Tuesday, March 31, 2009

the nigher route...

I really never run out of things to talk about with Melissa on our road trips, and as we drove past Donner Lake, she made the mistake of asking me what I knew of the ill fated emigrants. I almost had to pull over, I so enthusiastically regaled her with the minutiae of the history. I am a lover of many documentaries but one above all others is my favorite: Ric Burns' The Donner Party. 
Think of a movie that you really, truly love. Think of a film that is profoundly near and dear to your heart. Think of something so perfect and wonderful in every way, you will never, ever tire of it's glory. 
That, my friends, is how I feel about this PBS Donner Party "American Experience", which, God bless the internet, you can watch for free on You Tube RIGHT HERE!
There's one particular historian interviewed throughout, sitting in his plaid shirt and warm glow, who I've always adored. He's so passionate about the story, he tells the history with such directness, you can feel he's just as into this as you are and it is clear, he can tell it better. His name is Harold Schlindler and I love him. 
My favorite line of the whole film comes from Harold, talking about the shortcut the Donner Party decides to take. 
"Clyman, who had just been south of the lake on horseback coming east with Lansford Hastings, says, ''Don't do it. Don't do it because you can't take wagons that way. Go the old route. Be safe. You'll perish.'' And Reed says, ''There's a nigher route and we might as well take it.''
The typed word hardly does this justice. Please forward to minute 8:30 of THIS to see how awesome Hal Schindler is. 
Anyway, I finally googled Mr. Schindler and discovered, much to my horror, he died 10 years ago. I've been saying "there's a nigher route!" for a decade in the hopes of one day, meeting this fascinating historian and gushing, "I loved you in the Donner Party!" 
Nope. He's dead. 
Here is a wonderful obituary written about him, which only makes me love Hal more and further regret never having the pleasure of sitting by a roaring fire with him and hearing tales of the Wild West. 
The best kind of people are people who care so much about something, their enthusiasm is contagious, even if whatever the hell they care about is something boring, like stamp collecting or sports. And my dream is to one day appear as an expert in a documentary and be half as badass as Hal...

6 comments:

Melissa said...

Hal is wearing the world's most incredible bolo tie in that picture. Just one more reason to love him!

Seana said...

I'm sure Hal would feel flattered with such a glorious tribute. Historians don't often get that kind of glory. I would sit and watch ANY documentary with Spots as the expert contributor.

kwk said...

Ya'll should try to get in a meal at the Alferd (sic) Packer Memorial Grill at U. Colorado in Boulder. The slogan, "Have a Friend for Lunch."

Still listed on the menu, the 'El Canibal' a "popular lunch-time bargain."

Google Alferd Packer if you don't know his story.

LisaT said...

I know it was a horrible time and the dude wasn't all that nice but did you take CA history in HS with Mr. Harrington? I still have so many factoids in my brain from that class about all things CA, it's impressive. He, too, loved the Donner Party. I imagine you sneaking into the teachers lounge and hunkering down with him in his tweed jacket to discuss dead settlers.

Spots said...

I totally had CA History with Mr. Harrington. It was actually a bright point of my miserable time in high school. Wandering around the Ohlone Village with my gay boyfriend? Glorious.
And if I say so myself, our video on Big Sur was the hit of the semester. I believe that VHS still rests in Harrington's cubicle somewhere...

Kristin Johnson said...

Though Hal Schindler was an amateur historian, he was revered for his encyclopedic knowledge and ability as a raconteur, which could hold people spellbound (as you discovered). He only wrote one book, but his history columns in the Salt Lake Tribune demonstrated his expertise. The Burns documentary provided a national showcase for his talents. When a NYT review of The Donner Party referred to Hal as a "grizzled historian," his friends promptly and affectionately dubbed him "Old Grizz."