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D A V I D R O B E R T S O N University ofCalifornia, Davis Real Matter, Spiritual Mountain: Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac on Mt. Tamalpais î. Mountain Theater1 On May 1, 1956, Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac sat on the upper stone seats of the Greek-style Mountain Theater on the southern slopes of Mt. Tamalpais. They had paused to rest on their two-day, round trip hike from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach. While Kerouac rubbed his feet and ate an orange, Snyder exclaimed: The closer you get to real matter, rock air fire wood, boy, the more spiritual the world is. (Dharma Bums 206)'-’ 210 Western American Literature The main axis of the Northern California tradition of nature poetry runs from Robinson Jeffers through Kenneth Rexroth to Gary Snyder. If one habit beats in the ritual heart of their lives and their poems, surely this is it: the practice of “mattering,” of repeatedly access­ ing the thing that is at one and the same time both spirit and matter. From his first visit to Mt. Tamalpais at the age of nine until the present, Snyder has continually practiced on the mountain, practiced bringing himself progressively closer to this dominant rock north of San Francisco Bay, thrust up by the collision of the Pacific and North American plates. Initially, he practiced, in another sense of the word, by taking short, exploratory hikes. Then in 1956 with Jack Kerouac and again in 1965 with Allen Ginsberg and Philip Whalen, he tied together pieces of different trails into two round trip ritual journeys on the mountain. In this article I am concerned with the first of these, the overnight hike with Kerouac. 2. Snyder’sfirst trip to Tamalpais was in the summer of 1939 when he took the train by himself from the state of Washington to Richmond, California, where his aunt lived. He remembers vividly her taking him, not only to the San Francisco World’s Fair, but to Muir Woods, Muir Beach, and Mt. Tamalpais. He came again in the fall of 1948. Earlier that year he had hitch-hiked to New York City in order to earn some money on the high seas. After a round trip to South America, he thumbed his way back across the continent to San Francisco, where he met his girlfriend from Reed College, Robin Collins, who was living in the city with her mother on Lyons Street. Over the Labor Day weekend he and Collins took the Greyhound Bus to Pan Toll, and from there packed over the shoulder where Rock Springs is and down to Lagunitas Reser­ voir. They camped there for a couple of nights before hiking down a dirt road to Bolinas, where they caught a bus back to the city. He saw the mountain next in 1952 when he moved to the BayArea from Bloomington, Indiana, where he had been a graduate student in Anthropology at the University of Indiana. His father was building a house in Corte Madera, at the foot of Tamalpais, and Snyder did carpentry work for him on the weekends. In his spare time he began to explore Tamalpais’ extensive system of trails, a process that went on sporadically for the next three years. Then in January of 1956 he moved into a cabin up the slope from David Robertson 211 the house that Locke McCorkle rented at 370 Montford Avenue in Homestead Valley, a rather steep subdivided ravine about a mile in length situated at the foot of Tamalpais in a south-southeasterly direc­ tion from East Peak. Since the landlord did not know of Snyder’s inhabitation of the property, he was able to stay there rent-free. 370 Montford Avenue, in 1956 rented by Locke McCorkle. The house occupied by Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac was up the hill to the right. This cabin was fairly large, with three rooms. It was apparently built by an elderly man, who, however, did not live to finish the job. It had, for example, no interior paneling and no doors. McCorkle’s brother-in-law had made some minor improvements, like placing burlap over the exposed studs and installing a wood...


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