After 150 years, a new witness to some celebrated Civil War and frontier events steps forward. In the 1920s, my great-grandfather John Benton Hart dictated memories of fighting Confederates in Missouri in 1864 and Indians in Wyoming in 1865, followed by adventures along the ill-starred Bozeman Trail to Montana. “Johnny’s” lively accounts amplify a sparse record, sometimes challenging received knowledge. (Who carried the mail between embattled Forts C. F. Smith and Phil Kearny? Who really killed High-Backed Wolf?) Also striking are his pages on the life of the Crow Indians, allied with the government in the bitter Bozeman conflict. I’m deep into editing the memoir; University of Oklahoma Press will publish.
Here’s a clip from my July 19 appearance with Jordan Fisher-Smith at the Commonwealth Club of California. As part of the Club’s ClimateOne series, we kicked around what it can mean to “preserve nature” in our warming, human-dominated world. Yellowstone National Park (see Jordan’s new book Engineering Eden) is a case in point; Point Reyes National Seashore (as in my recent An Island in Time) is another. Moderator Greg Dalton and a lively audience kept us on our toes. And here’s the whole thing.
Last winter Estuary News offered “a gnarly assignment”: to write a sort of guidebook to the labyrinth of plans and agencies devoted to the health of San Francisco Bay and its inseparable twin, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Two Hearts Beating Not Quite as One appears in the June issue. Fifty years after the first Save the Bay campaign, how are we doing? Pretty well in some places, with regard to some problems. Not so well elsewhere. The sheer number of players and diverse authorities makes action harder. A newly recognized problem, sea level rise, adds to the pressure on us all.
There’s a nice feature on the Activist poets (working in the tradition of my father Lawrence Hart) in the Summer/Fall issue of Seventh Quarry, an international poetry journal based in Swansea, Wales. That’s Dylan Thomas country, as editor Peter Thabit Jones proudly points out. The set includes poems by Jon Miller, Pat Nelson, Fred Ostrander, Bonnie Thomas, Judith Yamamoto, and myself; I also contribute an introduction giving some history and exploring the idea we share: that poetry, to be poetry, must be clearly different from prose, not just in occasional “peak” lines, but throughout.
On July 10, 2015, President Obama proclaimed a National Monument along a hundred miles of rugged Coast Range ridges west of Sacramento, California.Two weeks later, much of the new monument was engulfed in the flames of the Wragg and Rocky Fires. I wrote about this captivating landscape before the designation and the fires (High Country News, May 25, 2015), and will survey the new realities, physical and political, for the April-June issue of Bay Nature.
My poetry discussion group at Book Passage in Corte Madera starts up again October 1, 2015 and runs for eight sessions. Proceeding more or less chronologically, we kick around poems and poets from Shakespeare to last week, touching on many “classics” and also some lesser known names. The people who sign up help set our route through the world of English-language poetry (sometimes a few translations). On all evenings but the first, I provide texts in advance. Beginning or puzzled poetry readers very welcome! I’ve been leading this group since 2009.
El Niño may be on the way, but California’s water problems aren’t abating any time soon. In the June issue of Estuary News, I look past the present drought to ask how much water California can store underground for the even worse conditions climatologists warn us we can expect. Estuary News is the respected quarterly publication of the San Francisco Estuary Project, a consortium of people and groups concerned for San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The San Francisco Estuary, as scientists prefer to call it, is the subject of my San Francisco Bay: Portrait of an Estuary, a 2003 collaboration with photographer David Sanger.
I’m headed to Wyoming for a week in July to trace the movements of my ancestor, cavalryman and general hell-raiser John Benton Hart, in 1865-68. He left a rich memoir of his experiences at the end of the Civil War and thereafter on the frontier. My latest article extracted from this lode appeared this spring in Kansas History magazine. Now I’m off to Casper to be at the 150th anniversary observance of the Battle of Platte Bridge, in which allied Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe Indians made a concerted attempt to shut down the Oregon Trail. Johnny, as everyone called him, was one of two dozen men to ride into ambush under doomed Lieutenant Caspar Collins, for whom the Wyoming town is named.
In August, National Parks Month, PBS stations nationwide will be showing Rebels with a Cause, the story of how the coast just north of San Francisco was wrested from looming development to become the open space oasis it is today. Narrated by Frances McDormand, the much-honored documentary centers on the people–the Rebels–who stepped forward to make the improbable happen. I consulted on this film, which draws on books of mine including An Island in Time: Fifty Years of Point Reyes National Seashore.
On June 3 I’m reading with others at the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis, 444 Natoma Street, 7 to 9 PM. It’s their Art and Poetry Evening in conjunction with a big analysts’ convention that’s in town.
On June 14, my colleague Bonnie Thomas launches her book Sun on the Rind, fresh from Sugartown Publishing, in the Berkeley Art Center, Live Oak Park, 1275 Walnut Street, 3-5 PM. I wrote the introduction.
On June 23, Bonnie and I will join Pat Nelson and Judith Yamamoto in a (mostly) Activist evening at the Marin City Library, 164 Donahue Street, Sausalito, 6:30-8:30. It’s the Marin City stop of the Marin Poetry Center Traveling Show.