Wednesday, October 31, 2012

These Were My California Storytellers

"Western time now," Laura Ingalls Wilder noted in her letter to husband Almanzo when changing time zones on her train route from her home in Missouri as she documented the journey to visit daughter Rose in San Francisco where the Pan-Pacific International Exhibition was held in 1915. Laura's collection of letters was published in West from Home. Western time it did feel like as well on out honeymoon trip to California. Not just a change in hours but a change in pace, attitude, historical backgrounds shaping our identities and social differences.

Laura, whose Little House series was yet to come, struggled with how often she used the word beautiful in her letters to describe what she saw. Beautiful was a word that I would think of often. During her visit, the city was transformed from the 1906 earthquake and resulting fires that would destroy much of a city that seemed built overnight by the gold rush. Still, there were haunts of the past. Margot Patterson Doss writes in the introduction, "There were occasional vacant lots enclosed by wrought iron fences. In some were marble steps, leading up into thin air. Inez Irwin described them as "a little like meeting a ghost in a crowded street." I felt like I met a lot of ghosts here too.

Natalie Merchant, the upstate New York singer songwriter. Gold Rush Brides, her song with 10,000 Maniacs was with me, but I thought of her observations in "San Andreas Fault," from her first solo album Tigerlily in the context of the dreams the West offered but Mother Nature's harsh realities. I thought of San Francisco, a city built by the riches of gold, destroyed by fire, elemental forces at play.

"San Andreas Fault moved its fingers through the ground.
Earth divided, plates collided, such an awful sound.
San Andreas fault moved its fingers through the ground.
Terra cotta shattered, and the walls came tumbling down.
Oh promise land, what a wicked ground.
Build a dream, tear it down."

With our poorly battered East Coast still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, the duality of nature - its awe-inspiring, nurturing, giving side and its vengeful side - is on my mind. Steve and I lost an old oak tree, but consider ourselves lucky. Still, I think of how the Earth gives, but the Earth takes away.

Naturalist, conservationist, environmentalist, author, an American treasure, the great John Muir, who I knew far too little about until watching Ken Burns' extraordinary series on the National Parks: America's Best Idea, said,

"I only went out for a walk,
and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,
for going out, I found, was really going in."

Much about this trip was indeed about going out, and going in. Going out in Muir Woods not far from the city limits of San Francisco.

The first caretakers, a sign here in Yosemite National Park reminds me .While on this trip, the first presidential and vice presidential debate were held. The environment hasn't gotten a lot of attention, although I'll never understand why clean air, water and soil would ever take a back burner. Where our resources are concerned, I just hear a lot about taking. I liked a quote I read from Robert Redford in a book, "Yosemite Meditations,"

"I think the environment should be put in the category of national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise, what is there to defend?"

Seeds of Hope: The California Gold Rush Diary of Susanna Fairchild, by Kristiana Gregory, part of the Dear America series. While this diary was fictional, it gave a fascinating context of true events. Susanna talks of a bear and bull fight at the camps, fights which did take place. An interesting story in the historical notes section,

"The bull and bear fights that took place in early California provided jargon for Wall Street that is still used today. When the animals were brought into the ring, the bear was tethered to a chain. It would dig a hole several inches deep and lie down. From this hole, it would fight, either in prone or sitting position. The bull would stand. Thus, in America's financial centers, a bull market means stocks are going up, and a bear market means stocks are going down." 

At the local bookshop in the gold rush town of Columbia, I picked up A Columbia Diary, the real life diary of Clementine Brainard. I've read a few fictional diaries but this is the first actual diary I read. Clementine wrote in the first entry on October 19, 1853 of her intentions to keep journey during her sea journey but didn't. I brought a diary with me and had romantic notions of keeping it during my trip, and alas was too exhausted to write in it. I consider my blog a bit of a diary, one I haven't felt like writing in as much lately.

Clementine writes, "Do I ever have any thoughts that are worth being transferred to paper? I must be a singular individual.if I do not."

I'm so glad Clementine documented her thoughts, even though yes it feel voyeuristic to read them. Spoiler here if you want to read it yourself.  She writes of her husband's frequent ill health, speaks often about mail deliveries but doesn't elaborate much about what's in the letters, talks often about her faith, and speaks matter-of-factly when talking about death (maybe unsurprisingly seeing how common early death was). She bears her first child with barely any mention before and after of this event. Clementine's husband dies at 30 years of age and she remarries and has six more children, four of whom die in infancy. Walking around an old cemetery in Columbia, one cannot help but think of the hard lives people led and the progresses we made in medical care.

Alice Waters, who founded a national movement for local foods. Julia Child's story has been in my life a lot the last year or two, but what about Alice? Steve and I are still talking about the meal we savored in Berkeley, California at the cafe of Chez Panisse. On many meals on our trip here, we felt like someone just went to their back garden and whipped us up a feast.

Some weren't allowed to tell their stories. Banned books are displayed here at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco. Freedom of speech?

Always on road trips, unexpected storytellers find me, like favorite childhood storyteller Charles Schultz, who has a museum dedicated to him in Santa Rosa. At nearly 37 years of age, I still look forward each year to A Charlie Brown Christmas, and the soundtrack is one of my favorite holiday albums. The visit to the museum was my most charming stop, and how often can one go into a cafe and say with excitement, "One Peppermint Patty hot chocolate, please!" I'm sure somewhere Linus, this Halloween night, is waiting in a patch for the Great Pumpkin, and Mr. Schultz is smiling down on him.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Our Thrifty Wedding Behind Us, It's California, Here We Come

"You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round...The sky is round, and I have heard the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles for theirs is the same religions as ours...Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power  moves." - Black Elk (1863-1950), Oglala Sioux holy man.
I've been thinking a lot about Black Elk's words which I was reading while swaying back and forth in my rocking chair. My wedding is now officially filed into the "memories" drawer. Saturday afternoon, after a ceremony in Steve's church, we celebrated our union with about 30 loved ones in a garden party in the backyard of our home I shared news with you about many months ago. I thought about the circle of the full moon shining down on us this weekend, and of my rose gold wedding band, which has alternating circles and squares in it. I thought about the nest Steve and I are creating, for ours is the same as the birds, seeking shelter, love, and warmth. I'm so glad we got married at the start of fall, one of my favorite seasons which does indeed always come back again. Nothing like an apple in a fall, also a circle.

We were proud of our thrifty wedding. No loans were needed to pay for the event, no sleepless nights over big checks to write, no heavy burden on ourselves or our families. My mother and her neighbor did the flowers, my bouquet came from the fields of a a local farm (which they generously gave me and my sister for free), Steve's brother took the photos and his nephew did some videos, we played some music softly from satellite radio (neither of us are fans of loud music at events which so hinders conversation), we decorated with garden-themed finds from garage sales and thrift shops, and Steve, a chef, was proud to cook for his guests. We did hire a dishwasher (we're not that thrifty)! I did my own hair and makeup, and wore my dress from the Goodwill ($15!), sky blue shoes from an estate sale ($1), red earrings that reminded me of New Mexico ($8 from a thrift shop in NYC) and a  red silk painted orchid in my hair ($10) from a vendor at the Jazz Age Lawn Party.  Our favors were assorted seed packets which we hope our guests who took them will plant and watch them grow. The only thing I changed from my original plan was my outfit for the rehearsal dinner: I wore instead a yellow vintage blouse ($1, estate sale), white silk flower ($1, thrift shop), green skirt ($3, estate sale) and Hush Puppy shoes (just a few dollars, thrifted).

Many of guests generously gave to our honeymoon fund which we did instead of a registry. We are going to California, starting in San Francisco, off to Yosemite, the wine country, hopefully some gold rush towns. I'll be chasing the ghosts of beat poets and peace activists, John Muir (highly recommend Ken Burns'  national parks documentary to learn more), gold rush brides, Laura Ingalls Wilder (did you know a collection of her letters were published when she was at the world's fair in San Francisco in 1915?) I have the book with me for the trip, and it mentions the city during her time being surrounded by Sutro Forest, a great stand of eucalyptus trees planted by schoolchildren. I thought of the eucalyptus garland I had on my chair of my sweetheart table. A garland - another circle.

I'll be curious to see what ghosts seek me out on the trip, and nudge me to tell their stories. You know how much I do love a good story.

California, here I come!