A Little more poetry…

 I want a couple free to use before the fateful 4000!

One on his own death by critic Clive James, who has been entertaining us with the subject for several years and three books- really!

And a funny one by my old friend Marilyn Taylor in Wisconsin, who used to hire me to run an outdoor writing contest…..

UPDATE:

In order to keep a LITTLE space open before the big 4000 (I have some new stuff, AND an event this weekend worth reporting, and there should be room to improvise, and I only have six places left), I  am going to add more poems here, as  I am still on a poetry kick, reading many diverse voices.  I  will save one or two from the  new collection by my friend,  Santa Fe  falconer-poet Gary Moody, who I will see this weekend, til after that; may add one of his Siberian poems from his old collection  too,  because, when we first met, it amused both of us that he had worked in construction just above the Siberian Border, no more than 75 miles  north of where we stay in in Olgii, western Mongolia.

A “Modern” poem,  more indicative than descriptive; I will see the author Friday night. Here,  she holds her subject, in a museum in Uzbekistan…

 

Two by old friend Fred Turner, who wrote an epic about Terraforming Mars…

And a new one from Tim, about our beloved Plains…
“Go West”

I. West River

When we drove west, we thirsted for surprise,

not buttes, we knew exactly where they were,

but the first magpie to delight our eyes,

black on its white, the shelterbelt a blur,

evidence that the East was left behind,

a mowing of the tall grass prairie mind.

II. Sheyenne National Grasslands

Three years I’ve seen him.  Why is this eagle here—

a flowing well?  His range is twenty miles.

I think he’s here to gorge on road-killed deer

or wounded, which the hunters with wry smiles

give up on and the coyotes never see.

He stares unblinking from a leafless tree.

III. Front Range

Oh, you can keep your mountains, your Divide.

I can be just as dwarfed much nearer home

by horizontal grandeur, where the wide

Missouri severs drift moraine from loam

and ghosts of buffalo graze virgin grass

long since ploughed under.  Friends, we too shall pass.

They’re Killing Pigeons Again

Tyrants end up killing pigeons; I don’t know why, but they do. Franco almost made the traditional old- fashioned competition “thief” pouters of southern Spain, like the Rafenos I keep, extinct. The Taliban’s mere sixteen “Commandments”, including ones against sorcery and NOT growing beards, include one, the fourth,”To prevent keeping pigeons and playing with birds. Within ten days, this habit/ hobby should stop. After ten days this should be monitored, and the pigeons and other playing birds should be killed.”

It worked- there are more Afghan highflyers in Salt Lake City than in Kabul today.But all kinds of totalitarian and even just Nannyists ar e tempted.Even before they tore out the hutongs, the remnants of an older city, Beijing’s pigeon flyers were harrassed by fanatical Maoists.And Chicago bans them as totally as the Taliban did, along with foie gras and at least until recntly, handguns…

But the Islamic “State” goes them one better; notoriously, they kill the OWNERS too, even if they are teeneaged boys. Syria, along with Turkey, has the most fine ancient breeds; it is where, if you beie the Turkish legends, and I do, the nomads  stopped and took the pigeons they took in their horse carts out, and settled.What is sure is that they have more genetic  diversity, and more breed “roots, than any other place. So now the crazies are desrtroying an ancient genetic heritage as well.

Look at these “refugees”:

They are Bagdads, the first letter carriers, now show birds, kept and illustrated by Darwin (above) and me…

THey are also ancestor to the German, or Nuremberg Bagdad, or Scanderoon (from “Iskander”, Alexander), which looks different from the English bird today– but the old type is like both…

It may not be a crime like killing humans, but it is certainly on a level with destroying art.

Harrison Poem

They used to say we’re living on borrowed
time but even when young I wondered
who loaned it to us? In 1948 one grandpa
died stretched tight in a misty oxygen tent,
his four sons gathered, his papery hand
grasping mine. Only a week before, we were fishing.
Now the four sons have all run out of borrowed time
while I’m alive wondering whom I owe
for this indisputable gift of existence.
Of course time is running out. It always
has been a creek heading east, the freight
of water with its surprising heaviness
following the slant of the land, its destiny.
What is lovelier than a creek or riverine thicket?
Say it is an unknown benefactor who gave us
birds and Mozart, the mystery of trees and water
and all living things borrowing time.
Would I still love the creek if I lasted forever?

Another Wind River Poem

From Tim:

Wind River Justice

Alan riding his first horse from Big Sandy
to celebrate his thirty-seventh birthday:
his mare reared in the lodgepoles when a spruce grouse
flushed and nearly pitched him down a switchback.
My own gelding stampeded through a meadow,
and our young wrangler called those ponies “gentled.”

We braved Pyramid’s boulders, Barnard’s clinkers,
apogees of our climbs in the Wind Rivers,
then turned our backs forever on those summits,
Gannet, the tallest peak in all Wyoming,
the Highline Trail cleavered between the Temples.
We limped, blistered, back to our dusty Bronco.

There stood a girl, sobbing beside the stables.
The boy, his terror turned to helpless fury,
and a young ranger argued mixed-use forest,
treeline grazing, lamb-eating bears and coyotes,
leash law and the permitted use of rifles.
Read the rules posted at every entrance.

Two hikers had surprised the sheep at twilight,
young Lykos growled, then raced across a meadow
three thousand feet above Big Sandy Trailhead,
and a Basque herder shot the German shepherd
which met no blue heeler or border collie,
no, only a rifle.  Wind River Justice.

Bernie Kelly sadly saddled his horses.
Bearers rode up, and Lykos down the mountain,
but who descends it twenty-three years later,
no longer carrying Murphy or a backpack?
Slippery the scree, the pool below unfathomed.
Where is the meadow and the watchful shepherd?

Wolves, Brucellosis, & Elk

Wolves have blown elk off western Wyoming’s elk feedgrounds on numerous occasions – it’s something that we’ve come to expect with Wyoming’s protected wolf population. Jim and I learned about the 19 elk that had been killed in one night by a wolf pack on an elk feedground in the northern portion of the county before we left for a getaway with the bliss of little internet or cell phone access for three days.

We were stunned to return home yesterday to learn that the surplus kill on the McNeel feedground had made international news. People seemed to be going bonkers in all directions, including these views:

· kill all the wolves because they are killing all the elk;

· the domesticated elk no longer have wild instincts and stand around on feedlots, so it’s no wonder they were killed;

· it must have been hunters (poachers) because wolves don’t surplus kill.

I view most of the comments as oversimplified nonsense, put forth with little understanding of complexities of the situation.

Elk Feedgrounds
Elk are held at artificially high numbers in western Wyoming through a series of 22 state-managed elk feedgrounds in Sublette, Lincoln and Teton counties. The feedgrounds are located on private, state or federal land, and a total of about 13,000 elk are provided supplemental feed in the form of hay each winter. Elk feedgrounds are generally closed to human access – with the exception of the elk feeder, who is a contract employee in charge of feeding hay with a team of horses or with a tractor.

There are only a couple of elk feedgrounds that can be seen from a state highway – these state-managed elk feedgrounds are not like the National Elk Refuge where you can pay to ride among the elk in a horse-drawn sleigh. The elk are not domesticated animals that have lost their wild senses, and they can be easily spooked off the feedgrounds by disturbance.

Brucellosis
Elk and bison that inhabit the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem serve as a wild reservoir of brucellosis – a highly contagious bacterial disease that can be transmitted to humans, and cattle. In humans, it causes undulate fever, and in cattle, it causes contagious abortions. There has been a national program to eradicate brucellosis from livestock since the early 1930s. It’s why milk is pasteurized, and why federal officials long maintained a test-and-slaughter program for our nation’s cattle herds. The brucella organism is also classified as an agent of bio-terrorism.

Brucellosis is a stealth disease that can hide in an animal’s reproductive tract for years without detection. All cattle producers in this region vaccinate (and boost) against brucellosis, but with an efficacy rate of 70%, the vaccine only provides partial protection. We’ve watched our neighbors here in Sublette and Teton counties go through quarantine and whole-herd slaughter because of brucellosis transmission from wintering elk to their cattle. The thought of watching your entire herd sent to slaughter is too horrific for most ranchers to contemplate.

Closing feedgrounds
Most of the elk feedgrounds were established in the 1940s and 1950s to deal with starving elk in bad winter conditions, and to keep them away from stored hay used by ranchers to provide winter feed for cattle on private land.

To close the feedgrounds would be to face the damage caused by dispersing elk that will seek food elsewhere, as they are involved in collisions with vehicles on roadways, move to cattle feedlines and damage stored hay, transmitting disease to cattle, and the anticipated elk population reduction that will follow. So the Wyoming Game & Fish Department has focused on starting feeding later in the winter, ending feeding as early as possible, and conducting habitat improvements to provide better forage conditions for elk off the feedgrounds. The agency is attempting to minimize its feeding program. If it were as simple an issue as closing the feedgrounds, it would have been done years ago. Maintenance of the feedgrounds perpetuates the disease among elk, but spreading diseased elk across the landscape isn’t a good option either. Meanwhile, research for more effective methods to reduce the risks posed by brucellosis continues.

Wolves & Elk
Most western Wyoming elk herds are near population objectives, but some wolf advocates do not believe that wolves impact big game herds. Which is ironic, since the justification for the wolf reintroduction program was based on the need to control the park’s overabundant elk population, which it has. Yellowstone park’s northern range elk herd numbered 17,000 elk in 1995, the year wolves were released in the park. This elk herd shrunk by 2015 to just 1,130 elk inside the park, and 3,714 elk north of the park. At the same time, the grizzly bear population in the region has expanded. Predators have indeed impacted this elk population, just as they do other populations. In localized areas, the problem can be severe.

Surplus killing
Surplus killing involves a predator killing more animals than it can consume and, in contrast to those who say this is a “rare” event, it is exhibited by a variety of predators large and small around the world. From a fox in a chicken coop, to a wolf pack hitting an elk herd, it’s normal predatory behavior. Not everyday, but not rare.

A similar kill to the McNeel case took place on a Big Piney-area feedground in 2003, and there were numerous cases in the last 10 years in which wolves harassed the elk to the extent that the elk “quit” certain feedgrounds altogether. The 19 dead elk on the McNeel feedground included two adult cow elk and 17 calves – that is, yearling elk, not newborn calves. (When wolves killed beef cattle on a private ranch not far from McNeel earlier in the month, some assumed that the five calves were small animals, but they were 500-pound calves by this time of year.)

Surplus kills occur on both wild and domestic herds. A pack of wolves left a pasture of 120 Rambouillet rams dead in Montana in 2009. We’ve had surplus kills by wolves on our place too. And by a black bear, and by a mountain lion.

Control
Wolves in the Northern Rockies reached biological recovery goals more than a decade ago, but are still under federal protection in Wyoming. Even if the state were in charge now, it’s questionable whether any action would be taken against the wolves on the McNeel feedground. But at least state officials would have options if wolves were under state jurisdiction. Right now, there aren’t any.

Those who believe the Wyoming Game & Fish will manage the species to extinction give credence to fear-mongers who thrive on controversy. They point to the fact that Wyoming would allow wolves to be killed in two-thirds of the state as proof that state officials hate this predator. In reality, the wolf population occurs in the western third of the state in an area larger than that designated as necessary in the original wolf recovery plan – and that’s where wolf harvest will be regulated and controlled. That Wyoming doesn’t want wolf population expansion to the remainder of the state is no surprise, and was never on the table as needed for wolf recovery.

Some wolf advocates do not want any wolves killed for any reason. I understand that, but they aren’t the people who experience negative impacts from wolf activity.

I don’t seek eradication of the wolf, even though wolves sometimes kill our family’s livestock. But I would like to live in an ecosystem where this species is actually managed, and I won’t have to feel jeopardized by an action I may take when involved in a conflict with the species.

When we were young- Pat’s Boys

Most photos of Jim you see now have him as a battered old monument:

And Tom McGuane looks like a member of the Yale Club, or an old timer rancher, which as a character says in his last book of stories, “is I guess what I’m getting to be.”

It may be hard for the young to imagine the impact that these guys, writing on field sports for Pat Ryan’s Sports Illustrated  the late sixties and early seventies, had on a generation of younger writers, but it was profound (see post below on that time). Thank you all, editors and writers, living and dead.

More Tim–and Johnny UK, and Kazakhs, and the Urbigkits

Tim says to John Hill,  on “Huntress”: “Johnny UK, my late partner Alan Sullivan, who attended the death, always choked up at that last line.” I agree, but the one that really gets me is the end of “Perro del Amo”: Vaya con Dios, love/ you were the dog of God.”

Here is the Magdalaenian from East Anglia, with his bespoke Darne  magnum twelve that Herve Bruchet made for him, and his own “Perro del amo”, his lab Petra…

 
And here in Magdalena

A particular favorite of Tim’s from his extensive  repertory:

Soul of the North

Out of the wilds, I pray.
Bound by my northern birth
to fish, to hunt the earth
and follow my forebears’ way,
I mutter I have sinned,
wander the knee-high grass,
flourish awhile and pass
whistling into the wind.

As char swim to the clear
tundra rivers that run
under the midnight sun,
as wolves follow the deer
drawn from ford to ford,
as clamorous geese in V’s
throng to the thawing seas—
all creatures of one accord—
my soul thirsts for the Lord.

.. and then Tim realized, like so many others, we her at Q blog are (at least) three, and sometimes more, but always two. This one goes out to you, Cat!

“I read the front page of your blog with great pleasure last night and did a double take, not realizing there are other posters.  Steve runs sheep in the Winds in summer and winters them in New Mexico? Whoa!  Alan and I spent a lot of time in the Winds, and I’d like you to send this little poem to your friend, Cat.  If you ask me what the form is, I’d say amphibrachic dimeter, an ancient Greek meter.  I only know two examples after 500 BC, both mine, bien sur.  I wanted the gait of a mountain pony on switchbacks, and I think I got it.”

Headwaters

Up switchbacks through passes
we ride winded horses
through spruces, then grasses
ribboned with watercourses,
the Wind River’s sources.

A trail called Highline
meanders through flowers
from treeline to snowline
where War Bonnet glowers
on Cirque of the Towers.

A bald eagle’s shadow
plummets from its aerie,
then circles this meadow
whose cold waters carry
some hope to our prairie.

The galloping line reminds me of Kazakh folksong, surprisingly accessible to western ears, always with a rhythm of horses. Cat, what do you think?

She visited, fifteen or more years later, some of the same people I hunted with, including the late Aralbai, a true wild man, and his son, now married with a wife. The third photo MAY be him- I lost a lot of files, including a good one of him by Cat (Cat?).  In the intro to the new pb edition of Eagle Dreams, she  tells how, as a good Wyoming cowgirl should, she beat him in an impromptu horse race, winning a silver- mounted riding crop; like any proud Kazakh, he immediately proposed, saying he was Moslem and could have a second wife. Cat had the perfect rejoinder: “I know your FIRST wife- and you can’t!”

In this photo from the first expedition, he is rolling a cigarette as he takes a break from riding around in circles, dragging his bird by its jesses in a way that would look ridiculous to any falconer. He raises his head to me, indicates the intense  discussion going on behind, and says “Stev– photographers FUCKED!” People always learn the bad words first! Of course, there is also the matter of my NAME. When I asked Canat and our driver Siassi why they always pronounced my name like that, Siassi looked at Canat for permission, then turned to me and said “You are  Stev, because ‘Steef’ mean..”; and he gave me the universal sign for intercourse, with his finger going in and out of his circled fist. It is just GREAT to know that your name means “Fuck” in Kazakh, though through the years, I have come to accept it, and even sign my letters and emails “Stev”…

 What the hell, a few more; this post has become pure free association anyway: Siassi and me and Canat, young and strong and invincible in late February  ’97; my first hunting paty in Mongolia, pure Indiana Jones; and a scare- Magpie  hung over Aralbai’s lambing corral, showing that intelligent corvids are not the herder’s friends. Jackson used to have an Irish- sounding reel he had written called “The Magpie’s Breakfst”; when asked what a Magpie’s breakfast was, he would answer succinctly, “Roadkill!” And Pere Henri Michel, the naturalist priest in Serignan, home of Jean- Henri Fabre, would shake his head over the sheer numbers of Magpies there, which kept the numbers of song and game birds depressed, and say “Les pies sont mechant; ils ne sont pas baptisee!”

Here are Cat and Jim at their trailer house on a dirt road south of Pinedale, where I took refuge from Jackson Hole, a place that my convalescing friend Peter Bowen (well, a character in one of his best novels, Wolf no Wolf) calls “a good place for a nuclear accident”. For three days, we rode around and looked at the country, the livestock, and the wildife; at night we drank and talked and laughed. Jim and Cat’s well – honed political comedy act had me in stitches. He likes to portray himself as a poor dumb rodeo cowboy who works in the gravel pit; no matter that he and Cat have received grants from the Wyoming livestock council (I THINK– Cat can set me straight) to go to places like Turkey to study livestock protection dogs and their culture, and that Jim and I can stay up all night killing a bottle of vodka and  discussing the science and anthropology of  domestication, pulling out more abstruse papers than anyone not a student of the subject would ever think existed.

 My most impressive experience there was not even hearing the wolves
howling down on the river (a sound still rare in my country, and one
that will make the hair rise on your nape no matter WHAT you think of
wolves),  and going out in the morning to see that the dogs had held the
line and moved the wolves on, and were only a LITTLE cut up– see Rant
in the pic below.

No, it was the political comedy act. I knew them well enough to know they were pro-gun and pro- conservation and VERY pro- domestic livestock, but didn’t know any details. I had been complaining about the Hole, where everybody is a pc liberal, where everybody now owns THREE houses, because the billionaires have driven out the millionaires; where I had been reasonably informed that there were 63 private jets on the runway the day we flew in; where there are more poor southern Mexicans than in Albuquerque or, probably, New Mexico, because such people need servants; where a celebrity lawyer whose hair, like that of Warren Zevon’s Werewolf, was perfect (my not particularly Puritan soul had been shocked to see, on a previous visit, that the first thing you confronted when you walked in the front door of his mansion was a garish ten- foot high full frontal nude portrait of his wife, by him (and no, Jim C, I am not talking about the wonderful whimsy of “Mail Order Brides come with Issues”, or as I think of her, the Goddess and her dogs– I would happily sleep with her and her watchful dogs at the foot of my bed forever, if only Penelope would let me!); but he had been good to Libby after Harry’s death,  when there were still plenty of climbing hippies and Mormon cowboys in the Valley, so I introduced myself  and mentioned the name of a serious writer and friend who had worked in the oil patch long ago and written a good book about it and about this lawyer, quite complimentary–only to have him take my hand languidly, stare over my shoulder, and say “I can’t quite recall anybody by that name…”

 I was going ON, as people who know me know I can. We had been invited by a wonderful old friend of Libby’s, an educator and classicist, and incidentally quite rich, to come up and cook for his daughter’s (rather odd– the best part was Mark’s reading from Wendell Berry on the responsibilities of marriage, which seemed to puzzle the crowd) wedding, and, being a gent, he PAID her for it. Which seemed to encourage some of the young people, like the barely post-adolescent  lout who said he had just spent 6 months in the Andes “skiing for social justice”, to treat Libby and Martha (only the greatest outdoorswoman of her generation, and another old Outward Bound friend of Mark’s, and unlike Libby still in the food biz), the way the nuns of my odd aristocratic grammar school (the school, not me, I’m plain as dirt, a scholarship student born in “Saint Maahk’s Parish” in Dorchester, who didn’t find out about that scholarship until 1987) told us NOT to treat servants.–

 So Jim begins, reflecting.”Well, you know I robbed the cradle. I started dating Cat when I was thirty and she was twenty.

“And when she turned twenty one, I took her down to the Sublette County courthouse, to register to vote.

“Now I was born here, and I know the drill,[Cat was born in Kentucky I think, though she moved out early] so I say ‘Urbigkit’- resignedly.

“Then I spell it.

“Then I say, ‘Democrat’ [pronounced cowboy, “Dimocrat”]- resignedly.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Really?” (I don’t know many non- Hispanic cowboys that are Democrats).

Jim: “Yup, I’m the chairman of the Sublette County Democratic party– I nominated Obama.”

I laughed, a bit incredulous still. “Any buyer’s remorse?”

“Every day- until I see your guys!”

This time I whoop and high- five him, and return to my seat.”What about Cat?”

“Well, remember, she’s still this naive little girl. So she turns to me and says, ‘Jim, what am I?’

“And I say to the registrar, ‘She don’t know it yet, but she’s a genetic Republican, so put her down as that.”

And SHE gets up, and high fives Jim, and says “And I’m the REPUBLICAN chair of Sublette County!” And I say, “You know, I’ve heard more political intelligence and diversity of thought in this trailer house than in a week in Jackson.”

And then I go back to Jackson and some rich jerk asks me where I’ve been and I say on a ranch south of Pinedale in Sublette County and he says “WHY? That’s the asshole of the world!” I say to Libby, just a little later, never say I lack self- restraint- I did NOT say- yell!- “No, THIS is!”

 

And finally, a link to Tim: (No, it won’t work. Tomorrow)

More soon. It has been a long day, and night

Jim Harrison RIP

Jim died today, at 78. “We loved the earth but could not stay.” (Dalva)

He was also responsible, more than any other individual, for getting Querencia  the book published.

More tomorrow, and more from Tim Murphy, including one for Cat, and a reply for Johnny UK, who is– not sure if Tim realizes-  another Lab man…

UPDATE: Malcolm just sent this moving memorial to Jim by Tom McGuane, from the New Yorker. He died writing.

A Mongolian Progression….

Most books by Roy Chapman Andrews are interesting, but inexpensive. In his day he was a popular writer, and even early titles like Whale Hunting with Gun and Camera (!) and Camps and Trails in China are not too hard to find.

Not so The New Conquest of Central Asia. As it is the record of ten years of American Museum of Natural History expeditions, a huge book with many contributors, its usual price tag of around $650 is easy to understand, but hard to pay!

So when I found a not too battered ex- lib with a library binding and only three of its more than 200 plates missing, for $200, I grabbed it, I have never been happier with a book! Despite the rough condition a (tape on maps, stamps,  and library binding), it is a battered, still- magnificent treasure trove of everything Mongolian,  scientific and, yes, Colonial, in  early Twentieth Century Asian history.

Our house name for it is The Big Book of Mongolia, and we keep it on the coffee table rather than the library, where we can dig into it randomly when we have a minute to spare, finding everything from buildings I have been in (Gandan Monastery) to landscapes we, like they, drove through,  despite the absence  of roads. One of our friends in Ulan bataar, Nyamdorj, always drovenhis Mercedes limo across the steppes, stopping for us to get out and push the car through what would be considered blue–ribbon trout streams in Montana. I must ask Jonathan Hanson if the first AMNH expedition is the first one that used cars extensively — they even had camels plants stashes of gas ahead of them! And, of course, I’ve touched the  fossils in the actual dinosaur’s nest in Ulaan Bataar’s museum, some of the first ones ever found.

The book’s typical condition:

Driving in he twenties; Wolf, Chapman’s dog, riding high
The frontispiece is one of the few remaining color plates,  but there were only 5, while there were hundreds of black and white illos . And I have always liked this map showing the relative sizes of the US and Mongolia, and even used a version in Eagle Dreams, but this one looked like it was situated too far South.
I was right.Here is the correct one, from Andrews’ On the Trail of Ancient Man:
 The title of the last book gives a hint of irony too.The expeditions found MANY fossils, including important mammals (Chapman was to write some of his best accounts of finding them in his children’s book, All About Strange Beasts of the Past, in 1956 — it was the first of his books that I read. He also found the most important dinosaur fossils of all time, in beds that are still giving up fascinating fossils; without them, we might not have found the affinities of dinosaurs to birds as fast as we have. But they were looking for human fossils, all the time, and they never found any! They were certain humans had originated in Asia.
Until I read The New Conquest, I never realized that they had a great human paleontologist on board: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, the aristocratic, Jesuit paleontologist who indeed found one of the most important and iconic hominin fossils, the so-called Peking Man, on Dragon Bone hill near Beijing. It is now considered one of the first and most important fossils of Homo erectus. Or at least the castings made from it are. 
Pere Teilhard was an enigmatic man. His theology is abstruse and incomprehensible to me, though Father Bakewell respected it. My favorite of his books is Letters From a Traveler, accounts of his various diggings and wanderings. His life was novelistic, and two good novels have been written about him and the fate of  Peking Man. What is known is that the fossils were put on an America controlled train to be shipped out of the way of the invading Japanese, and they have never been seen again. The first, by Stephen Becker, is called The Blue-eyed Shan. It is a part of his Chinese trilogy, one of the oddest concepts for good books I’ve ever seen. In each, a newly decommissioned Marine who was, like Becker, born in China, engages in a series of adventures. In the first, The Chinese Bandit, adventure is the point. The book can be summed up as marine goes to China, marine is attacked by Chinese bandits, marine becomes The Chinese bandit. The second, The Last Mandarin, is a comedy, but a dark one; a caper book. The third, and I think the most profound, The Blue Eyed Shan,  is a tragedy; the bones end up in possession of a wild mountain tribe in Burma after they kill the protagonists. All three would make good movies, albeit with different directors.
The other novel is probably more realistic. Nicole Mones, author of Lost in Translation, is a Sinophile and scholar who lives in China; another of her good novels is about Chinese  food and cooking. She knows a lot about de Hardin’s life in Beijing and his interesting relationships with intellectual women. 
All these books are worth reading. And you might be interested to know that Becker, a New Englander who used a wheelchair and lived on a sailboat (he was a friend of Bad Bob Jones) also wrote a very good novel about law and justice in early 20th century southern New Mexico called A Covenant with Death.