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4 9 0 W E S T E R N A M E R IC A N L IT E R A T U R E W in t e r 2 0 0 6 M arshal South and the Qhost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living. Edited by Diana Lindsay. San Diego, Calif.: Sunbelt Publications, 2005. 321 pages, $21,95. Reviewed by Thomas J. Lyon Carlsbad, California Experiment it was: in 1931, pick a remote, waterless mountaintop; take your wife, a Rosicrucian who values suffering as a means toward enlightenment, to the desert mountain and begin building a house there; raise three children, using an ingenious cistern system to catch the little water that comes from the sky; add hundreds of thousands of acres of ... silence. It lasted sixteen years, when Tanya (finally, some would say) left the Anza-Borrego and filed for divorce. She would live almost fifty years longer, keeping quiet about the experiment; Marshal South died within two years of the divorce, perhaps some sort of “broken heart”—after all, he had lived those sixteen hard years and car­ ried lots of heavy items up that steep, one-mile trail to the adobe house—and the legend began. Because the family lived clothes-free whenever possible, and because they had erected a series of blockades and signs warning away chance hikers, and because there were children, and most of all because Marshal South wrote ninety-five articles about the experiment, kept an optimistic tone, and gath­ ered from Desert Magazine’s readership a large following, perhaps a legend was inevitable. Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles will go a long way toward quieting the tongues of gossips. Diana Lindsay’s foreword is thorough (uncovering South’s real name, his birth in Australia, and his first mamage, for example), as well as scholarly and lively. There is also an introduction by the oldest child, Rider (now seventy-one) and his wife Lucile, and it gives an inside view that in its essential sanity provides mitigation for the years of loose talk by others. But it is what Marshal South had to say in those Desert Magazine articles (collected in this book) that is the real story. The monthly columns follow the family’s activities—gathering jojoba nuts, watching the big clouds of the mon­ soon season collect, hoping for rain, making a Christmas tree out of juniper branches, finding evidence of Indian life, roasting mescal—and the accounts are full of loving images. This poet’s-eye view leads the reader to sympathize with South, to feel that this man should have lived more than fifty-nine years. When he rails against progressive civilization, one thinks that thirty years later, perhaps, such comments would be common. But when he states his simple positive truths—“I think this is most important, I loved the desert. Its vast sunlit spaces, shimmering away into the grey mystery of distant horizons, called to my heart. It was, in some mysterious fashion, home”—one realizes that those words underlie sixteen years in one of the harshest drylands in America (266). b o o k R e v ie w s 4 9 1 On Ghost Mountain, South perhaps came close to knowing what drove him. He was on his way, his own resolute way, for “the human being is a strange animal. Not yet, even dimly, does he begin to understand himself or the true value of life” (276). Today, there isn’t much left of the house South fashioned: rusty bedsprings, a few pieces of wood, some crumbling adobe walls, and the cisterns—one of them even holding water. You will have to go to the book to see what made this man so determined. A ...


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