Every October, the Tor House Foundation sponsors a three-day weekend event. I hadn’t been aware of this until 2013, in spite of the fact that I’d certainly read about it. Last year I skipped the Saturday portion because I wasn’t excited about the theme. This October, I attended both the Sunset Celebration and the Saturday conference. The whole family came along Friday night. We arrived about an hour late, thanks to some lovely weekend escape traffic. The weather was beautiful, as was the sunset, bright coral and untouched by cloud or fog. There was a big crowd (a good thing), and our reader kept us all engaged during the reading, though a few of us were distracted by the performance of show-stealing hummingbird. I was predictably clumsy and uncomfortable, but at the end of the day even I had a good time.
I’d wanted to attend the Saturday conference because Rob Kafka would be presenting on Jeffers’s encounters with wilderness, particularly the Ventana wilderness. As much as I love wilderness, I wasn’t very excited about any discussion about Jeffers as a wilderness poet, just because I don’t regard him as a wilderness poet. He may not have been a big fan of civilization or humanity, but he was always writing about people. It turned out to be good to hear from the Ventana Wilderness Alliance people. Their perspective was valuable input. I enjoyed Rob Kafka’s presentation thoroughly. I was impressed with his recitation of Jeffers’s verses and his knowledge of the poet’s work and life. Several issues come to mind:
- Jeffers’s statement, attributed by his son Garth, that “an empty country [has] very little interest if it is without evidence of human life.” This goes against a common misconception of Jeffers as a wilderness poet, and so delighted me, as I had never heard the line before.
- Regarding the poem, “The Place for No Story,” Rob pointed out that Soberanes Point had indeed been the place of a Jeffers story. It had in fact played a part in several of his narratives: “the Loving Shepherdess,” “Thurso’s Landing,” and “the Women at Point Sur;” but I suppose we can refrain from insisting upon consistency. This is poetry we’re talking about. That said, I don’t really like the poem. I don’t agree with the notion that a place can be so superior as to make it too good for a story. I’m rather inclined to think that every place has its beauty, and that calling one place categorically more “beautiful” than all others is at once idolatry and sacrilege. For this reason, I found the revelation that Jeffers had written a story for his “place for no story” quite refreshing. There is of course the matter of the poem dedicating two of its eleven verses to the presence of cattle on the hillside, an obvious sign of the presence of civilization. What is the meaning of the cattle? Are they part of what makes Soberanes unique? Not implausible. They seem to play a similar part in “Carmel Point,” “rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads.”
- Rob also provided evidence that Una Call Kuster had visited Carmel with her husband in 1906–7, about the time she first met Robinson Jeffers. I have to wonder whether she would ever tell Jeffers about this, and is it possible that she had already developed a fondness for Carmel long before she married Jeffers?