Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fort Apache, River Work and So Forth

Our latest Costco run supplied us with a cheap collection of John Wayne movies. We watched Fort Apache last night. John Wayne was a bugaboo when I was in high school. He was that crusty dick who supported the war in Vietnam on television talk shows. A guy like him who only played soldiers was easily made iconic as the face of stupid America—remembering that I was a teenager. I had no interest in his movies at the time.

Later, I came round to them, especially the ones directed by John Ford. Beth saw a few when she recently visited her mother and aunt, and caught the urge to see more. She hadn’t seen Fort Apache, and it has been a while  for me.

From the cover, I feared it would be colourized—Ted Turner’s gift to the non-Ted Turner world—which I find obnoxious. Luckily, it was in its original b&w state. If colourization can work at all—a possibility that I find dubious—it aint going to work with the sort of breathtaking landscapes of this one. Smeary, over-excited colour would just ruin the geology.

Ford movies all have a set of features. He uses a lot of the same people in his movies: Victor McLagen, Ward Bond, not to mention John Wayne 11 times. There’s always comedy, whether slapstick or a sort of parlour humour. There are sentimental moments, and finally, action moments.

The movie centres on Henry Fonda’s character, Wayne’s in support. Fonda’s the new commandant of Fort Apache, which posting he regards as a radical swerve in his career. A teenage Shirley Temple plays his nubile daughter. She’s all fresh and sparkly while dad is dour and moody.

She encounters the young and handsome John Agar as a West Point grad newly posted to Fort Apache. She doesn’t stop drooling over him. She’s inadvertently led into a room where he’s shirtless and her tongue hangs out as he covers up in embarrassment.

Agar is met by cronies of his father, who is a sergeant at the fort. The cronies, who include McLagen, supply comic relief.

Wayne is a captain at the fort. His loose outpost ways conflict with Fonda’s spit and polish colonel. The burgeoning Temple/Agar match runs amiss when the Lieutenant takes the miss for a ride out in the endless desert and they come upon victims of an Apache raiding party. Subjecting Fonda’s daughter to the sight and the danger earns Agar the enmity of the angry father.

Fonda is keen to make his mark, so that he can correct the arc of his career. The raiding party consisted of disaffected Apache who were sick of being screwed by the Indian agent. Wayne manages to make council with Cochise, and Cochise agrees to return to the reservation if the Indian agent is removed. Fonda decides to break the truce and capture Cochise, because it will look good on his record. Now wait, first there’s a small detachment that goes to collect the corpses of that earlier raid. They were chased by Apaches but the cavalry rescued them. The Lieutenant showed his stuff in that affair, like we didn’t see it coming.

THEN Fonda leads a regiment to meet take the Apaches by force. Wayne is outraged and having expressed that outrage is sent to remain with the supply train, as is the Lieutenant. The regiment then rides full out into a defile, where they are mowed down. Fonda loses his horse and Wayne somehow rides in to save him. Instead, Fonda commandeers Wayne’s horse and rides back to his men. I guess Wayne walked back to safety. The few remaining men of the regiment are quietly over run. They approach the supply rain in defensive posture, return the regimental guidon and leave.

The interesting things about the movie include the sensitivity towards the Indians, the stalwart by the book of Fonda’s character, and the rather complex motivations of some of the characters. Fonda has a military weed up his ass: tall, straight, slender, with a dashing moustache. In contradistinction, Wayne moves with that sidling slouch. He doesn’t seem to be acting, Fonda definitely does, and both do so in the best sense.

This morning, once again, I collected data for the Organization for the Assabet River System. I can’t call it an onerous task. Had to get up at 4:30, which is not unusual for me. Went to bed somewhat late, however. I set my phone to wake me. At 3:30, I woke from a dream that basically told me to wake up. The cat confirmed it was time to get up. Really, it was breakfast time, I was assured. I went to the couch where I could doze but wouldn’t be so comfortable as to oversleep. And an hour later the plucky reel from the movie This Is Spinal Tap thrummed me awake.

Beth had no posting, Erin was on the middle Assabet, and I was on the Concord. I arrived early at the boathouse in Concord. I went down to where the canoes are parked. A blue heron apparently among the canoes reacted to my presence by taking wing with a squawk. It flew upriver, looped around, squawked mightily then away. Fred, the same person as last time arrived. We waited a bit for Nancy’s arrival. She had as much experience as I.

We took our readings, which isn’t complex. We record air temperature, then use a meter that records water temperature, pH, conductivity, and such. We take two water samples, one with a preservative. This site was the only one that didn’t require an extension pole to take the samples and readings. The boathouse is a pretty spot. It’s in Concord, Massachusetts!!! As Thoreau noted, the river hardly has any gait at all at this point. A man in a kayak passed by.

The three of us collected in Fred’s pickup and headed for Bedford’s boat ramp. There were some men getting their boats into the water to fish. They weren’t yahoos but at that time of day they seemed jarringly hearty. The water had a miserable oil slick and Fred decided that we should take readings elsewhere. He thought maybe from the bridge, which looked awkward. I suggested the other wide of the river. We’d just watched a heron fly across the river to land there. Fred said, let’s go join it.

We drove around and I stupidly didn’t have my camera ready. The heron took majestic wing on our arrival, and I missed the picture. a sign was posted at the site concerning the safety of eating the freshwater fish in Massachusetts: Don’t Eat the Fish! It is not an issue with me in the sense that I don’t like fish, but I still like the possibility available. I kinda would like to think that water, which I tend to drink daily, is potable. This river system, at least, has very little uphill, so even your average fat ass could be inspired to use main strength to motivate a boat to a fishing hotspot. Eventually the problem will become serious…

Next stop  was somewhere in Billerica. I live in a corner of the town but have hardly explored the place. rambling the country roads of Carlisle and Billerica, we almost hit a female turkey and three rabbits. With the rabbits, one made a cunning dash. Two others less explosively followed suit, but Fred managed to miss them. Behind one of the fire stations there’s access to the river. It is chained off now, because people were driving in and making a mess. Mist rose from the water, a lovely scene.

Next we went to Lowell, to the little park we visited last month.There’s actually something akin to rapids here. A heron flew right under the bridge, but of course I missed the picture. A woman brought her large dog to the park but seeing us retreated, whether not wishing to disturb us or concerned that her dog would eat us.

The final site was an overgrown place next to a small factory building. This was actually River Meadow Brook, which feeds into the Concord. Sadly trashy.

It is fun doing this and therefore I cannot pretend that this proves my commitment to a noble  good. The scuzzy scene at the boat ramp distresses me. When I was reading William Manchester’s book about the Krupp dynasty, I got stuck on the idea of those mines in Alsace or wherever, that supplied the war with ores. Think of battleships, planes, and bombs, bombs, bombs, all gouged from the earth terrifically. I mean, when does endlessness stop?

I read in the paper that there’s a helium shortage. Helium supplies are exhaustible. Think of all those creepy silvery balloons hustled to parties. For something so dippy as a balloon, the loss of this element. Oh by the way,  fracking poisons the water table.