Foraging, Sturbridge, Indy 5

For research, I took a foraging class this month to learn how to identify local edible plants. The lecture portion covered everything from stinging nettle (which is remarkably nutritious) to mushroom identification, and even how to make medicinal salves from herbs and weeds. Now when I see intractable weeds in my yard, instead of thinking “I need to pull those”, I can think, “I can treat wounds with that, and possibly make a respectable bread”.

The field portion of the class had Donna and I out in the woods, foraging for a diverse range of edible lichens, berries, leaves, flowers, and mushrooms, including the massive Berkeley’s polypore, and encountering specimens like the waxy-white ghost pipe (a parasitic fungus whose appearance owes to a lack of chlorophyll).

I can’t say which project I’m researching this for, but I’d encourage everyone to take a class like this. It’s not just a valuable survival skill, but expands our appreciation for local ecology. I hike regularly enough that, at minimum, the experience will be enhanced by being able to distinguish the finer elements of my surroundings, and with the added benefit of being able to subsist on those surroundings if I ever need. Very special thanks to the Connecticut Foraging Club for such an informative presentation and guidance, which combined science, history, folklore, and recipes with a hands-on expedition.

A week later, research took me on another expedition: this time to Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. This is a fascinating recreation of an early 19th century community. The knowledgeable staff are dressed in era-appropriate clothing, and demonstrate blacksmithing, coopering, pottery, cannon-firing, bread-baking, dye-making, tin-shaping, and everything in between… all to breathe life into a living museum. It’s basically a LARP set in 1830; think Washington Irving instead of JRR Tolkien. Across 200 acres, dozens of vintage homes can be explored from parlor to root cellar, hog-house to stables, and when your legs get tired, you can hop on a farm wagon or stagecoach. There’s even a colonial schoolhouse, sawmill, and assorted workshops.


For as enjoyable as these activities were, I did make one mistake in July: I saw the latest (and last) Indiana Jones film: the Dial of Destiny. And it is everything that’s wrong with modern entertainment.

A joyless string of chases with a visibly tired Harrison Ford. A slapdash plot serving as a thin excuse for ugly CGI that continually shatters any suspension of disbelief. This is a zombie of a film: a rotting corpse reanimated by corporate mandate, bereft of joy and wonder. It’s like the most cartoonish and bombastic elements of The Hobbit collided with an Indiana Jones pinball machine in the lobby of a funeral home.

The Indy from Raiders of the Lost Ark was a grounded hero. He obeyed the rules of gravity. He got bruised and beaten and bloodied. He was often outmatched, yet barreled ahead through sheer force of will. He was wry, desperate, charismatic and determined. In short, he was a character we wanted to root for. By the end of the film, we felt like we’d been dragged under that truck, escaped from the snake-ridden Well of Souls, and gotten into fisticuffs with Nazis for a well-earned victory. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the finest specimen of the adventure genre, and a textbook example of masterful film-craft. From the writing, pacing, cinematography, acting, effects, sound design, and rousing score, it fires on all cylinders. Not for nothing does it remain my favorite movie of all time.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was (and still is) a bad film. Even as a kid, I recognized it as a campy mistake that (as so many sequels do) manages to get wrong everything the original did right. Swapping out the resourceful Marion for an ever-shrieking lounge singer, and trading edge-of-your-seat thrills for over-the-top goofiness, I find it nigh unwatchable. It also pours on the supernatural elements so thick that they invalidate Indy’s line from Raiders: “I don’t believe in magic, a lot of superstitious hocus-pocus.”

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was a return to form. We get another globe-trotting adventure, iconic scenes, snappy dialogue, and the inimical chemistry between Ford and Sean Connery. And while I don’t begrudge anyone for considering this one their favorite of the series, it was always a silver medalist for me.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a disaster through and through. I knew something was wrong the nanosecond a CGI gopher appears as our opening image. For a film that was made 27 years after the original, the effects are worse, the script is uninspired (to put it mildly), and Shia LaBeouf was an unwelcome (and ultimately ill-fated) attempt at passing the whip. The problem isn’t the Soviets (I was relieved to see new enemies instead of yet more Nazis) or the aliens. The problem was everything else. I’m utterly serious when I say that after the nuke-the-fridge scene, I was ready to walk out of the theater.

The Indy in Dial of Destiny is irremediably broken, lost, hopeless, bleak and without purpose. This is by far the worst film in the series: a kind of lame fan fiction that goes through the motions with hollow greenscreen, an even worse script, and another ill-fated attempt at passing the whip… this time to a grievously miscast Phoebe Waller-Bridge, whose character is unpleasant and insufferable. And there’s a cynicism at the heart of this film, the same as that remake-disguised-as-a-sequel known as The Force Awakens. It ultimately feels like the product of Vogon-like corporate overlords boiling fun and inspiration down to a cold “nostalgia equation” that misses the point as to why we enjoyed Raiders (and the original Star Wars) to begin with.

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