Some Stuff I Cut: I Apologize To Nevada

categories: Cocktail Hour



Driving up to Wallace Stegner’s old house

 Over the last week the editing axe fell hard  (see my thought bubble above), particularly on the sections where I was travelling from place to place. Like this one:


Outside of Salt Lake I pass through the otherworldly landscape where Wallace Stegner spent his teenage summers, the lakeside resorts of Saltair and Magna. Sucking in the salty sulfur egg smell, I know there is an ocean-like lake somewhere out there through the cattails and the mist. Suddenly from out of the fog a sharp-shinned hawk materializes, shooting across my line of sight ten feet in front of my windshield. When the lake ends I leave one strange world and enter another: up into a looming red moonscape topped with alpine peaks.


In short order I pass a hundred sandhill cranes dipping their bills into a field of grass, then the iced-up flats of Bonneville where the speed records fall. Range after range of mountains rise ahead, and soon I am feeling like I should write a letter of apology to the state of Nevada. I always thought you were a dry strange state with a gambling problem, it would begin. Perhaps you are, but you are also varied and beautiful. O Nevada, I am sorry. I stare out at crazy mountains with their long shaded legs stretching down to valleys. Sunlight fills those valleys to the brim like tea in teacups. Denuded hills that roll on and on, and crevices of shadow and shade that run down those hills like creeks. I see snow and icy passes and salt flats and a sky as big as any sky I’ve ever seen.

            I spend the night in Reno, gamble a little, lose, get up before sunrise and walk by the raging Truckee River that runs straight through the heart of that broken town. Soon enough I am standing in knee deep snow in the Donner Pass, staring out at beautiful Douglas firs that shine out clean against gray rock. From there I point the car downhill, toward the ocean, the snow disappearing as I descend, melting water pouring off the rock and dripping everywhere. A sign for Grass Valley can’t be ignored, however, and I turn off the main road onto Route 20, weaving with the road down through the hundred foot tall trees, a mix of conifers, Doug firs, ponderosa pines, white firs, cedar and sugar pine. In the town of Grass Valley, I launch a frantic search for the mine where Oliver and Susan Ward, the characters from Stegner’s Angle of Repose, lived. I think I find it, too, when I park at the entrance to the Empire Mine. The docent says she is pretty sure that this is it and when I tell her what I’m up to she adds that she has read a book by Stegner.

            “The one about the old couple,” she says.

            “Crossing to Safety,” I say.

            “And I love Edward Albee.”

            Not again, I think. Not here in the West.

            Even after I realize that I have the wrong mine, I’m glad for my visit; the gorgeous grounds and shingled cottages give me a sense of the royal manner in which management lived in contrast to the squalor of the miners’ lives. 

            Back in the car, I remember that the poet Gary Snyder lives nearby, and I wonder if I should show up unannounced at this house. I decide against it but then remember I am not far from Lassen Volcanic National Park, where I first read Abbey. Should I head there to camp?

            Instead I push on, past Sacramento, into the Napa Valley. I spend one night with a friend among the redwoods in the mountain town of Occidental, another with a friend in Mill Valley. Then, up early, I drive down to Stanford to meet Lynn and Allison Stegner, who are taking me up to see the old house.

  1. Rahul Dave writes:

    Cant wait for the book, Dave! And love the cuts, separate. They might not the book make, but individual essays are just as fun for me…

  2. Kerry Headley writes:

    I am so jealous that you were in Occidental, David. You were so close to where I lived in Sonoma County. I’m sure you understand why I will never recover from my love affair with the area.

  3. daisy barringer writes:

    I feel like you’re cheating by cutting it, but then posting it here. 😉

  4. Kristen writes:

    I love Wallace Stegner and have read just about everything he wrote. I cannot wait to read your book!!