Land that Has Been Here Since the First Coyote Gathered It Up: Tracking the Old Time Stories.

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Date: Wntr-Summer 2021
From: Chicago Review(Vol. 64, Issue 1-3)
Publisher: University of Chicago
Document Type: Essay
Length: 9,528 words

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A few years ago I published a book of folklore titled Tracks along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo & Pacific Coast Culture. Even though people call it a biography I never thought of it like that. I imagined I was writing an ideogramic account of bohemian poets, wilderness encounters, linguistics, Native California mythtelling, and the still-present, but harder and harder to find, spirit powers of Alta California, the "señores of the brush." My hope was to sketch out the ecology of the world Jaime de Angulo and his wife Nancy inhabited. By using the term Left Coast I wanted to invoke the anarcho-pacifist stance de Angulo had held since his college days when he moved in socialist and feminist circles. It was a stance held roughly, almost instinctively, by his Big Sur neighbors Robinson Jeffers, Henry Cowell, Lynda Sargent, and Henry Miller.

When I turned to de Angulo's culminating work of oral and written storytelling, I titled the chapter "The Real History of California," hoping to locate traces of what de Angulo had learned of the Old Ways, which lie just beneath our highways, cities, suburbs, and under our current assumptions about culture and history. I had to distinguish three separate but related works. First there is a tangled-up collection of Indian Tales manuscripts, existing in several different states or conditions, some carrying the handwritten title, indian tales for a little boy and girl. By 1949 and 1950, the final year or two of de Angulo's life, the tales were turned into a brilliantly elaborate manuscript. Robert Duncan, serving as household secretary, helped type and format it. With "fonetik" spelling, a biomorphic layout on each page, multiple drawings incorporated into the text, de Angulo's own specially devised musical notations, and large amounts of Achumawi, Pomo, Karok, and Shasta language, this became the living "score" for de Angulo's recitals on the newly founded KPFA radio in Berkeley. KPFA referred to those original tapes and broadcasts as Old Time Stories, a title the station used for decades when it rebroadcast the episodes. I like Old Time Stories for the oral, radio version. This title seems to have been de Angulo's own. This is a bedrock work of North American literature, maybe the defining volume of the postmodern archaic, and an early manifesto for bioregional living. It holds a mix of languages, all Native Californian but for the framework tale itself told in Anglo-American English.


It must be one of the oldest frames for oral mythtelling. A group of characters--in this case people who are animals, who live in the beforetime, the mythtime, when people were animals and animals people--go on a journey. One of the reasons to take a journey is to visit other tribes, meet up with relatives you haven't seen in a while, and to hear everybody's dramatic accounts of what happened in mythtime, including how Coyote helped with world-making, how he caused irrevocable havoc, often got himself killed, then came back to life. (Coyote, we say, often...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A666652377