California Northern is a new magazine published biannually about this western plot we call home. It avoids cliche depictions of Napa Valley, Silicon Valley, and leftist San Francisco. It asks us to question who we are and where we are.
Articles outline just how diverse California is. We’ve got ex-hippies, rednecks, techies, valley conservatives, farmers, immigrant workers, left-leaning urbanites, and some straight up paradoxes. Like the redneck-hippy hybrid who has dreadlocks, grows weed, and drives a dirty truck with a George Bush sticker on it.
An interview with L.A. Times veteran journalist, Mark Arax, reveals one common California thread. Our willingness to experiment. What happens in the rest of America happens in California first, he says. This includes movements in civil rights, innovations in agriculture, and of course the creation of world changing technologies. But considering the diversity and the separateness of all these distinct types of people, is a pioneering spirit enough to hold us together? It’s a question that pops up throughout the pages of the magazine.
The editors of California Northern, claim that they want to document what’s happening here, not depict the world the way they wish it to be. But even in the subtitle, A New Regionalism, I can’t help but sense the desire to create a new way of seeing the world, locally, that can serve as container for all the contradictions. That might mean redefining a somewhat unifying Northern California culture.
Californians have a long tradition of creating new cultures. Or at least trying to. Matt Gleeson’s piece, “Hot Mountain”, tells the tale of black Beat poet, Nestor Groome, who strikes out with a group of idealists to live off the land, meditate, and love freely.
The story is a historical fiction hybrid that questions why Groome faded into obscurity though he was an essential part of the San Francisco Renaissance. It also asks why his blackness is a little known part of his documented history. The answer is an indulgent hypothetical account of rural commune life with Groome’s actual intimates, a group of exclusively white friends. Gleeson’s piece ends with a first-person narration by the ghost of Nestor Groome himself, shifting into paranormal journalistic realism.
Hot Mountain and other articles illuminate the fact that California is the furthest west a pioneering soul can go. Polar ideologies abound and perhaps make room for hybrid philosophies, new ideas and ways of living.
How does that manifest in our time? California experimentation and innovation still abound artistically and technologically, tempered by a connection to the land, local food, and art production.
California Northern shines a light on this part of the state’s past, gives comfort to those trying to understand it right now, and hints ever so slightly at what lies beyond the cultural horizon.