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Eye of the Bear, by Naida West

June 6, 2012
English: Cosumnes River Riparian Woodland, Sac...

English: Cosumnes River Riparian Woodland, Sacramento County, California, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been in a bit of a funk for the past few days. I do not know why, so, until it passed, I settled down to read some of the books that I have brought with me from the US.

One of these books is “Eye of the Bear” by my friend Naida West with whom Hayden and I spent a wonderful three days at the ranch along the Cosumnes River near Sacramento. It is a marvelous story and one that I recommend highly. (Copies of this and other books by Naida West can be ordered from Bridgehouse Press)

Although identified as an historical novel, the book is as much a historical novel as “The Grapes of Wrath.”  Even as an historical novel it stands unique. As Naida herself points out “In most historical novels a fabricated plot is imposed upon an historical setting. Instead, I used documented events as story guideposts…”. And what a story it is. Every bit as exciting as “Leather-stocking Tales,” it explores, as did James Fennimore Cooper, the American experience during the devastating contact by Native Americans with their European conquerors.  As Huckleberry Finn explored the clash of cultures along the Mississippi, Naida explores them in central California during that period just prior to the Gord Rush. Where the Civil War created a united country without ever creating a unified society, The California Gold Rush created a continental nation without a continental culture. It is one of the best novels that I have read in years.

English: Bridge over the North Fork Cosumnes R...

English: Bridge over the North Fork Cosumnes River in El Dorado County, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During my stay at their ranch, Hayden and I accompanied Naida and her husband Bill Geyer on a walk along the river near their ranch. I stood under the oak tree in which Eagle Woman lived, saw the rude parking lot that covered the razed village of the Lopotsumne, climbed over the rocks pocked with the grinding holes used by the village women to prepare their acorn flour now partially covered by refuse thrown there by the developers of the adjacent subdivision.   We walked on the ancient playing fields, currently a garbage dump, and climbed the hills overlooking the village and looked across the river toward the mountains of hydraulic mining tailings that forever altered the countryside, wrenching it into an alien landscape.

While Naida told me about these places and about the lives of the people, I listened politely with that detachment that one reserves for docent tours through museums of archeological sites. It was only by reading the book that her words became alive. I saw myself there for the “Big Times” and the “Rattlesnake Dance,” Morning Owl‘s orations and Grizzly Hair and Oak Gall‘s bathing in the cool of the river mornings. I experienced Grizzly Hair‘s shock at first contact with horses, Padres and mountain men and saw the suffering and death he experienced at the Missions.

It is a great story and a great novel.

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