Friday, October 27, 2006

Chico-based California Nut Festival selects featured book


The California Nut Festival, scheduled for Feb. 17-24, is a week-long celebration of Chico's tree nut heritage, from almonds and walnuts to pistachios and more.

The festival is sponsored by the Far West Heritage Association, stewards of the Chico Museum and Patrick Ranch. In advance of the festivities, discussion groups are being formed to talk about the book-in-common, a provocative title to say the least.

"The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World" ($13.95 in paperback from Random House) is by Michael Pollan, an instructor at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley. Lyon Books in Chico will donate to the festival a portion from sales of the book. If you'd like to start a book group, contact Nancy Ostrom (

Pollan writes that "the seeds of this book were first planted in my garden. ... I happened to be sowing rows in the neighborhood of a flowering apple tree that was fairly vibrating with bees. And what I found myself thinking about was this: What existential difference is there between the human being's role in this (or any) garden and the bumblebee's?"

What follows are four long essays about co-evolution, in which "both parties act on each other to advance their individual interests but wind up trading favors: food for the bee, transportation for the apple genes." Agriculture is about human-plant co-evolution, Pollan says; "it makes just as much sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees."

Each of the essays is about some kind of human desire. The apple represents sweetness (not very abundant in the Old West); the tulip is beauty (feeding tulipomania in Holland from 1635-1637); marijuana feeds the human desire for intoxication; and the potato is a symbol of the human desire to control the natural world.

The apple chapter focuses on John Chapman, "Johnny Appleseed," who "understood he was working for the apples as much as they were working for him." Pollan writes that until Prohibition, "apples were something people drank. ... Johnny Appleseed was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier." And that brings up a key theme in the book, the interplay between "Apollo" (reason) and "Dionysius" (ecstasy), between the garden and the wilderness.

The author samples high grade cannabis in Amsterdam and muses on the nature of the "high," something, he says, that melts away short term memory and explains "the sense that time has slowed or even stopped. For it is only by forgetting that we ... approach the experience of living in the present moment."

The potato is about biotechnology. Pollan writes of a Monsanto patent on the NewLeaf potato (since, apparently, withdrawn from market) which is bioengineered to contain a natural pesticide. That would cut down on the need for chemical sprays to protect potatoes, but it would also mean, unless great care were taken, that bugs would more quickly adapt to the NewLeaf variety (since spraying is only periodic but the potatoes them-selves are around for the entire season).

This is the dance of co-evolution. "The survival of the sweetest, the most beautiful, or the most intoxicating proceeds according to a dialectical process, a give-and-take between human desire and the universe of all plant possibility. It takes two, but it doesn't take intention, or consciousness." When it comes to plant and human, we are "in this boat together."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 by Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A history of Butte County in the 1800s, town by town


She called it "a glamorous tale of Butte County." In the early 1940s, longtime Oroville resident Florence Danforth Boyle (1892-1973) wrote 196 "chapters" about county history for the Oroville Mercury-Register.

Those columns have been collected in large-size paperback format as "Old Days in Butte" ($19.95), published by the Association for Northern California Historical Research and edited by Robert Colby. The book covers the history not only of Paradise, Chico and Oroville (originally Ophir) -- though the latter gets only scant attention -- but also Biggs, Gridley, Stringtown and dozens more.

I think Lyon Books in Chico can get copies and it's also available from Association for Northern California Historical Research representative Barbara Mahler at bmahler116 It sets a high standard for local history. Colby and those who worked with him to compile and edit "Old Days in Butte" looked carefully at each column, putting unverified or folklore accounts in italics and adding corrections in brackets.

For example, the column for Feb. 23, 1942 quotes a verse ("Here I lay me down to sleep, / To wait the coming morrow; / Perhaps success, perhaps defeat / and everlasting sorrow. / Let come what will, I'll try it on / My condition can't be worse -- / But if there's money in the box / It's money in my purse") and then says:

"The author of that little verse was at one time a resident of Thompson's Flat -- a man whose daring exploits later made him one of the most famous characters in the old west. He was Black Bart, colorful highwayman feared by every stage driver in Butte County during its early days. The little piece of poetry was found attached to an empty express box taken from a stagecoach held up by Black Bart. It was his custom to leave a verse with every box he opened after taking its contents. Black Bart was reported to have posed as a dentist while living at Thompson's Flat, wealthy mining community located but two miles north of Oroville."

With the benefit of subsequent research, Colby adds an editor's note: "Current research indicates that Black Bart left poetry in only two holdups, on Aug. 3, 1877 in Sonoma County and on July 25, 1878 above Berry Creek in Butte County. ... Also, there is no evidence that he lived in Thompson's Flat." I love this attention to detail.

"Old Days in Butte" also includes an invaluable name and place index by Carlene Marek and a map of Butte County, drawn by Steve Schoonover, locating the towns, existing and long gone, described in the book.

The Foreword is by Betty Boyle Davis, Florence Danforth Boyle's daughter. Davis' account is rich with detail; I was especially struck by her mother's early interest in pioneer history -- and her hiking abilities. As a high schooler she hiked "to Berry Creek, Brush Creek, Yankee Hill and other outlying areas. On one occasion she encountered three mountain lions. She did not miss a step, just raised her arms in a threatening manner, let out a ferocious war whoop and continued on her way. The frightened animals ran away."

Florence Danforth Boyle was deeply involved in the establishment of a place to "house pioneer relics." Eventually "the Butte County Pioneer Museum was deeded to the city of Oroville in 1999 to insure its future."

An insight into our past is ensured with the publication of "Old Days in Butte." Don't miss it.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Artoberfest features new anthology of 'Skyway Poets'


The "Skyway Poets" began in Paradise in 1990 as a group of writers who met regularly to critique each other's work and to conduct occasional readings. Since joining in 2002, Patricia Wellingham-Jones, through her PWJ Publishing, has brought out a number of chapbooks featuring group members.

A new anthology, containing the work of 10 Skyway Poets, will be introduced Saturday at noon in Diamond Alley between Third and Fourth streets in downtown Chico. "Skyways," edited by Wellingham-Jones, is available for $10 in paperback from Lyon Books in Chico or from www.wellinghamjones. com.

The Skyway Poets are also featured with selected poems displayed in the windows of the Chico Chamber of Commerce offices on Salem Street, part of the Window Art Project during the month-long Artoberfest celebration.

Two-thirds of the 30 poems featured in "Skyways" were written in response to "assigned words given as prompts for new poems at the end of each monthly session" of the writing group. Those words are given in brackets in the table of contents so the reader can have a bit of fun seeing the workings of the poetical mind. Ann Doro, for example, uses "layer":

Layered in doubt I listen again
to the family legend.
Grandpa borrowed a neighbor's bull
While they were at the movies.
It took less time than the telling
for that sire to mount every
cow in the pen
and start a dairy farm.
No way, I want to say. ...

She entitled the poem, "Bull?"

Zora Maksente uses "handle" to write of her father, a chef, in "Making a Comeback":

He grips a huge wooden-handled
spatula in his right hand, turns
vast amounts of sizzling raw
beef chunks,
over and over, on the grill's hot
surface. ...

During The Great Depression
at day's end all unsold food
was handed out the backdoor
to growing lines
of hungry people until --
it caught up with him, too.

Sally Allen McNall is stuck with "pitch" in "Touch Pitch," with the last lines funny and wondrous at the same time:

If she pries the yellow resin
from the tree with her fingers
and puts it in her mouth,
spit coats it, it won't stick
to her teeth, and it tastes exactly
how the tree tastes to itself.

Sylvia Rosen presents "color" in "Kaleidoscope":

... I began to imagine the earth
as a giant kaleidoscope
in the sky
tossing us all into
a variety of patterns
against the mirrored
illusions of our eyes
as if we were all chips of
tinted glass
shimmering together in
our brief moment
against the light
as we move to touch
and then depart

Patricia Wellingham-James takes "ride" for a ride in a strange poem called "Folded," in which a man "folded his ailing wife in three pieces" and called them "Bat, Bat-hag and Nag":

... On fine days the man
his wife
into his shirt pocket, took
on long scuffling walks
through scarlet and
autumn leaves,
to the lake where they
used to
on starry nights, along
winding trail
through firs and pines to their
favorite picnic table.

On these jaunts
Bat, his own true love, the spirit
of flying adventure, rode next
to his heart. ...

But there is still "Bat-hag" and "Nag" to contend with, and that's "the rest of the story."

Other contributors include Lara Gularte, Joy Harold Helsing, Mona Locke, Birgitte Molvig and Audrey C. Small. "Skyways" is a small gem, and plenty of fun.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Friday in Chico -- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on importance of environmental activism


The scenario is chilling.

"I live in Mount Kisco, New York," writes Robert F. Kennedy Jr., "11 miles downwind of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. ... On the morning of September 11, 2001, United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston passed within a few thousand feet of Indian Point as it followed the Hudson River down to its rendezvous with Tower Two of the World Trade Center. Had it banked left and crashed into the plant instead, it could have triggered a large release of radiation. The surrounding area, including New York City, might have been rendered uninhabitable for years."

So, asks Kennedy, what has been done to protect the nation's nuclear power plants from terrorist attack? Virtually nothing, he says. In fact, "federal law absolves nuclear power plant operators from any legal duty to protect their plants from attacks 'by enemies of the United States.'"

According to Kennedy, this is but one of innumerable examples of the wholesale dismantling or gutting of laws designed to protect the public against the excesses of the nuclear, coal, oil, chemical, pharmaceutical, agriculture, media and other industries that he claims have conspired with the Bush administration to undermine the free market and subvert the will of the people. These abuses are detailed in "Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy" ($21.95 in hardback, $13.95 in paperback from HarperCollins) published in 2004.

He is scheduled to speak in Chico Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Chico State University's Laxson Auditorium as part of the President's Lecture Series, one in a series of On the Creek Lectures "dedicated to exploring sustainability issues that affect the world today." Tickets range from $35 for premium seats to $20 for students and children. For more information, call the University Box Office at 898-6333.

According to publicity materials, "Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s reputation as a resolute defender of the environment stems from a litany of successful legal actions: prosecuting governments and companies for polluting the Hudson River and Long Island Sound; winning settlements for the Hudson Riverkeeper; arguing cases to expand citizen access to the shoreline; and suing sewage treatment plants to force compliance with the Clean Water Act."

Though Kennedy says "this book is not about a Democrat attacking a Republican administration," he writes "most national environmental leaders," when asked about "the greatest threat to the global environment," wouldn't answer "overpopulation, or global warming, or sprawl. The nearly unanimous response would be George W. Bush."

The popularity of Earth Day in 1970, he writes, surprised the polluters, so over the next three decades they "bamboozled" the public and bought off the loyal opposition until their triumph, with some notable exceptions, in the "stealth" policies of the Bush administration bowing to the agendas of King Coal and Big Pork.

Kennedy accuses the administration of "fear-mongering," though he does a fair amount of that himself. Nevertheless, as the book's copious notes attest, something really nasty is going on after all. "Corporate capitalists," he writes, "don't want free markets, they want dependable profits, and their surest route is to crush the competition by controlling the government. The domination of our government by large corporations leads to the elimination of markets and, ultimately, to the loss of democracy." Think of Big Energy -- or Big Agriculture. The manure is getting deeper, Kennedy says, and it's time we get shoveling.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.