autographs ~ Ana Menéndez (Loving Che)

To Lina,

     With all my best
wishes   Happy Birthday
and many more.

Ana Menendez

I found this signed and inscribed first printing of Loving Che, the first novel by Ana Menéndez, at a local Goodwill last weekend.  It was half-off; I paid one dollar for it, even though it's worth at least twenty-five times that. 

Ana Menéndez
I don't know why people get rid of, or donate, signed and inscribed first printings of first novels in almost brand new condition by talented writers like Ana Menéndez.  But I'm glad they do.  What they so carelessly toss, I carefully treasure.

autographs ~ Doris Lessing (The Grass is Singing)

Another serendipitous thrift store find: A signed copy of Doris Lessing's first novel, The Grass is Singing.  Adding to the serendipity and unlikelihood of the find (I do love that word, "serendipity," one of my all time favorite words, in fact) is finding out this Paladin edition of The Grass is Singing (the book cover is pictured below) is a UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada edition that was never for sale in the United States.

On the dedication page, the next page after the title page, in the top right corner, in beautiful cursive script (though the pencil lead has faded over the years), the previous owner -- perhaps the original owner? -- left their own mark for posterity:

"P D Beach
Aug. 1993
illustration by Ruth Rivers

autographs ~ Joseph Brodsky (To Urania)

Joseph Brodsky by Alexey Kurbatov

Inscription & signature from my copy of To Urania (1988)

Keep at it



Joseph Brodsky
3 . III. 1990



autographs ~ Joseph McElroy (Ship Rock: A Place)

I suppose I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure the bookseller I bought my limited edition, signed copy of Ship Rock: A Place, from -- an online book seller based in Albuquerque, New Mexico -- did not understand the true value of the slim volume by Joseph McElroy that he'd listed for sale.  Understandable.  Suppose you were a book seller without an appreciation for, or knowledge of, the so-called-critic/academic-labeled "postmodern movement" in U.S. literature of the 1960s-90s, why wouldn't you think automatically to yourself at first glance that this diminutive book, if it can be rightly called a "book" at less than fifty pages, was not in fact just a local guide about the real place, Ship Rock, a mere 160 miles as the crow flies from Albuquerque.  After all, the book, Ship Rock, even has "A Place" in its title, right? so why wouldn't you think it anything more than some touristy spiel regarding that mysterious rock outcrop in New Mexico's northwest corner that, for like the last forty years or so, the overseers of the reservation up there whose property rights include every rugged inch of it, Ship Rock, have seen fit, in their wisdom and because of its historic sacredness in their religion and native culture, to ban access to it to everyone forever, most notably daredevil climbers but also including other kooky looky-loos such as yours truly, who, if they were just a kooky looky-loo like me, were perhaps first inspired to take the journey to Ship Rock by Joseph McElroy's Ship Rock: A Place itself, and so went and made that long-day's drive from southern California to that remote corner of New Mexico in order to see Ship Rock themselves?

Add to the fact that this hard cover edition of Ship Rock: A Place, came as issued without a dust jacket or isbn, and was published by ...  William B. Ewert? ... whom you'd probably never heard of before, and was published, moreover, in a limited run of only "226 copies printed letterpress from Caledonia type on Mohawk Superfine text"... why wouldn't you think it was, sure enough, just another vanity press publication, certainly valueless, a locals-only-commentary about an eccentric example of New Mexican geography that no one outside the Four Corners region would ever give a hoot about?  I get it.  How could you, online book seller based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, possibly guess that the little book you had in your possession was the earliest published excerpt -- and arguably the most obscure (though there are others*) -- from Women and Men, the classic postmodern novel that was then, at Ship Rock: A Place's date of publication (1980) in your hands?  Little did you know that Women and Men's spine, when it rests on its side in the supine position (how could you have ever imagined this?) sits as thick as Ship Rock is high! (no hyper-hyperbole intended), and that after almost thirty years since its original (complete) publication in 1987 -- Women and Men's publication, that is -- during which it has become the priciest, scarcest, most sought after gargantuan novel of the postmodern era in U.S. history, commanding sums deep into three digits ($100 and up) -- and that for a copy that hasn't even been signed by the author!?  Of course you didn't know this, beloved online bookseller based in Albuquerque, New Mexico; otherwise, you would've had to have been mad to sell me that signed excerpt, subtitled "From Women and Men: A Novel In Progress by Joseph McElroy" for the humble sum of $9.49 including shipping, right!?


*  Another early excerpt from Women and Men that I've either lucked into over the years or been fated into obtaining, perhaps, is ... a copy of Conjunctions: 6 (1984) ...

It's not nearly as unique as Ship Rock: A Place (but it's still nice to have, if for anything else than examining what McElroy later cut or revised and kept), though it comprises a twenty-eight page chunk from Women and Men opening the issue.  In the prefatory NOTE, "J.M." explains:  "The following sections of Women and Men come from a long chapter entitled "The Hermit-Inventor of New York, the Anasazi Healer, and the Unknown Aborter."  These are unlike any of the chapters of Women and Men elsewhere published in being far from self-contained.  But they are unlike those other sections also in their style, which, in its memorial juxtapositions and sweep of feeling, is even more of the style of the book."

I've not yet acquired the many more chapters of Women and Men "elsewhere published" in journals prior to the book's publication, but I've had fun hunting for them in Very Good+ to Like New condition, scouring indie brick-and-mortars around town.


autographs ~ Reyna Grande (Across a Hundred Mountains)

Reyna Grande (by Ibarionex Perello)

Having grown up and lived within ninety minutes of the Mexico-California border for most of my life, I'm drawn innately, it seems, to movies, novels, or true life accounts involving border/immigration issues in what are typically sad, harrowing, and sometimes tragic, stories of survival and rescue.  Reyna Grande has one such harrowing (though ultimately hopeful) long story to tell, forged from her own hard times as an orphan and undocumented immigrant, in her debut novel--a 2007 American Book Award winner in fiction--Across a Hundred Mountains.

I salvaged this autographed copy yesterday afternoon from one of the local thrift stores I regularly haunt.  I had never heard of Reyna Grande before until yesterday, drawn to the book both by its title and its rugged, southwestern cover featuring what appears to be a VW bus (but may just be a regular city bus) attempting to navigate what looks as much like an impossible rocky arroyo as a so-called "road".  Terrible terrain and more terrible odds not unfamiliar to Grande or the roughly 300,000 human beings attempting to cross the U.S. border from Mexico every year.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled Reyna Grande's first novel off the shelf, opened it to the title page, and beheld her signature in purple felt ink.  Pretty cool.  Serendipity, I'd say.  Better yet knowing I've still the future pleasure (soon soon) of reading Across a Hundred Mountains ahead of me.  For more information on Reyna Grande, visit her website here.


Up Above the World by Paul Bowles

Been on a recent Paul Bowles bender of late -- just his novels, autobiography and letters -- not the smoke of incense or hashish wafting out of the waiting pages of, say, Midnight Mass or A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard, two of his story collections.  Perhaps its the close proximity of svelte palms ensconced in the seagrass'd hollows of sand dunes, the drowsy ssh of the evening waves, the warm aroma of Lamb Tagine carried on the offshore breeze from the Moroccan take-out just down the beach -- "Tariq's" -- that makes Bowles so resonate with me this past relaxing week on holiday.

"At lunchtime the hotel's dining room was crowded with the sleek upper-class local population.  Here where they don't need it they've got air conditioning…"

So true, Mr. Bowles, even here on the California coast, half a century later, our balcony sliding glass door is open to the ocean with the air conditioner going…

"You'll never be happy until you do what you know's the right thing.  That's what life's about, after all."

"What life's about!" he cried incredulously.  What is life about?  Yes.  What's the subject matter?" He stirred the sauce.  "It's about who's going to clean up the shit."

"I don't know what you mean," she said, her voice hostile.

Life, I've found, is about stirring the shit just right so that it's palatable to both sides, be it protagonist and antagonist, husband and wife, politician and constituent.  Wouldn't you agree, Mr. Bowles?

"Words were deceptive, the very short ones most of all."

A short deceptive novel -- Up Above the World -- from which the above italicized quotes, excerpted with purposeful obfuscatory intent, were taken.  Overshadowed by The Sheltering Sky, Bowles' iconic first novel, this last novel by Bowles, published in 1966, regardless looms high like a dark cloud above a Spanish villa with a panoramic view of both the Atlantic and Pacific from its prominent, though precipitous, perch above the proletariat jungles of a slender, unnamed Latin American nation.  Panama, anyone?  Or a panorama, that is, except when it rains.  And it rains down cats and death -- and literal rain indeed -- in Up Above the World, a book whose outlook might be even bleaker, its relationships stormier, than Bowles' desolate, Saharan debut.

I've said enough (or not nearly enough) about this novel already, except the bit about the arson, curare, matricide, the "Slade" couple whose age difference was reminiscent to me of the late Anna Nicole's and J. Howard Marshall IIs -- around half-a-century (though in the former's case perhaps I exaggerate, but first impressions are genuine impressions after all) -- and that the novel was good but not quite great.

And I don't care if, like Luchita -- shrewd teenage duper of the alleged good doctor and his barely legal, brittle bride (and whose hostile voice is quoted above) -- you don't know what I mean.


Recommended Summer Reading (or reading for any season): A-Z

(**this post is a long work in progress; book covers, blurbs, hyperlinks and revisions will appear--incrementally--over time**)

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Jules Verne / illus. Alphonse de Neuville
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) 2010: Odyssey Two (1982) 2061: Odyssey Three (1987) by Arthur C. Clarke
A Book of Common Prayer (1977) We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction (2006) Play It As It Lays (1970) by Joan Didion 
A Clockwork Orange (1962) by Anthony Burgess
A Death in the Family (1938) by James Agee
alphabet (1981) by Inger Christensen
Alphabetical Africa (1974) by Walter Abish
An American Tragedy (1925) by Theodore Dreiser
Apes of God, The (1930) by Wyndham Lewis
Ariel (1965) by Sylvia Plath
Arthur Rimbaud (1961) by Enid Starkie

A Season in Hell (1873) by Arthur Rimbaud
At the Mountains of Madness (1936) by H.P. Lovecraft
Ava (1993) by Carole Maso 
Black Light: A Novel (1966; rev. 1980) by Galway Kinnell
Book About Books, The: The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930) by Holbrook Jackson
Book of Disquiet, The (written 1920s-30s; published 1982) by Fernando Pessoa
Bridge of San Luis Rey, The (1927) by Thornton Wilder
Cardboard Castles (1996) by Mark Axelrod
Cathedral (1983) by Raymond Carver
Château D'Argol ~ Julien Gracq (1938)
Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (1975)
Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) by Thomas de Quincey
Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fyodor Dostoyevksy
Darconville's Cat (1981) by Alexander Theroux 
David Copperfield (1865) by Charles Dickens
Days Between Stations (1985)  Rubicon Beach (1986) These Dreams of You (2012) by Steve Erickson
Death of a Salesman (1949) by Arthur Miller
Desert Solitaire (1968) by Edward Abbey
Divine Comedy, The (12th century, was it?) by Dante Alighieri w/Pape illustrations
Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time (2010) by Joseph Frank 
Dog Soldiers (1974) by Robert Stone
Dune (1965) Children of Dune (1976) /
The Dune Encyclopedia (1984) by Frank Herbert
East of Eden (1952) by John Steinbeck
Entering Fire (1986) by Rikki Ducornet
Executioner's Song, The (1979) by Norman Mailer
Exegesis of Philip K. Dick, The (2012) ed. by Johnathan Lethem
Fathers and Sons (1862) by Ivan Turgenev
First Circle, The (1968) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
First Love and Other Sorrows (1958) by Harold Brodkey
Flight of the Goose: A Story of the Far North (2005) by Lesley Thomas
Flowers of Evil (1857)
~ Charles Baudelaire
Foucault's Pendulum (1988) by Umberto Eco
Foundation (1951) Foundation and Empire (1952) Second Foundation (1953) by Isaac Asimov
Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road (2002) by Neil Peart
Going Places (1969) by Leonard Michaels...if you see anything by him anywhere, buy it--or discreetly steal it if you have to
Gravity's Rainbow (1973) by Thomas Pynchon
Great Divorce, The (1945) The Screwtape Letters (1942) by C.S. Lewis
Hard Rain Falling (1966) by Don Carpenter...his fourth novel, but the first novel he published, which helps explain why it is so wise beyond its years for a "first novel".
Heart of Darkness (1899) by Joseph Conrad
Hopscotch (1963) by Julio Cortázar
House of Leaves (2000) by Mark Danielewski
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957) by Dr. Seuss
Hunger's Brides (2005) by Paul Anderson
If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945) by Chester Himes
If on a winter's night a traveler (1979) by Italo Calvino
Infinite Jest (1996) by David Foster Wallace
Islandia (1941) by Austin Tappan Wright
Jesus' Son: Stories (1992) by Denis Johnson
Les Miserables (1862) by Victor Hugo
Less Than Zero (1985) by Bret Easton Ellis
Adrift on the Nile (1966), an Egyptian
Less Than Zero, only better, by Naguib Mahfouz
Place Last Seen (2000)
by Charlotte McGuinn Freeman
Lord of the Flies (1954) by William Golding
Lord of the Rings (1954) by J.R.R. Tolkien
Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, The (1974) by Heinrich Böll
Lost in the Funhouse (1968) by John Barth
Meaning of Culture, The (1929)/Porius (1951) by John Cowper Powys
Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) by Nathanael West
Miss Macintosh, My Darling (1965) by Marguerite Young 
Mulligan Stew (1979) by Gilbert Sorrentino
Night Shift (1978) 'Salem's Lot (1976) Skeleton Crew (1985) by Stephen King
Nine Stories (1953) by J.D. Salinger
Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume 1 (1989) ed. by ???
Plowing the Dark (2000) by Richard Powers
Poems: Wadsworth Handbook and Anthology (1978) ed. by Charles Frederick Main 
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The (1916) by James Joyce
Safety of Objects: Stories, The (1990) by A.M. Homes 
Secret Teachings of All Ages, The (1928) by Manly P. Hall
Selected Poems of Langston Hughes (1959)
Selected Short Stories (1963) by Henry James; read it for "The Last of the Valerii" alone.
Selected Stories (2009) by Stefan Zweig

The Sheep Look Up (1973)
by John Brunner

Sheltering Sky, The (1949) by Paul Bowles
Shock Treatment (1990) by Karen Finley 
Siddhartha (1922) by Herman Hesse
Sixty Stories (1981) by Donald Barthelme
Smiles on Washington Square: A Love Story of Sorts (1985) The Voice in the Closet (1979) by Raymond Federman
Stories of John Cheever, The (1978)
Swann's Way (1922) by Marcel Proust
Suttree (1979) Blood Meridian (1985) Outer Dark (1968) by Cormac McCarthy
The Jungle (1905) by Upton Sinclair
The Painted Bird (1965) by Jerzy Kosinski, true story or not (I don't care if he made it up or not), what a wild horrific trip through childhood, on the run from the holocaust.
The Plague (1947) by Albert Camus
The Rebel Angels (1981) by Robertson Davies
The Recognitions (1955) by William Gaddis
The San Gabriels: The Mountain Country from Soledad Canyon to Lytle Creek (1991) by John W. Robinson, more than a local travel guide: history, anthropology, mining, water rights, politics, "trail resorts" from The Great Hiking Era (1898-1938), before the Great Flood of '38 came and wiped out 90% of the stream side resorts and trails. Beautiful coffee-table book.
The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake (1983), twisted but tender, hopeless yet optimistic renderings of southern, West Virginian, life
The Things They Carried (1990) by Tim O'Brien, a self indictment on personal cowardice and courage.
The Tunnel (1995) by William H. Gass, hellish man from the holocaust; heavenly prose, poetry, erudition, literary name-dropping and allusions, textual acid trips, confabulated historical fiction. 
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1994-95) by Haruki Murakami, one of the best dreams I've ever had.
3 by Flannery O'Connor (1962)
Two Fields that Face and Mirror Each Other (2001) by Martin Nakell, by my second university advisor and English/creative writing professor, and those aren't the only reasons I included it!
War and Peace (1869) by Leo Tolstoy, it only has the entire cosmology of human existence in it.
We (1924) by Yevgeny Zamyatin, could we call this the most innovative, influential novel of the 20th century? Yes we could, Enrique. See, I told you.
Wittgenstein's Mistress (1988) by David Markson, the most dense short novel of the 20th century? Was she sane or mad? How many Ph.D.s does a person need to unpack its multiplicity of meanings?
Women and Men (1987) by Joseph McElroy, just breathe....and enjoy the ride, this rich, philosophical read that's 250,000 words longer than War and Peace
Yawning Heights, The (1976) by Aleksandr Zinovyev, I learned more about the latter days of the former-Soviet Union from this first novel--a satire--that got its author exiled from his country.


Meeting my Grandfather on Route 66, Vol. IV: Texas & Oklahoma


Into Texas at
Saw Maragges¹.
Looked like big
lake with houses
& farms in it for
several miles, but
wasn't any water
on lake at all.
Thru ____² at 10am.
(335 mi from Okla City)
Into Amarillo
and stop for Ice

at 10 till 11.  Mail cards & letters³


nicest town we've
come thru since
leaving California
Ice Stations here
thick as Gas
Stop 7 till 12 to eat
and let engine cool
Had drove 215 mi
this a.m.
Beautiful farming
In Shamrock
at 2 P.M.  Had drove
285 mi. out on detour
Into Oklahoma
Texola.  Got gas
and ask man about

the time.  He said


We should of run
time up 1 hr. in
New Mex.  Either
in Tucumcari or
Clovis.  So we run
watches up now.
Made it 4 P.M. instead
of 3.
Passed thru Elk
City, then by a
cemetary, where
there was a monument
just north of it.
Jesus nailed to
the cross with
monument of one
person on each side
of cross


In Clinton

Cross Canadian
River, a beautiful
drive among big
trees.  Stop at
8:20 at
Rainbow Camp
in El Reno, Okla.
Had drove 444 mi.
To bed at 10
up at 10 till 4
(skipped line)
Start out at 4:20
Get air in tire
as back one had
started to go down.
Thru Yukon
along river.
Thru Bethany,


Into Okla. City

at 4:55.  Had drove
24 mi.
Passed by cutest
lunch place we ever
saw  By Memorial
Park.  Stop to
eat Breakfast at
5:20 {in Edmond} at a Cafe {Van Dial's}
Real nice.  Cheapest
we've found.  Start
on at 6:14 after
getting gas, grease
ect.  Had drove
37 mi.
Thru Chandler at
7:03. ____⁶


Thru Barstow

out of Tulsa at
9:15.  Had drove
152 miles when
we had gas tank
By KVOO Radio Station
Thru Claremore
into Vinita Okla
at 11:20.  Mailed
Charley's letter a
__chran's card and
got ice cream
cones there.
In Miami at
12:25. into Commanche
Thru Quapard
Okla. at 12:55


1. (sic.) mirages
2. I couldn't make out the word.  It might be "Olga"? or "Vega"?
3. Wish I had those letters.

4. He had a deep Christian faith (as opposed to a surface or irrelevant faith).
5. Brackets in both cases are his.  One of the only examples in the notebook where he added in text after his initial, "on the road," jotting down of his impressions.
6. Scratched out word.
7. I've yet to decipher the first two letters of the word that ends in "chran's".

next post, KANSAS and MISSOURI

(more Route 66 posts)


A Swift Survey of Islandia by Austin Tappan Wright

My copy of The Overlook Press edition, 2001.

Islandia is like a Victorian-era Hobbit, except the hobbits are humans, and live in a bucolic wonderland south of the equator instead of north, in lush pastures and woods and villages as delightful as any in the Shire.  The country of Islandia is so well conceived -- existing as it does on the continent of "Karain," a continent that's about the size of Australia but more like Africa in shape -- I'm convinced it indeed exists, somewhere….

The majestic mountains in the north of Islandia, reminiscent of Switzerland's or New Zealand's, and that have formed a natural border but not-so-impenetrable barrier between it and its vulgar, uncivilized, cut-throat neighbors of the Sobo Steppes, are mandatory travel destinations for the most intrepid mountaineer's itinerary, thus making Islandia (as reported by Austin Tappan Wright, Esq.) as much of an in-depth documentary of this fascinating nation as it is a 1,024 page novel presently published by The Overlook Press.

No matter what Islandia is or isn't, faux or fact, do know that it is always an awesome and romantic read, rich in intrigue, introspection, and mystery.


The Southern Sierras of California by Charles Francis Saunders: A Second Look at a Forgotten, Outdoors Classic

The book's title is a misnomer:  The Southern Sierras of California, by regionally revered botanist, naturalist, and outdoorsman, Charles Francis Saunders, isn't referring to the majestic southern Sierra Nevadas encompassing Yosemite Valley and Kings Canyon National Park -- rugged alpine terrain of gigantic domes, gargantuan Sequoias centuries old, and Tolkien-like, multi-tiered waterfalls, made famous by the writings of John Muir and photography of Ansel Adams -- but to the less celebrated, less elevated, and lesser traveled trio of mountain ranges flanking the cities and suburbs of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Palm Springs.

First printing, 1923
These three ranges, the San Gabriels (or, "Sierra Madre," as they were called in Saunders' day at the dawn of the Twentieth Century), San Bernardinos, and San Jacintos, are instead the focus of The Southern Sierras of California.  What John Muir did for the Sierra Nevadas, promoting their conservation, Charles Francis Saunders did for the mountains of southern California.  Both writers enjoyed relaying their adventures in exciting, sometimes melodramatic, prose.  Not long after the shelterless, sub-zero night of exposure John Muir survived on Mount Whitney (elev. 14,495 feet) by "dancing" all night on the summit to ward off hypothermia and to keep himself halfway warm, Saunders wrote about the harrowing time he barely survived on the summit of "Greyback" (a.k.a., "San Gorgonio Peak," the highest point in southern California, at 11,502 feet).  Greyback is a mountain I can see from my house on clear days.  I made it to the top of the peak during a fourteen hour day hike in 1995 that also happened to be the same day O.J. Simpson was acquitted of double-homicide.  On what had been an otherwise uneventful hike to the summit of Greyback, in the "High Peaks" chapter of The Southern Sierras of California, Saunders described how the weather turned traitor on him:

"Suddenly there was a crash of thunder and a blinding flash.  The bolt stunned the guide, and sent him plumb crazy, so I had to hold him by force to the ground for half an hour, or he would have thrown himself off the mountain.  A second bolt that followed killed Wheeler instantly, ripping his clothes to shreds and leaving him almost naked.  Then a third bolt struck close to me while I was struggling with Dobbs, who cried like a baby and was calling for his mother.  I couldn't make him realize what had happened.  Other bolts followed striking here and there on neighboring buttes, and I was with a dead man and a lunatic on my hands, and no help so far as I knew within a dozen miles, and the mountain wild with storm."

While Saunders survived the ordeal, I wish the same could be said of his legacy.  For unless one is a botanist with an obsessive interest in the history of all botanists from yesteryear, or an intrepid hiker such as yours truly, obsessively interested in the history of his local mountains, the name, Charles Francis Saunders, will inevitably elicit blank stares.  And yet his naturalist's prose could be just as poetic, just as impressive (though rarely as reflective or philosophical), as John Muir's -- that eccentric and wildly vivacious mountain man who danced barefoot all night long in the snow one night in order to stay alive, and to this day remains universally known.  Which as far as criticism goes, is like claiming Maxim Gorky wasn't as great or influential a writer as Tolstoy.  Yet as much as I identify with and respect the profound legacy of John Muir, I much prefer reading Charles Francis Saunders, because the mountains Saunders traveled, I too have traveled extensively.  What were known as "trail resorts" in Saunders' time --essentially backcountry bed-and-breakfasts run by hearty Mom-and-Pops, accessible only by hiking in or riding horseback, their rustic accommodations constructed from the sun bleached bones and exposed ligaments of weathered wilderness itself -- are now the eroded foundations of stone cottages, fascinating ruins that I have set up camp upon numerous times for a night in the woods.  Fancy that -- the exact spot where I've hammered tent spikes into the ground, Charles Francis Saunders lodged in cozy comfort, a century ago.

Consider forested Orchard Camp, the former "trail resort" in the hulking shadow of Mount Wilson, a mere three miles north of, by historic path, the encroaching mansions of Sierra Madre's, Arcadia's, and Glendora's arson-prone canyon cul-de-sacs; imagine a night there under oaks and alders and the spell of a sylvan stream, reading what Charles Francis Saunders wrote about Orchard Camp by candlelight, in the mosquitoey hologram of your flashlight ….

I have.

Orchard Camp: Then
Orchard Camp: Now


Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road by Neil Peart

Imagine sending your nineteen-year-old daughter, Selena, your only child, off to college in the morning, and that evening the police show up at your front door with some "bad news".  Imagine the officer suggesting to you and your wife, Jackie, whose eyes have presently "gone wide" and "her face turned white" (because she already knew), that "maybe you'd better sit down."  Imagine the officer telling you and your spouse it was a "single car accident," she "apparently lost control," she was "dead at the scene."

Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for RUSH, and one of the most literary and imaginative minds in the history of rock, didn't have to imagine it, having endured that agony the night of August 10th, 1997, when life as he'd known it abruptly and irrevocably ended.  His wife collapsed to the floor with the news.  Unfortunately, for her sake and for Neil Peart's, she never really got back up off the floor.  Shattered by the sudden death of her daughter, Jackie was so inconsolable that not even Neil, her husband of almost twenty years, could comfort her, though he tried and tried.  Five months after their daughter was killed, Jackie was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and Neil confessed in Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road, a memoir that has to be the most painful and yet ultimately the most hopeful memoir I've ever read, that Jackie absorbed the news of her terminal cancer "almost gratefully".  Three months later, she died.

Imagine being Neil Peart, losing your daughter and then your wife, your entire immediate family, your entire life, in the span of eight cursed months?  How could you survive something that hellish and unbearable?

Neil hopped on his motorcycle, a BMW R1100GS, and rode through almost every province in Canada, including the Yukon and Northwest Territories; through almost every state in the U.S.A., including Alaska; through almost every state in Mexico, traveling as far south as the Central American nation of Belize.  Thirteen months riding a motorcycle, rain or shine, 500 miles a day, not really running from his grief but moving along with it, perhaps living out Mark Strand's poetic maxim, "I move to keep things whole."

I've been doing a lot of "moving" myself these past three weeks since my own fifteen-year-old daughter, Megan, died suddenly from an unforeseen and unpredictable pulmonary embolism that took her life almost instantly.  It's weird and it's cruel: find myself walking through the house, pacing, stopping only long enough to straighten up and organize book shelves that are already perfectly straightened up and organized, or stopping to eat and to truly absorb and appreciate as much as I can, in every blessed moment I know I'll never take for granted again, the beloved company of my wife and two other children who are thankfully still alive and well. Neil Peart explained that all this "moving" in the aftermath ofI've been doing a lot of "moving" myself these past three weeks since my own fifteen-year-old daughter, Megan, died suddenly from an unforeseen and unpredictable pulmonary embolism that took her life almost instantly.  It's weird and it's cruel: find myself walking through the house, pacing, stopping only long enough to straighten up and organize book shelves that are already perfectly straightened up and organized, or stopping to eat and to truly absorb and appreciate as much as I can, in every blessed moment I know I'll never take for granted again, the beloved company of my wife and two other children who are thankfully still alive and well. Neil Peart explained that all this "moving" in the aftermath of an unexpected loss is a normal part of the grief process known as the "search mode," a period of time in which your unconscious mind is "trying to find the lost one," or trying to create a sense of organized reality out of (in what for me in my recent experience), still seems unsettled, vaguely unreal when it's not so surreal sometimes, even though I know in my head, and can proclaim it aloud, "Megan's gone."

Having been a fan of RUSH since I was thirteen and first heard the songs "Subdivisions" and "New World Man" off their underrated Signals album (and then shortly thereafter, discovered their even more brilliant back catalog of classic records, stuff like 2112 and Permanent Waves), it's hard to love them anymore than I already have.  But I do!  And it's solely because of Neil Peart's experiences and perspectives, his willingness to write about, with great candor and wisdom, his personal pain that can, understandably, crush some people, that bonds me closer to the man and his music, helping me cope and offering hope for a new future.  As I've read and reread passages of his healing memoir, Ghost Rider, I've come to view Neil Peart as being much more than merely a genius drummer or lyricist or reclusive rock star, but like some ambassador from the country of Grief or capital of Commiseration, who's comforting and encouraging, helping me navigate this seemingly endless, merciless and incomprehensible maze of mourning.


When Classic Literature Became Rock Opera: William Roscoe's The Butterfly's Ball, and the Grasshopper's Hat, Re-imagined by Roger Glover and Ronnie James Dio

In 1973, Alan Aldridge and William Plomer collaborated on a picture book inspired by William Roscoe's children's poem, and published their version of The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast.

The following year, 1974, bassist Roger Glover, who'd just quit (or been fired from; I forget) Deep Purple, produced a rock opera based on Aldridge's and Plomer's picture book of The Butterfly's Ball, and the Grasshopper's Feast, and recruited various rock singers for each track.  Ronnie James Dio, whom Glover knew very well from having produced Dio's then little known hard rock band, Elf's, first three records (1972-1974), sang vocals on "Love is All", a song that didn't do all that much in the UK or USA, but went to #1 in The Netherlands, and became a hit again in France once the opera was made into an animated film.

Completing the circle, Dio and Deep Purple (w/Roger Glover back in the band on bass), played w/ the London Symphony Orchestra at The Royal Albert Hall in Sept., 1999, selections from The Butterfly's Ball, and the Grasshopper's Feast.

Today, the Swedish art-punk band, Love Is All***, enjoys warming up to the song that gave them their name (you guessed it!) -- Roger Glover's and Ronnie James Dio's, "Love is All".

[***thanks to slickdpdx, for alerting me to this obscure yet fascinating fact of contemporary music trivia]



Illustration by Gustave Dore, from Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

They may feel crushed; they may be too exhausted to speak.  But they are not defeated.


Meeting My Grandfather on Route 66: NEW MEXICO

into New Mexico
at 7:40 p.m.
Stopped at
8:30 in Gallup
New Mexico.  Had
drove 431 miles
today.  A man
from Loveland,
Colorado, said if
we didn't mind
he'd sit at
table with us.
So we talked
while we eat.
Camp at West
Side Camp. in
cabin named


"Lillie The Toiler"

To bed at
Up at 4:50.
Starting out at
5:25 from camp.
Top o' the World
7246 ft Elevation
Continental Divide
at 6:05 a.m.
Into Grant, New Mex
6:55.  Eat breakfast
at Yucca Cafe
Start on at
7:30.  Indian
squaws selling
sovenirs.  One was
carrying a Pan full
of them on her head.


Saw skeleton of a

sheep still standing*
out on the desert
Into Los Lunas
at 9:36.  Along Rio
Grande River on
roughest road we
ever saw.  I'm
sure we took
wrong road, the
way it was marked
fooled several folks.
Run into Pavement
tho later and
Gertrude said
"My, this is
Heaven now, isn't
it."  We sure


are thankful for

it too.
Cross Rio Grande
River at 10:22
and into Albuquerque
This is called
Sunshine State.
It's printed on
their car licence
Into Santa Fe
and stop to eat
a terribletown to find your
way thru.  Young
fellow driving a
Bread Truck showed
us the way out.
Pass by the
oldest well** and


The oldest Trail in

In Pecos at
2 pm.  Get some
sandwiches at
Perster's ____***.  Had
drove 258 mil this
a.m.  Start on at
Arrive at Santa
Rosa at 6:10 P.M.
Had only driven
358 mi, but a
lot of this was
over terrible
roads.  So we
were all glad
to get a chance
to stop.


Camped at The

Big Camp Ground's among
the shade trees.
In cabin no. 4.
Go to bed at
Up at 3:50
Start out at
4:35 -- Sunday
May 22nd
Such a pretty
Into Tucumcari
at 6:30.  Stop to eat
breakfast and also
have car greased.
Had drove 66 mi.
Eat at Golden Court
Service Station.


Start on at 7:30.

Pass Monument Rock
nature's own carving
23 mi east of Tucum-

a sheep skeleton standing up out in the middle of the desert?  Was he hallucinating?  Was it a prop or a billboard that maybe looked real through the rising heat of haze?


*** word following "Perster's" might be "Grove," "Home," or "Homes".

**** He inadvertently, looks like, skipped from page 13 to page 18 in his page-numbering.  There's no missing pages as far as I can tell, and the text from page 13 to 18 is seamless in content.  Perhaps the rocky roads of New Mexico rattled him more than he let on?  Route 66, I'm learning, was not completely paved until the 1940s.

next post, TEXAS & OKLAHOMA

(more Route 66 posts)