Thursday, July 20, 2006
Cape Cod author bought himself a piece of the Sierra Nevada
By DAN BANETT
Though Brent Harold lives "in Wellfleet, Mass., on outer Cape Cod," part of him, at least some small part, hearkens back now and again to Placer County and 20 acres of land "about 10 miles northwest of Lake Tahoe," part of Coldstream Valley, that he and nine friends bought in 1968. The 10 friends from Palo Alto met at a '60s "encounter group" and they decided that piece of Coldstream was going to become a communal heaven.
The story is light-heartedly and winsomely told in "Owning the Sierra Nevada: The Short History of a Long Infatuation" ($12.95 in paperback from Kinnacum Press, firstname.lastname@example.org). It's about the call of the land even though "of the 36 years of our ownership, my total time there amounts to between three and four months." The youthful idealism did not last long, but the friends never got around to selling the parcel. Harold lost track of some of the owners, but he and a few others over the years made pilgrimages to what they called The Land. In several easy-to-digest chapters the author recounts how his dream of someday setting up a "real life" in the woods was profoundly altered.
Harold had almost completed his doctorate in English at Stanford University when the group of friends decided to buy the property "merely to celebrate friendship." It was, he writes, "a typical moment in that utopian era." He dropped out of Stanford society, "dropped out of what was left of my youthful marriage" and "as a sort of emancipation proclamation I packed some books and writing paper in my VW bug and headed up to the Gold Lake-Sierra Buttes high country." His desires were kindled.
On another journey, this time to the Tuolumne Meadows, he writes, "What stands out when I think of that trip is the sexiness simply of being in the high Sierra: smooth, clean rock, pure water, eternal snow and the huge bowl of dark blue sky. ... That largely treeless, rockbound landscape was sexy in the sense of making one feel exposed -- to an intimate connection with the cosmos; or with something. ('Scuse me while I kiss the sky.)"
Much later he and his girlfriend Susan began visiting The Land. One time, in late spring, they had come back from a hike only to "find the stream risen from snowmelt during the warm day, and the corral of rocks in which we have left our cans of juice and beer ... threatened by the flooding. ... A few cans get loose in the current and we run downstream, with great hilarity, trying to head them off. ... We almost immediately began calling our frantic efforts the Wild Juice Chase. The story quickly in the telling becomes less that of high, feisty waters ... than How a Great Pun was Born." Bravo!
Harold had moved to the Cape Cod region to work. Susan was an Easterner, and eventually the two married, producing a son named Ben. Periodically they sojourned to The Land and Harold had thoughts of constructing a crude cabin, but it never came to pass. Life on The Land was in tents, one might say, and when adjacent landowners moved in with civilization and heavy equipment, something changed. He made his last visit in 2002 but keeps up with developments through e-mail with neighbors.
Ben is 17 now, and maybe one day he'll return to Coldstream and make that cabin a reality. Maybe.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to email@example.com. Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.