The Most Famous Book Set in Your State?

640px Book Labyrinth the Last Bookstore

Jim Booth at the blog The New Southern Gentlemen recently took issue with a Business Insider called “The most famous book that takes place in every state”. Mostly, he takes issue with BI‘s nomination for his own state of North Carolina.

I have no opinion one way or the other about Nicholas Sparks, and given that my reading tastes runs to both genre and short stories, I’m probably not the most qualified person to weigh in on which full-length book should represent which state. But of course I couldn’t resist checking what they picked for California. I don’t know what I was expecting to see — but it wasn’t what they chose:

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck.


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Coyote and Hummingbird: An Ohlone Folktale

The second folktale for my hummingbird folklore series, again from the Ohline people of California. This is also more a Coyote tale than a Hummingbird tale, but to me it exemplifies the feistiness of the Anna’s hummingbirds that are the most frequent visitors to our feeder.


Maccan ‘inn ‘Ummmun — Coyote and Hummingbird (Rumsen Ohlone)

Coyote thought he was wise, but (as we saw) Hummingbird was smarter. Coyote was jealous, and wanted to kill him. So Coyote snuck up on Hummingbird, caught him, and tore him to pieces. But after Coyote left, Hummingbird came back to life, crying out in a mocking voice, “I’m dying, I’m dying!”

Then Coyote grabbed Hummingbird again, and threw him in a fire. Then he left, thinking Hummingbird would burn to death. But Hummingbird flew out of the flames, crying out “I’m dying, I’m dying!”

“How am I going to kill him?” Coyote asked. They told him, “The only way to kill him is to eat him.” So Coyote snuck up on Hummingbird, and swallowed him. But Hummingbird scratched and pecked at Coyote’s stomach from the inside; the pain was too much for Coyote to bear.

“What will I do? It hurts so much! I’m going to die!” cried Coyote, in pain. The others told him that the only way to get rid of Hummingbird was to defecate him out. So Coyote did.

And once again, up flew Hummingbird, calling out in a mocking voice, “I’m dying, I’m dying!”

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Eagle, Hummingbird and Coyote: An Ohlone Creation Myth


My husband and I have been a bit obsessed with hummingbirds the past couple of years; we’re up to three feeders in the backyard, and we can sit in the afternoon and watch hummingbird skirmishes (Anna’s hummingbirds are notoriously territorial) with as much enthusiasm as other people bring to sports championships. What better then, than a series on hummingbird folklore?

Hummingbirds exist only in the Americas; a uniquely American bird, and so their folklore is also uniquely American. Hummingbird stories exist among many peoples of North, Central, and South America, and so it gives me a change to learn a little something about groups whose legends I know nothing about.

I’ll start this series with a couple of legends from the Ohlone people of the California Coast. The Ohlone lived in the regions around the San Francisco and Monterey bays, down to the Salinas Valley: regions where my husband and I, and my husband’s family grew up. I can’t claim to know a lot about the Ohlone, but the knowledge of their existence has been somewhere in my consciousness since childhood. So even though these first stories are really more Coyote stories than they are Hummingbird stories, they’ve given me a chance to delve a bit into the stories of the people who once lived where I live and where I grew up.

Let’s start with a creation myth, from the Rumsen Ohlone. Rumsen speakers lived in the area of Monterey and Carmel, into the Carmel Valley. Rumsen was the principle indigenous language spoken at Mission Carmel. Continue reading

An Afternoon at a Coal Miners’ Cemetery

Did you know there was coal mining in California? I didn’t learn that until recently. This, despite the fact that the Mount Diablo Coalfield, the largest in California, was in Contra Costa, the very county where I was born. From 1850 to 1906, mines in the Mount Diablo Coalfield, many under the operation of the Black Diamond Coal Mining Company, produced 4 million tons of (low grade) coal, the primary source of coal and energy in California over that period. The region was home to five mining towns, the largest and oldest called Nortonville.

In 1885, the Black Diamond company shut down its mines in the region and moved its miners to Black Diamond, Washington, where the mines produced better coal. They dismantled the railways and the towns completely, leaving nothing but some brick foundations in Nortonville, some great piles of dirt where the openings of the mines had been, and the cemetery, now known as Rose Hill Cemetery, which overlooked the town of Somersville.

Here’s Somersville in 1878. You can see the cemetery up on the hill to the right, and the great mounds that mark the openings of the mines.

Photo from The Contra Costa County Historical Society


Here’s that region today.

A view of Rose Hill Cemetery from afar. (Click to enlarge)


You can’t see it in this photo, but the mounds over the mine openings remain. Nothing grows on them. The region is now part of the Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve, just outside the city of Antioch.

We visited the park on a cool, overcast March Sunday. Early spring is the best time to visit that area; there are hills that block the ocean breezes from that part of the county, and in the summer it can be twenty degrees warmer — or more — than it is in San Francisco, only an hour away. It can also be very dry and brown. I was a bit worried, since we haven’t had any rain, but the hills were green and blooming with wildflowers.

(Click to enlarge)


By the time we visited the cemetery, in the early afternoon, the clouds were burning off and the sky was turning blue. Continue reading