HIGH ALTITUDE TREASURE

This is an old book (1983) but nowhere near as old as its subject. Robert Leonard Reid”s sterling collection of articles and essays and stories and poems about the history and nature of California’s Sierra Nevada comes as close as mere words can to fill the reader with an awe akin to visiting the majestic peaks themselves. Like the picture above, Yosemite is the centerpiece of the book, but Reid wanders up and down the mountain range from north to south, east to west and deep into the heart of what makes it all so very special.

LEONARD REID

He delves into the before-the-white-man history of the place with a merciless eye on the depredations native Americans visited on one another. The Ahwanee vs. the Yosemite, being the main actors in that drama. However, those skirmishes were as nothing compared to the all-too-familiar horrors the incoming Europeans and their ilk visited upon the natives. The whole kit and kaboodle, as far as these rapacious invaders were concerned, belonged to them, and death to him who first cried “hold, enough.”

Actually it didn’t matter what they cried. They were done for. Herded off to reservations to clear the way for. . .

To begin with, it was for cattle and sheep to trample and graze the glorious landscape to death. Thanks to the intervention of Teddy Roosevelt and other minions of the federal government (remember them?) the place was preserved as a park. Of course, it continued to be assaulted by timber kings, miners, and eventually, most of all, it turned out, by tourists.

Through his wisely-chosen compendium of writings, Reid manages to spotlight all these conflicts yet preserve the eloquent an poetic musings of writers ranging from John Muir to poets as diverse as Walt Whitman and Gary Snyder. amid all that fine poetry and prose we encounter the explorers and mountaineers. The ones who dared to clamber to impossible heights and over the highest elevations on the continent and who invented techniques and devices to help them up and over so that future generations could follow in their footsteps.

John Muir writes poetic lines about a night he spent weathering a tumultuous storm amid the boughs of a swaying pine. Virginia Reed recalls the horror of her family when–she but a young girl– they suffered through the wretched and fatal trials as part of what we now call the Donner Party. Brett Harte adds a gruesome short story about “The Outcasts of Poker Flat.” Yet, David Brower, one of the founders of The Sierra Club, calls these mountains “a gentle wilderness.” “Neither California nor the rest of America,” he writes, “is rich enough to lose any more of the Gentle Wilderness or poor enough to need to.”

Walt Whitman

I conclude with these lines of wonder, begging you to ignore for the moment, the historical inaccuracies of Walt Whitman’s call to the now-widely-despised Christopher Columbus:

(Ah Genoese thy dream! thy dream!

Centuries after thou art laid in thy grave.

The shore thou foundest verifies thy dream)

John Muir

And so would say, I feel confident, John Muir himself.

YESTERDAY WAS THE FIRST DAY OF. . . WHAT?

I hope it’s the next era of spreading my eloquence hither and yon. I haven’t had a new book launch in some time. I have had a new book ready for a year or so, but due to changing publishers and all the accompanying whirl, I couldn’t find a landing from which to launch. Thus, I did introduce Bonita’s quest to the world just yesterday.

She’s under a new title, her former name was You Can’t Keep Her, a title I was never comfortable with. I’m happier with this one. BONITA’S QUEST We’ll see how my readership, such as it is, responds.

My new publisher is going to give me some promotional and marketing help, something I’ve never had, and something I’m so bad at I should never stick my head above the barricades for fear of getting whacked. Which I have a number of times. I confess this is “Indie” or “Independent” territory, which is shorthand for self-publishing. It will take a lot of royalties to come close to recovering my (as they laughingly call it) investment. I’ll be happy if I sell some respectable number of books. And what might that respectable number be? Beats me.

Stay tuned if you dare.

BONITA’S QUEST IS BORN

I have a new publisher and a new title. Some of you may be familiar with a lady named BONITA, the star of my historical adventure/romance novel of the same name. Well she’s back. In the original, she fought hard to discover her true identity and build a life in frontier San Francisco. Now, she must search the past to clear her parents’ names and seize legal custody of her daughter.

Other than that, not much going on in her life.

Now available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

WHAT GOES ON IN THAT RED CHAMBER NOW DOES NOT STAY IN THAT RED CHAMBER

BEIJING, CHINA – 1956: Actors perform the opera ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ in 1956 in Beijing, China. Photo by Tom Hutchins/VCG via Getty Images)

Dream of the Red Chamber, based on Cao Xueqin’s classic 18th century novel, premiered as a commissioned work at the San Francisco opera in 2016. Music by Bright Sheng (wonderful name, yes?) and libretto by David Henry Wang. The novel is apparently widely popular and revered among the literary set in its native land.The reviews of that first production were somewhat mixed. Strong on music, less complimentary on the text. One writer described the effort of distilling such a complex work with more than 40 major characters to trying to do Hamlet with only the characters of Hamlet, Ophelia, and Laertes to work with. Rough stuff. I missed the show the first time around, so I was glad to get a second chance at it when the company rescheduled it for 2022. Now that I’ve experienced it, I’m not sure what to think.

For one thing, it’s a hell of a spectacle. Grand opera in every sense of the word. Sets, costumes, music, superb performances by a sterling cast. I was looking for some hint of Chinese opera in the performance having had a passing acquaintance with the genre with its surprise juicy soprano scoops and dives during live excerpts we saw in China way back when. Another taste of the same sort of thing was in the SFOpera’s adaptation of Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter a few years back. I loved the book (I should make clear that I’m not an Amy Tan devotee.) and I loved the opera. As so often happens, though, most of the rest of the world did not agree with me.

At any rate, none of the elements I anticipated emerged in Red Chamber. Despite the lavish production features, the opera itself is a rather spare work in many ways. Still, I found it entrancing and impressive. A real tour de force in many ways. It’s a simple story of a stone and a flower representing the two lovers who are central to the plot. Surrounding the love story is an intense family drama engineered by the male lover’s mother, who is desperately trying to save her family and its fortunes from the whims of a cruel and devious emperor. Pretty bare-bones stuff. Which is fine. Grapes of Wrath, for example, has a plethora of characters, but the through line is simple: The virtuous poor versus the greedy rich. I don’t know why that book leapt to mind in this context, but the example serves, so I’m going with it. The Red Chamber music is, to my tin ear, quite simple and utterly wonderful in many places. There is one fantastic dance sequence that reminded me of the one in Saint Saens’ Samson and Delilah. Every bit as sensual and exciting. That said, the music is not Verdi-lush and melodic. I wasn’t expecting it to be, but just so you know if you run across a production at some time or another.

The whole show is narrated by a monk, whose dream the story purports to be. At one point he suggests that now that he’s told the story of the dream he will be free. and so will we. All of the story’s events take place inside this chamber, but I’m still not sure what the chamber is supposed to represent. Spirit? Reality? Fantasy? A reference to the Buddhist notion that once we complete our allotted reincarnations we can join nirvana? Lots of possibilities. Maybe they are all true on one level or another. Or maybe I’m hallucinating and have entered another reality myself. I don’t think so. I’m drinking lemonade as I write, for crying out loud.

Whatever you see or don’t see or hear in this production, thought, I can guarantee an emotional and powerful experience. Even with this rudimentary plot, complications ensue and the end is rich in emotion and irony. Buy a ticket. Go.

FORGET THIS SEPTEMBER

I have high regard for Shelby Foote as a historian, particularly for his commentary on the Ken Burns film about the Civil War. His powers as a novelist, however, seem to be of considerably less magnitude. September September is a tale of a kidnapping plot coincident with the integration of Little Rock High School in 1957. A Keystone Kops gang–if three can be considered a gang–plan to snatch a Negro grade-schooler whose family has some money and hold him for ransom. The brains of the outfit–if these fools could be said to have brains–is a small time crook who fancies he can plot everything so minutely that virtually nothing can go wrong.

I don’t think I’m being much of a spoiler to say that very much goes wrong. His partners in crime are a woman and a man, each more the tool of their own fleshly appetites than the other. From the beginning, it is obvious this whole plot is doomed.

That isn’t the puzzle. What is puzzling is why Foote chooses to stage the drama before the backdrop of Arkansas governor Faubus’s attempts to block a federal court order to integrate the schools. It seems that somehow the crooks think that the political drama will enhance their ability to demand and collect ransom. Or something.

Shelby Foote

At any rate, whatever the plot flaws, the novel’s biggest problem is that it drags on and on and on. It takes a potentially suspenseful situation and turns it into a ho-humm. In fact, I think I just invented a new genre. The ho-hummer. I can at least thank Shelby for that new word.

Aside from that, I return to my heading on this page–FORGET SEPTEMBER