Graphic the Valley/Peter Brown Hoffmeister: Reflections

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A book is sent to me and joins the piles of the so many books sent. (Many books sent.) In the overwhelm, I slide sideways toward this book with its sketched cover, its title Graphic the Valley (Tyrus Books). It is by a climber named Peter Brown Hoffmeister. It is, I read on the back cover, a Samson and Delilah story, a story about a young man named Tenaya who "has never left Yosemite Valley. He was born in a car by the Merced River, and grew up in a hidden camp with his parents, surviving on fish, acorns, and unfinished food thrown away by the park's millions of tourists. But despite its splendor, Tenaya's Yosemite is a visceral place of opposites, at once beautiful, dangerous, and violent."

I open and begin to read:
I'd slept against the bear box, the iron food cache cold through my sleeping bag, and woke when it was dark. I couldn't sleep a night without picturing her, eight years after, the way she lay against the river boulder, her right hand turned away, fisted, like it held a valuable.

I choked on nothing and sat up.
Wait, I think. Read more.

Low clouds hung in the Valley, the ends torn as wet paper....

The Valley rolling its shoulders, ten thousand years, after the final ice receded, boulders sitting as terminal moraines, the chambers of the ancient volcano exposed in white-and-gray plugs, flakes weakened by freeze water and the sloughed granite crashing, the Domes shrugging awake....

The drifts harbored the mosquito hatch, so I used bank mud as a face coat. But the granules dried by midnight and the mosquitoes came up my nose before that....

It is late, and I read. It is early morning, and I read. I have entered, I realize, the realm of a man who knows landscape and bear scat and mountains lions and native legends, the interiors of hitchhiker cars. Also a man who is inventing language. I think of James Joyce, and I don't know why, because Joyce was not (to my knowledge) a big boulder climber. (Am I wrong?) Joyce did not live in Yosemite. 

What's going on here? It's hard to know precisely at first, but that's part of Hoffmeister's method. He is no spoonfeeder, this writer. He has no time for, no patience with, commonplace storytelling, obvious frames. We're in Tenaya's head, and Tenaya is sliding all around time, not stopping to make careful asides to the reader, not giving us the old coy wink-wink. He's letting the world drift in as he sees it, memories float toward as they occur, that long, thick braid of dense, dark hair snake its way toward the ground.

In time this invented language becomes a familiar language and the story becomes clear. In time we understand that this is a possession story and an anti-possession story, a tale about control. Big Money is poised to build motels and burger shops into that pristine valley. Tenaya—a young man without so much as a birth certificate, a young man who has never left the valley and yet has no rights in it—must find a way to save what he loves.

Can he? Hoffmeister makes us eager to find out, makes us love that valley, too, love his noble, mythical Tenaya, love the stars that shine at night. He's a remarkable writer, this Hoffmeister, but he's not an easy one. Easy doesn't interest him. And I am glad for that.

One last passage:
Sometimes I tried to count the stars in a small section of sky, a box between any four constellations. But not on a night like this. In the high dark, the stars procreated like white flies, their new young filling spaces, exponential sparkling.

I told stories to Kenny.

I was arrested two nights later.


patti.mallett_pp said...

You hooked me at "the stars."

And then again with "arrested."

(And, of course, "no birth certificate" - only a love so powerful that he won't let that stand in his way....)

River said...

Thanks so much for this. I can't wait to read the whole book.

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