have become the stuff of legend, at least one of which made its way into the 1986 Tom Cruise movie, Top Gun. He has been a professional hunter in Tanzania and what was then Rhodesia. He has an MBA from Harvard, which must have made him unique in the annals of professional hunters. He was once married to an Italian princess. For the last twenty years, he and Susan Colby have worked together as a design team of what they describe accurately as “premium performance clothing” for companies such as Eddie Bauer, Beretta, Orvis, King Ranch, Russell/Mossy Oak, and many others.
And now, in his nineties, he has launched a new line of outdoor adventure clothing designed and manufactured to be not just the best there is, but to be the best there ever was or will be, just as once, under his leadership, Willis & Geiger was the best of the best. I thought that might be a bit of hyperbole until they sent me one of their shirts.
To be accurate, you can’t really call the thing a shirt; it’s more like an essential piece of survival gear, the item you want to be wearing when worldwide chaos strikes and you have to bug out to survive a dystopian apocalypse. More cheerfully, it’s the item you want to be wearing if you’re lucky enough to go on the kind of safari that Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed. If you’re the kind of man who drives himself and his equipment to ultimate extremes, or if you are simply the kind of man who has to have the very best of the best, this is the ultimate outdoor performance shirt for you. How many pieces of clothing have you bought that come with an owner’s manual?
Space will not permit me to go through each of the features, one by one, that have been built into this shirt, but very briefly, some of those features include, but are most emphatically not limited to: a retractable bi-swing back, a double reversed underarm gusset, and side panels, all of which work together to allow complete freedom of the arm without restrictive torqueing of the fabric; articulated elbows; moisture-wicking mesh; a sun collar; a throat latch; box-pleat pockets; pocket flaps designed so that they can be buttoned or neatly tucked in; zipper security pockets; special buttons made from a composite of horn and urea-methanol to last forever; and many more. I wasn’t joking about the owner’s manual.
But all the details in the world are useless if the materials and the construction aren’t up to par. Let’s start with the fabric.
It is 100% long-staple cotton bush poplin, with a very tight, very compact weave of high-twist yarn, which means it is designed to resist the thorns of the wait-a-bit as effectively as it resists wind and water. The fabric is then treated with a water-repellent finish to make it even more impervious to the elements.
All that makes it sound about as comfortable as a suit of armor, but not so. My shirt arrived the afternoon before I left for a hunting trip, so I had no time to wash it first. I told myself I could always put an undershirt on to make it bearable, but when I got to Texas, I was delighted to find out the thing was extremely comfortable and pleasant to wear right out of the box. That’s because they nap the finish of the fabric in a way that doesn’t weaken it—unlike the cheaper surface-sanding process other companies use—but that does soften it.
A choice of colors will be offered later, but for the time being it comes only in a precise replica of the traditional tea-dyed khaki color the British Army developed during their reign as masters of the Raj. Apparently, the first soldiers in India were outfitted with white uniforms intended for tropical climes, white uniforms which promptly got permanently stained by the red clay of India’s roads. Hence the development of “British Tan,” the world’s first camouflage.
Now let’s look at the construction. The owner’s manual states that, “all seams are single-needle stitched and serged to prevent any fraying of the material.” Unless you’re a tailor it’s unlikely any of that means anything to you. It meant nothing to me, so I called my friends at Horsewright Clothing and Tack, makers of—among other great products—the finest handmade wool vests in the world.
Single needle stitching is a finishing process that is done to the edge of the fabric to add strength and finish to a seam. Are you still with me? Serging, sometimes misspelled “surging,” and sometimes referred to as an “overlock” stitch, is a means of using multiple threads to bind the edge of the fabric and prevent fraying. Whenever fabric is woven, there are longitudinal threads (the warp) that run in one direction, while the other threads (variously called the woof or the weft) run at right angles to the warp. In a cheap product, stitches are simply driven through the fabric, which means they rely on the warp and woof to hold them. Over time and with repeated use (think of the repetitive putting on and taking off of a garment) the warp and weft—or woof—can literally become unwoven. Serging incorporates multiple threads in both straight and zigzag patterns to add strength and prevent that from happening. It’s the kind of small detail only an expert would think to look for, but it’s also the kind of detail that means a garment won’t suddenly begin to disintegrate two weeks into your safari of a lifetime.
Because the firm of Avedon & Colby is so new, only shirts are available at this writing, but Burt Avedon told me they have other items in the works, clothing as revolutionary in its quest for perfection as their shirt, clothing I am looking forward to seeing.
It’s hard to explain in words how over-designed and over-manufactured this shirt is. The best way to describe it is to say that anytime you put on a new piece of clothing it has a certain effect: a dress shirt or a new tie may make you feel a little more handsome; a new suit might make you feel a little more elegant or professional. This shirt is exciting to wear. It makes you feel like a cross between Indiana Jones and Harry Selby. It makes you want to grab your Westley Richards sidelock and go hunting, right now.
It’s over. Like everyone else in this neck of the woods, we saw the breaking news last night, but I wanted to wait and be absolutely, positively certain before I wrote anything. And like everything else about this manhunt, nothing turned out quite the way everyone, including the extraordinarily courageous and pertinacious law enforcement officers, thought it would.
Apparently—and there will probably always be too many apparentlys and maybes and we-thinks—he eluded law enforcement in Onyx yesterday and walked out during the night over the approximately thirteen or fourteen miles of mountains, down to the little desert village of Inyokern, where he stopped to buy some food at a convenience store on the outskirts of the town. The owner of the store recognized him, texted his sister, who called the sheriff’s department, and when two deputies confronted him about half a mile behind the store, as headed back to the mountains, the…thing…(I still can’t bring myself to think of him as a man) brandished a nine millimeter pistol at them and they killed him.
I thought the conclusion would bring relief and peace, but… Yes, there was elation, and yes, for the first time in eighteen days, last night we didn’t lock the windows, relying instead on our early-warning alarm system in the form of dogs, but it doesn’t bring the peace I had hoped for.
I can’t pretend I’m not glad he’s dead, I am glad, I am, but at the same time, I wish he could have been caught alive so that at least some of the questions—so many questions—could be perhaps partly answered. All those whys and whats and wherefores will always remain unknown now. Perhaps they would have anyway (how could I expect logical rationalization from a monster?) but I would have liked to have laid eyes on him in a courtroom. I would have liked to have seen if his eyes were as dead and empty and devoid of soul in real life as they were in his various mugshots.
To my surprise my sleep last night was one appalling nightmare after another, where this thing was always present in different forms, masquerading as this or that, sometimes male, sometimes female, but always representing some unknowable quintessence of evil. And perhaps that’s the only lesson from all this horror and tragedy: to understand that evil in that degree is always unknowable for those of us who are not evil. We may do stupid things, or even bad things, but we are as different from that as day from night, dark from light, up from down.
I’m very grateful to Sheriff Donny Youngblood and the Kern County Sheriff’s Department. I am very grateful to the homicide detective, a man named Juan Trevino, who went in and cleaned up the mess in the cabin so that Cheryl and a friend could get in to retrieve personal effects without having to see it all again. I’m very happy this came to a conclusion before Dave’s memorial service. I hope Dave’s family and his many friends may now have at least a little peace.
When my father was killed, my aunt, his sister, sent me the following poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go, – so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.
In the spirit of, “it’s always darkest before the dawn,” I was about to announce the search for Dave’s killer had been scaled back, that things did not look good for his capture, and that it was time for me to move on and start writing and obsessing about other things. But breaking news this morning is that there was a sighting, yesterday evening, of a man who matches the murderer’s description, with a rifle or shotgun over his shoulder (and deer season isn’t open yet, folks) filling up two water jugs in the tiny village of Onyx.
Onyx is a miniscule community north of Dave’s ranch that I wrote about in my memoir, An Accidental Cowboy. It’s where Joyce Shaw had her ranch, and back in those days (the nineties) the village consisted of a handful of ranchers and a handful of colorful retirees, and there wasn’t much there. I haven’t been in Onyx since the day I spent with Joyce and others, getting chased around her rickety branding pen by some exceptionally foul tempered calves, but it is still big, rugged, empty land, and judging by the coverage on our local ABC affiliate (and they deserve credit for covering the manhunt better and more fully than either of the other two local stations) the town is still as modest today as it was back then.
But God bless one alert resident who saw the killer! The advantage of living in a town the size of a postage stamp, with only a handful of residents, is that the handful all know each other and strangers stick out like sore thumbs. The result is that the many tired men and women of law enforcement, who were in the process of breaking down their encampment and scaling back, all leapt into action, and the news got footage of helicopter swooping in at sunset.
If the reports are correct, they’ve got the evil monster corner on a rocky hill. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s a big hill, a sort of giant rock pile, if you will, with countless places to hide, including at least one well-known cave, and the monster is armed. So say a prayer for law enforcement, and say a prayer that this may all be over soon.
Pain and grief affect different people in different ways, and I’d like to give you just a small glimpse into the character of my friend by telling you how his family has reacted.
Two weeks have come and gone since Dave was murdered so brutally, so completely unnecessarily. Because the evil thing that killed him is still at large, still somewhere in the area close to the cabin, Dave’s family hasn’t even been able to send in a clean-up crew or to recover personal items they would like to have. As long as the cabin remains as it is, and as long as the monstrous freak remains on the loose, they cannot turn the page on that particular aspect of this nightmare. It’s a little like having someone constantly poking your open wound. There are any number of negative ways such a horror might prompt family members to react, and no one could ever blame or point a finger.
But consider how the Markiewitz family has reacted. In the midst of their own grief, even as they are still in throes of trying to come to grips with their loss and to rebuild their own lives, even before the memorial service has even been held, they have established a scholarship fund in David’s name. Yes, the idea is in part to honor a remarkable man, but it is a testament to an equally remarkable family that they wish to do so by helping others.
The David L. Markiewitz Scholarship Fund will offer assistance to any high school student at Tehachapi High School who exhibits the good moral character and well-rounded lifestyle that characterized David’s own life. Because of Dave’s medical career and interest in all things scientific (he used to tell me sometimes about some of the projects he was working on “just for fun” and I would have post-traumatic flashbacks to the science classes of my misspent youth) the nod will probably be given to students who intend to pursue careers in science or medicine or aeronautics, but not it will not be limited to those fields. It’s the character of the student that will be most important.
They have asked that in lieu of flowers, donations to the fund be sent to either:
The Dr. David L. Markiewitz Scholarship Fund at Bank of the West, 758 Tucker Road, Tehachapi, CA 93561;
or directly to Cheryl Markiewitz, P.O. Box 697, Tehachapi, CA 93581;
or to the fund site they are establishing on gofundme.com.
Whether their page on gofundme.com has been set up or not, I’m honestly not sure. Those of you who read my blog know that my computer skills begin and end with turning the miserable machine on and then off, so I may have not typed in the right words, or it may not yet be up and running, but the other two options are available.
In the meantime, to reiterate yesterday’s update: The killer has been positively identified as Benjamin Peter Ashley (above), a black male, 5’11”, 180lbs, with light skin and hazel eyes and a lengthy criminal history. If anyone has any information that might possibly be of any help in catching him, please call the Kern County Sheriff’s Department’s designated twenty-four hour tip line at 661 392 4360. Eighteen separate law enforcement agencies are still out there, risking their lives, but the good news is that the road closure through the valley has been upgraded to a “soft closure,” meaning residents with ID are now allowed to drive through.
Remember the Markiewitz family in your prayers, and pray also for the safety of the many men and women of law enforcement who are trying to catch this…thing.