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April, 2024
4-12-2024: The Log of the Echo III-I’m writing this, darling, on the off chance that there may be a yacht here in the next few days that will be going back to Pender and can take a letter. We’ve come in thro a narrow pass with heavy current to Princess Louisa Inlet, and it is truly wild and far, with sheer rock cliffs a mile high with evergreens thick at the base and waterfalls almost everywhere you look—Yosemite & Norway. Read more

4-4-2024: Two More Letters from Mom-Allen S. is one of my favorite people. He fed us all on cornbread he had made himself (I never ate better), and then took me for a row on the sound. Read more

March, 2024
3-29-2024: A Letter from Mom-I have found a treasure I thought I had lost—my mother’s letters to me when I was a counselor at the Camp Fire Girls Camp Kilowana between Calistoga and Middletown in the summer of 1953, after my first year at Cal. Here's one for you. Read more

3-11-2024: When I Was Twelve-A double-hung window open about four inches at the bottom. A screen, unlatched for ease of ingress and egress. Read more

December, 2023
12-29-2023: Summer Camp Memories-I got lost in the comments to a NY Times photo essay on summer camp, photos taken by a now-pro photographer back when she was a teenage camp counselor. With a real camera. Read more

October, 2023
10-19-2023: Scared Together Now-The prompt was a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, “Every day as a wide field every page.” Standing outside/staring at a tree/gentles our eyes Read more

Older Entries



Nancy Schimmel, photo by Sandy Morris

Welcome to my blog. I have been writing a biography of my mother, songwriter/activist Malvina Reynolds, but I keep getting interrupted—first by Occupy, and Occupella, a song-leading group that grew out of it, blogging at occupella.org, making a book out of the blog, Occupella: Singing in the Lifeboats. Then came The Former Guy, and now the pandemic he assisted. Both the guy and the virus are distracting, scary, and exasperating.

So on this blog I will be posting about my family (my father, William “Bud” Reynolds was an organizer of the Ford Hunger March of 1932 and other disruptions), about the process of writing the bio, and also writing about these weird times and about my own life, writing songs, walking my neighborhood, working on a fantasy novel for children. It’s a good time to be hanging out with witches, dragons and trolls. The other kind of troll.

My old blog, Writing Malvina, got interrupted too. You can find it by clicking 2007-2010 Blog at the upper left.


Friday, Apr 12, 2024: The Log of the Echo III
Letter number four


About the 14th I guess

I’m writing this, darling, on the off chance that there may be a yacht here in the next few days that will be going back to Pender and can take a letter. We’ve come in thro a narrow pass with heavy current to Princess Louisa Inlet, and it is truly wild and far, with sheer rock cliffs a mile high with evergreens thick at the base and waterfalls almost everywhere you look—Yosemite & Norway.

I’m beginning to feel at home in this wildness, not strange at all.

Later

Right now we’re at Hamiltaire at Club Malibu, a beautiful lodge, Apple Valley Rancho with Totem Poles, and no one here but a caretaker because the thing was a flop, and it’s sad to see all this fine stuff, furniture, baths, bars with shining equipment, in an indescribably beautiful setting, idle and useless. I’m sitting at a rustic table on the porch of one of the cabins, furniture inside all shrouded, outside a view of the inlet with snowy Alpine peaks all around.

Yesterday, we gathered oysters and had them fried till we nearly bust. The voices of the kids trolling for salmon this sunny morning carry clear for miles. We’re all getting along just fine in spite of close quarters aboard—meetings clear the air of all stresses and resentments, and everyone likes everyone, especially me and the two girls, who are really great. Marilyn, 12, is a whiz in the galley, and we work together like a team, and Paula, 9, is a leprechaun with sly wit and abandoned mimicry of anything stuffy like the Hokinson ladies on the fine yacht which moored next to us for an hour this morning.

I am writing The Log of the Echo to the tune of Portland County Jail, and I’ve never seen Forbes laugh till he couldn’t stop before. The chorus goes

What’s the matter with Echo,
Not a single thing.
Her whistle gives a lovely toot
Her bell will always ring,
She steps along at seven knots
To cheer a sailor’s heart
And we’ll reach Louisa Inlet
If she doesn’t fall apart.

The song records the mad things that have happened to us these past weeks and you’ll get the story when I sing it to you. It’s real good. I’ve got to make several copies of it by hand so there’ll be enough to go round, and I may send an abbreviated version in to the Vancouver Sun, because everyone on the Sound knows the Echo, and our crazy antics have added to its reputation among these proper salty folk.

We expect to be here three more days, then start back, because we have to be in Portland by the 26th. When you’re outside here it seems crazy to do anything but sit and look, and most of the time I leave my glasses in my room.

Love

Mom

[The lyrics of “Log of the Echo III” are at https://www.malvinareynolds.com/mr264.htm ]

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Thursday, Apr 4, 2024: Two More Letters from Mom
Aboard the Echo III


Crew:
Forbes and Helen Sherry and their two sons, Allen and Steve
Paul and Harriet Blue and their two daughters, Marylin and Paula
Bud and Malvina Reynolds

Letter 1

Wednesday

Dearie—

Allen S. is one of my favorite people. He fed us all on cornbread he had made himself (I never ate better), and then took me for a row on the sound. He loves to row—both kids do but he likes to have a passenger, namely me. Maybe because I don’t fuss. Great delight over the concertina—glad somebody likes it. I haven’t the patience for it. They don’t care what it plays just so they make a musicy noise.

Roadside ad for mushrooms: “What food these morsels be.”

They sell strawberries by the pound. Don’t need sugar.

The boat is kind of a homemade job, but very comfortable. Lots to do on it, as the “caretaker” didn’t do a damn thing but let it get dirty, as a boat will if you aren’t after it all the time (or a house, for that matter.) All sorts of bilge and oil dirt besides the ordinary, but we’re getting at it. Helen says life around the docks doesn’t begin till 9 p.m. It’s daylight till after 10. There’s a Northerness about everything—the pearly sky and water, the thick-grown mossy woods—that is very special.

Bud and I have a stateroom to ourselves with a good bed. There’s hot and cold running water, electric lights all over the place, and two (2) toilets, one for gulls, one for buoys, one with a shower.

The big dept store in Vancouver is the Hudson’s Bay Company. All business closes on Wednesday for a midweek holiday. Very civilized. Mostly small businesses, not so many chains. “Goslings for sale.”

Love

Mom

Letter 2

Sunday, I think

Dearie—

Last night going to bed I felt like one of the first space-men, we seemed so far and alone. But this morning I can see a couple of boats near the horizon of this smooth, gray luminous water, and along the shore there is a line of houses, while back on the mountains there are none. The water is the only contact with civilization here and the houses are next to the highway.

There’s been a lot of confusion aboard, with the kids raising hell, Forbes starting out without warning to any body, and some resentments building up. So after consultation I called a meeting last night, with the kids having their vote and their say, and it was damn near magical. Allen and Marylin had volunteered to make the kid-shift breakfast in the morning, and Allen knocked at my door with a request that I help them make pancakes because they liked mine so well. Of course I was glad to. Just as I suspected, the kids came forward with some very reasonable beefs, which were reasonably considered, and some observations and suggestions that were as good as any the grownups had put forward, all gladly received and carried our pretty well today. They themselves asked for more meetings, and we’re to have one today and every 2nd day after. I was elected chairman, Helen secretary (she won by one vote over Paula, aged 9). Paula looks like Peter Pan but she isn’t a smart alec, has a quiet, impish sense of humor, is being passed over by the two boys for older, somewhat luscious blonde Marylin.

We’re going through a straights that might have been rough in bad weather but it’s a calm misty-sunny day. Paula is disappointed.

Anchored today in Buccaneer Bay (sounds silly, but that’s the name of it, and around the corner is Secret Cove, where the boat calls and they even have a little grocery, we are told. I’m learning to cook—and eat—on restricted stores, and it’s quite a discipline. Good meals but none too much and no snacking in between.

There’s a beautiful fine-sand beach, water you can see thro, and gentle slope—driftwood logs all over. The area becomes more fjord-like the farther north we go with mountains and islands covered with timber, coming down sheer into the water as far as eye can see. There are also mosquitos.

The men navigate, Helen and I are cooks, Harriet dishwasher, the kids have volunteered for cleanup jobs, Allan and Steve are quick and fearless around boats, Marylin, Paula and I have all learned to row and I can also run the put-put and handle lines. So far we’ve been making 2 or three hour runs up the Sound, then mooring for a night and the following day and night, swimming, fishing (no catch yet) and monkeling around.

Next day

Engine trouble, so we’ll stay here at Buccaneer (as the natives say—also “Secret” for the place across the Sound) till it’s fixed. It’s nice here—I don’t care. Sunset soft and glorious last nite, water smooth, altogether unbroken, blue herons flying or standing still as still, spaced apart in a single row along the shore. This morning pa and I swabbed the deck barefeets and cleaned paintwork, the kids are carrying out their assignments, Harried is a tidy housekeeper and things are looking better all around. Now if I could only break Papa loose of his filthy jeans and soak them in soapy for a couple of days. He’s growing a beard, I think.

Next day or so

Instead of this letter, I should write a book. “We Took a Scow to Canada” or something. Part on the engine broken, we’re anchored at Buccaneer and one of the natives tells us we’re out on the open way for a Norwester and should pull into the cove. Steamer is coming, should Forbes go back to Vancouver for the part or stay and help bring the helpless Echo into the cove with the little one-cylinder put-put. Meanwhile, on a careless order someone had hoisted anchor and we were moving toward shore with the wind and tide. So the put-put hitched on and the rowboat to it, with pa at the oars, and with night falling the two tiny boats pulled the big slow oaf into the cove (where we bumped a shoal we didn’t know was there) with everybody shouting conflicting directions from the prow (which hasn’t a railing yet). The natives must have thot we were crazy Americans. For the first time in my life my weight was an asset—“We need more beef on this line,” pa said, and I hauled and put all my 150 lbs on the pull, and brought the hawser in, with Pa and Helen. She proved to be OK in a pinch, took soundings like mad, and served us all rum and cocoa in the galley while Pa gave us all a sharp lecture on moving in a disciplined, organized way.

I could tell you more—how Forbes left the box with the broken parts on the float where the ferry stops and we nearly went nuts looking for it. Stevie and I went out and got it. The light plant is acting up now, and there is diesel oil in the fresh water tank, but we’ve got auxiliary water for drinking. No showers, no laundry, till we get to Pender next week, when Forbes comes back with the compressor part and we can get under way. You might try a note to General Del. Pender Harbor B.C.

In the afternoon Pa and Paul went in the little put-put to get information and supplies at Secret and they looked awfully small going out of sight on that far expanse of water. They came back in about three hours while Harriet and I tried not to think about it, and we gave three big cheers when we saw that little boat appearing in the distance and made out it was ours. They told us the drive shaft had parted on the way back but they put it together with spit and a prayer, and it’s still working.

Meantime, believe it or not, we’re having a hell of a lot of fun between crises.

Bud has finally shaved because Paula said she didn’t like him with a beard, and anyway, he wants to correct the bad impression we are making on the local folk and yachtsmen. Something new for pa.

It’s warm and sunny, but always a fresh breeze except in the galley. Helen and I take turns in charge of meals and we’ve dished up some good chow. I’ll make us some date bars one of these days and wish you were here—after the motor is repaired, that is.

Love

Mom

A childhood friend of Helen’s couldn't say “Water closet” called it “wicket pocket” so they understood “wicki” right away.

Pa says Pender Harbour is not practical, address mail to Van.

It seems to be Saturday.

Comment from Jean Tepperman posted 4-7-2024:
Love the democracy including children!


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Friday, Mar 29, 2024: A Letter from Mom
Summer, 1953


I have found a treasure I thought I had lost—my mother’s letters to me when I was a counselor at the Camp Fire Girls Camp Kilowana between Calistoga and Middletown in the summer of 1953, after my first year at Cal. Here's one for you.

My mother wrote this to me from Vancouver, where she and my dad (Bud) were waiting to go on a trip with their friend Forbes Sherry in his boat, with Forbes’ wife, Helen, and another couple. Forbes had money, so my father’s suggestion that he rent a boat rather than deal with the problems with his own was quite reasonable.

Dear Chum

Bud and Forbes are tearing up the forward upper deck—dry rot has got into it because it would seem, the mad Boyds who built the superstructure on the worthy old scow used green lumber. Thank God we don't have any yacht or yacht fever. Bud pointed out to F that he’d be money ahead to rent a boat while he’s up here, and he agrees, but Helen has delusions of grandeur and her idea of the good life is having a boat in Canada and fainting in coils.

We’re down from the ways now and it’s like having the goat out of the cottage. We can use the wicky and the shower and have lights when we like. If the men weren’t busy with repairs we could take a short trip, as the rest of the gang won't be up till Tues (this is Thursday) but I’m learning my way around town by bus and keep amused and busy,

Helen never laughs out loud—not one bit of humor in the poor gel. Life is hard for such as that.

Weather is sunny and it gets really warm.

Saturday

Saw a so-so English film and a darling McGoo cartoon—the one about the tennis game with the walrus which I could gladly see a third time. You can skip “Whiskey for the Parson.”

Pa is acquiring some respect for me as a housekeeper, of all things. Helen only half sees what she is doing and there is a disorder around here that beats 2353 Prospect 2nd floor, and that’s going some. Enough about Helen. After all, she’s an artist. But close quarters is too close for respect.

Pastries and candy are an awful trap here. Since N.Y. I’ve never seen such shops. Every drug store has ten dozen different kinds of chocolate bars alone, and fruit pastilles. Last night I had dinner at Leonard’s—soup (big bowl), filet of sole with good tartar sauce, potatoes, peas, bread, butter and dessert—65¢. Thank God we’ll pull away from here next week.

We’ve seen the seamy side of Vancouver. Foreign films are shown at the Avon in skid row. This is a very bad place for drunkenness and dope. Probably because workers come in from the tremendows hinterland after long spells of terribly hard work and cold. It’s a cruel place, with the double exploitation of local capitalism and a colonial relationship to Britain and U. S., the latter in increasing domination under growing resentment. We aren’t liked here.

There’s a city east of here name of Kamloops.

Love

Mom

We personally don’t suffer too much with the anti-American feeling because of the progressives, who are swell.

The men have got the forward deck in pretty good shape and I washed the first coat of crud off the galley floor and the halls.

Comment from JoEllen Arnold posted 3-29-2024:
What a treasure indeed! Tell me what she means with “ fainting in coils” if you know, please.
Clever mind! I hope you will share more of these letters. Do you have any you wrote to her and your father?

Comment from Nancy Schimmel posted 3-29-2024:
From Alice in Wonderland:

Alice did not feel encouraged to ask any more questions about it, so she turned to the Mock Turtle, and said `What else had you to learn?'

`Well, there was Mystery,' the Mock Turtle replied, counting off the subjects on his flappers, `--Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling--the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: He taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils.'


Comment from Kitty B posted 3-30-2024:
The 'seamy side' of Vancouver is just as seamy as ever. Quite sad.

$.65????


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Monday, Mar 11, 2024: When I Was Twelve


A double-hung window open about four inches at the bottom. A screen, unlatched for ease of ingress and egress. Red cotton curtains on either side. It is night. The porch light shines from the downstairs apartment across the walk. The red curtains move stiffly in the slight breeze. They have nautical designs in blue, grey and white. What can’t be seen is the slanted cellar door below the window that makes it as easy to get in and out of for a twelve-year-old girl as the two front doors on the opposite side of the house. She has nothing in particular to escape from or to, it’s just that the window is hers, the front doors are not, and entrance through a window is more interesting than through a door. Peter Pan. Or through a looking glass or down a rabbit hole.

This girl has a thing for boats, though she doesn’t have a boat and never will. She grew up in sailor suits and is working her way through Arthur Ransome’s series that starts with Swallows and Amazons, about children and sailboats and the lakes and fens of England. Other girls her age dream of horses; she is learning semaphore and morse code and knots. She has her eye on the horizon.

She has lived within a few miles of water since she can remember . Berkeley, Santa Cruz, and now Long Beach. She knows the different textures of sand under her bare feet: crisp, soft, hard, fluid. Later she will walk on a beach that sparkles phosphorescent under feet in the night. Now she knows the beach as a daytime thing, in sun and storm. She burns and peels and burns again. If she spends her bus fare home on ice cream or the Tilt-o-Whirl, she gathers empty pop bottles. She is car-free and carefree on the beach. She can swim just well enough after a few lessons at the Y and some practice in the calm lake at summer camp. She doesn’t care for style, style is for dancing, not swimming. Swimming is for being wet and weightless and feeling the salt waves lift her up.

[I found this today in my prompt-write folder. I hadn’t typed the prompt at the top and don’t remember writing the piece. I rarely write about myself in the third person.]

Comment from JoEllen Arnold posted 3-12-2024:
Beautiful!!!!

Comment from Carole Leita posted 3-13-2024:
I read this with my first coffee of the day. What a wonderful way to wake up!

Comment from DPat Mattie posted 3-13-2024:
Thanks, Nancy. My twelve year old time was different, but reading yours brought back long forgotten memories.


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Friday, Dec 29, 2023: Summer Camp Memories
Mine and other people's


I got lost in the comments to a NY Times photo essay on summer camp, photos taken by a now-pro photographer back when she was a teenage camp counselor. With a real camera. A lot of comments were about how camp had changed peoples lives. It has never occurred to me to think that—maybe because I had already spent a couple of summers away from my folks at my great-aunt Jennie’s in Santa Cruz, sometimes with a second cousin, sometimes with the kids down the block to play with. It wasn’t camp, but it definitely wasn’t a backyard-less Berkeley apartment, either. Aunt Jennie had chickens, onions and other veggies, and a bank of blackberries in her big back yard, the best-ever climbing tree in front, and I got to the beach fairly often—either a ride to Seabright Beach or I’d walk to the boardwalk from Aunt Jennie and Uncle Ed’s dry-goods store downtown.

What was different about camp was dog paddling and canoeing in a lake, the smell of vanilla pine, donning white shorts and my Camp Fire Girls bandanna every Sunday morning for an outdoor Christian service in a little amphitheater, singing “For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies/For the love that from our birth, over and around us lies,/Lord of all to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.” I remember that singing those words, under the pine trees, made me understand for the first time why some people were moved to worship a god.

I started going to that Camp Fire Camp the summer after fifth grade and loved it. Five of us stayed the whole six weeks and everybody else only two. So by week three we were the experts, trusted to be left alone to make little villages out of twigs and acorns. Of course we pushed it, and my best camp friend and I snuck across the road to decorate a little waterfall with flowers and pine cones. The Christian and the Pagan.

Some of the comments in the Times were from people who hated camp. Being molested by a counselor or bullied by other kids. The bullying seemed to be mostly in boys camps or mixed camps. I was lucky and didn’t know it.

The camp in the article was one of those lefty East Coast camps, this one actually run by a couple of members of the Seeger family. We had nothing like that in California. I didn’t know about them till I was grown up, and I envy kids who had them. They would have been such a haven in the McCarthy era of my youth.

Comment from Judith posted 12-31-2023:
I'm from the next generation down the pike of time (is there a pike of time?) and no, we never had anything like Camp Kinderland on the West Coast although I wish we did. I attended a liberal Jewish JCA camp in Barton Flats of the San Bernarfdino Mountains and that was fun. Camp Fire Girls also had a camp nearby, which was nowhere nearly as much fun... not antiwar or political in any way I recognized and I got in trouble for not wanting to call the 19 year old counselor MISS Diana instead of plain old Diana. I said I have a godmother who is older than my mother and I call her Blossom, and why do we have to call our counselors MISS? It seemed to me like what they made slaves call their owners' children and I said so. I did not go back.


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Thursday, Oct 19, 2023: Scared Together Now
Another Prompt Write


The prompt was a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, “Every day as a wide field every page” The whole poem is here.

Standing outside
staring at a tree
gentles our eyes

We were just at Strawberry Creek Park staring at a tree. Claudia will pick one and comment on it or two and compare them. Last time we were at Live Oak Park she said, “That one looks like this one’s hippie cousin” and I saw what she meant.

Everywhere together now.
Even scared together now…
sing to me from your balcony
please!

Yes, covid brought us together, scared together. I wrote a song about the people in Italy singing together from their balconies, and at one of the Zoom sings I was going to we had people from New York and Great Britain showing up at what used to be a local group, meeting upstairs at the Unitarian Fellowship in Berkeley with people driving in from as far away as Marin and San Jose.

When you paused for a poem
it could reshape the day
you had just been living.

…as this reading and this writing does now.

I don’t know what I would have done without zoom. What I would do without zoom, because the pandemic is still on for everybody my age, whatever Biden says.

Biden. Claudia read his speech about Israel and Palestine and started talking about it at lunch and I started complaining about his unquestioning (at least in public) support of Israel. I and most of the Jews I know are not Zionists. Claudia got upset at my harangue. She went back to bed. I read a news article about the bombing of the hospital and ate cookies and ice cream, which didn’t help much. I wrote a letter to Biden and felt better.

I am reading no more news about the conflict. None. I can’t read about war. I don’t watch war movies. It’s all too stupid and crazy. I remember long ago listening to news about Algeria on KPFA every night and at one point saying, “I’m sorry the people in Algeria don’t get to opt out, but I am opting out.” And I did.

And both wars go back to European imperialism and in this case also European (and American) anti-semitism, not to the Palestinians or the Algerians. I say “and American” because we turned away boatloads of European Jewish refugees. No wonder they wanted a country of their own. But this wasn’t their own.

PS I am going to vote for Biden.

PPS I was just in a conversation about war news. The war of my childhood was WWII, and we listened to the news every night but only saw it in motion now and then in newsreels at a theater. My younger friends saw Vietnam every night on TV in their childhoods. Now we have a 24-7 news cycle and kids after 9/11 saw the same tower go down twenty times in a day and thought twenty towers had gone down. I wonder if the children of today know that the news is on repeat.

Comment from Maurice Freedman posted 10-21-2023:
Hi, Nancy,

The whole blog is wonderful. Being old and Jewish, your thoughts beginning with

"I don’t know what I would have done without zoom... :

are especially meaningful.

The PPS was brilliant and sad. It captures in a simple and brief way from WWII on, the encroaching horror and intensifying immediacy of war throughout your lifetime and mine.

Mitch

Comment from Nicolette posted 12-6-2023:
Greetings,

Your mother was a great hero of mine when I was young (and still is). I was stunned at the number of ways she didn't conform to anything I was being told about what little girls were supposed to do, or act like, or want. Rebellious little me loved "Boraxo" the best, although now "Magic Penny" speaks more to my adult self...


My mother ran a folk music coffee house in Glens Falls NY in the 1960s where Malvina performed. My mother got inspired by her friend Lena Spencer who ran Cafe Lena where Arlo Guthrie and Michael Cooney got their start. In the 1970s my mother ran a folk music concert series in Ticonderoga NY where Malvina stayed with us after her concert.


If you'd be interested in more recollections, to contribute to the biography you're writing or just for yourself, drop me a line nb at nicolettebonhomme dot com


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