UP BEAR CREEK | Riding the Reading Bandwagon
by Art Goodtime
Jul 05, 2013 | 2010 views | 0 0 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BOOKS … I know. I’m old school. I love books. Real bound paper with pages that you can turn. It’s been a lifelong failing. Something I inherited as a curious young man in those pre-computer days when encyclopedias were the source of all knowledge on the home front. That and libraries, where I’d wander the stacks checking out books at random … These days I surf the net, check Facebook and am actually hoping to get a smartphone … But I still read. Below are a few of the recent books that captivated me.

 

LIVING THE SKY … Subtitled The Cosmos of the American Indian by Ray A. Williamson (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1984), this book was loaned to me by my friend, Hartley Bloomfield, who shares my interest in Native American cosmology. It’s a grand survey of astronomical knowledge of all kinds of traditional peoples who called Turtle Island home … Much of it was familiar. I lived in Montana as a Vista volunteer in the Sixties, and visited the Medicine Wheel in the Big Horn Mountains. I visited Travis Hudson in Santa Barbara and read his amazing Crystals in the Sky book of Chumash astronomy 40 years ago when I lived in California. And living in the Four Corners, I’ve read about and visited petroglyph sites and ruins of traditional cultures that incorporated the sky as part of their worldviews … I had to restrain myself from underlining and commenting in the margins – an old reading habit of marking up books that I’ve had all my life (since this was a borrowed book). But this is a great overview of traditional sky wisdom from all part of the land mass that’s become the United States. Recommended.

 

THE DARK GNU … Subtitled And Other Poems by Wendy Videlock (Able Muse Press, San Jose CA, 2013), this is a dazzling book, illustrated by the poet in the most amazing alcohol ink illustrations. The poems have the jaunty rhymes of Mother Goose with the wisdom of Laozi chiseled into them, like bas relief koans … Wendy is a master of the unexpected lyric that pleases and teases and blows your house down … This is one of those great volumes that makes an unrivaled gift – beautiful almost beyond belief and perfect for reading aloud to a pack of young animals or meditating on quietly under a tree in your backyard … “And odd little book for drifters and dreamers, the tygers and sages, and the children of all inconceivable ages” … Highly recommended.

 

OTTO MEARS AND THE SAN JUANS … By E.F. Tucker (Western Reflections, Montrose, 2003), this is a balanced biography that treats Mears critically as well as heroically. He was clearly a man of his times. An amazing man. A flawed man … As an immigrant Russian Jew, there’s no question he did amazing things, building toll roads and railroads into some of the most treacherous mountain terrain in the country. He got things done, where others often failed. His drive and determination were boundless. He learned Ute, at a time when indigenous people were discriminated against, and became a friend to Chief Ouray … But his main goal seems always to have been money. Not an inappropriate goal, but it colored everything he did. Including his morals. He made and lost fortunes and did all his work in the hopes, always, of getting rich. He bribed tribal members to wrest treaty lands away from the Utes to feather his own nest, and had a hand in the forced removal of the Uncompahgre Utes from the Western Slope – which helped him make more money. He used political influence to lobby for projects that benefited him first, and maybe the public … Tucker gives us the man, warts and all, whose stained glass image graces the Colorado capitol, the Pathfinder. That he was a jack-of-all-trades who worked alongside his men on amazing projects, like the Rio Grande Southern that opened up Telluride to the world, was admirable. That he had an almost lifetime appointment to a state agency that gave away political patronage was shameful … Aside from a nice cover, the book is cheaply set and designed, the illustrations are uniformly amateur, and Western Reflections is notorious for never promoting their books, so it’s not surprising I just found a copy at Taz’s Dolores Food Market (Unexpected Gourmet) with its racks of used books. Tucker does a solid job, has good reference notes, and writes cleanly. Recommended.

 

EMUS LOOSE IN EGNAR … Subtitled Big Stories from Small Towns by Judy Muller (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2011), this is a book I’ve been meaning to read since it came out. Especially since Norwood is Judy’s home (where her brother John Mansfield settled years ago). And she writes about Norwood (it’s Book Burning episode with Rudolfo Anaya’s classic Bless Me Ultima) and about Egnar and the Dove Creek Press (one of the few papers I subscribe to as an avid fan of editor Doug Funk’s weekly column, Phunque’s Desk) … Unbelievably, she even writes about Hardin, Montana, and the Crow Indian Reservation where I served as a Vista (1965-66). And about the Anderson Valley Advertiser, a flaming radical paper from California’s Mendocino County that I once subscribed to. And our own curmudgeonly Jim Stiles of Moab, who’s made enemies of almost everyone he ever befriended (me included) … The stories of small-town editors writing truth to power, getting fired, or threatened, or having their paper burned down – it’s a great collection of all the reasons why community journalism is something very different from the kind of journalism practiced in our cities. Some of her small-town editors and publishers are clearly heroes and heroines … Muller’s a great writer. She pursues her idea all across the country, and the result is a fine read and good expansion of what journalism means to a democracy. Hat’s off. And highly recommended.

THE TALKING GOURD

 

What color is the night?

 

It is not Bible-black, in fact,

as Thomas suggests,

but Hooker’s green perhaps-

the saffron airglow

and Hokusai’s great wave

of Prussian blue,

a lonely hue carefully laid

over the barrel of a mare.

 

One note at a time,

a sad melody tinged up

from a toy piano,

the muted tones of a mouse jaw

over a soft, hazy shuffle

of the sun’s dust.

 

Short huffed breaths

and the shifting of hooves,

the warmth of the mare

in the light of the moon.

 

-Kyle Harvey

2013 Mark Fischer Prize winner

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