Tichoukt (ثيشوكت)

In the east, the Middle Altas range ends in folded mountains that contrast with the elevated plateaus around Azrou and Ifrane. In the winter, from any elevated spot around Fes, Bouiblane and Moussa ou Salah dominate the southeastern horizon. Behind them, looming over the upper Moulouya, Bou Naceur is even higher. Access to these mountains used to require a long and rough ride, though they are easy ascents if one approaches them right (more on this in another post.)
Directly south of Fes, just outside of Boulemane, is a third, lower peak named Tichoukt, which I think means little mountain in Berber. At 2787 meters (a little over 9,100 feet), Tichoukt is close to the town, and an easy climb, requiring nothing more than good shoes, lungs, and feet. There are remnants of a cedar forest, and the area to the east of the mountain has now received a special status as a natural area.

We went up to the summit of Tichoukt three times. The first climb was memorable, because the soles on my boots fell apart. I had given them to Jim Humphrey, living in Rabat at the time, to have them resoled. The shoemaker put the soles on perfectly, but the rubber was so soft that the limestone tore it to shreds. I had hardly any soles left when we returned!

Louden Kiracofe was with me, but we were disappointed by the views, which were limited by haze and clouds. We just went up the west side of the mountain, which is separated from the true summit by a little saddle.

Gaylord Barr and Karin Carter and I climbed Tichoukt in the late fall, but the best ascent was with Louden in the winter. We approached from the south side of the mountain, climbed to the saddle, and just followed the ridge to the top where there was a geodesic marker.

The mountain had snow, and the view at sunset was memorable. The snow-covered summits of Bouiblane and Bou Naceur were sandwiched between the setting sun and the clouds, in a terrific vista.

Hockey Night in Morocco 

Kadri, number 43, scores! 2017.

In the autumn of 1967, I reported for Peace Corps training to a migrant labor camp in Hemet, California. The year had been eventful. I had graduated from college. I had visited Expo 67, the World’s Fair in Montreal. I had worked for two Peace Corps training programs in la Pocatière. I had hiked in the Canadian Rockies. I had witnessed Charles DeGaulle address to a Quebec crowd shouting “Vive le Québec libre.”  And I had listened to Foster Hewitt on Hockey Night in Canada as the Toronto Maple Leafs won their fourth Stanley Cup of the decade.
Living along the US-Canadian border for much of my life, I also had an academic interest in Canada. I didn’t play hockey, and, in fact, could barely skate, but I followed the game closely through the Toronto Globe and Mail, for which I had a subscription.
In 1967, there were only six teams in the National Hockey League, though the league was on the verge of expansion. Almost all the players were Canadians.
Tonight Liz and I tuned into the Maple Leaf game. From our home, we can receive it clearly over the air. I had been thinking about writing about the Muslim players in the NHL, and took a screen shot just as Nazem Kadri scored against Philadelphia. Kadri is one of two Muslim players in the NHL. He is a a native of London, Ontario, not too far from here. His father was born in Lebanon and emigrated to Canada where Nazem was born.
If you had suggested to me while I lived in Sefrou that I would be watching Muslim hockey players playing professional hockey, I think I would have been sceptical. When the Leafs won their last Cup, I believe that the entire team was made up of Canadian players. Today, of the twenty-three players on the roster, six are European and five are American , including their franchise player, Auston Matthews, from, of all places, Arizona.
Kadri is an elite player. He scored twice in tonight’s game, and he is one of the reasons the Leafs may finally get another chance at the Stanley Cup in the coming years. He practices his faith, and keeps the Ramadan fast as best he can, not an easy thing for a sports professional.
I don’t expect a Moroccan hockey star soon, but fifty years ago I didn’t expect Muslims in the NHL either.

Trout Fishing in America

Depending on your age and life experience, Trout Fishing in America may bring different things to mind. If you are a fisherman and fly enthusiast, it may remind you of the opening of trout season on one of America’s classic streams, such as the Delaware or the Madison.
If you are young, perhaps you will think of the homonymous band that sang children’s songs. My favorite, as a former school library media specialist, was Alien in My Nose, wherein the fate of the world is settled in a school library, saved by a kid killing time.
Then, again, if you happen to be a baby boomer, one of college age in the late nineteen sixties you may recall Richard Brautigan’s short novel.
The sixties were a time of ferment and turbulence. A counter culture arose that is familiar, and shared, at least to some small extent, by almost everyone who was young then.
By 1968 Brautigan’s book had gotten into the hands of Peace Corps volunteers. I read it, because everyone was reading it, or, perhaps, because there may have been nothing else to read at the time, but it did not captivate me. It was not long enough to fill up multiple grand taxi trips from Sefrou to work in Fes and back home. I preferred longer and more ambitious novels such as Bulgakov’s The Master and the Margarita or classics such as La chartreuse de Parme. Brautigan was mildly amusing, but shallow. Perhaps you had to be high to enjoy him.

Trout fishing in Morocco was a different matter. At the time, I was interested in hiking and climbing, and fishing was secondary. I had some tackle, and fished a bit in the Middle Atlas lakes where European pike ruled, but the real trout fishing was in the central High Atlas. Al Jessup, the local Christian missionary, was by profession a fisher of souls, but Morocco was a difficult stream to poach. He was befriended by a French sports shop owner in Fes, and the two of them went on fishing trips together. He bragged of the ease of catching rainbow trout, of size and quantity in the cold mountain lakes and streams. I am not aware that he ever caught any souls.

The rainbows were stocked, of course, as were largemouth bass, and other sport fishes. Morocco has its own native species of trout, one of which lives in Ifni Lake, in the shadow of Jbel Toubkal, a place frequently visited by hikers. All of Morocco’s trout are probably endangered today. If you are interested in Morocco’s native wildlife, you may enjoy this article on trout.
Before the Romans, Morocco probably had many of the large fauna of Africa: elephants, bears, lions. The North African elephant, was used in warfare by many armies besides those of the Carthaginians. Intensive use of North Africa for farming, and the insatiable demand for animal fights in the arenas of the Roman Empire eventually led to the extinction of most of the large fauna. Wild boar and macaque monkeys are the most serious threats you might encounter in a Moroccan forest today. I once asked a shepherd near Ifrane if he had seen any monkeys. After two years in Morocco, I had not seen one. His reply: “Are you kidding? The little sons of bitches are everywhere!” I finally did see the Barbary macaques, both in the Middle Atlas and in the Rif in the mountains overlooking Chauen. I never encountered a boar, except one my friend Jean-Michel shot and served roasted at the dinner table. Needless to say, Moroccans do not eat boar, but they do hunt them as the animals can be a nuisance. Around the turn of the twentieth century, pig sticking–hunting boar from horseback with pikes–was the dangerous pleasure of the more avid European hunters who lived in Tangier.
Thomas Pellow, an 11-year old English boy captured by Barbary pirates in 1715 and sold as a slave to Moulay Ismael, explains in his memoir, The Adventures of Thomas Pellow Mariner, what to do if one happens to cross a lion on the road:

The lion, on the other hand, shows himself boldly sitting on his breech with a very sour look in the road, about twenty or thirty paces before travellers. In this case, instead of walking on and keeping their eyes off him, they must stand still and stare him full in the face, hollowing at him and abusing him all they can ; and for fear he may not understand English, in the language — if they can — of the country. Upon this hollowing and staring at him, he gets him on his legs, and, severely lashing his loins with his tail, walks from them, roaring after a terrible manner, and sits himself down again in the road, about the distance of a mile or two, when both traveller and lion behave again in the same manner ; and after proving them thus a third time, the lion generally leaves them without interruption.

There is no danger of that today. Traditionally, it is said that the last wild Barbary lion was killed in 1920. Some put the date in the nineteen forties. Sadly, today the Barbary lions are gone except for a few in zoos and manageries such as kept by the kings.

Those caged lions had their uses. El Rogui Bou Hmara led an unsuccessful revolt against the sultan Moulay Abd el-Hafids from 1902 to 1909. When his tribal support disintegrated, El Rogui took refuge in a mosque thinking he had sanctuary. It was bombarded by the sultan’s French supplied artillery, however, and he was captured. Displayed in a cage in Fes, he was tortured and eventually thrown to lions, though it isn’t clear whether they were interested enough to actually eat him!

Extinction is a thought much on my mind these days. I’ve been following Elizabeth Kolbert’s articles in The New Yorker for years, and finally read her book, The Sixth Extinction, this spring.
This post was prompted by an article I read the other day in La Dépêche. I’ve been thinking of a hiking or climbing holiday in the Pyrenees, so I follow what goes on in the region by reading this newspaper published in Toulouse. If you have been following the news, then you know that the Catalans and Spain have many issues that are coming to a head. The Catalans have my sympathy: they suffered years of cultural suppression by Franco’s dictatorship. Yet I find rabid nationalism dangerous, too. The future of mankind, if it is to be happy, will surely entail greater economic and political integration, as well as cooperation and common sacrifice. May the coolest heads prevail and everyone receive what is most important to him.
I noticed an article on the discovery of mercury in some of the high lakes of the Pyrenees. Investigators have come to the conclusion that the mercury arrived in the form of trout fingerlings, that are raised in hatcheries and stocked in the lakes. The trout are fed meal derived from ocean fish that have bioaccumulated mercury. Here is a case where humans unknowingly are transferring toxins between species and environments.
If you’ve read The Sun Also Rises, you know that Hemingway’s idea of heaven was trout fishing in the Pyrenees. He thought Spain had the best fishing in Europe.
O brave new world!

Trees and God

The great benefit of not having trees

My wife and I just had five tall, old trees cut down. One was dead, one was a nuisance, and three were just a little too close for comfort. We loved those trees, and cutting them down, even if they do provide wood for next winter’s fires, was a heartache.

Now one has a slightly better view of the lake, the gutters will not fill up from beechnuts from the mast, and my wife will have more sunshine in her gardens. But we will miss those trees and the cicadas that sang in them during the long summer twilights.

A newly emerged cicada.

Where there are no trees

If you travel around the United States, and have the inclination, you can equip yourself with a series of books on roadside geology. I haven’t checked so I don’t know if there is one for every state, but there are many states represented for sure. In the west, where the climate is more arid and the rock strata are not covered, you can often witness the forces that shaped our planet from the comfort of your car.

Morocco, because it has only Mediterranean and desert climates, could benefit from a similar guide. The geology, in all its splendor, spreads out before you, plain to see.

Morocco also tends to lack biological diversity. Add up all the native species of trees and perhaps you may get a couple of dozen, far less than you would find in Western Europe or the Eastern United States.
That said, Morocco still has some great forests, notably the cork oak forests of Mamora and the Cedars of the Middle Atlas, though both are under pressure and threatened by climate change, overgrazing, and charcoal manufacture.

Flock in cedar forest near Ifrane. The forest was populated by boars and monkeys.

When I was visited by three volunteers from Libya, just before the revolution that launched Gaddafi’s career, I took them in the Willys jeep up to the cedar forests southwest of Sefrou. They were impressed by the karst lakes and the dense, tall Atlas cedars. It had been some time since they had even seen a tree.

I can’t help thinking of them when I watch some English period drama that frames the earl, walking with his old dog, past the huge Atlas cedars adorning his estate. I actually tried planting one a few years in my backyard, as I live on the edge of a climate zone that supposedly permits their growth. Unfortunately, after a few good years, it succumbed to a particularly bitter winter. Perhaps I’ll try again, but I will never have ones like the Earl of Grantham or those surrounding the châteaux of France. An old friend was fortunate enough to purchase some hilltop property above Albi, and the French government subsidized its reforestation with thousands of Atlas Cedars!
The rocks in Morocco contain more than a record of the physical forces that have shaped our planet.
From the skeletons of giant dinosaurs to earliest evidence of modern man, Morocco has been a great place for paleontologists and archeologists in recent years, and it is virtually certain that there will be new discoveries that expand our knowledge of the history of the world.

If you drive from Sefrou, through Ahermoumou, to the western slopes of Jbel Bouiblane, look in the stream beds that the road crosses, and, in the Cretaceous rocks, you may find large and beautifully preserved ammonite fossils. The ammonites perished in the last great extinction, when a Manhattan-sized rock struck what is now the Yucatán and left the Chicxulub crater. These long gone creatures, in their beautifully coiled shells, also may remind us that a great extinction is taking place today, caused not by an asteroid, but by ourselves.

Darwin’s Dilemma Solved

Proponents of creationism have recently pushed their point of view by claiming that “Darwin’s dilemma” demonstrates that God had His hand in the “Cambrian explosion.” The argument conflates two somewhat different facts. Darwin found it difficult to reconcile the period of rapid diversification that took place in the early Cambrian, between 541 and roughly 518 million years ago, with the short time in which it took place. Darwin was still operating in a uniformitarian mindset of course. And he knew nothing about modern genetics which helped explain the process of evolution. This has prompted the latest challenge by intelligent design promoters, namely, that diversification could not possibly happen fast enough for all modern animal phyla to develop. God must had intervened.

Now, this explanation has been permanently discredited. A.J. Bateman and a team of scientists at the University of Texas, Austin, have conclusively proven that God was on vacation during the geological time period in question, and simply left everything up to nature. “We got the idea from the Old Testament. Though God is everywhere and all powerful, He may not always be working,” said Bateman in an exclusive interview last Friday. “We knew from Genesis that God rested after creating the world, so we simply searched for vacation rentals over the last 690 million years,” said Bateman’s graduate assistant, Samuel Clemens, who also noted that a day in God’s eyes might be millions of year in ours.

It didn’t happen every day, or, possibly, it never happened

There were many stories about the first Morocco Peace Corps programs that we heard as we trained and served. I met a couple of volunteers from an early program in Hanover, NH. I worked at the reserve desk of the library with the wife. One day they needed a babysitter, so I was pressed into service. It was in their house that I saw my first picture of one of the monumental city gates of Meknes. I really knew nothing about Morocco yet, although the following year I was to develop a good friendship with a Moroccan student who lived in the room immediately across the hall from mine.
Strangely the only thing I remember was an offhand comment by the husband that there were no beautiful Moroccan women, which I doubted at the time, and found to be utterly untrue after living in Morocco. The wife, however, did share with me the discrimination that she suffered as a child growing up in Colorado. That was my first insight into the discrimination that Hispanics faced in my own country. It was 1966, I think, and it was a wake-up for me.
Other than that, the older volunteers I knew were either training or country staff, or those still living in Morocco when I arrived (VII or VIII.) They all had stories, and, of course, every volunteer has them. It is unfortunate that there is not something like NPR’s Story Corps to capture them for posterity.
Some of the first programs were apparently disastrous. Morocco had only been an independent country since 1956, and Moroccans tended to be suspicious of foreigners. Also suspicious were the numerous French still working in the government or living in Morocco. France has its own volunteer service, called la Coopération, an alternative to military service for some, and was not terribly interested in having the Peace Corps on what it thought of as its turf. The French government was led by Charles de Gaulle, who distrusted the anglophone world, in general. Peace Corps TEFL teachers could be seen as yet another attack on la francophonie.
Moroccan bureaucrats were perplexed about what to do with these young Americans and probably about the programs that came with them. Foreign aid is a tough business, and my experience with USAID was that many of its projects were questionable and many AID people collected high salaries for doing very little. This may be a jaundiced view, but it still feels right today.
There were stories about the early programs that were difficult to believe. Volunteers from a failed program, hanging out in Rabat, racing their blue Willys jeeps up and down Avenue Mohammed V in Rabat, waving winners with a checkered flag. Volunteers grabbing policemen’s hats and running into the USIS building, where they stood behind the Marine guard, and taunted the policemen.
Two stories were more interesting. The first is true, and the second sounds true, but I did not witness it first hand.
In the early days, a doctor was assigned to the Peace Corps office in Rabat, to take care of the volunteers. Given that one had to be young and healthy to get into the Peace Corps, the Peace Corps doctors had plenty of time on their hands. By Morocco XII, the role of the doctor was replaced by a nurse. I knew the last doctor, who became a good friend, and developed an affection for the first nurse, an older woman, retired from the military, whose gruffness often obscured her kindness and generosity.
One early doctor was a would-be poet and avid surfer, reputed to be difficult to get in touch with on short notice. A volunteer serving in Nador became seriously ill and could not reach Rabat. She had met a Jewish doctor in Oujda at some point, and called him in desperation. He told her not to worry, just go to the airport and wait. Within an hour or so he arrived in his private plane, and whisked her back to Oujda, where she recuperated in his clinic until she regained her health. I don’t think he ever charged for his services.
The second story took place in Fes. It reminds me a bit of stories from the Thousand and One Nights, where the fifth Abbasid caliph, Haroun er-Rachid often wandered the streets of Baghdad in disguise, hoping to discover what his subjects really thought. This was during the Golden Age Of Islam, when Baghdad was a great center of thought and learning.

One day the local police circulated throughout Fes rounding up volunteers. They knocked on apartments, went to volunteers’ work places, and even found volunteers in cafes. Needless to say, this was at first a cause of consternation, but the police made it clear that there was no law problem, but rather that they were delivering invitations to an official dinner, thrown by the local government for David Rockefeller, the banker. Rockefeller had a lifelong interest in Morocco, and was a friend of the King. Tired of official receptions and eager to know more about the work of the Peace Corps, which he admired, he had asked that some volunteers be invited so that he could meet and talk with them.

So the police found as many as they could and that night they dined with some high ranking officials and Rockefeller. At the dinner, Rockefeller told a story about meeting Hassan II a few days earlier. As is customary, Rockefeller brought a gift, a very fine telescopic sight for a hunting rifle. The King accepted it with thanks, and told Rockefeller that he had a little something for him. He led Rockefeller through a palace doorway into a room piled high with fine Moroccan rugs. They continued through another door into a room filled with fine pottery, and then into a third room stuffed with brass trays and kettles. Rockefeller commented at the dinner that he went away embarrassed by the King’s largesse.
It reminds me of a refrain from Georges Brassens’s song, Marinette: “Avec ma p’tit’ chanson, j’avais l’air d’un con…”.
David Rockefeller had a long history with Morocco, and played a key role in some important diplomacy when the Shah of Iran was forced into exile. One of Rockefeller’s Moroccan pleasures was visiting Fes and shopping there.
Perhaps someone out there will confirm or correct the details of this story.


Here’s a bit on Fes that I picked off the Internet. It is an anti-Mason, anti-Shriner piece, but it also defames Muslims and Islam. If one knows anything about the history of Fes and Morocco, one knows that it is a fabrication.

Fes was founded in the 8th century and populated with Andalusian emigrants and local Berbers in the 9th. Given the sizes of cities at the time, it is unlikely that the population was very large. Not much is known about the early history of Fes, but there is no mention of any significant Christian population, let alone 50,000! Perhaps there is no historical mention of Christians at all!

Moreover, throughout Moroccan history there have never been any huge slaughters of Christians. Jews have suffered over the centuries, but usually in localized events, when the sultan did not have the power to protect them.

It is extremely unlikely that a Muslim ruler would slaughter mass numbers of “People of the Book” since one’s subjects are the wealth and strength behind a ruler.

Talaa seghira, just inside Bab Boujloud

In any case, the following episode, found on the Internet, is a manufactured, falsehood.

Now, if one wishes documentation about the Christian slaughter of innocent people, history is rift with them. No invention or imagination is required, nor need one go all the way to distant and ancient parts of the world.

Christians should remember that one of the commandments is “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
The Disgusting Blood Red Shriner (Mason) Fez And Oath To The Pagan Allah:

The Masonic Shriners wear a red hat known as a Fez named after a town in Morocco, where in 980 AD, 50,000 Christians, including women and children, were brutally murdered by the Muslims. As the streets ran red with the Christians’ blood from the massacre, the Muslims dipped their hats in that blood as a testimony to Allah. The red Fez symbolizes the slaughter of Christians in that town. The Masons still wear the red Fez adorned with the Islamic crescent symbol. Among the oaths of the Masonic Shriner organization is one that says, “…and may Allah the God of Arab, Muslim, and Mohammedan, the God of our fathers support me to the entire fulfillment of the same. Amen, Amen, Amen.”

The fez derives its name from the place where it first was manufactured commercially, the city of Fez, in Morocco. Some say, the red color is to memorialize the color of blood, and the Muslim victories over Christians. The City of Fez formerly had a monopoly on the manufacture of the fez headdress because it controlled the juice of the berry used to color the fezzes. The color red may represent the blood of innocent victims, like Christians and Jews who Islam plans on subjugation.

I haven’t annotated this quote, but anyone can find it easily. If one wants a good book on the real history of Fes, try Roger LeTourneau’s Fes in the Age of the Merinides. The University of Oklahoma Press used to sell an excellent translation of the French language original.

Blood does run in the streets of Moroccan cities once a year. On Aid el-Kbir, every family that can afford it will slaughter a sheep to celebrate the sacrifice of Abraham.

Aid el Kebir, Sefrou. 1970.

Biblical plagues

When I think back to my Peace Corps experiences, recollections are sometimes of brief or momentary things. The abandoned and deserted city streets at the end of the days of Ramadan, for example, when people sat around the table at home anxiously waiting for the canon or siren to sound the end of the fast so that they might pick up their hrira (Ramadan soup) or cigarettes, whichever mattered more.

The road from Casa to Marrakech is long and straight, and crosses some of Morocco’s most productive agricultural land. I traveled it from Rabat many times on the way to Toubkal massif, south of Marrakesh, where I went hiking or climbing. On a hot summer day, the stubble fields exuded heat, and little dust devils would cross the road from time to time. It you hit one, the car would shudder. I always worried that my French friends’ little cars, traveling at 120 kilometers an hour, would spin out of control.

Often, it was more convenient to travel at night. It was far cooler and there was less traffic on the road. But more than once, there were explosions of the mice and frog populations. I can understand the former: after the harvest, there was plenty of grain for every hungry mouse, and since the mice gave birth every 21 days, it didn’t take long for the fields to be crawling with mice. You might not notice them from a speeding car, at night, except that so many tried to cross the road and were run over. The highway was literally wet from the blood and squashed bodies of thousands of dead mice. We never stopped to look at them so I can’t say what species they were, but I did see the reflections of their eyes as they scurried back and forth across the highway, uncertain as to which way to turn.

I witnessed the mouse massacres several times, but on one occasion, it was frogs that littered the road with their bodies and coated it with their blood. I think they were frogs, though they might have been toads. The numbers, like those of the mice, were astronomical, and the wet road in the middle of a rainless summer was all the more astounding.

Eventually one would drive out of the slaughter zones, but it always reminded me of the plagues of the Bible. I never witnessed a desert locust flock, but I suppose that, if I had, I could add them to the list. Southern Morocco has long been plagued by them.