More Stories of Used Books Finding You!

book stack 2“In used book stores it truly is Ask and you shall receive. Even if you don’t ask, the old books know, not just the words within, but so many of the thoughts of those who have read before you.” (Robert Mumm)

Thanks to those who’ve sent me their own tales of being called by used books. I’m starting with stories by Mark Jokerst and Robert Mumm.  Hope to hear more stories from the rest of you!

“My favorite book finding me story came from reading a Wendell Berry piece where he mentioned Sir Albert Howard as one of the sources of today’s organic gardening. Soon after, poking around at Bay Books in Concord, an old but crisp edition of “An Agricultural Testament” caught my eye. Thanks. It never dawned on me the book was reaching out for me; I thought I had found the book!”  . . .  Mark Jokerst

And from Robert Mumm . . .

In a used book store in Maryland, a book was waiting for me.  I didn’t know it, but it was and it took but a very short time for it to catch my attention.  It wasn’t a bright new book in great condition; rather it seemed a bit tired and dowdy. It was a well-used old book and the only book I really looked at.  My son and daughter-in-law had wanted to show me their favorite book store, and there was just time for a brief stop on our way to the airport for my return flight back to California.

I have been working to put together some family background for my kids and found there is really a lot I don’t know about my father and almost nothing about the family before that.  My father came to this country from the district of Schleswig in Northern Germany on his own when he was fifteen, so in a way the chain back beyond was broken.  He did tell many fascinating stories about his childhood, but there was just too much detail for me to understand then, because it was so beyond my own experience.  Later on there never seemed to be time to go back over some of those old things, and they faded and became confused.

Pieter and Katie never knew their paternal Grandfather at all, so I wished to get inside and reconstruct the person he was so that they can know him a little.  I soon realized that religion played a big part in his life, although when I knew him he had no religious affiliation at all.  To understand him I needed information on that part of his childhood.

So I had begun to work on this facet of his life when I walked into that used book store and reached for the first book that caught my eye. This book was between others, so I couldn’t read its title, but when I pulled it out and saw what it was, I knew why I had come there.  It was The History of the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland, published in 1847 and written by J.H. Merle D’ Aubigne.  I subsequently looked him up and found that he is a very well regarded source in religious history and fun to read because of the writing style of the time. This book has become a source that not only illuminated religion, but also many attitudes pertaining to the raising of children at that time.

I’ve also been able to learn something of the physical setting, for instance, the Elbe River where he played is about five miles across.  Far different than the river I envisioned as a child, for all the river I knew was our little Middle Fork of the Yuba.  Dad had an extensive knowledge of the rigging of sailing ships, those old Windjammers of an age when the bulk of cargo still moved under sail.  He made a wonderful model ship for each of his sons, with all the stays and rigging of those great old Windjammers, and his love of tall ships has come to me as a sort of nostalgic undercurrent.

In my father’s telling of his early life there came to me a subliminal dread of the North Sea.  From what I have researched so far, I now know why, for my father was close to it – very close.  My grandfather was a Pilot Boat Captain and many times must have gone out to meet ships when he was not at all sure of coming back.  Even today the transfer of a Pilot and Helmsman from pilot boat to an incoming ship in the turbulent mix of river flow and storm driven waves where the Elbe meets the North Sea is a hazardous undertaking.

In used book stores it truly is ask and you shall receive. Even if you don’t ask, the old books know, not just the words within but so many of the thoughts of those who have read before you.”

. . . Robert Mumm

The Year 2088?

357What would your world be like if you lived in the year 2088?  As my novel goes 75-100 years into the future, I’m imagining the details of my great-granddaughter’s existence and that of the planet.  I was struck by a recent report in Nature magazine:  Approaching a State-Shift in Earth’s Biosphere. An international team of scientists concludes that our planet’s ecosystems are careening towards an imminent, irreversible collapse much sooner and much worse than currently thought.

Lots of novels and films have depicted a dystopic, future world:  Soylent Green, Day of the Triffids, Feed, Waterworld, 2012, The Day after Tomorrow, On the Beach, Logan’s Run, the Matrix, The World without Us, Wall-E, The Great Bay, Canticle for Leibowitz, Andromeda Strain, the Stand, and my favorite written in 1949, Earth Abides – to name a few. Causes vary from rogue viruses, aliens, asteroids, technology gone amuck to nuclear disaster.

Given both the positive and negative trends already underway, suppose mankind is unable to do enough to ward off an irreversible, planetary-scale tipping point.  What’s the outlook for our great-grandchildren if the corporate bottom-line continues to lead us into the future, or GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) continue to alter the biology of our foods and bodies?   How will man communicate or move around the planet when there’s little left to extract from the earth for energy or manufacturing? Extreme heat and rising sea levels will probably eliminate traditional ways to grow food or live.    What if man himself has tipped the earth so far that it’s no longer hospitable to humans?

I’m looking for images, ideas, imaginings. Tell me how you think a person would get through their day 75-100  years from now. I’m curious about details. With your permission, it might make it into “The Desk.”  Leave a comment here or email me at sdickard@gotsky.com.  Thanks!

 

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Migration

Swans in Rice Field

Swans in Rice Field

I was surrounded by a cacophony of swans and geese.  Such a perfect word for the exuberant conversation of migratory Tundra Swans, Snow, Ross and White-Fronted Geese that  arrive every winter to the flooded rice fields in the upper Sacramento Valley.  I spent the afternoon with them recently, amazed as I imagine people have always been at this seasonal flyway.

Two hundred years ago, a Patwin woman – one of the valley tribes I write of in my book – might have looked up at the first honks of returning swans, knowing it was the time for gathering acorns and manzanita berries.  Spanish, Mexican, then European settlers from the east probably saw the migration as the arrival of protein for their winter larder.  But for me, it’s the anticipated arrival of wonder.

People migrate – some.  Migrant workers follow the ripening of spring lettuce and winter squash.  As a rural school nurse, I knew certain families would show up in the spring when the weather was warm enough to camp out at the river.  They stayed until the first frost, then moved on.  Now it’s the seasonal folks who arrive in fall with their trimming scissors to work the local cash crop.  When the harvest’s done, they too move on.

I wonder how the long-term impact of climate change will affect the signals that trigger migration?    2012 was the hottest year on record – a recent report by NOAA  (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). Earlier springs, longer, hotter summers, harsher wildfires, droughts, crop losses. Will my great grandchildren tell their children of the days when swans used to overwinter where farmers used to grow rice in the Sacramento Valley?

Stone mileage marker hidden in rice fields

Stone marker hidden in rice fields

Mileage marker between Marysville and  foothill towns

Mileage marker between Marysville and foothill towns

I like my present-time roots.  I feel them deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but I also feel them across the valley where my ancestors settled in 1849.  I like making that trek. I feel the pull of my own winter migration when the returning swans call me to drop what I’m doing, and meet them in the valley.

Used Book Magic

Do you believe there’s magic in used books?   I’ve had incredible experiences calling books to me over the years.  Today was yet another.  I’ll share some of my favorite book magic stories.  If you have some of your own, send them and I’ll post them!

I’d always regretted giving away the Navajo Language book that Dick and I studied on the Reservation in Arizona in the 1970’s. We thought our hospital replacements would benefit from having it, but I realized too late I’d given away an irreplaceable treasure of Navajo phrases and vocabulary.  Fast forward five years to the basement of Cody’s Bookstore on Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley.  I was looking over a table of used children’s books when my eye was caught by a red book perched atop  a stack of children’s picture books.  As my hand reached for it, I knew what it was:  Navajo Made Easier by Irvy Goossen.

Then there’s the book from my childhood I wanted to read to my daughters, but couldn’t remember the title – only that it was of a young girl who collected butterflies in the woods.  I’d given up, when one day, while checking out books at the Grass Valley Children’s Library, an elderly woman set a stack of old books on the counter to donate.   Impulsively, I reached around her and turned the bindings  to see the titles, and there it was:  Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Straton-Porter.  I had to fight the librarian for it (she collected rare old books), but a donation to the library made it mine.

Some books have been nearly thrust into my hands.  I’d just returned from my youngest sister’s memorial service in Canada and was headed toward a much-needed latte, when I made an unusual  right turn and ended up in Tome’s Books and Sierra Roasters in Grass Valley. With mug in hand, I wandered the stacks until I found a chair in a dark corner.  Mindlessly, I reached up and pulled out a paperback:  Life on the Other Side by Sylvia Browne. It was as if my sister wanted me to know…..

So today I was again at Tomes (my favorite used book store). As I waited to see what books Eric would buy from me (for credit of course), my hand reached out for an orange workbook in the Reference Section.  Book in a Month by Victoria Schmidt.  Voila!  Exactly what I needed to get my novel moving along.  It’s one thing to have a story in your head and quite another to be organized enough to move through all the steps of crafting a compelling novel.   I have thirty days to finish my first draft, starting February 1st.  Be sure and ask me how it’s going!