Nature, Art,  Dabayóduweʔ

Renee and I went out east on the Truckee River and helped out on The Nature of Art yesterday. It’s a blend between a piece of art and a site for habitat restoration. The artists, Daniel McCormick and Mary O’Brien, were great people and knowledgeable and it was a treat to spend time with them. We learned to make willow wattles (bundles of willow that are the sculpture’s body) and planted some willows along its base. The sculpture itself was a long wave that reflected for me the shape of a fallen tree, the effect enhanced by a cottonwood skeleton at its head that the artists hope will one day attract nesting birds. It also will slow down water and eventually return to itself through the willows. Next we visited another sculpture-in-progress, this one an upside down y-shaped structure composed mostly of old dry cottonwood that extends down a bank and has log arms extending into the water. It will provide habitat for critters and then willows and there was scat showing that western pond turtles have been using it already.

Afterward, never having visited it before, Renee and I walked part of the trail running through the rest of the Nature Conservancy’s McCarran Ranch Preserve, a stretch of the river from near Tracy on the east to near Mustang in the west. It winds along the river and the restoration is pretty amazing given the descriptions that our host recounted from the beginning of the project. He said that when they began it was nothing but abandoned fields, leveled, overgrown in thick mats of tall white top. Now, under the occasional shade of still leafless giant cottonwoods we hiked through deep sagebrush and willow patches and passed a fair number of users, mostly fishers and bicyclists. One guy was fly fishing in the middle of the river with his very happy dog swimming alongside.

As part of research for another post I’ve been introduced to a bit of Washo vocabulary lately. Walking along the river, among so many remains of humanity’s continued reliance on this area as a route and a resource, I envisioned its human history: when the Washo were the main people along its banks, through emigrants and gold/silver seekers, to Wal-mart trucks and Tesla. I’d learned the name that was given to it by its most recent users (us)—the Truckee—but what about those who were here before, the Washo? (The names given to it by other earlier users are disappeared, dispersed forever.) I found the first, most likely version, dabayóduweʔ [Note: symbol at end is not a question mark, but a symbol representing a glottal stop] at the University of Chicago’s Washo project website via Wikipedia. I have also found another possibility, wahku wa’t’a, at the Truckee Donner Historical Society, Inc. site’s Chief Truckee page, but doesn’t seem as authoritative although that site had very interesting accounts of the naming of the Truckee, the most literary being that tro-kay is a Paiute word for “all right” that, when the tribal leader who became known as Truckee said it and then turned out to be right about sweet water to be found at dabayóduweʔ, it became what the newcomers called him and he took to it as a name. These tiny pinpricks of investigation send the feelers for more writing, more exploring.

Nature and art and the names of places, watching birds and cutting willows to make living art. Seeing landscape transform, seeing it cut into the world, the detritus, the memory of humanity’s imprint dumped, piled, leveled everywhere, but underneath, the river channel still leaving a mark. Mary O’Brien told us about a photo that had stuck with her as they planned the project. It was from the early 1990s when the whole area was abandoned and choked by invasive weeds. Below the superficial imprint of “history” the aerial shot showed an outline of the original channel. Like a shadow below, in the same way that dabayóduweʔ is there. The Washoe people have inhabited the Great Basin for 6,000 years, and, while their names are unknown maybe, they still have the power to fire the mind. A great day talking with and helping people who are using creativity, imagination, knowledge and beauty to help the river transform afresh.

A Day in the Humboldts

A little hidden window rock

On Sunday, Renee and I set out to climb Star Peak, the highest point in the Humboldt Mountain Range and an “ultra-prominence” peak, with more than 5,000 feet of prominence (don’t ask me to explain exactly what that is, but more or less–I think–the distance from bottom to top with no intervening peaks). Either way it’s been one we’ve been wanting to explore for a while and so were very excited to check it out. We approached from the east side of the range via Star Canyon. First off, it is just such a treat to see a green spring in Nevada; secondly, the bottom of the canyon was gorgeously in bloom adorning  the crags of what was once a major silver mining area turned ghost town in the space of about 5 years.

“Downtown” Star City

We climbed up along the remains of Star City and past what seemed to be innumerable tailings piles from what I imagine must have been the Sbeba mine.


How to Read the American West: Indie Bookstores and a Day Out in Reno


Reno bike day fun day. Headed from the museums up into the Carson Range foothills for a baby shower/bbq.


Our Independent Bookstore Day goodies and purchases, including How to Read the American West in the foreground.


A dose of Reno pride on Holcomb Street as we ride by. Much food for thought after beginning my reading.

This past Saturday, Renee organized a full Reno day for us, we left the house at 8:15 headed first stop for Sundance Bookstore, which was celebrating National Independent Bookstore Day with a free goodie bag giveaway to the first 25 customers. We were officially first, arriving about 10 minutes before the store opened (although not by much). I love browsing in Sundance and indie bookstores in general. In contrast to a chain store, where I feel drowned and need to just get what I’m looking for and get out, a friendly bookstore like Sundance invites browsing and reflection. Browsing, one book caught my eye, How to Read the American West: A Field Guide by William Wyckoff. I’d never heard of the author before, but I’m very interested in interpretations of landscape and so I snapped the book up (and a signed copy to boot!).

From Sundance (after a detour for tea and coffee in the neighborhood), we rode up to UNR and took part in Free Museum Day. We visited the Natural History Museum, the Keck Geology Museum, the Anthropology Museum, the Library Special Collections display and the Nevada Historical Society. The collection (and the live animals!) at the Natural History Museum were great, but my imagination was more caught by the geology museum, set in an old building and filled with dazzling (literally in many cases) specimens from Nevada and around the world, and the Nevada Historical Society, especially its Reno exhibit.


A Reno divorce era newspaper article, with an oddly worded caption and a divorcee riding a cow into a bar, six guns blazing.


The Phone Booth, great neon sign at the Nevada Historical Society.

From there, onward up through subdivisions built into the slopes of the Carson Range to a baby shower, then back down the hill to Craft Wine & Beer‘s Txakoli Festival. Afterward we were pretty beat and had a leisurely afternoon ride home. Even though we’d been on our bikes since early morning, we weren’t quite ready to call it a day and so we rode out our neighborhood dog walking site/elementary school and sat along the old farmland beyond the school and watched the moonrise over Hidden Valley and the Virginia Range.

I’ve been reading in How to Read the American West and it is a really interesting and a bit more rigourous, less metaphysical take on landscape that my earlier explorations, but an interesting read and what I think will be eye-opening in many ways. Here are a few of the lessons from the first chapter that have been giving me food for thought. I hope to develop and apply these principles to later posts, but for now I’ll just list what the author gives as his “Tips for Navigating Western Landscapes”:

  • Appreciate the role of time.
  • Recognize that landscapes are expressions of the interplay between nature and culture.
  • Follow the path of water.
  • Recognize the importance of scale.
  • Pay attention to the edges in the landscape.
  • Develop an eye for measuring landscape density.
  • Ask who controls the landscape.
  • Make connections between western places and the cultures that shaped them.
  • Understand how the modern latinization of the West is the region’s most extreme recent cultural transformation.
  • Visit vernacular landscapes.
  • Inventory symbolic landscapes and representations of places.
  • Remember that what you see depends on the experiences you bring with you, the questions you pose, and the details you emphasize.

Note: These are quotes, but this is not a bulleted list in the book. This is the order in which they are given. See pages 5–15. Full citation: Wyckoff, William. How to Read the American West: A Field Guide (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014).


Night sky as we unwinded from the day. I’m really looking forward to applying lessons and insights from my new book into my “reading” of landscapte.

I find landscape to be fascinating and have been exploring it in my mind (and physically) for a long time. It will be a good exercise I think to have a more systematic approach to what I think about when I think about it.

May Day and I, or My May Days

Today is May Day, the International Workers’ Day. I’ve never really known too much about it other that it celebrates workers. That has always been enough for me. For many years I’ve tried to take the occasion to spend some time in nature (so not that much different than how I celebrate every day that I can), although I always tried to set aside some time for reflection on the nature of wage labor and productive time use, which don’t seem to match up to me.

This day is completely officially and mostly culturally ignored in the US, but it had its origins here, in Chicago, where it was established as a day to support the 8-hour workday on May 1, 1884. In 1886, a May Day general strike led to the famous Haymarket Massacre and aftermath, in which 4 anarchist labor organizers were executed despite there being no connection established between them and a bomb thrown at police. In 1889, the Second International declared May Day an international holiday to commemorate Haymarket Square and to support the 8-hour day. The official US response was to wipe the day from the books, although for a time May 1 was officially declared Law and Order Day. That apparently didn’t fly, and now it passes almost completely unobserved in the US although it is an official holiday in 66 countries.

It continues to be an important day for activism, however, complete with sensationalist media accounts and police responses. The above link from the Los Angeles Times, a paper famous for its virulent anti-unionism demonstrates the fear still felt in the face of popular mobilization against corporate interests.

In honor of the day, here are some of my more memorable moments on May Day—my May Days:


Branch skeleton, or Communist Propaganda? May Day has suffered in the US due to its association with anarchism, socialism, and communism. It became an important state holiday in the former Soviet Union. May 1, 2005


There is rarely a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the world’s workers, something as true today as it was in the late 19th century when May Day came into being. May 1, 2005


“Workers of the world, unite!” The famous rallying cry of worker’s associations, including the International Workers of the World. May 1, 2009