About rangerdon

Teacher, photographer, Ranger, writer. Author, THE LIFE AND TRUTH OF GEORGE R. STEWART. Father, grandfather. Wanderer

BUY THE GRS BIOGRAPHY DISCOUNTED

Cover of the McFarland Book

For those of you who’ve been waiting with bated breath to get a copy of The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart but have been discouraged by the price, this is the time to  buy.  McFarland is celebrating its 40th Anniversary with a 25% discount on ALL its titles, including the GRS biography.  So your price will not be the $35 listed at the above link – it will be

$26.25

Here’s how to get the discount:

In recognition of the company’s 40th anniversary, McFarland will be running a website promotion June 10 through June 30 covering ALL books. …

For the general public, website orders will be discounted by 25%. The website coupon code will be ANN2019, and will be advertised on McFarland’s website and social media sites just prior to the sale…

McFarland has a huge catalog on their website, which you can search by author, title, or topic.

NOTE:  THIS PRICE IS ONLY GOOD THROUGH JUNE 30TH.  DON’T WAIT TOO LONG

Holmes Books

There are many pleasant meetings on the George R. Stewart Trail.

On a walk through beautiful Historic West Carson, I took a breather on the  bench near The Martin Basque Restaurant.  Not long after, a rider on a classic Schwinn came by.  He called out a neighborly greeting. I returned the greeting.  He stopped and we began to talk.   An hour later we were still talking.  It was one of those friendly swappings of stories which enrich lives, and unearth the most unlikely and wonderful connections.

He knew where Atwater Village is, one of the few who do.  His grandmother’s name was Theodosia, an unusual name but also the name of George R. Stewart’s wife.  He’d been a YAK – Youth Conservation Corps member – and we’d worked with the Yaks and similar groups in the old ranger days.  He’d fought fires, like the one described in Stewart’s fine novel FIRE.

And – the highlight – his great-grandfather was Robert Holmes, founder  of the legendary Holmes Bookstores in San Francisco and Oakland.

In Ranger days, when money was tight and our interest in Stewart’s books strong, on payday some of us visited Holmes in San Francisco – at Third and Market – to seek first editions of Stewart’s books.  We found many, and many of those cost a dollar. His Oakland store had more collectible antiquarian books, but it was a long drive and anyway we had no money for rare books. So our collections were founded at Holmes in San Francisco.

The Holmes bookstores finally closed – buildings old, foot traffic low, no internet on which to offer books in those days.  The last one was the Oakland store, which closed in 1994, 101 years after Holmes opened his first store on Mission Street in San Francisco.

As my new friend talked about his family, and Holmes Books, I closed my eyes and saw the stacks – and smelled that wonderful aroma of old books – where my GRS collection began.

If the internet had been strong in those days, Holmes would still be in business –  it is the internet antiquarian book store fronts which are keeping such bookstores in business.

My new friend Lumpy (the name given him by his beloved Brotherhood of the Surf on Southern California beaches we both frequented (but me much earlier, and not surfing)) talked on, about the old Southern California days for a while.

Then we parted, promising to get together again when time permits.

Walking home, I felt the breath of Carl Jung on my neck.  And since the Oakland Holmes Bookstore is supposed to be haunted , Jung’s breath felt perfectly appropriate  Here’s to synchronicity!

 

 

 

James Jones, Denise Lapachet Barney, and George R. Stewart

Not long ago, old friend and Stewart fan Denise Lapachet Barney sent a text:

“Looks like James Jones was familiar with the work of GRS!  (Jones also wrote “From Here to Eternity”)”

Attached to the text was an image of a page from James Jones’ Some Came Running.

 

some came running cover

See comments from Goodreads

I haven’t read Jones’ novel I don’t know the context of this passage – that is, for what the characters are considering STORM as a model**.   Still, it is an homage to his work by an author who won many awards, who saw this novel (and From Here to Eternity) filmed and receiving several academy award nominations (and at least one academy award for From Here to Eternity).

Jones’ characters are offhandedly critical about Stewart’s novel, writing that it wasn’t a deep book.  I’d disagree, and I think the reason for the criticism is founded on two differences between the two authors’ approach to their work.  Jones clearly follows Shakespeare’s idea that the world is simply a stage for human interaction, while Stewart believes that the world (as Jones admits) is THE protagonist in all human drama.  And Stewart is, ultimately, a great optimist while Jones’s work carries a dark pessimism woven throughout.  In Earth Abides, a novel about one of the greatest tragedies that might happen to humanity, Stewart ends on a note of hope.   Jones ends his novel with tragedy.

Yet Jones’ view of Storm is remarkably similar to that of distinguished Stewart-inspired JPL/NASA Scientist, James D. Burke.

Jones’ characters discuss Storm:

… it was Gwen who came up with the idea of patterning it somewhat on the idea of George R. Stewart’s book, “Storm”.  There too, she said, the people were only incidental; the protagonist was the storm itself.  Of course, it was not a deep book, wasnt [sic] even meant to be one.  …Did Dave know the book?  There was a copy of it here someplace that he could take home with him to study.  The main point was that the life of the storm, from its birth in Pacific to its death across the mountains, formed the framework and the continuity.

Bob agreed excitedly.  And so did Dave; he took it up and began at once to elaborate it.  It was really ludicrously simple.  All he had to do was take an organization, preferably a green one, and follow it through some campaign from its first combat to—Well, to the end:  the end of the campaign, or the relief of the or the relief of the organization, or—perhaps—to the final replacement of the last man who had been with the original outfit.  ….

Dr. Burke, who was the Project Manager for the first US robotic missions to the moon, the Ranger missions, which successfully photographed several potential landing, described Stewart’s influence on his life and career in a remarkably similar way as this quote from my George R. Stewart biography shows:

When he was 12,  Burke’s family moved to a cabin in the California transverse ranges, not far from the place young Stewart first felt the touch of the ancient on his long ago mountain hike. In the mountains, Burke discovered Storm and it changed his life: “All the senses were enlarged by the book. (Remember, I was living in the forest at this time.) Love of driving snow; Love of rough wood and bark; Love of the taste of watercress. Love of forest scent, of the smell of hot sunshine on the pine bark, of wind in pine.” Dr. Burke explained how the novel’s descriptions of highway workers, power plant operators, telephone linemen and others, gave him a love for work and achievement, much “celebrated in the book.” Stewart’s interdisciplinary approach also influenced young Burke and “connections became the stuff of a lifetime.

James Jones now joins the band of writers, artists, and scientists who were influenced enough by George R. Stewart to acknowledge him in their work:  William Least Heat Moon, Stephen King, Larry McMurtry, Christopher Priest, Wallace Stegner, Philip Aaberg, Jimi Hendrix, Urusla LeGuin, and the others.

Congratulations and thanks  to Denise for this discovery.  She joins the Fellowship of Stewart Scholars.

I do have one complaint – I’ll have to revise the GRS biography to add this new, important information.

 

james jones on GRS

 

**From Denise Lapachet Barney:

To clarify the context of the passage a bit…

Dave (Hirsh) was forced to leave his small hometown in Illinois when he was a senior in high school because of a scandal. Nineteen years have passed and he has returned home. After knocking around some, he had some success with his first and second novels and short stories–not enough to be considered a “major” author, but enough to be noticed. He was in the Army in WWII and has since given up writing.

Gwen (French) was two years behind Dave in high school and now teaches at the local college. She is writing a paper on Dave and a couple of other local authors who, after initial success, have given up writing. She and her father, Bob (a retired professor and a poet), think they can help Dave get back to writing.

Tired of the solemn and portentous novels that have recently been published about WWII, Dave has an idea to write about the War, but in a humorous way. He’s not sure how to begin–how to format the story. Gwen comes up with “Storm” as an example where the main character is not the people, but the environment itself. Dave finds himself becoming excited–this is exactly the hook he’s been looking for.

BTW, James Jones deliberately leaves out apostrophes or the last consonant in a word or has irregular punctuation in an effort to convey the way the characters talk and think. Most of them have only a high school education. If they have gone on, it’s to a trade school (or for the women, a secretarial school).

The novel, “Some Came Running,” took Jones 6 years to write and is 1200+ pages. After the movie (starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine) came out an abridged version was released–which was still 600 pages long! And now there’s an “authorized re-edited” version that’s about 1000 pages. Currently I’m about a quarter of the way through the unabridged version.

Wilder Bentley – The Younger and The Elder

Featured

Wilder Mayo Bentley — Wilder Bentley the Younger — passed away in the fall of 2018, and an era ended.

Wilder Bentley the Younger was the scion of a distinguished but largely unknown Bay Area family.  His Great-Grandfather Robert Bentley was a distinguished, progressive Methodist minister who eventually became the Presiding Minister of the largest Methodist District in California, the Sacramento District.  He and his family lived in a simple, elegant Dutch-style cottage in the Berkeley Hills —  one of the few to survive the 1923 Berkeley Fire.  His sons Charles and Robert founded a fruit canning company which became one foundation of the Del Monte brand.

Charles’s son, Harvey Wilder Bentley – Wilder Bentley the Elder – was a poet, a distinguished printer and graphic artist, and a professor of English at San Francisco State.  He was also a painter, well-taught by his old friend and colleague, Chiura Obata.  Always interested in fine printing, Wilder the Elder and his wife founded the Archive Press in Berkeley, now memorialized online by the Berkeley ePlaque Project.  The Bentleys printed the first book of Ansel Adams photographs, Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail in the late 1930’s.  (You can buy one from the Bentleys’ limited edition of 500 copies here – if you have $8565.  Even the later reprints go for several hundred dollars.) (Copies of the book were sent to Washington to encourage the protection of the Sierra at the southern end of the Muir Trail.   Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes lent his copy to FDR – who refused to give it back.  Ickes had to get another copy.  The book resulted in the establishment of Kings Canyon National Park.)  Wilder the Elder’s printed works, including his 26 scroll set The Poetry of Learning, are held at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.  (To see some  works bythe Bentleys Younger and Elder, visit ABE books.  As of this date, The Poetry of Learning is described at the bottom of the list.)

Archive Press cover

Cover of the later reprint, hard-cover version

Like his father, Wilder the Younger was a gifted artist, taught by Chiura Obata.   He was also a writer, art-glass maker, book-maker, poet, historian, and craftsman.  Some of his works are archived in the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley (which also houses the Mark Twain Papers and the papers of George R. Stewart).  His works are also held at the Rosicrucian Museum, UCLA, and the New York Public Library.  His work is sometimes available for sale, as online listings reveal.

He learned to set type at a very early age, working with his parents.  Later he followed their example, establishing San Francisco’s Bread and Wine Press and publishing several works by local poets including Dick McBride.

Later, Wilder the Younger moved to Sonoma County’s Wheeler Ranch where he and his wife Penny lived for many years.  He continued his creativity, including researching, illustrating, and writing a book about bridges in the Sonoma area.

Bentley bridges full cover

Wilder Bentley the Younger’s Book, “Antique & Unusual Bridges”

Although I never met Wilder the Younger, he played an important role in the creation of the George R. Stewart biography.  I was able to interview him by email and mail.  His emails – and his printed autobiography, a copy of which he kindly sent — filled in important gaps in the chapters on Thornton State Beach (where I met George R. Stewart, and Wilder the Elder and Obata and where Ranger Nick Lee educated me about the importance of the two artists.)

In one of those episodes which seem to validate Carl Jung’s idea that there are no accidents, it was Ranger Nick Lee who sent the news of Wilder the Younger’s passing.   In his letter, Nick included a notice about a retrospective of Wilder the Younger’s work that was being arranged in Sonoma County at the end of March, 2019.  In the years since Thornton Beach and the writing of the GRS biography, I had become friends with Jean and Roger Moss and learned that they knew Wilder the Younger quite well. I called the Mosses to let them know about Wilder’s passing and the retrospective, which Roger attended.

Thornton State Beach, now abandoned by the state parks and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, played a role in the STEAM history (“Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) of Northern California.   The Bentleys, Obata, and George R. Stewart, and others of their ilk enriched our days there.  Nick, who was the catalyst for the trail named for GRS, also helped engineer the trail, created beautiful poetry and works of art, wrote articles, and played his part the creation of the GRS bio.

Thanks to our small community at Thornton Beach, and Nick, I had the honor and pleasure to know Wilder the Younger through our mail communications. Like Nick, Wilder Bentley the Younger enriched the book about GRS.   When he left us last fall, a chapter in California history closed.

How lucky we were, all of us,  to work there together, that place in which literature, art, printing, and all the rest of STEAM, were enfolded in a small wilderness near a large city, a park of ‘small compass and unusual value.’

 

A Diamond/Platinum Celebration for EARTH ABIDES

EA Morleys

 

Earth Abides was published on October 7, 1949.   It has been suggested that there be a gathering to honor the 70th anniversary of that publication.

There have been two suggestions:

1. A gathering at Indian Rock Park followed by dinner at the UC Berkeley Faculty Club, like the one done a few years ago.

2.  Or the long overdue “dedication” of the George R. Stewart Interpretive Sign on old US 40 at Donner Summit.  (The signs are removed during  October so we’d need to check to make sure the sign is still in place.)

P1060562

All other suggestions are welcomed.

October 7th, 2019 is a Monday, so the actual gathering would probably take place during the preceding weekend.

If you’re interested in such a gathering, or have any suggestions for how we might gather, please leave a comment.

This might be a good time to read or re-read James Sallis’s exceptional essay about Earth Abides. It’s still the best consideration of Stewart’s great classic.

Hermes EA

Cover of the edition published by Alan Ligda, which guaranteed unbroked publication for 70 years.

Of Fires and FIRE

A reading of David J. Strohmaier’s The Seasons of Fire , and reflections on the massive fires of 2018 have encouraged this post about Stewart’s Fire. Now, in the season between the fires, there’s time to share some information about George R. Stewart’s pioneering and thrilling ecological novel.

fire first cover

George R. Stewart’s second ecological novel was about fire.  Stewart’s normal method of writing was to create something new with each work.  He didn’t want to repeat himself.  So he regularly created new types of literary works with each new book – between his first ecological novel, Storm, and the first-ever “autobiography” of  humankind, Man, he wrote the first and only history of national place-naming, Names on the Land.  (That link takes you to a fine in-depth review of NOTL by Christine Smallwood, which also includes a mini-review of Fire.)

When Stewart’s publisher and agent and the reading public begged for another novel like Storm, he resisted the call.   When the Book-of-the-Month club weighed in, promising huge sales, he finally agreed to write it.  But to make it creative, unique, challenging, and more interesting, he set the novel in a fictional National Forest rather than real locations like the ones he’d used for Storm.  His fictional forest, the Ponderosa National Forest, located adjacent to the Tahoe NF on the north side, was as accurate as any real national forest because his son Jack (later become the USGS “Man” for Nevada) helped him create the terrain and the maps.  Naming features of that imaginary landscape and giving it a history was easy – he’d just finished his book about place-naming, was already an expert on the naming of Sierra features, and knew the Ponderosa NF’s history would be very similar to the other national forests of the central Sierra.

He named features for people he knew and respected; so Jack had a creek named for him, as did Stewart’s English Department colleague Jim Hart and many others.   His final stroke of genius was the creation of a topographic model of the fictional forest – painted by his colleague David Park whose works can now sell for over a million dollars.   (The model is safely stored in one of the Bancroft Library’s secure storage facilities.)

Christine Smallwood’s mini-review of Fire in her larger review of Names On The Land includes a good quote showing Stewart’s prolific use of names in the novel, which I’ll borrow here to give an idea of Stewarts’ poetic style in the book:

Humbug Point saw the blow-up, and Lovers Leap. Horse Mountain reported, and signed off, quoting Joel 2:30–“and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.” Far to the north, Sheer Rock saw it suddenly above the high shoulder of Howell Mountain. Hamlin Point saw it build up above the round top of Cerro Gordo, like the towering smoke of a new-born volcano.

(The names are those of fire lookout towers,  which GRS uses here to “name” the fire spotters in the towers.)

When all was said and done, Stewart’s careful “design” of his national forest, helped by Jack Stewart and David Park, was so real that for years travellers would hunt for the forest during trips to the Central Sierra, and were always disappointed to discover it was fictional.   (Interestingly,  the fictional forest and the fictional fire’s location would be close to the area of the massive Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise last fall.)

Once GRS had the setting and the characters down, he wove his story.  The novel uses the same exceptional – interesting, educational, and (as Christine Smallwood puts it) thrilling mixture of action and information –   used in Storm.  Stewart glissades smoothly from a god-like overview of history, fire science, fire ecology, wildlife biology, myth, geography, and the like, to the dramatic experiences of several human characters in several places – including one of the fire towers – during the huge blaze.

The novel opens with that god-like view, of the High Sierra and its western foothills, as lightening suddenly flashes down onto the tinder-dry duff of the forest.  It ends with a similar perspective, but this time in one one of the most beautiful statements of the cycle of fire ecology ever written, as the heat of the fire opens the serotinous cones and their seeds drop onto the newly-ash-fertilized earth of the burned areas.

Ecology is the novel’s major theme, as it is in his other ecological novels, Storm, Earth Abides, and Sheep Rock.  One of the most memorable scenes  in Fire is between the old Ranger who loves the beauty of the forest, heartbroken when “the glen” is burned into ash,  and the new, young, college-educated Forest Ranger Supervisor.  The old Ranger is saddened by the burnt wreckage of his special place of re-creation.  But the Forest Supervisor tells him that beauty depends on your ecological view of things.  To a  rabbit scrub brush would likely be far more beautiful than the glen.   It’s a wonderful, gentle pioneering statement of the ecological view in which humans are only one small part of a vast ecosystem.  The old Ranger isn’t convinced; he’s lost his beloved glen.  But Stewart has made his point about the need to see such things through an ecological sense.

The novel has its share of sad and tragic passages, like the description of the Camp Fire of its day, Peshtigo, far deadlier in that time before good forest management.  Yet GRS does not dwell on the gruesome, but simply offers it as a part of the story of fire.

As usual, GRS did extraordinary research before he even picked up one of his tray of sharpened pencils and write.  His office at UC Berkeley was adjacent to the University Library and the Bancroft Library, so he could dig deep into the literature of fire.  His colleagues in the natural sciences and geography were a great help in the details of the work.

But in the best GRS tradition, he did not write the book from other books and quiet conversations.  He had himself appointed as a “Collaborator” for the US Forest Service, and headed out to help fight some major forest fires.  Stewart was so involved in that potentially deadly research that the Forest Service lost track of him and got quite worried.  But he’d simply slipped away into the depths of the fire-fighting.   He did almost lose his life once.  Walking down a muddy trail he spied a burning snag just beyond and above him.  He decided he could outrun it and jumped across a pool of water between him and the danger.  But he slipped and fell face-down in the water.  Which was a good thing – the snag fell just as he jumped; it would have hit him if he’d not slipped.

The book became a best-seller and Book-of-the-Month Club selection.  It was filmed twice – once, in a hatchet job by Paramount as Red Skies in Montana, which ignored GRS’s ecological message. And once, for television by Stewart’s great fan Walt Disney, as A Fire Called Jeremiah.  The Disney film had some Disneyfication, but is much closer to the ecological view of Stewart’s novel.

Ø Ø Ø

We read about the deadly fires of our time, or watch their smoke, and mourn the loss of those killed by them.  Perhaps we lift a glass of Sierra Nevada’s Resilience Ale, that great act of kindness from Sierra Nevada Brewing, who created it, and 1400 other breweries around the world, who, like Sierra Nevada Brewing, are donating all profits to the victims of the Camp Fire.

A suggestion:

While you’re sipping that good ale, or some other result of ζύμωσις+ἔργον – zymurgy or the science of brewing beer – to quench the fires of your thirst,

Read – or re-read – Fire, by George R. Stewart.

 

resiliencebuttecountyproudipa-2

 

 

 

A Year Of Platinum and Sapphire — The 70th Anniversary of the Publication of EARTH ABIDES

George R. Stewart kept a Datebook, now in the Bancroft Library George Rippey Stewart Papers.  Two entries bracket this twelve-month, 2018-2019:

1948:

“11/25/48:  Finished first revision Earth Abides”

1949:

October 7 – Earth Abides Published.”

EA Morleys

 

The extraordinary novel has never been out of print, thanks to the late publisher Alan Ligda and his fine-press Hermes Press.  There have been 28 English language versions alone, and the book is also published in 20 – or maybe 27? – other languages.  (A new French Translation has just been published).   It has been called a rare book which transcends its “science fiction” categorization.   And its influence has been exceptional:

Stephen King based The Stand on “Stewart’s fine novel,” and admits it.

Kim Stanley Robinson makes a subtle reference to the novel in the first volume of his Three Californias Triptych, The Wild Shore.

Poet and novelist James Sallis has written an exemplary essay about Earth Abides.

There is talk of filming the epic work.

Composer Philip Aaberg composed a beautiful piano piece, “Earth Abides” (also available as sheet music from Sweet Grass Music.)

Jimi Hendrix considered Earth Abides his favorite book, and is said to have been inspired to compose  “Third Stone From the Sun” by the novel.

And, of course, millions of people have enjoyed and are enjoying the novel.  In some cases, as reviews on Amazon reveal, the book can change lives.

It seems 2019 would be a perfect time to celebrate the novel.

Here are some suggestions for such a celebration:

  1. A second gathering at Indian Rock Park in Berkeley (suggested by one of the followers of this blog).
  2. A visit to the Bancroft Library to review highlights of the GRS Papers that relate to Earth Abides.
  3. A subsequent meal, nearby, after Indian Rock and the Bancroft.
  4. A Dedication of the George R. Stewart Interpretive Sign at Donner Summit.
  5. A hike to the top of George R. Stewart Peak from the Sign.
  6. Hike and Dedication to be followed by a barbeque nearby.

All other ideas are welcomed.  Add them to the comments and I’ll organize and share them.

October 7, 2019, is the target date for the celebration.  But that’s a work day for most people so events should probably be scheduled on the following weekend, which is a 3-day federal holiday.  (Monday, the 14th, is the holiday.)

Any thoughts?

 

Hermes EA

Alan Ligda’s Hermes Press Edition of Earth Abides.