Duck Duck Book

37- portland oregon weather
10.1.2006, 2:11 pm
Filed under: science

Portland, Oregon weather and climate : a historical perspective : a collection of news reports, stories, comments and analysis / by Raymond R. Hatton.
Bend, OR : Geographical Books, c2005.
[MCL call number: 551.69795 H366p 2005; two copies, no holds; one copy reference only at Central Library]

I am sure that people discuss the weather everywhere, but sometimes it seems that in Portland, we talk about it more. In the winter we complain about the rain and the gray skies, and remark hopefully on the sun whenever it is available. In the spring, we complain about the rain and the gray skies and the mud, and wonder if it will ever get warm again. In the summer we complain about the clouds and the rain until August when there is no rain, and then we complain that it isn’t raining. In the fall, we wonder when the rain will return until it does, and then we start complaining that it is dark and damp all the time.

And then there’s the worry about climate change. Everyone says we had colder winters when they were growing up. One of my grandfathers told me stories about the Willamette River freezing so hard you could walk across it, but I’ve never seen even a little bit of ice in that river. Did it really rain on my mid-summer birthday four years out of five, in my childhood? Were there more late winter ice storms then too? If so, do these facts imply something about shifts in our local climate?

Well, weather changes over time, there is no doubt. People have been keeping track of climatic data (high and low temperatures, precipitation, etc.) in Portland since the 1870s, and Raymond Hatton brings this data together with newspaper accounts of weather events, and Portland residents’ memories of weather in past years. There is a chapter for each month, and one for each season, as well as a few introductory and final chapters explaining context, and discussing special subjects such as drought and television reporting of Portland weather. It’s not a masterful narrative, nor is it a dry recitation of facts — Portland, Oregon Weather and Climate is the kind of book that you’d really need if you were writing a scrupulously detailed historical novel set in Portland, or if your research into a specific element of Portland history necessitated your knowing more about the Vanport Flood of 1948 (“May 1948,” pages 201-205) or if it’s really true that it always rains during Rose Festival (“June,” pages 212-238). And it is fascinating for anyone who enjoys the trivia of local history.

The book suffers from the lack of an index, but the general arrangement of the chapters is fairly helpful for locating specific weather history information.


37 – knitting for anarchists
10.1.2006, 2:10 pm
Filed under: art & entertainment

Knitting for anarchists / Anna Zilboorg. 
Petaluma, CA : Unicorn Books, c2002.
[MCL call number: 746.432 Z69k 2002; three copies, one hold]

I have struggled now for years to keep the contents of this booklist both general enough to appeal to all my readers, and specific enough to keep those same very intelligent readers from getting bored.  I know that most of you are not knitters, and my observation is that people who do not knit, do not find knitting to be very fascinating.  Books about knitting are generally very practical, and though I have a lot to say about them (which books are useful for learners, which have interesting patterns or helpful advice, which include beautiful illustrations or explanations that facilitate understanding of the more complex features of the craft), I have self consciously left them out of this list until now, because my assumption was that only knitters would have any interest in books about knitting.

But Knitting for Anarchists may be the exception.  It is a book that would be useful to students of knitting and those with a purely technical interest in the craft, because Zilboorg explains the details of how stitches work, what your needles will and won’t do, how knitting terminology works, and what knitted fabric is and is not like. But it is also interesting to veteran knitters, because Zilboorg’s approach is so very unusual.  Other writers have given us similarly illuminating analysis knitting and knitted objects (Mary Thomas, Elizabeth Zimmermann, and Barbara Walker all spring to mind), but Zilboorg’s entire framework is different.  Her view is that while knitted fabric is ridiculously uncomplicated, knitting as a craft has been obfuscated beyond belief by almost everyone who writes about knitting and most people who teach it. 

Knitted fabric is made up of yarn in interlocking loops.  These loops act in just about the same set of very predictable ways no matter how complex the fabric is.  There are two ways to knit, more or less (the Continental or picking method, usually with the yarn in the left hand, and the English or throwing method with the yarn usually in the right hand).  Everyone acts like these two ways are very very different, and everyone acts like there is only one right way to knit in each of these two methods.  Zilboorg begs to differ with these basic assumptions.  In fact, she demands to differ.  The first several chapters of Knitting for Anarchists are made up of her careful, clear descriptions of and instructions about stitch movements and the various features of knitted fabrics.  She uses almost no jargon, and she dispels many myths about how knitting should be done.

The end of the book is made up of several basic designs for knitted work (mostly sweaters), which I find truly hideous, but which are technically very interesting.  My advice is this: if you are interested in the technical aspects of knitting, if you are learning to knit, or if you have always found writing about knitting to be confusing, read the first parts of Knitting for Anarchists.  If you are fascinated by unusual pattern construction, look at the end of the book too — just don’t expect the garments pictured there to look like anything but garish oversized sweaters Bill Cosby might have worn in the 1980s (no insult to Mr. Cosby intended!).

37 – antique playing cards
10.1.2006, 2:09 pm
Filed under: art & entertainment

Antique playing cards : a pictorial treasury / Henry René d’Allemagne ; selected and arranged by Carol Belanger Grafton. 
Mineola, N.Y. : Dover Publications, 1996.
[MCL call number: 795.4 A424a 1996; three copies, no holds]

Somehow it never occurred to me, on my own, that playing cards might be culturally determined objects — which is perhaps commentary on the pervasiveness of my own culture.  As a child, I only came across standard English cards (hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades), and the tarot deck (no good for games, only for boring grown-up fortune telling).  Later, in adulthood, I was very surprised to find that other decks almost the same but with different details do exist, and have been around for a long time (longer than, for example, decks of playing cards with a different naked lady on each one).  Antique Playing Cards provides examples of many of the different ways playing cards have been imagined in recent European history.

The collection includes line drawings and color facsimiles of European playing cards, and functions somewhat like a clip art book (although its publishers reserve copyright, and do not give the blanket permission for use that is standard in books of clip art specifically intended for artists).  The book reprints selections from a French work on playing cards of the 14th-20th centuries, Les Cartes à Jouer du XIVe au XXe Siècle, by Henry René d’Allemagne (Paris, 1906).  No doubt because the source is a French book, most of the cards pictured are French, but there are a few sets of cards from Spain, Germany, and England included as well.  Here are some of my favorites: 

  • cards in the suit of clubs, from a set of cards made during the English Revolution and depicting events related to the Spanish Armada of 1588 (one hundred years earlier) — each has the suit and number along the top, an educational illustration in the middle, and a caption below, eg. “The Pope gives a Million of Gold to Help the Spaniard” (page 51)
  • face cards from a Revolutionary-era deck made in Paris, which have elements, seasons, and agricultural workers rather than kings, queens, and jacks (page 69)
  • a 19th century fortune telling game showing personages such as Amour D’Argent (Money Lover), Génerosité (Generosity), and a very evil-looking Méchant Femme (Evil Lady) (page 70)
  • an uncannily beautiful set from post-Restoration France with each suit represented by the army of a different nation and illustrated with appropriately attired soldiers of artillery, with the suit and number indicated by the number of soldiers pictured and the number of wee clubs, hearts, diamonds, or spades on their martial little flag (page 75)

The book includes many sets of cards reflecting a specific political ideology or reality.  Several decks produced in France’s Revolutionary period eschew the notion of royal suits, replacing them with uplifting social ideas instead (see above), and others show contemporary royalty or important figures in a nations past.  Many decks intended for use in fortune telling are included as well.  The publisher’s note at the beginning of the book gives a very terse history of playing cards, which is somewhat helpful in interpreting the images in the main section.

37 – salish people and the lewis and clark
10.1.2006, 2:08 pm
Filed under: history & geography

The Salish people and the Lewis and Clark Expedition / Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee and Elders Cultural Advisory Council, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. 
Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, c2005.
[MCL call number: 970.1 S167 2005; two copies, no holds]

In the last few years, there has been a lot of fuss about Lewis and Clark, surrounding the 200th anniversary of their famous expedition from St. Louis to the mouth of the Columbia River.  Here in Oregon, we have no doubt had a greater portion of Lewis and Clark excitement than other places, because the story has been taught here as one of local relevance for many generations. 

Unsurprisingly, the story taught to Oregon schoolchildren, and the one being commemorated now as a part of the Corps of Discovery’s 200th anniversary is almost entirely told from the perspective of the expedition’s members and their bosses in the White House, with very little consideration given to the point of view of the people whom Lewis, Clark, and their colleagues encountered in their journey. 

The great- great-grandparents of the Salish people of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes met Lewis and Clark and their expedition in September, 1805, and in this book elders and members of the tribe share their community’s history, memories, and analysis of their encounter with Lewis and Clark’s expedition.  The book opens with an account of tribal history that places the events of September 1805 into a larger context.  There are many elements to this history — tribal origin stories, elders’ accounting of Salish dealings with their Indian neighbors over many centuries and their analysis of Salish relations with the United States government, and a history of the Bitterroot Valley and Salish-Pend d’Oreille place names in the valley. 

The second section of the book is devoted to testimony, stories, and histories of Salish interactions with Lewis and Clark — including several stories of serious inter-cultural misunderstanding.  For example, Salish people assumed that the strangers were in mourning because their hair was cut short.  They thought the white people must be suffering from cold, because their skin was so pink.  And when the expedition members were offered gifts of food and robes to sit on, they refused the food and threw the robes over their shoulders, both of which were interpreted as gestures of rudeness and insult.  This section also discusses Salish history after 1805, with an overview of how the Salish and other Indian people dealt with the changes that came with white settlement of Montana, the General Allotment Act of 1887 (which opened tribal and reservation lands to white settlement), and the urbanization of the Missoula area.

The combination of brief essays written by modern tribal historians, oral history accounts and traditional stories from elders and other tribal members, documentary sources, and interpretive and documentary illustrations (chiefly paintings and photographs) works nicely to make The Salish People an intellectual resource as well as an enjoyable, accessible read.

Biographies of tribal elders and contributors, a guide to written  Salish, and a list of archival sources are appended to the main text, and are followed by a bibliography and index.