(Click on the photo to order from the retailer of your choice.)

Don't just take my word for how great this book is, check out what Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, and BookPage have to say.

And if those sources didn't tell you enough, how about this review from the New York Times (!), this story from The Lily, or this tweet from Secretary Clinton: 

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Given that we are currently #SaferAtHome, I've been making the podcast rounds. Give a listen to Zestful Aging, where we talked about just doing it,  Mama Bear Dares, where we talked about the importance of local government, and/or The Upstate Regular, where I talk about our county's COVID-19 Challenges. 

NEW: I did an online reading for the Princeton Public Library and talked a little bit about what local government is facing right now. If you've wondered what I look like at a reading, give it a gander.

NEW NEW: The Hillary Clinton story continues...

Izzy Bird, the Indian problem

After a few more night sleeping in less savory conditions, Isabella is 18 miles from Denver and riding through the Turkey Creek Canyon. She took a short cut through a Ute Indian encampment of 500, which is a “disorderly and dirty huddle of lodges, ponies, men, squaws, children, skins, bones, and raw meat.”

For a woman of the 1870s, she has a pretty good grasp on how the Indians would continue to be treated. There will be no solution to the Indian problem, she says, until the Indian is extinct. Americans “have treated them after a fashion which has intensified their treachery and ‘devilry’ as enemies, and as friends reduces them to a degraded pauperism, devoid of the very first elements of civilization.

"The Indian Agency has been a sink of fraud and corruption; it is said that barely 30 percent of the allowance ever reaches those for whom it is voted; and the complaints of shoddy blankets, damaged flour, and worthless firearms are universal. An attempt has been made to cleanse the Augean stable* of the Indian Department, but it has met with signal failure, the usual result in America of every effort to purify the official atmosphere.**

“Americans specifically love superlatives. The phrases ‘biggest in the world,’ ‘finest in the world,’ are on all lips. Unless President Hayes is a strong man,*** they will soon come to boast that their government is composed of the ‘biggest scoundrels’ in the world.”

Once again, I wish Isabella was alive to see what we’re going through now. I imagine she’d have some … interesting …. observations.


* one of Hercules’ labors.

** ouch. Fair, mind, but ouch.

*** interestingly, Hayes was one of the first presidents to lose the popular vote but win the office because of the Electoral College. He also rolled back Reconstruction and was shocked (shocked!) when that meant Black men effectively lost their ability to vote. Oh - and the whole Indian Agency thing really went from awful to catastrophic under his watch.

Izzy Bird, the American character

Isabella is making slow progress to Denver because the roads are covered in ice. This is a common route for loggers and there is talk of installing a railway.*
The question that the Colorado Territory is currently grappling with is “drink or no drink,” meaning should it be a dry state once it joins the Union. Isabella, who believes that excessive drink is a problem, seems to have no problem with alcohol as a concept. But her bigger issue is one that is still lurking in the American psyche. “The ‘almighty dollar’ is the true divinity [in the west], and its worship is universal,” she says.
“‘Smartness’ is the quality most thought of. The boy who ‘gets on’ by cheating at his lessons is praised for being a ‘smart boy,’ and his satisfied parents foretell that he will make a ‘smart man.’ A man who overreaches his neighbor, but who does it so cleverly that the law cannot take hold of him, wins an envied reputation as a ‘smart man,’ and stories of this species of smartness are told admiringly round every stove. Smartness is but the initial stage of swindling, and the clever swindler who evades or defines the weak and often corruptly administered laws of the States excites unmeasured admiration among the masses.”
In a footnote added later, Isabella said, “The best and most thoughtful among Americans would endorse these remarks with shame and pain.”
Can confirm that she is not wrong.
* She goes into great detail about the style of horse-drawn wagons and teamsters and pack-jacks** that I’ll spare you.
** I don’t know either but Birdie is afraid of them.

Izzy Bird, coincidence? (yes, probably)

A brief interlude, prompted by Stoddart's bio/hagiography of Isabella Bird.

When she wasn't galavanting around the world, Bird spent the bulk of her adult life in Scotland -- and most of her time in Scotland was spent in Edinburgh.* 

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This is the part of Edinburgh I'll be referring to. The castle, which is what every person uses to orient themselves, is #6.

Stoddart lists two of the places the Isabella and her sister rented over the years. #2 is 7 Castle Terrace; #3 is 3 Atholl Place. While it might look like there is a lot of distance between the two, there really isn't. It's maybe a five minute walk. 

The last place I stayed in February 2018, which was the last time I was in Edinburgh,** is #1: Canning Street Lane Apartments. In the morning, I'd walk to the coffee place at #4. I recommend both, btw. 

Our last morning, I took a picture on my walk because the light was interesting.


This is Atholl Terrace. I believe the house in question is on the left. 

I took another picture about two seconds later, when I was putting my phone away and noticed a coin on the sidewalk.


Did Isabella's ghost leave it for me? Is this some kind of mysterious working of the universe? 

Eh. Probably not. It's neat, though.

I have to share a couple of other pictures from the trip, simply because they still amuse me but have nearly nothing to do with ghosts and destiny.


Cory was only 12 and forced to tour the whisky heritage center, which ends with a tasting. Because he is my child, he took notes on what the tour guide said each region's product tasted like. I think he took a sip of one, just to see, and decided he did would be happier with the Irn Bru offered to kids and/or teetotalers. 


There is a pub between St. Andrews and Edinburgh where the custom is to measure yourself on the wall and write your name. Cory was just taller than "Shirley No Shoes Involved."


St. Andrews, btw, is home to the creepiest and most wonderful aquarium in the world. You should go. 

Oh! And #5 on my Edinburgh map is a great Italian place. Highly recommend. 


* In case anyone has a lead on employment, I speak for both my spouse and myself when I say we'd move there in a heartbeat.

** Seriously. In a heartbeat.

Izzy Bird, not all peace and love

Isabella survived the night in the dubious cabin’s tent. She’s made it to Deer Valley, where she’s staying in a beautiful place where the people are less so. This will get rough.

“…two free-tongued noisy Irish women … are telling the most fearful stories of violence, vigilance committees, Lynch law, and ’stringing*’ that I ever heard. It turns one’s blood coldly to think that where I travel in perfect security, only a short time ago men were being shot like skunks. These women has a boarder, only 15, who thought he could not be anything until he shot somebody, and they gave an absurd account of the lad dodging about with a revolver, and not getting up courage enough to insult any one, till at last he hid himself in a stable and shot the first Chinaman who entered.”

Back in these mining towns, violence is a given. Usually, most of the shootings stem from words at the saloon. Some are driven by jealousy or revenge over “some woman not worth fighting for.” At two nearby towns, “vigilance committees had lately been formed, and when men act outrageously and make themselves generally obnoxious they receive a letter with a drawing of a tree, a man hanging from it, and a coffin below, on which is written ‘Forewarned.’ They ‘git’ in a few hours.”

A hanging had happening up at the dubious cabin just a night before Isabella got there. The miscreant in question “was overpowered by numbers, and, with circumstances of great horror, was tried and strung on that tree within an hour.” And as she explains in her own footnote: “Public opinion approved this execution, regarding it as fitting retribution for a series of crimes."


* it’s what you think it is.

pandemic lesson

The idea behind Big's Backyard Ultra could not be more simple: every hour, a runner must run a "yard," which is a 3.5 mile lap through the Tennessee woods. (There's a documentary if you are so inclined.) Most runners (even me) can easily run 3.5 miles in under an hour - but that isn't what the race is about. Instead, the race is about showing up every hour to run. 

Every hour, you need to be ready to run. The clock never stops. When you finish your yard, you have whatever time you have back in camp to regroup. Early in the race, a runner might have 10-15 minutes; toward the end of the race, many finish their yard in just enough time to head back out. It is relentless.

But that isn't the most devious part: the race only ends when there is only one runner left who can complete the next yard. It could be over in two days; it could be done in a week. Fourteen U.S. runners started. As I type this, we're 53 hours in. Two runners remain -- one male, one female* -- and both predicted they'd go at least 72 yards, which would mean they'll see their third sunset without sleep.


(this photo is from Keith Dunn's twitter feed and marked the start of hour 30.)

This year, a new wrinkle was added because of the pandemic. Countries could field their own teams of 15 in their own yards, as long they measured 3.5 miles. Every lap starts on the hour across the globe. Right now, out of 21 teams, only Mexico, Sweden, Belgium, and the U.S. have runners left. Whichever country completes the most yards, wins. This has led (and continues to lead) to some interesting math, which I'll leave to someone else to figure out. With this wrinkle, however, it's in any given team's best interest to keep as many runners racing as they can. Individually, tho, it's in your best interest for your competition to RTC.** 

Yes, this Big's Backyard is devised by Lazarus Lake, the same crusty dude who devised the Barkley Marathons. Yes, Lake stirred up controversy earlier this year by stating that running and politics should never mix but he seems to be OK with runners making their own statements now. And, yes, Lake's blog posts about the event capture the essence of what it means to be human. Example, when a runner dropped, Laz wrote "his strong ran out," which sums it up better than pages of prose.

This year has been a kind of Big's Backyard Ultra for all of us. Getting the yards in was easy back in the spring. It got harder to have enough time in camp as we've moved into fall -- and winter looks like it'll be full of laps where we get back to camp only to leave again. The next few months will not be about avoiding injury but managing the ones we have. Unlike Big's, we can't really RTC. But like any runner who can go this kind of distance, we can celebrate the moments where the yards feel easy and know that the hard yards will end. All you can do is focus on the one you are running right now.


* when you get into this kind of mileage, men and women are equals. It's not about strength or size but about sheer will.

** Refuse to Compete -- the term of art for being to broken/exhausted to go on, although some runners also RTC when they can't get back to the start/finish in enough time. To quote the organizer: they are left our in the woods to replenish the forest. 

Izzy Bird, on guns

Prompted by her stay in the tent just outside of the dubious cabin, Isabella shares a word with her sister about guns.

“I never told you that I gave an unwary promise that I would not travel alone in Colorado unarmed, and that in consequence I left Estes Park with a Sharp’s revolver loaded with ball cartridge in my pocket, which has been the plague of my life. Its bright, ominous barrel peeped out in quiet Denver shops, children pulled it out to play with,* or, when my riding dress hung up with it in the pocked, pulled the whole from the peg to the floor; and I cannot conceive of any circumstances to which I could feel it right to make any use of it, or in which it could do me any possible good.”

Given her current lodging, however, she decided to take it out to clean and oil.** She placed it under her pillow, “resolving to keep awake all night. I slept as soon as I lay down, and never woke till the bright morning sun shone through the roof, making me ridicule my own fears and abjure pistols forever.”

* yikes

** that’s what she said

Izzy Bird, worst cabin ever

Isabella has arrived at the cabin with a dubious reputation.

“A man came out in the sapient and good-natured state of intoxication,*” she says.

It is the worst place she’s stayed, this old and very dirty, unchinked log cabin. There is “one dingy room used for cooking and feeding, in which a miner was lying very ill of fever; then a large roofless shed with a canvas side, which is to be an addition, and then the bar.”

They asked if she was the English lady the Denver Post had written about. She says she is. Not that her fame buys her any favors. “A horrible meal was served — dirty, greasy, disgusting.” A well-known hunter** arrives. He has a young man with him who is dressed like a hunter but is actually an English gentleman.

He is “lording it in true caricature fashion, with a Lord Dundreary drawl and a general execration of everything.” Isabella sits quietly and watches the show. “He took no notice of me till something passed which showed him I was English, when his manner at once changed into courtesy, and his drawl was shortened by a half. He took pains to let me know that he was an officer in the Guards, of good family, on four months’ leave, which he was spending slaying buffalo and elk, and also that he had a profound contempt for everything American.”

Shortly thereafter, the innkeeper moved into the “sodden, sleepy stage of drunkeness” and his wife asks if Isabella is ok sleeping in the “canvas-sided, unceiled, door-less shed as they could not move the sick miner.”

And so she does.

* Who amongst us?

** apparently, there were well-known hunters.

Izzy Bird, new use for old socks

Isabella and Birdie face treacherous trail conditions when they leave Fairplay.
“The snow which had melted in the sun had re-frozen, and was one sheet of smooth ice. Birdie slipped so alarmingly that I got off and walked, but then neither of us could keep our feet, and in the darkness she seemed so likely to fall upon me, that I took out of my pack the man’s socks which had been given me at Perry’s Park, and drew them over her fore-feet — and expedient which for a time succeeded admirably, and which I commend to all travelers similarly circumstanced.*”
With the arrival of true darkness, the level of danger increases.
“I … remounted, allowed her to take her own way, as I could not even see her ears, and though her hind legs slipped badly, we contrived to get along through the narrowest part of the canyon… the pines were very dense, and sighed and creaked mournfully in the severe frost, and there were other EERIE** noises not easy to explain.”
After far too long in such conditions, she spied a campfire and two hunters. Nearby is a building where, “in spite of its somewhat dubious reputation,” she has been told she could stay.
* I have made a note.
** her bold type, not mine