A book from JJ Bach


River and Ranch Research

Researching this book means two things to me: mining memories from the time that I lived and worked in the area and discovering a surprising amount of interesting things online, in one way or another.

A big chunk of River and Ranch takes place rafting down the Main and Middle Fork of the Salmon River. I made this part of the book as true as I could based on the years I spent guiding on those two amazing rivers. An incredible time in my life. The Main and the Middle are amazing places, especially if you were a corn fed Midwestern hick like I was when I found myself out there guiding raft trips.

This part of the world will always be my favorite. The rivers, the mountains, skiing, rafting, hunting and fishing, the ranching and the small town lifestyles are about as good as you'll find anywhere. At least to me.

Rare earth minerals are poorly understood, little known, and important. It is a real life fact that China dominates this game. This was a research thing. It is also true that the real actual Lemhi Pass area in Idaho has active (as of November 2013) rare earth exploration being conducted by a private firm holding extensive mineral claims in the area. This was a fortuitous discovery that still surprises me. It was one of the reasons that finally convinced me to write this book. That such a relevant topic would pop up literally in the area I was writing about was beyond unexpected. Just based on that, I thought the universe was telling me that this was a book that wanted to be written. One day, I was researching rare earth minerals and their development in China, and I chased a rabbit down a hole that turned out to be deep and twisty and world changing. I'm still in that hole. The ‘rabbit’ was a man named Zhang Qian.

A very few in the west may know this historical figure as the eastern rough equivalent of Marco Polo. Anyway, Zhang lived in a time when Han China was bedeviled by ‘barbarians’ all along their northern boundary. This ‘barbarian culture’ is commonly (right or wrong) known as Xiong nu. Sometimes this is hyphenated, sometimes differently spelled. There are some MAJOR parallels here between west and east, the tribes of the Great Plains and the tribes/clans/cultures of the steppe, and how the ‘barbarian hordes’ interacted with their ‘neighbors’. It is also the case that nearly all of what is known about the Xiong nu is from the writings and historical remnants left behind by the Han. Like nearly all native american cultures (except for the Cherokee I believe), the Xiong nu did not write about themselves. We don't know their language, they had no alphabet or writing system, and nothing to write upon or with. I haven't even found what they called themselves. The phrase, Xiong nu is understood to be derogatory and is commonly broken down as ‘illegitimate offspring of slaves’, or something to that effect.

Most of the accepted knowledge we have of the Xiong nu comes from discovering burial tombs and using those contents to infer what the people were potentially like.

Our man, Zhang, back to him. Back in the first century BCE, he somehow gained the attention of the Han emperor, Wu Di (sp??), who asked that Zhang voyage out the Jade Gate, therby entering the lands commonly understood to be in the hands of the Xiong nu, pass through those lands, and find allies amongst the tribes and cultures who supposedly lived on the other side of the Xiong nu lands. The idea being to find new allies with which the Han could ally themselves and more effectively combat the ‘barbarian scourge’.

There is also the matter of Wu Di being interested in finding the land where ‘the horses that sweat blood’. Zhang Qian also needed to find those horses and buy a large quantity.

My western-centric education never introduced me to Zhang Qian, much less the Xiong nu. So when I stumbled on this man, a whole new world opened up. It was a worm hole I happily jumped down. And is it ever leading me places!