WESTERN WEADOWLARK

Walt Whitman | ‘A Meadowlark’ from Specimen Days

The iconic American poet whose ‘Leaves of Grass’ transformed American literature also wrote letters and prose pieces. I learned this the day I bought ‘Specimen Days, Democratic Vistas, and Other Prose’, a collection of Whitman’s writings.

Whitman himself explains the fragmented nature of ‘Specimen Days’ as it is taken from irregular journals at various locations. But here you read him observing Great Nature and commenting on his walks, the skies and clouds, weather changes, wildlife, etc. After the Civil War — during which Whitman gave so much of himself as a nurse in the hospitals of Washington D.C. that his own health never recuperated — a series of fortunate events saw him earn money through small government jobs that ultimately allowed him to leave the city to find restoration in the rural wilds. One long entry describes his summertime days at a small pond, where he would sunbathe naked, hike and swim, to which he attributed his slow return to ‘health’.

Today I am posting a favorite section from ‘Specimen Days’ about my favorite bird, my ally bird, the Western Meadowlark. I heard this bird throughout my childhood in the deserts around Elko, Nevada and have loved hearing it since in travels all over the West. I would try to describe what I hear when the meadowlark sings and how it soothes me but Walt does it so much better.

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A Meadowlark | March 16, 1878 | Fine, clear, dazzling morning, the sun an hour high, the air just tart enough. What a stamp in advance my whole day receives from the song of that meadowlark perch’d on a fence stake twenty rods distant! Two or three liquid-simple notes repeated at intervals, full of careless happiness and hope. With its shimmering-slow progress and rapid-noiseless action of the wings, it flies on a ways, lights on another stake, and so on to another, shimmering and singing many minutes.

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Where Have All The Colors Gone

Over the last three years, we long-time Ashlanders witnessed a public project at our historic Plaza. What I call the Plaza Destruction project — the worst example of poor judgment and reckless use of public money by city councilors, a dismissive city administrator, a compliant mayor, and an incompetent city staff in the last quarter century — resulted in the removal of beautiful healthy mature trees and all the mature bushes. Then that natural beauty was “replaced” with colorless grey pavers that bring to mind the quad of a modern prison, concrete benches (yes, concrete), and “public art” in the form of tiny abstract mosaics that could be in an airport terminal and are best viewed by tiny people about 18 inches tall. A brave minority of local citizens tried to stop the madness of this Plaza Destruction, to no avail. I was proud to stand with a brave few who stood witness to the healthy trees being cut down, especially a young local woman named Lisa Alexander who had been leading the citizen effort trying to talk sense to business-compliant city councilors and who went to public meetings to beg them to slow everything down.

With so many unanswered questions about this ill-advised, heavy-handed “remodel” of our public Plaza, I urge you to learn more about what happened and why by coming to watch one of the first screenings of a new, local documentary film  ‘Where Have All The Colors Gone’. It was filmed and produced by Cici and Mark Brown whose two previous local films, ‘Two in a Million’ (about Dave Marston and Robin Lawson) and ‘Bowmer in the Park’ were accepted by the Ashland Independent Film Festival and shown in 2012 and 2013. Although entered, this film was not accepted this year by AIFF and a subsequent attempt to ask the Friends of the Ashland Public Library to sponsor the film was also declined. Happily, Havurah Shir Hadash will be hosting one of the first local screenings on Wednesday April 1 from 7 – 8:30 pm. A $5 donation is requested, refreshments will be served, and I will present live ukulele music to open the evening. I am also very proud to tell you that you will hear me making my music in the “soundtrack” to this excellent film.

In the photos below (courtesy Preserve Ashland’s Historic Plaza), you see Lisa communing with the Japanese maple on the Plaza before it was moved; Lisa on the cold December morning when we stood to witness the trees being cut down; yours truly standing by her; the two liquidambars standing alive on their last morning; and the stump and rounds a bit later — with photographic proof of healthy wood from the center to the bark (in direct opposition to the ‘spin explanation’ about the ‘poor health’ of these trees in legal testimony by senior city staff). As William Blake said, “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing in the way.”

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Elko, Nevada

I hoid it through the grapevine that someone posted about me on Facebook, and it must be true as I have some new subscribers (sign up if you’re here for the first time!) from my hometown, Elko, Nevada. Welcome, bienvenidos, e komo mai! Although I will not be joining Facebook, pass the word that I’d love to hear from all compadres from back in the day and that I answer all emails promptly. As a thank you for subscribing, here’s a postcard of the old Stockmen’s Hotel, before the fire. I found this among my Dad’s (Ocie Leonard “Alabam'” Holley) papers when we had to move him out of his home in Medford, Oregon, then tweaked it in Photoshop. There was a message to Dad on the back of the card, indicating Dad’s friend had probably bought it either at the Stockmen’s or somewhere in Elko on one of those postcard racks we all remember. In my youngest memories I remember the Stockmen’s block, just like this — we’d walk from the Old Post Office across the street with the cool Stockmen’s Drug Store on the corner and then past the barber shop and other stores to the hotel entrance. A busy block in Old Elko . . .

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My Paternal Grandparents

This is one of the few photos I have of my father’s mother and father, Ira Jewel Lanier Holley and Ocie Lee Holley. The story behind this picture is that in the original photo, there are 3 couples side by side. That’s because people were poor and for economy, wedding photos were grouped, maybe not on everyone’s actual wedding day. A few decades back before everything became digital, I worked with a San Francisco photolab using last-generation techniques to create a vignette of just my grandparents with sepia toning. I then had copies printed and mailed this “new” image to family members.

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My Maternal Grandparents

Not many pictures exist in my collection of my mother’s side of the family, the Spanish side. The picture of my grandmother, Maria Concepción Vilor de Galban, was taken in her early 20s, in Spain or South America. You see my grandfather, Emilio Domingo Lopez de Lopez later in life, somewhere in Elko County, Nevada, perhaps at the family home in Elko down by the Humboldt River.