Is it too early for me to declare Imperial, New York: Viking, 2009, as a truly great work of California History? I should explain, I'm only 200 or so pages into a 1300 page tome. I have had some truck with its prolific author, William T. Vollman, by which I mean I belong to that fairly exclusive club that actually consumes his work. He writes faster than most people can read. At 50, he is almost crippled with carpel tunnel syndrome and can no longer use a keyboard. But the true logorrheic will find a way: I imagine him tapping away with his thumbs on his i-phone, as indeed was I as I waited outside Courtroom number 47 in Ventura County's Hall of Justice (an appellation that strikes me as slightly Stalinist). This is what I thumbed, (as I waited for Jury selection to commence).

'Tennis Leg continues. So, I walked my short run this morning. There was a marmalade sky to the east and dark thunder clouds to the west, it was preternaturally warm. At around four a.m., still in bed, I had heard coyotes - two or three perhaps - engaged in a desultory harmony. A few nights ago, I thought I had heard the strangled howl of a lone coyote, its voice cascading down as though funneled into some chaparral sink-hole or rabbit warren. That was it. I lay very still trying to sort out the noises that rose above the thick blanket of insect thrum that covered the land. I heard a bark or two - but these were, I suspected, domestic animals responding to their feral cousin. Is Coyote back? (Coyote Dream)

No wildlife sightings on the walk this morning, but at this slower pace, I was able to review the scat arrayed before me on the path. Berry seeds, pits and tightly bound animal hair told a story, no doubt, but not one I can understand, handicapped as I am by ignorance of, well, the word that comes to mind is scatology. A word, in the form of scatological, to whose neural location the English speaking world more usually beats a path when confronted with such dubious sallies such as, 'my neighbors dogs' produce more shovel-ready-jobs than Obama ever has', a small, coprological gem from last night's Republican Party debate.

Coyotes, mountain lions and foxes are the primary chaparral faunal carnivores, while the black bear is omnivorous, and judging by its scat at least, more likely to eat berries than meat. So yes, I know my bear scat - great mounds of berry seed pudding - but cannot distinguish the poop of the other, more similarly sized meat eaters. The coyote is flexible in its dietary habits, as befits a scavenger, but given the superfluity of rabbits at the moment I cannot imagine they are packing away many manzanita seeds.'

Back to the computer, and at the speed I type, at little risk of carpel tunnel syndrome. Yesterday I met with Roger Collis, erstwhile executive director at Meditation Mount, at his recently purchased land deep in the hills behind Montecito, ground zero in the Tea Fire of two years ago. The land is still deeply scarred by the fire and now further disturbed by the relentless pace of new construction. Santa Barbara County is liberal in its allocation of permits to re-build 'like for like', and the evidence is all around - a very motley collection of residential buildings all essaying various nods in the direction of fire-safety. The chaparral in these hills was already highly compromised by close to a century's history of planting exotics and the ferocity of the Tea Fire was almost certainly exacerbated by the number of mature Australian natives that towered over what little remained of the elfin forest. Now faced with the need to protect themselves from their neighbors gaze, long used to a jungle-like density of highly irrigated and ill-chosen plants, homeowners in their newly built homes will, no doubt, make similar wrong-headed choices and move apace to recreate the fire hazard from which they so recently escaped (although over two hundred houses were destroyed, there were no fatalities).

Roger gave me an abbreviated history of Meditation Mount and I realized, as he talked, that I was remiss in not including it in my concise history of the Theosophical Society's (TS) influence in Ojai in Red Soil. On the World Service Intergroup website, 'An International Network of Ageless Wisdom Groups', there is the following blurb which seems to encapsulate Roger's precis:

“The impulse that guides and sustains Meditation Mount had its beginnings back in the 1950s when Roberto Assagioli (the Founder of Psychosynthesis) accepted the challenge given by Master DK to his students, to establish a “united world group given to unanimous and simultaneous meditation upon the work of preparing the world for the new order and for the jurisdiction of the Christ [and] to establish the knowledge of and the functioning of those laws and principles which will control the coming era, the new civilization and the future world culture…”

The pieces of context the critical reader needs to know are these: Master DK is a Mahatma - an ascended Tibetan Master by the name of Djwhal Khul and it is he who dictated the two dozen books of esoteric teachings to Alice Bailey who in turn, in part from the profits from these works, was able to set up the Lucis Trust which financed the development of Meditation Mount. Madame Blavatsky had channeled Master Koot Hoomi in her writings at the end of the nineteenth century, and the TS is confidently awaiting another amanuensis to complete the trilogy of wisdom passed down from the ascended Masters from their ashram somewhere on the spiritual plane. Alice A. Bailey (AAB) was expelled from the TS because she attempted an end-run around her nemesis, Annie Besant (AB), by re-focusing the Society on the teachings of Madame Blavatsky (HPB) with whom she felt a direct lineage as a chosen conduit for the teachings of the Masters.

Roberto Assaglioli was sponsored in his work in California by Laura Huxley, wife to Aldous and writer of the This Timeless Moment, London : Chatto & Windus,1969, in which she documents her husband's death and her part in administering massive doses of LSD at the end. Huxley was a co-founder of the Happy Valley School with Krishnamurti (Red Soil). When the Happy Valley School was considering new names, my son was very supportive of 'Huxley High'. In the event, it was called 'Besant Hill' but in true TS acronymic style, it might better have been call AB School.

Roger is aware that elements of the Meditation Mount back-story are, in his words, a little woo-woo. Many institutions in Ojai have been touched by the TS brand, and while each of them shares core notions of the innate inter-relationship of humankind and the cosmos that transcend the esoteric tradition, it is the latter that inevitably attracts both messianic devotion and a fair amount of ridicule. It is worth remembering that the Theosophical Society grew out of Spritualism, the late nineteenth century movement that promised communication with the dead but that has subsequently been shown to have been riddled with fakery and deceit (in some of which, it has been suggested, HPB took part).

I have never felt particularly comfortable on the Mount (Peace Walk). My unease does not rise to the level of that which I experienced at Rennes le Chateau (Red Soil), but the land, it seems to me, has been ravaged in a way that is not conducive to meditative thought. Building atop a knoll, of course, is never a good idea. It destroys the earth form and at the Mount, this offense is compounded by the scraping of the hilltop to establish a parking lot and the gardens associated with the center. This year almost fifty rattle snakes were removed from the property by the local fire department. The snakes are there because of the rampant irrigation that is necessary to preserve the mish-mash of exotic landscaping that sprawls inelegantly across the site. Lured from their native chaparral habitat by the presence of water, the snakes are then bagged and dumped, who knows where, but inevitably they are separated from kith and kin. It has become a snake pit with unhappy viperous outcomes. Bad karma.

Imperial attempts the personal, poetical and historical evocation of the eponymous county that sits in the south eastern corner of California and on the Mexican border. The land is given life by the Colorado river. Vollman has cast this bio-region in the role of historical protagonist - the land and its soul have an enduring persona that impacts all who come within its thrall. You know where this is going. I began Urban Wildland from the perspective of my own backyard but my horizons have stretched over the months, and now years, to include most of the Ventura County watershed - to take one more or less coherent description of my bio-regional purview. My home turf consists of the Ojai and Upper Ojai valleys each of which feeds one of the two rivers (the Ventura and the Santa Clara) that, reaching the ocean, describe a comprehensible wedge of land. Within it, I have identified various fringes of Urban Wildland, psycho-spiritual hot-spots and areas of human, historical, archaeological, anthropological, botanical and zoological interest.

It is reputed to be the novelist Madison Smartt Bell, writing (anonymously) in a New York Magazine review, who berates Vollman for his, "clumsy sentences, the digressive digressions, the gratuitously creepy metaphors, the never-ending sarcastic exclamation marks. I found myself wishing that he would redirect some of the massive energy.... to the less obviously heroic, more social challenges of writing: synthesizing, pruning, polishing."

I am a dim, flickering blogging bulb compared to the extraordinary wattage of Vollman's literary beacon. (There is, indeed, some subterranean whispering of a Nobel). He is an extraordinary force of nature.

It is my honor to share some of his faults.

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