Archive for the ‘Laura’s Ramblings’ Category

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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