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History of the English Language Podcast


Cold winter’s day.

January 17, 2018

Last night at about one, or so, I was awake, so I listened to History of the English Language podcast by Kevin Stroud.  He has 106 episodes and he tracks the development of English from its Indo-European roots on the steppes of Asia perhaps 5000 years ago.  Our language has some ancient words in amongst the modern.  Sure, many of our words were borrowed from other languages, but a number have been passed along from the earliest tribal days on the steppes after the last ice age.  Old words tend to pertain, of course, to matters we have in common with our ancestors, such as “oxen,” “yoke,” and “mother” and “father.”  The newest words often pertain to technology, such as “fax” and “google.”  Mr. Stroud helps us stop and examine words, and for that I recommend his podcast.

English is a Germanic language that owes a lot to Latin.  One cannot understand the history of the language without knowledge of the social and political climate from which it sprung.  Think of all the anomalies in spelling.  Many of these were contrivances of ancient scribes who were adept at using the alphabet to approximate the sounds of words in olden times.  Mr. Stroud notes that Old English, such as in Beowulf, would be unintelligible to a modern English speaker, but Middle English, such in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, while strange-sounding, can pretty much be understood, though perhaps not completely.  He poses the question, what kind of English did William Shakespeare write in?  Answer:  Modern.  Granted, Mr. Shakespeare used words we might find quaint, but his work can be easily understood today.

I found it interesting the notion that not all written languages have alphabets.  Chinese, for example, employs hundreds, if not thousands, of characters that are, in effect, pictures, while English gets by with a few more than two dozen letters.  He notes that languages that employ phonetic alphabets, like English, are much easier to learn to read and write.  The ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics had scores of characters that only specially educated scribes could read and write.  Those who study linguistics may not learn anything new here, but the rest of us might.

I hope I’ve piqued your interest.  Just google the above podcast and give it a try.


Musings just before Christmas


December weather.

December 20, 2017

Snowing steadily.  Fire in stove glowing coals orange.  Gunther asleep, his back legs scissoring.  Got off phone with Clara in San Diego.  She promised to send an essay young George wrote about Gunther for the Portable Wall.  Jon is making up the pages for the first PW issue in a long time.  Clara asked what I planned to do today.  A puzzle?  Read?  I planned to sit here looking at the fire.  Then I considered writing for the first time in about a month.

P. and I haven’t dressed up the house much for Christmas.  Oh, there’s a wreath near the front door and a festive light bouquet, and indoors a candle on the dining room table.  But that’s it.  Some bells on the back doorknob.  A pint of whiskey in the cupboard.  Christmas preparations. A few gifts on the clavichord.  Preparations.

Is this going to be a Christmas letter?  What’s happened during 2017?  We paid taxes and our CPA retired.  He was overly religious, we thought, so I found a new one without such extreme views about Christianity.

P. and I still work part time.  That’s a good thing because I often nap on days I’m not working.  Those naps wouldn’t be any fun without the work days.

Her work is more fun than mine, although I get what pleasure I can from being a pharmacist.  Damn!  I still don’t know what a pharmacist does and I’m almost retired from being one.  For a while I defined my job as helping people get the most from their prescriptions.  That job description worked well for me when I worked for the Indian Health Service and I had time and opportunity to sit down with people and talk about their meds.  I dreamt about working there just a couple days ago.

People talk about their health and the health of their loved ones in a Christmas letter.  I’ll probably skip that in mine.

We did some traveling, but I’ll probably skip that too.  Right now I can’t remember where all we went.  Christmas day P. and I plan to drive to Duluth with Gunther.  What an adventure that is likely to be!

I spend too much time on Facebook.  P. avidly works crossword puzzles.  Every now and again someone will approach me and announce that we are friends on Facebook.  This is always a bit awkward, but it’s always nice to know a real human being is out there in computer-land.

What to do for supper tonight?  Last night we shared a pork loin with potatoes, gravy, and salad.  Seems like I ought to come up with an idea, but those ideas are the hardest part.  I used to make a killer vegetable pie, just right for this cold snowy weather.  But that would mean a trip to the store for peppers, onions, mushrooms, cheese.  Hey.  Why not?  Other than the risk to life and limb.

Gunther has shifted.  I poke him with my foot.  He looks at me, like “WTF?”  He migrated to his crate.  He yipped for no apparent reason, then crawled up on the back of my chair.

Photo on 3-30-17 at 1.35 PM

The Portable Wall



My nephew Jon Angel and I are bringing back the good old PW from the obscurity of the 70s, 80s, 90s of the last millennium. Sure, we are “modern” and “digital” and all of that. Come to think of it, I’m not quite sure why we’re publishing another PW. Perhaps all of our friends aren’t on Facebook, or even communicate with computers and smartphones.

This is altogether better than a damned Christmas letter.

This can also serve as a recruitment for new submissions from old PW friends, although we have lost a good share of the original contributors. We lost Tom Struckman, Dana Graham, Hannah Graham, John Herman, Gordon Simard, Nathaniel Blumberg and others a bit more distant from our circle, but who nonetheless contributed materials. Some simply dropped from sight. Some of those lost were unseen benefactors, like Jim Oset and Printer Bowler.


Dirk Lee

Do you remember the original Portable Wall? In the summer of 1977 I took a journalism class at the University of Montana in Missoula taught by Wilbur Wood, titled “Poetry and Journalism.”

We wrote pieces and read them to each other. Wilbur required each of us do a project.

Mine was starting a magazine. All the while e.e. cummings’ poem “Let’s Start a Magazine.” Was buzzing in my head.   I had wanted to start a magazine since high school, so I was glad to have a chance to do so. I had a couple of models to imitate, mostly the one by Peter R. Koch, “Montana Gothic.”

Some of us got together to start the magazine: Mark Fryberger, Tom Struckman, Dana Graham, Dirk Lee. Thus issue one was born. At that time the magazine didn’t have a name. We decided whoever contributed the most toward publishing the first ish could name it. That was Dana, who named it “Portable Wall.” It was named after a wall in an apartment in Missoula. The apartment, in a house everyone called church house or main house, was on Main Street on the north side of the river. I have pictures of the decrepit place. Anyway, one wall attracted a lot of graffiti. One I remember was written by Scott Hendryx: “Life is what we do while waiting to die.” The rest of the wisdom was a bit more uplifting and hippie-oriented. That made it perfectly forgettable. I remember the other half of the apartment building had Bob Gesell and some other musicians. ###


I had “resting bitch face.”

Photo on 4-28-17 at 11.22 AM

November 18, 2017

When I am at repose, my partner occasionally would remark on my facial expression.  That I looked like a sourpuss.  Reminded me when I was in the Marines in 1970 when I walked along a street on base and an NCO shouted at me, “What are you so mad about?”

While visiting our daughter and her family in San Diego she chimed in about my frowning face.  Turns out to be a common condition, she said to P. later.  “Resting bitch face.”  Turns out gravity overcomes the jowls causing an intense frown.  Nothing to be done for it, short of surgery.

Do you Rinse your Sinuses?



Most mornings, Gunther and I walk the alley behind our house to get him ready for the day.  The alley is always interesting.  I’m torn between my natural neatness and the limit of my disinterestedness whether to pick up garbage.  Such as the box of sinus rinse packets—the size of restaurant salt packets— 200 count, spilling its contents–apparently all 200–near a dumpster.  That was Sunday.

Of course Gunther attacked the problem for me, nosing into the packets.  This alarmed me because he is apt to eat offal or anything else he finds.  Fortunately he didn’t seem to eat any.  But its hard to tell.  I mused that the former owner of the sinus rinse packets had a Nettiepot, or some such, and didn’t like it.  Or else the owner left the marriage and went back to her mother and the tragic husband dashed the unused box of packets on the ground.  Likely scenarios, I thought.

Monday I scooped up most of the 200 packets off the muddy ground into its box and dropped them in the dumpster.  Must have been 20 or 30 left, but I decided to do a half-ass job.  Because I can, I thought.

However, I examined one of the “NeilMed Sinus Rinse Made in USA The ‘Original & Patented’ Sinus Rinse(TM)” packets.  I dropped a few more into the dumpster.  Sure enough, the box I had put in the day before was still there.

Today I took a packet home.  A souvenir.  Of the alley walk.

Gunther and I walked past the two labradors that always bark ferociously and hurl their bodies against the chain link fence.  Long time ago, he would have been afraid of the dogs, but now he rushes the fence barking, or I should say yapping.  Then he prances away with pride.

Prairie rattlesnake=Crotalus viridis viridis



Prairie rattlesnake

October 3, 2017

People often ask about Gunther, our dog.  He looks something like a smiling dust mop, but he is a Brussels Griffon with an underbite.  We like to take Gunther on long walks in the mountains and the prairie.  Yes we have mountains.  In fact, the state’s tallest mountain, 12,799 feet, Granite Peak, is but a few hours from here.  If you decide to climb Granite, I’d say leave your dog at home.

We took Gunther to Big Pryor Mountain instead.  Big Pryor is about the same size and roughly the same appearance as Mount Sentinel in Missoula.  P. and I got skunked the first time we tried to climb Big Pryor with our young grandchildren, Cyrus and Roland, who easily scampered to the top.  Gunther made it also, but we turned back after about three-fourths of the way.

Saturday we tried for the top of Big Pryor again and this time we made it, even having to walk through snow the last quarter mile.  We walked 1.7 miles and gained 1,200 feet.  Actually P. made it to the top and I almost made it.  I could see the top from where I turned back.  Gunther made it to the top for his second time.  He dashes about, running from P. to me and back again.  Gunther made it to the top a third and fourth and fifth time.

The weather was changing from sunny and warm to cloudy, windy, thunder & lightning, and sleet as we descended.  The road from the trailhead is dusty and soft dirt that can change to gumbo with a heavy rain.  We wasted no time heading back to Billings.  Until P. spotted the snake.

“There’s a snake!  Back up!” P. said.

I slammed the brakes, put it in reverse, and backed up.

“You’ll run over him again,” P. warned.

Soon I saw what looked like a wadded up sock on the dirt in front of the car.  I figured I had run over the snake, probably a bull snake, and it was all curled up with agony in the throes of death.

I hauled the emergency brake and walked over to the snake.  Well, it had a rattle, but the wadded up snake wasn’t moving.  I figured I could find a stick or something to tease it off the road.  I saw long stalks of grass in the field, but no sticks.  I remembered P. and I had walking sticks, so I grabbed a stick that looks like a ski pole and commenced to bother the snake.  I figured it would simply slither away like a garter snake.

But no.  It didn’t do much of anything at first.  The snake uncurled some and rattled his tail.  I could see his triangular head and the hairs on my neck stood out.

Then it leapt a couple of feet into the air toward me!  It struck at my stick several times with its mouth wide before assuming more of an “S” shape on the road, tail still buzzing.  My, I was impressed.  This prairie rattler was pissed!  I had no reason to kill or injure the snake, so I continued to try to move it off the road.

Wasn’t a very old snake, if you believe rattlers get a new rattle each time they shed their skin.  Probably just three or four segments on its rattle.  It was about 18 inches long, but fat.  Probably weighed a pound or so. The latin name for the prairie rattler is Crotalus viridis viridis.  Sounds dangerous for a snake capable of killing a person.

I thought I still needed to get the snake off the road, so I put my pole tip under it, about halfway down its length, when P. leaned on the car horn, convulsed with laughter when I danced back, flailing the walking stick, like a crazy man.

My friend Lloyd Yellowrobe said prairie rattlers move toward their dens when the weather is about to change.

Well, we saw another rattler about a dozen miles farther down the road, but this one was larger and dead, stretched straight.  I noticed a couple brass shell casings, looked like .44 magnum, near the snake’s carcass.  It still had its head and tail intact, but it had several holes in its body.  This one was nearly two feet long.

Do you believe in crystals?

Photo on 9-6-17 at 4.29 PM #3

September 25, 2017

I observed the Fall Equinox by … observing that it was happening.  Don’t call me a New Age kind of guy.  I mistrust anyone who owns a crystal; especially one who sells crystals.  I’ve crawled in many caves in our vicinity and seen the result of those who mined out the crystals by smashing the limestone in caverns.  To my mind, crystals are the result of cave vandalism.  I’ve wanted to speak out against crystals and cave mutilation for about 25 years, but until now, I haven’t had a platform.  Now I have a blog.  I recommend you start a blog if you haven’t already.  Share it on Facebook so I can follow it.

Now I forget what I was going to say.  My cousin is coming to Billings with his wife to visit us for about a week.  I’m so excited!  This afternoon I will bake two magnificent pies.  Of course, that means I must forgo other activities.  Like singing with the Billings Symphony Chorale.  I am addicted to singing with the chorale because of the magnificent conducting by Dr. S. Hart.  His first name is Steven or Stephen, I don’t remember which.  He chooses fabulous pieces to sing and he gets us to sing them magnificently.  He uses tricks on those of us who need tricks to sing well.  He urges the others to disregard the tricks and sing well without.

I could critique wine here.  I am definitely a oenophile, or “wino.”  Over the years I’ve fallen into and out of love with many.  These days I favor reds from France and whites from Argentina.  A couple years ago I had the same favorites, although in the intervening years I’ve explored Australia, Spain, and Italy for reds, and California and Oregon for whites.  I don’t recommend wine for everyone, especially you lucky persons who can legally smoke pot.  I think pot is far superior to alcohol, and for some neither is far superior to getting high at all.  Currently pot is legal only as medicine in Montana.  If one were to smoke it in Montana, one would still feel like an outlaw because it is illegal under federal law, even as medicine.

I’m waiting for pot to become legal in Montana.

Best wine I’ve ever had (or drunk) was Chateau Neuf du Pape Telegraphie.  Irresistible for me, and out of my price range.

Gunther, in case you waited for news, has been naughty.  Yesterday I let him out of the backyard to walk him and he ran like a shot around the corner to an abandoned piece of pizza at the end of the block.  He listens to me when nothing else is going on.