California Dreamin’ On the Big Screen



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Note: Watch for an upcoming exclusive series of special video talks by Dream State author San Francisco Chronicle film critic Mick LaSalle hosted by Book review follows.

Mick LaSalle’s new book, Dream State, California in the Movies, is a revealing journey into the psyche of California as it is reflected in cinema. Longtime San Francisco film critic Mick LaSalle has a knack for getting to the story behind the story and this book is full of great perceptions of just what California cinema expresses both intentionally and unintentionally through its film industry.

Dream State is a methodical examination of how California appears in film, from San Francisco to Los Angeles with a wonderfully witty narrative on just how many ways we can see the Golden Gate Bridge being destroyed. With chapters that take on the myth-making behind the Wizard of Oz and the dark underbelly of Film Noir, the reader begins to sense that Hollywood is both vacuous and deliciously full at the same moment, and this moment is a uniquely California moment, made possible at least in part, by a beautiful, mild and changeable climate where life just looks a bit more glamorous before the cameras start rolling.

For those who like to go below the surface of film, Dream State is a must read. LaSalle’s career as a film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle provides him with a steady flow of apt observations and most importantly, the connective tissue that is implied or perhaps hinted at as both cultural and cinematic references. One aspect that emerges as a theme is the dissonance between perception and reality as perpetuated through cinema–not the obvious, but rather the moments that tend to go largely unrecognized but have great influence, which LaSalle is near genius at identifying.

There are dozens of films mentioned, each presented with unconventional rarely discussed viewpoints. The eleven chapters include distinctly different time generations and genres, examining how Pearl Harbor is portrayed then and now, as well as Romance and Utopian visions. This is not a book of reviews or even in a certain sense, the in-depth discussion of individual films, but rather a closer look at what we rarely examine in terms of the culture itself as seen through the mirror of California cinema. LaSalle gives us a bit of American history as well as anthropological insights and a totally unique set of mind-opening perceptions.

In a broader sense, Dream State is about America and the values America chooses to portray through cinema and this too, is cast with an eye to historical context, examining how events like World War II, Woodstock, and 911 have shaped what we see on the screen and how this informs and reinforces that which is permissible and that which either by production code or implication, falls beyond the pale and shifts over time.

Dream State provides unique insights on what it means to be in California and why and who has been drawn to this seemingly superficial oasis of tempting promises fulfilled, along with the implied illusions Hollywood offers that vanish when the theatre lights come back on and the credits roll.

Locals in Nevada County, watch for upcoming videos, and know that The Onyx Theatre is looking forward to seeing you very soon!

Advance purchase available through Heyday Books.

The California Field Atlas: California’s Ecology Explained and Prosaically Painted


The California Field Atlas by Obi Kaufmann has been referred to as a ‘love letter to California.’ Perhaps this is not quite enough. This book is an unabashed, outspoken love letter written by someone who knows the nooks and crannies of this spectacularly diverse state and has the visual and scientific vocabulary to articulate California’s ecology.

The California Field Atlas provides a mix of geology, biology and natural history presented both factually and through beautifully expressive watercolors, calligraphy and prose—a rare view that is both humanistic and optimistic.

What it does not provide are directions, specific travel maps or any sort of guide reference. This book is for exceptional not mundane observations and as such, offers an inspirational and uniquely quirky travel companion.

If you have ever wandered into a place and wondered about how it came to be just like it is—trees, biology, landform, etc.— then perhaps The California Field Atlas might be your reference to better understand and appreciate California’s natural splendor.

The Deluxe Edition, released in November 2020, has a durable hard bound cover with gold foil seal and ribbon bookmark. Filled with maps, scientific insights and comparative county by county data, Kaufmann gives the reader much more than lovely images to absorb. Grappling with the climate crisis may best be done from an appreciative understanding of place, with a look over our shoulder to the past and a sobering concept of what science indicates for our future. Kaufmann provides both perspectives.

It goes to reason, that we protect what we love, and we love what we understand, and yes, we understand what we are taught. Obi Kaufmann’s hybrid form of art and science, co-opted under the title ‘field atlas’ surely helps us both better understand and love the rare and relatively fragile place that is California.

His publisher describes that

for Kaufmann, the epic narrative of the California backcountry holds enough art, science, mythology, and language for a hundred field atlases to come.

Track new offers at, or

Available in a deluxe hardbound edition and paperbound format

at HeyDay Books or your local bookseller.

Ellen Sargent: 2020



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This month I took some time to reflect on how much a community can do together. I assembled the photos I took over the year during “An Evening with Ellen”.

“An Evening with Ellen” limited audience prepares for ceremonial stroll to Odd Fellows Hall

“An Evening with Ellen” started with actor Mary Baird and non-profit sponsor The Famous Marching Presidents and grew and gained momentum throughout 2020…best of all, it kept me creatively engaged during 2020.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.

Helen Keller


Project Management & Creative Development, Community Outreach and Engagement

January-February: Writing and research, with support from Nevada County Historical Society Research Library.

March: Convert to video production.

April: Arbor Day tree planting in recognition of Ellen Clark Sargent.

May-June: Rehearsals begin. GoFundMe campaign launched.

July: Poster concept and layout.

August: Poster printing and release. Odd Fellows decorate windows on Broad Street. Video production. Famous Marching Presidents Tree Dedication Ceremony.

September: Video complete.

October: Windows on History features Odd Fellows Nineteenth Amendment windows.

December: Video edited for television and film festival format. Inclusion in Women Soaring art exhibit. Plan for educational curriculum development (2021).

Thanks to the Famous Marching Presidents, donors, and the incredible team.

Biodiversity, history, geology and a fine array of art




The Forests of California, by Obi Kaufmann, released in September 2020 by Heyday Books

Obi Kaufmann, who brought us The California Field Atlas (#1 San Francisco Chronicle Best Seller) presents another major work, The Forests of California. This is the third of six books in Kaufmann’s planned series exploring the state’s diverse environment and is the first of his planned “California Lands” trilogy.

An atlas is a collection of maps, illustrations and text. A field atlas is designed to be used in the ‘field’ as an ongoing resource, and Kaufmann gives us something rich, distinctive and fascinating. Dive in wherever you like to find a page that engages and keeps you turning more pages, or if you prefer, stop to learn more about a specific forest or tree in California. This book is not just a reference tool, but could be seen as an invitation to think differently about habitat, vegitative alliances and the hope we can hold through better understanding of our relationship to place.

Read the full review on

Listen to the interview on LitQuake

Note: Perhaps the most important book I’ve read this year…full of new ways to think, explore, understand, and deepen relationships with the natural world.

Hellacious California Indeed



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Historian and scholar Gary Noy’s new book “Hellacious California: Tales of Rascality, Revelry, Dissipation, and Depravity, and the Birth of the Golden State” is now out and available for sale locally and online. Published by Heyday Books in collaboration with Sierra College Press, this 256-page book provides a rare collection of cultural references, customs, and the roiling times in California’s Gold Rush era.

Painstakingly researched and full of quips and tales as told in the late 1800’s, Noy provides a real taste of California life during the Gold Rush. For those enamored with history of the West, it is a must read.

Nevada City and Nevada County have many mentions, alongside many Sierra towns. So, whether you are perhaps wanting a few more tales about Lola Montez, Lotta Crabtree or snappy quotes from Mark Twain, look no further. Want to know the real story of Grizzly Adams or badger fighting? Here’s your book.

Sexual mores and charlatans as well as the protocol for duels, knife fights, and real mining claims are discussed in the terms of the day. Descriptions like “tableaux vivants” or a “piece of recklessness” hint at colorful language like hornswogglers, honey-foglers and humbugs in Noys’ well-organized, entertaining read.

The Source section of the book is a treasure trove for those inclined to dig still deeper in the mines of California’s colorful history, with many sources cited for each chapter.

Noy concludes after describing a great diamond hoax “This humbug was but one shard in the distinctive mosaic that was California in the nineteenth century. It was a heaven where fantasies could come true in an instant but also a hell where dreams could be unraveled in a long con.”

Get The Book

Hellacious California: Tales of Rascality, Revelry, Dissipation, and Depravity, and the Birth of the Golden State” is available at The Bookseller in Grass Valley, both in the store and curbside pick-up as well as at Harmony Books in Nevada City. Watch for author readings and events at Nevada County Historical Society and The Bookseller as well as other regional readings, including Auburn Rotary, El Dorado County Library South Shore Branch, and Sacramento—COVID-19 allowing. Purchase online at  Paperback, 5.5” x 8.5”, 256 pages, ISBN: 978-1-59714-499-5, retails for $18. Event listings at

About Hellacious California

“Premier historian Gary Noy has created the finest and most entertaining compilation ever of stories documenting ‘the best bad things’ of nineteenth-century California.… Never before has this been so well told and supported by such a vast array of primary sources.”―Gary Kurutz, Director Emeritus, California History Room and Special Collections, California State Library

About Gary Noy

For those not familiar with Gary Noy, his long career includes teaching history at Sierra College from 1987 until 2012. He founded the Sierra College Center for Sierra Nevada Studies and served as its director until his retirement.

Previous titles by Gary Noy include Sierra Stories: Tales of Dreamers, Schemers, Bigots, and Rogues (Heyday, 2014), which won the Gold Medal for Best Regional Nonfiction from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, The Illuminated Landscape: A Sierra Nevada Anthology (Heyday, 2010), which he coedited, and Distant Horizon: Documents from the 19th Century American West (University of Nebraska Press, 1999).

An Evening with Ellen


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Mary Baird portrays suffrage leader Ellen Clark Sargent in “An Evening with Ellen”

Ellen Clark Sargent was a prominent suffrage leader and resident of Nevada City, where she founded one of the early West Coast Suffrage organizations in 1869. She worked tirelessly to secure women’s voting rights with her entire family for four decades. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in 2020, the Famous Marching Presidents produced an original play, “An Evening with Ellen,” highlighting Ellen Clark Sargent and the Nineteenth Amendment.

This original work, written by Pamela Biery, is set in an interview format. Actor Mary Baird portrays Ellen Sargent, while Nevada City businessman, Rick Ewald interviews Ellen, from a present-day perspective. Terry Boyer provides the master of ceremonies role, setting the tone for this lively interaction.

Mary Baird portrays Ellen Sargent, with present day interviewer, Rick Ewald

Nevada City California resident Ellen Clark Sargent was a close friend and ally to Susan B. Anthony. Sargent served as both treasurer and secretary of National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA); an organization founded by Susan B. Anthony. Ellen Sargent also was president of the California Woman Suffrage Association and founded the Nevada County Women Suffrage Association. She was a key figure in eventually combining East and West Coast efforts into a unified organization, which later became the League of Women Voters.

Adding to the context of this original, historically accurate work, the video was filmed at the Nevada City Odd Fellows Lodge Temple, where Aaron Sargent, who authored the Nineteenth Amendment, was a founding member in 1863.

Donate to making this project and curriculum materials available free to public, including schools here

Request a password protected link to view this video on Vimeo by emailing pamela[at]


Project Management & Creative Development, Community Outreach and Engagement

January-February: Writing and research, with support from Nevada County Historical Society Research Library.

March: Convert to video production.

April: Arbor Day tree planting in recognition of Ellen Clark Sargent.

May-June: Rehearsals begin. GoFundMe campaign launched.

July: Poster concept and layout.

August: Poster printing and release. Odd Fellows decorate windows on Broad Street. Video production. Famous Marching Presidents Tree Dedication Ceremony.

September: Video complete.

October: Windows on History features Odd Fellows Nineteenth Amendment windows.

December: Video edited for television and film festival format. Inclusion in Women Soaring art exhibit. Plan for educational curriculum development (2021).

Thanks to the Famous Marching Presidents, donors, and the incredible team.

Book Review: Every Day We Get More Illegal


Released over the summer of 2020, Everyday We Get More Illegal highlights social issues and the growing divide between American citizens. While this book speaks specifically to the plight of immigrants, and the current US policy, it also gives a voice to anyone who feels marginalized. “Everyday” provides pivotal insights. Herrera reminds us that words are a political tool and he uses his words powerfully, hopefully, and without softening the edges of harsh realities.

Herrera’s writing pedigree includes being named California’s poet laureate in 2012, and the U.S. poet laureate in 2015. These accolades come in addition to numerous awards and previously published works. Everyday We Get More Illegal was highly anticipated and does not disappoint.

Whether painting a word-picture through dialogue with a young son separated from his deported father, or recognizing essential workers’ constant contributions through labor—Herrera’s language penetrates the reader’s psyche, not brutally, but respectfully asking for reflection, consideration and remembrance. Herrera chronicles a lesser seen America that it is time to see, feel and make tangible.

Many poems in “Everyday” contain the rhythm of a conversation. The book is organized into poems collected under the common term for migrants, fireflies. In this case, Fireflies on the Road North.

Like most exceptional poetry and prose, these works may perhaps land on the reader’s feelings, touching on direct experience and also, giving light to scenes often acted out in the darkness of forgetting.

Address for the Firefly #6 On the Road North:

here  a river — you can stop you can bathe & rest

you can meditate on water & stones & the flow

you can note

the breath sound

of all our lives

            –Juan Felipe Herrera, from Every Day We Get More Illegal

Used with permission, Copyright 2020 City Lights Books

Every Day We Get More Illegal                                                 

Juan Felipe Herrera

City Lights, $14.95 trade paper (88p)

ISBN 978-0-87286-828-1

Release date: 07/01/2020

Hear Juan Felipe Herrera read from Every Day We Get More Illegal at LitQuake 2020

Hello Harvest Time!



Colfax Area Farms Add Great Sources of Food, Natural Beauty & Fulfilling Lifestyles

Steven and Bryanna Eisenhut of Stone’s Throw Farm, photo Stone’s Throw Farm

Note: Every so often I write an article that takes an unexpected shape through the development process. The farmers that I interviewed for this article, originally published in the Auburn Journal, are so inspiring in the manner in which they are carving out a sustainable lifestyle, and in doing so, helping to transform our rural communities, I am sharing it again here.

As fall comes around, for farmers, it’s time to pull in the crops, prepare for winter and evaluate the season past, but not before celebrating the bounty of fall harvest.

The Colfax area is blessed with a cluster of organic farms, giving people the opportunity to visit a farm stand or farmer’s market, get food harvested the day of purchase and come to know those who are dedicated to growing the food eaten daily—a rare opportunity.

Diane and Patrick Bollinger, Foothill Roots Farm, Photo Foothill Roots Farm

“We are young farmers. We left our work in the recreation industry at Tahoe, looking for something with more substance. After working for several years with an established organic farm, we started Foothill Roots in 2012. We are committed to the local community and are grateful to be growing not just crops, but local sustainability.”—Patrick Bolinger, Foothill Roots Farm, Meadow Vista native

Part of the good news of local, organically grown food is the increasing trend for a younger generation to choose this meaningful and rewarding way of life over faster-paced urban lifestyles. This is providing new jobs and ways to contribute to rural communities which have historically seen young adults leave in search of jobs. Not only are these farms creating their own jobs and lifestyles, but they also employ and train others, adding to the positive impact of local farms. Retirees, like Rick and Jackie Brown of Meadow Vista Flower and Berry Farm, now enjoy their passion for gardening full time.

Rick and Jackie Brown, Meadow Vista Flower and Berry Farm, photo John Matthews

Bierwagen’s Donner Trail Fruit and Farm Market is a fourth-generation farm just outside of Colfax, which has also seeded a new farm, Pharis Farms in Chicago Park. Stone’s Throw Farm is run by an eighth-generation farmer and his wife, who graduated from Colfax High School, returning after college and a professional career. Foothill Roots Farm sees a Meadow Vista native returning to his community.

Amy and Kevin Pharis, Pharis Farm, Photo Pharis Farm

We left city life. We are neighbors. We invest in each other, in a beautiful circle of interdependence. This farm is a source of regeneration. We are deeply connected to feeding people, it feels similar to counseling, in that it is nurturing and essential.”—Bryanna Eisenhut, Stone’s Throw Farm, re-careered social worker, current organic farmer, Colfax native

Charlotte, Adam and Ginny Pharis, 6th generation Bierwagens. Photo by Amy Pharis.

Thanks to the Auburn Journal for consistently sharing good news in our community!

Why We Write


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There are so many reasons to write and each writer seems to have a handful that they return to. For me, much of writing is about capturing the moment—sights, scents, emotions and thoughts.

I like Mary Oliver’s short directive, which could be for writing as well as living:

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

This last week I found a scrap of writing from some years back and was reminded not only of the experience, but why I write.

My Summer with Edward
Began June 2009, completed by accident September 2018

I read out loud to Olivia in hushed tones from Edward Abbey, so as not to wake Ernie, asleep in the next room. We stood, leaning against the wall on cool white tile in the Albuquerque Hyatt bathroom late at night. I crouched and read aloud the opening of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire:

The wind will not stop. Gusts of sand swirl before me, stinging my face. But there is still too much to see and marvel at, the world very much alive in the bright light and wind, exultant with the fever of spring, the delight of the morning. Strolling on, it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in sparseness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. The extreme individuation of desert life forms. Love flowers best in openness.

This quote seemed as if it was written to describe our day, walking through intense stillness, taking in petroglyphs among sage and tumbleweed. The grey quiet of what seemed a barren land came to life in surreal plant shapes and patches of brilliant color as our eyes adapted to the desert’s subtle grey tones. It was June, and a rain two days before our arrival had brought out a spectacular display of cactus flowers. For me it was the beginning of a summer with Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire in my daypack, sallying forth to the south and west, to rivers and mountains. Words, reflections, page corners damp from the verdescent Yuba River, worn from the edges of Granite Chief boulders, used as temporary reading tables; this book covered the miles with me, changed me, opened my heart wider to the blue skies.

I’m not sure how I lived so long with ever finding Edward Abbey, whose sensibility of the outdoors so suits my own spirit. A great lover of freedom, a questioning anti-government, somewhat misanthropic fellow and a writer of keen ability; Abbey proved a fine trail mate thoroughly able to inhabit whatever rock I perched on while reading an essay.

The first time I encountered Abbey was in Outside magazine’s collection of essays. His piece The Last Porkchop remains in my mind as the most eloquent expression of what is at stake in America’s wilds and the forces that are taunting the wild into oblivion.

I realize today, I must re-read this essay, as we are much further down a dark road than in years past.

Still, it always good to be outdoors, to seek the wild and to remember dear friends and Edward Abbey.


Reluctant Blogger


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There is so much writing to be done, places to explore and moments to be shared, I find it hard to dedicate a wee bit of time to discuss unfolding life, here in this blog. So forgive me and let me shortcut to the heart of what’s at hand without further fanfare.

This season I’ve been excited to get several commemorative poems written, and (bonus!), published. At last something useful to do with poetry: save cherished moments and honor dear friends at the same time. The California State Poetry Society published ‘On Becoming 21st Century Women’ this fall and will soon publish ‘Persimmon Pudding’—a winter poem set in Tahoe. These quarterly books are available to order at

The 16th Annual Wild & Scenic opens January 11. Read about how and why the South Yuba River Citizen’s League was formed here, in Sierra Living magazine. Sierra Living was formerly Sierra Heritage magazine and this new publication sets a fresh tone, while retaining cultural content. Learn more about the lasting impact of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival and other projects being used at models in other places here, at community supported news source,

My poetry chapbook, Swimming into Sunsets is now for sale at The Bookseller, Gold Creek Inn and at the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce office. A percentage of profits are designated to support Yuba River conservation by donation to SYRCL. This book is also available on iTunes as an iBook here.

Finally, thank you to The Union for this very nice opportunity to have my say, in the kindest way—in my own words. This ‘Meet the Author’ column is a bit humbling. Appreciate this and new city reporter, Matt Pera.