Sunday, January 27, 2013


Boxes and Bags of Books

Excerpts from Norman Clyde of the Sierra Nevada. Rambles Through the Range of Light. 29 Essays on the Mountains by Norman Clyde. Foreword by Francis Farquhar & Prologue by Jules Eichorn with a long letter from Smoke Blanchard & 15 photographs of the Old Gaffer (San Francisco: Scrimshaw Press, 1971).

Pp. [3-4] ("long letter from Smoke Blanchard"):
By coincidence, your letter from Alaska asking me about Norman arrived the same day we went to Big Pine to see him. He is in the Sanitorium there, with a little flu and on top of that his leg is acting up again and he couldn't walk very well. He had a grocery box of books brought down from the Baker Creek cabin, and was churning through Goethe in German, with a six-inch thick dictionary, which he picked up at a rummage sale in Bishop, and a New Testament in Portuguese which he bought for Spanish but was reading anyway. On his night stand was a Life of Napoleon in French, which he has already read three times.


We camped on a little snow-free patch of rock on the frozen lake in the Palisades that early-season trip long ago. I can still remember my awe at the collection of gear Norman drew out of his duffle bag....A book for evening reading? Well, Norman usually travels alone and on long trips, so he had a rather large library in many languages. "They last longer, especially the Greek as I'm usually a little rusty in that."
P. [12] ("Prologue by Jules Eichorn"):
And his tremendous pack contained not only a complete commissary kit, assorted nails, wire, extra boots, throw-in-the-lake cameras (at one time I counted five) and many other various and sundry articles, but books of poetry and prose from the greatest classical authors in original German, French, Spanish, Italian, and sometimes English.
P. 58 ("long letter from Smoke Blanchard"):
He considered himself a fine fisherman, and indeed he was. He would not fish unless they were biting. He would lie all afternoon in the sun reading Dumas in French, gazing out across the lake to check for ripples, and when he thought there was enough breeze on the surface for fly fishing he would be off for one circuit of the lake and return with his limit of golden trout.
P. 60 ("long letter from Smoke Blanchard"):
For forty years or so Norman really had no permanent year-around home, as he always had to vacate for the tourist and fishing season. This suited him in spite of the grumbling about removing all his valuable collection of shovels and ice axes, his rope-weaved snowshoes, his rusty traps, his more than a score of large boxes of ancient, squirrel-gnawed classics, his boots and boot nails and hatchets and saws, the three-foot and five-foot and seven-foot skis, the boxes and boxes of photographs and writings, and the twenty tool boxes of handguns he sometimes brought down to be stored in the valley for greater safety.
P. 166 ("long letter from Smoke Blanchard"):
When he comes to our house nowadays, he may sit in the straight-backed chair by the window, with his old campaign hat on to shade his good eye from the overhead light, and read for most of the day and into the evening, stopping only for his three squares and a snooze and a bit of a blast now and then at something. If a book is on the davenport he will pick it up, and if the title reads anything like The Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana or The Affluent Society or God and Man at Yale, he drops it instantly and heaves to his feet to follow the well-worn path to to the section of our bookcase where his thumbprints mark Some Problems of Pleistocene Morphology, Land and Land Forms, Life on the Arctic Slope, etc.

John Singer Sargent, Inside a Tent in the Canadian Rockies

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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