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SUNDAY READING

The Mirror

October 13, 1985

New Pioneers

From "Encounters at the Mind's Edge," by George Leonard , which originally appeared in Esquire , June, 1985:

"If there is an American story, its central episode is the westward journey of its people. This journey, this frontier experience, forged a unique national character. The frontier, whether experienced firsthand or observed from a distance, engendered a belief that, given enough human effort and ingenuity, almost any dream could be transformed into reality.

But the journey had to end, and the frontier's final stopping place was a state so immense, so luscious and varied, that it was itself like a dream. The pioneers poured into California as if it truly were El Dorado, the golden land. They came first by wagon train and sailing ship, later by railroad, and finally by automobile and airplane. And by the time the state's population passed that of New York in 1962, it was becoming clear to some observers that it was here more than anywhere else that Americans were to work out the answer to an important question: What do people shaped by the frontier experience do when the frontier closes?

Why not just stop pioneering and enjoy the rewards? Many Californians have obviously done just that. But what recurrently fascinates, bewilders, and sometimes even frightens the rest of the country is that so many other Californians have never stopped their pioneering; they have simply turned from the physical frontier to the frontier of social and commercial innovation, of thought, and of spirit."

Lunchtime Shades

From "Less Than Zero," by Brett Easton Ellis (Simon & Schuster, May, 1985):

I don't like driving down Wilshire during lunch hour. There always seem to be too many cars and old people and maids waiting for buses, and I end up looking away and smoking too much and turning the radio to full volume. Right now, nothing is moving, even though the lights are green. As I wait in the car, I look at the people in the cars next to mine. Whenever I'm on Wilshire or Sunset during lunch hour I try to make eye contact with the driver of the car next to mine, stuck in traffic. When this doesn't happen, and it usually doesn't, I put my sunglasses back on and slowly move the car forward. As I pull onto Sunset I pass the billboard I saw this morning that read "Disappear Here" and I look away and kind of try to get it out of my mind.

The Meaning of Grace

From "Bamboo: An Honest Love Affair," by Hildegarde Flanner, in Zyzzyva: The Last Word, in San Francisco, Vol. I, No. 2, 1985.

I became acquainted with bamboo in the '20s when my family bought an old place in the foothill suburbs above Pasadena. Among the company of trees, shrubs and perennials, there was a solitary bamboo.

I recollect standing on the deck of my home above the old garden and looking into the extraordinary display of the bamboo, its wild movement in the wind or its mystical serenity on a quiet day. "If you should ever bloom," I said, "and die from blooming, as they say may happen, it would be terribly sad." Then, after a moment, I said, "But it would make it easier to leave this place, if we ever decide to leave."

Eventually, after 36 years of living in one home and garden, we did decide to leave, taking with us much of the bamboo. It had never bloomed, or if it had, it was before we were acquainted with it, and the event was not fatal. I had already started another clump in another corner, which I decided to take whole, if I could. Since this clump was far too heavy for me to handle, I hired the Green Brothers, who were in the business of moving gardens. At work on my bamboo, one of them asked, "Ma'am, why don't you sell some of this pretty stuff?"

"Sell it," I cried. "If I had a daughter, would I sell her?" The Green Brothers thought me very amusing. . . .

I trust that my grandchildren are going to enjoy the fact of bamboo in their lives. May they learn to watch for the new culms breaking through the soil and quickly rising to the rustling light above, shedding the sheaths with their curious details of dots and dashes and speckles of black and brown, or those that bear no design but are a fashionable chamois color all over, like the best gloves.

I wish I could think of a graphic way to express the bamboo's mysterious command of time, how swiftly it grows tall, and stops forever. . . .

In the many years I have lived with bamboo, it has always been a delighter, never a deceiver. Its meaning is the meaning of grace, a grace that drips with rain, the first rain and the second rain as it takes the storm and sluices it into the earth and the wet branches sigh and bend upon each other, as the culms bear the weight of water and foliage, then straighten all when their burden eases. In the sun, bamboo dries quickly and shakes itself for another day, another weather. Small birds, the bushtits, hang their long, knitted nests where no cat can climb. At night stars sit lightly in the branches.

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