I have had such an unexpected reaction to my dad’s death: I could not, for weeks, sit down to read. I could not concentrate on more than a few sentences on a page. In fact, I began to hate it, loathe it, “having to do it.” Was this grief and why was it affecting me this way?
Reading has been effortless and one of my greatest loves since I was a kid. It has been my refuge, my savior, my “figure outer” of pain or confusion and my voyage, my journey to great adventures of the mind. I grew up in a reading household; and after he retired and to the end of his life my dad read every afternoon. My mom belongs to two book clubs and they shared books and thoughts about what and who they were reading.
I never expected, even thought about, how this might affect me, but every time I picked up a book after Dad died, my thoughts went to the table he read at every afternoon, shutting himself away upstairs for a few hours. I never thought about this image all the years of his life, but it was all I could see in my mind after he died.
I have been a little scared, wondering if I would ever pick up a book again. I know that sounds terribly dramatic, but the whole experience was so unforeseen….
But last Sunday as I was sitting in the living room my eyes moved to the biography of Edith Wharton I was thrilled to find several months ago and picked it up. In the quiet of the afternoon I fell into the great life and adventures of this writer whom I have wanted to know more about. What a relief to lose track of time in a book as I was used to!
Although not a very articulate description, grief is weird and awkward. And while I have had other family members and close friends die, this has been the hardest and has affected me differently.
Time. Yes. I know….But oh, it feels so good to be reading and writing again!
Have any of you ever had a situation where you couldn’t read?
Today, April 21st, is ‘John Muir Day’ (1838-1914). This Scotland born/US immigrant, who came here as a child and fell in love with Nature has had a big impact on the protection and conservation of this land.
His legacy is especially important now as the current administration in Washington moves to gut and cut laws and regulations protecting and managing the environment Muir lived for. It is alarming that after so many decades of educational as well as theological discourse on the connectedness of all living things we are willing to relax and abolish standards that would protect Nature, this sacred Creation, now and for the future.
2017 is also the bicentennial of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), who, as well, impacted and personalized our knowledge and relationship with Nature. There are conferences and symposia going on all year in celebration of his life and work.
I want to mark this time in my own way by challenging myself to read and ponder some of Thoreau’s books, essays and poems. As the Boston Globe stated in an article from early January of this year, “Why Thoreau Still Matters,” I hope to assess this for myself. Like John Muir, Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, Aldo Leopold and so many others for whom Nature is the touchstone of life, does Thoreau still matter for us in the 21st century when that touchstone is slowly obliterated with each passing day? Or will works that ponder, plead, and describe the environment and our bond come to exist only in books because the reality has become meaningless literally going the way of the dodo bird?
This is, for me, a call to arm myself with the foundation of a past that still matters. And maybe for you, too. Can these words move us to what the writers felt that will not only get us outside experiencing our own connections, but to act as they did as protectors and defenders of our beautiful land, rivers and mountains?
And as a crow just flew past my window (really!), I believe the answer is, “Yes!”
Mrs. Miniver was “more powerful to the war effort than the combined work of six military divisions.” Prime Minister Winston Churchill
What effect can a book made up of the vignettes of simple family life have on a world in conflict? Can descriptions of dentist visits, a mother/daughter shopping spree in search of the perfect doll, Christmas stocking treasures, the almost sacred responsibility of finding the right engagement planner, and feeling the joys of Spring, turn apathetic nations into a call to arms? Apparently, one did.
First published as a series of columns in The Times (of London), the Minivers are a fictional middle class family living an idyllic life in Kent. Mrs. Miniver details her life as a wife and mother to architect Clem and their three children Vin, Judy and Toby. Her days, though simple and common, are observed with a depth of wisdom and poignancy that grows as the world’s crises encroach into her life. Through all her normal activities she is aware her world is in that liminal time between the peace and stability of ordinary daily life and the upheaval of the war to come.
When Mrs. Miniver goes doll shopping with her 12 year-old daughter she wonders whether the “modern unbreakable dolls, which lasted for years, were more, or less, precious to their owners than the old china ones, whose expectation of life had been a matter of months.” On the day the family must give up their old car, she feels its loss deeply because she is a “fool about inanimate objects…She did not pretend to herself that cars had souls or even minds…No, but a car, nowadays, was such an integral part of one’s life… that it had acquired at least the status of a room in one’s house. To part from it, whatever its fault, was to lose a familiar piece of background.” As the car is driven away, she cannot bear to watch and turns on the bath tap, lathers up her ears and begins to sing at the top of her lungs.
Though her days are spent like any middle class wife and mother in child rearing, lunches, teas and weekend parties to ascribe to her a stereotypical superficiality or ignorance of the larger world, would be a mistake. And while many of her activities are light-hearted and relatable, as when she obsesses over the design and feel of a new engagement planner and purchases her second choice only to return minutes later for the one she really wants, or the annual New Year’s Eve fortune telling party where liquid lead is dropped in water to harden as the oracle device, Mrs. Miniver notices little things and ponders their power and worthiness.
But the world’s problems do encroach and she is forced to come to terms with their effect. When she takes her niece to Switzerland and the rumblings of war are apparent she experiences a moment of great universality when a little boy takes her hand to show her his rock collection, which makes her think of her own son and his “c’lection” of rocks. She wonders at the ridiculous war talk, “when little boys in all countries collect stones, dodged cleaning their teeth, and hated cauliflower?”
As she passes a newsstand in her little village, she sees the word ‘JEWS’ plastered on the front page of the evening newspaper and winces. But she catches herself. She must not get to that point of not thinking about it. “To shrink from vicarious pain was the ultimate cowardice…it was a sin. Only by feeling it to the utmost, and by expressing it, could the rest of the world help to heal the injury which had caused it. Money, food, clothing, shelter—people could give all these and still it would not be enough: it would not absolve them from the duty of paying in full, also, the imponderable tribute of grief.”
As the prospect of war with Germany looms closer she and her family must be fitted for gas masks. And by the end of the book, the Minivers are living in their home in the country and fostering 7 children from London families to safeguard against the bombs.
The power of the book and the release of the film version in 1942 cannot be underestimated. When the book was published in the United States in 1940, it topped the bestseller list and Jan Struther was sent on a lecture tour throughout the country. President Roosevelt thought the film so important he ordered it rushed to theaters all over the US. As with Churchill, he believed it struck a chord and hastened America’s involvement in the war.
I have to admit I am a big fan of the film. And while it is very different from the book, its impact has been a lasting one garnering awards and placement on best and favorite movie lists. In 2009, The Library of Congress added it to its film registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant and will be preserved for all time.
Simple daily mundane routines. Family connections, community support and care for your neighbors. What the Allies fought for. What the Germans felt:
Mrs Miniver “shows the destiny of a family during the current war, and its refined powerful propagandistic tendency has up to now only been dreamed of. There is not a single angry word spoken against Germany; nevertheless the anti-German tendency is perfectly accomplished.” Joseph Goebbels
Title: Mrs. Miniver
Author: Jan Struther
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace and Company
Pages: 298 Full plot summary
Challenges: Mount TBR, What’s in a Name, Classics Club
First Quarter Check-in with the Mount TBR Challenge
I feel so behind with everything lately! My only defense is that we had such a dreary, wet winter here in Southern California that when it was all over, I just wanted to be outside; the sun was too distracting! Fortunately, all that rain did wonders for the drought we have been in and hopefully we will continue to conserve and use water responsibly.
Though my posts are a little less, still I feel I have made progress on my TBR pile.
Bev, of My Reader’s Block and the host of the Mount TBR Challenge, has asked us to check in on our progress and has these questions for us:
1. How many miles up your mountain/number of books have you read? I chose the beginner’s mountain, Pike’s Peak and I am proud to say I am half way there with 6 books read, to date.
2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following: A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far. This is no contest. The cover art from The Bronze Bow is beautiful.
B. Who has been your favorite character so far?And tell us why, if you like. Hands down it has to be Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, because of her ability to see past the hardships of her reality into something better.
3. Have any of the books you read surprised you?
I had been wanting to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the historical aspect of the story, a true American immigrant tale, as well as the impact the book had on the public, especially that of soldiers who carried it with them into the trenches of WWII.
And I have to say, as absolutely depressing as Ethan Fromeis, I could not help but admire Edith Wharton as a writer.
This is excruciating. I am sure many of you can relate.
An incredible used bookstore nearby is closing its doors. I have been buying books there since I moved to Huntington Beach in 2009, because they have a wide and deep classics section. I remember I was shocked to see a copy of The Blithedale Romance sitting on the shelf when I thought, ‘no one will actually have this sitting on their shelf.’ Or Sarah Orne Jewett’s, The Country of the Pointed Firs. I bought my first Virago there (The Matriarch) as well as many of the books for the Reading New England Challenge of last year. I imagined buying my books there forever.
This is the kind of place where, though the shelves are bulging and recently bought books are still in boxes on the floor, the owner knows her stock. When you request a title she goes immediately to the section or reaches inside one of the boxes and pulls out the book. Yes, it IS like magic!
Like so many businesses, the bookshop owners are powerless over rises in rent and though the store does a brisk business, the new rate is higher than what makes sense. This is such a loss for any community.
Will I find out why you write such depressing books?
My last purchase included the 1940 second edition of the 1935 two-volume set of The Esoteric Tradition by de Purucker in pristine condition, which I am thrilled to have. I also found R.W.B. Lewis’ Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Edith Wharton and my first Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere. I was a bit overwhelmed as I walked through the familiar aisles…
My last book haul:
A non-science fiction H.G. Wells and a Medieval female coroner. How intriguing!
Bon voyage, Camelot Books. Like your namesake your story will remain forever in my heart!
This is one of my favorite passages from the Wind in the Willows where Rat and Mole meet the half human half god, Pan, Lord of the Wild Wood and Protector of Animals, while looking for a missing baby otter. For some reason it always reminds me of Spring, which is fitting for today. Happy Spring and Renewal of Life!
Rat and Mole are rowing their boat along a river searching frantically for Portly, the baby otter. They hear a faint piping sound drawing them forward as the forest around them begins to shimmer with a light illuminating everything around them. They moor their boat and climb onto shore.
“This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,” whispered Rat. “Here in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him.” Mole’s muscles turned to water as he felt the Awe upon him. It was no panic or terror…but it was an awe that smote and held him, and without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near.
…[Mole] raised his humble head; … and looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down in them humorously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in the majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter.
“Rat, are you afraid?”
“Afraid? Afraid of Him? O, never, never! And yet—and yet—O, Mole, I am afraid!”
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
Sudden and magnificent, the sun’s broad golden disc showed itself over the horizon facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level water-meadows, took the animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of the birds that hailed the dawn.
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows. Puffin Books (Penguin Classics), 1983, from the original, 1908. 120-126.
This was a very depressing novel. Let’s just get that out of the way. Like another of Wharton’s New England novels Summer, which I read last year, she once again creates a character whose life has promise and potential, but bad choices made early on coupled with poverty and duty to family ruin any chance of freedom. Ethan Frome’s draining, joy-sucking life permeated every page.
Wharton creates a bit of mystery surrounding Ethan Frome in the opening pages. The unnamed narrator who arrives in town on business notes his somber countenance, “something bleak and unapproachable in his face, and he was so stiffened and grizzled that I took him for an old man,” yet he was only 52. The coach driver explained he has looked that way since ‘the smash-up.’ And with that, the strange, sad tale of Ethan Frome begins.
Frome is many years into a loveless marriage. He and his wife, Zeena, live in the Frome family home eking out a slim existence from soil that doesn’t yield much. He asked Zeena to marry him out of gratitude for helping him nurse his sick mother. Right after they marry her real or imagined ill health makes her unable to take care of the home, so she enlists the help of her young cousin, Mattie Silver, although it is soon clear she has no household skills.
Mattie’s youth and joy for life is Ethan’s one bright light and he begins to care for her deeply. When Zeena announces that her new doctor wants her to get a proper hired girl, because “I oughtn’t to have to do a single thing around the house,” Ethan is devastated. Mattie will have to leave because they can’t afford to pay for two girls, although she has no family to take her in. Ethan spends days frantically looking for a way to run off with Mattie, until he realizes its futility. The day he takes Mattie to the train station he stops to take her sledding. Both are distraught over their impending separation admitting they cannot live apart and make a pact to end their pain by sledding into a tree. They are severely injured, but both live. Ethan is left with a limp and a scarred forehead, but Mattie sustains a spinal injury that leaves her permanently disabled.
The action skips to the present when the narrator, who has only heard bits and pieces of this story is invited by Ethan to stay the night during a snow storm. When the front door is opened he hears more than one voice coming from the kitchen. He is shocked to walk in on both Zeena and Mattie sitting around the kitchen table.
When he goes back to his boarding house, run by a childhood friend of Ethan’s she explains that yes, after the accident, Zeena took Mattie back and nursed her as best she could and without any family to return to the three have lived together for 24 years. She tells him, “If she’d ha’ died, Ethan might ha’ lived; and the way they are now, I don’t see’s there’s much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard; ‘cept that down there they’re all quiet, and the women have got to hold their tongues.”
Though the story is terribly tragic I admire Wharton’s writing. She is not sentimental or overly emotional, but matter of fact. The event happens or the choice sets in motion tragic consequences, the character accepts his or her fate and makes new choices and with them we move on. As in real life we have to get on with whatever hand we are dealt and this is how Wharton writes.
Except that I found it hard to just let go of Ethan’s fate. Is it too much to ask to give him a little happiness after having to leave college to come back home to care for his father, then his mother, then his wife and finally both his wife and unrequited lover? Couldn’t Wharton give him a little better financial situation or let his wife die young or…something?
However, like Charity, the main character in Summer, who similarly had to pit personal fulfillment against duty, what the reader finds here is reality. Both Ethan and Charity made foolish choices the first time they fell in love, which left them with life-altering consequences they could never break away from. And maybe that is the moral or the cautionary tale here; what you do when young comes back to haunt you. The whole trajectory of your life can change in an instant, so make good choices!
Try telling that to any young person in love!
My edition and plot summary.
Edith Wharton. Ethan Frome and Selected Stories. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2004. Originally published in 1911.
Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it, too. It’s nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else….If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime; if she’s mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn’t offer even a suck. They treat by turns, and I’ve had ever so many but haven’t returned them, and I ought, for they are debts of honor, you know.”
I have always wanted to go back and revisit this episode, because it is intriguing to think of limes as a social metaphor for status and acceptance: Not only are you one of us, but one of my favored, because I bestow this pickled lime upon you. I assumed it was historically accurate, but wondered where and how limes came to New England in the middle of the 19th century? And most especially, how they ended up as a schoolyard status symbol.
For Amy and her classmates, it wasn’t just the giving of limes, but the importance of giving back to the girls who gave the pickled limes first. This point cannot, to these school girls, be overstated.
The next day Amy was rather late at school; but could not resist the temptation of displaying, with pardonable pride, a moist brown-paper parcel…During the next few minutes the rumor that Amy March had got twenty-four delicious limes…and was going to treat circulated through her “set”…Katy Brown invited her to her next party on the spot; Mary Kingsley insisted on lending her her watch till recess….
Unfortunately, her stash is discovered by the teacher, who has forbidden them in the classroom and Amy is forced to throw them out the window.
Linda Zeidrich in her book, The Joy of Pickling, tackles Amy’s limes in a brief history. She describes their availability and low cost at a typical neighborhood store where they were sold on the counter for a penny each. “Kids chewed, sucked, and traded pickled limes at school (and not just at recess) for decades, making the limes the perennial bane of New England schoolteachers.” Doctors thought this was an unnatural habit, but parents didn’t seem to be bothered and were content to let their children indulge. Interesting that at some point science recognized the benefits of citrus for health.
While it was true that some limes were grown in the United States, most came from the West Indies where they were packed in sea water or brine and shipped in barrels to ports in the Northeast, especially to Boston where they were the most popular. Zeidrich makes the ironic point that the limes of Louisa May Alcott’s schoolgirls were tied to the same slave labor in the Caribbean that sent Mr. March to fight against slavery in the United States. It always helps to know the origin of things when possible….
The cost per lime was so low because they were not classified as fresh fruit, which had a much higher tariff. Occasionally Congress tried to classify them with fresh fruit which brought protests. When Boston importer, William Brexnax, argued for separate classifications before the Ways and Means Committee of the Congress of the United States in 1909, he did so on the basis that the consumers of pickled limes were women and children from a small area of the country, the small consumption of which posed no commercial threat to fresh limes. You can read the full argument below.
Do-it-yourself pickled limes seem easy enough and while I found some period recipes this one from a 1854 issue of Godey’s Ladies Book, might have been close to what Amy and her friends ate.
“The dry and fresh-gathered fruits are put into strong, wide-mouthed glass bottles, carefully corked, and luted with a cement of lime and soft cheese, and bound down with wire. The bottles are then inclosed (sp) separately in canvas bags, and put into a kettle of water, which is gradually heated until it boils; the bottles are kept in this condition until the fruits are boiled in their own juice. The whole is then left to cool; after which the bottles are examined separately, and put away for store.”
Some recipes added salt and none I found were sweet, so it seems children ate them tart or sour.
I still don’t know why these pickled limes were traded by children whose later counterparts traded baseball cards or little key chains as we did at my school or whatever children are trading for status now. I suppose their ease of acquisition and cheap cost had something to do with it.
(Here is William F. Brexnax’s argument before the House Ways and Means Committee defending pickled limes against a fresh fruit tariff. Formatted by me for readability).
Hearings, Volume 20
By United States. 60th Congress. 2d session., 1908-1909. House.
188 PICKLED LIMES Paragraph 559
WM F BREXNAX IMPORTER BOSTON MASS WISHES A SEPARATE CLASSIFICATION MADE FOR PICKLED LIMES 1 13 CENTRAL STREET
Boston January 26 1909 COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS Washington DC
GENTLEMEN In the revision of the tariff let me urge that the classification of pickled limes remain unchanged as this commodity has but a very limited sale and confined almost exclusively to a few New England states.
After limes are immersed in sea water for twenty four hours it causes such a physical change that they are of no commercial value whatever other than as a pickled lime because they can not be freshened out or used only for eating in their changed condition and in this form they are consumed mostly by women and children of this section of the country who have acquired the taste for them.
Under the Wilson bill they were charged as pickles at 30 per cent ad volorem and continued so under the present bill until the Board of General Appraisers decided to class them as limes at 1 cent per pound together with the water which surrounded the same which ruling was amended by the decision of the United States circuit court of appeals in my suit against the Government for refund of duties since which time they have come in under paragraph 559 and admitted free as fruits in brine not specially provided Tor
The business done in them is quite small and positively no protection is needed for the few limes grown in the United States as they never pickle them and if pickled limes should again be classified under the head of green fruit it would be putting a prohibition value upon them for they are usually sold for a cent each and when the retailers can not do this the business small as it is will be curtailed very materially.
It has been proven by the courts that there has under all tariffs been a distinction made between limes and pickled limes and I would ask that this decision remain unchanged. This merchandise is not commercially known as limes and therefore should have a distinct classification if it is to be designated in any way in the new list. No tariff that the Government ever issued has classified pickled limes so it can be seen that they have never been considered of sufficient importance to give them a place. But now that revision is under way the opportunity should be embraced to make provision for them and thereby avoid a mix up again with the general appraisers in determining the proper interpretation of the tariff and I present the subject at this time with that end in view I trust that our New Englanders may continue to eat the fruit as of old which will be the case unless the United States needs to increase the cost by a tariff for revenue only.
Yours truly WM F BRENNAN Importer TABIFIT HEARINGS 7755
Weather does not happen. It is the visible manifestation of the Spirit moving itself in the void.
Mary Austin (1868-1934) is a southwest writer who wrote about the desert and mountain areas of the Sierra Nevada and the Death Valley region of California. The Land of Little Rain is a collection of essays that first ran in the Atlantic Monthly in 1903 and was subsequently published in book form. For Americans in the east and middle parts of the country, California at this time still evoked mystery and an Eden-like quality, but the desert was an unknown entity.
Austin brought interest to these regions by her lyrical and descriptive writing style (and an independent use of words and phrases to furrow an editor’s brow), not only of the land and animal inhabitants, but as an ally to the plight of the Shoshone and Paiute Indians who had been shut out and shoved around by the “progress” of the encroaching White population. She trekked through mountain passages, Spring-flowered valleys and scrubby foothills observing and finding connections among the nonhuman and human animals who populated the nooks and crannies of a place where only the hardy could survive.
She writes like John Muir personalizing the animals that she observes and brings to life what many people don’t see in the desert. And like Muir, who roamed the Sierras as well, she sees the nondenominational hand of Spirit that both animates and connects all the world. However, unlike Muir and the male dominated “nature” movement shouting to the wide world, her voice is for the local personal relationship with a particular piece of land.
Originally from Illinois, she moved west with her family after college. She married and had a daughter finding a base in the tiny town of Independence where she wandered throughout the desert foothills and mountain trails with Ruth strapped to her back in a device she learned from the Indians.
I lived in her house for the summer many years ago when I came back to California after 5 years in Chicago. A friend owned her house and asked me to stay while she spent long trips backpacking and peak climbing throughout the Sierras. I had never spent much time in the desert let alone such a small town where there was a last street before the wilderness.
As odd as it might seem, I didn’t read any of Mary Austin’s extensive work. Instead, I spent days wandering the foothills coming upon bleached cow bones, poking at the dirt for horned toads, discovering ancient Native petroglyphs etched in big stone rocks, sitting on granite boulders in the evening while the red-tailed hawks above me searched for dinner below, and watching the shadows change the color of the Sierras and the Inyo/Whites as the sun’s shadow passed over them from sun up to sun rise.
Petroglyphs on boulders saying something…?
After reading The Land of Little Rain over the weekend I was duly stunned by what this collection of essays brought up. It wasn’t just the memories of one of the best summers of my life, but why I love to be outside walking trails and keeping company with all of Nature’s creaturely inhabitants and how I am often opened to praise That which is bigger than myself.
Austin eventually settled in Taos, New Mexico where she continued to write books, poems and plays.
Below are passages from The Land of Little Rain that particularly struck me. And incidentally, all the photos on this page are mine. Excuse the quality as they are digital photos taken from snapshots.
A communion of creatures—
Probably we never fully credit the interdependence of wild creatures, and their cognizance of the affairs of their own kind. When the five coyotes that range the Tejon from Pasteria to Tunawai planned a relay race to bring down an antelope strayed from the band, beside myself to watch, an eagle swung down from Mt. Pinos, buzzards materialized out of invisible ether, and hawks came trooping like small boys to a street fight. Rabbits sat up in the chaparral and cocked their ears, feeling themselves quite safe for the once as the hunt swung near them. Nothing happens in the deep wood that the blue jays are not all agog to tell. The hawk follows the badger, the coyote the carrion crow, and from their aerial stations the buzzards watch each other. What would be worth knowing is how much of their neighbor’s affairs the new generations learn for themselves, and how much they are taught of their elders.
This is the sense of the desert hills, that there is room enough and time enough. Trees grow to consummate domes; every plant has its perfect work. Noxious weeds such as come up thickly in crowded fields do not flourish in the free spaces. Live long enough with an Indian, and he or the wild things will show you a use for everything that grows in these borders.
The Desert— For all the toll the desert takes of a man it gives compensations, deep breaths, deep sleep, and the communion of the stars…It is hard to escape the sense of mastery as the stars move in the wide clear heavens to risings and settings unobscured. They look large and near and palpitant; as if they moved on some stately service not needful to declare. Wheeling to their stations in the sky, they make the poor world-fret of no account. Of no account you who lie out there watching nor the lean coyote that stands off in the scrub from you and howls and howls.
When food is scarce, women are vulnerable— On the slope the summer growth affords seeds; up the steep the one-leafed pines, an oily nut. That was really all they could depend upon, and that only at the mercy of the little gods of frost and rain. For the rest it was cunning against cunning, caution against skill, against quacking hordes of wild-fowl in the Tulare, against pronghorn and bignhorn and deer. You can guess, however that all this warring of rifles and bowstrings, this influx of of overlording whites, had made game wilder and hunters fearful of being hunted. You can surmise also, for it was a crude time and the land was raw, that the women became in turn the game of the conquerors.
Why do people live in the desert?— …One does not wonder so much after having lived there. None other than this long brown land lays such a hold on the affections. The rainbow hills, the tender bluish mists, the luminous radiance of the spring, have the lotus charm. They trick the sense of time, so that once inhabiting there you always mean to go away without quite realizing that you have not done it…For one thing there is the divinest, cleanest air to be breathed anywhere in God’s world. Some day the world will understand that, and the little oases on the windy tops of hills will harbor for healing its ailing, house-weary broods.
Independence also has the disturbing distinction as one of the centers of Japanese-American internment during World War II. Manzanar is situated at the edge of the town.
The entrance is on the left. On the right,a cemetery marker where survivors and others sometimes leave personal mementos.
Title: The Land of Little Rain
Author: Mary Austin
Publisher: University of New Mexico Press
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 1974, is the complete text of the first edition, 1903
Pages: 171 Full plot summary
Mount TBR, Classics Club, Back to the Classics