While many summer events and activities have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, there’s one throwback summer activity that’s eminently portable and perfect for social distancing.
And Bishop’s own Kendra Atleework’s first book, a memoir, qualifies as one of this summer’s must-reads.
Atleework is the daughter of Bishop resident Robert Atlee and the late Jan Work. Her book, “Miracle Country,” hits the bookshelves on July 14. Atleework plans a socially distanced book signing outside the Pupfish Cafe in Bishop that day.
Folks can preorder the book through Spellbinder Books in Bishop or at the Booky Joint in Mammoth.
A graduate of Mammoth High School who went on to attend Scripps College in L.A., Atleework (who carries an umbrella around during the summer to shield her fair skin) told The Sheet this week, “I always wanted to be a writer. But I didn’t know what I wanted to write about.”
Her “a-ha!” moment came when she attended a lecture by the writer Ian Frazier.
Frazier, a regular contributor at the New Yorker magazine, was discussing his book “The Great Plains.”
Which introduced Atleework to the “literary non-fiction” genre.
“A place can be a character,” says Atleework. And given the nature of the Owens Valley, with its history of water wars and natural disasters, “There’s no shortage of plot around here,” she says with a twinkle.
The book starts with a description of the 2015 Round Fire which burned 42 structures in Swall Meadows.
The fire did spare Kendra’s childhood home.
It also serves as an introduction to the land. To the drought of 2012-2016. And a jumping off point to discuss the history of the valley, not only the history with the city of Los Angeles, but the wider history of Native disenfranchisement.
Running parallel to that narrative is Atleework’s personal narrative, the death of her mother at age 16, and how the remaining members of that nuclear family (Kendra, siblings Kaela and Anthony, and father Robert) were at first shattered, and then slowly reassembled, in fits and starts, into a new whole.
And while the Owens Valley part is meticulously researched and can be appreciated across the full spectrum (from the novice to the avid local history buff) it’s the stories of family that make the book.
Work, Atlee and the collected Atleeworks are a colorful, stubborn, badass crew. From Kaela hitchhiking across Paraguay to Anthony’s battles with authority to Robert’s near-fatal hot air ballooning escapade, this a bunch that tests limits.
But the baddest ass of all was Kendra’s mother Jan, who died of cancer when the children were 16, 14 and 11.
From Jan’s stint teaching in Lee Vining: “When storms closed the highway, she [Jan] skied 17 miles through a canyon over fresh avalanche debris to feed the class hamsters.”
Or there’s the great vignette from Jan’s childhood: “She crept out at night and did not tell her parents where she was going, saying Trust Me, until they followed her to a drug rehab facility. When they called the place panicked, they learned that she volunteered on the late shift, answering the crisis line.”
Or from Mono County Search and Rescue, where Jan volunteered to be buried alive with a breathing tube so that others could practice looking for bodies.
The book is brought to a satisfying conclusion as Atleework comes to terms with her mother’s death, the reconstituted family dynamic, and her relationship with a man who’s been dead eighty years, L.A. Aqueduct engineer William Mulholland.
During the writing of the book, “I had a long and contentious relationship with William Mulholland. But as I continued to research, my view of Mulholland became more nuanced. I inherited a disgruntled feeling about the valley’s history, but then … William Mulholland just got so much more complex.”
Great book. Easily vaults to top three books I’ve read in the past twenty years produced by local authors. The other two are Log of a Snow Survey by Patrick Armstrong and The Fatal Affair in Monte Diablo Canyon by Jim Reed.
And she may very well be #1.
The betting lines are already up.
Some think we’ll be shut back down within a week. Others give it two.
I’m not a control freak. And I’m not perfect about the mask. It’s especially difficult in a restaurant setting where the server is constantly coming and going and one is eating, etc. There’s a lot of juggling required. Sometimes the words get ahead of the mask adjustment. Mistakes are inevitable. But I’ve always got one around my neck. I’m generally cautious. I want to do the right thing.
The maintaining distance comes fairly naturally – a newspaper publisher doesn’t like getting too close to anybody anyway.
But a few observations.
1. Why does it surprise anyone that this country can’t handle the self-discipline required by quarantine, can’t work as a team for common benefit? We have the temperament of adolescent children. And all the fortitude of a paper straw.
2. Folks can’t seem to understand that the mask-wearing is for other people. Preventing you from infecting others. Not wearing a mask means you don’t give a shit about anyone but yourself.
Honestly, what this likely means is that a renewed wave is coming and a shutdown perhaps imminent. This would prevent future guests from enjoying the area, and prevent local businesses from staying open in any meaningful, profitable way. But I suppose by then, all the people who created the problem will be long gone. Their vacations will be over. And they don’t really give a damn about the next guy, the next family.
You know, I’ve never liked the tribalism. I like tourists. They’re generally friendly. And they help butter my bread.
But damnit, if you don’t cover up, you’re the enemy. And don’t be surprised if you’re treated as such.
Stephen Kalish called The Sheet mentioning that he was up in the Rock Creek area this week on a hike with his wife to Ruby Lake. In the morning, he said everything was normal. People were wearing masks and the parking lot, which is always a little tight, was at least manageable.
On the return from Ruby, after 11 a.m., Kalish claimed he passed around 150 people and only 15% were wearing masks.
No one had the decency to step off the trail to let he and Rosemary pass. People were just hiking as usual. It was on Kalish to step off the trail in order to properly social distance.
And by midday, the parking lot at Mosquito Flat was completely full. There were around seven cars illegally parked on the side of the road. It was a zoo.