Archive for the ‘Laura’s Ramblings’ Category

Do you love poetry, music, Americana, and Gothic Romanticism—that is, old-school drama, both realistic and sentimental, steeped in the miseries and mysteries of Nature and the harshness of the human condition, playing your heartstrings and gently squeezing tears from your eyes? If so, you might forgive today’s detour from Mattole history.

If not, stop reading and return another time. This post is categorized in “Laura’s Ramblings.” I decided to share this musical-poetic experience as a special indulgence for myself on my birthday weekend, since it’s an old favorite of mine… and I hope that you, too, may shed a cathartic tear or two as you listen.

Edgar Lee Masters, born in Kansas in 1869, who would become known as one of the leading lights of the American Midwest’s poetic renaissance in the early twentieth century, published in 1915 a collection of poems called Spoon River Anthology. Its setting was a fictional town, with fully mapped social and business relationships between hundreds of residents, all sprung from Masters’ head. “The Hill” is the first poem in the book, set upon the site of the community’s cemetery and posing the questions answered by each graveyard denizen in his or her verse. “The Hill” asks, in names common in any local histories of that time,


“Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom, and Charley,

The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the boozer, the fighter?

All, all are sleeping on the hill.

One passed in a fever,

One was burned in a mine,

One was killed in a brawl,

One died in a jail,

One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife.

All, all are sleeping on the hill.


“Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie, and Edith,

The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud, the happy one?—

All, all are sleeping on the hill.”


The introduction to my 1992 paperback “Signet Classics” edition of Spoon River Anthology is by poet and Yale English professor John Hollander. He writes, “[The book] creates a fictional community through the short dramatic monologues spoken by its deceased inhabitants, rather than by overt description…. [The volume] was an immediate success, praised extravagantly—and alternately condemned—for its skeptical energy, erotic specificity, reforming nay-saying coupled with romantic transcendent yearnings, and unfamiliar structure and mode of verse. It went through seventy editions in many languages, and remained a canonical work which was itself widely and heavily anthologized.”

Eighty years after the book’s publication, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Richard Buckner, encountered the Spoon River Anthology, chose eighteen of the over 200 grave-dwellers to interpret musically, and recorded The Hill. The album is a thirty-four-minute emotional powerhouse, combining Masters’ words and Buckner’s musical compositions. (Merge Records reissued The Hill in 2015, the 100th anniversary of Spoon River’s original publication.)


Of course, the stories of Spoon River’s dead are not unlike those of many in our Mattole Valley cemeteries. I can’t read the poems of Edgar Lee Masters or listen to Buckner’s The Hill without thinking of the women, men, and children laid to rest on the hill in Petrolia. Perhaps someday, a writer with poetic or musical talent will tell the stories of some of our locals:

The three toddlers, first cousins—Hiram Wright, Elsie Hunter, and Almon Duff, children of three Wright siblings, playmates who were laid to rest below a neat row of tiny headstones, dead of Scarlet Fever in 1880.

Or Charles A. Roberts, who died, along with his 13-year-old son Harry, far from home in a shipwreck piloted by a drunk captain—the tragedy of the Hanalei off Duxbury Reef in 1914.

And what of Margaret Chambers, the Irish-born wife of Moses J. Conklin, who laid to rest the very first occupant of the Petrolia Pioneer Cemetery, their 11-month-old son Alonzo Conklin? Margaret was the first white woman in the Valley, and went on to bear at least nine children, dying at age 48 of tuberculosis.

Walter Boots, a divorced 39-year-old lovelorn man, shot young Addie Reynolds, who had spurned his affection. Thinking he had killed her, he turned the gun on himself.

Jack Harris was a Native man born in 1858, just as white settlement was kicking in and the genocidal wars beginning. He was adopted by the white husband of his sister, Ellen, and lived in the Valley for many decades peacefully, employed as a ranch hand. At the age of 45, he attempted to save the two Hadley sisters (buried at Upper Mattole) who were drowning in the Mattole River. All three perished.

John McAuliffe, born in Ireland, lost a two-year-old son, possibly of Scarlet Fever or Diphtheria, a natural yet horrible scourge in those days; five years later, his insane wife, in a very unnatural act, dragged their three young daughters from their beds, took them to the barn, and slit their throats. A fourth daughter was born to the woman while imprisoned in the Napa insane asylum, where she lived out her life. The girl was said to be the idol of her father in his declining years. He died at the age of 73, known locally for his humor and wit.

Theodore Aldrich, renowned Indian killer, was haunted by memories of killing twin papooses by smashing their heads against a tree in the Squaw Creek massacre, while proclaiming “Nits make lice!” He has a nice big flat stone, convenient for seated contemplation of Death, the great equalizer, on the Petrolia cemetery hill.

Helen Maude Adams was ten years old when she drowned at Roberts Hole. Her would-be rescuer, English-born Charles Gilbert, who was 37 years old then, died in his attempt, and is laid next to her.

There are plenty of tragic and sad stories to be gleaned from the lives and deaths of those interred in our Mattole Valley cemeteries. (This post is a reminder to me to integrate corrections and more photos, and post the entire Petrolia Pioneer Cemetery guide on this blog, sooner than later.)


But for now, let the stories, sufferings, and joys of the fictional inhabitants of Spoon River move you via the words of Edgar Lee Masters and the musical mastery of Richard Buckner.

(I am posting a link to the official Merge Records recording on YouTube for each of eight excerpts I chose from Buckner’s album; I typed the words from the paperback Spoon River Anthology. Since the videos have no visual content, you can open a tab for YouTube by clicking on each video link, and just listen there, while looking at the lyrics on this page.)

Also, I highly recommend that if you enjoy these selections, you order Richard Buckner’s “The Hill” or Edgar Lee Masters’ book Spoon River Anthology.  I only linked about half the content of the album; much of it is musical, without lyrics, but still each passage represents a Spoon River character.



Tom Merritt  Tom Merritt YouTube video

At first I suspected something—

She acted so calm and absent-minded.

And one day I heard the back door shut,

As I entered the front, and I saw him slink

Back of the smokehouse into the lot,

And run across the field.

And I meant to kill him on sight.

But that day, walking near Fourth Bridge,

Without a stick or stone at hand,

All of a sudden I saw him standing,

Scared to death, holding his rabbits,

And all I could say was, “Don’t, Don’t, Don’t”

As he aimed and fired at my heart.


Ollie McGee  Ollie McGee YouTube video

Have you seen walking through the village

A man with downcast eyes and haggard face?

That is my husband who, by secret cruelty

Never to be told, robbed me of my youth and my beauty;

Till at last, wrinkled and with yellow teeth,

And with broken pride and shameful humility,

I sank into the grave.

But what think you gnaws at my husband’s heart?

The face of what I was, the face of what he made me!

These are driving him to the place where I lie.

In death, therefore, I am avenged.


Julia Miller  Julia Miller YouTube video

We quarreled that morning

For he was sixty-five, and I was thirty,

And I was nervous and heavy with the child

Whose birth I dreaded.

I thought over the last letter written me

By that estranged young soul

Whose betrayal of me I had concealed

By marrying the old man.

Then I took morphine and sat down to read.

Across the blackness that came over my eyes

I see the flickering light of these words even now:

“And Jesus said unto him, Verily,

I say unto thee, To-day thou shalt

Be with me in paradise.”


Elizabeth Childers    Elizabeth Childers YouTube video

[This is one of the saddest and most haunting, I think, of these songs. A friend disagreed with the last line, and resented its assertion that “Death is better than life.” I tend to think that, since both the narrator and her child are speaking from the grave, it’s more a sour-grapes rationale that they got the better deal; might as well prefer the conditions you find yourself in. But listen and consider for yourselves. –LC]

Dust of my dust,

And dust with my dust,

O, child who died as you entered the world.

Dead with my death!

Not knowing Breath, though you tried so hard,

With a heart that beat when you lived with me,

And stopped when you left me for Life.

It is well, my child. For you never traveled

The long, long way that begins with school days,

When little fingers blur under the tears

That fall on the crooked letters.

And the earliest wound, when a little mate

Leaves you alone for another;

And sickness, and the face of Fear by the bed;

The death of a father or mother;

Or shame for them, or poverty.

The maiden sorrow of schooldays ended;

And eyeless Nature that makes you drink

From the cup of Love, though you know it’s poisoned;

To whom would your flower-face have been lifted?

Botanist, weakling? Cry of what blood to yours?—

Pure or foul, for it makes no matter,

It’s blood that calls to our blood,

And then your children—oh, what might they be?

And what your sorrow? Child! Child!

Death is better than Life!


Oscar Hummel   Oscar Hummel YouTube video

I staggered on through darkness,

There was a hazy sky, a few stars

Which I followed as best I could.

It was nine o’clock, I was trying to get home.

But somehow I was lost,

Though really keeping the road.

Then I reeled through a gate and into a yard,

And called at the top of my voice:

“Oh, Fiddler! Oh, Mr. Jones!”
(I thought it was his house and he would show me the way home.)

But who should step out but A.D. Blood,

In his night shirt, waving a stick of wood,

And roaring about the cursed saloons,

And the criminals they made?

“You drunken Oscar Hummel,” he said,

As I stood there weaving to and fro,

Taking the blows from the stick in his hand

Till I dropped down dead at his feet.

Johnnie Sayre   Johnnie Sayre YouTube video

Father, thou canst never know

The anguish that smote my heart

For my disobedience, the moment I felt

The remorseless wheel of the engine

Sink into the crying flesh of my leg.

As they carried me to the home of Widow Morris

I could see the school-house in the valley

To which I played truant to steal rides upon the trains.

I prayed to live until I could ask your forgiveness—

And then your tears, your broken words of comfort!

From the solace of that hour I have gained infinite happiness.

Thou wert wise to chisel for me:

“Taken from the evil to come.”

Reuben Pantier   Reuben Pantier YouTube video

Well, Emily Sparks, your prayers were not wasted

Your love was not all in vain.

I owe whatever I was in life

To your hope that would not give me up,

To your love that saw me still as good.

Dear Emily Sparks, let me tell you the story.

I pass the effect of my father and mother;

The milliner’s daughter made me trouble

And out I went in the world,

Where I passed through every peril known

Of wine and women and joy of life.

One night, in a room in the Rue de Rivoli,

I was drinking wine with a black-eyed cocotte,

And the tears swam into my eyes.

She thought they were amorous tears and smiled

For thought of her conquest over me.

But my soul was three thousand miles away,

In the days when you taught me in Spoon River.

And just because you no more could love me,

Nor pray for me, nor write me letters,

The eternal silence of you spoke instead.

And the black-eyed cocotte took my tear for hers,

As well as the deceiving kisses I gave her.

Somehow, from that hour, I had a new vision—

Dear Emily Sparks!


William and Emily   William and Emily YouTube video

There is something about Death

Like love itself!

If with someone with whom you have known passion,

And the glow of youthful love,

You also, after years of life

Together, feel the sinking of the fire

And thus fade away together,

Gradually, faintly, delicately,

As it were in each other’s arms,

Passing from the familiar room—

That is a power of unison between souls

Like love itself!




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Hello, lovers of the Mattole and of all things beautiful and bright!

I have a Carl Sammons painting i would like to sell. I posted it a couple months ago on our local Google Board and got a handful of responses, but nobody followed through. Perhaps the price was daunting. Well, i bought it for $1800 four years ago, so i think $2000 is a fair asking price. [UPDATE: The painting has sold!]

This painting is mid-size for a Sammons: Canvas 15 ¼ x 11-3/8, with frame 18 ½ x 14-3/4. It is marked “Cake Town” on the back… but that must be some inside joke, as it is a picture of the Bear River near Capetown, way back when, when the hillsides were bare through regular burning.

laura'sCAKE TOWN, sm

I would like to sell the painting to someone who would really cherish it—not just to a stranger interested in an investment. Before going to craigslist or eBay, i thought i would try one more way to reach Mattole- (and Capetown)-loving people.

Here’s another view of it on my rosy/peachy wall:Laura'sCAKE TOWN,atLKW

I have posted about Carl Sammons several times on here; simply enter “Sammons” in the Search bar in the upper right corner of this page, and you can go directly to each title. In short, Sammons was a painter of the Mattole Valley and Humboldt County from the 1920s, when he married local Queenie Stewart, until his death in the late 1960s (here is an art gallery’s bio on him: http://www.redferngallery.com/artistbio.php?at=CarlSammons ).

One reason i have to sell it is that i couldn’t resist buying another beautiful painting, this time a watercolor by Alan Sanborn, this past month. (Darn that credit card, it makes art impossible to resist!) It was an Artists’ Open Studio weekend in Arcata, and we strolled into Alan’s home and looked at scores of striking landscapes and depictions of homes and gardens, mostly of Humboldt County but several from New England. Alan does a particularly good job with light–the effects of sunshine on a rainbow of flowers, on the gold of Humboldt grasses, and in the bright white of painted wooden porches. Living in Humboldt, of course i had seen many print examples of his work, but had never really checked out his work until that weekend. And look what i saw!


This is a big (17.5″ x 23.5″), deeply saturated watercolor. It’s behind a glass frame, which is why you see the reflections. From this vantage point, i just felt like i was there, at the foot of Cedar’s driveway, looking up at the familiar landmark. And despite the eminent paintability of St. Patrick’s Church, i really only know of three other versions: a line drawing that Tony Anderson made years ago, and had printed on a postcard; a card i saw here in town, can’t remember the artist, of a nighttime scene with the steeple next to a full moon; and of course the most famous one, by our old friend Carl Sammons:


This 1947 oil painting is the one that St. Patrick’s Catholic Church has made into a glossy blank greeting card, which they sell to raise funds for the church. Let me know if you are interested in those cards, and i will try to find out if they still have them for sale.

Speaking of local art–we’ve hit on two different media, so now let’s go to photography. Stephen Remington, about whom i’ve posted before (again, just type his name into the Search bar), now has an exhibit up in the main hall of the Arcata City Hall, corner of 7th and F Streets, just southeast of the Plaza. His photographs are great illustrations of why landscape photography is indeed an art, not just a representational tool for recording a moment in time. They are vibrant and rich without being overly jacked-up in the color department. That is, somehow they feel not real like being there, but almost more real. For instance, both the silver-gray color (not what we’d usually consider much of a color) and the perspective caused by the composition of the land, water, and sky lines, as well as the receding shapes of the clouds of birds, are hyper-real in these two scenes:


(Note: I’m sort of sorry about the bad quality of my pictures… but not too sorry, as i really hope you will go see the exhibit in person if you’re in town.)

Stephen has generously offered to give one of these gorgeous photographs to the Mattole Valley Historical Society, once the pictures come down from the City Hall at the end of July. He was thinking of making a contribution to the walls of our new museum in downtown Petrolia. I believe he is quite right–that artwork such as this, celebrating the natural beauty that helps make this place the perfect home (for some of us), will be just the right finishing touch–but when we do get hold of the picture, it will go on the wall of our new green office at the Grange.

I believe this is the one he is thinking of donating. Maybe most of us have taken photos from this spot, but the difference between Stephen’s shots (and printing expertise) and mine is radical.


I hope you don’t mind my using this Mattole history blog as my personal sales page. Since my taste in art is probably pretty much the taste of anyone who loves this place as i do, i thought i might keep you abreast of what’s cooking.

I can’t absolutely promise this, because who knows what financial hardship might compel me to sell a painting when necessary… but when i die, i think the new museum would be a good place for my Mattole and Humboldt artwork to go. Meantime, if i have to sell anything, you all– locals and lovers of local– will be the first to know.

So let me know if you want the Bear River (Cape Town) painting! (You can call my cell at 707-601-7300 and i’ll get back to you.)

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In the recent Now… and Then newsletter (#33; print copy available by contacting me here or at the MVHS), an article from the Humboldt Times of September 23, 1854, mentions “Grizzly Bear, Deer, Elk, and Antelope…” in our area. I noted that i wasn’t sure about the antelope, thinking of the African animal. But i kept thinking of that ultra-American folk song with the line “…where the deer and the antelope play; where seldom is heard a discouraging word…” and realized that yes, there are American antelope– but in the Mattole Valley?

It would be interesting to learn more. If there were any such animals here, they would be Antilocapra genus, which is not the same as the African antelope. The American antelope is commonly known as the Pronghorn (the true Antelope having single-spike horns, rather than the antler-like prongs of our genus), and its scientific name means “antelope-goat.” The Pronghorn is yet numerous in northeastern California, where hunting licenses are issued, and are one of the attractions of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. They seem to prefer high-desert, relatively arid grasslands… but who’s to say that the summer Mattole hills, so perfect for other ungulates, would not host a happy population. I have not seen other accounts of them here, but will keep my eyes open.

The official report of the USDA/Forest Service ( http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/mammal/anam/all.html ) tells us of the Pronghorn’s known traditional territory, but in very general terms:

Historically, pronghorn range extended further north in Alberta and
Saskatchewan; west through most of California (my italics)
and all of BajaCalifornia; east to western Minnesota and Iowa; and south through
east-central Texas to San Luis Potosi in Mexico [76]. Warm desert
populations have declined greatly from historic size and range.
Pronghorn from the United States have been introduced in all Mexican
Chihuahuan Desert states from the international boarder south to San
Luis Potosi. The largest pronghorn populations are first, in Wyoming,
and secondly, Montana.

Antilocapra americana. If this one looks familiar, consider that these Pronghorns are more closely related to giraffes than to African antelope.

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Broad view of history

(Not Mattole history– i mentioned at the start, this blog is only from West of the Redwoods; subject matter may wander afar.)

I am hyper-excited to be reading a wonderful history book, catching me up on world history– sweeping me away in world history! I might have to lead into how and why i came to this little love affair with The Alphabet versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image before you will consider it, for you may have the same reservations against it that i did before i began it.

A month or two ago, we listened to Will and Ariel Durant’s The Lessons of History on five hours’ worth of CDs. It was great fun, a wonderfully colorful and witty retelling of what once seemed daunting dark vaults of creaky old dates and wars. Durant (it was his voice) puts everything into perspective by organizing cyclical patterns; taking this long view, he might perhaps anger narrow-minded traditionalists (as any intellectual peeping around the blinders might); however, he is no dreamy idealist who constantly persecutes the victors and anguishes over the losers. Without taking sides, he makes it clear that, in the long run, we are always either on a path to ruin or recovering to rescale the beckoning heights of enlightenment and progress. The currents overlap, and while one civilization or mode of thought is dying, the seeds of another are germinating.

I had never absorbed an overview of human history before, surprisingly. My interest in history began when i came to the West Coast, and the immediate here-and-nowness of local history grabbed me. However, because i had a good ol’ modern liberal college education after the Second Wave of feminism (around 1980; the so-called First Wave being the half-century or so leading to women’s right to vote in the U.S. in 1920)– and then came straight to Santa Cruz– i had read plenty of “explanations” for the state of affairs in the modern world– what had happened (because of Western, patriarchal, monotheistic, anti-Nature attitudes), why it happened, and what we must try to do about it. Everybody had a version of this tale of downfall from Eden, or the early Goddess-loving societies, and there were lots of common threads; but the gist of the “Why?” question was never really answered for me.

Leonard Shlain’s book, The Alphabet versus the Goddess, was published in 1998. One look at the summary of the book’s thesis– that alphabet literacy, which encourages left-brain, linear, masculine-type thinking, has led to most of the world’s worst excesses of intolerance, violence, and misogyny– made me immediately dismiss it. For one thing, i myself am obviously a big champion of the written word, of communication and education as a panacea, and of the great power of the pen, as opposed to the sword, to change and improve the world. And our video-and-computer trend toward looser language, abandonment of “proper” language for slang and of spelling for abbreviations, etc., made me all the more resistant to anything further denigrating the literary arts. Basically, to me it looked like the replacement of books and writing by flashing digital media was the death of civilization.

For another thing, i was bored silly by the old anti-monotheistic, anti-patriarchal line. Not that i didn’t agree with it; i had just heard it all before. The new twist on the “why” aspect seemed to me just another bizarre tactic to make a paradigm-changing proposal even more attractive to the fringe, and less acceptable to common sense.

Well, was i ever wrong. Geez, Leonard Shlain, i ignored you for thirteen years at my own expense! (Shlain recently passed away from cancer in the Bay Area. He was a respected M.D. and pioneered many inventions in the field of laparoscopy. He was truly a Renaissance Man! An insatiably demanding scholar and creative thinker, he wrote several books while excelling in his medical field as well.) Anyway, at my brother- and sister-in-law’s for Christmas, i saw the book on the shelf, and since i had just heard the Durants’ version of world history, decided to browse it. Now i think of it as one of the most fascinating books i have ever read. (Noticing the anti-social fervor with which i delved into its pages, Jane insisted i borrow the volume.) It is thoroughly professional and well-reasoned, and never tells us what to think… it just poses the question, and suggests the answer. What you decide is completely up to you, but even if you disagree with his proposal, you will want to keep reading his lively tale of the progress of the world, and literacy’s complicity in it.

In fact, i don’t agree with him, at least not without major qualifications. Because of his experience in surgery, Dr. Shlain knows a lot about the human brain. His main interest is in the right and left hemispheres of the brain: the kinds of thought that are associated with each; the traditionally male (hunter, warrior) traits and traditionally female (gatherer, nurturer) behaviors; how even the parts of the eye (cones=focus, precision, hunting, yang; rods=fuzziness, half-tones, dreamworld, firetime storytelling, yin) are associated with masculine and feminine, or left- and right-brain, modes of thought and behavior; and how entire cultures and religions have leaned toward or immersed themselves in one or another of these modes. This is all very good, and some very astute observations and connections are made; but still, a very strong response comes from deep in my own brain, of there needing to be much more to it.

At this point i believe that even if our brains were undivided solid masses, and people were unisex, we still would have had much the same history; but the power of Shlain’s book as a whole is that now i see that even without the inclusion of his split-brain theory, his survey of the association of the alphabetic written word and chaotic, violent social and military eruptions is impeccable. The content of the propaganda is the direct and obvious cause of the troubles; the fact of the written word’s assumption of authority (think of how the phrase “to author” means “to be an authority”) and its incredible power, especially among people new to it, for whom it seems like magic or divine revelation, seem to me to be the problem.

You can’t discuss or review this book without using the word “irony.” In fact, several times while reading, i have thought, “I better put this down and go do something right-brained or physical, before i turn into some Calvinist bigot or get some crazy Nazi urges…” He is using a book to help us see the drawbacks to book-learning. But that’s the problem with his theory, for me. If i’m reading something uplifting that tries to promote wider learning and more humane behavior, how can i not be swayed that way? While Shlain acknowledges that the content has often been the immediate cause of rabble-rousing and intolerance, he maintains that the actual function of literacy itself was the cause of humanity’s organizing into vast hordes of murderous zealots during, say, the Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, and the witch hunts. So far (and i am not finished with the book yet), i would have to accept this only to the point of saying that the “actual function of literacy” involves not (only) its effect on brain patterns or neurological impulses, but its cultural effect as being the Word, the ultimate source of eternal wisdom, a thing everlasting in the minds of humans who, for millenia before, heard words come and go, ephemeral and temporary, like every other earthly experience. Someone claiming to control this thing, this Written Word, had, and still has, a lot of power over people for whom literacy is still a magical mystery. (Think of Moses and his commandments written in stone, Shlain’s example of how the beginning of the alphabetic language of the Hebrews was the beginning of the reign of self-righteous and exclusive religion– he’s Jewish and says things about the Old Testament he might not want to say if he weren’t. The fact that Moses could read those funny etchings on stone instilled the people with great reverence– for what? Basically, for whatever the etchings conveyed. And every major religious figure’s life, as far as what we can tell from historical and even currently-accepted accounts such as the Bible, promoted peace, compassion, and spirituality; whereas later printed edicts turned their message to opposite ends.)

I’m repeating myself here; can’t quite see if i have made my point in the best way. (But hey, it’s the virtual age, and i can just delete or edit whenever i wish… nothing is permanent!) I could go on and on, but should instead ask you to read The Alphabet versus the Goddess for yourself. I’ll conclude with my opinion that, although the details of how the written word worked its (often evil) magic are debatable, Leonard Shlain’s case that its arrival has always been accompanied by widespread suppression of what we call right-brain values, women, and all that is feminine– and instigated intolerance, rigidity, and war– is indisputable. And the bold, sometimes quirky, insights he sprinkles throughout the text make for delightful reading.

Shlain is optimistic about the future, believing that the image-oriented virtual world will reprogram our brain patterns and help us return to some state of naturally cooperative, tolerant, life-loving human existence. I am optimistic that somebody i know might read this book, or has already done so, and might discuss it with me!

Dr. Leonard Shlain. As he notes, a picture is worth a thousand words. I liked him more after i found this photo!

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As you can see from the map below, copied from the National Geographic of October, 2009, in its article “The Tallest Trees: Redwoods,” we live in one of the few areas along the North American west coast’s Redwood Belt that does not support a natural Sequoia sempervirens population. As we all know, our microclimate makes this Valley a unique location for agriculture or vacationing relaxation away from the fogs of Humboldt Bay and the Eel River Valley. Locally, the gap in coastal fog is known as the Mattole Hole, and is quite sharply apparent when returning from town (points north) along the Wildcat on a summer’s day. We emerge from the fog around Cape Mendocino to see a blanket of clouds over the ocean opening in a big backwards “C” out from the mouth of the Mattole.

The lack of summer fog, which causes the Valley’s inhospitality to redwoods, is due to winds funneling down from warm inland areas. A drawback is that in late summertime, we often smell smoke from wildfires hundreds of miles inland.
Around 1989, i read in a Mattole Journal (a tiny, hard-to-find publication put out by Honeydew’s Bill Kelly, that only lasted for two years) that the geography of Cape Mendocino was responsible for this unusual phenomenon. Summer winds from the northwest blow down almost perpendicular to the coast north of the Cape, setting up a spiral effect below, which draws inland air out through a mountain gap in the Southern Humboldt area, and down through the Mattole Valley. An opposite wind pattern during most of the winter brings moist, tropical Pacific air up via “Pineapple Express” storms, giving us formidable rainfall totals when these systems hit the King Range wall.

On the map, you can see the gap the warm air flows through, and the special zone called Home by several hundred lucky or fated souls– west of the redwoods. (I added the yellow markings to show the lower Mattole Valley and river-mouth area.For this image, as for any on this site, “click it to big it.”)

This National Geographic map shows the Redwood Belt in dark green.

Not that there’s anything wrong with redwoods– i love the redwood forest, and living near such a magnificent micro-world is pretty special in itself. But there is something a little beyond about being out here, “Furthest West,” at least the furthest-left land in California.

Which is why i will ramble on with some more thoughts. Once i read, i think it was in Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel, that the generally-accepted theory of the material progress of cultures goes from hunter-gatherer to settled agriculturalists (and depending on how anti-patriarchal or conservative the viewpoint, that enlightened social values go with one or the other– but there’s another topic), and usually at any one point in time, a culture is either wandering and non-agricultural, or sedentary (settled) and actively cultivating the land for plant materials. But there are exceptions. In these favored areas, writes Diamond, people are able to be settled in permanent villages (although they may seasonally migrate to certain resources, e.g. acorn groves or fish-spearing sites), without digging the earth– that is, they basically are able to remain hunter-gatherers, while staying in one location long enough to develop strong ties to the land and to each other, and to evolve to a lasting site-specific culture.

The book said that the three best-known large areas which could support this lifestyle were the Mediterranean (a very general statement, i know; if i had the book handy right now, i would be more specific); the coast of Chile; and the northwest coast of North America. Obviously many small islands of the Pacific would qualify, and probably countless other microclimates, as well.

So here we are in one of these marvellous areas where people can basically have a permanent home and gather the food as it moves by outside the door… but then add to that our enjoying the microclimate of the Mattole Hole, with enough rain in the winter to feed our springs and river all year-round, and enough warmth in the summer to ripen berries, grow huge acorn-bearing tanoak trees, and now, raise all the vegetables a modern American would want to grow… and you see we are in an enviable earthly paradise. Indeed, the Native Mattoles are believed to have cultivated nothing but ceremonial tobacco, unless of course you consider the intentional annual grass-burning a cultivation of the soil. They ate well and were described as fat and happy by the earliest White explorers.

Let’s not forget that this treasure of a place needs protection, as even the blessings of salubrious climate can be changed by… well, abuse and overuse of water resources, abuse and overuse of salmon runs, abuse and overuse in general… anything brought on by overpopulation and greed. That’s why most of us resist the “growth” of the population or the infrastructure here.

There’s no point in diluting a bounty of Nature until it no longer exists for anyone.

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