Back in Time
The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
September 30, 2023
Have you ever wished for a machine that time travels? Where would you go? Do you want to know the future? Or would you rather experience the past? Can we learn from the past to make our future better? Museums are a time capsule that promotes time travel. Displays, photographs and sometimes even audio recordings tell us the "story" that was. Our Tehachapi Museum has such displays and a wealth of literature that can be looked through and purchased, materials that highlight the twists and turns of the past that brought us to this day.
When I received the Coyote Creek Series by C. A. Waldman (found in the Tehachapi Library and for sale in the museum, as well as Amazon), I realized I had in my hand a vehicle that allowed me to move back in time. A time machine.
The first book, "The Butterfly Basket," opens as the reader steps onto a train with two children, and into Sara Constance O'Day's heart. At 11 years old, she is drowning in the grief of her mother's sudden death and her father's triple loss of wife, home and income. The bank has taken their lovely mansion away and he cannot cope with raising two children on his own. Sara and her five year old brother Joey board a train in Chicago that takes them across a series of states into the dry deserts of the west. Their stop is in a little town called Mojave. Their destination continues in an old truck on rough dirt roads that lead up the mountains into what today is known as Tehachapi.
What Waldman offers is a window into time when the city of Proctor was in decline and Tehachapi was an infant of a few streets and families. Sara's grandparents live in a small wooden house out in what is now Sand Canyon. Kawaiisu still living there were trying to maintain their lives and traditions away from an encroaching modern world. The tension and pull between these two worlds was inevitable.
Waldman shifts the story back and forth between Sara and her new Kawaiisu friend Lena, and shows how the old and new are needed for both survival and enrichment in their lives. As often happens, Lena and her grandmother need Sara as much as Sara needs them. Sara learns the ways of the Kawaiisu and the process changes and empowers her.
The second book in the series, "Turning Gold," has Sara and Lena going to school in town. What should have been a happy fun time turns sadly divisive as both Sara and Lena face the historical walls built between people. Heartbreakingly written, it reflects what many indigenous and immigrant people have had to face through history. Waldman brings it home, literally home, showing the deep pains of discrimination. The Kawaiisu, having lived in this area for over 1,500 years, could not stop the march of time and man. No longer a thriving growing tribe, they were eventually absorbed into American society. Some tribes lost all their autonomy and traditions in this process. Waldman shows how the Kawaiisu fought to keep their lifestyle and traditions alive within their own tribe and also share with the Tehachapi community and beyond. What a treasure!
"Saving Coyote," the last book in the series, takes a unique and wonderful turn in storytelling where Waldman uses the actual folk stories passed down traditionally in the Kawaiisu from one generation to the next. She weaves many of these folk stories into the adventure of Lena. Lena willingly enters into the realm of the Beforetime. Her task is to save Coyote. She would then be given a cure for her friend Sara suffering from polio. During the 1930s a wave of polio really did hit the west coast and many suffered and died from the disease before vaccines were widely distributed in the 1950s. Lena's bravery to enter the surreal Beforetime world rivals the most enduring fables of our time. Woven as intricate as a Kawaiisu basket, Lena moves through a myriad of trials while balancing her logical mind versus a world without logical limitations. Waldman found a way to suspend the reader in a space where the wisest lessons grow.
I wholeheartedly recommend this series for youth, families and individuals who would like to experience Tehachapi back in time, see who we were then and reflect upon who we are now. So many lessons can be found, from gentle to difficult ones, when we are brave enough to observe humanity through history. May the good in all and in everything always rise before us, in time.
Good books. Good reading.
*Midge Lyn'dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the views are real and sincere.
[Editor's note: You can meet C.A. Waldman at the Tehachapi Museum's Book of the Month event on Oct. 7 at 1 p.m. The museum is located at 310 S. Green St.]