Group Read: Stegner, Where the Bluebird Sings.....

Talk75 Books Challenge for 2010

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Group Read: Stegner, Where the Bluebird Sings.....

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Edited: Apr 25, 2010, 1:12pm

That's Wallace Stegner and the full title is Where the Bluebird Sings the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in the West. Given one thing and another, I think the time to start is May 3. May 1 is pushing it a bit as a few of us need to a) finish up with Henry Adams and b) get ahold of a copy of the Bluebird.... One of the Stegner enthusiasts had this to say: One good thing about this book is that each chapter (16 of them) is a stand-alone essay, so if someone feels a need to drop out for an essay or so, then they can pretty easily jump right back in again. For that reason, my preference for reading this would be faster rather than slower. Maybe five essays a week? Is that too much? Even at that rate, it would take us three weeks to finish. The font in my paperback edition is small, but there are only 227 pages--so it shouldn't be much of a burden for anyone.
That sound OK?

Edited to add that absolutely everyone is welcome!

Apr 24, 2010, 11:11pm

I will pick up the book when I am at the library next time. Thanks for setting up the thread, Lucy!

Apr 24, 2010, 11:21pm

Thanks Lucy. Sounds good. I'm looking forward to Stegner--haven't read anything by him in a long time.

Apr 24, 2010, 11:28pm

My copy is on hold at the library. This should be fun!

Apr 25, 2010, 10:47am

I would like to join this GR if possible. I have the book on reserve and would love to get started with this group? May I join you?


Apr 25, 2010, 10:49am

Everyone is welcome!!! The more the merrier.

Apr 25, 2010, 11:09am

I'll try to obtain a copy at my library. Thanks for the inclusion.

Apr 25, 2010, 6:29pm

I'm putting a link to the group read on the group page with the others...

Apr 25, 2010, 6:47pm

Thank you once more -- I almost wrote you to ask -- should I have? Or is this the way it happens? Do let me know proper procedure!

Apr 25, 2010, 7:16pm

I at least glance at all the threads, so if I see a group read pop up, I'll take care of it. But if someone drops a message on my profile, I'll get that too. I'm flexible...8^}

Apr 25, 2010, 7:59pm

I dug out my copy and dusted it off. Holy cow, I didn't realize that Stegner had written so much non-fiction. Our library book sale starts tomorrow. I'll add Stegner to my lengthy list.

Apr 25, 2010, 9:35pm

::waving:: Made it! Thanks to Lizzie for sending me the link to the group. I hope my book arrives in time. I do know it has shipped. Library would have been a good idea, but I'm a bit on the lazy side and am the queen of late fees... Mic

Apr 25, 2010, 9:57pm

I just paid a $19.84 late fee for my 11 yr. old. *sigh* and it's all my fault. I taught him to read and got him the library card. Oh, and modeled how to check out your weight in books every time you go...
Sometimes I think it might actually be cheaper to just buy, maybe not.

Apr 26, 2010, 12:46pm

Thanks to Lizzie for sending me the link to this thread. This is the first group read I've participated in so I'm pretty excited!

Apr 27, 2010, 4:21pm

I'm going to try to join in, but my library doesn't have the book (major sad face) so I had to buy it, and we'll have to see when I get it. Not like I don't have a million other books I should be reading instead, but there it is.

Apr 27, 2010, 4:24pm

"---but there it is." Yes, it is, isn't it?!!!!

Apr 27, 2010, 4:27pm

Mine hasn't arrived yet either....

Apr 27, 2010, 6:41pm

Hi Terri! Glad you're going to be reading with us.

Apr 28, 2010, 12:41am

I was able to pick up my copy at the library yesterday, so I am ready to go.

#11: I read Stegner's Beyond the Hundredth Meridian and it is very good, if you want a suggestion for nonfiction by him.

Apr 28, 2010, 4:48pm

Yay! My book just came..... !

Apr 28, 2010, 4:51pm

That's another one ready, then! (Are you going to peek?) I'm still waiting and hoping.

Apr 28, 2010, 4:56pm

I was thinking of peeking and then I felt Hal's eyes boring into me...... I won't at least until I finish with him!

Apr 30, 2010, 9:21am

My copy arrived! Ready and waiting!

Apr 30, 2010, 10:19am

I've got mine too!

Edited: Apr 30, 2010, 7:17pm

Mine arrived in the mail today, and I'm so ready to go!!! (And I'm going to introduce my friend scribulous to you soon. You'll like him!)

May 1, 2010, 5:25pm

My copy, I'm noticing just now, is de-accessioned from the Oakville Public Library in Ontario. It was only accessioned in 2002. I can only hope they got a better copy.... although this one seems crisp enough.

May 1, 2010, 5:32pm

The Stegner book will be a BOTS for me--"books off the shelf." I'm trying to read half BOTS and half new books this year, so this is a good thing, since I think I've fallen behind on my BOTS list. Mine is a Penguin paperback, and I think I actually bought this one new at a book store and paid full price. Maybe I was homesick for the West in 1992.

May 1, 2010, 9:49pm

May I join in with you guys? I have a copy and it looks great and since I love my adopted Western state, it seems fitting. I'm not very good at piping up in GRs but I do like to read everyone's thoughts and chime in occasionally.

May 1, 2010, 11:10pm

Coppers, you are most welcome. We start posting on Monday, and we'll be listening for your chime!

May 2, 2010, 12:26am

>28 Copperskye:. Great, welcome. I think we're going to have a nice group for this read.

May 2, 2010, 2:04pm

This sounds like a wonderful Group Read. I just came across it & immediately went to my Library source & put in on hold & I am in first position so I should have it within the week. (hoping)
Mind if I join in with you all?
hugs...........miss you guys..........."this ain't" happening next year but I've set my course & will see this year through.

May 2, 2010, 3:05pm

>31 rainpebble: You are very very welcome!

May 2, 2010, 3:06pm

>31 rainpebble:. Rainpebble, yes, please join. It looks like we're going to have a good group.

May 2, 2010, 11:59pm

#31: Belva! Happy to see you here!!

Edited: May 3, 2010, 12:48pm

I would just like to say to everyone, "Welcome!" and don't feel shy about jumping in here. Correct me if I'm wrong, someone, but I don't think we have any rules about posting. When we were doing the Henry Adams read, we didn't worry about "spoilers"--if you weren't ready to read the post, then you didn't read the post.

Maybe it would be nice, since we're a bigger group that we were for HA, if everyone were to introduce themselves on their first post. I'm Becky, originally from Denver--born and raised there in the 1950s. My father was born there as well, so those are my roots in Denver. My mother's family goes back in Colorado to the 1880s when my great-great grandfather moved his family from Indiana to the area near Pueblo, Colorado. After giving his ranch over to his oldest son, he spent most of the rest of his life in Trinidad, Colorado. My grandmother, born in 1899, hated Trinidad and moved from there the minute she could--married at age 16, she followed her new husband to Kansas and never looked back. Until I started doing genealogy, I always thought her family was from Kansas. What a shock to learn that her grandfather was one of Colorado's first permanent settlers in the area.

Well, of course that should read first permanent WASP settlers in the area.

As for me, now I'm living in Missouri--have been for the past 20 years or so. I miss the West, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. I'm really looking forward to hearing from everyone here. What's your story and why are you reading Stegner?

Post edited for clarification.

May 3, 2010, 10:36am

Hi, I'm Donna, and I relate to Stegner's nomadic background to a certain extent because I'm an army brat, although we always had indoor plumbing! I fell in love with Stegner's writing in the 90's while living in Colorado Springs. His descriptions of those wide vistas, magnificent sunsets, etc. is just perfect. Like Becky, I miss the west. I have a son and daughter-in-law in Littleton, CO, so I manage to get my "fix" several times a year.

I've lived most of my adult life here in Springfield, Missouri. I taught elementary school before we moved to CO, but couldn't face it again once we got back here. I'm more of a learner than a teacher. I'd love to take some lit courses at Missouri State one of these semesters.

So far I've read the introduction and the first three essays. As usual, I'm just blown away by Stegner's words. I usually don't write in my books, but I'm making an exception for Lemonade Springs and doing some major underlining and short notes in the margins. Do we have a plan for discussion? My book divides the essays up into three categories: Personal, Habitat, and Witnesses. We could do an essay at a time or a category...or the whole book. Other ideas?

May 3, 2010, 11:56am

Hi, I'm Pat, and this is my first time posting on LT. I'm still relatively new on this site but becoming more obsessed with LT every day!

I spent my first 53 years in the New York City area and moved out to Idaho in 2007. It's been a wonderful experience--I never expected to love the West as much as I do.

Last year someone recommended Wallace Stegner to me and I read Crossing to Safety and loved it and then read Angle of Repose. There is a discussion of Angle of Repose coming up at my local library and I thought it would be good to read some more Stegner in conjuction with that. So I was thrilled to stumble across this group read the other day.

I'm going to start Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs today and am eager to see what this group read experience is like.

May 3, 2010, 12:44pm

Hi Donna and Pat and welcome. Donna, you bring up the question about how we want to read and post on this book. I don't have a sense of this group about how fast people would like to read this thing. I think one suggestion has been five essays a week, finishing in three weeks. You bring up a good point about the divisions of the essays.

My book is the Penguin paperback edition. Of course other pagination may be different.

Introduction: about 8 pages.
Personal: 3 essays, about 38 pages.
Habitat: 5 essays, about 87 pages.
Witnesses: 8 essays, about 92 pages.

This is a suggestion--anyone with a different idea please weigh in--how about doing the Introduction and "Personal" this week, "Habitat" next week, and then evaluate where we are at the end of the second week to see how much time we want to allocate to the last section?

Because this seems to be a fairly large group (that's compared to the three people we had for Henry Adams--I'm sure for some reading groups this would actually be considered small), how about if we say that on week one, we're looking for your introduction to the group and any postings/comments, etc. you want to make on the Introduction and first section.

How does that sound? Too fast? Too slow? I have very little experience with group reads like this, so some of you might have some excellent ideas that I haven't considered. Please weigh in with comments, ideas.

Bye for now.

May 3, 2010, 2:47pm

Hi, I'm Mic(hele) and I have lived in WV, PA (I consider myself a Pittsburgh girl), SC, IL, MN and now I am in Texas in the Piney Woods. My father has always loved the West and I was fortunate to be taken on long road trips there twice in my growing up years. My husband and I took our then 13 and 9 year old kids on a road trip to Colorado last summer and introduced them to the beauty of the the Rocky Mountains. Our goal is to move to Estes Park once our youngest is in college.

I was introduced to Stegner in a book club back in MN. We read Crossing to Safety and I went on to read Angle of Repose and The Spectator Bird. I think it sad that it is so hard to find his works in the big bookstores because he is a great American writer.

I think that reading the Introduction and the first section this week and the second section the following week is a great plan.

May 3, 2010, 3:03pm

I'm Terri, born & bred in areas surrounding St. Louis MO, where I will probably remain. I have never read Stegner (don't hate me!), but I own several of his books, and I have always wanted to read him. Naturally, you guys picked a book I didn't have, but hopefully the one I ordered will be here very soon and I can catch up.

May 3, 2010, 3:56pm

Your plan sounds good to me, Becky! That way we can come and go at will.......I've read the intro and first chapter (and I have to say that the thing that blew me away was that he doesn't consider Iowa to be "west!" I have a lot to learn!), so I'll read more and post more later.
Meanwhile, I'm Peggy, living in my hometown in southeastern North Carolina with my hometown husband. I'd have to look at a map to see, but I think that coalmining Kentucky is the farthest west I've ever been. (No farther north than NYC; no farther south than Key Biscayne; no farther east than the N.C. coast, but I guess they don't count in this context.) I travel in my mind though with the help of books and GoogleEarth. For the rest, I'm a retired high school teacher whose first Stegner, Crossing to Safety inspired these others who love him to propose this effort. Thanks, others!

Edited: May 3, 2010, 4:16pm

Mic, Terri, and Peggy--Hi! {LizzieD (alias Peggy) and I were part of the group read of three who tortured our way together through The Education of Henry Adams throughout April.}

>39 PetHairMagnet:. Hi Mic. When people from Missouri travel to Colorado, I've noticed that Estes Park is one of their favorite destinations. It's so beautiful there, but I honestly think I've only actually been to Estes Park once in my life.

>40 tloeffler:. Terri, I know from following you here at LT that you will not only be able to catch up, but also you will smoke the rest of us to the end. How many books have you read this year already? Tons! However, so sorry this one won't be a BOTS for you! {For those of you who don't know, that's a group called "Books off the Shelf Challenge" which I adore because it's helping me to attack the huge number of books that have been waiting for me to get to them. I'm trying to read half new and half BOTS this year.}

>41 LizzieD:. Peggy, I had to chuckle at your surprise that Stegner doesn't consider Iowa to be West. When I was growing up in Denver, I thought everything on the other side of Kansas from me was East. Seriously. I mean, technically it was east of where I lived, but I thought it was "the East." Heh.

May 3, 2010, 4:21pm

Hi, I am Stasia, and while I currently live in Texas, I have been a gypsy moving from PA to Iran back to PA to MD to 3 places in FL to at least 6 places in TX before settling down in Sherman.

I have either really liked or loved the Stegner that I have read thus far - Angle of Repose, Crossing to Safety and Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, so this group was a natural for me.

#38: That plan looks fine to me, Becky.

Edited: May 3, 2010, 7:13pm

Hello all -Well let me see, I am Lucy and I am a nomadic northeasterner, although I seem to only move north/south with occasional eastward leaps over the pond -- I've either lived or spent significant time or had significant life experiences in most of the coastal states from Florida to Montreal PQ , and from Western New York to Maine. I am a walker, hiker, runner so everywhere I go spend time outside so I'm familiar with the rhododendrons in the mountains around Asheville, the hammocks in Florida, the maidenhair ferns in Vermont..... I also like cities and architecture and hustle bustle well enough and have been living the last while in a very big old city, Philadelphia, although in June I am moving back to Vermont where I lived as a young married adult. My eastern roots go very deep. I have only a handful of ancestors NOT here well before 1776, probably half of those were here before 1700. In each generation a few folks have wandered west and never come back.... including one of my own sibs who has gotten as far as Australia (now THAT'S West!)

What attracted me to Stegner a while back was his careful and close observation of 'nature,' both in the large and small sense of the word. He pays close attention to processes - seasons, cycles, changes wherever he is. I love the way that in one of his novels a person taking a walk can become a dramatic event.

He is a great writer and I'm sure the 'cycle' of popularity will come around to him again, critics all raving as if they just found him!

I wrote up a bunch of other stuff but I'll save it. I think one section a week sounds just great.

Here are a few useful links:

creosote rings: here

land of cockaigne: here

Stegner retreat house in Saskatchewan: here

East End: here

edited to fix link

May 3, 2010, 7:32pm

Hi Stasia and Lucy!

Wow, we are a far-flung and varied group. This is going to be a good time!

May 3, 2010, 9:06pm

Hi, I’m Joanne. I grew up in NJ but moved to the front range of Colorado 23 years ago. We have loved living here from Day 1 and it is home now. I always like to read about places I visit so it’s fitting that I enjoy reading about my adopted state/region. I read Centennial on our first drive west.

I have also never read Stegner *hangs head* and feel this will be a good introduction. I have a couple of his books on my tbr list. I’ve started it and am up to the essay entitled Dry Land and love his descriptions of the land and the climate.

And the schedule sounds great to me.

May 3, 2010, 10:39pm

Hi Joanne, welcome to the group. Whereabouts on the front range do you live, if you don't mind my asking? (Just curious, you don't have to say.) I moved away from Denver in 1988, but I have two brothers who still live there and wouldn't live anywhere else. Also many, many first, second cousins, etc. It's a nice place, but it's change a lot since I've lived there (as every other place has also changed a lot in the past 20 years--ha). Hope you enjoy the group read.

May 3, 2010, 11:08pm

Lucy, those are useful links! Thank you!!! I was too lazy today to chase them down.

May 3, 2010, 11:18pm

>47 labwriter: No, I don't mind. I live in Littleton. There's been a lot of growth in the south metro area (and the north for that matter) just in the last 20 years!

I'm off to check out Lucy's links - thanks Lucy.

Edited: May 4, 2010, 6:51am

Ditto, Lucy, thanks for the links.


Stegner mentions the population of the Los Angeles metropolitan area as being 15 million (p xvi, book published in 1992). I was curious to see how that had changed. I assume he's talking about the county, because the city as of 2008 is some 3.8 million. I found a figure for 2008 for metropolitan Los Angeles that said about 14.5 million, here. "Aridity has been a difficult fact of life for Americans to accept" (xvii). The politics of water--such a hugely political and controversial issue, and of course it continues today 15 years after Stegner was writing this, to no one's suprise, and will likely always be with us. I was poking around on the internet just to see how California is doing with their drought these days, and I found this.

I relate to Stegner's image of the West being a land of Cockaigne (xix), people being susceptible to dreams, the boosters overselling the West. My grandfather, my father's father, came here from the Netherlands in 1902 when he was only 14 years old, leaving his family behind. His father wanted him to be a teacher like he was, but all my grandfather wanted was his own herd of black and white cows. He started out working on farms in Iowa (in fact, farming only a few miles from Lake Mills, where Stegner says he was born on his grandfather's farm); then my grandfather was suckered (a word Stegner uses) into moving to eastern Colorado in 1912, thinking he was going to a place much like Iowa, because that's what he was told. Dry land farming was what he ran into, along with years of what was normal for that area--cyclical drought. It was a tough life. Fifteen years later he gave up and moved his family to Denver.

I was moved by Stegner's story of his father. He wasn't an evil man, he was just someone trying to make his own way in the world. Sometimes things work out and sometimes they don't. I wonder what Stegner would think of what he would see today, whether things are better or worse than he would have predicted. I'm thinking worse, but that's just me--sort of pessimistic these days.

I was looking at the Wikipedia article for Stegner, and notice that he died in 1993 (this book was published in 1992) of injuries suffered in a car accident. He was 84.

May 4, 2010, 7:29am

I tend to post "heavily" in the early mornings, since I get up early and it's the time of day when I enjoy just moodling over things. I don't mean to monopolize this thread--please anybody, jump in.

"Finding the Place: A Migrant Childhood"

I was immediately struck by this: "That prairie, totally unsuited to be plowed up, was hawk heaven" (8)--and he also mentions that years later that prairie is being returned to grass. One of the very positive things that's happened in some prairie places in the last 20 or more years is that acres are being set aside for preservation and allowed to return to their natural state. When I think of Colorado, I don't necessarily think first of the mountains; what my mind goes back to just as often are memories of the high plains in eastern Colorado--where my grandfather originally tried to farm, near Burlington. I've made the drive between Burlington and Denver about a million times, driving from St. Louis to Denver, and it's easy to look out the window when you're driving by at 80 miles an hour (OK, I have a heavy foot at that point in the drive) and see "nothing." But it's simply amazing what's out there when you get out and walk, which I often do to visit my grandmother's grave near Vona, CO. There's an outfit called the Plains Conservation Center not too far outside of Denver. They do fabulous work. We used to go on prairie walks with them when my son was small, 25 years ago or so. They insisted on a guide because of the rattlesnakes. If you're anywhere near the Denver area, this is a place you shouldn't miss.

May 4, 2010, 9:49am

Intro and essay One

In the Intro Stegner offers that these essays, while not attempting to ‘sum up’ anything, present his view of the issues, personalities and themes evoked by the western landscape as they affected his growth as a writer; the boundless optimism of many Westerners; the not infrequent conflict between the people and the landscape, and his own hope that the evolving westerners, those who ‘stick’ and who he hopes ‘will work out some sort of compromise between what must be done to earn a living and what must be done to restore health to the earth, air, and water.”

I would like to add -- there are ghost towns in the east esp. in the hilly areas of New England. Now, of course, there is nothing left but cellar holes, due to the climate, -but after the Civil War, thousands of hardscrabble, hilltop farming families went West into land that the men had seen fighting. When I was growing up we had a shared family property in central Massachusetts where we spent time in the summer and down the road about a 1/4 mile from the house was the remains of a hamlet: about ten cellarholes and the remains of a smithy. We spent countless hours digging around for treasure, finding broken china, teakettles and so on, horseshoes, etc. People filled up the Conestoga (manufactured right around here in Philly) and left the rest behind. When my father was a boy in the 30’s some of those houses still stood, with recognizable furniture and things in them. He was always terrified we would fall down a well hole, because there were also abandoned single dwellings peppered all around the area. You could always tell there had been a habitation by the presence of wild lilacs, bluets, a grassy opening......sometimes even stone steps to nowhere.

Note Peggy and Becky, my fellow Educated Adamses (good name for a steampunk group, eh?) - a mention of Clarence King on xxvi!!!!! (He was one of Henry Adams best friends! )


In this essay Stegner traces the connectedness of his geographical and writerly development and the circumstances of his particular history as a child and the interplay between these elements. Weigh in you Westrons on independence vs connectedness?
Vermont has those elements.... is it partly rural? Leave me alone and I'll leave you alone, but I'll be right over if you holler.

Is it Alice Munro who has the father in her stories trying to make a killing off of silver fox fur farming in Ontario? Another feckless but likeable person surely based on recognizable type.

May 4, 2010, 10:05am

I love this chatty group. I've already learned so much. Btw, Becky, I received the only speeding ticket I've ever gotten in that stretch of eastern CO that you described. I was the only car on that beautiful flat highway, so who cares how fast I was going? Isn't there a western state (I'm thinking Montana) that doesn't have a speed limit restriction in rural areas?

I have one quick comment, and then have to rush off to a meeting...
Lucy, thank you for the links you posted.

Re: the Saskatchewan retreat house...
I loved Stegner's comment footnoted on Page 8 (Essay #1) in my HC edition:

I intend to haunt that house, just to keep track of what goes on.

I wish I was "artsy" enough to qualify for a few weeks there!

May 4, 2010, 12:45pm

Hi, I'm Jenn.
I'm a western girl. I have lived in UT, ID, CA, OR, and now CO. I love the west. Growing up, my family went camping in Yosemite every year, and we often made the drive from CA through NV to UT or ID where my parents grew up. My dad grew up on a sheep ranch in Utah. So many things about Stegner's books resonate with me. I look forward to this one, and to reading all of your responses.

Hi coppers - we're neighbors - I'm in Littleton too!

I'm addicted to reading, knitting and my family. I have a husband of 17 years, an 11 yr old boy, 6 yr old girl and 3 yr old boy. We keep pretty busy.

I have read Mormon Country and Angle of Repose and am still trying to get someone to drive up to Leadville with me...Crossing to Safety is on the bedside table, on the top of the TBR pile. I am starting the book today, and then I will come back and read the summaries above.

May 4, 2010, 1:03pm

My name is Jan and I live in Eugene. I was born and raised in California then moved to Oregon about 35 years ago. When my husband was alive, he was an artist who worked in wood and every summer we would travel all over the west to art shows where he would sell his work. We would take our two children with us. It was a great chance for all of us to see this incredible part of the country.
Stegner is one of my favorites. I've read Crossing to Safety, Angle of Repose and Big Rock Candy Mountain. I'm really excited to take part in this but unfortunately I had to order the book and it won't be in until tomorrow. But I'll catch up!

May 4, 2010, 2:12pm

Oh good, you've just started. I'll stop at the library and pick this up after work today and get caught up on it.

I'm Linda. I was born in Chicago and, for 40+ years, have lived in a nearby small town that, at some point when I wasn't looking, became a suburb.

I've long wanted to read Stegner Big Rock Candy Mountain and others but haven't done so. This will be a good starting point, I think.

Edited: May 4, 2010, 7:10pm

Hi and welcome:

Jenn, from all over the West and now Littleton, CO;
Jan, from Eugene;
and Linda, from Chicagoland.

I hope I haven't forgotten anyone.

You're all in good company. We've just barely started, so grab a copy of BS/LP (Peggy?--heh) and join!

>53 Donna828:. Donna! I can't believe you got a ticket on that stretch of I-70! It must have been the Missourah license plates. They love to do that, I think--nab speeding out-of-staters.

May 4, 2010, 7:23pm

Welcome, everybody! This is already fun.....
My cohorts in Adams (and I did notice the different take on Clarence King, Lucy) do the heavy posting and I chime in with what strikes me. So, the thing that I was interested in in the first essay was his little bit about identity. He says that he never had an identity crisis, that he always knew who he was - a target. I wonder......Does everybody who sleeps rough feel that or do you suppose it's something peculiarly Western? How seriously are we to take this? Or might it have something to do with his being a little male until his growth spurt as he was graduating from high school?
I thought his tribute to his mother was beautiful and poignant. I can't imagine living as she did, but women do even now - maybe without the boiling and scrubbing laundry. (I did live a little over a year without water indoors when I was 2, so I remember scrub boards as well as the little house out back.)

May 4, 2010, 8:43pm

Oh gosh, what good questions. You know, I read that with a little tickle of skepticism, that I didn't pay attention to. How could anyone be as good a writer as he is, without having given considerable thought to identity?

May 5, 2010, 12:58am

>54 nittnut: nittnut - Howdy neighbor (Sorry, I couldn't resist).

My ability to post will be limited for the next couple of weeks. I had to ship my netbook off for repair. I usually lose in the battle with my son for the laptop. Somehow homework and chatting with friends trumps LT most weeknights. Oops, he's out of the shower now...

May 5, 2010, 4:28am

Hi -

My username is womansheart on LT, but my RL (Real Life) name is Ruth. I now live in Tallahassee, FL, but lived in San Diego, CA for almost twenty years, before coming back to Florida.

I love the West and want to visit more states out there. Any good places that are cool in the Summer? My DH and I have a Teardrop travel trailer and would love to visit a cooler environment to get away from the humidity and heat here in Florida that is just around the corner. I have spent time in Montana and loved it. Snow in the mountains in July when we were there years ago for a bicycle tour.

Like all/most of you I love to read and enjoy LT. I find myself reading friends threads and checking out what they are reading everyday, if possible. I add a lot of books to my wish-list ... it's impossible for me, it seems to read about a great book and NOT add it.

I'm looking forward to this book very much. I will take it to my fiftieth high school reunion in Clearwater, FL this weekend. Don't know if their is Internet available at the resort, but, there prolly (slang for probably) is.

Ready to read. Love the links that were posted. Thanks for doing that.

It is good to meet more people here on this thread. You are welcome to visit my profile at:

Ciao and as I say to my friend Stasia ... Happy Trails

May 5, 2010, 7:53am

Hi Ruth! My Wishlist and my To Read list and my Currently Reading list..... all have burgeoned in the last four months........ Wonderful! Love your profile choices! GW and LA are two of the greatest ever. Lucy

Edited: May 5, 2010, 8:10am

Hi Ruth, and welcome. Go anywhere in the Rockies around 8,000 feet or so (or higher if you want to), and you'll find a cool place in the summer. I can remember being at camp in Colorado in the middle of July and freezing in the early mornings when they would march us off on our "constitutionals." Also, the air is very dry, so that makes the temps during the day feel cooler as well. I grew up in Denver, and when I was young no one ever thought of having air conditioning because it cools off so beautifully at night. When I got to be in my 20s, which was the 1970s, you could always tell people who were from somewhere else, because the first thing they would do was install air conditioning. I imagine it's different now, but that's how it was then.

So--Stegner. I'm still in the first essay, "Find the Place: A Migrant Childhood."

I'm struck by how difficult it would have been for a "nester" (as he identified himself and also his mother) to make all those moves: never again "a family with an attic and a growing accumulation of memorabilia and worn-out life gear and the artifacts of memory" (15). I think when I was a kid, maybe when I was reading Little Women or books like it, I used to fantasize about what it would be like to live in an old house with a big attic full of trunks with artifacts (a word my 10-year-old mind wouldn't have come up with) from family that would connect me to my past. I grew up "entirely without history" (16) the way Stegner did, which can make you either a fanatic for research and genealogy like I am, or it can make you indifferent.

I grew up in Denver and moved to St. Louis about 20 years ago. Stegner's line about the horizon gets to the heart of what I probably miss most about the West--the long view: "I was used to horizons that either lifted into jagged ranges or rimmed the geometrical circle of the flat world. I was used to seeing a long way" (17, 18). It may sound crazy to people who have never experienced that flat world, but I miss the view of the horizon. And sometimes the color green flat wears me out--heh--"the endless green of Iowa offended me" (18)--I know just what he means. I think all of the browns and earth colors of the West must be a pure shock to someone from the East.

Post edited for fat-finger typing errors.

May 5, 2010, 8:52am

>52 sibylline:. Lucy, I loved your story about eastern ghost towns. Somewhere else I ran across that--was it in A Year in the Maine Woods? I'm not sure now. There was the same sort of thing in a story about Tennessee--that you could always tell where there had once been a homestead when you came across jonquils.

May 5, 2010, 9:33am

>52 sibylline:, 64 - I also remember abandoned houses and homesteads in northern NJ. Growing up, I used to ride in a state forest and would occasionally come across fruit trees and flowers and then find a old falling down house or just a foundation. I thought they were fascinating and always wondered about who lived there and what happened to them. I think it's the dry climate that allows old buildings to survive longer out this way though.

>63 labwriter: Regarding air conditioning in Denver, we didn't need it 20 years ago. Then there was maybe a week in July when sleeping was uncomfortable. We also scoffed about people who insisted on air. Gradually that time seemed to increase. We wouldn't want to not have an air conditioner now. I don't know why that's happened but it does seem to be more humid which means it doesn't cool off as much at night.

I'm really enjoying this thoughtful book!

May 5, 2010, 10:13am

>61 womansheart:: Hi Ruthie, maybe you and your DH can visit the "perfect primitve Eden" that Stegner describes so lovingly in "Crossing into Eden." He even gave the approximate location of the Grandaddy Lakes Basin in NE Utah. Has anyone been there?

I was greatly relieved to read that it is part of a permanent reserve where "the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." Those are words from the 1964 Wilderness Act. Love that word "untrammeled." Now that's a word that doesn't come up too often in ordinary conversation! Even better were WS's own words: "No visitor, however destructive, can touch what lives in my head as bright and dawn-struck as if I had left it just last week." I'm sure we all have memories of a meaningful experience with nature that will be forever etched in memory.

>58 LizzieD:: Peggy, I was moved to tears by that bittersweet homage to Stegner's mother's love and influence. With Mother's Day coming up, the timing was perfect; although it made me miss my dear mother so much. She had a very difficult early life in northern Michigan during depression times. Can you imagine life being so hard that you have to put your children in an orphanage? He doesn't write much about this; maybe he was too young to have been scarred by the experience.

>65 Copperskye:: Joanne, we didn't have AC in Co. Springs in the 90's and were very comfortable. Denver does seem hotter to me -- maybe because of the expansion of the city with its energy-sucking growth and ubiquitous parking lots? Now that sounds terrible. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Littleton and all things Colorado!

May 5, 2010, 11:26am

In the past 2 weeks, my electricity has gone out 3 times (at least twice because of transformers blowing), so last night I am reading the introduction, get to the first essay, and you guessed it - the power goes out. I finished the first essay, which I had barely started, by candlelight :)

May 5, 2010, 11:41am

Hi: I can report some progress. I picked up the book at the library this morning and hope to read a bit after lunch today.

labwriter, I love visiting St Louis, the Gateway to the West. I've got a few Cardinals games lined up for my visit later this month.

May 5, 2010, 11:55am

Donna, I googled images for Wall Lake, and it still is lovely. However, the text says that it is an "easy hike a mile off the trail, suitable for taking children backpacking" or something to that effect. A far cry from 1926 - but what isn't!
I'm happy to hear that everybody is making progress! I finished "Eden" this morning but will wait to comment if I have a comment......

Edited: May 5, 2010, 12:22pm

Linda, I'm so jealous! You gotta love those Cards/Cubs games (are you coming for those?). One of the best things for us about living in St. Louis is the proximity to Chicago--we enjoy ourselves enormously when we go there. So I guess we're a mutual admiration society. Heh.

Hey Lucy, since the subject of baseball has come up, what the heck is going on with the fans in Philly? Oh well, they're a great team with great fans. That's another thing I love about St. Louis--Cardinal baseball!

Stasia, you'd better get yourself a miner's headlamp or something. Although I don't mean to make light of your issues (oh good grief, pun unintended--I do that all the time; my family roars with laughter at my foot-in-mouth disease)--electricity being out is so frustrating, because you never know when it's coming back.

Bye for now. I haven't read Stegner's letter to his mother yet, but I'm looking forward to it.

May 5, 2010, 12:56pm

I'm going work my mother and a/c in together in a somewhat random way..... just because I can! She always loved to tell me I was born at noon on the hottest day of the year BEFORE air-conditioning.......She was very lovable but not remotely saintly. But I sure do miss her.

Few have A/C in Vermont - but it can get very humid, since it is essentially a northern rain forest. Overall the summers seem more random and unpredictable - cool or hot -- but frost generally stops earlier and starts later -- and even that -- on April 28 this year it snowed a couple of feet....!!! Why am I moving back there?? Should I have my head examined?

May 5, 2010, 8:39pm

#60 LOL Howdy back!

#61 Denver is a great city to visit. It's not that bad most of the summer. If you go to CO Springs, it's higher elevation and even better, generally. If it gets too hot in the city, it's not far to the mountains. I was surprised that where I live - 1000 ft above Denver - it usually cools off enough at night that sleeping under the federdecke with the windows open is lovely. We get by most of the summer by cooling the house at night and shutting it up during the day - until the kids get running in and out... come and visit. Maybe coppers and I can meet you for lunch (:

Hoping to make further headway in the book tonight. Still in first essay as well. My husband is sick. Nuff said.

Edited: May 6, 2010, 12:12am

Letter, Much Too Late

I love Stegner's letter to his mother.

His cataloging of the way he outlasted everyone else in the family is poignant: "I, the sickly child, have outlasted you all" (22). My mother is 85 years old this year. She, too, was the sickly child, and it seems odd (and probably very odd to her) that she outlasted all of her family by so many years. She is 40 years older than her father was when he died; 20 years older than her mother; 29 years older than her sister; and 77 years older than her brother at his death.

Stegner writes in this letter how living to be 80 makes him feel: "Instead of being embittered, or stoical, or calm, or resigned, or any of the standard things that a long life might have made me, I confess that I am often simply lost, as much in need of comfort, understanding, forgiveness, uncritical love--the things you used to give me--as I ever was at five, or ten, or fifteen" (22). I often wonder if my mother doesn't feel lost as well sometimes. Perhaps it's normal, living into the eighth or ninth decade of life, to begin to feel a sort of homesickness, a longing to go home.

Stegner says his mother grew up on a farm in Iowa and became an "instant adult" at the age of 12 when her mother died of tuberculosis (27): mother, housekeeper, farmhand. My father's oldest sister, named Anna, also at age 12, also became that instant adult when her mother died of tuberculosis. My father was only two years old when his mother died (his mother, Agnes, was only 30, living in eastern Colorado, working herself literally to death, eight pregnancies in ten years, pregnant again when she died). When my grandfather remarried, his new wife insisted they move away from the farm--to the city, to Denver. My aunt literally raised my father, as the new wife had her own agenda. I never heard anyone in the family speak of my grandmother Agnes--not once, not ever--supposedly out of respect for the "new wife" (even 50 years later). I spent five years tracking down clues just to learn her maiden name. Ah me.

I keep seeing my Aunt Anna's face as I read through this chapter. I didn't know the story of her youth until after she died. What Stegner says about his mother--that was so true for my aunt as well: "Nobody had taught you to dream big. . . . They had only taught you, and most of that you had learned on your own, to keep house and look after others" (29). My dear aunt got pregnant out of wedlock when she was only 16 years old; evidently the young (?) man didn't own up to the deed. In the Dutch community where she lived, that was unthinkable. The church (which was the community) literally shunned her and they excommunicated her. Yet she lived on in my grandfather's house and then later in a little alley house a few blocks away and raised her little boy by herself. And this--and I've thought about this so much since I've learned Anna's story: "Perhaps your father was as much to blame as anyone for the mistake you made" (29).

This Stegner is really quite something. Isn't it amazing--this book has sat on my shelf since I bought it--when? 1992, I suppose. Oh my, I'm going to have to go away for a bit and let this chapter sink in some.

Bye for now.

May 6, 2010, 7:39am

I just thought I'd post a list of names of us here in the group again and where we're living now. If I've missed anyone, please add yourself!



LizziD--Peggy--North Carolina










rainpebble--Belva--Western Washington



Happy reading!

Edited: May 6, 2010, 9:18am

My Library Thing member name is Scribulous, and my real name is Kermit. I live in North Carolina, north of Raleigh and near the Virginia border, somewhat more than a hundred miles from the domicile of the esteemed LizzieD. I was late getting started with the reading, though I had optimistically signed up for the group fairly early. I blame work and my usual indolence for the fact that this is my first utterance on this group, but I hope to be an attentive (possibly even an active) member.

May 6, 2010, 10:00am

Very nice that you've joined, Scribulous (Kermit)--welcome. North of Raleigh and near the Virginia border--that's not so far from my Campbell family stomping grounds of Johnson City, Elizabethton, and the Watauga area. I have many generations of family buried in that area. My husband likes to fly fish, so he fishes and I walk the cemeteries. It's a beautiful part of the country.

May 6, 2010, 10:14am

Yay, Kermit!!!! Welcome to the group. (He is the reason that I picked up W.E. Stegner when I did, and I thank him most gratefully.)
Becky, your aunt Anna's story sounds like a book - in the same way that Grace Marks's (Alias Grace) sounded like a book. (Grace's remark, which I used for a signature in another community was, "---and I wondered what kind of books she had been reading.") Do you have any plans to write it?
I was also struck by his comments and yours about folks in their 80's and 90's and their feeling of need. I'm convinced that when old folks want to go home, even when they are at home, they are longing for the home of their childhood, their parents, their siblings. This book so far seems very much a process of self-identification no matter what he says about knowing himself early on.

May 6, 2010, 10:42am

Alias Grace--oh, I love that novel. I have it tagged as a "read again." I've thought about writing a memoir. Maybe Anna's story is something that deserves its own space. I can't say I haven't thought about it--certainly at least subconsciously its something that I've been moodling around in my head. Thanks, Lucy. Those are the kinds of seeds that often grow into something. Ha--I just planted my Moonflower seeds outside, so I guess that's what I'm thinking about now. In a Missouri group read earlier this year, we read the most wonderful novel, The Moonflower Vine, by Jetta Carleton, a Missouri writer. I've never grown a moonflower before (has anyone?), but I decided after reading that book that I had to give one a try.

Yes, Peggy, I think so too--"a process of self-identification." I guess that's something that goes on as long as we're alive--always a work in progress--if we're open to it. Nice.

May 6, 2010, 10:47am

Don't mind my posts--I'm just a seriously right-brained stream-of-consciousness type who is constantly following something down a rabbit hole and then wondering, "How the heck did I end up here?" I'm so right-brained that I don't think I even have a left brain. I do things to try to encourage the left side, like make lists or whatever, but they never work.

Back to work.

May 6, 2010, 11:03am

Thank you, labwriter. I also fly fish for trout in the Watauga area sometimes, but the place where I live (Henderson) is nearly 200 miles east of there, on I-85 between Richmond and Durham. I know how it is: for most of us, including me, everything outside one's general area is a blur.

May 6, 2010, 11:24am

>80 scribulous:: Henderson, huh? What a great name for a town. I may be biased as that's my last name! Welcome to the group, Kermit. I also like your real and screen names.

I'd like to have a neat segue into names here, but all I can think of is how much I like the title of this book. It's a mouthful but it certainly makes one sit up and wonder -- where the heck is he going with this title? I love the old song, "In the Big Rock Candy Mountains" ("that vagrant's version of beatitude" - from the intro) and plan to read Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain soon, very soon. I've owned it for quite awhile now without knowing that it was based on his father's life dream of "something for nothing," -- also quoted from the introduction.

May 6, 2010, 12:47pm

>80 scribulous:. but the place where I live (Henderson) is nearly 200 miles east of there,

And wha-la--you make my point (and maybe also Stegner's, although I haven't gotten that far yet): perception is all, and if you're from one of those "big square states" in the West like I am, then 200 miles east makes you my neighbor.

May 6, 2010, 2:47pm

Thank you for the welcome, Donna828. If you are descended from Archibald Henderson this place may be named for you, though I suspect that he and many others of his era would prefer that their names be removed from the map if they could see the Twenty-first Century.

And labwriter, you are correct: perception really is different when you can usually see only a few hundred yards in any direction because of trees, hills, buildings, and everything else crowded around.

My own experience of the West is slight, consisting of two visits to California and the Southwest, so Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, etc., are terra incognita to me, except as to how I have seen them through reading A.B. Guthrie, Norman MacLean, Jim Harrison, Tom McGuane, et al.

May 6, 2010, 4:40pm

Hi scribulous! I got on to post something about the Eden chapter -- but now my mind has gone blank. I love the description of all of them diving into the freezing cold water and read it to everyone at the breakfast table....... what an idyll.

From a writerly angle -- considering why organize the book in these sections -- or even yet -- Why these essays? The first two, certainly are personal. This third one, while personal, was shared with a group and I think is here as THE formative outdoor experience of Stegner's youth. A taste of how life 'could be' -- for those days Stegner felt at one with himself and everything around him, and so too, did the others he was with -- proof being the fearlessness of the young martens (wow!) That's why I think it is included in this section.

#77 As always Peg, you hit the nail dead on -- indeed why else write these pieces but at the very least, to recollect, reassess, confirm his identity.

May 6, 2010, 6:15pm

Crossing Into Eden

Oh dear Lord, I want to leave this green, flat, humid, deciduous tree-laden land and go backpacking at 10,000 feet--right now! "Nothing superlative or enchanting should be easily accessible" (34).

If I were to read the end of this chapter to my fly-fishing husband, he would not be able to get out of bed and go to work tomorrow.

May 6, 2010, 11:02pm

I feel that I should write something in defense of green since I have never been on the other side of the Appalachians. I could do without the humidity, but I love green and greens. I love the sound of water - rain, babbling brook, the surf. Our slow-moving, blackwater river doesn't make a sound, but I love it anyway. In the middle of agrarian Robeson County, we see the sky as much a bowl as anybody else could anywhere else. If you asked me what home is like, I'd say "sand and swamp," but it's mine and I do love it. But I'd visit the desert and the Rockies if only I could.

May 7, 2010, 7:25am

The years I spent in Western New York State (from age 12 to 22ish off and on) I lived in the Genesee Valley a very wide and very shallow 'bowl' with the river meandering around in the flood plain. From some places along the ridge (where the towns mostly are and where mostly people live) you can see for miles and miles. It is also an area which vies with Seattle for constant cloud cover (less rain, more snow). Since it is winter most of the time, there is no green to speak of from November to April (fir is not a common tree) and we all used to joke A LOT about being able to appreciate forty different shades of brown not to mentions the variations in an iron grey sky. The summers were a delirium of green and lushness. Our farm had about ten feet of topsoil, down in the valley...... and you could feel all that richness, almost made you dizzy.

May 7, 2010, 7:46am

>87 sibylline:. It sounds beautiful, Lucy. Ha--like eskimos, having 40 different words for snow.

>86 LizzieD:. And Peggy, I'm quite sure Stegner would appreciate your words: "it's mine and I do love it." To anticipate the next essay just a bit, he writes, "We are creatures shaped by our experiences; we like what we know . . . ."(53).

Just a few words as we head in the direction of the weekend. Next week we're reading and posting on Part Two, "Habitat", which is comprised of five essays. Post at will, or lurk, or whatever it is that floats your boat. Isn't that easy?

Happy reading.

May 7, 2010, 10:09am

>88 labwriter: It is beautiful but a tough tough landscape to endure -- sometimes six weeks with at most a feeble ray of sunshine around sunset, for about five minutes -- we used to run outside to look!

-- I think there are some 'army brats' on here, so you folks weigh in, puhleez. By the age of fifteen or so I had seen and spent some significant time in a variety of places different enough from each other to be very distinct -- and each one evokes a different magic in me. I wish children got to do more traveling all over the world. I think it would make an enormous difference in where we feel 'at home.' People wouldn't be so afraid of other cultures and places.

May 7, 2010, 10:31am

I had a little break in my reading while I waited to get my own copy of the book from Amazon. Originally, I had taken it out of the library but wanted to underline something on almost every page!

Because I haven't posted for awhile, I'll briefly reintroduce myself. I'm Pat (a Patricia rather than a Patrick) and have been living outside of Boise, Idaho for the last 3 years, having spent most of my life being a resident of several suburbs of NYC. My husband's family has deep roots in Idaho while mine is currently scattered in Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvannia and Florida. I never heard of Wallace Stegner until last Fall when someone out here told me he was their favorite writer. Since then, I've read Crossing to Safety, Angle of Repose, about 50 pages of Beyond the Hundredth Meridian and caught up with you guys on Where the Bluebird Sings.

I'm really enjoying this book and the group read experience--it's like a book club on steroids!

Anyway, in the spirit of better late than never, here are some random comments:

Introduction and A Migrant Childhood

>44 sibylline: Thanks, Lucy, for the links to the creosote-ring clones and the land of Cockaigne mentioned in the Introduction. I had passed over them because I didn't understand the references but seeing pictures of both was helpful. I especially enjoyed seeing the Brueghel (sp?) painting of the Land of Cockaigne and it certainly illustrates Stegner's point about boosters "selling" the West as a utopia where the common man (like his father) could get something for nothing. I'm also glad he explained that he got the title for the book from the hobo ballad his father used to sing. And I underlined his comment that "what lures many people to the West always has been, and still is, mirage." (P. xxvii) For me it was family.

I also have been thinking about Lucy's comment (#52) about independence vs connectedness and whether it's partly rural. I do believe it has something to do with density of population. Living in Idaho, I notice much more of an emphasis on self-reliance--anti-government, hunting, camping, making sure you have enough food to feed your family for several months, to mention a few examples. But I also feel more connectedness out here--it seems someone always knows some other mutual acquaintance. In New York, there were so many people that you tended to "guard" yourself--not look people in the eye or otherwise find ways to maintain your anonymity. The sheer number of people could be overwhelming at times.

>50 labwriter: Becky, I liked your comments (#63) about missing the horizon in the West and how the color green sometimes wears you out. That's probably been the biggest revelation to me in my move out West--that I wouldn't miss all the green! In NY, I almost never saw the horizon because of too many buildings in the city or too many huge trees in the suburbs. But I love the landscape out here and agree with Stegner that "there is something about living in big empty space, where people are few and distant, under a great sky that is alternately serene and furious". (P. 10)

Letter, Much Too Late

It was so interesting to me to hear Stegner's comments about how he felt at almost 80--not "wise or confident", "more bewildered" now than when he arrived in the world, and "often simply lost". (P. 22) I thought that was so honest and made me wonder if that's how my older relatives also feel. Peggy, I loved your comment that you're "convinced that when old folks want to go home, even when they are at home, they are longing for the home of their childhood, their parents, their siblings."

My last comment, because this post is getting awfully long, is that I really wonder about Stegner's relationship with his father. He seems to revere his mother but I'm starting to believe he hated his father. He's pretty diplomatic in discussing him but I'm starting to wonder about how bad their relationship was.

Well, that's all for now, it's time to start my day! Hope the rest of you have a good one.

Edited: May 7, 2010, 12:55pm

Thank you so much Pat for all your comments and insights --

I suspect one of the hardest types of fathers to come to terms with are the 'charming and feckless' variety-- often mildly sociopathic -- they don't really care what harm they cause others with wild schemes and plans, but they can be more fun than anybody to do stuff with, for precisely that reason..... and if they good-tempered as well -- just chronically unable to support the family and show up on time and all that, I think it really difficult, very slippery business to work out your feelings toward them. Anyway, if he isn't leaving out some dark side, his Dad sounds like that type. I wonder if he has written anywhere about his father?

Edited to reduce wordiness!

May 7, 2010, 2:58pm

About Wallace's father...I'll let you know after I read The Big Rock Candy Mountain, which is supposedly based on his father's life. Maybe those of you who have read this one can fill us in on the elder Mr. Stegner.

Like Peggy (Msg. 86), I, too, am a lover of green; especially this time of year with all the variations of the new leaves, baby grass, and the softer grey-greens of the perenniels. Green is easy on the eyes and soul.

>89 sibylline:: I know what you mean about the magic of growing up in various places, Lucy. As an army kid I have experiences I treasure from Michigan (my home state), Germany, Kentucky, Texas, and Missouri. As a result, I could probably live just about anywhere and find something to admire about it. As Mary Engelbreit suggests, "Bloom where planted."

For those of you who haven't traveled much, nature memoirs (for lack of a better name) can take you many places. Some of the titles I count among my favorites include, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Sand County Almanac, and Walden. Anybody else have a favorite title in this genre to recommend?

May 7, 2010, 3:58pm

*deep breath*
I have made it into the Habitat section, so I will make some comments up to that point.

Finding the Place: I liked the entire essay. I like reading about his childhood. What struck me the most, though, was his telling about his homesickness for "a whole region, a whole lifetime of acclimatization and expectation". I really related to that. I grew up mostly in So.CA, near the ocean. I feel it every time we go back for a visit. The "home" feeling is the smell in the air, the horizon disappearing over the Pacific Ocean, the fog rolling in.

Letter, Much Too Late: I loved this letter. I loved what he told us about his mother and her life. I am sure that his mother knew very well how much he loved her. Not every son stays by his mother's side while she is dying. I also loved that at 80 yrs old he would say "I confess that I am often simply lost, as much in need of comfort, understanding, forgiveness, uncritical love - the things you used to give me - as I ever was at five, or ten, or fifteen."
My great-great grandmother was a Danish immigrant, then Mormon pioneer. In her life story she talks about all the cooking and cleaning and just plain hard work that goes into running a family farm. She tells of walking (pregnant) next to a wagon where there was no trail when she and her husband moved from the Salt Lake Valley to Vernal in northeastern Utah

Crossing Into Eden: Can I just go now? I also loved the story about everyone jumping into the lake. I could just see it happening, and almost feel the water. Would it have been as lovely a place if they hadn't worked so hard to get there?

Thoughts In A Dry Land: "The Westerner is less a person than a continuing adaptation. The West is less a place than a process. My favorite quote so far, and when I knew I had to buy the book. I have to write in this and fold page corners. He is expressing in words the things I have always felt, that are part of me. Water is something I have never taken for granted in my life. The colors of my western world - the most beautiful thing I have ever seen was Death Valley in sudden bloom after rain. It wasn't green like you see in the east (green that hurts your eyes). It was gray/green/gold/browns and wild flowers.
I had to laugh reading about the soldiers of Cardenas at the Grand Canyon too. I started thinking of all the truly big things I have grown up with. Giant Sequoia's, Half Dome at Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Mojave desert, the Tetons, Mt. Whitney, Mt. Hood, the Olympics, my daily view of mountains that reach to 14,000 + feet.

Sorry, I go on and on. Major attack of the western girl. I will desist, and try to only review one essay at a time.

May 7, 2010, 4:41pm

I love the comments here, and I'll come back later with more. For now, I just wanted to respond to Donna's question about favorite nature memoirs. I have a couple I would share:

Far Appalachia: Following the New River North by Noah Adams, and A Year in the Maine Woods, by Bernd Heinrich. And one more, now that I'm thinking about it: Mountain Year A Southern Appalachian Nature Notebook. You'll note that none of them are western. I agree with your statement, Donna, about finding something to admire just about anywhere. Since my marriage, I too have lived in many places--Denver, Texas, Nebraska, Kentucky, and now Missouri. There's always something to hang your heart on.

Bye for now.

May 7, 2010, 6:17pm

>93 nittnut: What a beautiful post -- please don't hold back!

The most gorgeous 'nature' book I can think of about the west is Mary Austin's Land of Little Rain. I enjoy Terry Tempest Williams and Gretel Ehrlich too. I can't think of (at this moment) any eastern women nature writers anywhere near this stature. Now I want to reread that book! Except I have absolutely no idea where it is. Some box somewhere.

May 9, 2010, 4:56pm

I can't recall who, but I want to refer somebody back to post 69 where I had found how accessible Wall Lake is now.
I've been away and read nothing, but will get back with the program and appreciate Pat's and Linda's posts too.......
I rarely read 'nature' books, but my husband's two favorites which I dip into from time to time are The Voyage of the Paper Canoe and Bartram: Travels and Other Writing. The latter is worth the price of the book for his sketches alone.

Edited: May 9, 2010, 5:17pm

Here I am leaping in, but I've been many times to Bartram's Gardens (the Bartram's home) right here in Philly, near the airport and it is a very lovely and tranquil place. The first gingkos to be brought to American still grow there and a few other choice items. I haven't read any of the travel writings, though, I'll have to find that book! Not to mention checking out the canoe book.

May 9, 2010, 6:08pm

Hi, I'm going to try to get hold of the Stegner book and join you guys. I figure better late than never. I have several of his books but not this one. So depending on whether I get it or not I will join you soon, and I'll wait till then to give you a little meet and greet synopsis. Sounds like you all are enjoying the book so far. Hope I can get it at a local bookstore quickly!

Edited: May 9, 2010, 9:21pm

#94 Becky, thanks for your suggestions about favorite nature memoirs. I've read the Noah Adams book and would love to read A Year in the Maine Woods but have noted the others. Except for my years away in college in Wisconsin, I've lived only in Chicagoland so I definitely enjoy reading about other areas of the country.

May 9, 2010, 9:29pm

Becky, Peggy, and many great suggestions. I've noted the titles and will be checking these out in the future. Thanks, guys.

I hope everyone had a lovely Mother's Day. My last kid just called so I can go to bed early tonight with a smile on my face. I plan to read the first essay in the Habitat section for my nighttime reading. I know I'll have pleasant dreams with Stegner's voice in my head.

May 9, 2010, 11:58pm

I confess I am a wee bit annoyed with our friend Wallace tonight. More on that tomorrow. (:

May 10, 2010, 6:26am

>98 mmignano11:. Mary Beth from New Jersey? (I took a look at your profile.) Welcome. I hope you're able to get a copy of the book and join us here. We're deliberately reading slowly so that people can catch up and also because people here are involved in other books, groups, challenges, or what have you (not to mention work--ha).

>101 nittnut:. I'm intrigued by your annoyance, Jenn. What?

So this week we're reading the five essays in the second section, Habitat. Read and post however works best for you--one at a time, all at once, or something in between. I tend to like to post on one at a time.

Thoughts in a Dry Land

I remember paging through this book in the bookstore, and when I came to the epigram on the first page of this essay, I knew the book was for me:

You have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns; you have to get used to an inhuman scale.

"the travertine terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs" (45)--I have a confession to make. I've never been to Yellowstone. I've driven by one or another of its entrances on my way to somewhere else plenty of times, but we've never taken a vacation there. When we were young marrieds and poor, my husband and I used to go backpacking several times a season. It was a great way to see the sights, and except for the initial outlay for the equipment, it didn't cost much. We backpacked all over Colorado and in much of Utah. Why we missed Yellowstone, I don't know. I guess it's one for the bucket list.

I particularly enjoyed Stegner's discussion of aridity in this chapter (46, 47): "Aridity, more than anything else, gives the western landscape its character" (46). One of the hardest things for me to get used to was living in a place where the humidity is greater than about 25%. I would think that the dry air, for someone coming from a more humid place, would be very hard to get used to as well.

Reading Stegner's list of writers on page 49 who have written about the West reminded me of another one, James Mitchener's Centennial (1974), a book largely about the plains of northeast Colorado. I know, there are books snobs who say that Mitchener is unreadable, but I enjoy his stuff. I particularly liked this one.

"Sagebrush is an acquired taste" (53). Oh, do I miss that, living in Missouri. It's funny, you have no idea what you will miss from a place until you're gone from it.

May 10, 2010, 10:09am

Thoughts on Thoughts....

Oh Wally Stegner is a wily fox. With humor and craft he builds his case. What is so different about the West? The two most significant features are topological grandeur on a scale not to be seen anywhere in the East or in most of Europe and a dry climate that appears tough and harsh but is, in fact, fragile. Deftly he then brings the human into the picture describing exploration, early attitudes and adaptations, making the point that at first the newly arrived couldn’t even see what was before them, having nothing to compare it to. He then moves on to describing a few of the late 19th and early 20th century writers, painters and photographers who were instrumental in beginning to give us a vocabulary with which to understand the western landscape, and now, with time, he feels that the people who live in the West are beginning, he hopes to come to terms with the fact that the West, unlike the more forgiving East, cannot tolerate harsh usage -- or rather -- IT can, but humans may rub themselves out of the equation if they can’t find a way to adapt.

My take-away?
“I really only want to say that we may love a place and still be dangerous to it.”

May 10, 2010, 10:11am

My thoughts on Thoughts in A Dry Land

I posted upthread about my love of everything green in the spring, so I laughed when I read, "You have to get over the color green." I moved from verdant Missouri in June of 1994 to Colorado Springs. I had always loved the mountains, but oh how I missed the green grass (i.e., "universal chlorophyll") of home. That, and the dry air just about made me turn around and head back east. Fortunately, that wasn't an option, and I quickly adjusted to and reveled in the arid beauty of my new home for the next six years.

Stegner had a good point when he said that the aridity "puts brilliance in the light and polishes and enlarges the stars." I'll also add that the color of the flowers in the west just "pop" whereas here in MO colors fade away as the summer humidity progresses and wears them down....with the same effect on the people!

Interesting concept about the suitcase farmers in the west. I also loved his story about Aunt Min who was unable to take in the scale of the western scenery. Indeed, "we are creatures shaped by our experiences; we like what we know, more often than we know what we like."

Becky, I'm so glad you brought up Centennial, also one of my favorite Michener books. I read it long ago and still have fond memories of the way he delves into the history of the land all the way back to dinosaur times.

May 10, 2010, 10:11am

Welcome Mary Beth! And Jenn, I too am very curious!

May 10, 2010, 10:17am

We cross-posted, Lucy. I loved the quote you used.

I'm also wondering about Jenn's annoyance with our friend Wally. Glad to have you on board the Good Ship Wallace, Mary Beth.

May 10, 2010, 10:18am

Yep. Yep. Yep. Welcome and curiosity in equal measures. Thanks, Lucy, for clearly spelling out the toughness/fragility dichotomy. (Did I just say, "dichotomy"??? It's one of my don't-use words along with "supercilious" which defines people who use "dichotomy" and "supercilious.") And Centennial is my favorite Michener except maybe for Iberia which fed my love for Spain.

May 10, 2010, 11:03am

Becky - Yellowstone is definitely one for the bucket list.

BTW, the air really is brighter - My kitchen is west facing, and the whole first year here in CO I made dinner with my sunglasses on. Oh, and the lotion. We went through gallons of lotion the first year. I think now we just assume that our feet will peel and our elbows will stick to our shirt sleeves.

Living Dry

I was fascinated by his description of where the West begins. It sounded so familiar. I think my college Ecology prof. must have read Stegner. Rain is everything here. I was as aware of the annual rainfall as a child (toilet flushing songs for drought periods) as I was of the end of the school year. I see the sense to John Wesley Powell's recommendations for irrigation and size restriction for farms and ranches. I agree that land should not (theoretically) be forced to support more life than it can. I also have the Westerner's sense that politicians in Washington D.C. should not have control of water resources for a region they don't live in and don't understand. Stegner talks about the misconceptions about water and wood, that rain would follow the plow. Politically, the West still suffers from misconceptions about water today, but the pendulum has swung in another direction.
I believe that for most Westerners, the mobility he speaks of is less an issue today than in the past. Rural dwellers may travel farther to get supplies, but the internet makes everything in the world closer.

Striking the Rock, Variations on a Theme by Crevecoeur and A Capsule History of Conservation

OK, so I'm a little annoyed. We'll see if I can make sense of it.
First of all, for all intents and purposes, these are the same essay. Variations on a theme. I'll go ahead and be up front about my bias, because my husband works for Reclamation. So now you know. My husband is in the business of keeping the West in water. No new dams have been built (other than on Indian land) for decades due to environmentalist groups. With some difficulty, due to pressure by environmentalists, Reclamation and the Corps have been able to increase the size of and maintain the safety of existing dams. Natural dams have occurred along rivers forever. Especially in the PNW, throughout time, landslides (and beavers) have blocked rivers and streams regularly, sometimes for decades. These dams did not have Salmon ladders.

While I do believe that we must be wise stewards, I do not want either extreme (environmentalists or expansionists?) to be in charge here. Bottom line: people live here. People need to eat, and they need water. What are you going to do? One idea may be to limit the number of homes that are built or the number of people who can live in an area. Who should decide? It's a bad road giving that kind of power to anyone, generally.
I do not believe that Man is everywhere a disturbing agent. Wherever he plants his foot, the harmonies of nature are turned to discords. Seriously, what is that? Did the world get created or evolve without man, and we just dropped in from another planet? No, we're part of it. We just have the luxury of thinking, choosing and feeling guilty about it all.

I am glad we have Yosemite, Yellowstone, other wild places to enjoy and admire. Management will always be at issue where people live in close proximity to the wild places. Should management include prevention of catastrophic forest fires that cause costly damage to homes and property? Should rivers like the Columbia be un-dammed and allowed to flood every year? Who should manage it all? What would be the cost in terms of loss of life and property. Is it worth it?

What is the balance between maintaining the beauty of our land and being able to live there as well? These are the questions and challenges of living in the west.

End of lecture...I disagree deeply with Stegner here, but I cannot deny his ability to articulate a position beautifully.

A few words about The Virginian. I love this story. It is a portrait of a type, a description of life on a ranch and in the West before the institution of "law and order" was established. I think we have to separate the varying descriptions of cowboys in western writing from the creations of Hollywood. The "cowboy" that Stegner describes and thoroughly dislikes is, to me, more of the television cowboy than any cowboy described by Wister or Steinbeck or Twain, or even Michner.

Now that I've spoiled all the reading for the week, I shall take a break and read my TIOLI challenge book and leave you all alone for a bit. Thank you for your patience. (:

May 10, 2010, 11:41am

Hi Everyone,

I'm really enjoying this group read! I've only completed the first essay in the Habitat section--Thoughts in a Dry Land--put wanted to post some of my thoughts (before I forget them).

>102 labwriter: Becky, I actually love that southwestern Idaho is so much drier than NY. I used to think the whole thing about "it's not the heat, it's the humidity" was a myth but it's so nice feeling dry rather than sweaty here in the summertime. I sometimes felt like I couldn't breath in NY during the summer and that the humidity was oppressive.

The quote about sagebrush being an acquired taste really struck me. We went down to the Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation area yesterday, which is about 15 miles southwest of Boise. It's basically desert and full of sagebrush. My sister-in-law encouraged me to bend down and smell the sagebrush, which I've never done before. It was intense and heavenly! A taste I have definitely acquired now.

>103 sibylline: Lucy, I had underlined that quote about loving a place and being dangerous to it. I also liked his comment that "without careful controls and restrictions and planning, tourists can be as destructive as locusts". (p. 55) I remember visiting my cousins in Colorado in the 1990s and having them caution me about stepping off the trails and, at the time, not getting what the big deal was.

>104 Donna828: Donna, I loved his story about his Aunt Min and her not being able to really see the West. I think I was like that for years. I started visiting Idaho regularly in the late 1980s when I met my husband. He used to point things out in the landscape to me as being beautiful and I'd agree but I'd always be relieved to be back home in the NYC area with its buildings and people, which is what I was used to. I've lived in Idaho for 3 years now and have really come to appreciate it for what it is (or learned how to see it, as Stegner would say).

>108 nittnut: Jenn, I haven't gotten up to these essays yet but I loved your comments and thought you did a great job of articulating the need for balance in dealing with the challenges of living in the West. Rather than spoiling the read, I'm looking forward to getting to these essays with your thoughts in mind.

May 10, 2010, 4:44pm

This is so great! Thank you Jenn and Pat for such thoughtful posts.

I've got to hurry up and read that essay!

Edited: May 10, 2010, 5:16pm

>108 nittnut:. I very much liked your post, Jenn. I've read only as far as the first essay in this section, so I can't comment on Stegner's other essays. I will try really hard to keep politics out of my post here; basically I'm for less federal government control, more state government involvement, and I'm just seriously fried about Washington in general, both the right and the left. So that's where I'm coming from. Big government, get out of my life.

Well, not only are no new dams being built, but there's one being torn down in my brother's back yard: the Glines Canyon Dam, near Port Angeles, Washington. Is restoring the watershed more important than the clean energy produced by the dam? I have no idea. All I know is that we have to get energy from somewhere, and wind and solar aren't going to cut it--unless we're all willing to go back to living in caves.

Water rights and land management and environmental issues are such hugely complex issues. Then you throw corrupt politicians (and also whacko fringe political groups) into the mix, and it all just seems like an impossible dilemma. We need some serious conversation and leadership on these issues, yet all we seem to get is one side demonizing the other--or RAMPANT hypocrisy, viz. Al Gore's massive new carbon footprint in California: $8.9 million mansion with 6 fireplaces, 5 bedrooms, 9 bathrooms, all perched on acerage which will FALL INTO THE OCEAN if his global warming predications are correct. I can't stand it.

Well, I did a poor job of keeping my politics out. Let's just say that I'm just a little bit leery of where Stegner is going with this. He wants "careful controls and restrictions and planning" (55). Whose controls? Whose restrictions? Who gets the water, and who decides? I don't think we're doing a very good job with these basic yet difficult issues. I think there's a whole lot of "Not in my back yard" going on.

Reclamation has an informative website: here.

OK, sorry, I'll keep my rants to myself.

May 10, 2010, 5:47pm

Your rant was well received at this end, and was quite temperate considering the magnitude of the problem- a government that is poised for a colossal expansion of power.
It is worth noting that the West that Stegner loved and grew up in was one that, for better or worse, was shaped by the settlers interacting with the landscape, not with the government.

May 10, 2010, 7:31pm

Hi Scribulous. Your point is well-taken, and for the most part, I agree. They certainly were far more concerned about getting through the day than they were about what was going on in Washington.

I would say, however, that sometimes these settlers were shaped by government laws. Maybe you remember those Tennessee Campbells in the Watauga area that I wrote about in an earlier post. My ggg-grandfather, Jeremiah Campbell, born in Tennessee in 1797, fought in the War of 1812 (he was only 15 years old--maybe he was a drummer boy or maybe he lied about his age, but at any rate, I have his papers that say he was mustered in and mustered out). Congress gave every War of 1812 soldier 160 acres of land in Illinois. Jeremiah Jr. was the third generation of his family of farmers in the Watauga area, and there was only so much good bottom land to go around. So he took advantage of the government land grant and moved his family to Flat Branch Twp, Illinois. Government land grants were what enticed many people in my family to go West.

Edited: May 10, 2010, 7:40pm

I feel like I've read some novel about a guy who goes around blowing up dams -- does this ring any bells??? Jim...... Harrison?? Something like that. I should look it up, but I'm also cooking dinner simultaneously.....

This is so great! Thank you Jenn and Pat for such thoughtful posts.

I'm in two minds about the human effect. If and when water gets 'used up' in some areas out west, I imagine that people will move on, will self-regulate -- enough until some equilibrium is achieved that the land can bear. There are places that can take more abuse, that is certainly so.

Coloradoans -- help me here, could I have really listened to a radio program about the fact that it was/is illegal to capture water off your own roof? Because water rights belonged to...... somebody or other...... ALL water, even that which falls from the sky........ The story was about people who are collecting anyway and I think the gist of it was that whoever the water controlling people are, they are gradually letting go of 'ownership' of every drop of water that falls from the sky, especially since so much of it is lost to evaporation,....... I listened to it utterly incredulous, and now I feel like I'm making it up!

May 10, 2010, 7:48pm

I've been reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road for a book club tomorrow and came across a comment he made while taking a bus ride through the Arizona desert. He explains that he had a book with him but "preferred reading the American landscape as we went along." It made me think that that is what Stegner does--he reads the landscape. I love when one book I'm reading relates to another!

Edited: May 11, 2010, 8:45pm

#114 - No, you're not imagining things. I'm not up on the whole subject of water rights, but water diversion is illegal.

Wow, so many thoughts! I will not get into any politics here and so I'll just add some random, rather minor thoughts, I had while reading.

Stegner’s comments about the arid climate certainly hit home. I honestly knew very little about Colorado’s climate before we moved out here over 20 years ago. We flew out in February to buy a house and the area was brown. We moved here in early April and it was still brown. By late April, things started to green up. By late July, things started getting brown again. Fall and winter were brown interspersed with white. Most of my trips home to NJ through the years were done in the fall and winter so it was almost shocking a couple of years ago to go back east in May and August and see all the green growth and soak up the humidity (not that we haven’t been to the semi-tropics many times on vacation through the years but that’s different somehow). I was in Boston in March and we had more rain there in two days then we get here in six months – or an entire year.

It takes a lot of precious (and expensive) water to keep Bluegrass lawns green all summer. Moreover, those lawns are symptomatic of how we have not really acclimated ourselves to this semi-arid environment. Our average annual rainfall is approx. 15”, average snowfall approx. 55”. Can the land possibly support the influx of new homes and subdivisions and suburban sprawl? We’ve had years of drought and less than expected snowmelt. The aquifer of the Denver Basin is being drawn down at an ever-increasing rate.

Personally, to economize, I should be buying Chap Stick by the case and lotions/hand creams in 55-gallon drums. The upside is that my hair doesn’t frizz and hung laundry dries wicked fast. Even a wet golden retriever will dry fairly quickly. And the dry climate means fleas are not a big issue. When the sun sets or if it’s not shining, the temperature usually drops quickly. There is really no such thing as a warm summer rain. Sunscreen can be a necessity all year long, although that’s the altitude not the dryness, but we do have 300 days of sunshine a year.

I was also interested in what Stegner had to say about the spirit of individualism in the West and the influence of the wide-open spaces. Colorado has the fifth highest rate of suicide in the country. One of the causal factors said to have an influence is that very same “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”, “I don’t need any help so I won’t ask”, individualist attitude that Westerns supposedly have. And most suicides are middle-aged men which would seem to play into that. I’ve been involved very recently in some suicide seminars for parents at the local high school, and where I can see that that could be a factor, I wonder if it is really just a “frontier” attitude or is it an attitude that is not more widespread? Haven’t we, as a region, become more homogenized? After all, most people who live here aren’t from here. But they may be from other western states, I guess. Teens, of course, have additional issues all their own. Then I do wonder about the very vastness of the landscape and if that could factor into a feeling of isolation.

And an aside, The weather is on the TV as I type. There's a tornado warning currently to the east of me. And we have a winter storm on the way. Yea - springtime in the Rockies!

Edited: May 11, 2010, 12:09am

>114 sibylline:. No, Lucy, you're not making it up. Water rights are serious business in the West.

I found this article in the NYT: link.

As for a novel about blowing up dams, I wonder if you're thinking of Wet Desert by Gary Hansen. It sounds like a fascinating read. Some environmental terrorist decides to restore the Colorado River by blowing up the dams.

May 11, 2010, 12:18am

I requested the book at the library today so I should get it soon. The way I handle all the reading I set up for myself is rather like a homework assignment, one that I really enjoy. Oh and picture it being done with an eight week old American Bulldog underfoot putting her toothmarks in pretty much every book I have in my office (not cataloged, in other words) This is by far the most interesting discussion group Ive been in.

May 11, 2010, 12:28am

>118 mmignano11:. Glad you're here, Mary Beth. You know, I read much the same way. I "assign" myself a certain number of pages in each book I'm reading--or at least I set a goal. I don't always make the goal, not by a long shot, but at least I have an idea of where I want to be and whether or not I'm getting there. I used to read that way when I was getting my lit degree, and it worked out very well--"200 pages in Middlemarch by Tuesday"--ha.

Edited: May 11, 2010, 8:44am

Living Dry, the second essay in Stegner's (or, as Lucy calls him, Wally's) section on Habitat.

Stegner says he's been a lover of the West, "but not much of a booster" (58). I absolutely get that. I remember when John Denver's song, "Rocky Mountain High" came out in 1973. I liked the song, but I also didn't like it at all, because with it John Damn Denver helped to put Colorado on the map as a popular place for people to move to. No one wants to see their home fundamentally changed, but that's what has happened over the last 40 years in Denver. In the 1960s, people had bumper stickers that read, "Don't Californicate Colorado." Well, too late now. Back then they predicted that the entire front range would eventually be wall-to-wall people, and that's exactly what's happened. And Stegner is right. People came not understanding, misinterpreting, and mistreating the area, planting blue grass in their lawns and installing sprinkling systems (and yes, air conditioners as well) because that's what they had where they came from. A sprinkling system for the lawn? Are you kidding me? And yet in the 1970s and 1980s, that became the norm for a lot of new neighborhoods.

"the federal presence as dam builder and water broker" (61)--Yesterday I spoke of being a states' rights, smaller federal government sort of person. Yet obviously, if you need to build a dam or regulate a river that flows through six states, then you need the federal government to be involved. I was poking around on the Reclamation website yesterday, and found something pretty interesting: the Colorado-Big Thompson Project here. This is a project that stores, regulates, and diverts water from the Colorado River on the western slope of the Continental Divide to the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. Really? Well, who decided that? It got me to thinking about the whole federal system of water rights. Who decides? And whoever it is that's deciding, they better be "right," because those dams are going to be around for a long time and they're going to affect a lot of lives.

"'Big Bill' Stewart of Nevada, the first in a long line of incomparably bad Nevada senators" (63). Hahaha, I won't touch that line (mostly).

"old habits stubbornly clung to and hopes out of proportion to possibilities" (63)--Wally can sure turn a phrase.

Stegner writes about the Newlands Act of 1902, transforming the West (65). Here's a link.

I'm fascinated by his discussion of what the federal government has done for the arid western states that often gets lost in the arguments made about federal control--"federal aid highways, and the federally financed dams, and the write-offs against flood control, and the irrigation water delivered at a few dollars an acre-foot" (66).

He goes on to write about the "nasty dilemma" the federal gov't has created for itself--"certain Native American rights to water . . . . Indian tribes all across the West have legitimate but unspecified claims to water already granted by the states to white individuals and corporations" (67). Another complication, and in today's "sound bite" news world, even if the so-called mainstream press was interested enough to report on this stuff, the issue is so multi-layered and complicated, most people don't have the time or the interest to read about what's going on. Only when the ultimate catastrophe occurs--like the water for Pheonix is "gone"--will people wake up to the fact that there's a problem. Writes Stegner, "many western streams--for a prime example, the Colorado--are already oversubscribed" (67). Stegner published this essay in 1992. I'm just "guessing" here--the problem hasn't gotten any better.

Stegner's essay takes a turn, looking at the past, at emigrants "bound up the Platte Valley" (68)--"They were at the border of strangeness" (69). What a great line.

I'll end here for now, since the morning is quickly getting away from me. This is such a thought-provoking essay, essential for the conversations we need to be having. I have no doubt that people somewhere are having these conversations; I only wish that more people could focus on issues like these rather than some of the nonsense that grabs so much of our attention away from important issues.

Edited for fat-finger html coding.

May 11, 2010, 9:15am

WOW! These are fantastic comments. I read Living Dry before I went to bed last night and my head is still swimming thinking about all these issues. I have a busy morning so won't be able to post much now but I just wanted to thank everyone for your thoughtful comments. I'm going to check out the links you provided too, Becky. Those look great. I'm learning so much from this group read!

Edited: May 11, 2010, 10:06am

I guess I just want to add this: I love my adopted state of Missouri. This morning I was outside at 6:00 a.m. weeding because last night it rained and the ground is perfect for it. The air is fresh; it's just humid enough to let you know that the summer heat is coming, so you'd better enjoy these spring days while they're here. It's sunny but with clouds, just the way I like it. With all the rain we've been having, you can almost hear everything growing. Missouri is a great place to live, a pretty well-kept secret, and frankly I wouldn't mind if it stays that way.

P.S. to Donna: No sign yet of my moonflower seeds coming up, although I'm hoping to see them soon. Did you plant yours?

May 11, 2010, 10:35am

>122 labwriter:: No moonflower planting yet; I'm waiting for this blackberry winter to be over. I keep hoping I'll find the vine already started as I make my nursery rounds. I don't have good luck with seeds. Keep me posted on yours.

This Habitat section is a bit of a brain bender so far. Many issues being raised with no easy answers.

>108 nittnut:: Many thanks to your husband, Jenn, as he tackles the problems of Reclamation. Balancing the needs of the people with the realities of limited resources sounds like an impossible task.

>112 scribulous:: Excellent point, Kermit, about the west being "shaped by the settlers interacting with the landscape, not with the government."

So true in the beginning, but as Becky and others have pointed out, the problems have escalated to the point where government help is needed, but so is a clear understanding of the delicate dance necessary between maintaining current projects and developing new strategies, all while protecting the environment.

>116 Copperskye:: Joanne, I remember having my little jars of Carmex in key locations and sleeping with a humidifier next to the bed. That was an interesting correlation between high suicide rates and the isolation factor. More thoughts to ponder.

>118 mmignano11:: Mary Beth, I hope you get your book soon. Your homework is piling up!

>121 phebj:: Pat, I'm learning a lot also from Becky and Lucy's research (thanks for the links, guys) and all the great comments from those who live in (or love) the western states.

Edited: May 11, 2010, 2:46pm

Living Dry.
This next essay does feel pretty similar to the one before, the theme of the first might have emphasized fragility a little more, and this one seems slightly more organized around how aridity causes movement and migration....

Some choice quotes:
“...I missed becoming a Canadian by no more than an inch or two of rain....”

“They were at the border of strangeness.....and as Webb says, the degree of strangeness can be measured by the fact that almost all the new animals they saw they misnamed.”

“American individualism, much celebrated and cherished, has developed without its essential corrective, which is belonging.”

Lovely Stein quote: ‘Conceive a space that is filled with moving.’

I have a linguistic quibble. As an essentially nomadic, migratory person albeit with a north/south orientation (always the contrarian) I would like to comment that most migratory creatures go back and forth to the SAME places in a very regular way. Most human nomads of earlier times 'belonged' to the places they migrated to (it is spring and so I am here, doing this or that).
What Stegner is talking about is NOT migratory or nomadic, properly speaking -- he is talking about when you never return to where you have been, when you haven't got a pattern or a center. As far as I know there isn't even a proper word for this condition although he refers to Huck and Ishmael as orphans and wanderers.... Too much of that, perhaps, might indeed lead to the kind of despair mentioned in #116 by Joanne.

BTW The book about blowing up dams is Jim Harrison’s A Good Day to Die. I did not like the book at all and recollect thinking Harrison was an arrogant ..... well, you know, especially when it came to women, but almost anything else you could mention. I know I had a hard time disentangling author from protagonist -- I tried to read a couple of other books at someone’s recommendation, never could 'get' it. But after this one, I gave up.

edited for spelling!!!!

May 11, 2010, 2:49pm

While I haven't finished "Living Dry" yet, I was stopped in my tracks by this almost throw-away idea: "...culture is a pyramid to which each of us brings a stone." I wonder if WES had to get somebody to help him carry his........ It's an idea that I like as it points to our interconnectedness. Is it true?
Meanwhile, I am anxious for our culture to mature a little and to confess something other than the almighty dollar as our final criterion for judgment of ourselves. I'm thinking of the bluegrass lawns in the desert and our teenagers who use a fresh towel or two for every shower. Surely, just because we can afford to pay for lawns and laundry, we don't have the right to consume scarce resources. I think I won't go on. I think I'll get back to Wally.

Edited: May 11, 2010, 2:53pm

Oh here I am again -- Here in the east at many of the sacred places of the native people (oh they're here, just hidden in plain sight) it is customary to bring a small stone to add to the heap when you come to pay your respects..... It fits with my last post too -- I love it, Peg, posting at the same exact moment as you! I wondered why my post took so long!

hey! We are sort of doing that right here.

edited to add last sentence.

May 11, 2010, 3:02pm

Hello again, Lucy. So we're each other's culprit! I was cursing myself for not copying my comment before I posted it since it wasn't posting.
I must say that I don't think that your "linguistic quibble" is so much a quibble as a valid insight. Of course, if WES had had that settled center for return (as he did between the ages of 6 and 11), he might not have felt the need to write this wonderful book. Marking sacred places to say, "I am part of this" must be part of what it is to be human.

May 11, 2010, 3:38pm

Wow. This is a great group. Maybe we should figure it out and let "them" know the plan...

Water in the west is such a difficult issue. I kind of think that state/local govt. would do a better job taking care of their own dams, etc. However, there are some real problems with California using water from Nevada, for example. I guess they could pay for it. In some ways, state agencies do manage their water. Reclamation is really set up as a series of agencies in each state (still fed. employees though) and then Denver has a technical center where experts work and advise the different local agencies. It seems to work pretty well, and, I am told, Reclamation is the one govt. agency that manages to earn its keep.

I agree with Lucy's linguistic quibble. He really isn't a nomad. He's just a wanderer, because his father is. I suppose he did eventually put down roots. It's hard to move around a lot and that shapes a person. It could very well lead to despair as well.

We re-landscaped our yard last summer. Dug out all that water sucking Bluegrass and put in native plants and rock. I LOVE it. Unlike my neighbors, I am not outside madly aerating and fertilizing and watering. I am enjoying the spring snow/rain and appreciating that my plants are getting what they need. The backyard is gradually being converted to a less thirsty grass, but in the meantime we take great pleasure in allowing our backyard and uphill neighbors to water our backyard via runoff. (:

Don't get me started on my kids wearing their jeans once and washing them as well as using a new towel every day. Argh.

May 11, 2010, 3:51pm

Our house in VT is 'off the grid' and one of its features is that it has a lot of little meters and things that tell you exactly how much energy you are using and how depleted the batteries are and so on..... well....I'll tell you, any and all children who come to stay become obsessed with these meters and run around turning off lights and in general become very curious and responsive about the whole idea of energy usage. These meters should be standard equipment -- and in the west and in cities probably the water meter should be right in the room where the adolescents shower..... along with how much money that one half hour shower just cost the parents!!!!! , We all loathe listening to the generator grinding away -- and that too is good because that is yet another way we are very aware all the time about how much energy we really use. Just something that simple can make an amazing difference in habits, I suspect.

Jenn - I love your story of transforming your property!

Edited: May 11, 2010, 5:18pm

Living Dry continued from >120 labwriter:.

My favorite sentence of his essay is the one in which he points out that the "degree of strangeness can be measured by the fact that almost all the new animals they saw they misnamed" (69).

>124 sibylline:. Well, Lucy, the form of the word that Stegner used and that obviously struck you was "migratory." The one that caught my eye was "migrant" (72). Maybe Stegner should have found a different word, but I know what he means. It's a sort of rootlessness that evidently infects a person's DNA. My gg-grandfather, grandson of the Campbell from Tennessee (so I guess I was mistaken earlier--he was my 4th ggrandfather, not my 3rd--details), went from farming in Illinois to rice farming in Louisiana to farming in Kansas to--well, who knows what he had in his mind to do when he moved, but he ended up working for the railroad in Colorado. I wonder if he stopped moving on because his wife made him? His father, who was something of a ne'er-do-well, as far as I can tell, was never in the same state when the census came around, not for four decades running: Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Texas, then back to Illinois, he was always moving.

One of my favorite books of all time, and you know I don't say this lightly, is The Young Eagle: The Rise of Abraham Lincoln by Kenneth J. Winkle (published in 2001). I love this book because it helps me understand my wandering family. Winkle explains a distinction that I think Stegner misses, the difference between the pioneers and the "civilizers." Winkle is writing of a family member of Lincoln's who continually sought a better piece of land for his family farther westward: "Historian James O. Robertson depicted this kind of ceaseless westward movement as thoroughly typical of the age {this was the 1850s}, a recurrent feature within American cultural history. Pioneers took the land from the Native Americans, broke it, and prepared the way for the 'civilizers,' who built towns and brought refinements {these civilizers would be Stegner's "stickers" (74)}. Yet the pioneers lost their independent way of life precisely as the land they cleared grew civilized. According to Robertson, 'they ceased to live a frontier life when the frontier moved beyond them.'" So what did they do? "One solution was simply to keep moving" (147).

Remember what Stegner said about himself in an earlier chapter: "I was at heart a nester, like my mother" (12). Where he sees a "deficiency of community" (xvi), others like his father and brother, who sound to me like these pioneers or frontiersmen that Winkle describes, are looking forward over the horizon to the next new thing. I hear something of a perjorative in Stegner's description of this migratoriness--it has "hindered," "cut off," left us "hungering" for belonging. For a nester, yes; for a pioneer, I don't think so.

I think he does finally gets to the more familiar use of migratory when he writes about the Paiute Indians on pg. 73. But then when he tries to make the comparison with those people and White Americans who "likewise established their settlements on dependable water" (73), then his analogy breaks down--I agree with you there. It's just not quite the right term.

The concept of space--I have to find the book Stegner references, Blue Highways. Don't you love LT? You just have to type the title and--bingo, there it is! So cool.

Lucy, nice story about your meters. Seriously, that makes so much sense, we should all have them.

And Jenn--yes! Plant a natural habitat of things that grow in the area where a person lives--how much sense does that make? My husband's cousin took it one step further and built himself a pueblo-style house where he lives--outside of Pueblo, Colorado. That was 20 years ago, and many people around him have copied his idea. They are beautiful houses, and look so right in that habitat.

Spelling edits.

May 11, 2010, 5:21pm

American Myth, American Reality is the book by Robertson that Winkle references. I haven't read that one yet.

May 11, 2010, 5:42pm

I forgot about the reference to Blue Highways by one of my favorite authors, Wm. Least Heat-Moon -- a Missouri native, I might add. He's also known as Dr. Trogdon and lives in Columbia, MO. In addition, he wrote River Horse and the behemoth PrairyErth, which I own but haven't read.

Speaking of books... Lucy, regarding Jim Harrison...I know you've written him off but, for the record, he's done some decent nature writing in the fictional accounts about the rape of the land by logging in my "home" of northern Michigan in True North and Returning to Earth. Harrison is a poet who writes beautifully about some pretty gritty characters. I won't be reading the blowing-up-the-dam book!

Nice going, Jenn, on your landscaping. I hope the natural look sets a new trend in your neighborhood.

May 11, 2010, 8:07pm

We are really liking our more natural landscaping. Our neighbors were not so sure last fall as we were doing our final plantings. They were really worried we were making some kind of rock garden, I think. As all the different plants are greening up and blooming, and of course lots of bulbs, they are pleasantly surprised. We hope it becomes a trend. Of course, then we might have to start watering the back yard...

Referring to Stegner's comments about being migratory - I agree with Becky - that for many pioneers being migratory was part of the makeup. Charles Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie comes to mind. When they got too many neighbors and the game was moving on, he was ready to move on. Some types of pioneers were looking for a place of belonging, quite like the Pilgrims and other groups who left Europe for America. For example: Mormon pioneers and the Aurora colonists in Oregon. Both groups were leaving a hostile environment, looking for a place to belong and be themselves.

May 11, 2010, 9:39pm

>133 nittnut: I thought of the Little House books too!
>132 Donna828: And I'm a big fan of William Least Heat-Moontoo, loved both Blue Highways and River Horse although I have not attempted PrairyErth either. (Bias against funny spelling?? Could I be that limited in scope???)

May 11, 2010, 10:21pm

Another thumb up for Blue Highways. He came through my hometown. He wasn't impressed.

Edited: May 12, 2010, 1:10pm

Striking the Rock

Some points Stegner makes in this chapter that caught my eye and brain:

"enough water to have sustained a whole tribe of desert Indians" (77) for one house.

"I told its creator, sincerely, that I though he could build a comfortable house in hell. That pleased him . . . . What I didn't tell him, what he would not have understood, was that we thought his desert house immoral" (77).

"One of the things Westerners should ponder, but generally do not, is their relation to and attitude toward the federal presence" (80). More about national parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, Bureau of Land Management.

I don't know enough about any of this to comment intelligently. I wish there was some sort of bibliography.

Stegner keeps referencing Bernard DeVoto--again on pg. 82. Stegner wrote his biography, which was published in 1973: The Uneasy Chair A Biography of Bernard DeVoto. I was hoping to find a bibliography in the biography; it contains notes, but no bib.

Stegner recommends a book about the Public Domain: These American Lands, published in 1986 (84).

--reading and comments end at the break on 85--

Edited for typos.

May 12, 2010, 1:14pm

Bringing my stone of respect to add to the pyramid...

Unfortunately, I don't have any nuggets of wisdom to add to the conversation. Striking the Rock is a continuation of Stegner's theme of nature good/people bad. While I do appreciate Wally's passion about the fragility of the west, sometimes his personal judgments are a bit harsh. Like calling the architect's desert house immoral. Maybe tacky and certainly an anomaly or even the caricature of desire that he called it a few paragraphs later.

I did like the point he made about the power struggles involved in this complicated situation: "All of the bureaus walk a line somewhere between preservation and exploitation." Loved the quote by C.S. Lewis (Pg. 94 in my edition): "What we call man's power over nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with nature as its instrument."

Well, some things such as human nature never change. That's what makes conversations about water rights and global warming, etc. so futile. Ultimately, Mother Nature will have the final say. I'll be glad when these political essays are over and we can get back to the "writing in the west" thoughts.

May 12, 2010, 1:19pm

Cross-posting again!

I don't know enough about any of this to comment intelligently. Ditto and Amen to that! I did have one more thought that I forgot to mention. We have to keep in mind that this book was published 18 years ago. I wonder if the situation in the west has improved or deteriorated in this time. Sometimes maintaining the status quo is the best we can do.

May 12, 2010, 1:47pm

This is my least favorite essay so far, I guess because I have so much to be upset about in my own backyard that I can't spare much thought for the West. I have to agree with WES that building the well-watered house is immoral on several levels, and I have ever been called harsh too. Judgment is never nice, and we can only hope that I'm as harsh with myself as I'm ready to be with others at a distance.
The only quotation I marked besides C.S. Lewis was the one he quoted from Mary Austin, "the manner of the country makes the usage of life there, and the land will not be lived in except in its own fashion."

May 12, 2010, 4:06pm

#138 - I would have to say the situation has deteriorated. Population in the metropolitan areas continues to grow, stressing the water supply. It's unpopular, but given the population, the best solution to the water problem is probably to build another dam. The question is where.

I don't know if you've read about or seen any of the controversy in the San Joaquin Valley regarding the delta smelt. The federal government has cut off the water to the farmers there because the smelt is endangered. We drove through along I-5 last summer and it was shocking. Where there were once thriving orchards, there are piles of dead wood. Where there were fields of rice, brown dirt and weeds. Families who have farmed there for generations are having to sell and leave. Will it be better for the smelt to have houses there after the farmers have sold their farm to a developer? I think not. For a while last year you could only buy one bag of rice at Costco per visit, and sometimes there was no rice. That is only the beginning. I'd rather not buy my food from another country in order to save the delta smelt. Sad for the smelt, but even sadder for us if we can't feed our own people. We used to feed the world.
Regarding balance - there is a lot of passionate discussion around endangered species. I have a degree in Zoology, and while I love animals and understand how living things are interdependent, I have also learned that extinction of species has always been occurring. Humans have an impact, but we're not the only cause. There are as many reasons for extinction as there are species. Again it goes back to balance. What is the cost financially, in lives, in property rights, etc. and is it worth the cost? Tough question.

So, long answer above, short answer, no the situation is not better. I wish I had a solution that worked with the idea that we live with and not in opposition to our environment. It's a great goal.

Edited: May 12, 2010, 4:27pm

>140 nittnut:.What a great post, Jenn. Heartbreaking stuff about the San Joaquin Valley. It's inexplicable.

>139 LizzieD:. I'm with you, Peggy. WES is wearing me out. I'm peeking at the next section with hopes that he will get off this habitat hobbyhorse and go on to a new one.

Edited because I don't do numbers well.

May 12, 2010, 4:30pm

Now that, Jenn, is a post to stop kneejerk environmentalists in their tracks and to cause everybody else to consider seriously just exactly what we are doing to ourselves and our world. Thank you.

May 12, 2010, 5:01pm

I am enjoying the conversations here on this thread very much.*going back to lurking now*

May 12, 2010, 5:06pm

Yes, nittnut, it is often forgotten that the human race is part of the environment too and not some sort of artificial overlay. Even though I consider myself a bit of an outdoorsman and lover of nature, my eyes do glaze over a little when ecology is discussed. I do fear, however, that we are grossly overpopulating the planet.

Edited: May 12, 2010, 5:20pm

Striking the Rock

Ding dong -- that’s me chiming in with Peg. Not a fun essay. And I can’t wait to move on either. This time Wally is tackling the economic underbelly, the hunger and illusions that have led to the painfully complex water situation out west. I’m with you too, Becky. This essay is over twenty-five years old -- so who knows what is going on now? There sort of is a bibliography embedded in the text of the essay...... at least ten or so books are recommended, but they too are old now. Anyhow I did find this from a UN study. Nope, I can't seem to post this link... If you google desertification it is the UN one. The others weren't as wide-reaching. This one had interesting statistics about Texas in particular.

My daughter studied the Indus valley and I have to admit I knew virtually nothing about these huge vanished civilizations-- huge rubble strewn barren plains where there were once huge cities.....

I had a kind of lightbulb moment while going over the basic points in this essay about the dynamics of water politics. In the East we do not have this monolithic, conflicted, abusive and insoluble relationship with the federal government over anything like as big. If anyone can think of something I’m not thinking of, let me know! We have plenty of issues, but I think most of them we share with the whole country, or many other parts of the country. Nor do most people in the east come up against ‘the Feds’ on any kind of regular basis in a way that impacts basic rights (like catching water off your own roof!) or crazy-making like the smelts..... The result is that maybe it is more possible to have a more positive or at least optimistic view about the Federal government.... I say this carefully, since there are different viewpoints everywhere you go.
And I want to say this carefully Jenn - it is heartbreaking to see people lose their livelihoods -- all along the East coast from New Brunswick on down as far as New York, the fishing industry is basically a shadow of what it was once. For awhile there almost weren't any fish left to fish, until the US and Canada and others agreed to lay off and now it is getting better, but it will never be the same: Thoreau described the Cod on the Cape, just filling the small rivers with silver. Maybe no matter what anyone does, there isn't enough water anywhere in the west? One irony about the East? -- New Jersey is an amazing farming state, should be one huge farm from end to end, wonderful soil, lots of water..... and instead? It's getting developed and malled..... Long Island too -- the Eastern end where all the swanky people go? Used to be one huge potato/tomato/strawberry etcetera patch -- again, the soil is a perfect mixture of sand and loam and gets lots of water....... crazy!

Edited to try and make the stupid link work! i failed.

May 12, 2010, 5:29pm

I think we have the "milk comes from the grocery store" syndrome. As we populate and develop and mall (maul) our land, we kind of forget that we have to grow food and maintain a healthy farming community to have a healthy standard of living. I am not talking about farming conglomerates here either. The loss of the family farm is having an impact that may not be fully felt for awhile. We see some indications in the declining food value of our foods though. I like the movement toward CSA's (community supported agriculture) and food coops. Promoting eating locally and supporting your local growers/ranchers. It's a good way to remind people where their food comes from and that how it is grown matters.

I was raised pretty frugally. Lots of kids and not a lot of money. We had a garden, we canned, we bought 1/2 a cow from my uncle and froze the meat. We ate what was put in front of us. There are no picky eaters in my family. I have a lot more $$ than my parents did (half the kids) and I am appalled at how much food we waste at our house. Picky eaters. Hmmm.

The fishing example is a good one. Do we really need 4 billion cans of tuna or salmon available on the instant? Probably not. In fact, who even eats canned salmon? Yuck. So we harvest way more fish than we can actually use. Why? That could be a good place to start. So now I'm back to who decides right? LOL.

May 12, 2010, 5:36pm

Another irony -- Vermont, a state with about three weeks of summer -- is CSA crazy and full of small farmers growing amazing things organically and selling them very locally (or else to NYC restauranteurs for $$) I eat so well when I am there and I am very much looking forward to having more of that. Lots of rutabaga in the winter (not really) but all that has all evolved in the last twenty or so years. Seriously, I do eat a lot of turnips in the winter! Proper winter food! And I only eat asparagus in the spring. And tomatoes in the summer and early fall. I am not even a foodie, I swear, but it just feels right. Now I'm hungry.

May 12, 2010, 6:28pm

Well, Lucy, you may be "not even a foodie," but I'm so out of it I don't even know what a "foodie" is. I swear. Ha.

Edited: May 12, 2010, 6:52pm

A foodie is someone who..... gets really excited about food; our neighbor who gave us the immature brandy I drank to Hal is an example.


The first paragraph in that article is the key -- it's not just the food tasting good it is EVERYTHING ABOUT the food...... so the foodie cares where you got your beets. Going to eat dinner at the house of a foodie, is nothing to be sneezed at. I've eaten things at our friend's house that have changed my eating life. Often amazingly simple things. Like beet salad with a little mint. Oi. Good.

I had no idea the word was coined in the early 80's -- I think I have been using it for at least ten years. Maybe a little longer, but not much.

Edited: May 12, 2010, 7:24pm

Thanks, Lucy. Now I know what you mean. Julia Child was definitely a foodie.

However, I think these are people who get on my nerves--just sayin'. It's fine with me if a foodie wants to care where he/she gets their beets, but when they start "caring" about where I get mine, then that's when they have crossed my line.

I'm thinking then that Michelle Obama must be a foodie, with her "no child's fat behind" garden. I think I get it. Although she did have something of a toxic veggie nightmare last year--sewage sludge in the garden--but we hope that's been cleaned up now. Horrors. And then arugula, our new national salad green. "Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?" And the Iowa farmers, obviously not-foodies, went, "Huh?"

Does anybody else ever write up a post and then say to themselves, "Wait a minute--whose thread is this?" I just had one of those moments. I honestly don't know what Wally would think about arugula.

May 12, 2010, 8:03pm

I think that "foodie," as opposed to various other words denoting an obsession with food, implies an intense interest in food fads and fashions, with a particular desire for one to be thought au courant. If everyone has heard of arugula then it probably no longer excites real foodies.

May 12, 2010, 8:30pm

I just like to watch food network.

Edited: May 12, 2010, 10:02pm

Oh, I'd say foodies are like everyone else, there are fun ones and annoying ones. My neighbor is fun. If he asked about the beets it would be like one of us making sure there wasn't some bookstore and writer or something we hadn't tried. He's not snobby about food, I guess I'm saying. I'm too lazy to be a foodie, and he doesn't hold it against me. When my mother died we had the thing/wake here after and he did some of the food -- all these cheeses and things and people kept coming up to me and saying, 'who is that guy, man does he know cheese and finally now I know what a (fill in the blank) is, I felt like I could ask him.' He worked at the cheese counter at the local Whole Foods for awhile and he had sort of cult following because people felt comfortable with him. The management at WF didn't like him because he was too popular..... not enough part of the team.!!! Even though he sold one heck of a lot of cheese for them! ...which reminds me that I read a piece in the NYer about the founder of WF, a Texan, and he is not AT ALL what you would expect.

Anyway the long and short of this ramble is that I don't use the term at all pejoratively, just descriptively.

On the other hand, the foodie (which I wrote out doofie, first) does like to be the one in the vanguard about something new. But I'm OK with that as long as I like whatever it is.

Final ramble: The word arugula has always annoyed me. It's just a terrible word, for such a perfectly simple thing. Radicchio also bothers me. I have nothing against the greens themselves, just the names. Hmm this is interesting. What does annoy me is when something has a simple name that gets changed to be more cool -- like cilantro, which is really just coriander dolled up. Bitter greens and red greens would be much better. (I like that last one a lot!) . I think maybe I do have an anglo-saxon bias for common usage.

May 12, 2010, 10:41pm

And I'll just add a word about how old this all is. I should remember the number, but Horace wrote a wonderful satire about dinner at the home of a foodie. It's worth hunting it out!

May 12, 2010, 11:12pm

I was just having a little fun and you are all very nice not to flame me.

I didn't get to the part of "Striking the Rock" where he recommends the ten or so books. Maybe tomorrow. I would like to read more about this stuff--something current would be good.

I see the next essay is "Variations on a Theme by Crevecoeur." Heh. There's a suburb near where I live called Creve Coeur. It's very nice, like most of the places around here. I once had a young English professor (PhD Berkeley by way of Harvard) who was new to town and looking for a house. He was yukking it up in class one day, saying that there was no way he could live in a town that people mispronounced--and then he did a riff on the Missouri version of the pronunciation of Creve Coeur. He was very funny, but also deadly serious. His loss.

Well, more tomorrow.

May 13, 2010, 1:58am

Stegner reminds me that I still need to read Cadillac Desert, which has been in the BlackHole forever!

Edited: May 13, 2010, 7:49am

You are very entertaining, Becky. And it gave me a chance to rant on about Danny -- he's one of the people I'm going to miss a lot! Anyone flying through Philly on USAir -- I highly advise going to the Wine bar if you have an hour or two to kill -- I think it's the only one between, concourse b and c maybe? Of course, his job there is selling wine..... not cheese.

His stories about how people behave in upscale markets had all of us rolling on the floor.....

OK back to the TOPIC -- I read Creve Coeur ages ago and all I remember is the family near Philly who let the wasps have the nest in their hallway because that type of wasp isn't violent and they ate up all the flies......that made a big impression on me, not that I ever implemented it.

That guy! And what planet was he from? Mangling foreign words is an American past-time! Near us in Vermont (itself a frenchie corruption) not to mention, our capitol, Montpelier -- Mont-peel-yur emphasis on the peel -- what is the most pathetic is that he somehow didn't notice it 'back home'?? My personal favorite is near Rochester NY --Chili -- pronounced Chy-lye.

May 13, 2010, 8:41am

Wow, we have one terrible, nasty storm bearing down on us this morning. Aridity--heh. Try monsoon. It doesn't just rain here in Missouri, it drowns.

>157 sibylline:. My young professor friend was of course being a snob, the way a lot of people look down their noses at flyover country. I think he was in shock to find himself in Missouri, but you go where the jobs are, right? He's still here, actually, 20 years later, a full professor now. He was one of my favorites, but he sure had some strange ways--which was one thing that made him one of my favorite professors. I wonder what he thinks of his kids growing up with a Missouri accent, "mispronouncing" things. Heh.

I'm finishing up "Striking the Rock" and moving on; this caught my eye: "In matters of western water there are no political parties. You cannot tell Barry Goldwater from Moe Udall, or Orrin Hatch from Richard Lamm." Ouch!

I thought I would just take a look at some of the other books Stegner mentions in "Striking the Rock" since I was the one asking for a bibliography.

Mary Austin and The Land of Little Rain.

A River No More by Philip L. Fradkin, about "the killing of the Colorado."

Water and Power by William A. Kahrl, on "the rape of the Owens Valley by Los Angeles."

Rivers of Empire by Donald Worster, a "dismaying survey of our irrigation society in the light of studies of the ancient hydraulic civilizations of Mesopotamia and China."

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner, "a history that pays particular unfriendly attention to the Bureau of Reclamation and its most empire-building director, Floyd Dominy.

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis.

Ecology as Politics by Andre Gorz.
Oof, Stegner certainly has nothing good to say about dams.

Stegner: "What should one make of facts as depressing as these?" No kidding. With everything else that's going on these days, here is yet another disaster evidently going on right under our collective nose. Oh fine.

Now on to the next I'm sure cheery little essay, "Variations on a Theme by Crevecoeur."

May 13, 2010, 8:50am

Fowler says something somewhere in Modern English Usage about the errors brought about by the efforts of the newly literate to pronounce words as they are spelled. Hence "clerk" losing its broad a sound, "Ralph" pronounced with the "l" etc. (On the other hand, "Rafe" Cramden just wouldn't sound right.)
For anyone interested, the discussion (which I have just now located) is on p. 483 of the second edition, attributing it to the growth of popular education and the notion of "speak as you spell." He also sensibly says: "The right rule is to speak as our neighbors do, not better."
This doesn't really explain "Allbinny" Georgia or "Byoofort" S.C.
Mangling foreign words is practiced elsewhere, as well, at least from the Roman Empire till now. My favorite may be the English "Leghorn" for "Ligorno."
And how about "Wipers" for "Ypres?"

May 13, 2010, 9:24am

Wipers, ooo that's a good one!

Becky -- lovely list, lovely of you to make it so easy for the rest of us. I think I might have to start my Top Ten Nature books just so as I can put that Mary Austin on it in number one spot. The one I have my eye on is Rivers of Empire.

Edited: May 13, 2010, 10:19am

Variations on a Theme by Crevecoeur

Another book: A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold.

Stegner: "We have to adapt not only to our changed physical environment but to our own adaptations, and sometimes we have to backtrack from our own mistakes."

Stegner on Owen Wister: "an eastern snob who saw in the common cowherd the lineaments of Lancelot" (103).

Letters from an American Farmer by Crevecoeur, who asked "Who is the American, this new man?" more than 200 years ago.

Stegner asks the question about contemporary Westerners: "is anything except their setting distinctive?" (104).

In his discussion of Crevecoeur's "wild man," Stegner finally seems to get around to the distinction I was making the other day at >130 labwriter: between the pioneers and the civilizers. Stegner calls these pioneers "the borderer . . . who really fired our imagintions, and still does. We have sanitized him somewhat, but our principal folk hero, in all his shapes, good and bad, is essentially antisocial" (106). Well, yeah.

Henry Nash Smith is referenced by Stegner, (108), cofounder of the academic discipline "American studies."

I like Stegner's contrast/comparison of Owen Wister's The Virginian with Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove (109, 10). Stegner also (almost) compares Wister's character to the more contemporary Clint Eastwood ("make my day") and Ronald Reagan, although Stegner doesn't mention the men by name (doesn't care for their politics?) (110).

Stegner says this mythic figure of the Western cowboy "has irritated me all my life" (111). Oh, and he even gets into the fight about "popular" fiction, dismissing Louis L'Amour, who "sells in the millions, and at times has readers in the White House" (111). Zing! Take that.

Stegner also mentions an excellent book of stories made into a movie, A River Runs through It, by Norman Maclean (112). On 115 he describes fly fishing as a "religion, a code of conduct and a language, a way of telling the real from the phony." Watching my husband and his cousin fly fish is like poetry. And yes, in every commercial or movie or TV show that shows someone fishing, my husband will do a riff on authentic fishing technique vs. Hollywood BS.

Has anyone read Frank Norris's McTeague? Oh my--"shackled to a corpse that he drags through the 130-degree heat of Death Valley" (113). I'd forgotten about that book, assigned in one of my English lit classes.

I haven't read Scott Momaday's Way to Rainy Mountain, published in 1969. I think I would be inclined to read his memoir, The Names, A Memoir.

Stegner also mentions Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony. That's another one I need to put on my "to read" list.

Also Winter in the Blood by James Welch and Love Medicine by Louise Erdich.

I appreciate this part of the essay where Stegner deals with Western literature. I would add a more recent book of short stories by Annie Proulx, Close Range, Wyoming Stories. Or how about Bad Dirt? I think Proulx is hilarious, but lots of people don't like her.

Stegner's riff on New York critics like Edmund Wilson commenting on Western writers (or "Easterners of talent" like Scott Fitzgerald "drowning in the La Brea tar pits" is pretty funny (114, 115).

Stegner ends the essay by suggesting that the West "will realize itself" in towns like Missoula or Corvalis, "some settlement that has managed against difficulty to make itself into a place and is likely to remain one" (115). He calls them the "seedbeds of an emergent western culture (116).

Edited to add comment about Annie Proulx.

May 13, 2010, 10:16am

>159 scribulous:. Scribulous, thanks for the reference to the Fowler's. I admit I had to dig for it, but I found my copy (also 2nd ed.). Why isn't this thing on my reference shelf? Well, it is now. Thanks.

Edited: May 13, 2010, 10:39am

I haven't quite finished the Crèvecoeur essay, but I feel my common need to speak. First, if anybody would care to see a picture of my home river, go here, and if you'd even vote for the Lumber (the only nominee in eastern N.C.), we'd be grateful. It has the "scenic and natural" designation.
As to mispronounciations, I could write a book, but the one that occurs to me because of Wipers is Wye-vonnie, spelled Yvonne.
Finally, some books that I have read and even remember! To Momaday, Silko, Welch, and Erdrich, I would add Rudolfo Anaya and his Bless Me, Ultima. Oh! And Yellow Raft in Blue Water by Michael Dorris.....
And this really is a finally for the morning: I had never heard of Dame Shirley, so I did a little looking and found this.

edited to mend a tag

May 13, 2010, 11:21am

Pronunciation-wise here in the west we have some real zingers. I grew up in Southern CA, where almost everything has a Spanish origin. When it isn't Spanish, it's Indian. I grew up in Camarillo (camuhreeoh) in the Conejo (con ay ho) Valley. Nearby is the lovely town of Ojai (oh-hi). My boyfriend went to Hueneme (wy-nee-mee) High School.
When I moved to Oregon, I was corrected regularly so that I would say the Indian names of places with their proper American corruptions instead of my habitual Spanish pronunciation. Willamette (wuh-LAM-it) emphasis on the lam, Puyallup (p'yal-up), Tigard (Ty gurd) and my personal favorite - Tualatin (T' WAL uh tin). Denver is a walk in the park in comparison.

I'm not a linguist, so if my pronunciation guide is goofy, sorry.

I think it would be fun to compile a list of more modern western writers. The writing Stegner references in these essays is pretty outdated. Not that there isn't still good writing and good information, but as Becky and Peggy say above, there are some great authors who are more current.

Can we make a wiki for that or something? Anyone but me (:

May 13, 2010, 11:26am

I haven't read the Crevecoeur yet, but I love Dame Shirley! I couldn't get to the pic of the river, only the voting page......

May 13, 2010, 12:40pm

Irony of the day. So after reading all of that aridity, today my task is to buy a dehumidifier for my basement that got flooded from the big rains the other night.

Sure never thought I'd be using one of these. I only broke down about 5 years ago and bought my first umbrella--ever.

May 13, 2010, 3:25pm


The theme being the effect of the West on people rather than, as in the previous, the effects of people and their activities on the West.

Crevecoeur is the first to notice and write about the two somewhat antithetical types of American -- domestic man and feral man. Of course, I think the two are deeply intertwined inside of most American hearts and minds, conservative or liberal alike, -- leading to the contrariness and unpredictibility that utterly baffles the rest of the world. (Which bafflement and head-scratching pleases us.)

Becky made note of the literature, both fanciful and insightful ,about the West that Stegner mentions or recommends. Thank you!

I’ve read Malamud’s A New Life and it’s very good -- Note the sly reference to Tolstoy in the name Levin. Another book about an academic in the wrong setting is Nabokov’s Pnin which nearly killed me (agonized laughing). But he is not in the West, so that doesn't count.

I’m really stupid today. I was happy that this essay ended on a more positive note.

May 13, 2010, 3:54pm

>167 sibylline:. "stupid today"--No kidding, me too! Barometric pressure?

Edited: May 13, 2010, 4:38pm

OK, Lucy, Pnin, another one added to the "to be read" list. I once had my fortune read at the Colorado state fair; the woman (whom I believe--heh) told me I would live to be 106. Good thing, because that's the only way this reading is going to get done.

And sorry to hijack the thread--again. I have to read Malamud's daughter's memoir: My Father is a Book. How could anyone resist that title?

Edited for added content.

May 13, 2010, 5:01pm

I'm just checking in. I finally finished the Habitat section but my head is still spinning with everything he talked about. Combine that with a head cold and I definitely don't feel intelligent enough to comment about any of it right now. Hopefully, my thoughts will come together in the next couple of days and they'll be worth posting. For now, I'm going to escape into Scott Turow's Innocent for a less challenging read!

Edited: May 13, 2010, 5:06pm

>170 phebj:. Excellent! I did the same thing last night. Peggy (LizzieD) is reading it too. She scored an Early Reviewer copy. Way to go, Peggy.

May 13, 2010, 5:24pm

My head is spinning with my day out with the girls. Canasta, lunch, and then more canasta with lots of talking and laughing. It's a wonder we can even keep score.

I was so glad to get to Variations On A Theme.... Cultural adaptation and references to literature are more in my comfort zone than water rights. The rain is coming down in buckets here. I'd love to send some out west.

So true that people are pretty much the same whether we're talking about a suburban housewife or the mythical freedom-loving loner (think Marlboro Man!) that many people characterize as the typical westerner. There were many quotable lines in this essay, but my favorites were "The outside never got over its heightened and romantic notion of the West. The West never got over its heightened and romantic notion of itself."

Edited: May 14, 2010, 8:22am

A Capsule History of Conservation

"We are still in transition from man as master of the earth to the notion of man as part of it" (117).

Unfortunately, some of the more radical environmentalists I think have skipped over the "man as part of the earth" idea. For some, Environmentalism (cap "E") has become the new secular religion, and instead of being a part of the earth, people are seen as the enemy.

I like this line: "The seventeenth-century settlers did not look on wilderness with the eyes of a 1990 Sierra Club backpacker" (118, 119).

George Perkins Marsh. Stegner discusses him on 122,23. "Man is everywhere a disturbing agent," wrote Marsh.

The Earth as Modified by Human Action, by George Perkins Marsh.

John Muir, creator of the Sierra Club, formed in 1892.

Stegner discusses the "mortal split" between conservationists, who believed in the "wise use" of natural resources, and preservationists, "who believed that some natural things were too sacred {emphasis mine} to be exploited for profit, water, power, or any other purpose" (127).

Aldo Leopold. Stegner discusses him as a prophet {again, the religious language, and I doubt that Stegner is even aware of using it, but there it is} of the wilderness movement (129). Leopold was the author of A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949.

Stegner: "In the forty-one years since its publication, the Almanac has become a kind of holy book in environmental circles" (130). Stegner says that Leopold "perfectly understood that what he described would have its flowering far off, the product of a long, slow, and almost total revolution of American values" (131).

Edited for html fat-fingering error.

May 14, 2010, 9:32am

Sand County Almanac is one of my comfort reads. I have a well-worn copy from 1949 that I like to dip into periodically. A rainy day like today is the perfect time for this type of reflective reading. Like Lemonade Springs, it's a collection of essays, although Leopold's essays tend to be short.

I'll share one quote from the first section of the book where he has given a monthly glimpse into life at his Wisconsin refuge:

From the month of March...One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.

A cardinal, whistling spring to a thaw but later finding himself mistaken, can retrieve his error by resuming his winter silence. A chipmunk, emerging for a sunbath but finding a blizzard, has only to go back to bed. But a migrating goose, staking two hundred miles of black night on the chance of finding a hole in the lake, has no easy chance for retreat. His arrival carries the conviction of a prophet who has burned his bridges.

Edited: May 14, 2010, 9:52am

That's me. Another great book that I have owned for years and never read. (I can't wait to acquire more.) Donna, you make it sound very appealing! As for this chapter, I found it a more than competent summary of environmental action in the USA. I confess again that, happy as I am to have the background, I'm happier to progress to the writers who invite us into their world.

ETA: I almost read *Sand County* when I finished The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. He is one of my favorites, and *EM* has a strong strand of sandhill cranes woven into this creation.

May 14, 2010, 12:47pm

The following comments are my attempt to summarize what I got out of the Habitat section.

It seems to me that Stegner keeps making the point that alot of what we believe about the settlement of the West is illusion, mirage or myth--particularly that it was settled by self-reliant individuals.

The message I get from these essays is that most of the West never would have been settled without the help of the federal government, starting with the Homestead Act in 1862 and continuing through the Reclamation Act in 1902. For the most part, he seems like he doesn't much like the pioneer or frontiersman or the government's involvement with the West--that, in general, all these actors had very little regard for the land (they were careless and destructive and not interested in adapting to it). I think this ties in with his feelings about his father, who he describes as "selfish and violent" (p 21) and "a true believer in the American dream of something for nothing" (p 29).

What he seems to like is the "stickers" (or nesters, like his mother); the people who want to stay in a place and make it their home and build communities (rather than use the land as a commodity).

Most of the time, he seems to think the nesters are outnumbered by the "pillagers", a term he uses in the Introduction (p. xxii). This is reflected in his comment on P. 117 that "we are still in transition from the notion of man as master of the earth to the notion of man as a part of it."

In general, I thought he was pretty pessimisstic about the future of the West but every once and while he talks about having hope for the future or giving the government credit for some of the things they've done to preserve the land. At the end of the Introduction, he says "I hope these essays do not say that western hopefulness is a cynical joke." "I believe that eventually, they (the boomers and the stickers) will work out some compromise between what must be done to earn a living and what must be done to restore health to the earth, air, and water." (p xxvii). And, on page 80, he says "the federal presence should be recognized for what it partly is: an effort at adaptation and sterwardship in the interest of the environment and the future."

I think what frustrated me about this section was he seemed so relentlessly negative and then would occassionally say he was optimistic about things. I just found it confusing. Of course, there are some huge issues he's talking about so it's not easy but I felt very overwhelmed by the essays in this section. It seemed he was talking mostly about problems and not solutions and that always wears me out. However, I certainly did learn more about what the issues are out West and I'm glad about that.

I'm looking forward to the next Section!

May 14, 2010, 2:13pm

Hi Pat,

I agree, I think that Stegner had some unresolved issues with his father, and it seemed to me that he hooked up some of the worst of the environmental issues and problems with those negative feelings.

I was frustrated with these essays as well, partly because they're dated, and it would be good, I think, to look at these issues from a current perspective. Are things worse than they were? Are there any hopeful signs? Are people and these issues just becoming so hopelessly polarized that we can't even talk to one another about them? Maybe also we have so many other really difficult issues going on right now (like the economy, like people trying to blow up Times Square, like issues in our childrens' schools--and on and on)--I think, speaking for myself, I just sometimes get worn down by the bad news.

I too am looking forward to the next section. I honestly haven't looked at it, so I don't know what these next essays are about, other than the section is labeled Witnesses, which doesn't give me any help.

I would say if not for the group read, despite Stegner's excellent way with words, I wouldn't have stayed with that second section.

May 14, 2010, 2:16pm

Becky, I absolutley agree with your last comment. I love Stegner's writing but this group of essays would have been easy to walk away from. Despite, that I'm glad I read them. That's what I like about book clubs and now, this group read, that I read things I normally wouldn't.

Edited: May 14, 2010, 6:39pm

Thank you for today’s contributions to this exchange! I wish I had read BB/LS during my last 'nature-writing' phase -- (my last really intense one in the early-mid 90's) although many of the books he mentions, the Austin and the Leopold are timeless, and I am hoping the Rivers of Empire book is still good.

These Habitat essays have a somewhat repetitive feel as each seems to focus on a different piece of the puzzle rather than bringing forth new ideas or information. Here Wally examines the next stage of evolution -- the development of attitude, the organization the legislation, culminating in the Wilderness Act. He mentions some iconic figures, fictional and real. (Re Natty Bumppo and his (intriguing) Moravian influences see here

Thoreau, Marsh, Pinchot, Muir, and Leopold, and Carson.... each one laying more groundwork for the new paradigm, a revised definition of human responsibilities while here on earth. Even though he is pessimistic, W can’t help hoping, I guess, as he thinks about what these amazing people accomplished. Now I have to admit I’ve been doing compost and recycling (at first, not much, but more and more) for forty years....... all since 1970, the very first Earth Day, which I spent in some horrendous creek in Roxbury MA pulling out tires and plastic and trash all day. It’s interesting to me to realize how much I owe these particular people for my own development. So that was kind of new for me, putting my own behavior into the continuum....

Finally: A goodly number of the genteel birdwatchers lived around here -- Across the river James Audubon lived when he wasn't running around shooting and sketching birds...... ten minutes from my house is the Academy of Natural Science, one of the first (if not the first) institutions in the US devoted to the study of 'nature,’ formed from an elite group of aforementioned gentleman. The library has an astounding collection of early drawings, knock your socks off gorgeous stuff. Bartram's Gardens is nearby as I mentioned earlier. Down in the graveyard of St Peter's Church in Society Hill stand a row of osage oranges grown from the seeds that Lewis and Clark brought back from their journey West -- hundreds of people walk by them every day and don’t know what they are!!!!!

Edited to fix blue problem and also to put correct title for Rivers of Empire.....

Edited: May 14, 2010, 6:45pm

It's late Friday afternoon where I am, and I'm looking ahead to the reading for next week. While section three has eight essays (section two had five), three has only five pages more than section two. I'm thinking it would be nice to finish this book up next week, so I'm proposing that we finish section three during week three of this group read.

I don't like to have "have-to's" hanging over my head on a weekend, so I plan to read the eight essays between Monday and Friday. I know for some of you, the weekends are your best time. Everyone should do what works best for themselves. (My, how awkwardly put--ha.) I don't have any particular suggestions for doubling up on the essays, because I haven't looked at them, so I suggest that everyone just read and post as desired.

Happy reading, everyone!

Edited for awkward syntax, but the editing didn't help.

May 14, 2010, 6:42pm

Oh, I think we cross-posted, Lucy. I too enjoyed knowing about who and what came before.

Everyone have a good weekend.

May 14, 2010, 6:47pm

Yes we did, and I too want to finish next week. So I will read accordingly.
Enjoy movie night Becky! Hope it's something great.

May 15, 2010, 10:02am

Donna - I love the quote from Sand County Almanac. That is a great description of Spring.

I am loving reading all of these posts. So much to think about. I believe it is difficult to generalize all the reasons that people moved West. Land and gold were a big factor, as well as the search for a place of belonging. It was almost a compulsion, an imperative for some. Manifest Destiny was an actual political policy - there is a good description of some reasons here in a discussion of events leading up to the Civil War.

Anyway, as you all know, I disagree with parts of Stegner's general assessment of why the West was settled. Now that it is settled, I am determinedly hopeful that a less polarized, more rational discussion of how to continue from here will be possible. It is happening among us regular folk, and in some of the State Legislatures, and will hopefully expand outward (sort of like the pioneers). (:

Looking forward to Witnesses, hoping it will be more observations by writers, etc. than environmental lecture...

May 15, 2010, 10:11am

Jenn, I can assure you that the environmental lecture mode is gone, at least in the first essay of Witnesses. I galloped through it because I was so eager to see what he had to say about "Flight." Just as soon as I finish that chapter, I'll go back to see whether I can think about either or both of them.

May 15, 2010, 8:42pm

This is my first posting so I'll reintroduce myself. I'm Jan from Eugene. I got a late start and had to do a lot of catching up but I've really enjoyed all the thoughtful comments on this thread. Here are some random thoughts.
I was struck by WES's comment that Western writers do not take their cue from Europe but look to Asia. "writers west of the continental divide...inevitably reflect a different and larger universe.." I'm not sure how true this is but makes me think of novels like Snow Falling on Cedar or the books of Maxine Hong Kingston. The presence of the Chinese especially, in the early development of the west, is huge. And our experiences with the Japanese in more recent years has left it's mark on our sense of who we are in the Pacific states.
I'm wondering if others think western writers are still marginalized by the literary establishment. I would think not but I'm not an academic.
He quotes Ken Kesey, an Oregon writer, as saying "Write what you don't know". That sounds like an off-the-cuff remark and Kesey certainly didn't practice that in his own writings. Sometimes a Great Notion especially is tied to place and reflects the lives of logging families on the Oregon Coast.
I had never heard of George R Stewart but his books sound like essential reading, especially Names of the Land. I live in an area with lots of Indian names and places named after the Eastern cities the pioneers came from (Portland, Salem, etc). It is a fascinating mix.
I am enjoying Stegner's comments on other writers. Some writers are better able to describe the writer's creative process than critics and academics.

May 15, 2010, 9:04pm

Thanks, Jan, for that interesting post. I was wondering whether you Westerners know of the definitive Western critic that hadn't appeared for WES in '91. I confess that I seldom read magazines, so I don't see much criticism except here. (!) Surely, it's time.

May 15, 2010, 11:22pm

>186 LizzieD:. I don't have a specific answer for your question, Peggy, about a "definitive" Western critic; I do know that the Western Literature Association has been around for a long time--a group of academics who study the West and western writers and all things related.

Here's a link to their website.

Edited: May 16, 2010, 8:56am

I have a few minutes this morning, so I'm going to knock out one of these essays. Just some thoughts that struck me as I was reading.

Coming of Age: The End of the Beginning

He writes about the West as a "self-respecting" part of the literary world--the "infrastructure of the literary life" (135). Independent bookstores are part of that infrastructure. At a time when so many independent bookstores have folded in favor of the huge chains, I'm happy to see that one store he mentions, one that I haunted in my youth in the same way that Lucy says she haunted The Strand in Manhattan, is The Tattered Cover in Denver. The woman who owns this place must be a brilliant marketer to have survived the climate of the conglomerate takeovers. If you're ever in Denver and you love books, this is a must-do place.

California--"west of the West"--ha, I like that (138).

Tripmaster Monkey by Maxine Hong Kingston--I've never heard of Kingston, but I'd like to give her a try.

Here's the Ken Kesey NYT article that he references--"Remember This: Write What You Don't Know" from 1989. Stegner calls Kesey's advice "obfuscating nonsense" (141). Keysey references his time in "Professor Stegner's" writing class. An impressive group of students.

Keysey's article concludes with a hilarious bit about teaching a writing class at the U of Oregon.

As for Malcolm Cowley, he probably killed as many writers' reputations as he made. Or more.

Edited to add the last two words.

May 16, 2010, 12:21pm

A few thoughts on Coming of Age...

Of course, I'd heard of the annual PEN/Faulkner Awards, but after seeing Stegner's repeated references to PEN, I realized I was ignorant about the acronym. It stands for: Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists. The whole shebang!

Becky, I'm also a big fan of The Tattered Cover and try to make it a point to visit the Highlands Ranch location while visiting my son in Littleton; although I must say, it doesn't compare to the old Cherry Creek store. However, like The Chinook Bookshop in the Springs, it is no more. Maybe Jenn and Joanne can tell us how the new TC location compares to Cherry Creek.

I liked the description of the books with a western feel. "...not about place but about motion, not about fulfillment but about desire. There is always a seeking, generally unsatisfied." I also liked his nod to other cultures -- Native Americans, Hispanic, and Asian.

Thanks, Becky, for the link to the Ken Kesey article. I stopped short when I read the Cowley quote, 'It's just as hard to write a bad book as it is to write a good book.' Coincidentally, I'm reading the memoir Paula by Isabel Allende. I read the part last night where she was teaching a writing class at the University of California. She had a time of panic about how to teach someone to write a story. Her daughter advised her to "tell them to write a bad book...And that's what we did...Since then, any time I fall into a period of doubt, I tell myself I am going to write a bad book, and the panic passes."
I just love those serendipitous book moments!

I see the next section is all about Steinbeck's story "Flight." Has anybody read this? I couldn't find it online and likewise failed in my attempt to find it at the library or the used bookstores I went to yesterday. I may have to compensate with reading "Genesis" by Stegner. He calls this one of the two "cowboy" stories he wrote in his career. But I really want to read "Flight." :-(

May 16, 2010, 1:09pm

>189 Donna828:. OH YES, the Cherry Creek store. When I think of the TC, that's the store that is in my mind. I haven't been to the (new to me) LoDo store. I was afraid the whole scene there might be a bit too "trendy" for me, but maybe not--I love the description of their building. I'm just glad the store still exists, even in LoDo--ha.

I can't find "Flight" anywhere. How frustrating. You'd think it would show up in a short story collection somewhere--but it's not in the anthologies I have, nothing. According to my Steinbeck biog, it was written in about 1934.

Ah--"Flight" is published in The Long Valley. I found the book at amazon.used.

May 16, 2010, 1:24pm

My helpful librarian offered to do an ILL for The Long Valley, but I wanted to read "The Flight" before I read Stegner's essay on it. Oh well, just a bitty bump in my reading life.

I think we're visiting Denver later next month. Maybe I'll do an eye-witness report on the new location of The Tattered Cover.

May 16, 2010, 5:27pm

I'm going to wait to read the 2nd essay until I can find 'The Flight' - I hope they have The Long Valley at the central library, meanwhile, here is some entertainment.

WITNESSES- Coming of Age

I know nothing about any western critics, but it certainly seems to me without them western writers of both fiction and non-fiction have ‘broken the meridian barrier’ effectively. A few years ago I attended a writing conference in Missoula -- it was a eclectic bunch from Terry Tempest Williams to Bapsi Sidwah (a Zoroastrain fiction writer)Indian to Linda Hogan....... The idea was to brainstorm about nature and landscape and attitude toward ‘home’ and always writing with the idea of being in and part of a landscape.... And I think that it was no accident that this conference took place in the West, because it is a fact that the Western writers have made ‘landscape’ and geography their turf and in particular that people LIVE in a landscape and it influences who they are. I’ve been in writing workshops where a person will write a whole story and never once mention a single physical feature of the natural world and I always have a fit.
Here in the East I suspect that nature writers who have read Williams and Ehrlich and Hogan and Abbey and Austin look around and ask themselves, OK, so what needs writing about here? And so they write about the mountains of New Jersey and the amazing marshlands outside of New York City (one of them with the quest of finding the buried remains of the old Pennsylvania Station). In Vermont you have writers musing on Robert Frost’s landscapes and how the actual land he walked on may have contributed to his way of ‘seeing’. I like the idea of a back and forth, Thoreau in the East, inspiring writers in West who then transform nature writing and some of that influence trickles back here. And possibly to other countries as well. Who needs any old critics? Ferment and interaction (like we are doing right now) is all that is needed.

A writer who has lived all over and uses landscape in both the East and West extraordinarily is Richard Ford. I can’t recommend him more highly -- his descriptions of New Jersey suburbs are simply lyrical, incredible -- but now that I’m thinking about it, I wouldn’t be surprised if his way of seeing was informed by the time he spent living out West. I don’t even know where he lives now. Probably out west someplace!

May 16, 2010, 5:42pm

I have read and taught "Flight." It was in a paperback anthology as the representative Steinbeck piece. Now that I think about it, I'm afraid that I no longer have a copy here at home. Uh oh. If anybody wants, I can give a brief synopsis...........

May 16, 2010, 6:05pm

Just popping in to say that I think the LoDo Tattered Cover is lovely. It feels like it's been there forever. Creaky floors, dusty books, knowledgeable staff. I like it.

I found this a few minutes ago - hope the link works.

Flight -

May 16, 2010, 6:23pm

Bless you, Jenn! Your internet search skills far surpass mine (and my friendly librarian's as well). The link works and I'm happily off to read my eyes out! Reading for long stretches at the computer is hard on these ol' eyes, but I'm still very grateful.

And, yes, Peggy, any words of your wisdom regarding "Flight" will be appreciated.

May 16, 2010, 6:40pm

>194 nittnut:. Hi Jenn. Thanks for posting "Flight."

Thanks also for weighing in on the LoDo Tattered Covered location. (And thanks to those of you who don't know/don't care about TC for putting up with the posts about it on this thread.) I missed the whole Denver downtown revitalization because I moved just as things were really getting started. I'm proud of what they've done--St. Louis ought to use them for a model, as downtown St. Louis is rather pitiful. For anyone who's interested, here's a photo of the building here.

Lucy, you're amazing. You attended a writing conference in Missoula and you're just mentioning it now? Huh. You're just full of surprises.

Wiki says Richard Ford resides in Maine (taught at Bowdoin for awhile) and Ireland--ha.

May 16, 2010, 8:34pm

The New Bulgarian University? Apparently they aren't familiar with American copyright laws. Anyway, I won't tell.

May 16, 2010, 8:56pm

err - did I post a link to something that now causes us all to be in violation of American copyright laws? So sorry. Maybe we can arrange to be incarcerated together? They seem to have a lot of things on their website...

I curled up on the couch to read Flight, and realized I had read it years ago. I am glad I re-read it, and will mozy off to read W's essay on it. Looking forward to it. I would also love to hear from you Peggy, anything you'd like to add. I have been a Steinbeck fan for a long time, and would LOVE to take a class on him. I think I would like to go back to school and just take classes that interest me. Steinbeck, forensic pathology (with Stasia), Sewing, a writing class, Spanish, Latin, Rhetoric, I could go on and on.

Edited: May 16, 2010, 10:35pm

Re Ford >196 labwriter: -Ford does move around a lot. Anyhow I think he lived in Montana for awhile on a ranch, and grew up kind of in the south. Maybe he taught at Princeton for awhile and that's how he got to know it, but he sure does have New Jersey pegged. And not like you might expect, but lovingly, with real affection, real appreciation.

May 17, 2010, 12:28am

Back to the Tattered Cover discussion for a sec. The LoDo store is a pretty fair imitation of the old Cherry Creek store which was fabulous with lots of little rooms and staircases, it was cozy and comfortable. I loved it. The Colfax store is pretty nice. The Highlands Ranch branch is OK because the staff is great. But appearance wise, it is similar to a large BN store.

I'm off to read about Steinbeck now...

Edited: May 17, 2010, 9:25am

Thanks for your description of the LoDo store, Joanne. I'm glad to hear it's like the Cherry Creek store, which still exists, if only in my mind--ha.

Steinbeck was definitely out of favor when I was getting my lit degrees in the 1990s and early 2000s. I don't know if that's changed, but I rather doubt it. I don't remember being assigned anything of his in school. The only thing of his I've read is Of Mice and Men.

Not all that long ago I bought a very nice copy of the centennial edition of East of Eden, thinking I really "ought" to read some Steinbeck. Maybe it was my mood at the time--who knows, but I tried it and just couldn't get into it. I can read just about anything (and have) if I have to, but since I didn't have to, I gave up on Steinbeck. Maybe I'll try him again sometime.

Enjoy "Flight." I think I'll pass.

May 17, 2010, 11:11am

Steinbeck may be out of favor with some members of the reading community, but I count him among my favorite authors. I'm a bit of an old-fashioned reader in that sometimes I just want a good story told in a straightforward manner with some believable characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed Stegner's detailed analysis On Steinbeck's Story "Flight." And I'm so glad I had the story to read. Thanks again, Jenn. I didn't find it lengthy at all. I was impressed by the way Steinbeck equipped Pepe with all his father's acoutrements of "manhood" and then stripped them away one by one as he was pursued.

I also loved how the "dark watchers" shadowed Pepe's journey adding a touch of mystery to the setting and dark tone of the story. Stegner brilliantly called them a means of projecting "mystical fatalism" (149) and described them as "something that rises from the action like smoke from a campfire." (152)

The scene of Steinbeck writing his short stories outside his dying mother's bedroom door in the odd times between pills and bedpans was so touching. No wonder the rejection letters became "little dooms" to him.

I loved this essay because it gave me a different perspective of John Steinbeck as a man and as a writer. Becky, I hope you'll give him another try when the timing is right.

May 17, 2010, 11:12am

I generally in agreement with you about Steinbeck, Becky. On the other hand, when I try him, I'm pleased to be back. He is a craftsman, but somehow he puts me more in mind of Robert Penn Warren than anybody else - something about the quality of the prose. (Please don't pin me down on that.) (Also, I have no wisdom to offer about "Flight." I was offering only a summary, but WES did that well enough in the chapter for those who don't choose to read the whole thing.)
(ALSO! I had never heard of George R. Stewart, but I may be inspired to hunt him out. I'm in the middle of his chapter now.)

Edited: May 17, 2010, 2:15pm

>201 labwriter:-203. I wasn't implying anything about the quality of Steinbeck's writing when I said he wasn't taught in school when I was there. Unfortunately, "quality" doesn't enter into why a writer is taught or not taught as much as you might think. My master's thesis was about why some authors are taught at the university and others aren't--the "established literary canon." Specifically, my example of someone rarely taught was Ellen Glasgow. She wrote some wonderful novels, was a Pulitzer Prize winner, was reviewed by all of the important reviewers of her day--and yet she is almost never taught (realize my information is about ten years old--things may have changed for Ellen in the last few years), not even in her home town of Richmond, VA. Perhaps some have read Barren Ground, since it's a novel that has probably been the one of hers that was available when others weren't. Now, within the past ten or so years, most her novels have been published in some nice editions by the U of Virginia P, including Vein of Iron, They Stooped to Folly, The Sheltered Life etc.

Why does a writer get ignored by academia? Well, I'll try to make this short, but there are all sorts of reasons, including these:

Did the writer choose a good literary executor who watched over the copyrights and the writer's reputation? Ellen chose poorly. The story is an interesting one, but too long for here.

Did the writer either attend a college or university or leave his/her papers to a college or university where professors were interested in studying the writer's works? (Best example here that I can think of--Willa Cather and the U of Nebraska. Nebraska has made Cather into a cottage industry. Don't get me wrong, the Cather people are some of the nicest people I've met in academia, but they've studied her down to a nub. Ellen Glasgow didn't attend college and left her papers to the U of Virginia which evidently had or has zero interest in the woman. At the time I wrote my Master's thesis, not so much as a senior thesis had been written about her at UVA.)

Was the writer's life written by a sympathetic biographer? (Example--Ellen Glasgow's life was written by a young man who had absolutely no sympathetic understanding for an "fat and fiftyish older woman." He made her out to be a ridiculous figure, and she was, quite simply, written off: Ellen Glasgow and the Woman Within. Her biography was supposed to be written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a fabulously raucous woman (and herself somewhat fat and fiftyish) who would have "gotten" Ellen; unfortunately for Ellen's reputation (and also for Marjorie), Rawlings died before the biog was completed. You can read my review here of Godbold's book--a horrible man.

Another example--Mark Schorer destroyed Sinclair Lewis's reputation for years with his 1961 biog of Lewis: Sinclair Lewis An American Life.

Are the published works readily available in good paperback editions? Do you know that some literature professors won't teach a book unless they can get it in the Norton Critical Edition? Do you think I'm kidding? I wish I were. In fact, I would be willing to BET MONEY that Steinbeck's works weren't on Norton's list when I was taking my classes. Yep--I just went to the Norton website, and Steinbeck isn't listed. He will never be widely taught at the university level if his work isn't published by Norton.

I could go on with this list, but you get the idea. This issue of the established "canon" of works in academia--what gets taught and why--was one of the main reasons why I decided not to continue on and get my PhD. And the politically correct crowd have made this issue 50 times worse. Ugh. Don't get me started there. The politics of the canon is simply beyond belief.

Post edited for a couple of minor additions.

May 17, 2010, 2:05pm

I'm here, I'm here and I've read 'Flight' and I'm reading that chapter and I loved your post Becky and I have to run but I'll be back!

May 17, 2010, 2:28pm

Okay. I finally got the book, and although I'm not caught up, I find I can only in good conscience read one essay at a time. I've thoroughly read the posts up to #108 & skimmed the rest, and here are my (brief) thoughts on the ones I've read so far:
Migrant Childhood. This essay made me realize the impact of "place" when growing up, and helped me to be a little calmer through the rest of the book. At first, I resented his implication that the West was the only wonderful place to live, but it helped me to realize that the area DOES have a rather large impact. I've lived in MO all my life, but I've travelled quite a bit around the country. Like Donna & Peggy, I LOVE green, but I also love the different colors in the West and the North and the South and the East. One thing in particular that I am reminded of: Back in 1981, my then-husband and I spent 2 weeks in California (all over California!). What struck me the most while we were there was the lack of rivers. I don't know that a day passes when I don't see a river, and the absence was really noticeable to me. As "aridity" is to him, so is a slow-moving river to me.
Letter, Much Too Late. I loved this letter. And reading it the week following Mother's Day, especially this year, it particularly touched my heart. We don't always say the things we should say when we should say them, and when we do, the impact is tremendous. My youngest son went WAY overboard with Mother's Day this year, and when I asked him why he spent so much money, he looked at me with a puzzled expression and said "Because you're an awesome mother and you deserve it." Honestly, I know I did a fairly good job of raising my boys, and I know they're happy, but I always felt like Keith mostly just tolerated me, since he is SO much more like his dad than the others, and he rarely says much of anything. To hear this from him just floored me, and that's what I was feeling as I read this essay.

May 17, 2010, 2:35pm

Crossing Into Eden. I also thought this was a fabulous essay. I loved the story of their hike to the lake, and his description of his time there. It made me sad to think of how much fun so many things used to be until everyone found them, and they became tarnished just by the crowdedness of them. There are many places I no longer go because of the popularity. I sit home and bemoan "how it used to be." I am such an old grump sometimes...
Thoughts In A Dry Land. I drove to Denver a few years ago with my son. All I heard was how boring the scenery was going to be. I have to say, I never did feel that it was boring. Different, yes, but never boring. And coming around that one bend where the mountains opened up in front of me, well, I had to catch my breath. I enjoyed the visit immensely. But again, I don't feel I have to "get over" the color green to enjoy the other colors somewhere else. Anyway, that was the experience that stayed with me through this essay.
Hopefully, I'll catch up before the week is over!

May 17, 2010, 5:57pm

To echo your son, what awesome posts! And the rivers. I see at least one every day -- both here and in VT -- In Vt every time I go anywhere I go over several rivers....... and of course, the same river that flows through our village -- we cross and recross it constantly as the road winds around..... When I look out my windows from just about anywhere in the house I see water too, in our big pond.

My post is blessedly short! The brevity doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it, just that, for once, I am being brief!


I guess the writing and the West point here is that in Stegner’s estimate Steinbeck successfully creates from his knowledge of the Ventana a sense of place, deeply and profoundly present and accurate, while also represending ‘the mountains of repudiation and no-help, almost as allegorical as the Slough of Despond of the Valley of the Shadow of Death.”

May 17, 2010, 7:31pm

After reading about Mr. Stewart (on line, not the essay, yet) I have ordered Earth Abides. I have a feeling it might have been in my brother's sf collection - I have a feeling I may have read it. And I have heard about him somehow -- I knew vaguely that the idea for naming big storms had come from a book. Hopefully not from watching the Weather Channel in a half trance.

May 17, 2010, 7:59pm

Labwriter: Actually, I would like to get you started on the politics of the canon, as if I needed further fuel for my disgust with what I know of academic politics. UNC-Chapel Hill had a fine English department at one time, but the gender/race/class faction has grown so predominant that the old guard has been allowed to cling to only one required course for the English BA: one semester of Shakespeare. Soon he'll get the boot for more Queer Theory.
At least Ellen Glasgow has a nice tombstone, which I photographed last fall at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond:

May 17, 2010, 11:32pm

>210 scribulous:. Oh dear, I just lost my post. Well . . . thanks for the EG gravestone pic--classy! I have a book about the canon that I'd like to post here, but I would risk waking up everyone in the house, so I'd better wait until tomorrow.

I agree with all you say about UNC--sad case!

May 18, 2010, 3:06am

#209: I really liked Earth Abides (with one quibble) when I read it a couple years back, Lucy. I will be interested in seeing what you think of it.

May 18, 2010, 5:58pm

Well the essay on George Stewart was very fine -- I think Storm and Fire were both on my parents' bookshelves, and maybe also Names because much of that information is weirdly familiar to me. When I first moved to VT I got obsessed briefly by learning the Algonquin names that had been preserved of features of the landscape. The mountain that looms over our village has the rather dumpy name, Camel's Hump. Samuel de Champlain named it Le Lion Couchant, which is a beautiful name. The Algonquin name is Ta-wak-be-de-eeh-so-wad-so -- which means something like -- place with good little lake up in the clouds -- Why do I remember this? Scary question..... . but the important thing is that everything was named before we came. Every little thing had been named, but almost all of those names were lost. It is all renamed, or has even had several names. One town in western new york state was changed from Moscow to Leicester in the 1920's..... So that's it from me, the fountain of useless information.

Edited: May 18, 2010, 6:22pm

This message has been deleted by its author.

May 18, 2010, 6:35pm

Hilarious, Lucy. Also interesting. Me--I can think of nothing to contribute. I enjoyed the Stewart essay, but I've never heard of him. Surely Storm and Fire were neither one on my parents' bookshelves. See? Not a thing. Maybe tomorrow.

May 18, 2010, 6:37pm

So seriously, I am a hopeless mess today. I looked to see what might be tomorrow's essay and read, "Walter Cronkite's Frontier."

May 18, 2010, 6:47pm

Well, my plate is finally clear enough for me to begin "Bluebird" so I will start it tonight when I go to bed. This is my first Stegner so I am excited. We will see what we think of this one.

Edited: May 18, 2010, 7:25pm

Welcome, Belva! (Skip the middle!!!!) (Or rather, choose just one essay from the middle.) (Well, read the first two and then choose one.) (Shoot. Read the whole thing; we did.)
I'm trying to decide whether to use a credit at pbs for Ordeal by Hunger. It's available right now. I've added *Names* to my wish list. I just get so few credits that I wonder whether I'm going to want something else more down the road. Has anybody read it?

Edited to laugh at Becky. You make me feel so much better. I do that quick misread thing all the time.

May 18, 2010, 7:50pm

The only thing I have read by Stewart was his Pickett's Charge, which sits a few shelves above by head as I write this. It is a well-written and scholarly description of that epic event. The subtitle is: A Microhistory of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.

May 18, 2010, 8:02pm

I'm glad I'm not the only one unfamiliar with Stewart. I had the feeling that maybe he should have been as well known to me as Steinbeck. I feel less uneducated now.

May 19, 2010, 12:54am

Giggling a bit at Peggy - skip the middle, no, read it. LOL

I am very interested in *Names* though. It sounds interesting. I have to say, I am so much happier now that we are done with the environMENTAL lectures.

Coming of Age
I'm not sure I can comment on the coming of age of western literature. I am probably too young. As in, I don't remember a time when the infrastructure of literary life did not exist in the West.
I loved his list of great independent book sellers. When we were in grad school at Cal, we used to go to Serendipity. Here's a recent article about it:
Those of you who have read Biblioholism should especially enjoy this article.
Some other bits I liked:
Real cowboys have more brutality and less chivalry in them than the literary kind. (For sure. Don't all literary heroes/villains?)
You achieve stature only by being good enough to deserve it, by forcing even the contemptuous and indifferent to pay attention...My anguish is potentially as valid as that of work, even if it is with cows, may have as much dignity as honest work anywhere. p. 137

I really liked his discussion of Steinbeck's style. I remember falling in love with his books in high school. I read The Grapes of Wrath and wanted more. East of Eden was kind of educational (gasp) for a 14 year old, but the writing was incredible. I was amazed by the pathos and humor in Of Mice and Men. In spite of all that reading of his novels and short stories, I never read anything about him. I loved reading Stegner's thoughts on how writers use the books they have read and their experiences in a story:
A writer at that crucial point is a synthesizer, a blender, and everything he has ever heard or seen or read or known is potentially there, available for the creation of his story. It all melts and fuses. No writer as good as Steinbeck ever sat down to a story thinking about whom he would copy, or how he would appropriate what from whom.
Then in the next paragraph, he compares critics to scientists in a laboratory. It's great. I enjoyed his deconstruction of Flight. I also liked how he "put it back together" at the end.

George Stewart
Fascinating, and clearly I need to read something by him. I think I may have read Ordeal by Hunger a long time ago. Lest you should think that I think I have any idea who Stewart is/was, I don't/didn't. I do know that BLT (before Library Thing) I read a comprehensive history of the Donner Party. I am adding East of the Giants and Names on the Land to the TBR tower.

Walter Clark's Frontier
I like reading what Stegner writes about other authors. He's interesting, and he has an interesting way of comparing his stories to theirs. He seems vulnerable in this essay for some reason. I am adding several of Clark's books to the pile. You've got to love a book that adds 5-8 new books to your TBR list.
This is a very interesting discussion of civilization, using the settling of the West as a springboard. I still need to think about this one. I am a bit out of my depth on this essay. I feel a bit like I've just been to a graduate seminar. Anyone else feel that way? *sneaks off to read it again*

Phew! All done for now.

Edited: May 19, 2010, 8:00am

Fantastic work there, Jenn ..... and George Stewart's name was not familiar to me either, except I have this memory of lying around on a sofa maybe eleven or twelve reading a book about a huge forest fire..... and something about the simplicity of the titles rings a bell. My mother especially was a voracious reader -- and the 'family' room shelves above the easy child grab level were all her books. I was always getting in to them and giving myself nightmares......

I am also wondering if Sebastian Junger is not a fan?

May 19, 2010, 8:56am

I am also wondering if Sebastian Junger is not a fan? Good question. Maybe so. I've had his Fire on the TBR list for awhile. I've only read Perfect Storm. He seems to be more of an adventure sort, but there is definitely the Man Vs. Nature theme there.

Edited: May 19, 2010, 9:27am

Some nice stuff there, Jenn. Obviously you're more engaged with Stegner (and Steinbeck, and Stewart) than I am. Probably also Walter Clark. No, I've never read The Ox-bow Incident either. I'm also not much for westerns, a la the movies. I did watch a lot of Sky King when I was a kid. Does that count? Penny was his "niece"? Heh.

And Sybil, in the West you don't lie around on a "sofa"--it would be a couch. Just sayin'.

Walter Clark's (Cronkite's) Frontier

I think it's interesting as well as important in understanding the tone and content of this essay to note that it was first published in The Atlantic Monthly. It would make an interesting essay in itself to take this essay apart and look at the way Stegner "instructs" The Atlantic audience about the West. And I imagine that's where the underlying "vulnerability" you're reading in the essay comes from, Jenn. Just a thought.

Excellent point about (eastern--that's of course implied and understood) condescending critics who couldn't or wouldn't read western literature, which of course is no different in the sense of "place" than Twain's Missouri or Faulkner's Mississippi (173). Of course, since most of those eastern critics of the 1940s had never been off a sidewalk, it must have been impossible for them to relate. Also, you can't have an "in" group unless you have an "out" group. The eastern critics needed the "middlewest" and west as a contrast.

Stegner says he learned a lot about himself from this writer: "He was a kind of mirror" (175). Nice.

Stegner's point about the "Amos and Andy level of culture" (177) of his home is sort of sad. What did he expect his father with his eighth-grade education, trying to put food on the family's table, to be? And "somehow" Stegner was able to get an education at the U of Utah, to study at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, to teach at Harvard and Stanford. He never does seem to reach a sense of perspective about his parents, particularly his father, and he does a fair amount whining about this sort of thing in these essays. It is what it is, man, and you were able to make a nice life for yourself as a writer--the kind of life you wanted. What is your problem?

I love his analysis of Clark's The City of Trembling Leaves: "Reno in its double aspect of middle-class town and jackpot center is not for him the threat that Dublin was to Joyce, or Asheville and his mother's boardinghouse to Thomas Wolfe, or Wellington, New Zealand, to Katherine Mansfield, or America to Ezra Pound" (snort--that last one)--(183).

I wish I knew something about Stegner's reference to Clark's "clash of belief and attitude" with Leslie Fiedler (188). Fiedler was Jewish, he was from the East, and, according to Wiki, in 1941 he worked as an assistant prof at the U of Montana.

Here's a quote from Fiedler, who, I submit, must have been big time a fish out of water in Montana: "I was met unexpectedly by the Montana Face. What I had been expecting I do not clearly know; zest, I suppose, naivete, a ruddy and straightforward kind of vigor--perhaps even honest brutality. What I found seemed, at first glance, reticent, sullen, weary--full of self-sufficient stupidity; a little later it appeared simply inarticulate . . . ."

You can find more of Fiedler here.

I need to get on with some morning tasks. More later.

Edited to add a bit of content.

May 19, 2010, 9:37am

Becky - good point about WC's Frontier and the audience it was meant for. I also agree that he lacks perspective with regard to his parents, especially his father. He seems to lack appreciation for what his parents made possible for him. I feel like he has contempt for the less well educated and tries to disguise it unsuccessfully. This contempt comes out strongly in Susan, the main character in Angle of Repose.

Thanks for the Fiedler quote - very interesting.

Love to write more, but must take kiddos to school.

May 19, 2010, 9:43am

All very interesting! (I'm still reading the W.Clark chapter.) I have to step in as a Wally defender here. I don't know how badly he was damaged by his father. I haven't read *BRCM* so the rest of you may have a better handle on him than I have, but I do have to say that he may be letting dear old dad off relatively easily. Or maybe not. (Do you get the feeling of the always-balancing/rarely committing Libra here?) As for the intellectual snobbery, it's not pretty, but it may be understandable.

May 19, 2010, 9:59am

Peggy--would you elaborate on your last sentence? Whose intellectual snobbery is understandable? Stegner's? Fiedler's? East? West? All? That's an interesting statement, and I'd just like to hear more.

Oops, now I'm late. Later.

May 19, 2010, 12:39pm

I'm just going to jump in and say that I think Peggy means Stegner. However, Fiedler's was pretty bad too (:

I can understand (sometimes even relate to) the intellectual snobbery, also that his father may not be forgivable on many levels. I think we're just commenting on the vibe he gives off, the feeling you get from his writing. Especially as he occasionally tries to come across as open-minded and accepting - which he really is not - generally speaking.

I don't know much about astrology, but if that's a Libra, for sure! That completely sums up what I sense from Stegner - always balancing/rarely committing.

Edited: May 19, 2010, 12:56pm

I've been really looking forward to the next essay, Haunted by Waters: Norman Maclean. My husband is a fly fisherman, in his bones and in his genes, taught by his father and uncle when he was just a little guy growing up in Pueblo, Colorado. I've mentioned elsewhere that watching my husband and his cousin (son of the uncle, above) fly fish is poetry. DH is so critical of Hollywood fishermen, but he loved the movie, A River Runs Through It, for it's authenticity.

I have Maclean's book, A River Runs Through It (and other stories), but I admit to not having read it.

Stegner says that Maclean writes about "a historical West, Montana in the years during and just after World War I . . . ." I like his phrase, "an environmet of broad hats and low foreheads" (191)--ha.

"like an Ansel Adams photograph" (192)--oh, that's nice.

"contempt for bait fishermen" (193)--bass fishing in Missouri--something not even worthy of discussion, per DH. I had to chuckle at that one.

"the code" (193)--yes, I get that. "But he cannot get by on mere skill. He needs something else, some decency or compassion that can only be learned from such sources as the boys' preacher father" (193). The fathers teaching the sons to fly fish. They did it not by lessons, but by hours of hanging out together and just doing it. "Commanded to take his impossible brother-in-law fishing, he and Paul do, though they would rather drown him" (194). Fell off the chair laughing at that one, remembering an insufferable b-i-l, taken fishing by the uncles and cousins-in-law.

Stegner gets it right--fishing with a dry fly is an art, a passion, and a mystery (195). Having gone on many a "vacation" with this man and his fishing pole, I know that when he leaves the cabin, he'll be gone from "can't see to can't see." On those kinds of trips, I simply let him be, knowing that this is the way he fills the well, that by spending all those hours on the river, he will come back home and be able to face his very demanding job. When he puts on his waders, he's a man transformed.

"the imagination to think like a fish" (195). So many times, DH and I will be driving in some canyon with a beautiful little river running through it, and he will stop the car. "Look at that water," he'll say. And then he'll describe where the fish will be found and why and how he would catch them. Always catch-and-release, by the way. I tease him that he is educating the fish.

I liked Stegner's essaay about Maclean and his writing. Maybe I was just open to the subject and therefore sympathetic to his ideas here, but I thought it was Stegner at the top of his form.

May 19, 2010, 1:02pm

I've been commenting in my head as I've read the last two essays on George Stewart and Walter Clark, but now that I'm in front of the computer, I find that I don't have much to add that hasn't already been said. I had never heard of Stewart and failed when I attempted to read the Ox-Bow Incident by Clark many years ago. This was before I kept a reading journal, and I only have a vague memory of washed-up cowboys talking in a saloon. I'll wait until the reviews come in from those of you who are going to read books by these two before I add a new author to my list. I still have several books by Stegner that I haven't read that will come first.

I definitely like the essays better if I have some prior knowledge about the subject or the person he writes about. I'm a big fan of the writing of Norman MacLean. The writing in A River Runs Through It almost makes me want to take up fly fishing, although I'd probably enjoy sitting on the bank rereading the book a whole lot more!

I may go ahead and finish the book today and tomorrow. Like the mobile westerners that Stegner writes about, I'm ready to move on!

Edited: May 19, 2010, 3:16pm

I read A River Runs Through It early in my fly fishing obsession but I didn't see the movie (which by all accounts was very well made), partly because I feared it would have the effect that it in fact had: putting millions of neophytes on the streams and increasing the fishing pressure on places I visited hoping I could be the only fisherman there. At least all that has brought about an abundance of good used equipment on the market now.
Dry fly fishing is usually thought to be the pinnacle of the sport, but subsurface fishing with nymphs, fishing in or near the surface film with emergers, and other tactics are utilized frequently by me and other practitioners and are, in my experience, simply thought of as acceptable methods employed as circumstances or personal inclinations might dictate. I believe there are still a few clubs in England that only allow dry flies, only fished upstream, on fabled rivers such as the Test, but even in that spiritual homeland of fly angling there has been a recognition of the sporting quality of other tactics since at least the early Twentieth Century, when G.E.M. Skues popularized the use of nymphs and wrote his classic Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream. All of this ignores the long tradition of wet fly fishing, using a pattern more or less resembling a drowned mayfly, usually fished across and downstream.
Anyway, all of this, which can't be of much interest to most of you, is an attempt to add a little technical and historical perspective to the angling part of the discussion, from a fly fisherman whose preferred approach is the dry fly, but whose bag also contains boxes of nymphs and streamers, and simply to point out that it's all fly fishing, and a lot of fun. Nevertheless, in the context of the novel under consideration the emphasis on dry fly fishing as the purest form of the sport is well employed.

May 19, 2010, 2:13pm

I do not fish, but my Uncles, Father and brothers do. One brother ties his own flies (?). I appreciate the addition of commentary from an actual fly fisherman. It adds to the reading.

More to say later - but I think perhaps this essay on MacLean is my favorite of the entire book. Too early to say for sure right?

May 19, 2010, 3:11pm

Some fascinating ideas in the Walter Clark piece besides the analysis of Clark's four novels, of which, I have read one, The Oxbow Incident sometime in either 7th, 8th or 9th grade -- which seems slightly incredible -- particularly as the teacher *correctly* interpreted it and made a point of making the point about pressure to conform, 'mob' mentality and that lynching under any circumstances is not justice..... I think this was the same teacher who had us read The Red Badge of Courage so obviously he had certain themes on his mind. Of course it was around 67 or 68......a highly politicized time. I have put The City of Trembling Leaves on my list....

Also I was interested in his theory of why some western writers turn away from fiction to history -- I don't know enough to know anything about that, only that it caught my attention. Others of you may have an opinion?

Family and forgiveness -- it has been my experience that some situations cannot be fixed and are best left as they are, mysteries, if you will. Not swept under the rug, not forgotten necessarily, but accepted as unsolvable. You could call it forgiveness from afar..... which the passage he quotes seem to reflect. I was struck by this comment:"My experience with the Curts of the world does not lead me to think they are ever touched by the primal gods, that they ever comprehend good and evil, that they are very often visited by poetic justice." It did seem to echo with something very personal. It is certainly evident in this piece that Stegner really really felt a bond with Clark.

Maclean tomorrow.

May 19, 2010, 4:34pm

>224 labwriter:. Jeeze, this is a serious group. Nobody even nibbled at my jokes. The fish just aren't biting, I guess.

>231 scribulous:. Well, Scribulous, if you didn't see the movie, you missed something really grand. You ought to give it a try. They did an excellent job with the fly fishing. As far as the movie generating "millions" of new people into the sport--well, I don't know about that. I'm sure there were plenty of people with more money than sense who went out and bought a lot of expensive equipment and maybe even tried it a time or two. But the sport just isn't the kind of thing that lends itself to fads or popularity--like maybe hiking or running. Although frankly, if more people had the intelligence, patience, and passion to spend their off hours fly fishing, this world would be a better place.

Edited: May 19, 2010, 4:56pm

Okay so I trundled all the way back to look at your jokes...... I got distracted by all the posts about fly-fishing (about which I know exactly zero) that came after it --- but I do indeed remember Sky King! The niece fits well with the Angelfish piece I sent you.

At least I didn't say divan or davenport! The strange thing is I think I use sofa and couch somewhat interchangeably. It is the sort of thing my brother might analyze and find that I use sofa and couch to denote certain conditions: Like, "The dog bone was hidden under the the sofa," But I also know I would say, "Look for your stupid book where you left it on the couch!!!" or "You poor dear, why don't you get comfortable on the sofa and I'll bring you some tea," but "That couch was really uncomfortable."

And what this has to do with the West? My apologies to one and all! I loved the posts today and know I am unworthy. (this was added in the edit).

Edited: May 19, 2010, 5:07pm

"trundled all the way back"--you make me laugh. Anyway, "sofa" is one of those words--never, never would anyone who is actually from where I'm from have used that word. Maybe they would now, since, like everything else, the culture is becoming more homogenized. But not while I lived there.

I also remember the pure shock and awe that went through my system when my first grade teacher, Miss Wilson, pronounced the word "rodeo"--you might already have guessed it--as "ro-DAY-o." She might as well have been an alien from Mars (not that there's anything wrong with that--rolls eyes).

I forgot to add that she was from the "East"--Kansas. Hahaha.

May 19, 2010, 5:14pm

So I'm curious -- does the word sofa have funny connotations? Or is just not in common use? I guess this is sort of a propos, East/West..... Ro-day-0 is just sad. Wait. Okay I'm back after a visit to etymologyland. Couch is Old French from coucher and apparently denotes low arms and a half-height back, technically. The sofa has higher arms and a high back. It is from the Turkish, suffah. Well I'll be durned, as Hank the Cowdog, my favorite Texan would say.

May 19, 2010, 5:21pm

Sybil, I'm not saying "sofa" isn't a word (rolls eyes, again). I'm saying that regardless what some etymology says, it's not a word anyone would have used. Who knows, for all I know, it may also have been a "class" thing. And yes, if you'd been playing with us in our basement in 1958 and you'd used the word "sofa," we would have fallen down laughing at you. I might have heard my grandmother use it once, but she was a seriously strange woman with many "issues." Just sayin'.

May 19, 2010, 5:49pm

Divan also has an oriental origin, and, oddly enough (says the OED), once referred to a group of documents or collection of poems; conf. Goethe's West-oestliche Divan.

May 19, 2010, 5:59pm

I'm just babbling on, but there is also the word "settee," which I am sure Peggy knows. I don't know, but the word may be confined to the South.

May 19, 2010, 6:13pm

Yes -- I would anticipate a settee, perhaps, in a Eudora Welty story. No one in the northeast uses it. Divan -- that's interesting!

May 19, 2010, 6:22pm

So in summary:

Sofa - easterners and high society folk
Couch - Westerners, etc. (low foreheads and hats)
Setee - Southerners?
Divan - Far east

Just, you know, want to get it right.

Edited: May 19, 2010, 6:46pm

Hilarious. However, I am easily amused, as is probably evident elsewhere as well.

May 19, 2010, 7:44pm

Labwriter, being also easily amused I did enjoy your crack about Sky King.

May 19, 2010, 8:38pm

Completely ignorant of Sky King. My parents bought our first TV for the 1984 summer Olympics. Might explain why I read so much as a kid.

Haunted by Waters
IMHO It's the best essay in this book. I love the story of Maclean's book passing from hand to hand among fly fisherman and finally finding its way to a larger audience.
I really liked his discussion of "the code". The idea that To fail at a skill, if you try your best, is unfortunate but respectable; to fail in nerve or trying is to merit contempt. I was raised on this idea. My father's stories from his childhood are full of the physical skill set mentioned: riding, shooting, fishing, packing, ranching, fist fighting. This is all recognizable and wonderful, but the best is Stegner's acknowledgment (Maclean's too) that the skills are not enough. That the survivors, the truly successful ones have some saving intelligence, a capacity to see beyond or around the code.
Though I'm not a fisherman, the use of shadow casting to show how Maclean whets our appetite and prepares us for the rapid end of his story - pure genius. Great essay.

Edited: May 19, 2010, 10:41pm

I was just over at facebook, where I spend very little time. I'm only there ever because of family. Anyway, my older brother, who lives in Sequim, Washington, just outside of Port Angeles, linked to some guy named Edward Abbey. Does anyone know him? On Edward Abbey's page is an article from the Salt Lake Tribune: "Widow of Wallace Stegner Dies" (5/19/2010).

You really might want to read this article. The link is here.

Wow. Mary Stegner was 99 years old.

Here's a Wiki link to Edward Abbey. "The Thoreau of the American West."

Edited: May 19, 2010, 10:44pm

I certainly know about Edward Abbey of environmental fame, but I think he's dead.........
As to the name for that thing that more than 2 people can sit on at the same time. My first word for it was "sofa" (so much for the class idea!); my local grandmama said "settee"; "divan" is common around here too (Anybody make "chicken divan"? {so named because you make it ahead of time and when your guests arrive, you can, therefore, sit with them on the divan}; gee ---- that makes "couch" come in last!
I have really enjoyed these essays, but Jenn just said everything that I had thought about right down to the quotations that she chose but said it better. I did listen to Sky King on the radio, so I got it! Thanks to you all for the fishing lore and the jokes! I'm now ready to finish this one.

May 19, 2010, 10:47pm

gee ---- that makes "couch" come in last!

Not where I'm from.

Edited: May 19, 2010, 10:58pm

We use couch in our house too. Or "over there" pointing in the general direction when the word "couch" escapes us. For example: to the kid who won't stop touching the other kid, "go sit OVER THERE!"

Becky, thank you for the great article. What lovely things WS had to say about his wife, and what lovely things their son said about them. Stegner seems to have been able to escape the hereditary abuse trap. Good for him.

I know who Edward Abbey is. I don't particularly like him. His belief system as it comes out in his books is diametrically opposed to mine, and he states his position nowhere near as nicely as Stegner. It wouldn't surprise me at all to find out that various radical environmental groups are using Monkey Wrench Gang as their club manual. I don't think Thoreau would approve.

eduted cuz I caint spell

May 19, 2010, 10:57pm

Thanks for the link, Becky. It sounds like his wife was alot like his mother, someone he revered and who had his best interests at heart.

I haven't made too much headway yet in this last section--too many things to read at the same time right now but there were a couple of links I wanted to pass on about Stegner.

There is an interesting interview about Stegner from a PBS website (that seems to be affiliated with the University of Utah) here. It's about 20 pages long (although it's large print and double spaced) and talks about his important relationships, including with his father. At one point, they quote his biographer as having asked him "Wally, have you ever forgiven your father?" and he answers "No."

I also enjoyed reading Timothy Egan's blog from February 18, 2009 (which was Stegner's 100th birthday) here. It's mainly about how Stegner always felt slighted by the Eastern critics.

Finally, I recently finished Jack Kerouac's On the Road and one of the things I noted was his reference to the "soft, sweet East" and the "great, dry West". I was in the library yesterday and they had a big map of the United States on the wall which showed the Eastern third as all green and the rest of country as basically brown. It reminded me immediately of Stegner!

Edited: May 19, 2010, 11:07pm

Thanks all, for the links & comments.

Wow, fascinating comment about his father. I don't judge him for that because, frankly, I've never forgiven my mother. I haven't written anything publishable about her though. Not to say that I wouldn't if I could. You use the material at hand.

May 20, 2010, 1:41am

I asked this question on the TIOLI thread:

A bunch of us just read Where the Bluebird Sings and I'm wondering, if any of us (like me) grew up all over the West,

Vote: can it fit in that Home State/Hometown category?

Current tally: Yes 0, No 1
Yes | No | Undecided Current tally: Yes 1, No 0, Undecided 4

cyderry said It's my challenge and I vote yes!

So, any of you who feel you have lived enough places in the West or in a place that is well featured in the book (you be the judge) add yourself to the TIOLI wiki. If you want to. Now.

May 20, 2010, 7:32am

The Sense of Place

The title gave me hope for this one, but it seems we're back to the guilty, cranky Stegner again. I'll let others "go first." Some of you seem to have more patience with this side of Stegner than I do.

May 20, 2010, 10:52am

Becky, I'll give it a shot. I came here hoping to post a little off the top of my head and move on, but I'll try. *flexing wrists; pushing up glasses* I don't read this as "guilty, cranky," and will be interested to hear what makes you react to him this way.....

The Sense of Place
The two controlling ideas in this one seem to me to be Wendell Berry's "If you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are," and WES's own remark, "The deep ecologists warn us not to be anthropocentric, but I know no way to look at the world, settled or wild, except through my own human eyes." He does tackle again Americans' need to move and balances that with the need for roots. Places exist for us as they are lived in and named. Living takes years to know the place and generations to appreciate it. Then writers can give the place to us. We have writers through the years who have consecrated our mobility to us. We have early writers who borrowed from Europe to consecrate American places. Finally, we have poets like Wendell Berry who are formed by their places and make their places into what they have lived. He says, "No place, even a wild place, is a place until it has had that human attention that at its highest reach we call poetry." And so, he encourages us to spend some time looking around rather than looking ahead.
I liked it. (I have to say that I finished the book this morning, and loved the last two essays. I also thought that WES was thinking, "I'm going to do these for Kermit with fly fishing and photography references so that he's mine for life.")

May 20, 2010, 1:09pm

Haunted by Waters

I'll echo Jenn's statment that this is the best essay in the book. I think, to me anyway, that's because I have such love for A River Runs Through It, one of my favorite novellas and movies (with our local boy Brad Pitt). It has the perfect title, the most arresting first line: "In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing," and the most contemplative ending statement ever: "I am haunted by waters."

I do my best and deepest thinking by a creek, river, lake, ocean...well, you get the idea. Even our algae-collecting pond in the backyard gives me great peace. I posted a picture of it (without algea) taken this morning on my profile page. I wanted to get a picture of our swans with their five cygnets before the snapping turtles get another one.

Stegner gives us a wonderful application of Maclean's description of shadow casting to what works in fiction. "A real artist has been fishing our stream, and the art of fishing has been not only his message, but his form and his solace." It makes me wonder if this story is so incredibly powerful in its truths and emotion because Maclean waited 70 years to write it.

May 20, 2010, 1:14pm

>254 LizzieD:. Well, Penny, since you ask:

I guess the particular line that got to me this morning was this one: "I share the guilt for what members of my species, especially the migratory ones, have done to {our world}" (201). I guess I'm just not up for another environmental "oh how guilty we are all" finger-wagging essay. It wasn't that bad--he had some good things to say--so I thought I would just let the people who appreciate that aspect of his philosophy weigh in.

I appreciate your post on the essay.

May 20, 2010, 1:39pm

Donna, what a lovely view! Thanks for posting .... and I'm sorry about the cygnets and the turtles. I know.
Well, Becky, I get you. You have to know that I'm a Calvinist though, and we love to wallow in guilt. I didn't think he gave this round more than one turn though. And ---- Penny? I've sometimes wished that I could have been Penny, but I'm not, alas.

Edited: May 20, 2010, 2:06pm

Oh jeeze, my poor social skills are showing again--Peggy! My only defense is that I knew a Penny and she was a very nice person.

May 20, 2010, 2:13pm

Well, I thought "Penny" was another Sky King joke that I didn't get. :-)

May 20, 2010, 2:27pm

Hilarious, Donna.

May 20, 2010, 2:40pm

Norman MacLean -- I feel no need to say much of anything -- Stegner’s appreciation and love for this writer shines through and gives the essay a special feeling.

Place - It was nicely written, but I'm not convinced. Restlessness seems to me to be an intrinsic human feature, part of our 'intelligence' packet. Picking up and moving on seems to me to be a feature of both ancient and contemporary life, not particularly limited to Americans ..... For better or worse, the human race wouldn’t have spread all over the globe but for this intrinsic characteristic.... And for heaven's sake, Bruce Chatwin wasn't from Patagonia, but surely he put in the map?

May 20, 2010, 3:44pm

Yes, LizzieD, I also finished the book this morning, and enjoyed the final chapters very much. I always thought highly of Stegner, and I'm glad he closed out this volume with something that gave me much more pleasure than the environmental chapters (as vital as that is, etc.).

Edited: May 20, 2010, 5:46pm

Be warned - I am going to dispose of the rest of this book now.

The Sense of Place
I think this essay shows very clearly Stegner's dislike of moving and his need to settle in one place to feel that he has roots. I agree with Lucy that being migratory is a human characteristic.
I think hating or loving the migratory nature of humans really depends on your experience. I didn't move as much or as dramatically as he did, but by the time I was 18, we had lived in 3 different states and 9 different homes/towns. Since I was 18 I have lived in another 3 states and (not counting college) 6 different homes/towns. I've moved a bit. I agree that at times, moving can be difficult. It has given me an appreciation for the kindness of strangers, the opportunity to make many friends, and some flexibility, I guess. Do I wish I knew I were in the house I would live in forever? Sometimes. My roots are in the West, and home is where my family is. My mother is a genealogy nut, so I know where my people came from. I'm good.
I liked He has a current like the Platte, a mile wide and an inch deep.

A Letter to Wendell Berry
How nice.

Law of Nature/Dream of Man
A great essay for a writing class. I liked:
Conflict is still the essence of drama, no matter how we attenuate or etherealize it.
as in Kafka, stories never ended at all, but simply raveled away... So true.
A good writer is not really a mirror; he is a lens...fiction is only as good as its maker. It sees only with the clarity that he is capable of, and it perpetuates his astigmatisms.

Funny comment about Flannery O'Conner (p 220)

I didn't think then, and I don't think now, that going out and committing experience in order to be able to write about it is the best way of making sense of my life.

I totally have my idea of Stegner connected with Lyman Ward in Angle of Repose (p224). Anyone else?

Sure it's autobiography. Sure it's fiction. Either way, if you have done it right, it's true.


May 20, 2010, 5:53pm

So I'm just wondering whether I'm the only person who is rooted and likes it? I've never lived outside of N.C., and I married my hometown honey, so I know this place. Now I have to wonder whether we're not simply extrapolating from our own experience, whatever it has been......that's a variant of a friend's theory that if you ask a person to describe the perfect educational set-up, he'll end by describing the way he learned. (I guess that I should add that I would have loved to travel, but I'm vastly content to have ended where I began.)
(Becky, nothing wrong with your social skills at all that I can see.)

Edited: May 20, 2010, 6:16pm

Peggy - I totally agree. What else do we have to work with than our own experience? As much as we read and make an effort to see other points of view, we are still using our own experiences to interpret information. I think that is what Stegner meant when he said that A good writer is not really a mirror; he is a lens...fiction is only as good as its maker. It sees only with the clarity that he is capable of, and it perpetuates his astigmatisms.

The longest I have lived anywhere is Oregon, south of Portland. We lived there (in 4 different homes) for about 10 years. I thought I was staying. I was vastly content. Moving to CO really did pull up some roots, quite painfully. I am not as much of a nester as Stegner, but I continue to hope that at some point (retirement?) we will permanently root somewhere.

Edited to say that in regards to the nesting, it's the attic full of stuff that gives me the shivers. I'm the tosser of stuff in my family. Everyone else is a pack rat. Moving can be helpful that way...

Edited: May 20, 2010, 7:04pm

Oh Peggy, what a great question. You have no idea how much I envy people like you who have such a solid sense of place. I often wonder how my life would have been different if we could have just settled down and stayed in South Denver where I grew up. Denver has changed a lot since I left, but when I go walking in the old neighborhoods, there's still that sense of feeling like it's a place I know. I especially know the near-history of Denver in a way that I evidently never will here in St. Louis. I just don't feel particularly connected here, and I don't think I ever will.

Speaking of people in St. Louis--they tend to stay put. As a party ice-breaker, people here will ask, "So, where'd you go to school?" What they mean by that is, where did you go to high school? It's their way of quickly "placing" someone they don't know--even better than "what's your sign?"--ha.

edited for speling

Edited: May 20, 2010, 7:34pm

OK, so having said the above (266), as I was making my meatballs I was thinking about the other side of the issue. Moving to a new place can sometimes free you to do things that you wouldn't do in the old place. When I came to St. Louis, I immediately enrolled at the city college, something I'd been thinking and dithering and moodling about when I was still in Denver. We also ended up applying for our son to attend one of the best preppy high schools in the area. Would I have done that in Denver? I don't think so--too much baggage with the idea that "I'm not sure we belong there"; whereas in St. Louis, we had no baggage at all. He got in, by the way, and received an amazing education.

So, moving away can do good things for you as well. Good and bad, yin and yang. I still wouldn't mind do-overs to find out what it would have been like to stay in South Denver. But that's not something that I normally even think about. I'll tell you what--if I inherited a lot of dough, I would would buy a South Denver bungalow so that I could go there for several months out of the year.

Edited: May 20, 2010, 8:10pm

I'm trying to get a head-start on tomorrow since some of you have already finished the book.

A Letter to Wendell Berry

Stegner is writing a letter to praise the book and the man: What Are People For?. Never heard of it; never heard of Wendell Berry. So sue me. OK, so here's a link to Wendell Berry.

(OK, 350 people say that book is part of their library on LT; zero reviews. Whatever.)

Stegner: "I acknowledge you as a splendid poet, novelist, and short story writer . . . "(208).

One of the people that Stegner admires Berry for admiring is Ed Abbey--see my post #246.

He compares Berry to Thoreau (209). Berry comes off better.

He says Berry's books are revolutionary (210). Blah, blah, word processor refusal argument, blah, blah (211). OK. I can't help it that these essays are dated. Who knew?

Wendell figured out he belonged in Kentucky--good insight. I love Kentucky, many of my people are from Kentucky--generations back--and I'm glad that Wendell figured out that Kentucky rather than Stanford was where he belonged. He wrote a lot. Nice. He seems like a very cool guy.

Tomorrow--essay last. Bye for now.

P.S. Alcohol "may" have been involved with this post. Sigh.

Edited: May 20, 2010, 9:03pm

I finished the book a bit ago. I must say that I read the last few short essays more from the standpoint of a reader than a writer. Reading has always been my first love; writing is torturous for me. That's why I lurk more on the threads than make a lot of comments.

The Sense of Place. Well, I don't have a lot of history in any one place. No family home that I grew up in, no cemetery to visit where all my dead relatives lie, no real ties to any one place. Stegner references Wendell Berry who 'conducts his literary explorations inward, toward the core of what supports him physically and spiritually.' I can relate that statement to a sense of place in my life. I've learned about myself that I'm most at home where I'm surrounded by trees, water must be visible from my windows, and I thrive in the change of seasons. Missouri has all those things for me.

I must also say that I enjoy the desert, mountains, and oceans -- but they are an extra added attraction to my life, not a necessity. I loved this sentiment on Page 201: Some are born in their place, some find it, some realize after long searching that the place they left is the one they have been searching for. I'm so glad I've found my happy place in life.

A Letter to Wendell Berry. Wow! I hope Mr. Berry treasured this tribute to him.

The Law of Nature... I laughed when I read about the formulaic writing workshop. I've read books by some of those graduates, but I'm happy to say I've outgrown them.

Powerful words on Page 216: The writers I admired, and still admire, were not carpenters but sculptors. Their art was and is a real probe of troubling human confusions. They spurned replicas, they despised commercialized entertainment. They were after the mystery implicit in the stone. I'll just say that, for the most part, I shun best sellers because so often they are written for that very sell books. Any writer who comes out with a new book once a year is one I'm going to tire of pretty quickly.

I'll finish this lengthy post with one final thought. Wallace wholeheartedly agreed with John Cheever's reason for writing: To try to make sense of my life. I can turn that around and use it as my main reason for reading. I read to learn and understand. I read to spend time with new ideas and old thoughts. I read because I love words, especially when they're used to create beautiful images. And I read to comprehend life through the lives of others as well as to unravel my own experiences.

For the most part, I really liked this book. Some of it was dated and I couldn't relate to some of it. I also thought Stegner spent a little too much time on his soapbox in the Habitat section. I'll probably rate it as 4 stars. I appreciate this group and the people who shared their own experiences. I enjoy getting to know other readers and hope you'll all visit me on my new thread, optimistically titled DonnaReads Chapter 4 "In the Good Ol' Summertime".

Edited to undo the bold type!

Edited: May 20, 2010, 9:17pm

Becky I am snorting most indelicately reading yr. last post, maybe I'll get out that immature brandy again before I write to even the playing field.....

Oh gosh, here comes Wendell Berry. I have a complicated relationship to his prose writing, not the poems, which are superb, but the essays. You know what? I can't even get into it -- that is what the immature brandy is whispering in my ear, don't go there. You can admire and respect someone but they can still make you feel nuts!

The last essay, the only one truly about writing (which I expected more of) was very good. Jenn has picked out many things I put post-its on!

I liked 'The guts of any significant fiction is an anguished question.'That's very nice.

"I was always hungry to feel that hand on my head, to belong to some socially or intellectually or historically or literarily cohesive group, some tribe, some culture, some recognizable and persistent offshoot of Western civilization, I had to revolt away from what i was and that meant toward sometHing -- tradition, cultural memory, shared experience, order."

Note that in the two final essays Stegner mentions Henry Adams and even then quotes from The Education. I like those kinds of links...... and it's nice to know I share Adams with Stegner.

May 20, 2010, 9:19pm

Yes indeed - Jenn -- I do also have Lyman Ward firmly in mind.... but I think his last essay was also useful for how to approach that.... some truth in himself, made truer by a fictional character,.... does that make sense?

May 21, 2010, 1:12am

Yes Lucy, it makes sense - to me anyway.
I found that bit of the essay helpful. It alerted me to the fact that I was putting Lyman Ward in for Stegner. Now I will be able to sort that out. Hopefully. I really liked what he said about fiction done right being truth.

May 21, 2010, 1:13am

I also want to say that I have greatly enjoyed this group. I think we may have to do it again, I am going to miss the lively discourse.

May 21, 2010, 6:06am

#273: I would not mind doing a group read of The Big Rock Candy Mountain, one of Stegner's that I have not read yet. Anybody else game?

May 21, 2010, 7:28am

I would like to, but not right away..... I'll lurk around and probably change my mind, knowing me.

May 21, 2010, 7:32am

We do not have to do it right away, Lucy. Maybe in the fall?

May 21, 2010, 8:22am

The Law of Nature and the Dream of Man

I like this last essay a lot. I could probably have something to say about every paragraph, but I won't do that this morning. I've been rather critical, both here and in my own mind as I'm reading him, of the fact that Stegner can't seem to get any perspective on the "lack" that he found in his beginnings. But I understand him, I really do. It makes a difference in who you are and who you think of yourself as capable of becoming if your parents didn't finish school or if you were constantly uprooted as a child, or, as Stegner says, "I never met a person with my surname, apart from my parents and brother, until I was past thirty; I never knew, and don't know now, the first names of three of my grandparents" (223). I sympathize with Stegner, because so much of the unrootedness of his past is my past as well. "Trying to make sense of an ordinary life" (223)--I really like that. But "I am still the person my first fifteen years made me" (224). Indeed. I'm a Westerner. No matter where I live, no matter if I never went back to the West, that part of me is a fact forever. I'm very glad there are writers like Stegner who are willing and able to articulate what that means.

I enjoyed this group read a whole lot--both the group and the read. This is the second one, back-to-back, that I've done in as many months, and I probably need a break from doing this for awhile. But if you do TBRCM, I'll surely be lurking around there and enjoying your comments.

May 21, 2010, 9:17am

I'd love to do another group read with you guys! And Big Rock Candy Mountain sounds like a great idea. I've been enjoying this experience so much, I've already ordered it along with Stegner's biography by Jackson Benson. I don't have to do it right away but would definitely like to do it his year.

Edited: May 21, 2010, 9:24am

I'd love to do another Stegner read in the fall.

Next week my life at the pool begins. Swim lessons for the younger ones and a long drive to the 50M pool for my son's swim team practice. That means beach books. You know, stuff you can read without risking forgetting you have kids in water.

edited because I'm too hasty with the enter button.

May 21, 2010, 9:45am

I'm in for a group read of The Big Rock Candy Mountain, although I may not be able to hold off until fall. :-)

May 21, 2010, 9:52am

I appreciate Stegner and you all very much! Thank you!!!! I don't think I would have read this one without you, and you definitely made a rich experience richer. That said, I suspect I could reach for *BRCM* in the fall; it has been sitting patiently on the shelf for 15 years or so - just Not Now!!!!!

Edited: May 21, 2010, 5:48pm

So Group Read some time in August or September maybe? I am definitely all for it.

I finished Where the Bluebird Sings early this morning and must say I really enjoyed the final section the most, although my favorite essay is the letter to his mother.

Edited for clarification

May 21, 2010, 10:11pm

Well, I finally finished Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs today and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Some of the things I noted in the Witnesses section were:

Stegner's comment on p. 138 that "the whole west . . . is arid country, as I've been reiterating ad nauseam for fifty years." Ad nauseam is how I felt about the repetitive essays in the Habitat section.

His paraphrasing of Robert Frost on p. 150 that a story "begins in delight and ends in wisdom."

I had never heard of George Stewart but now have two of his books on hold at the library. I liked Stegner's comment that "His books teach us who we are, and how we got to be who we are."

I also loved the essay on Norman Maclean and how fly-fishing was "a symbolic reflection of life." (p. 195) Also liked the reference to water "which he (i.e. Maclean) feels as the flow of time." Finally, in this essay, I loved the comparison of "shadow casting" to how Maclean structures A River Runs Through It.

In the essay on A Sense of Place, I liked his comment that "Complete independence, absolute freedom of movement, are exhilarating for a time but may not wear well." (p. 200) I also liked his references in this essay to Americans being "hooked on change" and having a "tradition of restlessness."

I thought his letter to Wendell Berry was remarkable and can only imagine how amazing it must have been for Berry to receive this letter from a former teacher.

In The Law of Nature, I liked his discussion of literature as a function of temperament and his comment that "I can only speak for my own, and after considerable aquaintance I have determined that my temperament is quiet, recessive, skeptical, and watchful." (p. 220)

My copy of the book had an Afterword by T.H. Watkins, the first Wallace Stegner Distinguished Professor of Western American Studies at Montana State University. He says about Stegner that "there are few novelists or short-story writers in our literature whose work is more completely wedded to natural landscapes . . . . It was almost as if he could not imagine writing something without that kind of linkage, and I believe that sense of connectedness is the key to both the man and the work." (p. 234)

Loved this book and this group!

May 22, 2010, 7:40am

Thanks for picking out some good moments to revisit --What have you got on hold? I am awaiting the arrival of Stewart's Earth Abides eagerly. The final comment is very important to -- the linkage to place -- in any kind of creative writing -- I think western writers can get credit for having put that front and center, Stegner towering among them.

May 22, 2010, 8:22am

For you Steinbeck fans, yesterday I received a really nice copy of The Long Valley, the collection of his short stories that contains that story "Flight." That was a pretty goofy translation we had from the internet. I still haven't read the story straight through, but if I were likely to read any of Steinbeck, I'd read these--short rather than long. Maybe work up to his longer stuff. Although actually, based on a very coherent review of TLV at LT, I would probably be more likely to try the stories of Tortilla Flat. The reviewer (and yes, I read reviews before I read the books--doesn't bother me at all, I appreciate the insight) says that these stories are dark and "distrubing" because Steinbeck seems to have no affection for these characters. Didn't someone say say that Steinbeck was writing these (or some of them--or one of them) outside of his mother's room when she was dying? Or did I make that up?

And Pat, thanks for the nice revisiting of Stegner.

May 22, 2010, 9:48am

>284 sibylline: Hi Lucy. I have Earth Abides and Names on the Land on hold. I figure I can read Names off and on while I finish up some other reading. I'm not sure I'll actually read Earth Abides right now but I wanted to see if it was something I'd be interested in reading in the future.

That linkage to place was something I really missed in another book I just finished, Innocent by Scott Turow. In his first book, Presumed Innocent, he spent alot of time giving you a sense of the place for the story and it added alot.

>285 labwriter: Becky, on p 148, Stegner talks about Steinbeck writing Flight, from what I can tell, outside the room his mother was dying in.

May 22, 2010, 10:01am

I agree with you, Pat. Turow was either taking shortcuts or being lazy or something in this new one--no sense of place, a real missed opportunity. It was one of the reasons I didn't like it as well as Presumed.

OK, thanks, then I didn't make it up--ha.

May 22, 2010, 11:28am

#283 - great summary!

My copy of the book had an Afterword by T.H. Watkins,
My copy had that as well. I was thinking as I read it that maybe Stegner is to Western writing what Frank Lloyd Wright is to architecture? Just a thought.

May 22, 2010, 7:59pm

#286: I read Earth Abides and really liked it a couple years back, Pat. I will be interested in seeing what you think of 'Names' - my local library has that one and it piqued my interest.

May 23, 2010, 12:42pm

#288 Jenn, I think that is an interesting comparsion (Stegner and FLW). It would have been an interesting collaboration if Stegner had ever had a house build by him.

#289 Stasia, I'm going to pick up "Names" at the library tomorrow--I'll let you know how it goes.

Edited: May 23, 2010, 1:01pm

>285 labwriter:: Becky, was the internet version of "Flight" abridged? You said it was "goofy." I was sure expecting it to be longer than it was.

Speaking of stories, I read Maclean's "Logging and Pimping..." story while I was in K.C. this week end. Pretty underwhelming when you compare it to "A River Runs Through It."

I rediscovered the Ivan Doig trilogy I've been wanting to read forever. It starts out with English Creek, but then moves on to these fantastic titles: Dancing at the Rascal Fair and Ride With Me, Mariah Montana. I'll read these books over the summer months and join the BRCM group whenever it gets started in the fall.

Edited for typo. I'm plum' wore out from those grandkids!

May 23, 2010, 1:20pm

>291 Donna828:. Yes, Donna, I was pretty sure the internet version of "Flight" was a translation, but it was impossible to know how true to the original it was. I guess "goofy" was a poor choice of words. It looks like it might all be there--it's hard to tell without making a study of it. And except for some turns of phrase, idioms, etc., it looks reasonably faithful to the original.

May 23, 2010, 6:23pm

>291 Donna828: Donna, what is BRCM group?
I own some Doig but just haven't gotten there yet. Oh well. Story of my life. I also ordered Ordeal by Hunger if I didn't say so, and surely it will be here sometime next week --- when I will likely catalogue it and put it on the shelf. Oh well.

May 23, 2010, 7:14pm

Peggy, that would be The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Sorry, just got lazy there and put it in the same paragraph with Ivan Doig. Has anyone else read him? It took me a long time to get that last book in the trilogy. I just hope it's good.

May 23, 2010, 7:31pm

>294 Donna828: - Are we both still here? Looks like it, Donna.

I have read Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig and I recall that it was wonderful. It was a long time ago, so it's time for a re-read and maybe finding English Creek, which I may have read back in the day, also.

I became interested in Doig's writing after a two week bicycle trip in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, including an interlude of horse packing over one of the adjacent mountain ranges, through lodge pole pine forests, and down into another valley, where our two wheeled vehicles were waiting for us along with a beautiful hot springs resort. Ah, the memories of Montana. Makes me sigh with rapture even now.

I missed the "Bluebird Singing" discussions because of the current business of my life, but maybe I will be able to join in on the Big Rock Candy Mountain group read when it happens later in the year. 'Hope so.


May 24, 2010, 10:01am

Oh! Of course, Donna. I'm such a doofus - especially when I am the world's #1 abbreviator with a gift for obscurity.

Oct 27, 2010, 5:46pm

hi how are you

Oct 27, 2010, 5:47pm

im new how douse this work

Oct 27, 2010, 5:53pm

#298: I have sent you a private message on your profile page to explain.