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From the VQR Vault: The Golden State


ISSUE:  Summer 2015


I was a child. That was no day of regret.
My mother didn’t reprimand me.
Her gray-green eyes, at lunch,
seemed saddened scanning the Monterey coast,
its churned-up whitecaps surging beyond our window,
the sea lions’ melancholy barks shuddering higher
then subsiding to a drone until all around me
appeared darkened. “Cerebral palsy,”
my mother murmured when I asked, the fork
with its red-sauce stains dangling loosely
from her fingers. Nothing affected me then.

Terri Brown-Davidson, from “California Blackouts: Monterey, 1945,” Summer 1996

I once asked a woman I knew—a California writer—what her definition of evil would be. She paused for a moment and then said: the absence of seriousness. I thought for a moment that she was referring to California—so many jokes had been made about it—but in fact, it was in California that the serious revolutions began and it was in California that I began to think about the larger issues of freedom and free will and what it meant to be an American.

June Beisch, “The Wolf,” Summer 1998 

There were ranches and orchards in this valley, and wherever a plough had run a gutter beside the dirt road, a stream of poppies flowed therein, incredibly lush and, after the shy, delicate flowers of the desert, quite too showy for our pleasure.
“We are getting near Los Angeles,” said my wife. “Even the flowers know it.”
But as we sought the least-traveled canyon down to San Fernando, we passed an old horse browsing behind a fence, knee deep in lilac color, and we paused to see what made it. Plant after plant of thistle sage, two feet tall, the butterfly blossoms hovering on their cotton puffs! The old nag browsing in beauty; and behind us, far away across the desert, the naked mountains whence we had come; before us, the first pitch downward of the canyon, and trees and a brawling stream. So the desert ended with delicacy, after all, and we carried the memory with us down to that land of the sky-blue sports jacket and “Mission” bungalows and fantastic make-believe.

Walter Prichard Eaton, “Spring in Death Valley,” Summer 1941

“It is my belief that here in the West, perhaps in all America, we do not take enough account of the power of our inanimate surroundings to take on the spiritual quality of the life that is lived in them, and give it off again like an exhalation, and not pains enough when we have made such a place, to preserve it for those who come after from generation to generation …” It is no wonder that when, some ten or more years later, such members of the eastern “radical-intellectual” group as Waldo Frank and Van Wyck Brooks rode through the Middle West and reported that America was a land of shacks which appeared never to have been lived in, Mrs. Austin’s scorn was derisive. She had beaten them to the observation, made it from the inside, with pity and tolerance, and with something to offer besides more and more rootlessness.

Dudley Wynn, “Mary Austin, Woman Alone,” Spring 1937

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