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 heydaybooks.com.  Paperback, 5.5” x 8.5”, 256 pages, ISBN: 978-1-59714-499-5, retails for $18. Event listings at http://www.garynoy.com/events.html

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. garynoy.com

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).

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 CaliforniaStatePoetrySociety.org.

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, Yubanet.com.

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.

What I’ve been up to lately


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I suppose by looking at my blog people would think I was gone or this blog was just another momentary whim, abandoned in cyberspace, but actually, I’ve been very busy, and now that a few projects are done, am happy to take a moment to write.

A new series of poems are emerging, inspired by my dear friends. One of these was submitted to the California State Poetry Society, and was published in the last California Quarterly issue. ‘On Becoming 21st Century Women’ chronicles a lifelong friendship, written as a gift to commemorate a 70th birthday.

Frustrated by the die off of 66 million trees in California, I turned my attention to protecting heritage trees in Nevada City and took the walking tree tour into a digital format. Just published this week, the hope is that through education, these heritage trees will be valued and preserved. Get this new Google Map here.

This project happened with the help of great volunteers, sponsors and community donations. Yay, team trees!

Three years ago I took my Yuba River writings and produced a chapbook as an iBook. But no one seemed to find it and I was busy working and so it has languished. At the request of an associate for a printed copy, I converted this book to print and now have released ‘Swimming Into Sunsets’ for sale here in Nevada County (The Bookseller, Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, Gold Creek Inn). Thanks go not only to those selling the book, but to Caleb Dardick for showing up and asking so definitively for a printed copy—the nudge I needed.

Other news is that my article on the South Yuba Citizen’s League and Wild & Scenic Film Festival is slated for the December issue of Sierra Living magazine (formerly Sierra Heritage magazine). I have wanted to get something in a glossy book, in advance of the Wild & Scenic for a few years and this seems like just right match. Appreciate Roger Hicks, Caleb Dardick, Melinda Booth and Janet Cohen for taking time to provide critical insights and snippets of history that might have gone missing.

These are the ‘extra projects’ and writing— real work on strategy, marketing and content development continues through Thumbler.net.

If you are reading this, thanks for stopping by and be well.

Nevada City Walking Tree Tour


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A little over a year ago I started thinking about how great Google Maps is for tracking, developing and sharing projects. I put this together with Nevada City’s Tree Tour map. I had worked with Ellen Solomon getting her project into print and completed in 2008, and the maps were almost gone.

Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if we could have this information on Google Maps, and there began the project. A project without funds, but thankfully with a home through Nevada City Chamber of Commerce.

Through volunteers, sponsors, community members and even a grant, the project is now complete—well, almost. It would still be great to get numbers on the map pins, but this detail will need an little boost to get done.

Thank you sponsors, and especially Zeno Acton, Greg Archbald and Randall Frizzell, whose technical expertise and assistance made it happen. The production of the Nevada City Tree Tour has been supported by California ReLeaf, Pacific Gas & Electric, the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce, with the sponsorship of Acton Arboriculture, Inc., Byers LeafGuard, Gold Creek Inn B&B, Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co., and GoFundMe.com donations.

Check out the map here.


Wild & Scenic Film Festival 2017

Well, it’s a wrap! The Wild & Scenic Film Festival has completed its 15th consecutive year, once again bringing over 100 films, film makers and activist education to Nevada County with venues spilling out all over Grass Valley and Nevada City.

For me this year was all about the quiet films that remind me of how much I love this beautiful planet and how amazing people can be when they express their love for nature, the outdoors or a very specific project they see in their backyard, documented on film. In short, some of the films shown demonstrate the best in people, and this humble writer appreciates taking a moment to recognize this….but you don’t need to take my word for it, some of these films can be seen online, at other festivals, or can be checked out by SYRCL members at their office on Railroad (hey, there’s a good reason to join up this month!).

Here are a few of my 2017 Wild & Scenic Favorites:

The Gnomist

I don’t want to spoil this short, delightful film. Take 20  minutes to view it and then see if you can remain cynical about human nature.

Screen Shot 2017-01-20 at 4.43.13 PMThe Memory of Fish

Dick Goin left the Dust Bowl with his family and made a new home on the Elwha River on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Dick’s experience on the river and love of salmon made him an early and unlikely advocate for the largest dam removal project in American history.

Can You Dig This

When Ron Finley started growing food on the strip of barren land outside his home in Compton, California, he had no idea what would grow roots in this stark land of LA projects. Follow four unlikely gardeners as they learn to grow and find something unexpected in their new pursuit.

Also worth a look is Finley’s TED Talk here.

“When you put beauty in a place that has none, that’s a game changer.”

— Ron Finley, the “Gangster Gardener

Thank you Wild & Scenic Film Festival, film makers and idealists.

New Site for Siteline

screen-shot-2016-06-07-at-6-55-33-pmSiteline Architecture’s new website is a great example of a client doing many of the right things, but not quite having them connected. I was excited to partner with Paul Racko to bring their social media, especially their very active account at Houzz, into alignment with their website—all in a sleek WordPress template that easily accommodates their mobile site and responds well to tablets, too.

Like most web re-designs, there is a good bit of learning about the client, and in this case, I was excited to find that some of my favorite buildings around town were designed by Siteline. Best of all, I love this teams’ pro-active approach to Nevada County and commitment to design responsibly with a long vision. I mean really, who would thought to re-brand what we’ve been calling the K-Mart Shopping Center as McKnight Crossing? What a great idea! Thank you Siteline for the opportunity to make it easier for folks to find and work with you—a real pleasure.


WSFF: Dear Governor Brown


The Wild & Scenic Film Festival is January 14-18 in Nevada City and Grass Valley, California. Films screening Friday, January 14, include the North American Premier of “Dear Governor Brown.” Filmmaker Jon Bowermaster will be in attendance for the screening, which is part of the film session “Water in the West” at the Miner’s Foundry, Stone Hall at 7pm. This film exposes the California governor’s support, or at least tolerance, for fracking and other dangerous oil extraction techniques. While widely considered an environmentally aware lawmaker, Bowermaster reveals the discrepancy between practices occurring today in California and the typical politic-speak frequently quoted by Governor Brown.

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Open Letter Concerning Yuba River Fisheries

yuba_cairn_6Dear US Army Corps or Engineers,

This is a personal letter. I was raised in the Pacific Northwest. My hometown of Bellingham Washington was homeport for many boats that routinely did the Alaska Salmon run. My neighbors were fishermen. Being raised with abundant salmon, that were part of a way of life, having toured spawning grounds from childhood, and had every manner of abundant salmon prepared in our home as part of seasonal festivities, the notion that salmon may pass away in my lifetime is huge. What does this mean for us, as a people if we let this happen? Can you have a healthy river system without native species? These are big questions, and they break down into manageable actions.

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NOT Another Climate Change Movie

This-Changes-Everything_Final-692x1024Film maker Avi Lewis brings author Naomi Klein’s best-selling non-fiction book, “This Changes Everything” to the screen as a 90 minute documentary. Filmed over 211 shoot days in nine countries and five continents over four years, “This Changes Everything” attempts to re-imagine the vast challenge of climate change. Nevada County Climate Change Coalition, SYRCL’s Wild & Scenic Film Festival and the Nevada Theatre Film Series present this special showing. “This Changes Everything” is being shown in more than 70 cities across the USA during the week of October 19, 2015.

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