Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bidwell's road


"In 1863, John Bidwell and his partners ... put up $40,000 and applied to the California State Legislature for a franchise to construct a toll road between Chico and Honey Lake. ... In 1864, they incorporated as the Chico and Humboldt Wagon Road and completed road construction." Horse-drawn wagons looked like the future of transportation, and the gold rich states of California, Nevada and Idaho fueled the future.

The story of a humble roadway that eventually morphed into Highway 32 is told through a series of hundreds of black and white photographs in "The Humboldt Wagon Road" ($21.99 in paperback from Arcadia Publishing) by Marti Leicester and David Nopel.

According to an authors' note, Leicester, a retired National Park Service ranger, "lives on the Humboldt Wagon Road and sees remnants of it each time she drives to Chico and Butte Meadows." Nopel is "a descendant of pioneer families who settled along the road. ... Over 50 years, John Nopel, David's father and a noted Butte County historian, painstakingly collected thousands of historical photographs that inspired this book."

Lyon Books in Chico will be hosting the authors at a book signing this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. An interview with the authors, conducted by Nancy Wiegman for Nancy's Bookshelf on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM) is available at

The book, part of Arcadia's "Images of America" series, traces the development of the roadway within three centuries, and introduces native peoples and pioneer families along the way, including Lady Mary Pullisa, a Maidu who survived the forced march from Chico "to a reservation in the Coast Range Mountains" in 1863.

Stories from pioneer descendants enrich many of the detailed captions. "The Humboldt Road summit was more than 6,000 feet in elevation between Jonesville and the Summit Hotel. Drivers would attach a log behind their wagons to provide friction and slow the descent from the summit. Several people interviewed for this book reported their mothers made them walk coming up or down the steep slope for fear the stagecoach would go off the edge of the road."

Butte Meadows hid a store's slot machine in the 1940s from the prying eyes of the law. The new road was a gamble for Bidwell, too, and the coming of the railroad changed the dream forever.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Premier guide to Table Mountain


"Table Mountain," write Albin Bills and Samantha Mackey, "is one of the premier wildflower locations in all of California. ... Drifts and swaths of yellow, blue, and orange, mixed with pinks and whites swirl over the landscape, like a huge Impressionist painting come to life."

Bills, who taught biology for many years at Butte College, and Mackey, a consulting botanist with expertise on rare and endangered plants, have written an indispensable companion for those who want to explore the area. "Wildflowers of Table Mountain: A Naturalist's Guide" ($17.95 in paperback, part of the Chico State University Herbarium series,, is the second edition of a work first published in 2004. Retaining the original line drawings of Larry Jansen, the book now features full-color photographs throughout and, like Table Mountain itself, is a delight to the eye.

Lyon Books in Chico is hosting a book signing this Thursday, Feb. 23 at 7:00 p.m. Look for a forthcoming interview with Albin Bills on Nancy's Bookshelf from KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM). Archives can be found at

The craft of designers Carole Montgomery and Elizabeth Quivey is evident throughout. The center section presents color groups of some seventy "of the most common, showy wildflower species that occur on Table Mountain during late winter through spring"; scientific names are given in the index; and a bloom-time calendar also aids in identification.

The first part of the book mixes practical advice on how best to approach Table Mountain with narratives about its formation, the wildflower patterns, waterfalls, and more. The last section, drawing on the work of Jim Jokerst, lists all known vascular plants on "North Table Mountain." There's also an illustrated guide to common animals in the area, with pride of place going to the California Newt, Bills' special interest for many years.

The wildflower catalog is more than a bare list; each plant has a story to tell. For the grass-pink (wild carnation), "a new solitary flower is produced every day, replacing the one that came before it." The California goldfields "form vast sheets and showy rings of rich yellow color that encircle many of the rock outcrops."

The Guide, novice-friendly but detailed enough for the serious explorer, is simply superb, a colorful array blooming now at your bookstore.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Poetic meditations on Ishi


"Ishi," writes Scott Ezell, "moved from hunting and gathering to a modern industrial existence when in 1911 he emerged alone, the last of his tribe, from the westward drainages of Mount Lassen. ..." Now, a century later, Ezell has gathered a series of poems inspired by Ishi as he recalls "Karl Kroeber's assertion about Ishi's ability to live without self-pity or a sense of victimhood: 'I do not see how we can speak of his life as anything but tragic, yet I have come to feel that he himself did not so regard it.'"

"Songs From A Yahi Bow: A Series Of Poems On Ishi" ($13.95 in paperback from Pleasure Boat Studio; also available in Amazon Kindle e-book format) brings together the work of Ezell, whose cover painting is called "Two Worlds," Yusef Komunyakaa and Mike O'Connor. Throughout the book paintings by Seattle-based artist Jeff Hengst remind this reader of a window slowly being opened, a shadowy figure just discernible. Ezell includes a short essay on Ishi by Trappist monk Thomas Merton, reflections on genocide written during the Vietnam conflict.

In "Quatrains For Ishi," Komunyakaa writes: "When they swoop on you hobbled there / almost naked, encircled by barking dogs / at daybreak beside a slaughterhouse / in Oroville, outside Paradise, // California, draped in a canvas scrap / matted with dung & grass seed, slack-jawed men aim rifles / at your groin. Wild Man // hums through telegraph wires, / as women from miles around / try to tame your tongue / by cooking family recipes. ..."

Ezell, a California native who lives in Seattle and Hanoi, invokes Ishi's spirit amidst the harsh industrial-sexual realities of the poet's two worlds: "photographic visions / washed in a stop bath of departure, // die at home wherever you may be."

O'Connor, in "Down from the Hills," takes Ishi's voice: "Long ago I left off hiding. / Twelve of us were a nation; / five of us were a nation-- / I alone am nothing left." The poet imagines "Ishi and the Braves": "The multimillionaire slugger / pulls a high fastball screaming / toward the left-field stands / right at Ishi, / and the hunter-gatherer of Yuna Creek, / surprised, shoots up his arm / and nails it on the fly."

Sunday, February 05, 2012

A Chico family lives the reality of war


When Daniel Sagastume graduated from Marine Corps boot camp, he was not yet nineteen. Then came the unthinkable. "Four days after my son's graduation," his mother writes, "when the Towers crumbled, so did my world."

"We Also Serve: A Family Goes To War" ($17.95 in paperback from iUniverse; available in Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and Google e-book formats) is Nanette Sagastume's riveting story. A retired nurse practitioner and founder of what is now called the Military Family Support Group, Sagastume lays bare the emotions she and her husband Mario experienced even as Mario, a Vietnam War veteran, is dealing with PTSD.

"Daniel began to seek ways to be reassigned to the same infantry unit his father had served with, the Second Battalion, First Marine Regiment of the First Marine Division (known familiarly as 2/1). More specifically, he wanted to get assigned to the same company, Fox Company, and eventually the same platoon."

She writes: "With one percent of Americans volunteering to serve, there is a gap in awareness--even a 'disconnect'--about the military family's experience. ... I did not enlist; my service is involuntary. That is not to say that Mario and I oppose Daniel's decision; rather, we had no choice in the matter. Our role was to accept his life choice, adapt to it, and support him. When we military families offer our love and emotional support--waiting and worrying while our loved ones fulfill their duties--we also are in service to our country."

Labor Day, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq, a suicide attack. Normally Daniel rode in the first truck of a convoy; that day he was assigned the second. It saved his life; seven of his comrades died. The experience changed Daniel forever.

"Often overlooked," says Sagastume, a recent guest at Lyon Books in Chico, "is the effect on the family that has loved, suffered, and endured with him both during his combat tour as well as the aftermath of adjustment. Indeed, I feel that families are uniquely vulnerable--more than at any time in history. With instant communication and the availability of live satellite television transmission, families often are witnesses to some of the very same events their warrior has experienced. Families also serve in today's virtual war."