"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?"
"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."
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.