On Thursday, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder will make a rare local appearance to benefit the forests and watersheds that inspire his writing and surround his home on the San Juan Ridge.
The event - called "Peaks Fires & Spirits of Love & Loss" - will start at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Center for the Arts in Grass Valley. The readings of Snyder's poetry and prose will benefit the Yuba Watershed Institute, which Snyder and a group of neighbors helped establish nearly two decades ago.
Snyder will read from three collections, including his long poem, "Mountains and Rivers Without End." He started the poem in 1956 and released it in 1996; it earned him the Bollingen Poetry Prize in 1997. Musicians Ludi Hinrichs, Daniel Flanigan and Sean Kerrigan will accompany the reading in a reunion performance harking back to a much-attended event in 2000.
"We're not going to make this a short event," Snyder said recently, sitting in his wood-heated home sipping strong coffee on a cold November morning.
The reading will echo themes of fire, loss, rebirth and regeneration, Snyder said. His wife, naturalist Carole Koda, died in June 2006 after a 15-year battle with cancer.
Snyder will read from his newest book of prose released earlier this year, "Back on the Fire," a book of essays in which Snyder takes a hard look at the viability of sustainable forestry and wildfire protection and how rural communities can get involved to shape local, state and federal policies.
Snyder also will read poetry from his 2004 collection of personal and reflective poetry, "Danger on Peaks."
Snyder was born in San Francisco on May 8, 1930, but when he was 18 months old, his family moved to Washington. He grew up on a dairy farm surrounded by second-growth forests; his uncles were loggers and fishermen.
He remembers writing letters in protest of logging on the Olympic National Forest at 17.
"These concerns come to me naturally," he said.
As a young man, he set chokers for a logging company and spent a summer in isolation as a fire look-out for the Forest Service.
During the late 1950's, he was key player in San Francisco's Beat Generation, and he knew Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. For most of the 1960's, Snyder lived in Japan, where he spent much of the decade studying in a Zen monastery. Kerouac modeled the character of Japhy Ryder on Snyder for his 1958 novel, "The Dharma Bums."
Snyder's poetry resonates with the spiritual influences of Zen Buddhism - with simple, practical and human connections to the earth.
In 1970 in the midst of the back-to-the-land movement, Snyder and his young family arrived on the San Juan Ridge, where they built a homestead in the heart of a ponderosa pine and oak forest. He wrote "Turtle Island," his most overtly political work, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975.
Snyder became a professor of English at the University of California, Davis; he retired several years ago and remains a professor emeritus. His archives are housed there.
Lifetime of commitment
Snyder's lifelong passion and commitment to place and the natural world flourished in his forested setting. When logging trucks began lumbering down his road carrying large-diameter trees, his concern helped form the Yuba Watershed Institute in 1990. The close-knit Ridge community founded the group to help protect the last stands of old-growth trees in the area and the wildlife such as spotted owls that nested there.
The Yuba Watershed Institute and the Bureau of Land Management now cooperatively manage 1,800 acres of public and private forested land by thinning brush and small trees to help "speed up the process" of reaching an old growth forest.
"That's a different kind of relationship than most environmental groups. We're critical of agencies, but we don't demonize them," Snyder said.
In the coming century, the institute's goal is to selectively harvest a few quality old growth trees to show how sustainable forestry can be done.
"The Yuba Watershed Institute is not intrinsically against logging," Snyder said.
The land became known as the 'Inimim Forest, paying tribute to the Native Americans who once lived there. 'Inimim is the Maidu word for ponderosa pine.
Every year, the partners clear brush and small trees with equipment and control burns to give remaining trees room to grow. As a bonus, removing vegetation helps defend forest homes from wildfire.
Money raised by Thursday's event will help the group sustain its educational series and continue printing its seasonal, artistically illustrated newsletter, "Tree Rings."
Also, the institute will host a lecture on climate change at 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at Nevada City's Odd Fellows Hall. On Saturday, Dec. 8, the group will host its 10th Annual Fungus Foray at the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center.
Shift in focus
Snyder has published 18 collections of poetry and prose, translated into more than 20 languages. But now, at 77, it's time to take a break from writing to focus on activities such as observing the stars or going for long mountain walks, he said.
"I'm at an age I can grant myself time for being instead of accomplishing," Snyder said.
To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4231.
Our public lands are lands held in trust for all of us. A certain responsibility goes with that, for the
government, for the public at large,
and for the people of the region. As for stewardship, or trust, we can see that the whole world is in the trust of humans now, whether we want this responsibility or not. The air and waters, the rivers, the deer and owls, the genetic health of all life are in our trust.
- Excerpt from Gary Snyder's book of essays titled "Back on the Fire"
What: "Peaks Fires & Spirits of Love & Loss," an evening of poetry and prose with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder. Book signing and limited edition broadsides featuring the poetry of Gary Snyder and woodcut artistry of Tom Killion.
Where: The Center for the Arts, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Admission: $35, including dessert buffet and no-host bar. Reserved seating. Call 271-7000 or go online at: thecenterforthearts.org