Filling Up On Empty

Estuary-June2015-v6-webEl 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.

In Johnny’s hoofprints

John Benton Hart

John Benton Hart

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.

Activist poets in June

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.


My poetry discussion group at Book Passage in Corte Madera starts up again March 3, 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.

Water, Water

I’ve been writing about the California water wars since 1970. This season I’m preparing an update for  the second edition of my 1996 book Storm Over Mono: The Mono Lake Battle and the California Water Future; there is much, mostly good, to tell. This time the Mono Lake Committee will publish. And I’m researching a piece for Estuary News, published by the San Francisco Estuary Partnership, on the master key to that water future: making smarter use of our vast but dwindling reserves of water underground.

Four poetry collections, recent or forthcoming from Sugartown Publishing, mark the reemergence of a poetic movement known as the Activists.  No, it’s not politics.  “Activist” was the nationally recognized rubric for poets working with my father, teacher-critic Lawrence Hart, in the 1940s/50s and after. Since Lawrence’s death in 1996, a number of writers have continued to pursue his demanding approaches, and we’re reviving the “Activist” flag. The titles are Patricia Nelson’s Among the Shapes That Fold and Fly (2012), Fred Ostrander’s It Lasts a Moment: New and Collected Poems (2013), Judith Yamamoto’s At My Table (2014), and Bonnie Thomas’s Sun on the Rind (2015).

Besides writing an introduction for each of these books, I’m at work on an Activist Anthology featuring earlier generations, including the founding and nationally noted trio of Robert Horan, Jeanne McGahey, and Rosalie Moore. The contents, based on selections Lawrence Hart made during his lifetime, are nearly set, and I’m now at the rights acquisition stage.

John Benton Hart

150 years ago, the Civil War was winding down, the struggle between emigrants and Indians on the Rocky Mountain frontier was ramping up, and an ancestor of mine, John Benton Hart (right, with his brother Hugh), was in the thick of it all. Late in life the man they called “Johnny” dictated vivid memories of war and peace in the last days of the taming of the West. In this anniversary period I am shaping these hitherto unknown eyewitness accounts into articles, to be followed by a book.

The first installments of Johnny’s story, telling of the Civil War Battle of Westport near Kansas City in October 1864, have run in the Kansas City Star Magazine and the journal Kansas History. The next chapter, to appear in the Spring 2015 Kansas History, treats a celebrated battle with Sioux and Cheyenne at Platte Bridge (now Casper, Wyoming), on July 26, 1865.  Here is new testimony on the death of Caspar Collins, for which the Wyoming town is named, and the scalping of Cheyenne chief High Backed Wolf. Johnny’s wanderings will next take him to one of the hottest corners of the region, Montana’s Bozeman Trail, where he carried the mail between forts in the middle of Red Cloud’s War, and eventually to his homestead in the place still called Harts Basin, near Delta, Colorado.

A man of his time, Johnny does not second-guess the struggles in which he is involved, but he responds with human warmth to his Confederate foes and with an unusual  measure of understanding to the tribes he was helping to dispossess.  Witnessing a Mountain Crow war dance, he writes: “It carries you back. It makes you writhe with longing for that which is still ripping through the blood of the human race.”

John will be signing copies of an An Island in Time: 50 Years of Point Reyes National Seashore at the Dance Palace, Point Reyes Station. Following will be a showing of the new KRCB documentary film Rebels With a Cause about the extraordinary efforts of the ordinary people who saved the lands of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area from development.

Sunday, January 13, 2013 at 3:00pm

Dance Palace
503 B Street, Point Reyes Sta, CA
(415) 663-1075 ‎

John will present a slide show and signing of An Island in Time: 50 Years of Point Reyes National Seashore at Berkeley Ironworks

Saturday December 8, 2012 from 1-3pm

Berkeley Ironworks
800 Potter St.
Berkeley, CA 94710
510 981 9900