Tribute to the Author Byrd BaylorCategories: Special Events
Some holiday gatherings are more memorable than others. And last Sunday I was invited to one of those . . . celebrating Desert Dwellers. Where? . . . way out in the desert of course, at an old homestead nestled within Tucson Mountain Park.
The event honored the release a new poster that pays tribute to one of our most cherished children’s book writers, Byrd Baylor. For those of you unfamiliar with her work, in the words of Wikipedia, Byrd’s writing “presents images of the Southwest and an intense connection between the land and the Native American people. Her prose illustrates vividly the value of simplicity, the natural world, and the balance of life within it. . . . She is related to Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, the namesake of Baylor University, and to Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Her first name, Byrd, is taken from her mother’s maiden name.”
Byrd is on the cusp of turning 92, and she offered to sign posters and read passages from a couple of her books. She chose EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK and YES IS BETTER THAN NO, two of my personal favorites. Byrd is as humble, bright, and soft-spoken as anyone you’d ever want to meet. And the gentle, perceptive spirit behind her writing is laced with deadpan humor. Here’s Byrd’s Rule Number 3 for finding a good rock: “Bend over. More. Even more. You may have to sit on the ground with your head almost touching the earth. You have to look a rock right in the eye. Otherwise, don’t blame me if you don’t find a good one.”
This 24”x36” poster, spearheaded by the Desert Dwellers Education Project of the Tucson Audubon Society, is a masterpiece of intrigue. Paul Mirocha’s lovely artwork of desert treasures is paired with quotes from Byrd’s books. The spiral motif was inspired by prehistoric Hohokam rock art.
I met Byrd back in the 80s while living at Rancho de Las Lomas, a historic guest ranch nestled in a tract of pristine desert in the Tucson Mountains at the far west end of Speedway Blvd. Las Lomas, now up for sale, was a mecca for artists, biologists, and writers – some of whom (not Byrd) grew pot to make ends meet. Byrd rented the tiniest of tiny places there called “One Door.” At the time, she was crafting a small adobe home in the desert south of Tucson, where she lived completely off the grid, by choice, for many years. She had no electricity, no Internet, a wood-burning stove, and a compost toilet.
I wish you all a pleasant holiday season, with the closing thought that we are a nation of immigrants, the heart and soul of which lies in our diversity and democracy. Let’s celebrate that. Get a copy of YES IS BETTER THAN NO – it’s a delightful novel for young adults and adults based on the lives of people Byrd met at the Tucson Indian Center in South Tucson. This sensitive, non-preachy, often humorous look at family values and clashes between and within cultures is as relevant today as when it was written in the 1970s (it’s out of print – buy a Kindle edition or used copies on Amazon.com). In 1990, YES IS BETTER THAN NO was named one of the Arizona 100: Essential Books for Arizona’s Centennial by The Journal of Arizona History and University of Arizona. ~TW
Three quotes among many that appear on this poster:
Listening to the rocks and hills and sand is so important, it should be taught in every school. But you can’t learn it in a classroom. You have to be turned loose to wander around alone in open country, the wilder the better. All you have to do is be there at the right moment. And of course, the teacher is the earth.”
- Byrd Baylor, from THE OTHER WAY TO LISTEN, 1978
Packrats and people both know to save some for tomorrow—or later. The desert gives what it can to each of its children. They’re more at ease in a desert place . . . They don’t shove a horned lizard out of the path. They know the land belongs to spider and ant the same as it does to people. They never say, “This is my land to do with as I please. They say, “We share . . . we only share . . . .” They share the feeling . . . of being desert creatures together.
- Byrd Baylor, from THE DESERT IS THEIRS, 1975
When a cactus blooms you should be there to watch it because it might be a color you won’t see again any other day of your life. How much would you say that color is worth? “Fifty cents?” my brother asks. But they decide on another five thousand. So now I write forty thousand dollars.”
- Byrd Baylor, from THE TABLE WHERE RICH PEOPLE SIT, 1994