A Mountain Man Appears on Video, Reaching Across Time
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
Yesterday, today was tomorrow, and tomorrow, today will be yesterday. And so it goes. The future becomes the present and the present the past—while the only thing that’s real is now, this moment, which just slipped through the hourglass and became the past, as we move into another future, and there’s nothing we can do about it. After a while you get old and die, they say, which is what happened to Andrew Garcia in 1943.
Garcia, though, was the last of the mountain men, one of those rugged men of history who helped settle the West. He fought Indians (and married one), lived like Daniel Boone, and seems not to have belonged in the modern world, not in the year 1943.
I recall the same feeling as a boy, when coming to the last page of a biography of Wyatt Earp and discovering that he died in 1929, a time I associated with The Untouchables, a television show about bootlegging gangsters, fancy old cars racing through the streets of Chicago, and lawman Elliot Ness—while Wyatt Earp was a lawman of the Old West, the gunfight at the OK Corral, and Tombstone, Arizona. How could it be then that his last days were the heydays of Al Capone and Frank Nitty?
Similarly, 1943, the year of Andrew Garcia’s death, was two years after Pearl Harbor. Garcia probably read the headlines and saw young men going off to war. My father was 22-years-old at the time and piloting a B-17 over Europe. Big Band music and Benny Goodman filled the airwaves on radio, and in 1943 Elvis Presley was an 8-year-old kid in Tupelo, Mississippi.
As proof of Garcia’s presence in the modern world, there exists a span of 16 millimeter film footage (transferred to DVD) that reveals Garcia as an old timer strolling a sidewalk in Helena, Montana, on his way to the 1942 convention of the Sons and Daughters of Montana Pioneers (who graciously provided the DVD), as he’s being greeted by admirers and fans of his life and times. He is dressed, as one would expect, in buckskins and his trademark broad brimmed hat. He’s obviously old, but spry, with a youthful spark in his eye, hardly worse for wear though he died the following year.
History happens (we emphasize that in these pages), and it’s not just about the past. It’s about life right now, as it happens all around us, as those who knew Garcia at the onset of WWII would attest, were they alive to tell you about him, recalling a time that use to be their present, vibrant and real.
How many of you, for example, watched the recent presidential debates, two men squaring off before 65 million people, making history with every word, well chosen or not. What is as interesting is tuning in to older debates on C-Span, watching Ronald Reagan say There You Go Again to Jimmy Carter, or Nixon perspiring while debating Kennedy.
And so, the debates we recently watched in real time, by now, in November 2012, are already history, the high drama of which adds a tension and import that focuses the mind on every moment, any slip of the tongue, misrepresentation or dramatic turn of a phrase—and on the moderators, who, because of the importance of the event, are judged more harshly than a visually challenged umpire at the World Series.
Technology plays a fascinating role in this regard, since, with the invention of the camera, then moving pictures, and now all sorts of digital devices, the past can be viewed as it appeared in the present. Photos of Abraham Lincoln, for example, enable us to study the lines of his noble face carved by time and monumental trials, and the Zapruder film showing that awful scene in Dallas, Texas, Nov. 22, 1963, as a presiden-tial limousine glides past the Texas School Book Depository ushering a beloved president into eternity.
The first sentence of this ramble, by the way, is a lyric by George Harrison (the second, Kurt Vonnegut). George is gone (all things must pass) but the record of his life is preserved in his recorded music, on the Beatles DVD anthology, in numerous YouTube videos, and by a 3 hour documentary produced by Martin Scorcese, as are events like the Arab Spring and the Benghazi attack, thanks to smart phones and unmanned aerial drones with video cameras. History all.
Speaking of technology as it pertains to the past, you will find in this issue (see print edition), not only images captured from the 1942 16-millimeter film of Andrew Garcia, but those of celebrated authors Jim Harrison and the late Richard Brautigan, originally taken as Polaroids by Robert Dattila in 1973, at the Pine Creek Lodge in Paradise Valley—fractions of a second snapped through a lens, complete with 70s aura and conveying the zeitgeist of the day. To those of us more recently familiarized with Jim Harrison (from around town), and watching him on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations (filmed here in 2009), he’s a sight to behold in the younger day (see page 19). His rollicking smile frozen in space, and Brautigan’s pensive glare, remind us of the way things were, our own exploits in time, and the transitory nature of all things.