Redención 13: Stockton, the Road and Old Abandonment

Is the girl you used to have in prison yet?

A penultimate entry in this series.

a subject for the Hospital–she looked like a maniac when I saw her

I feel a bit as though I am redeemed.   Maybe it’s just the day.  But little bits are turning around inside and I see tiny lighted pathways sometimes.  It is suitable that I’d notice this for #13–

patients were often strapped to chairs in semi darkness

Is my redemption undermined by whatever or where ever you are or aren’t?  Does what you are doing, dear reader, matter to this perilous structure I’ve constructed?

we have no right to reject any whatever the conditions might be

From the 1870s to the 1920s, years spanning the settlement of the state by folks from both sides of my family, California had a higher rate of commitment for insanity than any other state in the nation.  

It is, perhaps, clear by now, this entry is not going to be about the birds–per se–though it is in the Diaries because it is connected to my trip and my trip, of course, was about the birds.

59% were committed not because they were violent, not because they presented a threat to others or themselves, but simply because they had been reported…to exhibit “odd or peculiar behavior”

This information about incarceration in mental institutions I first encountered in Joan Didion’s Where I was From. They refer to statistics gathered in Richard W. Fox’s So Far Disordered in Mind.  In Stockton, CA, where my great and great great grandparents lived at the time, there was the Stockton State Asylum, one of three asylums built in California following the Gold Rush to take in the folks driven mad by the hunt for gold and silver, the difficulties of farming, those sorts of things.  But really, of course, commitment laws being what they were, evidence of odd behavior was grounds for incarceration.

The great plain around Stockton is some forty or fifty miles wide from east to west, and to both the north and south stretches to the horizon, literally as level as the sea and seemingly as boundless.

The city is along the I-5 corridor, South of Sacramento, West of San Francisco.  The dog and I passed it going to San Diego and passed it again returning to Seattle.

I have rejected my connection to the Central Valley though we (as in my family generations ago) farmed that land in some ways or others for years.  We farmed and we also died there.

the great central valley of California, as level as the sea, stretches to the horizon both on the north and to the southeast…But there is nothing cheering in it–

Sometimes we try to cut things loose but then we go back and they make some sort of strange sense–the quail and the shotguns, the flat land and her flooding.

There was nothing in my academic studies that predetermined my study of quail–perhaps my feet were taking some old route, though.

all things seem blended soon in the great, vast expanse.  

My relatives were there in the San Joaquin Valley from the 1890s or so onward and through the Great Depression some more successful some less so–and I keep being drawn back to dig around in the dirt and to look at the stones. You never know where there’ll be silver or even gold.

Multitudes of streams and bayous wind and ramify through the hundresds of square miles–yes, I should say ‘thousands’ of square miles–about the mouths of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers, and then away up both of these rivers in opposite directions, until nothing can be seen but the straight line on the horizon

Sometimes they lost hold on things but no one to my knowledge spent time in the asylum–though the building itself might have been just down the street.  Of course, who would mention such a thing?

to the bone, to the colorless white bone,/the excellence

We all have inside ourselves a bit of craziness.

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair

And if we walked a certain way, we’ll be incarcerated for the rest of our lives.

Thy wring earth right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me?

[I think that is the reason the cliché of the lunatic asylum so attracts–some of us feel confident to incarcerate the rest of us and quite possibly would, given half a chance]

you are on the side of humanity, aren’t you?

I’m ending this soon.  Then I’ll go quiet for a bit and you can rest.

The rain was a godsend to the farmers.  The soil had begun to bake and crack so thatht the growing gain could not get on farther

One more last call and we’ll see

The trees of the mind are black.  The light is blue.

Perhaps I’ll still be redeemed

I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

perhaps not

darksome devouring eyes my bruised bones…and fan

suddenly a vacancy, a silence



quotes are by Lavinia Norcross, William H. Brewer, Joan Didion, Anne Carson, Sylvia Plath, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Josiah Royce, Robinson Jeffers


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