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 (the epigraphs to this book, not epigraphs—the quotes that open books—in general) until one of my bosses, the disconnected one, but the one who was also a pallbearer at this author’s funeral (a very early and unjust funeral, at just forty-one, two years younger than I am now), 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 and Core in Amaia Gabantxo’s masterful translation, but the literal translation is more like “stone and town/people/country”).

The search started. I wrote the book’s editor, Jon Kortazar, and asked about them and he sent me a PDF with the epigraphs (and some dedications, and a subtitle, which my boss didn’t mention, but clearly it was the epigraphs that had caught his young, excited, volatile attention).

OK, an aside is in order here. These poems are just, you know, poems, but they were very important for a generation of Basques. They were new, modern, poems in a language that was at that time illegal, mostly untaught, fraught with danger—and I’m sure excitement—in the beginning of the waning years of a dictator. So they are poems, but they were more than poems. 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.

maldan-behera-1The first is from Nietzsche, as is not to hard to Google. 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 all unfounded and probably unintended readings (something I want to tell every author, and myself, is that try as you might you can never help how you are read), 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 strikes 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 the words of others in four different languages and from four different eras. To me this is a true testament of the beauty of humanity and our power to rise when all else falls. 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.

Water, water, art

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The braided hump in the lower left of the photo appears to be one of the Nature of Art installations that Renee and I volunteered on in 2015. At least I want it to be! 

We went out and walked along the Truckee River from the western end of McCarran Ranch yesterday to soak in a little bit of the water that is flowing into the heart of the Great Basin, and will maybe recharge our aquifers and build our water tables (I’m not expert, this is just what I hope will happen), and refresh our hearts.

 

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Volunteering with artists Mary O’Brien and Daniel McCormick in 2015 (they are the people on the left). The photo above was taken from somewhere near the cottonwoods in the distance. 

McCarran Ranch has been the site of extensive, well, first landscape restructuring to straighten the river, and then, more recently, landscape restructuring to restore the river’s natural flow patterns, part of which mean diffusing the water out and slowing it down at times of high water flow. A part of this landscape work involved the Nature of Art, which Renee and volunteered for and I’ve written about before here and more briefly here.

 

The first impression of walking into the western end of the McCarran Ranch is that the work they have done is paying off. From the quick channel dropping water straight into the preserve, it almost immediately becomes diffused and spread out across the whole floodplain. While this is certainly no scientific observation, it seemed pretty clear that the work was doing what it was intended to do (we were also all the way across the plain from the main channel, so again this is just anecdotal).

Then walking along we saw an elongated hump out on across one of the slower moving channels. With the high water it was hard to say for sure, but we were fairly convinced that it was one of the Nature of Art installations, the first one that we volunteered on helping making willow wattles (written about in the post linked above). Whether it really was or not, it made us feel so good to see that and believe it. To believe in the power of people coming together to make a difference in our world, and in the power to revision a world in a different way that combines beauty and respect, and to see WATER!!!

Snowshoe’n Form

Making trails in the snow.

It has been so nice to have snow this year, not least (although certainly neither most) because it has given us a chance to go out snowshoeing a number of times in great conditions. And I’m sure there will be more. On a recent Sunday, I went up Thomas Creek. It was a nearly perfect after-snowfall day with little flurries blowing through all afternoon, and even on the main trail I got to make fresh tracks for myself.Now, when ya gotta toot yur horn ya gotta toot it BIG TIME. So I’m gonna go way out on a limb here and announce, loud and clear, that I firmly believe that I have something to offer to the world when it comes to snowshoeing. I’m not saying I’m the only one, but judging on the tracks I see around, I’m definitely in the minority. See, people treat snowshoeing and walking in the snow with pasties pasted firmly on your footsies. And they try to walk normally in snowshoes. But you can’t walk normally in snowshoes. The width of the shoe keeps you from using your hips correctly. In my case, when I first started, I came home from a long day and realized that my hips hurt much more than they should have. I thought about that gait and realized that the unnatural gait had strained me. So the next time I went I tried to figure out how I could reduce that strain. And now you’re gonna hear what I came up with.

Snowshoeing is much more like slow dancing in the snow than walking. And even more so, it’s like walking the catwalk in the snow. In slow motion, well, in motion that won’t get me panting, I lengthen my stride and try to really sashay my hips so that instead of having two distinct tracks in the snow, I have a wavy single track.

A tale of two trails.

This works best in fresh snow, and with fairly short snowshoes. But let me tell you, I think this method of snowshoeing is first off way more fun and artful that trudging in the snow, that it saves a lot of hip pain, and that it provides a better and more reasoned activity.

And don’t hesitate to strut your stuff on the snow-catwalk!

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.

Cedarville Days and another account of Massacre Lake

Above Fandango Pass in Modoc National Forest in the Warner Mountains.


Have spent this long holiday weekend at a friend’s family’s second home in Cedarville, California. It is near and dear to my heart and a place that Renee and I tend to spend a good bit of time exploring around. It has been a really fantastic weekend spending time with friends new and old and coming even closer to this special place. I know that John C.  Frémont was the first Anglo to write about this place and so did a little research in which I randomly found another, quite varied account of the events that happened at Massacre Lake that I wrote about previously:

One of a large party of California-bound emigrants passing through Nevada near the present California State line found what he thought was gold bearing quartz. This being about the time of the great California gold rush when men’s thoughts were permeated with dreams of the fabulous wealth of Western hills, groups of the emigrants straggled while searching for further evidence of the precious metal. Paiute Indians attacked the disorganized party in force and in a fight of several days duration; forty- men were killed, besides a number of women and children. Less than two-thirds of this big party got through, minus most of their livestock and personal possessions. Massacre Lake in this section owes its name to this running fight with the Indians and to the lives lost in other surprise Indian attacks in the same vicinity.

The northern Warner Mountains, looking toward Oregon.

The Rises and Falls of the Truckee

The Truckee at flood stage West of Reno.


We had a very exciting night in Reno and Sparks last night and into today with the Truckee rising to flood level with heavy rain high in the mountains on top of snow. It’s a weather phenomenon that brings pretty regular floods to the Truckee Meadows and other similar mountain and basin landscapes in our region. We stayed pretty close to home yesterday, our location is rather near the flood plain as it extends south from the where the Truckee enters the canyon south across the UNR farms. 

Our feeder road, Rio Poco, became Rio Mucho last night. Here during a brief lull in the rain.


There was some flooding on our main feeder road, especially early in the day when I’m guessing a culvert must have been blocked. We walked out in the evening and it is extradordinarily stunning to see the power of water, especially when we’ve been in a drought for a few years now. 

The periodic rises and falls of the Truckee are something I’ve always known about, but I thought I’d do a little more digging on them and share any tidbits I found. The most interesting article I found was at a Tahoe-based site stormking.com, with an article “Floods in the Driest State.” In the winter of 1889-1890, a chinook melted snow and flooded the Carson River Valley with debris. Ranchers had to dynamite ice near Gardnerville to open the waterways. The winter of 1906-1907 was particularly active in both northern and southern Nevada. Las Vegas was for a time completely cut off and running low on food supplies. Meanwhile in northern Nevada there was chicanery, shotguns, and a flood surge that carried away bridges and entire houses. One rancher left his house, but wasn’t able to take along his dog. He returned in a canoe to find his home flooded but his pup safe and sound, atop the family piano! There are many more stories such as this at the above mentioned site which is well worth the read. 

Of course, famously, the flood of 1997 “created” the Sparks Marina, which had previously been a gravel pit (and superfund site). 

Well as the waters recede we look toward the next rise and fall of the Truckee.