Morgan Hill Historical Society - Reading/Q&A
MINE is about a Spanish matriarch of early San Jose whose family helped settle the entire Bay Area. María Zacarías Bernal de Berreyesa lost ten of eleven beloved men, the Almaden mines, and her south San José ranch to Americans after the Gold Rush. For the last thirty years her personal history and mine have shared the same league of land in the Almaden Valley, and I felt her presence there long before I "met" her. It's been a privilege to learn and write about this remarkable, courageous woman. MINE is her story and also, in many ways, mine.
AWARDS AND REVIEWS
Finalist in the 2020 San Francisco Writing Contest (nonfiction)
Runner up in the California Historical Society 2014 Book Award Contest, whose judge Malcolm Margolin called it “an illuminating and exciting read” and “a first rate work of literature.”
Reviewed in Metro Silicon Valley on July 29, 2020:
The [book] is atmospheric, ethereal and poetic. Although MINE explores the life of Zacarias, it is not a biography. | Instead, it's a glorious in situ fusion of past and present, with Clendenen's own memoir-ish narration unfolding in the present day, juxtaposed with the experiences of Zacarias and her family 200 years ago, in the same geographical places. [ . . . ] The book is part lyrical nature writing, part San Jose history and part ghost story.
Judge Paul Bernal, Official Historian of the City of San Jose (and great-great-great-nephew of María Zacarías, in The Almaden Times on May 29, 2020:
Clendenen’s masterful skill as a vivid writer brings María Zacarías Bernal Berreyesa to life. Not only is the book well-researched and accurate, the work is deeply personal. There is an emphasis on the natural environment, then and now, which tethers us across generations. Clendenen also achieves this connection with the past by beautifully expressing what was in the heart and soul of Zacarías. She leaves us with an appreciation that Zacarías is “us.” It is a must-read for those who cherish Alta California history, and for those who simply enjoy reading poetically beautiful biographical literature.
Biographer Cathleen Miller, author of Desert Flower and Champion of Choice:
Clendenen's prose and keen observations of the natural world are impressive, never hackneyed, making this book a joy to read. The set pieces are the best I’ve ever read in any work of history or biography; only someone who has attempted to paint these settings from a hundred different details in a hundred different sources can truly know how hard it is, and how much work it involves. My favorite is the scene when Zacarias and Reyes wed—lovely! It's apparent that years of research and meticulous craftsmanship went into creating MINE; the result is Clendenen's gift to the reading public and California history.
Read more reviews on Amazon
I'm honored by the support for MINE, and am deeply grateful to the descendants, docents, archivists, professors, historians, authors, and others who've supported this project.
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My related essay "Before the Days of Gold," published in Trailblazer Journal of the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County, gives a b rief overview of pre-Gold Rush California history.
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In San Jose: Recycle Bookstore (The Alameda)
In Morgan Hill: BookSmart
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The Introduction to
MINE: El Despojo de María Zacarías Bernal de Berreyesa
Like most Californians, I grew up with a fourth-grade, mission-project vision of our state’s earliest history. For most of my life I remembered only bell towers, and gray-robed priests, and smallpox epidemics that had killed many Indians. I knew nothing of the Californios who had “owned” the land for seventy-plus years, of their permanent disruption by the massive influx of foreigners—whites, that is—after 1848. Research showed me what American greed cost Zacarías and her people, but my heart showed me who she was through our common land.
Rancho San Vicente, so integral to Zacarías’s mid-life and livelihood, has felt like “mine” for decades. Most of it is still ranchland, except for the corner where my children’s grade school stands beside her creek. For hundreds of mornings, after dropping them off, I would walk the banks of Los Alamitos, soaking up its beauty, reflecting on my own rural childhood. Often, I took my children there to play after school, so their childhoods would hold the same kinds of memories as mine.
After my teens began driving to high school and my chauffeur role came to an end, I went back to the creek with my dog, working through motherhood angst and mid-life loss. In that anxious, sorrowful state of mind I began to see glimpses of a story there, odd words and aberrant phrases scattered throughout the waters and woods. I noticed the green glossy surf of non-native periwinkle, the face of a snarling devil in the knots of an oak, the distorted scar of an arrow carved in a trunk. I heard crickets rasping in the middle of the day. I found rusted mattress springs beneath the weeds, rotted chunks of lumber sticking out of banks, and bits of tumbled brick beneath the silt. I saw vultures hunkering together on rocks in the creek, and paddles of prickly pear cacti poking through weeds. There was an ancient, massive cactus stand my dog refused to pass, and when I carried her past it, I felt her trembling.
There were signs of a mystery at Los Alamitos, a tale of something significant under its skin. I became convinced that something momentous had happened there. It was like being in an empty gothic chapel, appreciating its simple grace, yet feeling there might be stolen relics wedged in the vaults, morbid stains in the splendid fretwork. I already knew of the extinct quicksilver mines in the mountains’ spurs, but I felt something else was embedded nearby, something deeper than mercury mine shafts and cinnabar caves—something richer than ore. The creek was connecting me to both the past and presence.
Now and then I thought that my raw state of mind might be making me imagine things, until one day, while visiting the Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum, I learned that the creek had once defined the western end of Rancho San Vicente, the home of María Zacarías Bernal de Berreyesa.
Who was she? I asked.
The short answer astounded me. I understood, in a flash, why Los Alamitos Creek had been speaking to me; I knew she too would have paced its banks, caught up in grief and loss. By then I had spent almost half my life on her league—in my children’s classrooms on the corner of the ranch, or down by the creek that bordered her land, or in the surrounding hills—and suddenly I knew she had been with me all along.
I found longer answers to “who was she?” at tables and desks, enough history to know her story deserved to be told. But I found the real Zacarías in natural places, not pictures or print. I felt bound to her by “our” land.
So I have told her tale of losses through connections of the heart, weaving our experiences together in situ, under the influence of places and seasons we have shared across time. In doing so I intend MINE to resonate across cultural and political lines, to create empathy for María Zacarías Bernal de Berreyesa as a mother and woman, and to deepen awareness of our state’s Spanish-Mexican roots.