Sierra anthology aims to ‘illuminate’ reader minds
July 5, 2010
LAKE TAHOE – Anyone searching the archives of area news outlets will find plenty of cautionary tales regarding the “jewel of the Sierra” and the need to protect its stunning beauty for generations to come.
However, a new literary anthology – “The Illuminated Landscape: A Sierra Nevada Anthology” from the newly formed Grass Valley-based Sierra College Press, which compiles some of the ancient, classic and contemporary works examining the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range – offers a different take.
An old Washoe legend featuring the Ong, a mythical monster who lived in the center of Lake Tahoe, warns young members of the Washoe tribe about the dangers of impetuously exploring the secret coves of the lake, and is featured right at the beginning of the compilation of legends, tales, anthropological recordings, natural history articles, journalism, short stories, novel excerpts and poems.
The book, released in May, features the works of more than 75 authors, including poets, novelists, conservationists, explorers and artists.
The likes of Mark Twain, Henry David Thoreau, Jack London, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder fill the pages while attempting to capture some of what attracts people to “The Range of Light” – a phrase first used by famed naturalist John Muir to describe the unique quality of light which filters through the tufted granite mountains, particularly in the morning and evening.
“Our original manuscript was more than twice as long,” said co-editor Gary Noy, a former Sierra College professor. “Deciding what we wanted to leave out was the toughest part.”
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The book draws its title from Muir, and the range’s storytellers have a history of equating it to the human experience, Noy said.
While the stories feature episodes both literary and historical in settings dotted throughout the entire mountain range, there area a number of tales besides the Washoe legend which draw inspiration from Lake Tahoe specifically.
Foremost, Mark Twain, in his novel “Roughing It” – which recounts his numerous adventures in the western United States in the 1860s – relates his adventure of journeying to Lake Tahoe from Carson City by foot. After various setbacks, difficulties, false peaks and seemingly endless trudging, Twain and his friend finally reach the azure lake.
In the excerpted portion of the novel featured in the anthology, Twain famously calls the lake and the surrounding mountains “the fairest picture the whole world affords.”
Also, Truckee-based environmental writer Tom Knudson has some of his Pulitzer Prize winning article featured in the book. While Tahoe has many cameos in the pages, the true star is the entire Sierra Nevada range.
“The setting is used more than in any other body of literature on any other mountain range to explore what it is to be human,” Noy said. Writers have shed light on the range’s beauty – like Ansel Adams’ dispatch for a Sierra Club bulletin, and on its dark corners, including the tale of “Josefa of Downieville,” author Alejandro Murguia’s story about a pregnant Mexican woman hung for killing a white miner who attempted to attack her.
Hidden among sequoia-sized literary legends like Muir, Jack London and Twain are some less notable but equally interesting tales, Noy said. Reporter Grace Greenwood wrote a newspaper article in 1872 detailing her first trip to Yosemite and meeting a very young Muir, well before he founded the Sierra Club. The republishing of the story in “Illuminated Landscape” appears to be the first since it originally appeared, Noy said.
Two eras of literature stuck out to Noy while researching the book, he said.
“The first was the Gold Rush, which was one of the most documented events ever,” Noy said. “The second was the end of the 19th century and early 20th century. There was a rich body of literature during that era that explored man’s use of the land and the idea that this is a place that needed protection.”
Contrasted against tales like Bret Harte’s “The Luck of Roaring Camp” (1868) about a Gold Rush-era foothill mining town and its residents contending with nature, are works like Muir’s “The Yosemite” (1912) about controlling man’s need to tame his environment.
Many of the contemporary authors in the book echo that theme of Sierrans evaluating their place in nature and living within it rather than dominating it.潥