Sunday, October 30, 2011

California and the Southwest III

I've been lost in a cornfield maze for the last three days. We picked up the great-grandsons from school and zipped out to Tolmachoff Farm to pay homage to the Great Pumpkin and went into the corn maze. Nothing like a good corn maze to put you in the mood for more California and the Southwest.

The header image is a pile of rock near Monument Valley with a light dusting of snow.

We'll now relate the life in California as it pertains to the West and come to a conclusion about whether or not California is part of the Southwest under Western traditions.

I must rely on David Starr Jordan for some more bullets to throw at you. In his book California and the Californians he writes: "A Western man," says Doctor Amos Griswold Warner, "is an Eastern man who has had some additional experiences." The Californian is a man from anywhere in America or Europe, typically from New England, perhaps, who has learned a thing or two he did not know in the East" [like gold mining, running cattle, holding up stages, robbing banks, etc. Blogger's note.] "and, perhaps has forgotten some things it may have been well to remember. The things he has learned relate mostly to elbow room, nature at first hand, and the "unearned increment." [What the hell ever that is. BN] [Oh, it's GOLD! What else? Just laying around on the ground for anyone to take. BN]

The things he has forgotten relate mostly to the law: "When men come into contact with men instead of the forces of nature, they mistake their own conventionalities for the facts of existence. It is not what life is, but what "the singular mess we agree to call life" is what interests them. In this fashion, they lose their real understanding of affairs, become the toys of their environment"......."The young man who is decent only because he things that someone is looking, would do well to stay away. The stern law of individual responsibility turns the fool over to the fool-killer without a preliminary trial."....."In short, California is a man's land, with male standards of action--a land where one must give and take, stand and fall, as a man."

Just like the rest of the West and Southwest, where men were men, survival of the fittest, as Darwin put it. "He can cinch his own saddle, harness his own team, bud his own grapevines, cook his own breakfast, paint his own house {whoever heard of painting a house, in those days? BN] ......."Following them [the gold hunters, BN] came a miscellaneous array of parasites and plunderers; dive-keepers and saloon-keepers, who fed fat on the oil of the Argonauts. Every Roaring Camp had its Jack Hamlin as well as its Flynn of Virginia, John Oakhurst came with Yuba Bill,.........and keepers of establishments far worse [than saloons, BN], toward which the saloon is the first step downwards; a class of so-called lawyers, politicians and agents of bribery and blackmail; a long line of soothsayers. clairvoyants, lottery agents and joint keepers, besides gamblers, sweaters, .........and other types of unhanged, but more or less pendable, scoundrels that feed on the life-blood of the weak and foolish." [I think he means the Criminal Element. BN] 

Who were these characters? Well, Jack Hamlin was Bret Harte's protagonist in his tales of early California, a very modest portion of which is quoted here from the California Digital Library: "There's an entire stranger downstairs, ez hez a lame hoss, and wants to borry a fresh one." "We have none, you know," said Mrs. Rylands, a little impatiently."

Now, that way of talkin' is exactly like other parts of the West. Whether or not the "entire stranger" was Jack Hamlin or someone else, I know not.

Yuba Bill was a characater in a movie entitled Salomy Jane, of 1914, written by Paul Armstrong and played by Andrew Robson. It was a WESTERN feature film based on the novella of the same name by Bret Harte.

And there were outlaws just like in the Old West like Joaquin Murietta and others. I refer you to William B. Secrest's book, California Desperados: Stories of Early California Outlaws in their Own Words, available from

So, there you have it, and why I came to the conclusion that California is part of the Southwest, a moot argument to begin with.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Climate and the Southwest Including California

I'm indebted to David Starr Jordan, a former President of Stanford, for his book California and the Californians and to Project Gutenberg where I found it. Mr. Jordan lays out the case for California being part of the Southwest, just read this and you will see what I mean:

"The climate of California is especially kind to childhood and old age."

See, that right there puts California in the Southwest, because the climate of the Southwest is the same. The years in between don't fit into this climate because by the time you take out all the disease, filthy conditions, unwarranted killings and early deaths, there is nothing left but childhood and old age (if a person is lucky). It's smooth sailing from there on out in California and the rest of the Southwest.

Mr. Jordan uses a quote by Bret Harte: "Half a year of clouds and flowers, half a year of dust and sky" to proclaim the virtues of California's climate, but he could have just as well be talking about Arizona, Texas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota, all in the Southwest according to the way some people see the Southwest. And you have to admit that most of these States, if not all, are full of dust most of the time, even in winter's depth, if not dirt dust, it's snow dust. Just like the Southwest, so the climate of California is exactly similar.

Here is a picture of a California cloud that was blown off course and ended up in Arizona across the border, It looks mighty similar to or maybe exactly like the others in the Southwest. Just to show that they are about the same, this one below drifted from the north, Utah, a part of the Southwest.

A mighty powerful cloud in its own right. Only one problem, from here, I can't tell if it's a raincloud or a dust cloud. The point is that it looks exactly similar to the one above, especially in its fluffiness and contours.

Mr. Jordan continues to write about the weather in California: "But with the dust and the sky, come the unbroken succession of days of sunshine, the dry invigorating air, the scent of the resin of tarweed" (I think he meant mesquite trees and creosote bush) "and the boundless overflow of vine and orchard." (I think he meant wine and grapes, typical of the Southwest). And he goes on and on to say, "If one must choose, in all the fragrant California year the best month is June, for then the air is softest,  and a touch of summer's gold overlies the green of winter." This compares favorably with all of the Southwest, including Arizona where June is the best month of the year, too, since it's the hottest, hot as Hades, where everyone stays indoors just like in North Dakota for the opposite reason, analogous to California. Here is a picture of that blue sky, a very familiar sight in the whole Southwest:

The month of June. Beautiful.

One more point on climate per Mr. Jordan: "The habit of roasting one's self all winter long is unknown in California. The old Californian seldom built a fire for warmth's sake. When he was cold in the house, he went outside to get warm." This is exactly like all of the Southwest, except the people in the Southwest didn't have houses. They had tepees, cabins, huts, cellars, etc., and never built a fire inside to prevent accidental destruction by fire. We had to go outside to get warm and besides, all the gunfights took place outside at high noon, so there was no reason to stay inside.

We can see now that California and the Southwest are geographically and climatologically contiguous, two-thirds of my argument proven.

A comment on this. I don't think Mr. Jordan ever visited Lake Tahoe in Northern California where they receive around a hundred and twenty feet of snow every winter.

 Next up:  A short post on people and freedom in California juxtaposed with the rest of the Southwest, maybe.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

California is Part of the Southwest

In some mysterious fashion over the next few blog posts, I will "prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that that area of the United States called California is in the Southwest. I mean the Southwest, the one we Western writers think of as being Southwest, you know, the traditional way of looking at things Western, e.g., attacks by Indians, stage robberies, holdups, shootouts, cowboys, Indians, poker players, and what have you.

The reason I bring this up is over the last couple months or so, that question was asked by a blog writer. I don't recall who or why the subject came up, but I can imagine that some people along the line have said  that California is not part of the Southwest.

First, being the foremost, is the geographic location. Some people think that California looks like this on a map of the U.S.:

But, to some other people, it looks like this:

Still others see it like this:

No matter how you look at it, California just doesn't fit in, but we'll see as the discussion progresses. Next up, the Climate.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Too Many Interruptions, Again

Here we go again, unexpected interruptions. Since last Thursday, my writing has been cut to zero due to lack of time. I'm pushing it to put something in a blog today, so I won't. I'll just let the blog take care of itself while I do my other tasks.

Here is the first thing I won't write about today - What am I doing? Just ain't the hours in a day to tell about what I'm doing today.

Here's the second thing I won't write about  - Why am I doing it? This would take too long to explain when I don't know myself what or why I'm doing it.

And, the third thing I won't write about - Should I even be doing it? Talk about something to write about would be the reasons I'm doing what I'm doing. But I'll restrain myself and just put it aside.

Finally, since I don't have time to write anything, is the fourth thing I won't write about - I won't write about what I'm not writing about due to another interruption.

HAVE A WONDERFUL HUMPY DAY!!! I'm not writing this on Wednesday, and I won't post it on Thursday.

WOOPS! Too Late.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Character descriptions

Some writers spend a lot of time describing their characters and it isn't anything new. Take for instance the first page of Dostoevsky's The Idiot. He starts right off with long descriptions of the first two characters as follows:

"One of them was a young fellow of about twenty-seven, not tall, with black curling hair, and small, grey, fiery eyes.  His nose was broad and flat, and he had high cheek bones; his thin lips were constantly compressed into an impudent, ironical--it might almost be called a malicious--smile; but his forehead was high and well formed, and atoned for a good deal of the ugliness of the lower part of his face. A special feature of this physiognomy was its death-like pallor, which gave to the whole man an indescribably emaciated appearance in spite of his hard look, and at the same time a sort of passionate and suffering expression which did not harmonize with his impudent, sarcastic smile and keen, self-satisfied bearing. He wore a large fur--or rather astrachan--overcoat, which had kept him warm all night, while his neighbour had been obliged to bear the full severity of a Russian November night entirely unprepared. His wide, sleeveless mantle with a large cape to it--the sort of cloak one sees upoon travellers during the winter months in Switzerland or North Italy--was by no means adapted to the long cold journey through Russia, from Eydkuhnen to St. Petersburg.

"The wearer of this cloak was a young fellow, also of about twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age, slightly above the middle height, very fair, with a thin, pointed and very light coloured beard; his eyes were large and blue, and had an intent look aobut them, yet that heavy expression wihich some peoplle affirm to be a peculiarity as well as eveidence, of an epileptic subject. His face was decidedly a pleasant one for all that; refined, but quite colourless, except for the circumstance that at this moment it was blue with cold. He held a bundle made up on an old faded slk handkerchief that apparently contained all his travelling wardrobe, and wore thick shoes and gaiters, his whole appearance being very un-Russian.

"His black-haired neighbour inspected these peculiarities, having nothing better to do, and at length remarked, with that rude enjoyment of the discomforts of others which the common classes so often show: (etc., etc.)"

Since beginning my writing "career" (he says with a dirty little grin or more like a smirk), I never paid much attention to character description, even though I was instructed in a class to write on a piece of paper all the various traits and physical characteristics, mannerisms, etc., of each character, and now ten years later I still haven't paid too much attention to character, and I haven't written on a piece of paper or anything else any of these things. The above excerpt clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of doing this, even though it is a fairly long-winded exposition, at least the first one is and shows me that more attention to character can make (or break) a story in some instances.

A fellow blogger, Charles Gramlich at has written about character descriptions more than once on his Razored Zen blog and I owe him one for pointing out the usefulness of description when bringing characters to life. I'll have to be more cognizant of this in my own writing.

NOTE: The excerpt is in the public domain and was copied from the Project Gutenberg site. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fire! Fire! Fire!

Hm-mm, the photo in the last blog didn't re-size and took up most of the page. When I clicked on "Add Photo", I thought it was supposed to fit into the space allotted in the blog spot. Oh, well, it just wanted to disobey and show its independence, and I'm not going to mess with it anymore.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

Our great-grandsons are in the scouts and over the last weekend they participated in the annual Fire Prevention Parade in downtown Glendale, AZ. Their scout troop was selected to march in the parade and march they did. The parade lasted for about an hour-and-a-half with all the public figures and fire engines from different parts of the State. Even a couple engines from out of State were there blowing their sirens and honking horns. The first fire engine procured by Glendale was a 1917 Nash. It was a pretty sharp truck and still running, too.

The photo above shows some of the scouts watching the trucks and other entries after their part in the parade was finished. The TV news cameraman is there, too, taking pictures of the crowd.

This photo fell right into place like it was supposed to. Go figure.

Fires in the Old West were hard to contain, if they could be stopped at all. Well-water was about the only source for water except for the water storage tanks in towns that were so inclined to provide them, but they had no way to transport it to the fire except by use of "bucket brigades." The coming of steam engines required water be stored at the stops, but if the fire was down the street, there was no practical way to get the water to the fire. But with more modern technology and people to implement it, fire prevention became easier. The invention of fire hoses was a big step forward. The ranch owner, though, was at the mercy of fire, just like the merchants in town but on a smaller scale.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Utah State Historical Marker

This is a picture of the State Historical Marker put up by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers to commemorate the Burrville Peace Treaty between the Mormons and the Indians.
It was February 9, 1883, ten years later,  that my father was born in Burrville and they should have put up a marker for that occasion, too. Just joking. And we always joked that he was three days older than Lincoln. 

And here he is on the right with his five sons. You can see the western influence in his older boys all wearing a cowboy hat and the oldest also has a neckerchief. This was taken on the school steps in 1939 or l940. That's me on the far left. He also had three daughters, but he wanted this picture to boast of the boys. When WWII started, the older ones joined the Army and later the one next to me joined the Marines in '48 and I joined the Navy in '50, 17 years old. That white dot on my pop's breast is a Bull Durham tag. He smoked right up until he died in 1951.
We had to wear those overalls until we were 12 or 13 and we were barefooted. We got shoes for the winter, though. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sedona, AZ, A Personal View

The rocks in the header are not in the Sedona area. They are somewhere in northern AZ though, probably near the Monument Valley.  Here's what Sedona has:

These are just two of the many brochures that are spread around the town to keep the tourists happy and occupied. There are many types that a traveler can pick up in the visitor center, motels, grocery stores, shopping malls, art galleries, etc. A lot of people come to Sedona to check out the psychic and spiritual stuff available, like the Vortex Tours, and there is plenty of down-to-earth funspots, too, like the Horsin' Around Adventurers. I don't mind givin' them a plug and hope they sell lots of tours. The Pink Jeep Tours is very popular and you have the helicopter and airplane tours over the Grand Canyon. Sedona Airport is a nice place to have  breakfast or dinner and look out over the valley, but there are many nice, expensive restaurants to grab a bite.

Thirty years ago, we had friends that lived in Oak Creek Village adjacent to Sedona, and back then it was touristy but a lot smaller with only a few nice places to eat and NO ROUNDABOUTS. Traffic was not so bad then and the stargazers and vortex seekers had to stop alongside the road to gaze at the rocks. Now the city has provided lookout stops along the way so you don't hold up traffic. West Sedona was barely populated with real estate offices and a couple of restaurants and now its all built up with all kinds of businesses and housing.  My drunken sailor buddy and I hit all the drinkin' places back then to the utter dismay of our wives on what we considered "good times." And I don't apologize for any of that crazy stuff. I was taken back to those days when we were eating dinner in the Cowboy Club the night before the book festival and cussing out all the people crowdin' into the town and bars and restaurants. Both my friend and his wife were killed in an auto accident one morning when they were heading to the doctor on one of the two-lane roads and now rest in peace at a cemetery in Sedona. One of these days I'll stop by with a bottle of wine and pour us a snifter for the "good ole times," if my sawbones says it's all right to have a drink. Even with the crowds and the roundabouts, its a nice place to visit and contemplate your navel or world problems, whichever strikes you as the most needed.

Before I end this post, I want to tell you about the 43 western movies made in Sedona, but I won't, I'll just refer you to this site:  
which has the complete list. You may have to search for the post there and the YouTube video under "western movies filmed in Sedona." Good luck.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A trip to Sedona, AZ

We just returned from Sedona, AZ, and unpacked. We (the wife and I) attended the Sedona Book Festival at the East Yavapai College campus among the cedar trees in West Sedona. It was a smashing success, I heard someone say as we were getting ready to leave. It had to be, because the two rooms were jammed chock-a-block with authors selling their books and the speakers were Kris Neri, Award Winning Author of the Tracy Eaton mystery series, Jeff Smedstad, Owner of the Elote Cafe and the Chef with a cooking demonstration, Diana Gabaldon, National and International Bestselling Author of the Outlander series, and Lisa Schnebly Heidinger, Author of the Official Book of the Arizona Centennial. The reviews were mixed in the book selling department, some were good, some not so good.
Mine was in the not-so-good category, selling just one book in the four hours at the table, but the day wasn't wasted. The buyers seemed to be more interested in the psychic and fantasy realm than in the down-to-earth Western type it appeared to me. The psychics and fantasy seemed to make up about half of the authors in our room. Anyway, a good time was had by all, and who couldn't have a good time among the red rocks and vortexes on that area.

I will have a follow-up next blog, after I catch my breath.