We drove for hours to Lackawaxento find Zane Grey’s house on the Delaware, north of Roebling’s Aqueduct. I made my travelling companions give the water carrier due scrutiny as if to convince them that it was worth the trip through the Poconos. At the museum, the ranger boasted of her Welsh descent, admitting I was one of the few visitors to recognize the name or to have read the books. I found that very hard to believe. I may have grown up in Wales, on another continent, but the landscapes of Grey’s novels haunted my dreams. I loved their descriptions of purple sage, rocky canyons and cool streams. His heroines were always plucky and headstrong, great role models for a young girl whose head was full of imagination and adventure. It was the early sixties and television screens world-wide were dominated by programmes such as ‘Wagon Train’, ‘Laramie’ and ‘Cheyenne’. I loved them all and recently visiting Ohio’s history center, I was reminded of my collection of plastic cowboys with names like Slim, Clem, Bart, Chris and Don and the stories I spun about them. It was harder to get hold of a cowgirl but I managed to find one who I named Terrell after a Zane Grey heroine and made her owner of the ranch.
Meanwhile back at Lackawaxen, our feet were loud upon the wooden porch as we admired the river from the balustrade. Inside, awaited Grey’s furnished room, photographs, books, splices of film, a shop, a notebook, an Indian shawl, stashed in the l-shape of the bottom floor. I bought a T-shirt, postcard and a book. The curator presented me with a bibliography. It reminded me of when I was 11, reading by the light of the setting sun, long after lights were supposed to be out. I was so shocked when Red, the red-headed gunslinger got shot, in ‘The roaring U.P. trail’. I cried and cried. It still gives me shivers of disappointment now. None of the films of Grey’s books have really worked but there were many clips of them at the museum. One stirred my memories, because I always loved both book and film of ‘West of the Pecos’ with Terrell Lambeth who, like a Shakespearian heroine, successfully disguises herself as a boy, and who can shoot, ride and handle cattle as well as the men who work the ranch. Grey’s house was decked out in souvenirs from his many trips and would have suited many of his heroes including Dale from ‘Man of the Forest’.
Travelling in parts of America has powerfully evoked Grey’s books for me. A few years ago, I was walking in the Hocking Hills and came across Ash Cave so-named for the ash discovered there. For this was an important site for the Shawnee. You come to the cave after treading a winding path through mangled trees and in the background is the sound of running water. In the early morning, the path is dark with doubt and memory-the trees canopy the sun, which sulk behind the outcrops. Suddenly, the path opens up like a wound from a tomahawk until emerging as in a dream you come to a gallery where the floor is like a sandy beach though very far from any sea. A sapling tree is rooted in sand. The place seems like a shrine where stones have memories. Children scramble on rocks where names are carved, tracing back to 1850 when no path existed to guide the pilgrims through this wild country, where I suspect, that unless you were Milt Dale you could go mad among the canopied trees, frightened by eyes and ears imagined in rocks and water.
In a bookshop in Ann Arbor, I was looking through some old prints and came across one of cowboys forcing horses up a mountain trail. It reminded me so powerfully of Grey’s books that I was determined to buy it, much to the surprise of my companions who though it overpriced. I walked down the street and walked back. The picture is now framed on my wall and reminds me of Zane Grey every time I look at it. Imagine my delight when later I checked on the artist Rheinhold Palenske and found that he was a contemporary of Grey’s with the same passion for the idea of the West. His picture reminds me of childhood and of the pleasures of reading those novels.
When I left, Grey’s old home in Lackawaxen, which he built himself, the green slats of the windows shone in the summer sun and the porch gleamed, the colour of pearl. Above the house the writer slept, home from the sea and the hill. Feeling the peace of this spot, I was transported back to my Welsh valley bedroom where I often gazed with Jane Withersteen over the purple sage to where an unknown rider crossed the plain. And west of the Pecos, Terrell Lambeth, dog-gone it, mounts her pony as light fades over Caerau Mountain, as the lights now faded over the Delaware.