Friday, November 21, 2014

#50 The End of a Beginning

     It’s been three years since I moved to my cabin in the woods, after decades of urban living and teaching, beginning anew as writer and editor. In December 2011, I began this blog to share with friends and family the sometimes ironic stories of what I was learning about living in a cabin with only solar power for electricity, a woodstove for winter warmth, a composting toilet that required my creating the “flush” with sawdust and ashes, and other relatively non-urban experiences.
But as I rooted myself in Willits and as a writer, other adventures became part of my blog, especially the drama over the Caltrans bypass mowing down whole forests and wetlands in the interest of feeding hungry workers, project-happy engineers, and the many citizens and leaders insensitive to environmental and indigenous concerns (as far as I can see).

Kim & Malcolm at Book Passage
In the last two years, I’ve been very lucky—as Malcolm Margolin so often says of his own life in the biography I wrote about his success in the world of writing and small press publishing, The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin: The DamnGood Times of a Fiercely Independent Publisher.
Sadie Margolin (Costello) is second from left on floor.
 Malcolm’s luck was interwoven with mine, since his daughter and my student Sadie Margolin showed her father an essay of hers that I’d edited. That serendipitous connection to Malcolm led to an editing job, a friendship, and more work as a writer at this juncture of my life. I’m lucky! 

   I was also fortunate to work with inspiring teachers and students over many years in schools. I will always feel that the most important work I could ever do was to help students find their own voices as writers, speakers, and critical thinkers. 
            When I left behind that valuable work promoting positive changes through the world of classrooms, I was fortunate to find a community in Willits dedicated to conscious living—be they Buddhists, artists, musicians, organic farmers, environmentalists, or indigenous activists seeking to save threatened wetlands, forests, and cultures. 
Protest against the drilling and draining of wetlands, 2013 
(photo, courtesy of Steve Eberhard)

In fact, we just engaged in a spirited protest at the Army Corps of Engineers on Nov. 18th to seek federal consultation with the members of local Pomo people in protest against the fill dumped on ancestral archaeological sites, burying them forever, yet another act of cultural genocide. 
Protest in SF on Market St.
Sit in until the Pomo tribal members were heard
I sat down with Polly Girvin and other folks on the San Francisco sidewalk until the request to allow tribal members inside the ACE offices was met. Priscilla Hunter, the representative of the Coyote Band of Pomo Indians, was attempting to have her letter of complaint taken into consideration. 
Priscilla emerges happy to be heard
Finally, Priscilla was allowed in and ultimately emerged, happy to be listened to and ready for the next steps in this arduous process—one taking centuries for Native peoples to be respected.

 The efforts to rebuff  thoughtful engagement with issues of climate change and cultural genocide—continue unabated. My fellow humans, for better and for worse, amaze me!

Horrors happen down in the valley or across the world—brutal beheadings, girls abducted and raped, suicide bombings, Mexican teachers murdered, the pillage of precious natural resources in the interest of profit—the world is a mess! 
So I am all the more thankful to reap the benefits of blessings. 
Sunset at the hill we call "On Top of the World"
    I’ve been blessed to have this hilltop aerie from which to look out on the restful green of the forests, acres of paths to wander with dogs and visitors, a warm fire in the winter when rain pelts down (we hope), whimsical art to tuck along trails by bounding spring creeks, and a home from which to head off to the coast, to other beautiful forests, and to urban adventures not too far away.

            After these three years of writing this blog, and after many complaints that Blogspot is not functioning adequately to allow readers to get regular updates, I’ve decided to discontinue writing on “An Urban Woman’s Guide Back to the Land,” perhaps to start up another blog one day on a different blogging site (suggestions welcome!). [This site will stay posted, however.]
In the meantime, I continue with several writing projects. One involves taking the many compelling stories I’ve found in the letters and diaries of the 19th century women in the family of my great-great-grandfather H.H. Bancroft and pulling them together into the story of what “archived women” can tell us about the private sphere of a very public man.
Another exciting project was the brainchild of Malcolm, to write a history of Berkeley focused on the environmental influences it has had—in consciousness and movement—with a special focus on the role of beauty, going back to John Muir and his initiation of the Sierra Club with UC Berkeley professors, through the Arts and Crafts Movement and its emphasis on building in conjunction with nature, to the first city-wide recycling center to the most recent development of an Edible Schoolyard and more.
Finally, my work helping others write their memoirs or essays carries on. I look forward to seeing many life stories become books that keep those stories alive for generations to come. It is the same work that Malcolm’s publishing company, Heyday, has done for forty years and that my own great-great-grandfather, H.H. Bancroft, cherished in the late 1800s: He said his work was
  “to save to the world a mass of valuable human experiences, which otherwise, in the hurry and scramble attending the securing of wealth, power, or place … would have dropped out of existence.” 
If you’ve enjoyed this blog and would like to be included in the invitation to another weblog when I recommence, let me know, either with a comment here or sent to my email:
Thanks to all who have commented over time. With so much to read in our modern self-publishing extravaganza on the web, I am grateful to anyone who’s taken the time to sit with my stories.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

#49 The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin

      In recent blogs I posted about my friendship with Malcolm Margolin, the distinctive founder of the small Berkeley press, Heyday Books (now just Heyday). 
      The path from my teaching to writing meandered directly through Malcom’s life and lifework in various ways over time. 
Now a new cycle is being completed as the wheel of life turns and we have turned out a book together: The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin: The Damn Good Times of a Fiercely Independent Publisher. [Click on the title to go to the website.]

Meeting Malcolm and Working on Memoirs
            All those years of grading students’ papers with great conscientiousness (see Post #46) paid off when one of my students, Sadie Margolin, informed me that her father wanted to offer me a job. As I mentioned earlier, Malcolm put me to work on The Morning the Sun Went Down, the memoir of Native author Darryl (Babe) Wilson, whose story recounted his youth among Pit River Indian relatives and in the Northern California mountains and forests where his spirit roamed free.
            When I decided to leave teaching in 2010, Malcolm got me in touch with Berkeley artist and activist Ariel Parkinson to help her tell her remarkable story in her memoir, simply called Ariel. [An excerpt from her book is at The Monthly; click here.]

Heyday Publishes H.H. Bancroft’s Memoir
            At the same time, Malcolm looked into publishing the 1890 memoir of my great-great-grandfather Hubert Howe Bancroft, Literary Industries (see Posts #46-48). Malcolm took interest in H.H.B.’s story partly because Heyday specializes in publishing California-oriented works of literature, history, and natural history, so a book about how H.H. Bancroft came to this coast in 1852 at age 19 and developed his enormous literary industries fit perfectly on the Heyday bookshelves.
     But it turns out that the story of this 19th century bookseller, history writer, and publisher also reflected back to Malcolm some of his own story. H.H. Bancroft described himself as coming from the east to San Francisco as a boy and watching tremendous transformations in himself as an intellectual and in the society around him. Malcolm, too, first came to California from the east during the Summer of Love in 1967, still a youth of 27, and what transformations he saw around him and within himself!
           I learned about Malcolm’s story and then had the great privilege of getting to write it all down because of a fortuitous intersection of my own historical inclinations and his lackadaisical approach to preserving his history. Here’s what happened:

Getting to Record Malcolm’s Oral History
            A year after Malcolm had set me up with Ariel to work on her memoir, I saw Malcolm again and asked when he was going to write his own memoir. Anyone who has listened to Malcolm tell a story knows the tremendous humor and understated wisdom he weaves into a tale, whether it is describing a moving Native ceremony he has recently witnessed or celebrating a new Heyday book that will grip you by the eyeballs, make you drop everything, and read.
            “When are writing your stories down?” I inquired.
He mumbled something about not having time for that. “I wrote down a few stories for my kids about growing up in the ‘old country’ of Dorchester in Boston,” he added. But everyone else’s stories that were pouring through Heyday seemed more interesting or more pressing.
            “How about if I just sit down with you and a tape recorder and get you to tell your stories?” I asked.
An inspired college history teacher, Estelle Freedman, had made recording the oral history of an elder one of our course assignments. Ever since then, I’d found tremendous joy in capturing such stories. The first one I did was of a sixty-year-old woman in 1977 who shared her memories of the Mexican Revolution sweeping through her little Mexican town as a child. Later, I got my grandmother’s stories on tape, and was forever changed by her tales. Born in 1902 into a poor northern Florida family, Grandma reported what it was like at Christmas receiving only an orange and one doll dress sewn by her mother, her family unable to provide anything more, yet that was sufficient. How eye-opening it was to learn such information directly from the past and to contrast it to our age of excess accumulation and consumption.
            So, already an oral history enthusiast, I was especially eager to hear Malcolm’s stories, which inspired my offer. Of course, it turns out that I was following in the footsteps of my great-great-grandfather H.H. Bancroft who had made a point of collecting “dictations,” the stories told by early settlers on the Pacific West, as a means of getting firsthand accounts of what they had seen and done. For me getting Malcolm’s “dictation” would be far easier with a digital recorder, but equally as fascinating.
            In October of 2011, I sat down with Malcolm for the first of what would become over 20 interviews. We both delighted in the process of probing the history he had lived through, the chance encounters that can so deeply affect one’s life, and the motivations behind his decisions—though he insisted that his life was as directionless as a sailboat at sea without a rudder. Malcolm's reminiscences began with his descriptions of Jewish Dorchester during World War II (he was born in 1940), and included such details as the tinkling sound of milk bottles being delivered and the awe-inspiring sight of a European war refugee with a missing eye and numbers tattooed onto his arm, selling pencils door to door. We ranged far and wide from there. Malcolm even ranged as far as a visit  at the cabin for one of his interviews.
Malcolm Musing on my deck

Launching a Book for Heyday’s 40th Anniversary
By the time February 2012 came, we were having lots of fun at our monthly interviews. In his storytelling, Malcolm had arrived at 1970 when he and his wife Rina settled down in Berkeley after two years of wanderlust across the United States and up and down the coast from Vancouver Island to Mexico. We had not yet even come to the inception of Heyday, though Heyday’s namesake, Reuben Heyday Margolin, was soon to be born.
            “Say,” Malcolm suggested, “Heyday’s 40th anniversary is coming up in 2014. What do you think about us doing a book about Heyday for the anniversary—not about me, but about Heyday?”
            I laughed sardonically at the part of the question that implied a book about Heyday would not be about Malcolm, but I agreed wholeheartedly to do the book.
            And so all of my research skills came into use as I set about interviewing Malcolm, his three children and wife, Malcolm’s longtime friends, and Heyday staff and authors. For the remainder of 2011, I was collecting interviews, transcribing, and plotting what would make the story of Heyday come alive.
            The obvious themes evident in so many interviews with Heyday writers and staff? Heyday makes beautiful books that often manifest the voices of people or an aspect of nature that Heyday takes the risk to capture.

The Beauty of Heyday
A theme that was less obvious but equally important was the unusual aspect of how Malcolm runs a business. On the down side, he seems to care little about his own profit, hence Heyday became a non-profit organization a few years ago. But fully “in the black” are Malcolm’s most gracious encounters with staff and writers, creating a positive workplace that would be the envy of many who tolerate querulous bosses and horrific stress at work. How often Malcolm would stop his discourse while we were in an interview to note the sounds coming from staff beyond us. “Did you hear that laughter in the back offices? How beautiful that is!”
            Writing the story of Malcolm and of “a little publishing company that could” became my focus during all of 2012. I’d send chapters to Malcolm as I wrote, while incorporating photos provided by family, friends, and Heyday archives. I modeled the book after Studs Terkel’s Working, in which Terkel pared away his own role as interviewer and left each person’s voice in the fullness of their individual expression—a method fitting for Malcolm and company.
Kim as her great-great-
grandmother Matilda
Meanwhile, I was also learning about how books are made—literally, in the design and printing stages—and how the marketing of books happens, because Heyday was in the process of preparing Literary Industries for print. [See a "Conversation with Kim Bancroft" about this book at the Heyday site.] The publicity folks were also getting me ready for book talks, which I began undertaking in February 2014 (and I continue doing: the Heyday website posts when a new talk is going to happen, including a local talk as my great-great-grandmother Matilda in the Kinetic Carnivale of Willits on August 9th at 4 pm in the Discovery Hall). Having a book come out while writing a book about book publishing was all very synergistic.

And soon, in September 2014, The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin: The Damn Good Times of a Fiercely Independent Publisher will appear. The book is chockful of stories that will make you laugh, make you wonder, make you wiser as you ponder the literary and historical analysis that Malcolm, his family, friends and associates pull into their talks. I hope you’ll find it a damn good read!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

#48 Mothering the Earth

Understanding the Native world
        I mentioned my recent spree of talking about the book Literary Industries that my great-great-grandfather, historian and book collector Hubert Howe Bancroft, wrote in 1890 (and was just re-issued by Heyday; check out this link). One of the book talks occurred in conjunction with Earth Day at the Mendocino County Museum where a large exhibit called Woven Worlds presents the life and times of the Native people in this region, both historically and today.
Collecting material for Native Pomo basket,
on display at the Mendocino County Museum
I was asked to speak about what H.H. Bancroft had to say about Native peoples and nature.
            As in all things H.H. Bancroft, I said, I found him contradictory. On the one hand, Victorian gentleman that he was, he admitted being somewhat “disgusted” by the primitive nature of many “savages.” And yet he decried the brutality of the white “Indian butchers” bent wholly on Native annihilation. I also saw the contradiction in my ancestor’s relationship to nature. He described his great dependence on nature as a source of respite, yet he also found it desirable to cut down hundreds of “venerable” oak trees to make way for the pear farm he created in Walnut Creek, pears being more profitable to modern Europeans than acorns were to the Indians, now forcibly removed.
            Adapting to such contradictions is often inherent in the game of life for any of us who engage with the complexities of history and change. These very topics are always at the top of my mind in Little Lake Valley where we continue to see history in battle with change.
            This valley was once fertile with deer, elk, and huge runs of salmon in the six creeks that created the Little Lake. The sedge and other grasses supplied the material for the gorgeous baskets that the Pomo people wove.
            Over the last year and a half, many of us opposed to the construction of a cement river ripping through the valley have seen the implacable power of Caltrans, especially when fortified by money and arms. Regardless of the opposition, they have laid down the six miles of a dirt foundation for their future bypass. 
 However, one change we continue to insist on (and that I’ve blogged about before; see earlier posts) is to reduce the humongous 4-lane northern interchange to a 2-lane roundabout, given the relatively little traffic that passes through Willits on an average basis (8000 cars, compared to the 40,000 that such a huge interchange is built for). Also, this downsized would reduce the impact on the precious wetlands from 40 acres to 10 acres, not to mention the many subsequent benefits to water and vehicle use of reducing construction, among many others.
So far, Caltrans remains, well, stupid in the face of reducing costs of all kinds. It simply seems illogical, as well as irresponsible.

The Water Board Surrenders, the U.S. Army Corps Stands Strong
Speaking of Caltrans’ irresponsibility, a KGO television report on June 11th came out about the Northwestern Regional Water Board’s analysis of the lack of proper protection to vital streams and creeks in the path of the Willits wetlands. The Water Board is about to impose $10,000 a day fines on Caltrans for their destruction of vital habitat to spawning salmon and other creatures. The news clip gives some excellent visual footage for seeing how poorly Caltrans has coped with the sensitive hillsides and creeks involved.
Still, the Water Board just caved in to Caltrans’ presentation of their “mea culpas,” so reported The Willits News Friday, June 20th.  Having promised to clean up their act, literally, Caltrans somehow convinced yet another state agency that they will do a better job henceforth. Given that all of these state agencies are essentially living together under the same state-corporate roof and feeding out of the same state funds, it’s not a surprise that a smaller agency can be “convinced,” one way or another, that the transportation-industrial complex is in the right.
In the roller coaster ride of our Caltrans dilemma, we just received a KGO report later on Friday, June 20th, that Caltrans was ordered to stop work by the Army Corps of Engineers for an indefinite time because Caltrans failed to meet the conditions of their mitigation plan for protecting the water and other impacts on the earth.

Native Peoples Speak Out
Pile of dirt for freeway overpass
             covering Pomo ancestral site 
Another cruel act of irresponsibility on the part of Caltrans was their purposeful desecration of Native Pomo burial sites that were in the path of the bypass. They knew exactly where they were since Native peoples had been long involved in pointing out the spots sites, yet Caltrans insured last summer that tons of dirt were dumped on these sites, forever distorting the opportunity for Native peoples to have this intimate contact with their ancestors.
Process to the wetlands for a ceremony of blessing
(Photo by Steve Eberhard)
Last weekend members of Save Our Little Lake Valley and other concerned Willits citizens had the opportunity to hear from Native people themselves. The group of Pomo people from Round Valley spoke about the betrayal of trust (what little they could expect) from Caltrans in the transportation corporation deciding to allow a hill of dirt and cement to end up on top of what is their sacred place where their ancestors had lived and were buried.

Members of the American Indian Movement led a group of nearly 100 people onto the former wetlands for a sacred ceremony to bless the earth, to remember those who had lived there, and to give strength and courage in the continued struggle to find justice for the Native people and the wetlands.

The Willits News reported on this event; click here to see their full report. I was the MC for part of it. 

Passing of my friend Darryl Wilson
            This collaboration between the environmental activists of Willits and the descendants of Little Lake Valley’s Native peoples was reminiscent for me of the loss of a gentle Native spirit, Darryl “Babe” Wilson, whose memoir I helped edit many years ago. In his book, The Morning the Sun Went Down, Babe told the story of what it was like growing up among the Pit River Indian people near Mt. Shasta (he was Achumawe and Atsugewi), including the legends and lifeways that he had inherited. A tremendous tragedy struck his family when his mother and baby brother were killed in a car accident that involved a lumber truck. His father, crushed in spirit, could no longer raise the remaining small children after Babe’s mother died, and so Babe and his siblings were farmed out to relatives and to white foster families that were often insensitive to his cultural way of life.
Babe Wilson and me, with "Dr. Cho,"
as Babe fondly called Cholo, 2010 
            Yet Babe persevered, especially when an English teacher coxed his stories out of him and taught Babe the power of capturing on paper the mystery, passion, and politics of his Native world. Babe went on to gain his Ph.D. in anthropology and to write a variety of pieces, as well as teach and become a valuable voice for protecting Native rights and traditions. His writing for News from Native California became a staple of that magazine. Babe’s anger never abated about lands taken from Native peoples through specious white laws and treaties.
            Thirteen years ago, Babe was struck by another tragedy, a stroke that left him fairly disabled and dependent on his two then teenage sons, Theo and Seterro, who did their best to stick with their father and help him along, though he could walk very little. But his brain never faltered. With his one good hand, he sure could type, and he continued writing pieces for the journal, as well as a sequel to his memoir, and the plans for a grand pageant of dancers from all over the world, led by indigenous peoples, that would take over the Champs Elysee and other major thoroughfares of great cities.
            Babe passed away on May 7, 2014. He will be deeply missed by the many who knew and loved his wit, his stories, his wisdom—as I did. He explained in writing once what he would often say upon saying good-bye to a friend in his language:
Ina'lum'qtmi (if you are leaving):  "I must go but I leave my heart with you."  (If you are staying and someone is leaving:  "You must go but you must take my heart with you."

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#47 A Writer not in Retreat

The Hermit on the Hill: Not!
      That whole thing about getting to be a hermit on the hill writing and editing books? Watch out for what you wish for: you might get it! If a book is successful, down the hill and on the road you go.
     I last mentioned that I had edited Literary Industries, the 1890 memoir of my great-great-grandfather, H.H. Bancroft, a California historian, book collector, and founder of the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley. 
      Bancroft came to California in 1852 at age 19. The growth of his early bookselling and publishing enterprise coincided with the explosive growth of the West following the Gold Rush, a story chronicled in Literary Industries. The Berkeley press Heyday and the Bancroft Library conjointly insured that a beautiful, illustrated version of the book came out at a mere 250 pages, compared to the challenging 800-pages of the original tome. 

A set of Bancroft's Works with basket
          Fortunately, the reception for his book has been very positive, with many friends, family, and strangers finding out what I also discovered about Bancroft’s “history of my history,” as he called it: It’s a good read!
HHB has poignant and insightful descriptions about his childhood and family life. He also has a sense of humor about his foibles. And in sometimes modest terms, Bancroft reveals his visionary efforts to collect every archive possible relating to the history of the Pacific West. His book can even read like an adventure story as he figures out how to save the memories of early settlers and the documents that would be lost were they not safeguarded in a library. He provides instructive lessons about right living and thought provoking analysis of how history has unfolded. 
  For example, he shares this little gem regarding his task in collecting 60,000 items for his library and histories about the West from the Gold Rush on:
"What was this task? …to save to the world a mass of valuable human experiences, which otherwise, in the hurry and scramble attending the securing of wealth, power or place in this new field of enterprise, would have dropped out of existence.”
            In my own effort to share with the world the contemporary record of this man’s vast  literary experience, I have been on quite a book talk tour throughout the Bay Area and even to southern California. Because Bancroft’s work covered so many topics, I’ve been able to adjust my book talks to a variety of audiences and settings. 
Kim Bancroft poses for a portrait in the Bancroft Library, which her family founded,  on the UC Berkeley campus in Berkeley, CA, Tuesday May 13, 2014.
Michael Short's photo, SF Chronicle
Have Book, Will Travel....
At the Bancroft Library, I naturally addressed how he founded the Library, and what a glorious setting it was for that talk, in the wood paneled Morrison Reading Room at the Doe Library next door. A full article about the Bancroft Library and this book just came out in the San Francisco Chronicle, in fact, and well written by Tim Holt.
Ruth Bancroft in her garden
In Walnut Creek, I spoke at the Ygnacio Valley Library, and there met a gathering  of aficionados of the Ruth Bancroft Garden. Ruth is H.H. Bancroft’s daughter-in-law, one generation removed, being the wife of Bancroft’s grandson, Philip Bancroft, Jr. Ruth’s husband had inherited the Walnut Creek property that H.H. owned, and with a few remaining acres that had not been sold off to provide residences to the expanding suburb, Ruth created a world- renowned succulent garden. At this site, a talk about the role of family and enterprise in H.H.’s life was appropriate, and happily, various members of the Philip Bancroft descendants attended that talk, as well. 
HH Bancroft's Helix Farm 1880s,
Spring Valley, outside San Diego
That talk also served for a presentation at the small but intrepid Spring Valley Historical Society, outside of San Diego, at the Bancroft Ranch House Museum, where H.H. Bancroft and family also owned a farm. 
For an Author’s Brown Bag in Albany, I could pull from Bancroft’s memoir his many passages about the process of writing.
Alison Glasey, the Museum Director;
Victoria Patterson, scholar; and me
In my hometown Willits in conjunction with Earth Day, the Mendocino County Museum hosted a talk. There I shared Bancroft’s thoughts about nature and Native Americans, a presentation that also featured Victoria Patterson, a local and esteemed scholar on Native Pomo culture in this area. 

"Matilda Bancroft" (in back) and Jenny Ricard (HHB descendant in blue sweater)  with journalism students at Bancroft Middle School in Long Beach
Jenny Ricard and I outside
the Bancroft Middle School
A delightful way I’ve been able to present the book has been dressed up as my great-great-grandmother Matilda Bancroft to tell the story of her husband in the California schools named after H.H. Bancroft, including this one in Long Beach, where another descendant of HH Bancroft lives. I had a delicious time addressing students’ questions and trying to bring history alive, dressed in my Victorian gown. One of the best questions ever came from a fourth-grade student at the Bancroft Elementary School in Sacramento who asked, “What was the most surprising thing you learned about your great-great-grandfather?”
"Matilda Griffing Bancroft"
at the Mechanics Institute
I had to think about it for a moment. Then I replied, “How he could think about the future in a way that made him want to hold onto the past. Think about  stuff you have today or the way you live now that might be gone in fifty years. That’s hard to figure out, isn’t it?”
Their teacher jumped in, saying,“Remember when I told you that we were going to watch a movie on a VCR, and you asked what a VCR was?” The kids laughed as we talked about other things that had already changed in their young life times.

I finished up my whirlwind tour with a marvelous opportunity to present Matilda to adults at the lovely Mechanics Institute Library, arranged by their events director Laura Sheppard, herself an “impersonator.” She has done a show as Harriet Lane Levy, a friend of Gertrude Stein.
In this presentation as Matilda, I focused on H.H. Bancroft’s relationship with women, culling from his autobiography the ways he shows tremendous respect for the women in his life—his mother, sister, and a first wife who died in childbirth, not to mention his second wife, Matilda. And yet, as in so many aspects of H.H. Bancroft, he was a man of contradictions, finding women too "frail and tender" to be writers in his workshop, even as he depended on his wife Matilda for help with editing his work, and as one woman, Frances Fuller Victor, wrote several volumes of Bancroft's Works.
One of my most consistent messages throughout all these talks was learning to understand the complexity in the contradictions of a Victorian-era scholar such as H.H. Bancroft.
Kim & Sata on the road
But learning to wrestle with contradictions is something many of us deal with in facing our complex society, our complex selves. 
As an innate introvert, I've sought more quietude on the mountain than I could practice in my life as a teacher.After a year quietly working on several books while Literary Industries was in production, I suddenly found myself traipsing about the countryside in enthusiastic recountings of what H.H. Bancroft contributed to history—including his own traipsing up and down the country, as far as Vancouver to the north and Mexico to the south and to Europe, in his efforts to collect books and other archives, as well as “dictations,” or oral histories. And he had to go by steamer, rail, wagon, and stagecoach, so I shouldn't complain since my dog and I could traverse hundreds miles a day in the comfort of my car. 
       With that journey over, I return to caring for my garden, woods, and valley, and to nurturing other books. As Voltaire said in Candide, in the end "we must cultivate our garden."
My friends Leif and Asher after gathering strawberries from my garden

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

#46 And Now for Something Entirely Different: Back to the Beginning

            I started this blog oh-so-long-ago to report on what it was like to leave behind my urban life and start a new career. And then urban life came crashing in, taking the form of a giant corporation's
unnecessary gargantuan cement river smashing through the wetlands and forests outside Willits.
            Despite the aspersion of “unemployed hippies” cast at environmentalists protesting the imposition of the Caltrans bypass, actually most of us do have jobs, though some are retired and working on avocations, including preventing climate change—the focus of my blog and spare time during 2013.
            I myself am actually employed, too, as a writer and editor. As I explained in blog posts way back, I spent nearly thirty years in classrooms as a teacher—from high school English to college writing and education courses. The attention I put into my students’ essays and lives was tremendously rewarding, but I needed other outlets for my writing than correcting and encouraging students on their papers.
            Of so many delightful students I’ve had over the years, one was Sadie Margolin at Merritt College in 1996. She came to class one day and told me her father wanted to see me. I was used to communicating directly with parents of my high school students, but this was college, so I told Sadie, “If you have a problem with me, you need to talk to me about it and not get your father involved.”
Malcolm Margolin
Malcolm Margolin
       “No, no,” she told me, “my father wants to see if you’d like to do some editing work at Heyday.”
OW25cover_web800px        Of course, I knew of her father, Malcolm Margolin, as most folks in Berkeley do, and as do those who have read about California’s Native peoples and local natural history. In 1974 Malcolm published The East Bay Out, a guide to East Bay parks and trails that includes the history—going back to the Ohlone Indians and the Spanish incursion—and natural history of the area. Malcolm created his own company, Heyday Books, to publish that book. In 1978, also through Heyday, Malcolm published The Ohlone Way, a well-researched description of the culture of the Ohlone Indians, told in a richly imaginative way.
MSWDcover_color300        Having seen my editing marks on Sadie’s papers, Malcolm hoped I could be as encouraging and constructive in my comments on manuscripts coming into Heyday. Following up on his offer, I had the opportunity to edit the memoir of Darryl Babe Wilson, called The Morning the Sun Went Down, about his childhood among his Pit River people (Achumawe and Atsugewi) and the ways Darryl imbibed their legends and spiritual relationship to the land around what is now Mt. Shasta.
         Babe’s memoir was not the first I had edited. I had the opportunity to work on another memoir a few years earlier, called Ruth’s Journey: A Survivor’s Memoir by Ruth Glasberg Gold (University Press of Florida, 1996).

         Through connections with a family friend, I’d spent three weeks in Miami with Ruth, helping her shape her memories of a family and life growing up in Rumania, all tragically lost in the Holocaust. Her book is a powerful evocation of the horrors of that experience and the determination of a survivor.

          I enjoyed editing memoirs—then and now: the intimacy of working with people on their life stories, walking into the door of one's home and heart through the stories shared. However, after a few editing projects with Heyday while also juggling teaching responsibilities, I had to focus my energies. My students won out at that time.
          By 2010 I was ready to return to editing and writing. I also returned to Malcolm to see what work he could help me find. He helped connect me to Ariel Parkinson. 
Ariel Parkinson
    I was pleased to work with Ariel on her memoir, simply called Ariel, once a month or so at her home. Witty and iconoclastic, Ariel is now a retired painter and designer of stage scenography. Ariel’s husband, Tom Parkinson, was a professor at U.C. Berkeley in the 1950s and '60s. He was the reigning expert on the poetry of Yeats. Together, their friendships included Robert Duncan, Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, and other luminaries of what Ariel calls “The Berkeley Renaissance.” With poetic imagination, Ariel tells story of her life among poets and artists in Berkeley from the late 1940s through the wilder days of the 1960s. (See an article about Ariel and her work by clicking here on The Monthly.)
            I had the distinct pleasure of sitting with Ariel in her Berkeley hilltop aerie and reviewing her manuscript with her, getting her to tell me more about some of the clearly delightful stories that she had told too cursorily, asking her to expand on her reminiscences of important figures in literary and political culture of that time and place. Her book was then beautifully designed by Cheryl Koehler and published by Ariel Imago Press, supported by Ariel’s daughters Kathy and Chrysa.
            While immersed in Ariel’s memoir, I met up with Malcolm Margolin again, and he asked me about other projects I was working on. I thought to tell him about this “little project” I’d done in the evenings, during the winter I had moved to my cabin in the woods in Willits. That conversation led to the publishing of Literary Industries: Chasing the Vanishing West by Hubert Howe Bancroft, Heyday’s re-issuing in January of my great-great-grandfather’s 1890 autobiography.
        Born in 1832, H.H. (as we referred to him in my family) became a book collector and a historian of the West. He is now best known for the Bancroft Library named for his collection of 60,000 books, archives, oral histories, and more, which he sold to the University of California at Berkeley in 1905.
LINDcover_web800px       H.H.’s memoir tells the story of how he grew up in a Puritan community in Ohio, how he came to California in 1852, and the development of both his archival collection and eventually 39 volumes of the Pacific West, called Bancroft’s Works.
        Ahead, I’ll delve more into how I got involved in editing H.H. Bancroft’s 800-page tome, now a beautiful edition of 250 pages with illustrations from the Bancroft Library. And that story also leads to what I worked on next, a biography of Malcolm Margolin and his literary industries.
        So my life in a cabin in the woods has led me to fulfilling my dreams of redirecting my writing to projects beyond students’ papers. And, while seeking to redirect the Caltrans Willits bypass, I’ve had much other work to occupy me. Indeed, many of us working to stop what we see as the insanity of the bypass have often sacrificed precious time—whether constructing blog posts, attending endless meetings, studying the environmental reports, writing letters to editors and politicians, standing by the roadside with banners, or climbing trees to prevent their destruction.
            The choices we make! The history of Willits and this struggle deserve a book, too. One day...
            In the meantime, more stories ahead of a writer in the woods outside Willits.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

#45 The Lull Before the Next Storm

Southern Interchange today


Warbler's Tree Sit for 2 months in early 2013

      I haven’t written in a while. In my next blog, I’ll explain why. First, I want to report on recent developments in our struggle to prevent the biggest destruction of wetlands in California since World War II.

Oaks on the hillside where the southern interchange is
Warbler's tree sit is high to the right


The Transportation Industrial Complex—in Willits known as Caltrans plowing through Little Lake Valley—is in a brief lull for the winter while engineers and contractors plot their next moves. In January, I had a chance to walk the “boot print” of the road they’ve built so far. I saw what used to be an oak forest now this ripped up system of gravel-lined creek beds where salmon used to swim under the cover of shade trees. All that destruction so you can speed by Willits in ten minutes. Time is our new Gold Rush.
        It’s a been a full year since “the Warbler” went up a huge Ponderosa pine tree PIC to stop the Willits Bypass