The importance of landscape connecting the legacy of history and culture is a theme I explore in my writing. Landscape exists beyond the one that can be seen. My Portuguese ancestors came from the Azores to a new land where they were strangers. They had lived with daily uncertainty on volcanoes and were isolated in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Ironically, my family from Pico left their volcanic home only to move near another volcano, Mt. Shasta, in northern California.
Some of my family settled in the Scott Valley near Fort Jones California to look for gold in the beginning of the 1800s to early 1900s. When gold was discovered in Siskiyou County around 1850, large numbers of Portuguese emigrated to the Siskiyou mountain area of Northern California. By 1880, this area of California was called the “Portuguese mining capital.” Failing to find gold and “strike it rich,” my family turned to ranching, and they became more personally connected to the land. My great grandmother, Maria Cabral-Neves, came to Fort Jones as a mail-order bride during this period and today her homestead remains a local landmark.
During the time period that my family came to the United States, people lived more intimately with the land, setting roots deep in place, depending upon the land and their knowledge of it for physical and psychological sustenance. However, there is more to the story of landscape: a sense of continuity between past, present, and future exists. The knowledge of historical events, and both dark and light forces that create the landscape, informs us about ourselves and where we come from. In exploring the geography of my family history I discovered that the land remembers.
Mt. Shasta (Photo by Lara Gularte)
In my poem Journey the memory of my ancestors is preserved in the landscape where they lived and where they were buried.
Years of lift and scrape,
slip and crack,
the Siskiyou mountains.
My gold hunter ancestors
haunt the ridge,
darken the slope.
See them rise,
hear the thunder of the peaks.
A blackbird passes above
to where the world
moves over the horizon,
the upper air,
thinness beyond breath,
With beating wings
they slip away,
and the sun runs cold in Scott valley
where a frozen bird lies,
and seeds sleep uneasily,
unsure of their time.
Lara Gularte, Maria Neves, Diane Henriques (Photo by Elvera Gularte)
The poem California Bride; 1879 presents a domestic landscape and a cultural perspective.
CALIFORNIA BRIDE; 1879
Bones half-grown, she rises
from a ship’s dark hold.
Gives herself up
to a hard-handed miner,
and grows thin from miscarriage,
fat from pregnancy.
Sings songs in Portuguese
as she hurries from cabin to sluice box
on small calloused feet.
I remember the old woman,
not the girl.
A widow in black,
with thick stockings, heavy shoes.
Lived in the corner
of my grandmother’s kitchen
gluing broken dishes.
Always moving and praying.
Boiled her own egg
till the day she died.
The face of Maria Neves
floats in my dreams.
She was my great grandmother.
I wear her eyes,
speak in her voice.
She is waving her hands,
reshaping the air
to tell me in broken English,
that “life is no sugar.”
(First published in the San Jose Mercury News, Gold Rush series, Fall 1999)
My poem Grandfather represents the ancestral home place as a legacy for future generations.
You go during one winter of wilderness.
The years have flattened your grave with the earth,
wind wiped your name from the granite stone.
You had woods and weather,
rising bluffs and arching sky,
mountains that lift clear to the ocean.
The apple orchard you set on the green hill.
Sons and daughters all born
at your old mountain home.
You worked year after year,
plowing back and forth with your shaggy maned horse,
clans of birds, tribes of beasts in the forest.
I can see you working cattle since daybreak
then home by nightfall, supper and sleep.
No tree, or stone, or fence, the same,
since you left.
The brown barn leans like an animal,
the apples are small and bitter.
Hungry deer straggle in leaving bits of hide
on barbed wire.
I remember your promise of a hike in the woods,
a swim in the pond, the trout we might catch.
In dreams, you tell me to rake the dead stalks,
clean the earth bare again, scatter the wild grass.
(First published Sister’s Singing Anthology, Fall 2008)
llha do Pico (Photo by Lara Gularte)
The poem In the Stars describes an immigrant woman who has lost her home place both in the Azores and in the United States. The poem explores how natural landscape is linked to the essence of human existence both physically and spiritually.
IN THE STARS
My house razed
I live in a modular now,
and sealed shut.
I won’t cook electric
the food tastes flat.
When I get hungry
I build a fire outdoors.
Near the shell of my old house
I cook myself a big pot of beans.
The smell of wood and fresh air
gives the food flavor.
My daughter visits,
brings the Fire Marshall.
She says if I don’t stop
she will put me in a home.
My home is gone, I say.
I miss the music of the old country-
goats bleating, roosters crowing
the sound of church bells.
From my adega you could hear
waves crash against rocks.
At night I look for signs
in the stars,
see canvas sails of my young years
billow along routes
the fishing boats took
when they left port.
(First published in Watershed, Fall 2007)
Ilha do Pico (Photo by Lara Gularte)
We are drawn to a place because of the stories the landscape encloses, the memories it holds. Both my ancestors mother country of the Azores, and their California home place, embrace myth and legend, fact and folklore, communicating a physical and cultural legacy.
Lara Gularte earned an M.F.A. degree from San Jose State University where she received several Phelan Awards and the Anne Lillis Award for Creative Writing. Her poetry has appeared in such north American journals as Eclipse, The California Quarterly, Water-Stone Review, the Hiram Poetry Review, the Evansville Review, Bitter Oleander, The Fourth River, the Monserrat Review, Windfall, Kaleidoscope, Santa Clara Review, and Watershed, and has been translated into Portuguese by the University of the Azores. In July of 2008 she was a resident poet at the Footpaths to Creativity Writer’s Residency and Retreat on Flores Island in the Azores. She is an assistant poetry editor for Narrative Magazine.