Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Domain) and Battlefield Archaeology

Alain-Fournier’s only masterpiece, Le Grand Meaulnes, recounts the twisting journey of 15 year old François Seurel, whose life is buffeted by the arrival of the older boy, Augustin Meulnes.  Together and apart, they wander to a hidden, isolated manor, which weaves their lives together in tensions of honor and love.  I do not want to give the story away, but rather encourage people to read it, so I give only a vague synopsis.

The Wanderer Anchor 1950s

Edward Gorey’s illustation for a 1950 edition of the work.

The book, sometimes titled The Lost Domain in English, is full of Victorian-esque improbably twists, coincidences, and shocks, but the beauty of the work lies in its descriptive sense of place, wrapped in the melancholy romantic views of an adolescent.   An iconic work in France (or so the Internet tells me), it is not all that well known in the United States. 

Alain Fournier.jpg

A Young Fournier

Fournier was a master of evocative descriptions (F. Davison translation):

We had made our way down through a maze of narrows lanes full of white pebbles, or sand – lanes which springs turned into brooks as they neared the river’s edge.  We caught our sleeves on thrones of wild gooseberry bushes.  At one moment we plunged into the cool shade of a ravine, and a moment later, at a point where the line of hedges was broken, came out into the full clear sunlight which shed a radiance over the whole valley. Across the river a man sat on a rock patiently angling. Never was there a more beautiful day.

Why did Alain-Fournier (whose real name was Henri-Alban Fournier) only gift us with this one lyrical masterpiece, published when he was only 27 years old? Because he was one of the many young men whose lives we decided to throw away and trample in the mud during WWI. 


The Mass Grave – Fournier is No. 16

Fournier died near Meuse on 22 September 1914, a month after he joined the army.  He and a small squad of soldiers were sent into the woods on a mission, and were never heard from again.  Members of the Association of Friends of Alain-Fournier made several trips to Meuse, to feel and understand, perhaps, what Alain-Fournier saw in his last moments.  This group wandered that woods where Alain-Fournier and twenty-one soldiers disappeared.  

The Mass Burial of Alain-Fournier

Research in the German military archives and a four-week archaeological excavation found the mass grave of the twenty-one, and Alain-Fournier’s body was identified by his nameplate.  The research and archaeology indicates that he was shot in the chest after his group was surrounded by Germans, presumably in retaliation for an attack on a German ambulance.  The archaeologists on the project were met with skepticism that real archaeology could be done on something as recent as a 1914 mass grave, and the project was the first French archaeological excavation of a WWI site.  If you want, you can read Frédéric Adam’s articles on the discovery of the grave, the archaeological excavation, and the wounds of those found (you may not like what you see, and you probably should quit reading blogs and learn French).   

Alain—Fournier was re-buried at Saint-Remy-la-Calonne in 1991.

The Verdun-Meuse Grave Site Monument

To be honest, I am stunned by this web.  How wonderful and horrific that we have Le Grand Meaulnes, from an author who, duty-bound like his characters, was lost in the woods for almost 100 years, and found only through the faithful patience of friends.  A sad final plot twist, but no doubt not a fair trade for what Alain-Fournier would have given us if we had let him live.   [I’m not going to tell you how well the pieces fit.  Read the book].

Post-script – I completely stumbled into this topic. I read a review piece on the Centenary Edition of Le Grand Meaulnes, and found the rest out of curious internet searching.  Journeys often result from, and in, serendipity, it seems.

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Farewell, Roosevelt School

The Roosevelt Elementary School (now the Roosevelt Learning Center), burned down Saturday night (6/15/2014).  The building was built in 1920, and featured a beautiful stairway flanked by two huge marble columns.  I walked through those doors many, many times (a decade apart) with two of my children, and I do not think I once passed the columns without pressing my palm to one and murmuring an appreciative word.   I loved to watch the little heads crane skyward, and I can only imagine the columns seemed as tall as the sky to them.   The community has lost an anchor for many families.


St Cloud Times Photo


The intact column


The broken column


This is the calm-down tree.  If you were a frustrated student, this is where you could go to get things under control.


The spouse just stacked those blue chairs a week ago

A youngster says goodbye to his first classrooms


Some nice brickwork you were never meant to see

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thro.out greek style

From Jacque Tati’s Playtime.   The clip is from a tradeshow scene, where everyone, even American tourists, can see the wonders of a modernist Paris. 

thro.out greek style

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The Hiawatha Asylum

The Hiawatha Asylum is (or was) at terrible place.  I don’t want to write about it. 

But it has been in the news today.  This is a pretty good story and video: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/05/sd-native-american-insane-asylum/2137011/ 

Here is a good article you might want to read that tries to address some of the hard questions:

Anne Dilenschneider, An Invitation to Restorative Justice: The Canton Asylum for Insane Indians. Northern Plains Ethics Journal 1(1) 2013, 105-128.

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Not All That Funny

This is a revised post.  I misread the tone and intent of the article “Losing Face”  in the Appendix.  The author and editors quickly listened to my concerns, and I decided I was wrong and hot-headed (not news to some of you).    So there’s nothing to look at here.  Go read the article, and pay attention to the last line, which flew over my head.


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The Most Determined Explorer from Breckenridge, Minnesota

An Excerpt from Walter Cheadle, Cheadle’s Journal of Trip Across Canada: 1862-1863 (TouchWood Editions, 2011), pp 127-128.

Perry . . . the most determined fellow he ever knew.  He crossed the prairies to the Rocky Mountain and over them. into California with no means of transport but a wheelbarrow which he trundled before him!  It contained all provisions, tools & effects; after that he returned to the States & set out from some place in Minnesota, I think Breckenridge, without a penny, & nothing except a gun & some ammunition, & the clothes he had on.  He borrowed an axe at Breckenridge, cut down a large tree, made a canoe & paddled down the Red alone 6 or 700 miles to Fort Garry.  From thence he made his way on foot, & supported by his gun to [Fort] Carlton where he obtained employment as driver of a cart to Edmonton; thence crossed Mountains with a party of Cariboo; was working a pretty good claim there, but finding another man working near was making about 5 times as much he, kicked his rocker & pick into the river & left in disgust.  Love not knowing now where he is.

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An Interview in a Field In North Dakota

[two trucks in a frozen field, facing opposite directions, drivers talking through the opened windows]

I was a railroad engineer and drove the last steam engine.  It’s on display in Bismarck.

I went to Korea and got married when I came back.

I’ve done every job there is, and saved my money to buy all this land.

I broke out this land, and made that rock pile over there.  It’s a hard rock, and I remember it like it was yesterday, because the plow kept sparking, and we set the fields on fire many times.  We ruined a lot of machinery breaking out these fields.  The work’s not done, but I’m too old now.  Now people are buying the rock, because it is acid-resistant. 

My son borrowed money to buy this field from me.  I see he’s selling part of it, and he’s got a new truck.  I’ll never see that money again. 

I’ve got prostate cancer.  I’ve had it for years.  The doctors wanted to remove it, but I told them no.  They put radioactive seeds in there, and I’ll die before that cancer gets me.

My wife died a few years back.  The nursing home took everything.  Everything.  But I’ve got an apartment and a pension, so I’m okay.

I’ve had a good life, I’m glad for it, and glad to talk to you.  Sure is a beautiful sunny day.




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County Fair Sketches

The game is County Fair sketch.   Players can sketch only as long as the ride or event lasts.  Then you rush to the next thing.  That’s how County Fairs are done. 


bumper CarDizzy Dragondragon WagonFun SlideGrand StandLittle Cowboymardi Grasspace wheelTarantulaZIpperTornado

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A Brief History of My International Travel Scents

Harper’s (August 2013) has an interesting article by Beau Friedlander, “A Brief History of Scent.”  You’ll need a subscription to read the article (or ask to borrow my copy), but you can also listen to Friedlander on Brian Lehrer.   The cogent points for my brief comments:  some odors are universally offensive at a primal level; odors become related to time and place in very individualized ways; odors are linked to memory, but the linkage is not simple, and neither are the barrage of odors we encounter in some situations.  (He also points out what I think every time I go to a big city, or even see them in the movies—“this place really stinks, in a permanent, embedded sort of way.”)

Here are some brief associations from my permanent olfactory travels and memories, which feature large in my mind, but rarely (if ever) get verbalized.

Dense, wet (alkaloid-rich) vegetation smells like adventure, relaxation and itching from insect bites.  From many jungle treks in Belize.


Iron-rich red dust smells like brine, thirst and despair.  From the Rann of Kutch after the 2001 earthquake.


Intense, blinding sun smells like salt water, limestone, pine, oregano, and sweat dripping into plant-lacerated legs.  From surveying Greek coastlines.


Concrete, rebar, and helicopters smell like death and decay under a hot, rainy Mediterranean sun.  This is from the 1999-2000 earthquake surveys.  It took years for me not to recoil from this.   I still smell it, just not as strong, and the recoil is gone.


Yellow-grey dust and limestone, without a vegetation overlay, smell like isolation, exercise, oatmeal, and an undercurrent of risk.  From Oman; this is a different smell than Mediterranean limestone, which always comes with plants.  The risk undercurrent is new, from our Musandam expedition.  But we always ate a lot of oatmeal in Oman.  Hey, is that Simon Donato, of Stoked Oats fame, in toe shoes?


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Expedition Food

In a few days I leave for the long-awaited 100 Miles of Wild-ND Badlands Transect.  I’ll be in the field for 13 days, and one of the challenges is to pack enough non-perishable food in a compact form.  I’ve developed my system over the years, and I prefer items I can buy more-or-less ready-to-go that require no prep beyond boiled water.  It’s not a fun system, but food prep and cleanup takes away from limited documentation and note taking time (or if things are going rough, sleep and rest time).


A 13 day junk food binge would end poorly, however, so I’ve tried to pick the most reasonable options—real food ingredients, minimal chemicals, not jammed full of palm oil and killer fats.

For this trip I’ve got 2700 calories per day.  That will have me running a calorie deficit (especially as it will be cold), but a deficit that will do me some good. 

The daily menu is pretty much the same:

Boosted Oatmeal—this is rolled oats, mulberries, gooseberries, dates, flaxseed, walnuts, powdered milk with a dash of whey protein and brown sugar.  No need to make this—just buy some Stoked Oats.  I put 1 cup in a heavy plastic zip closure bag.  Add 1.5 cups boiling water, shake it up, and eat.  300 calories.  

Odwalla Super Protein Bars x 2.  420 calories

Larabar x 2. 400 calories

Almonds and Dried Cherries, 2/3 cup. 400 calories

Stinger Bar x 2.  380 calories.

Honey Stinger x 2.  320 calories.

Mountain Trail Pro Pak (2 servings): 480 calories

There are, of course, other ways to do this.  Tuna fish pouches, soynuts, peanut butter.  This is what works for me. 

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