puede ir más allá en el año nuevo

May you go Furthur in the New Year. Copyright 2010 Robin L. Chandler

Thirty minutes after the doors opened, I walk off BART and onto the dance floor of the Bill Graham Auditorium, the party in full swing.  Cannabis clouds envelope me, crowds of swirling dervishes surround me, the lights paint me surreally and the band welcomes me, the words of an Estimated Prophet hang in the air “I’m in no hurry, no no no. I know where to go….California, preaching on the burning shore…..California, I’ll be knocking on the golden door…..like an angel, standing in a shaft of light. Rising up to paradise, I know I’m gonna shine.”  Synchronicity.  I am here.

Hours before I’d burned the two thousand miles from Austin to San Francisco; a western pilgrimage branded by rain, snow and wind. Somehow synched, the band breaks into Cold Rain and Snow “run me out in the cold rain and snow….and I’m going where those chilly winds don’t blow.“   Our road home through Abilene, San Angelo, Midlands, Van Horn, El Paso, Lordsburg, Tucson, Blythe and Los Angeles shared most of the 2,765-mile route of the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail.  The stagecoach operated from 1857- 1861 traversing the Great Plains, the Sonoran Desert and the San Joaquin Valley connecting St. Louis to San Francisco.  Evidence of ruts left by Butterfield stagecoach wheels, formed more than one hundred and fifty years ago, remains visible to hikers in the Anza Borrego Desert (East of San Diego).  Sobering is the power of mankind to create lasting change, or in the desert wilderness, permanent damage.  Leave no trace.  Good advice in the wilderness, but judging from the energy around me, the Grateful Dead left an important lasting impression.

The band breaks into Tennessee Jed singing “there ain’t no place I’d rather be, baby won’t you carry me.”  My mind flashes back to John Ford’s masterpiece Stagecoach the first film with a soundtrack scored entirely on American folksongs combining traditional Texas and  ballads, Stephen Foster compositions, hymns, tin-pan alley tunes and minstrel songs. Stagecoach’s theme contain the lyrics “O bury me not on the lone prairie…..
Where coyotes howl and the wind blows free…..By my father’s grave, there let me be….
O bury me not on the lone prairie.”  Roots of the Dead.  Synchronicity yet again.  
As if a messenger sent, my dear friend  emerges from the seven-thousand year-end revelers while the band sings Scarlett Begonias “once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if you look at it right.”  Synched once more.  My friend leans over and whispers “the jam builds with Phil and Bobby at the core, the keyboard and lead guitar forming the outer rings of sound….all echoed in the movements of the dancers.”   May we all be blessed in this New Year with such joyous synchronicity.

landscape of memory

On Sunday April 4, 2010 a 7.2  earthquake rocked Baja California and the desert lands near San Diego, Anza Borego and the Salton Sea.  For nearly a minute tectonic forces were oblivious to international boundaries and struggling peoples trying to make ends meet on either side of the border.

Anza-Borego Desert East of San Diego. Copyright 2009 Robin L. Chandler

Such a jolt shakes personal and collective memories  to the surface…quakes I have known myself such as October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta or quakes I have mythologized such as April 18,  1906  San Francisco.  On October 17, 1989 after leaving the Montgomery Street BART station, I walked the six miles home.  Gone were the thoughts of seeing the opening game of the World Series Giants versus the Athletics  as I hiked past the milling crowds of displaced persons, broken glass, fallen bricks, and scent of natural gas. I heard snatches of news from people sitting on their front porches with battery powered transistor radios reporting fires in the Marina District, the collapsed Cypress Structure in the East Bay, and the severe damage to the Bay Bridge.  I trudged onward uncertain as to what I would find at home in Noe Valley.   Sometime later, I reached the Mission District and walked up the Dolores Street hill where with enough elevation, I was able to get my first view of the city.  I turned slowly, dreading what I might see, but the city was intact — yes there were fires and yes I knew some person’s lives would be changed irrevocably, but at that moment it was not the chaos and extensive devastation I feared.  Suddenly I realized where I was standing  at 20th and Dolores the site of the Golden Hydrant.

Taking a quote from About.com “On the morning of April 18, 1906 on the slopes of Noe Valley overlooking the Mission district, Dolores Park was packed with displaced citizens watching the fire advance from downtown. This hydrant across the intersection of Dolores and 20th streets was found to have water, but the exhausted horses could not pull the fire engines up the hill. The people mobilized to do the job, then spread out under the firefighters’ direction and, with crude tools and hand labor, stopped the flames”  and saved the Mission District  from the advancing fire. This hydrant is painted gold in a special ceremony every April 18th at 5:40AM.

That sense of a shared history and a collective memory with San Franciscan’s past and their strength to rebuild after tragedy gave me courage to keep struggling forward. David Blight in his book Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory and the American Civil War describes collective memory as “the ways in which groups, peoples, or nations remember, how they construct a version of the past and employ them for self-understanding and to win power and place in an ever-changing present.”  I think San Franciscan’s proudly tap collectively into the  memories and mythologies of the ’06 earthquake drawing strength to overcome these unstable times.

Aftershocks continue here in San Diego, and daily National Public Radio updates me with news of the 6.9 earthquake in Quinghai, China near Tibet and the eruption of the glacier bounded volcano in Iceland.   Amid these geologic statements that humble humankind reminding us that we cannot and should not expect to control all,  I continue to work on my paper  considering digital libraries and the  “Landscape of Memory” and think about the role of archivists in shaping history and memory as described by Rand Jimerson in Archives Power as generations pass, written records and other forms of documentation must take the place of personal memory….. Historians have also begun to recognize that archives are not simply locations to examine authentic and reliable records of the past, but are also active agents in the shaping of what we know of human history….the role of archivists in this interplay of history, truth, memory and evidence requires examination.  As collectors, guardians, appraisers and interpreters of the archival record, archivists actively shape society’s knowledge of the past. “