INLANDIA LITERARY JOURNEYS: Writing helped family pursue justice

o5hej0-b88676034z.120160411110922000gh0fr950.10A mother’s worst nightmare became my reality. The midnight phone call from a sheriff’s deputy waking me with horrible news: My son, Mark, had been “in a collision and he did not survive.”

The rest is a huge blur. My adult son was the victim of a hit-and-run crime, and he was unable to defend himself. His voice was silenced. It became our family responsibility to ensure that Mark’s voice would be heard.

During the criminal trial, we were offered the opportunity to address the judge by writing a victim impact statement. It allowed us to tell the court about the effects, the impacts of Mark’s death and the damage the offender had caused.

We read our statements out loud during the sentencing hearing.

I held a large photo of Mark to put a real face on a judicial case number. Like Joan Didion in “The Year of Magical Thinking,” I wanted to scream, but I remained calm. Mark’s voice resonated through me, through his father, his son, his brother and his aunt. We spoke for him.

Victims are seldom called to testify in court, and if they do testify, they must respond to narrow, specific questions.

But the California Constitution allows victims to present written and oral statements. These statements are often the victims’ only opportunity to participate in the criminal justice process, or to confront the offenders who have harmed them.

These are testimonials about how a crime has affected them. They generally are included in the presentencing report presented to the judge and are allowed during the sentencing process.

When a victim is deceased, as in our Mark’s case, the relatives have the right to be heard. A judge may use information from these statements to help determine an offender’s sentence.

I welcomed the opportunity to articulate to the judge how my son’s death was a horrible loss to our family. And I was able to list prior offenses committed by the offender that had been stricken by the judge during a pretrial hearing.

I also helped Mark’s 12-year old son, Paul, write a statement about how the loss of his father affected him. His Uncle Leonard read Paul’s statement at the trial.

There are benefits to writing an effective statement. Fairness and justice for your loved one is the main goal. It could be your best shot at persuading the judge. Like writing in a journal, the reflection process and the act of writing down your thoughts about the crime’s impacts help with emotional healing.

Indeed, it improved my satisfaction with the criminal justice system, especially when the jury ruled in favor of the people of California, as they did in our case.

The Riverside Main Library has stacks of volumes in the 800-section that may help those unsure of how to write a statement. For example, Beth Kephart’s “Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir” and Brandon Royal’s “The Little Red Writing Book” are full of advice and recommendations.

When your case goes to trial, be prepared for the bad memories to be relived all over again. Attend all court hearings, especially the trial. It demonstrates that the victim is loved and supported. Keep notes of the proceedings and visit the Superior Court website frequently to review the minutes and other documents regarding the case.


Inlandia Institute president Frances J. Vasquez writes about the importance of victim statements

INLANDIA LITERARY JOURNEYS: Bountiful bloom despite drought

By Ruth Nolan

o4ynt0-b88675956z.120160401081556000gjhfnkvc.10Stories of the rare “superbloom” in Death Valley National Park, exploding colorfully across one of the world’s hottest, driest and lowest regions, have traveled far and wide as late winter transitioned into early spring this year.

Inland residents have the special privilege of living within easy driving distance of Death Valley, and legend has it that this year’s bloom is especially beautiful, following a historic monsoon rainfall in the northern Mojave Desert in October.

Many well-known desert personalities and authors have eloquently publicized the aesthetic influence of desert wildflowers.

The late Coachella Valley artist John Hilton penned a humorous and memorable essay for the old Desert Rat newsletter (circa 1930s-1950s) about the intoxicating power of seeing and walking through the swaths of deep pink sand verbena that carpet fields and sand dunes throughout the Coachella Valley in the spring, their abundance depending on rainfall levels in winter months. In fact, many of Hilton’s most treasured Coachella Valley landscape paintings have sprinkles of sand verbena in them.

Yes, desert wildflowers are beautiful – and especially given that they don’t bloom abundantly every season, and that when they do, their stunning appearance is so short-lived. Soon, the lengthening days of spring and the early summer onset in Death Valley, where temperatures soar high above 100 degrees day after day for months, will burn the yellow and purple wildflowers away and they will be just a faint memory on the raw, scorched landscape. Beyond appreciating the sensory and fleeting beauty of the flowers, which in itself is quite a thing to behold, why should we care about the deeper importance of desert wildflowers?

Native Americans living in our deserts have long relied on plants as critical components of survival, especially as food. Many of the wildflowers you’ll see blooming, not only in Death Valley, but in Joshua Tree National Park, in the Coachella Valley and in the higher-elevation chaparral transition zones of areas such as the Santa Rosa Mountains, have long been important food sources for the Cahuilla, Serrano, Chemehuevi, Timbisha Shoshone and other desert tribes.

I recently observed part of an ongoing yucca harvest workshop involving native desert participants at the Dorothy Ramon Learning Center in Banning. The day I visited, mothers, daughters and other women were busy preparing beautiful, cream-colored yucca blossoms – tinted with green and magenta hues – for a delicious yucca blossom salad, which resembles macaroni shell pasta salad, but tastes much richer and a bit sweeter. This is just one of many ways yucca flowers have been used for centuries in traditional foods, while many everyday items such as sandals and soap have been made from other parts of the plant.

Most people associate the ominous presence of barrel cactus with danger: The sharp, curved barbs can indeed inflict a lot of damage to human skin and body parts. However, the barrel cactus, which grows throughout California’s deserts, produces abundant blossoms – both yellow and bright pink – that have been used by desert Indian people as a food source, like yucca blossoms.

In her memoir, the late Cahuilla historian and culture bearer Katherine Siva Sauvel wrote of her childhood memories of harvesting barrel cactus flowers, a nutritious and sweet snack, from Devil’s Garden, an area near Palm Springs.

Desert wildflowers matter. They mattered in the survival of our desert’s Indian people for centuries, and they matter now.

They are a measure of adequate rainfall that’s crucial for replenishing desert aquifers for human consumption and for the rare riparian areas that provide drinking water for desert animals and sustenance for the many plants that provide life in a land that can be unforgivingly harsh.

This year’s superbloom in Death Valley and the rest of our deserts has given those of us in the Inland region a bit of an uplift in a long, nervous time of ongoing severe drought, which has been only minimally eased this winter by an El Niño that never really showed up with the downpours we had expected.

With the flourishing of wildflowers this spring, we’re blessed with an extra dose of natural beauty that lifts the human spirit and gives us the hope of replenishment, both natural and aesthetic, all from one of the world’s most unlikely places, which we are fortunate to call part of our desert backyard.

David Stone

Love Lines for Your Valentine

Still need to write your Valentine? Use lines from a local poet.

Someone seeking clarification about another’s romantic intent and who enjoys the use of lowercase letters like e. e. cummings might appreciate a line from Cindy Rinne’s “Another Park Poem.” Inspired by a walk in Riverside’s Fairmont Park, Rinne wrote, “did you try to carve the bark/ leave a heart…” Rinne lives in Redlands. Her next work is titled “Quiet Lantern.”

Courageous individuals who are willing to be vulnerable might use lines from Cati Porter’s poem “Clearly.” “Look at me/ and tell me that you want me, that you want to heart/ the distance and that you cannot in the object see/ a flaw, and though I am (flawed) I am for you, and/ there is a small tight thought that is wound in me,/ that knowing that you love, a lightning, a lightning/ on the inside: so that you see; so that you know.” Porter lives in Riverside. Her latest book “My Skies of Small Horses” comes out this month.

Seasoned lovers may like to use lines from “Litany” from Claremont poet Lucia Galloway’s latest chapbook “The Garlic Peelers:” “O love, what is your wish?/ We’ve half again as much to say as we have said./ Set down the goblet, and the carmine wine/ sheets down its sides to pool in the bowl./ Let’s drink our words instead of hoarding them.”

Sweethearts who remind you of characters from the The Big Bang Theory should appreciate lines from Marsha Schuh’s “You and Me in Binary.” Appropriately published in the computer textbook Schuh co-wrote with Stanford Rowe, Schuh imagines a world based on four, considers the dominance of the decimal in our world and closes her poem with pondering the numerical effects of becoming a couple: “Then we unlearn it all /learn to speak binary,/ a better way,/ two as opposed to eight or ten,/ the most significant bit,/ the least significant bit/ one-two, on-off, you-we,/ binary.” Schuh resides in Ontario.

Lovers in a more ambiguous relationship may resonate with lines from the Palm Springs poet and writer Ruth Nolan. In her forthcoming book, “Ruby Mountain,” she writes, “shouldn’t I pretend you did it for love/ shouldn’t I believe it was a mistake/ shouldn’t I wonder why not/ shouldn’t I wonder why. . . .”

Those pained may appreciate the words of the title persona in Nikia Chaney’s “Sis Fuss.” The poem “Syllogizing Sis Fuss” closes: “we all hurt. And if we all/ hurt then we all hurt/ each other and the next.” Chaney lives in Rialto.

Jennifer and Chad Sweeney from Redlands are a couple, who are both accomplished poets. Jennifer provides profundity and striking imagery in her book “Salt Memory.” She writes, “As water poured into the heart flows out the palms, so does love return, as thirst, as satiation—the shape the lost ocean has carved onto the salt brick desert.”

With characteristic quirky humor in his book “White Martini for the Apocalypse,” Chad writes, “It was love./ She taught me to drive her bulldozer./ I taught her to forge my signature!”

In earthier lines from his poem “Effects,” first published in Caliban, Chad writes, “The best sex in the world happens during conjugal visits. I’ve gotten myself into prison twice, just to have it. That’s why I’m calling. Happy Valentine’s Day!” Chad Sweeney teaches creative writing at Cal State San Bernardino.

The longing and transformative power of love comes through in the closing lines of Judy Kronenfeld’s “Listen” from her forthcoming collection, “Bird Flying Through the Banquet,” 
“Let your eyes rest/ on my face. Arrest me/ in turn. I will burst/ from the seed/ of myself.” Kronenfeld is professor emerita from UCR.

Ontario poet Tim Hatch gives words to the desire to comfort one’s dearest when he or she is gone: “Scatter my memory where my memories are sweetest. Gulls cry, salt breeze carries me away. When you’re there you can breathe deep, take me inside and remember.”


For a wider array of classic poems to use for Valentine’s Day, search the Poetry Foundation’s website for “Poems for Valentines” or the poets.org site for “love poems.”

Frances J. Vasquez

Remembering Anne Frank

For many of us Gentiles, our introduction to the horrors of the Holocaust often begins with reading The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne’s parents presented her with a red-checked diary for her thirteenth birthday on June 12, 1942. Anne was enjoying a relatively normal life for a Jewish girl in occupied Amsterdam. She lived with her mother, father, and sister, and attended school like others her age. But less than a month later, their lives changed forever. Anne and her family went into hiding in the “secret annex” of her father’s warehouse and office building. During the two-years of their oppressive hiding period, eight people stayed indoors twenty-four hours a day. The Frank family’s love of literature helped sustain them until they were arrested by the Nazis and deported to concentration camps.

World War II was raging. Nazi Germany had invaded the Netherlands. Life was dangerous for Jews. This is the context in which Anne wrote. She became a prolific writer while in hiding. The pen was her best friend. The teenager aspired to be a journalist and to become a famous writer after the war. She documented her two years in hiding in her world famous diary and wrote, “one day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews!” Anne also expressed herself in short stories, fables, and other creative endeavors. Writing helped Anne cope with the emotional and physical rigors of living in confinement. She channeled her fears and tension into written descriptions of daily events with wit, humor, compassion, and candor.

I purchased a copy of Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annex during a visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. This edition was first published in London in 2010 by Halban Publishers, Ltd. The book includes some of Anne’s personal reminiscences, daydreams, and essays. It also features her fanciful fables and short stories. One of the essays, “Do You Remember?” describes Anne’s wistful memories of school days at the Jewish Lyceum. She writes about “many a delightful hour talking about school, teachers, adventures, and boys. Back when our lives were still normal, everything was so wonderful.” Anne remained hopeful of returning to school as she recounted other memories prefaced by “Do you remember?”

Indeed, in the best interests of human dignity, we remember Anne and her writing, and the horrific genocide that resulted in the death of millions of European Jews by the Nazi regime during the Holocaust of World War II. This Wednesday, January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Resolution, designated by the United Nations General Assembly on November 1, 2005 declares that member nations “honor the memory of Holocaust victims, and encourages the development of educational programs about Holocaust history to help prevent future acts of genocide. It rejects any denial of the Holocaust as an event and condemns all manifestations of religious intolerance, incitement, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief.”

Why January 27? On this date in 1945 the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated. Lamentably, only 21 days earlier, Anne’s mother, Edith Frank-Hollander, perished at Auschwitz. Anne and her sister, Margot Frank, died in the Bergensen-Belsen Nazi concentration camp less than two months later in March 1945. Their father, Otto Frank, survived Auschwitz and was the only “secret annex” inhabitant to outlive the hell of war to carry on his work with vision and tenacity.

After reading and publishing his beloved daughter’s diary, Otto Frank redirected his heartache and sorrow to tell her story. He dedicated the rest of his long life to work on combating discrimination and prejudice: human dignity and rights for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, and religion. Since the first publication of Anne’s diary in 1947, over 40 million copies have been published in 70 languages. In 1960, the hiding place was converted into a museum. It is one of the world’s most visited museums. Otto Frank posited, “to build a future you have to know the past.” When I visited the Anne Frank House in June 2015, the long lines of people coiled for blocks. I didn’t mind. A visit to the Frank’s secret annex was a significant pilgrimage.

Anne was an extraordinary girl whose maturity and wisdom is evident in her writing. In Tales from the Secret Annex her fables and short stories exhibit creative optimism and hope as she transports to other realms. “The Wise Old Gnome,” “The Guardian Angel,” and “Blurry the Explorer” are a few of numerous examples of Anne’s ability to see good prevail over evil and sorrow. The enduring interest and inspiration of Anne Frank’s writing reflect the continued relevance of the topics she expressed in her diary. While there is no happy ending to Anne’s life, her writing is her enduring legacy. The words of one girl made an indelible difference. Anne fulfilled her dream to become a famous author. Brava, Anne Frank! Her memory continues to inspire awe in new generations of readers.


Frances J. Vasquez is president of the Inlandia Institute board and a member of Inlandia’s Riverside writing workshop.

For more literary journeys, visit the Inlandia Literary Journeys Blog or the Inlandia Institute.

Victoria Waddle

Under the Spell of the Inland Author’s Imagination: Nalo Hopkinson Taps the Speculative and the Supernatural

I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions; not anymore that is. But in the last five years, as each year ends, I’ve picked out a few things that I’m curious about to see if, throughout the year, I can follow that curiosity wherever it takes me. This is a joyful experience, and I’m glad that authors have recently written books encouraging this practice. (A few good ones are: A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.)

My journey on the road of inquiry took a turn backward at the end of 2015. I decided I would treat myself to audio versions of old myths and epics I’d read back in college English courses. I listened to “Gilgamesh,” an ancient Sumerian epic about grief and mortality; “Beowulf,” the old English epic about the Danes and their struggle with the monster Grendel; and “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” a short symbolic tale of a knight in King Arthur’s court. I don’t know why I am now drawn to humankind’s need to slay dragons, but the tales were all as fantastical as I remembered them.

Just as I finished the epics, I read “All Stories are the Same,” an article in The Atlantic which discusses the ongoing fictional battles between people and creatures. Author John Yorke concludes with, “In stories throughout the ages there is one motif that continually recurs–the journey into the woods to find the dark but life-giving secret within.”

When we become interested in something, it pops up everywhere. For Christmas, my son gave me a copy of The Book of Imaginary Beings, Jorge Luis Borges’s compendium of imaginary creatures. Of course, there are centaurs, dragons, elves, and angels. But Borges also includes more recent literary creatures from Kafka and C. S. Lewis. His description of H. G. Wells’s Eloi and Morlocks from The Time Machine, drove me to wonder: who, in the Inland Empire, is imagining such creatures now?

In venturing into the supernatural woods, I stumbled upon Nalo Hopkinson, a professor of creative writing at UC Riverside. Two of her stories appear in Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, edited by Sheree R. Thomas (2000). “Greedy Choke Puppy” is the story of a soucouyant, a sort of Caribbean female vampire who removes her skin at night and changes into a ball of fire, searching for babies whose blood she can suck. “Ganger (Ball Lightning)” is the story of a couple who uses a technologically-enhanced second skin for fulfillment, but who find themselves fighting the life-threatening consequences.

In the more recent Unnatural Creatures: Stories Selected by Neil Gaiman (2013), Hopkinson’s story is “The Smile on the Face.” The title has its source in the limerick “The Lady of Niger,” lines of which are interspersed throughout the tale. In it, teenager Gilla is bored with a school reading assignment that includes the story of the laidly worm that ate St. Margaret. Gilla’s mum tells her that the story shows that St. Margaret was a hamadryad, a female spirit whose soul resides in a tree. Later, Gilla fearfully walks past a scary cherry tree in her yard while on the way to a party with her best friend. Gilla is ashamed of her blossoming body and large breasts. At the party, a particular boy openly ridicules her and becomes a true threat, but Gilla has swallowed the pit of a cherry from the tree in the yard. She discovers the powerful spirit of both dragon and tree within her.

Having enjoyed these stories, I bought Hopkinson’s most recent collection of short fiction Falling in Love with Hominids (2015). Of the three stories above, only “The Smile on the Face” is repeated. But the creatures of Hopkinson’s imagination abound. In the opening story “Easthound,” Millie believes that she has brought a pandemic to the world simply by misreading the word ‘eastbound’ and transforming the direction into a nightmare world where children hide from adults and fear growing up. As a character in “Message in a Bottle” says, “Human beings, we’re becoming increasingly post-human,” and the result is often terrifying. Other stories have teens who transform into human-water snakes, an elephant that appears in a living room, a child who is a magical granter of wishes. There’s a very different shaggy dog story in which fauna and flora commingle. Hopkinson reimagines Caliban and Ariel from Shakespeare’s “Tempest.” Her trees, tired of freezing weather, take flight. The story I most enjoyed for its sense of Mardi Gras magic about to collide with impending evil was “Ours is the Prettiest,” written as Hopkinson participated in a shared-world anthology, the Bordertown series.

In his introduction to Unnatural Creatures, Neil Gaiman writes, “I liked animals who existed in a more shadowy way even more than I liked the real ones. . . because they were impossible, because they might or might not exist, because simply thinking about them made the world a more magical place.” Hopkinson–who is local by way of Jamaica with a detour into Canada–takes us into the woods she inhabits with her shadowy creatures, making our world that more magical place.

We’re Still Here by Joan Koerper and Marja Anderson

“We’re still here,” announced Paakuma Tawinat, member of the San Manuel Mission Indian Band of the Serrano Nation, to the standing-room-only crowd at the Wrightwood Historical Museum on November 6, 2015. Accompanied only by his gourd rattle, Tawinat opened his presentation in Serrano tradition, singing a melodic song honoring the Big Horn Sheep, sacred to his tribe.

In an entertaining, informative, and interactive demonstration, Tawinat shared the history, culture, and current status of the Serrano Nation whose territory once covered 10,156 square miles of the San Bernardino Mountains, the Banning Pass, and the Cajon Pass. Now, Serrano territory is reduced to 1.5 square miles: the San Manuel Indian Reservation.

When the Spanish arrived in Southern California, 30,000 Serrano called their territory home and spoke the language. Only 200 closely related Serrano remain. Tawinat’s distinguished elder cousin, Ernest Siva, is one of only two remaining Serrano speakers. Determined efforts are being made to recapture the language and teach it to new generations. Classes in the Serrano language are even being offered at Cal State San Bernardino.

Tawinat’s ancestors survived forced conversion, slavery, disease, loss of identity, the “War of Extermination” declared by California’s first Governor, and deployment of Serrano children to Indian Schools dedicated to the motto, “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” His godmother was one of the last Serrano to attend the Indian School at St. Boniface in Banning.

The Serrano once flourished on over 300 local abundant foods: plants and animals of the mountains and valleys in large territories they shared with neighboring tribes, such as the Cahuilla. Under Spanish and American rule they died of starvation.

Traditionally, the Serrano made full use of their environmental resources building round dwellings from flexible wood poles, palm fronds, and willows, which they left behind to be absorbed back into the land. Clothing was made from yucca and plant fibers. Established trade routes were used to both augment and sell goods with other nations.

Musical instruments were formed from natural elements. Flutes were carved from hollowed-out wood and reeds, while acorn seeds filled gourd and deer hoof rattles. Drums were not part of the Serrano repertoire. Traditionally, the Serrano also excelled in basket making. The audience was invited to peruse sandals, baskets, musical instruments, and other Serrano wares on display.

Tawinat highlighted how knowledge of the changing seasons was critical to his ancestor’s survival. These lessons were passed along, in part, through Bird Songs, Big Horn Sheep stories, and Flood Stories.

The Serrano had, and have, a rich social and spiritual life believing in a higher power, shamanistic healing, an afterlife, coming of age rituals, and death rituals. Music, gambling, and stories are enjoyed by all ages.

Strict rules covering marriage are in place thus, in the past, most were arranged. Tawinat’s grandmother, Martha Manuel Chacon, was the last Serrano woman to enter into an arranged marriage.

“It is done,” Tawinat concluded in his native language, the traditional closing of a Serrano gathering.

The meeting may have concluded, but the Serrano Nation is, as Tawinat announced, “still here,” succeeding. Serrano ancestors live on in their descendants and in the land itself. Purposefully overturned grinding stones lie under oak trees anticipating the return of the people who used them. Artifacts mark the sites of villages, and clumps of Datura plants still wait for the shamans who once harvested them. And if you listen carefully you can hear the voices of the People, intoning sacred Big Horn Sheep Songs, riding the winds up the Cajon Pass to a strong and healthy future.


Postscript for this post: Marja Anderson joined me in penning this article. Marja has a Masters in Anthropology from UCR and has conducted fieldwork in Hong Kong and Malaysia.

This article was first published in the Mountaineer Progress newspaper on November 12, 2015. Unfortunately, due to editorial oversight, the hardcopy version published that day contained innumerable errors and repetitions. The newspaper admitted to the mistakes in the following weekly edition and made the necessary corrections for the online version of the paper.

She Cultivates Ancient Wisdom by Joan Koerper

She cultivates ancient wisdom: Inland author’s work points to agriculture in natural harmony.

When author and archaeologist Anabel Ford traveled the world with her family, retreating to their Wrightwood cabin beginning in 1960, she could only dream that her fascination with Meso-American and Maya prehistory would lead to great discoveries. It did.

In 1983, Ford and her team uncovered the ancient Maya city of El Pilar, which had lain dormant for more than 1,000 years.

Ford’s book, The Maya Forest Garden: Eight Millennia of Sustainable Cultivation of the Tropical Woodlands,” co-authored with Ronald Nigh, a professor at the Centro Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social in Chiapas, Mexico, published in June, is the result of 44 years of excavation and research into El Pilar’s domestic architecture, gardens and traditional forest crops.

“I set out to answer fundamental questions,” Ford said. “How did the Maya successfully establish a flourishing civilization in the Mesoamerican tropics? Would their strategies for survival be an alternative for us today?”

The findings counter the longheld assumption that the collapse of the Maya civilization was due to overpopulation and deforestation.

“There was no extensive deforestation in the past,” the authors contend. The forest gardens have been productive for 8,000 years. When crisis stuck, the Maya left their cities and took refuge in their life-giving forest gardens.

Simply put, a forest garden is an unplowed, tree-dominated agricultural field sustaining biodiversity and animal habitats and producing a wide range of plants that meet human needs: shelter, food, and medicine.

The forest garden is part of the traditional Maya land management system known as the Milpa Cycle. Cultivated year-round, up to 90 percent of plants in the Maya forest garden are useful.

Gardeners maintain it with local resources such as organic material, household compost and manure, which enrich the soil and productivity.

Intercropping, or cultivating two or more regional vegetables at the same time, is core to the Milpa system. The Maya annually rotate small plots of vegetable crops and plant short-term perennial shrubs and trees in stages.

Present-day Maya farmers practice slash and burn, a tradition the Serrano and Cahuilla Indians of the San Bernardino Mountains once included in their land management efforts.

Ford’s research reveals a carefully human-orchestrated, complex, dynamic, symbiotic, and integral relationship with the tropical woodlands that has consistently nurtured the Maya.

This led Ford, director of UC Santa Barbara’s Meso-American Research Center, to champion sustainable cultivation, indigenous ecology and farming methods used in the Maya forest garden. It also shaped her vision for the future of El Pilar, which straddles Belize and Guatemala.

She helped form the Maya Forest Garden Network, connecting forest gardeners whose knowledge and approach to gardening can be traced to ancient times.

Ford, who earned her doctorate at UC Santa Barbara in 1981, also built an international interdisciplinary team including local villagers, scientists, university students and government administrators who are working to rescue the rain forest, curtail looting, and recover the cultural heritage of the Maya forest region. Ford transformed El Pilar into a living museum and research center: the El Pilar Archaeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna. Several thousand tourists a year step back in time under the forest canopy and observe the gardens and wildlife of El Pilar. Ford continues her hands-on work at El Pilar and travels worldwide to promote the wisdom of indigenous conservation and the living future of the Maya forest. Still, somehow, she finds time to spend at the family home in Wrightwood, continually inspired by the forest she first explored as a child.


The Maya Forest Garden: Eight Millennia of Sustainable Cultivation of the Tropical Woodlands

By Anabel Ford and Ronald Nigh. Left Coast Press, 2015.

Learn more about El Pilar.

This article was published in the Press-Enterprise, Jan 3, 2016; Section: Life; Page Z2

Blink of an eye / ideas and people connect / in haiku by Timothy Green

Frogpond

In Japan, the brief poetry form is all about socializing. Why not here, too ?

When my grandmother’s hearing had grown too poor for the telephone, we started exchanging letters. Once a month—on the same day as the Edison bill—I’d receive a handwritten letter, pressed firmly with a retired schoolteacher’s perfect cursive, yellowed paper cut neatly from the same ancient notebook. Family gossip, news of my father, the weather back east, details of her various ailments.

She’d close every letter with a haiku. It was both a hobby of hers, and a nod to my odd profession. Her last was probably her best:

snow-covered sundial

waiting

to tell time again

I imagined her as the sundial, snowed in by age, her bed long-since moved to the living room so she wouldn’t have to negotiate the stairs, waiting patiently for whatever spring might come in whatever existence might come next.

When I had a moment, I’d tap out a hasty reply, glancing out at the palm trees on Ventura Boulevard from my office window, and close with a responding haiku.

it’s December too

in California

the crickets shout!

There was a joy to the haiku that I’ve only recently come to understand. Easy to write but impossible to master, they never grow old. You can write them in the car stuck in traffic, or plop them easily at the end of a newspaper article. Haiku are so simple they can be simultaneously silly and profound, and that contrast has kept them fresh for centuries.

Most often my grandmother’s haiku would offer a shift in mood, adding levity or perspective or clarity to the information that the letter had shared.

lost my other shoe—

now even the right

isn’t left

Almost a decade later, I still remember many of them fondly, and they always embody my grandmother’s quietly sarcastic personality.

More recently, I interviewed Richard Gilbert, a haiku scholar at Kumamoto University in Japan. He described with great enthusiasm the beloved space haiku holds within Japanese culture. With a total population of 130 million, it’s estimated that 12 million attend a regular haiku group. Witty celebrities compose haiku-like senryu live on TV.

Haiku itself descends from a party game, so it should be no surprise that they’re fun to write. At the kukai, as it was called, friends would gather around a bottle of saké, taking turns composing lines on a chosen topic. Class boundaries and social conventions dissolved as participants adopted pen names, many of them humorous. Bashō was named after the banana tree outside of his hut.

Listening to Gilbert tell it, haiku as a social act sounds like so much fun that I can’t help wishing we made it a part of our culture in the West. An outlet for playfulness and creativity and face-to-face interaction, haiku embody much of what we seem to be lacking in the age of smartphones and Facebook.

So let’s start now. Why not cap off your annual holiday letter with a summary haiku? Turn a family dinner into your own kukai, composing short poems about the season.

Before you start, it’s important to know what haiku are and what they aren’t. No other form of poetry is so misunderstood. Haiku are not three-line poems of five, then seven, then five syllables. Counting syllables doesn’t make any sense in Japanese, which is divided into units of time and not sound. You can think of traditional haiku as three lines that are short, then long, then short in duration, but even that generality isn’t an important rule in modern haiku.

The heart of a haiku is really the kireji, the cutting word, which is almost a form of punctuation that divides the poem in two. In English we might use a dash or colon—this division separates the first image from the last, creating a comparison that can be evocative or uncanny. The best example is Bashō’s famous frog:

old pond—

frog jumps in

the sound of water

That dash is the kireji, and it signifies a complete cut in time and space. The haiku presents one image, an old pond, and then another isolated image, the frog jumping into the sound of water. How the two images relate to each other is left up to the reader—and it’s that interactive, connective leap that stirs our thoughts and emotions. This is one of the many things Bashō meant when he said, haiku jiyu, or “Haiku is for freedom.”

Much more goes into classical haiku, but this is all you need to know to write decent modern haiku in English. Don’t count syllables, just count images or ideas: There should be two.

watching football

my keyboard

almost silent


To learn more about the history of haiku, you can find my interview with Richard Gilbert in issue #47 of Rattle, or read his translations of contemporary Japanese haiku poets at his website.

Indestructible Alice Continues to Inspire by Susan Zieger

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” turned 150 years old in November, and it remains as vibrant and relevant as ever.

At its 100th birthday in 1965, it became a totem of the counterculture, inspiring Grace Slick’s heady bolero, “White Rabbit.”

Adapted into animated and live action films, music and videogames, plentifully referenced and reillustrated, it shapes and reshapes our globalized mass culture.

Do girls today still read Carroll’s original tale? I think they should. Nowadays girl heroines train to be assassins, master their supernatural powers, or shop. By contrast, Alice dreams a world and forays into it, modeling all the qualities we should inculcate in girls: curiosity and common sense, confidence and courage.

Alice teaches girls to navigate the world without fear. When she falls down a rabbit hole, and continues falling, she gets bored and tries to calculate the distance. In passages that probably made parents squirm, she quaffs from a strange bottle labeled “drink me” and devours an unfamiliar cake titled “eat me.”

To her credit, she checks the bottle to see if it is marked poison, “for she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things. …” Carroll was mocking earlier Victorian books for children, which didactically instructed them to avoid injury and misfortune, to be proper and to become prosperous. On the graves of such grim plot lines, Carroll created a monument to sheer absurdity, uncommon sense and downright silliness.

Adrift in a dreamland, Alice ventures forth, mingling with its odd inhabitants: the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts. She meets their madness with reason and their incivility with toughness. To the caterpillar’s befogged, pedantic demand, “Who are you?” she replies, “I think you ought to tell me who you are, first.” In Carroll’s story, this behavior is not answering back; it is standing up for oneself.

Alice speaks truth to power. When the Queen of Hearts chides her to hold her tongue, she refuses, pointing out the absurdity of a trial in which the sentence precedes the evidence. Alice’s thinking is not always crystalline: She can’t precisely perform math and remember geography. But her questions penetrate the morass of unthinking custom that the often pathetic creatures inhabit, such as the mad tea party. Alice’s bracing voice should inspire girls to speak their minds to make a difference.

Perhaps the largest life lesson Alice has to offer smart, ambitious girls is not to take themselves too seriously. She grows 9 feet tall, and shrinks to become smaller than a puppy. So much happens to her in one day that she forgets who she is. Yet this doesn’t deter her from engaging the strangeness around her. “How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another! However, I’ve got back to my right size: the next thing is, to get into that beautiful garden – how is that to be done, I wonder?”

The capacity to wonder makes Alice indestructible.

The fictional Alice holds far more interest than her inspiration, the real-life Alice Liddell. Readers wring their hands about Charles Dodgson, who wrote the story under the pen name Lewis Carroll, and his relationship with his young protégé.

He photographed her in questionable poses. Her family suddenly broke off contact with him. Did he make advances on her? Propose marriage? Scholars have strained the evidence repeatedly without finding a conclusion, so we will probably never know. But Victorian sexual standards differed from ours. The age of consent for girls was raised in 1865 – from 12 to 13. Why does our culture wish to cast Alice Liddell as Dodgson’s victim? Must the story of a fearless girl adventurer be haunted by a tale of violation?

Perhaps the pedophilic narrative about Dodgson expresses parental fears about the welfare of our daughters, granddaughters, nieces and other young female relatives. But constantly imagining a predatory world in which girls are always available for victimization also helps bring about that reality. Wonderland is an upside-down world in which nonsense reigns. Is that the only context that supports a fearless girl protagonist?

I don’t recommend turning a blind eye to the real and horrible ways in which girls are routinely deprived, violated and immiserated throughout the world. But within popular culture and our own families, we can do a better job of imagining girlhood.

When girls are hemmed in by overprotective adults, they take fewer chances. When they are encouraged to be fearful, they never acquire the strength to stand and be counted. Perhaps that’s why “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” still enchants us as an ideal. On its anniversary, we can best celebrate Carroll’s story by using it to teach and delight our girls.

Let’s follow its example, to reimagine the real world as one in which they thrive.


Susan Zieger is an associate professor of English at UC Riverside who specializes in 19th century British and related literatures.

Return to lender? Borrowed books don’t always have to end up with original owner by Cati Porter

Twenty-five years ago, I borrowed Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” from a boyfriend, along with a couple of books by Jack Kerouac and a college lit anthology.

I read them all. At some point, we broke up, quietly disappearing from one another’s lives, never to speak again.

I never returned those books.

Later, from a high school friend that I’d reconnected with after moving back home, I borrowed two short story collections by Woody Allen, a memoir of a young Chinese woman, and probably others that I’ve just assimilated because, as you might have guessed, I never returned those either.

Maybe it’s just me, but there is something about borrowing books from a friend that makes me feel that I can be leisurely about returning them. My friends don’t charge me late fines, and there is no revoking of my library card if I fail to return them on time.

Of course I should have returned them, but all these years later, I only half-regret that. I didn’t borrow them with the intention of keeping them, but time passes and people move on, and sometimes only the books remain.

Among my books, I still have a couple of high school textbooks: another literature anthology – which, incidentally, contains a poem by someone I have in later years gotten to know and work with as a mentor – and also a book on Greek myths, both lost in the mess beneath my bed until it was too late to return them with dignity, fines paid, the books long replaced.

Among my recently borrowed books, I currently have a collection of poetry by Tristan Tzara, two short story collections, a novel, and CDs of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry.

Yes, I intend to give those back. But for all the books I’ve borrowed and kept, I have loaned out three times as many, many of which are either still out, some never to be returned.

Books are meant to be shared. I have never been stingy about loaning my books, even prized volumes that are personally inscribed. I am a collector, but I am not a hoarder, and I would rather a book keep making the rounds than sit on my dusty shelf.

A friend stopped by my house this week in need of poetry. He is a voracious reader and recently consumed a 900-page biography of Darwin after recommending to my husband a multivolume biography of Lyndon Johnson, which we promptly ordered.

In addition to borrowing books, I believe in buying books and supporting our local booksellers, like Cellar Door Books, Renaissance Books, Downtowne Books and the Mission Inn Museum store.

I like real books with tangible pages that can tear, dog ear, wrinkle, stain. New or used, purchased, found, loaned or given. I am not one to turn pages gently in the upper right corner, never breaking the spine.

I open my books flat, I write in them – even borrowed books, though those I only write in lightly with pencil – and I fold corners and improvise bookmarks, cram them in my purse to be jammed up against a fat wallet, multiple pens, vials of pills. I am rough with my books. I like them lived in. A pristine book is an unloved book. I love my books, sometimes to death.

One of my favorites activities is looking through friends’ bookshelves, always attuned to the evidence of lives lived in the company of books: smears of chocolate, coffee, ketchup, grease; notes in the margin, or scrawled across the page, covers detached and taped back on.

I prefer to acquire used books over buying new for that reason; the cost savings is just a bonus. I love knowing that the book had a secret life before it came into my own – that somebody loved it, then set it free. But nothing beats a free book, a book freely given or loaned. Loaning a book to someone is like belonging to an exclusive club, one where to become a member requires trust, faith, and a willingness to let things go.

That is one reason I love the new Little Free Library trend. We trust, lend and sometimes let it go. To find one near you, all you need to do is visit littlefreelibrary.org and click on the “map” tab, then select “near me.”

According to this map, there are nine near me, including at a favorite sandwich shop, The Back Street, and up on Box Springs Mountain near the big C. There is also one in front of the Women’s Club on Brockton, and another at a private residence on Falkirk and one at a private residence on Victoria Avenue at Madison.

No, you can’t reserve a book. No, there isn’t a huge selection. But the fact that so many people value books in this way is heartening and I am reminded of all that communities do for each other. This is just one way for neighbors and strangers to connect, even if they never in fact meet. Books shared are the best kind of books around.

That Milan Kundera book? Loaned to another friend, mom to one of my oldest son’s elementary school classmates. I haven’t spoken to her in years. It is doubtful that I will ever get it back.

And that’s just the way it ought to be.