Thursday, August 28, 2008

ZANE GREY IS EVERYWHERE

Recently while sojourning at a friend’s home in FL, I kept eying the fishing pier that was only a short walk from the edge of the back gallery facing Silver Lake. The pier beckoned me to “drop a line,” but I was too busy to succumb to this idle pastime. Actually, last year, I caught 22 perch in Silver Lake while standing on the same pier and only stopped pulling in my catch because I knew I’d have to help clean all of the beautiful blue gill and sun perch I caught.

As I pondered the possibility of casting out from the end of this pier in FL, I thought about several of my favorite authors who had spent time fishing in FL, Ernest Hemingway and Zane Grey being the most notable ones. Many people who have read Grey’s western novels don’t realize that he not only loved the desert terrain, he was a big game fisherman and often left his family to go deep sea fishing in FL…and to write some of his adventure stories. Although Grey’s biographers claim that he could never write a sea epic, he revered the waters that seemed to soothe the depression which plagued him most of his life. I’ve read Grey’s biographies by Stephen May and Frank Gruber (the latter’s work three times) and recently re-read a statement Grey made about his love of the sea that is quoted in Gruber’s book: “The sea, from which all life springs, has been equally, with the desert, my teacher and religion.”

Zane Grey’s books and his biographies have always fascinated and inspired me. It’s true that his later novels are formula-type narratives, examples of so-called popular adventure stories, but who could fault an author who published over 90 books, with book sales of over $40 million?! One summer, when I traveled to California to see my daughter, we boarded a boat out to Avalon, Catalina Island, to spend a few days in the Zane Grey Pueblo Hotel which was once Grey’s getaway home, a pueblo-type residence at the top of a steep hill overlooking the blue-green waters of Catalina Bay. In this place, Grey relaxed and dreamed up stories while he looked out at the waters that he declared provided religion and inspiration for him.

Another summer, I traveled to Sedona, AZ and to nearby Oak Creek Canyon, the spot where Grey based his famous CALL OF THE CANYON. After discovering an old cabin that must have been the habitat of one of the characters in this western novel, I haunted all the bookstores in Sedona until I found and purchased an expensive edition of CALL OF THE CANYON…and pondered the idea of writing a western, finally deciding that anything I might write couldn’t equal the writings of this master of western narrative.

Just yesterday, I read a book about the Cumberland Plateau and came upon a reference to Grey’s SPIRIT OF THE BORDER, which focuses on the frontier of the Appalachians when pioneers were pushing westward. I was surprised that he had written about the Appalachians, the chain of mountains near my present residence. This novel first inspired Russ Manning to explore the Cumberland Plateau and, ultimately, to write THE HISTORIC CUMBERLAND PLATEAU. After reading that small tribute to Grey, I decided that Zane Grey follows me around, or perhaps I follow him around. The only place Zane Grey frequented that most of my friends refuse to accompany me is Death Valley, scene of one of his novels. However, I saw a wonderful documentary about the Valley several months ago, a film featuring a resort hotel that just might entice me to make another Zane Grey trek – during the winter, that is.

If I could write one book that connected its characters to the environment as well as this inimitable adventure writer, I’d “rest easy.” Like Grey, I appreciate and love the Grand West and his words about that region of the U.S. resonate with me: “The so-called civilization of man and his works shall perish from the earth, while the shifting sands, the red looming walls, the purple sage, and the towering monuments, the vast brooding range show no perceptible change.”
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