performing arts were not the only disciplines featured during
the opening celebration for the Schwartz Center. The written
word also was represented, in readings by William Gruber, chair
of Emorys English department, and Jim Grimsley, director
of Emorys creative writing program. In 1972, as a newly
married graduate student at the University of Idaho, Gruber
moved to an abandoned log cabin on forty acres in the states
panhandle in search of solitude and adventure. I wanted
to disconnect myself from city surroundings and bury myself
in books, says Gruber. He came to appreciate the rigors
of farm life over the seven years he lived and raised a family
in Alder Creek, through experiences like gathering seventy-five
pound bales of hay by hand, installing a bartered engine in
his battered Willys, and confronting a confident
bear while cutting firewood. But Gruber also formed a deep,
lasting connection to the remote community and its quirky residents,
featured prominently in his book On All Sides Nowhere: Building
a Life in Rural Idaho (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), which last
year won the coveted Bread Loaf Writers Conference Bakeless
Prize. Life there proved to be splendidly energetic, rich
in thought and in society, he says. It is a more
democratic place than Ive ever seen.M.J.L.
following is an excerpt from On All Sides Nowhere: Junked
Alder Creek, abandoned vehicles were commonly part of the landscape.
No homestead lacked them; a few of them were only temporarily
immobile, awaiting time and parts; but most had obviously become
permanent residents, a peasants version of garden statuary.
In a terrain without street numbers and road signs, these broken
machines could also be important navigational tools. Even when
these landmarks disappeared, they clung to local memories in
the way that long-vanished glaciers are said to influence migrating
butterflies. Once, seeking directions to a particular fishing
spot, I was told to go about two miles after where the
Caterpillar used to be parked.
inherited a modest number of junked cars, a Ford and a Chevrolet.
The Ford squatted comfortably in the grass, covered with needles
and moss; it seemed profoundly at rest. The Chevy for some unaccountable
reason lay on its side. A mystery of people long gone, our own
miniature Stonehenge: what hands, what desires had raised that
car on its side in the woods? Both cars were the same shade
of pale green. Accident? Or was this a clue to the personality
and taste of our forebears?
vehicles were 1953 models, and both were missing their wheels
and their hoods. The missing wheels were easy to understand;
I didnt know anyone in Alder Creek who had not salvaged
wheels and rubber from abandoned cars. But the missing hoods
were a puzzle, until years later somebody told me that they
had been removed by a tenant in the late sixties. Inverted,
their snouts curved sideways and upward in a bow, and in that
graceful curving sculpture that desperate tenant saw a sledge
that he could use to haul small bits of firewood across snowbound
cars were stored more or less together, nestled and partly hidden
in a grove of white pine and white fir just beyond the south
fence line of the yard. You could see them from the kitchen.
You would imagineat least, this was what I imagined when
I first saw themthat two junked cars would have been an
eyesore. But in a very short time I came to enjoy looking at
them. To see them in no way damaged the visual appeal of the
rest of the landscape. On the contrary, the look of them resting
there in the grass was oddly comforting. I liked the way they
complicated the woods with their presence, and the longer I
lived there the more I saw the distinctions between them. They
took on character and personality, somewhat like a keepsake.
It was a little like having your own family graveyard. To look
at them was to remember that you, too, along with all the other
golden lads and chimney sweeps and chrome bumpers, must one
day come to dust.
had set a short length of timber across the front fenders of
the Ford. It made a fine perch, and all of us went there often.
It was a place to retire to think and to smoke, in the days
when I still smoked, and after I quit smoking it was still a
good place to watch the wind whiffle in the aspens. My daughters
played games near it, and later, as they grew up, they too sought
out the car as a place to sulk or to take friends to smoke and
to contemplate adult life.
cars were a place for mice, for voles, for ants, for ground
squirrels, birds, and worms. Pigweed, bristlegrass, and ox-eye
daisies grew through the floorboards of the Ford, and in the
engine compartment a few white fir seedlings made their way
upward around coil springs and steering gear.
they were places to entertain guests. Once an old friend from
the East Coast came for a visit. We had dinner and took a short
walk, and then I asked him, What would you like to do for amusement?
He thought about it and then replied that if I didnt mind
hed like to go shoot a car.
was more than a little surprised. You have to understand that
this was a person who chose to become a conscientious objector
during the Vietnam War. This was a person who once told me it
pained him to look at the stuffed head of a deer on the wall.
It was a side of him I had not seen, to say the least.
want to shoot a car? What car?
he said. The ones you got out back. Ive always wanted
to shoot out a windshield. I think its all my years living
it turned out, neither of my junkers had a windshield any longer,
but there was still plenty of glass in the doors and rear. So
we took the .22 and a handful of shells out to where the Chevy
sat and blasted small holes in the rear window and trunk. By
the time we had made six or eight holes each we were both getting
into the spirit of the thing, and so I went back inside and
got the twelve-gauge shotgun and a box of shells. With that
gun we really started to do some damage. We took out the trunk,
part of the roof, and, by the time the smoke cleared, most of
the back seat. We blasted away for maybe ten minutes, although
it seemed to take much longer.
have to report that it was a deeply satisfying experience.