Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"I've Been Through The Desert On A Horse....

with no name. It felt good to be out of the rain..."* (Dewey Bunnell) America
A couple weeks ago when I was between library runs, I pulled Desert Wife off my own bookshelf. When or where I got the book is forgotten - but the images evoked by Hilda Faunce's narrative will stay with me for awhile.
The copy I have was printed in 1981 by the University of Nebraska Press. The book was first published in 1934. It was based on the letters the author wrote to her cousin, recounting her journey to and life on the Navajo Reservation before World War I.
As any good wife did in that time, she followed her husband from the fogs and rains of the Oregon coast back to his old desert stamping ground. (We always said stomping grounds.) He buys an abandoned trading post, "Covered Water", twenty miles from the nearest post at Chinle, AZ and one hundred twenty miles from the nearest town of Gallup, NM.
I found the book a fascinating recounting of what it was like to travel across the west by horse and wagon at a time when roads were mere suggestions and towns were few and far between. Bed was a blanket beneath the stars, or beneath the wagon.
Recounts of their journey would have been enough, but the stories about the Navajos and their ways once the trading post was up and running were even more interesting. I have visited some of the historical trading posts in the Four Corners region. And while they are nothing like what they once were, it doesn't take much for me to imagine that era. If you like history, you will like this book.

The song which came to mind as I read Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen was Magic by John Farrar and Jeff Lynne: "You have to believe we are magic, nothin' can stand in our way..."
Garden Spells
was Ms. Allen's first novel and it is magic - all of her books are. Claire Waverley comes from a line of women endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown. Claire embraces her oddity by becoming a successful caterer. She uses the herbs and flowers from the mystical plants which grow in the walled garden behind the house she inherited from her grandmother to make recipes which can affect the eater's mood. ("Salads made with chicory and mint had you believing that something good was about to happen...")
Cousin Evanelle distributes unexpected presents whose uses eventually become clear even though she does not understand why she is compelled to give them at the time.
Clair's sister, Sydney, tried running away from her family legacy, but after ten years, she returns with her six year old daughter, Bay, seeking a refuge for them from Bay's abusive father.
Perhaps it is because some of the first books I learned to read were fairy tales, but I adore Allen's writing. She infuses magic I can't resist. (This is the book I waited for ages to get from the library. It was always OUT. Finally I asked how long the wait list was and the librarian explained that the book had disappeared from their shelves right after they got it. I was lucky to find it at the Half Price Book Store on a recent visit. Now I'm trying to decide if I want to donate this copy of mine to the library.)

Two other recent reads were another Kate Morton book, The Distant Hours, about a letter posted in 1941 which did not reach its destination until 1992, and Wild Rose, a biography about Civil War Spy, Rose O'Neale Greenhow, by Ann Blackman. This book has me wondering why I don't read more biographies - I learn so much from them. And I've read the only two Kate Morton books our library has, but I would certainly read more by her.

(* It does feel good to be out of the cold rain today.....excellent reading and hot tea drinking weather.)

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