Tracks Along the Left Coast


THE BOOK: Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo and Pacific Coast Culture.


THE AUTHOR: Andrew Schelling.

THE EDITOR: Jack Shoemaker.

THE PUBLISHER: Counterpoint Press. Located in Berkeley, a successor to North Point Press and Shoemaker & Hoard, Publishers. Several of their authors have remained throughout: Gary Snyder, Gina Berriault, Wendell Berry, Red Pine (Bill Porter). They publish poetry, non-fiction, novels, and translations of Chinese philosophy & Zen.

SUMMARY: More than an immersive tale of the picaresque life of cowboy, linguist, doctor, ethnographer, and author Jaime de Angulo— the Old Coyote of Big Sur—this book is an exploration of the persecuted Native Californian cultures and languages that thrived for millennia and endured into his day.

Jaime de Angulo’s linguistic and ethnographic work, his writings, as well as the legends that cloak the Old Coyote himself, vividly reflect the particulars of the Pacific coast. His poetry and prose uniquely represent the bohemian sensibility of the twenties, thirties and forties, and he has an underground fame for reworking coyote tales and drawing acute portraits of Native California life-ways. So vivid was his writing that Ezra Pound called him “the American Ovid;” William Carlos Williams claimed that de Angulo was “one of the most outstanding writers I have ever encountered.”

In each retelling, through each storyteller, stories come alive again; that is what Andrew Schelling has achieved in Tracks Along the Left Coast, weaving together the story of a colorful life with the story of the land and the people, languages, and cultures with which it is so closely tied.

THE BACK STORY: “I thought about this book for forty years, ever since I dropped out of Berkeley, disillusioned that no faculty in the English department would sponsor a thesis on de Angulo’s extraordinary writings, his impact on people like Kerouac, Snyder, Kyger, and the whole San Francisco Renaissance. It took a long while to see what kind of book I wanted to make. I didn’t want to write a biography or critical study. I needed something that would further de Angulo’s work—add to the deep mythic culture he was part of, not try to explain it. He was a figure in an ecosystem, a Pacific Coast ecosystem of poems, medicine power, striking personalities, bohemian lifestyles, and creation myths. I had to account for the ecosystem, not just the person. I also think I had to live in a completely different region—away from Northern California where I’d spent twenty years—in order to get the perspective I needed. Once I moved to Colorado I got a new way of looking at the Left Coast. Much of this book is based on stories I have collected, or research I’ve done into hidden corners of linguistics, healing, oral literature, and so forth.”

WHY THIS TITLE?: “Left” Coast conjures a number of things: anarcho-pacifist stance of the artists of San Francisco. Those folk of course stand on the shoulders of the old Wobbly (Workers of the World) heritage. So “Left,” as in resistance to the encroachment of Capitalism everywhere. And of course, remembering that “west is left on the map.” It felt I was writing about the left coast, not just the west coast: a place as spiritual as it is geographical. I have also long tumbled around the notion of “tracks.” Partly it is to rewaken the Old Time Stories when people were animals and animals, people; but also to convey that I am more interested in an eco-system of ideas than any single storyline. You can walk through an eco-system, and what you do is lay down tracks. But they are only tracks. They are not the ecosystem.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? There is a huge, undeniable underbelly to North American culture—you could call it on ongoing counterculture—which tends to be ignored in East Coast intelligentsia circles and book reviews. This has to do with spiritual themes that show up particularly in the West. First, the encounter with vast landscapes and wilderness; connected to that, a greater urge towards self-reliance; a turn away from Europe and towards Asia and Native American traditions. Plus the fact that the West Coast was the original pluralistic culture, with a hundred pre-contact languages; a living repository of oral myths and tales. This also exposes the hidden side of Modernism: the loss of archaic traditions and languages across the West.


“Jaime de Angulo! If you could corral into one volume all the legends he inspired, you would already have given us a book worth reading, but poet Andrew Schelling has been able, in this magnificent, long-awaited biography, to reshape the myth into a human being. In a larger frame, Tracks Along the West Coast illustrates something of the troubling ease with which Modernism, hand in hand with the new science of anthropology, fixed and adapted what it imagined as “the Primitive.” As his personal evanescence flickered and burned through the decades, de Angulo shot direction into the skies; we see why generations of Western poets, musicians, and artists were drawn to him, beyond that brilliant intellect. Through California foothills his horse galloped him, naked but for a jockstrap: if you blinked you would miss him…” (more at Amazon). — Kevin Killian, 2016

AUTHOR PROFILE: My original literary homeland, you could say, is Northern California. I cut my teeth on poetry, wilderness, politics, Zen, and languages, in the Bay Area. There I ran with young urban poets, hung out around the Zen centers, and co-edited a couple of samizdat magazines. I also wrote poetry and essays, and studied Sanskrit language and poetry. In 1990 I moved to Colorado to join the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University (then Institute). My first collection of translations—Sanskrit poetry—came out and got a big prize (Academy of American Poets). Since then I have done about twenty books—translation, poetry, essay, anthologies.

I walk the wilderness, have traveled and taught a good deal in India, study various old languages, all of these impractical and difficult tasks. My poems and essays come out of notebooks. I do all my initial note-taking and writing by hand. It reminds me I’m a mammal.

Here are links to a few recent books:

AUTHOR COMMENTS: I kept thinking I was writing the book for about a dozen people, and one by one they started to die. Some of them are poets, to whom I owe an enormous debt. Others are teachers, friends, lovers, comrades. So that gave some urgency to the project. Along the way I found dozens, maybe hundreds, of young people who still have a hunger for that mix of wilderness, myth, alternative ways of living, and who really “don’t want to buy very much,” but prefer the arts of poetry & story.

I hope the resilience, humor, and sense of what has endured for ten thousand years, is enough to make this book a useful place for others to build. By build, I mean how to live your life as much as how to write more books.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: On the Amazon page.

LOCAL OUTLETS: In California: Moe’s Books, Mrs. Dalloway’s, University Press Books (all in Berkeley); Point Reyes Books, Bookshop Santa Cruz, The Henry Miller Memorial Library (Carmel), Ranger Station at Pfeifer Big Sur State Park. In Colorado at Boulder Bookstore. In Cambridge (MA), Harvard Bookstore. In Brunswick, Maine, at Gulf of Maine Books. Woodland Pattern in Milwaukee. Many other places friendly to poetry, bioregion studies, and literature.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

PRICE: $26.00.


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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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