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The Mountain Sea

Lake Tahoe became a crossroads of industry and tourism almost immediately during the Comstock silver mining boom in the 1860s. The Placerville Road--today's Highway 50--became the main thoroughfare across the mountains and a branch of the road went by the south shore of Lake Tahoe. The forests around the lake supplied timbers for the mines and wood for the fires and mills. The lake became a resort for millionaires and soon the hoi poloi too.

The tensions in the lake today are all rooted in this history. There is no obvious harmony of the discordant voices. A geologic miracle and a political boundary drawn blind to the fact of the lake put it at the center of two states and immersed in contradictions. It is an appropriate center of attention. Lyndall Baker Landauer's history is a good starting point for understanding the historical panorama.It has a simple chronological and thematic organization--no narrative or analytical daring here. But that may its strength. The Mountain Sea: A History of Lake Tahoe, (Flying Cloud Press, $15)

by Jon Christensen

Beginning Washo

When we say Lake Tahoe or Washoe County or Mount Tallac we are uttering sounds adapted from names that were conferred on these places by people thousands of years ago. Washo words defined a vast territory stretching along both sides of the Sierra Nevada long before the arrival of Euroamericans in the nineteenth century. The forward to Beginning Washo explains why either spelling--Washo or Washoe--is acceptable.

Though scarcely one hundred persons remain who speak it regularly and fluently, most of the 1,500 members of the Washo Tribe of Nevada and California understand and use it to varying degrees in their daily lives. But few other Nevadans or Californians have ever heard it spoken or if they did would be aware that they are hearing one of the most ancient surviving languages of the region.

Beginning Washo by William Jacobsen Jr. (Nevada State Museum, $5) is a much needed introduction to this distinctive language of a people whose ancestral homeland is now occupied by others, yet whose descendants continue to exert a vigorous cultural presence. It is the first effort to present its major characteristics and a system of transcription accessible to the general public and serious students.

William Jacobsen has devoted four decades to studying Washo and he is giving back a valuable tool to the people he has worked with for so long. With the help of tribal elders he prepared 22 lessons for young people who want to learn to speak Washo. Those lessons comprise the core of Beginning Washo.

Jacobsen is an accomplished speaker of Washo who has the distinction of being one of the only non-native Americans who can converse with ease in this difficult and demanding tongue. To watch him engaged in animated discussions with Washo elders is to realize how much of a cultural reality is being exchanged that few others are party to.

by Warren L. d'Azevedo

Rabbit Boss

The big brawling world of spirits comes swirling and whirling out of the pages of this book in floods of words that come down from Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada and out across the desert.The story of Rabbit Boss covers four generations of Washoe Indians, beginning with those who first saw the white cannibals by the frozen white lake and knew with terror that a strange and powerful evil spirits were loose on their land and would not stop at anything. These white spirits would not even stop at eating their own flesh, gnawing at the root of evil, let alone devouring the mountains and trees and rivers, antelope and deer and other people, the Indians and John Chinamen, and other white people. They offered no quarter, no truce, no way out except perhaps through the spirits of words, the songs of birds, the dances of ghosts. Thomas Sanchez's hallucinatory novel Rabbit Boss has been in print for nearly 25 years. (Random House, $16) It is the harrowing story of the people and place called Washoe--and a timeless classic of the West. If you haven't read it yet, read it and weep.

by Jon Christensen

Loading Las Vegas

This is a strange sci-fi story set in a COMDEX convention in Las Vegas sometime in the not too distant future. The plot involves a company that is doing demos of a new technology that captures and remembers your dreams so that you can store them and replay them at will, kind of like in the movie Total Recall, which was based on the Phillip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale." But Charles Potts is no Phillip K. Dick. OK, Dick wasn't always that great either. But there's nothing truly anxiety provoking in this story. It doesn't get to the dark heart of why we want to love technology and end up hating it. It's too loaded down with cutesy acronyms like EROMAT--eros, wink, wink, get it? The main characters--a computer salesman who wants his story told and a reporter who wants the scoop--actually make love, and discover the machine can't replace sex, and then betray each other. So where's the twist? (Current, P.O. Box 100, Walla Walla, WA 99362, $10)

by Jon Christensen

Dhammapada Bums

Carson City's own experimental bicycle guru Tom Whitehead has translated the venerable sayings of the Bhudda for a new age.In The Progress of the Invariable On the Wings of the Law As Described By the Bhudda, Whitehead (under the nom de plume Keil von Nichts) has taken the Buddha's wisdom from the animal-centered age of the donkey cart to the machine-centered age we live in now. Will the more than 400 pearl-like utterances in this new Dhammapada translate to the information age? One suspects so. Filled simply with beautiful enduring words, the cheaply photocopied spiral bound book has the feeling of samizdat, an underground manuscript for seekers and searchers of the light. One imagines it gathering stains in bike repair shops, ranch garages, truck stops, and casino employee lounges across the high desert.

60. The night is long for those who cannot sleep, the journey is long for those who are exhausted. Rebirth into lives of death is all but endless for fools who do not know the Law.

75. One road leads to attainment in the world and quite another to enlightenment. Those who know this will not rejoice in the honors the world may offer but will delight in cultivating detachment from all that is delusive.

121. Let no one take evil lightly, thinking: "It can never affect me." Just as a deep hole fills with water drop by drop, so are fools imbued with evil, however little at a time.

122. Let no one take goodness lightly, thinking: "It can never affect me." Just as a cup fills with water drop by drop, so are the wise imbued with good, a little at a time.

145. Farmers direct water into green fields, blacksmiths bend metal, carpenters shape wood. Virtuous men and women form themselves.

166. However exalted the task of furthering the welfare of others may be, never forsake the activities that carry you forward; when you understand your purpose, pursue it.

222. Restrain your anger as an engineer would slow a rolling locomotive and you shall be called masterful; others, lazy and heedless, merely sit at the controls.

252. The errors of others are easily seen, our own are seen with difficulty; we winnow the chaff of a neighbor's faults but conceal our own like a gambler concealing a losing throw at dice.

326. My mind once wandered in any way it liked, pleasing itself; fully attentive, I now restrain it as perfectly as a skilled driver controls a heavy truck on a mountain road.

333. The cravings of compulsive and heedless men and women grow like a tangled fruit. Like monkeys anxiously scrambling after fruit, these people leap from one life to another.

Whitehead says his Dhammapada is "a new version rather than a translation." I found his twists on the Buddha's sayings by turns difficult and delightful. Whitehead's inclusion of a Mark Twain story and his own iconoclastic postface translator's note give it a well-rooted hometown feeling. But The Progress of the Invariable on the Wings of the Law is a timeless creation. (Avian Story House, P.O. Box 476, Carson City, NV 89702, $10)

by Jon Christensen

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