A story about epigraphs

I just had an adventure with some epigraphs in a book I’ve been working on. I didn’t even know they existed  until one of my bosses, one who was also a pallbearer at this author’s funeral (a very early and unjust funeral, at just forty-one), pointed out that they were missing from our impending publication of one Gabriel Aresti’s most important publications Maldan behera (Downhill), to be published together with Harri eta herri (Rock & Core in Amaia Gabantxo’s masterful translation).

They had inadvertently hadn’t made the typeset pages and I hadn’t even missed them! The search started, a very easy search to resolve, the book’s editor, Jon Kortazar sent me a PDF with the epigraphs (and some dedications, and a subtitle, which my boss hadn’t mentioned). Clearly it was the epigraphs that had caught his young, excited, volatile attention.

OK, an aside is in order here. These poems are beautiful poems, but they meant much more for a generation of Basques. They were new poems in a language that was at that time illegal, mostly untaught, fraught with danger—and I’m sure excitement—in the middle of the dictatorship. They were like, say, imagine Allen Ginsburg in a state in which your people had just recently, in your parent’s lifetimes, been bombed by the world’s first-ever terror bombing with planes loaned to the rebellion by Hitler and Mussolini. And poems written in a language Aresti learned as an adult, a forbidden language, a language outlawed.

His epigraphs, when they appeared, were in four other languages. They were unattributed. Some were religious although I know that Aresti was an atheist. They were absolutely beautiful. And they spoke to today. Here is an image of the original sent to me by the editor.

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The first is from Nietzsche, as is not to hard to Google. I’m not strong on philosophy and I tend to think of Nietzsche as an asshole, as the frat-boy-who-got-into-bong-hits philosopher, and you know all that superman shit. I know this is much unfounded and probably due to unintended readings, but it is my impression of the guy. So you can imagine my delight when I looked up the translation of Aresti’s epigraph and found this beautiful delight: “Ich bebe kein Almosen. Dazu bin ich nicht arm benug.” There are many translations of Also Sprach Zarathustra, but they all work for this this little piece, “I give no alms. I’m not poor enough.”

It was followed by a quote from the Latin bible, the only bible for generations of Catholics. The bible has no single translation, more like threads, and this is a translation of translation that happened a thousand years ago, so there is nothing sure about it, but its a beautiful little piece of language: “Ego sum vitis, vos palmites,” which is translated very much, hard to not be in this case, but is, in the case you want to search in English, from John:15: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (taken from first hit of my Google search, some random bible site), but which I much prefer in the Google Translate version, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

Next is in English already, from T. S. Eliot, “There is no danger from us, and there is no safety in the Cathedral.” This comes from his play Murder in the Cathedral. I don’t know Eliot’s work well, this was a play he wrote in opposition to rising Fascism, but I don’t know much more.

And then the Spanish epigraph, from the love poems of Pedro Salinas, “estoy al borde mismo de tu sueño.” I don’t know if this has a regular translation, but it barely needs one: “I am on the very edge of your dream.”

But what really moves me more than anything is that this poet, writing in the late 1950s, fifteen or more years before the dictator’s death, and in a condition of the prohibition of his own language, chose as his guiding lights words from four different languages and four different eras. To me this is a true testament of the understanding of humanity and of hope for the future. I just hope this tendency prevails among all of us.

Connections in Oregon’s tallest town

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One of many of Lakeview’s welcoming tall cowboys. 

Renee and I felt honored to be invited to present the Basin and Range Project to the Northwest Basin and Range Synthesis Ecosystem Symposium the past couple of days in Lakeview, Oregon (which has the distinction of being Oregon’s highest elevation town) hosted by the Great Basin Landscape Conservation Cooperative. It was really interesting to participate in the symposium’s panels and activities, which focused on the connectivity of landscape and ecological processes. We really believe that the Basin and Range Project has a lot of opportunity to contribute to making people fall in love with these areas that we love so much and to inspire them to champion them.

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Also doesn’t hurt that our motel has a natural hot springs pool!

There have been so many really interesting and informed conversations at the symposium and I feel like were lucky to be able to take part in them with a lot of people, representing a really wide spectrum of people charged with and active in preservation of wild spaces and public land. It is really refreshing to take part in this symposium in the northern part of the basin and range, which is near and dear to us in a lot of ways, but also is one of the largest pieces of intact ecosystem in the lower forty-eight of the United States.

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Driving up along 395 along the Warner Mountains.

I was lucky enough to talk to Jen Ballard of the Great Basin Bird Observatory, who presented a really fascinating presentation on bird transects she had done in the Pine Forest and Black Rock Ranges, which featured pictures from Leonard and Chicken creeks and even had a thank you to the Montero family! She shared her love for birds with us and really deep knowledge and I really hope that we have a chance to volunteer with them in the future!

Last night we had dinner with the symposium’s keynote speaker, Michael Branch, writer and UNR English professor, aside from turning out that we know a lot of people in common (not least, his former student and our friend Paul Bogard whose second book, The Ground beneath Us is high on my reading list right now), we also really connected about writing, life, our feelings about the environment and more. Then Michael read from his book Raising Wild, which I have to confess I did not know about before, but after hearing the stories from his great reading will also soon be in my hands as well as his forthcoming book, Rants from the Hill. 

After the reading a group of us continued the conversation on all sort of topics into the night. We got home around 11 just still full of a great day. As I was drifting off to sleep I remembered something that we had joked about with Michael at dinner, that, sharing friends, working at the same university, and being interested in so many of things, it had taken going to Lakeview, Oregon to actually meet and talk. But it seemed fitting, in a way, that of all places, these connections came in the tallest town in Oregon.

Clarence Darrow and the defense of thought against ignorance

Clarence Darrow has long been a hero of mine, ever since reading Irving Stone’s now-out-of-print biographical novel Clarence Darrow for the Defense when I was boy. I went on to read Darrow’s autobiography probably in high school or early college and haven’t read anything since, but he has always remained for me the ideal of someone who believed strongly in ideas, intelligence and reason in the face of reality-ignoring existence.

I’ve been thinking  about Darrow a lot lately, and how he would react to the current state of the United States. Darrow first rose to national prominence as a union lawyer, and was involved in some of the most important labor events of US history including the Haymarket bombing, the Pullman strike, the bombing of the Los Angeles Times, and much much more. After the LA Times bombing trial, which went very badly for Darrow as he was accused and tried for trying to bribe the jurors (although the history remains murky, but one biographer I read thought at least he might have done it, but with the mood of capital against labor in those days, any sensationalistic account would have been taken up, so it’s hard to say). After that trial, Darrow left strictly union causes. His probably most famous case was the Scopes monkey trial, in which he defended a young Tennessee teacher against charges of teaching evolution, which was then against the law in that state. His defense of evolution, and reason, is one of the most eloquent expressions of human intelligence I can imagine, although according to the internet some spectators thought he was cruel to poor William Jennings Bryan. (In fact Bryan, who had been a populist candidate for president and was deeply religious, died five days after the trial.)

Thinking about Darrow and my lifelong hero worship of him made me realize that i needed to do more reading and research on the man. There is nothing sacrosanct in the world, and all needs to be questioned. So I’ve started with the Internet, which, in the case of someone like Darrow, is highly suspect depending on the motives of the writer (for example the Wikipedia article on Darrow is, in my opinion, a piece of shit). But there are some interesting things, including this amazingly relevant quote, from the Leopold and Loeb trial, which was an amazing forshadowing of the future involving rich idleness, thrill killing, and media persecution (taken from this really interesting article):

“I saw a dark vision of the future this morning,” Darrow wrote to Parton . . . “This is all so shocking but, at once, I sense a strange new era. Life will become cheap and tawdry, driven by a lust for sensation and mass stupidity. Man has never been a noble beast but, now, our understanding and mercy will be tested to their limits.”

This is just the beginning of a project that will take more than one blog post, (and much more than just reading the Internet), I think Darrow is standing up well to the test of time: he might have bribed a jury, but even if that was the case you can be sure the corporations were doing worse; he was a womanizer, but he believed in free love; he made money from his trials, but he also did a lot of pro bono work and always put the defense of ideas above the love of money. He was a founding supporter of the NAACP and defended blacks against white racism and violence; and he defended science and reason against blindness and ignorance. So warts and all he’s looking pretty good to me, including this tidbit from an interview with a Darrow biographer:

After the monkey trial he was without a doubt the most famous trial lawyer in America. He could have commanded titanic fees from any corporation in America; they would have loved to have him. And instead, he used his fame to go to Detroit and represent for $5,000 over nine months a group of African Americans who had been trapped in a house by a racist mob at a time when the city was whipped into a hateful frenzy by the Ku Klux Klan. [The homeowner, an African American physician named Ossian Sweet, had just bought the house in a white neighborhood; when the mob stoned his house, some men in the house returned fire with guns, killing a white neighbor. The 11 men in the house were charged with murder.]

So I am starting a thread on this blog called What would Clarence Darrow do? And in it I might discuss topics of the day or my continuing research into Darrow’s life. All motivated with an eye toward inquiry and open mindedness, and if this journey takes me to finding Darrow was a piece of shit, well then so be it. Because knowledge is always better than ignorance. Something I believe Darrow would have appreciated.

Gettin’ started on NaNoWriMo

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Well, “that happens in November,” you say. But one of my strongest impetuses to get start writing again, and to starting this iteration of the “dan blog,” was my being in National Novel Writing Month this past November. And, so, as part of returning to the writing life, I am going to occasionally update Overland Passages on my fiction writing progress.

Get on with the story, Dan! I have participated in NaNoWriMo four times and am 2-2. Only once was a crash and burn though, but really 2-2 only means nothing if they just sit around and do nothing. But the future is the key. So here are my NaNoWriMo entries in order from oldest to latest:

Landing. Two sisters take their demented father for a last visit back to the long lost family ranch. Along the way they run into a cyclist who is just slowly pedaling into the future.

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Nano Reno. A picaresque in the style of Cervantes’s El colloquio de los perros, in which a small dog a la Coco is launched on a picaresque journey that brings her to Reno.

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The Ballad of Ray Gone. Ray Gone is living a quiet life, stealth camping in the Carson Range and watching the jets go by, when a backpack of money and a pistol fall in his lap and things start to get hairy.

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Where I Am. A man decides to begin walking through a landscape that is entwined in him.

So what happened above. Well, with Landing, the idea was from a dream, and I am very unsure that I treated dealing with a demented parent the way I would want to write it. But it has material for sure, and my first project needs to be to get back to reading it again. Nano Reno, this could have been a winner, but I had a file problem that took the wind out of its sales (and it’s still missing text). But I will always love this story. The title is unfortunate though, trying to make a play on NaNoWriMo is a not a good idea, but I love this story (and I have to say I like its “cover” the best). I don’t know if anyone else would, but that doesn’t matter because I do. On The Ballad of Ray Gone, things were going OK until he got down into town where he was supposed to meet the noir femme fatale, but she was so flat and stilted that the whole thing fell apart. And on Where I Am, never really got a title, but I really enjoyed writing it and I feel that when I do get back to it, at the very least it will have some material. But overall, I don’t know, it’s just too soon.

So I’m gonna read Landing and I’m gonna go back to Currently-Untitled-Formerly-Nano-Reno. To sweeten the pot a bit for my readers, here’s an excerpt from Landinga_brother_comes_home. I made the PDF when I was just learning InDesign, so that’s why it looks as “official” as it does, it really is just a draft. If you read it and want to make comments, I would love that (well, most likely). Please leave them in the comments section.

So if these are just drafts, that I haven’t even mostly read, why do they have covers, you ask. Well, NaNoWriMo says that your chances of winning go way up if you make a cover, and I enjoy designing them, so that’s where they come from. They were all designed on my iPhone with a program called Typic.

Going Home to the Library 

We recently visited the Nevada Room at Winnemucca Library. This place ignited my lifelong love of libraries.


On a recent Saturday we went up to Winnemucca and had the opportunity to visit the Winnemucca branch of the Humboldt County Library in order to look up some information from a history of Nevada for another post. 

The library was a special place for me as a child. On our trips to town from the ranch my mother would just leave me there and I would spend hours perusing the aisles of books. Magical to me. 

The library staff all knew me and I’d get stern talking to about my invariably late returned books and smiles and laughter and kindness. I don’t have a lot of childhood memories, but the library is the keeper of many of those there are. 

Thanks library and here’s to you serving to ignite the love of knowledge of countless more generations of young Nevadans!