In 1919, my paternal grandmother, Lena Lowenstein Eberhart (along with my grandfather, Alpha LaRue Eberhart) rode a mule from the South Rim of Grand Canyon down to the Colorado River. We don't know how far she got as the photographs are from about half-way down the trail. I knew the slim facts from photographs found in my father’s papers after he died. Dressed in “recreation” clothing of the period, she's shown with two female friends. This picture fascinated me as Lena and A.L. were grandparents I never knew (both died long before I was born).
About ten years ago, Michael and I hiked down the Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River and back. It was early December with a dusting of snow at South Rim. But I hadn't found this photograph yet. I didn't know I was walking anywhere close to where my grandmother's footsteps fell.
Six months ago, we invited two dear friends, Bill Herrington and Charlene Gates, from Arizona and Vermont, respectively, to join us on a five-day guided hiking tour of Grand Canyon to see parts of it we’d likely never find on our own and feel what it might have felt like when Grandmother Lena did the same.
Our first day sounded simple enough–a trek down Hermit Trail from South Rim and back up. Our terrific Four Seasons (Flagstaff) guide, Bob, was fascinated to hear about my grandparents’ adventure in 1919 which he told us was the year Grand Canyon was designated a national park! No wonder they went that year–they were always adventuring from where they lived in Minnesota: north into Canada, south and east to Tennessee and Texas, as well as west to California and Arizona. That year they took friends with them, as we did this year, but they rode atop mules. When Bob saw the photographs of Lena and A.L., and having guided in the GC twenty-two years, he was confident my grandparents had been on the Hermit Trail!! This trail had been built a few years prior by the Santa Fe Railroad company to attract tourists. And the Bright Angel Trail had not yet been built. I was so excited to be on the same trail she'd been on!!
While we had departed Flagstaff with a beautiful rainbow, we were keeping our eyes on weather at South Rim--forecasts were for high winds gusting to 40-50 mph, rain, freezing rain, turning to hail and snow. By the time we arrived, there were four inches of slush on the rim and we had no waterproof boots! The canyon was entirely filled with fog–no views of canyon walls or much of anything but the fog and snow. Nevertheless, we persisted! And as we headed back up to the rim later that afternoon, the fog cleared and we got our first sight of the immense beauty of this place.
Meanwhile Bob pointed out many things on this trip–including how the trail, in places, was built like a cobblestone street, and that on the long slabs of polished rock grooves were cut for mule hooves so they wouldn't slip (as we did in the winter conditions!).
Peering at these cut out steps for the mule my Grandmother Lena once rode down the trail was an inspirational and connective experience for me. In my new book, out next June, you’ll read of the outdoor adventure legacy I inherited from Lena and A.L., and through my father, on to my children, too. We've all loved our national parks, and being with friends anywhere in the wild.
Bob shared that while my grandparents were adventuresome for their time, the Havasupai had been living on this land for thousands of years and most likely were inhabiting their summer camping grounds at the bottom of the Hermit Trail. As A.L. frequently hired native guides for his adventures, it's certainly possible he and Lena met up with the Havasupai people on this trip.
As we contemplate our familial legacies, most of us find both connections and disconnections. This trip afforded a deep connection for me. My grandmother was 47 years old when she took this trip in 1919 and died eighteen months later. I turned 71 this year and carried her down and back up the trail with me as the fog blew out to clear our views, the rain and snow abated, and we made our way back to the heated van. Both Lena and I had found ourselves in this remarkable place that ancient peoples had called home for centuries. I mourn Lena's early loss, but try to carry her spirit with me wherever I go.
news and events
Here it is! If you haven't already pre-ordered it from your favorite indie bookstore or on Amazon, my new book’s title is: The Butcher, the Embezzler, and the Fall Guy–A Family Memoir of Scandal and Greed in the Meat Industry.
As you’ve heard through the last year, I’ve been working on completing this book since the publication of Poetic License and I’m uber excited about it. It will be on the shelves on June 6, 2023!!! A quick shoutout to my development editor Brooke Warner, my incredible beta readers Andy Stroud, Ellen Schecter, Bob Bowers, Elizabeth Garber, and Nora Gordon, each of whom provided such valuable input along the way. And to Michael who steadfastly listened to each spoken word in the final proofing stage. Also to the amazing team at She Writes Press--Publisher Brooke Warner, project manager extraordinaire and kind human Shannon Green, Copyeditor Krissa Lagos whose every suggestion I cherish, cover designer by award-winning Julie Metz, and the incredibly talented interior designer, Tabbita Lahr who has designed both my books perfectly!
It really takes a team!!
Back Cover Copy:
In 1922, George A. Hormel—founder of the multibillion-dollar company Hormel Foods—demanded the resignation of Gretchen Cherington’s grandfather, Alpha LaRue Eberhart, after a decade-long embezzlement scandal that nearly brought the company to its knees. Was Eberhart, as rumors suggested, complicit?
In scale both intimate and grand, Cherington deftly weaves the histories of Hormel, Eberhart, and embezzler Ransome J. Thomson, the company’s star comptroller, within the sweeping landscape of our country’s early industries, along with keen observations about business leaders gleaned from her thirty-five-year career advising top company executives. The Butcher, the Embezzler, and the Fall Guy equally chronicles Cherington’s journey from blind faith in family lore to a nuanced consideration of the three men’s great strengths and flaws—and offers a multilayered, thoughtful exploration of the ways we all must contend with our reverence for heroes, the mythology of powerful men, and the legacy of a complicated past.
“The Butcher, the Embezzler, and the Fall Guy” is a compelling book of family history, an urgent look inside the machinations of wealth and power, and a wonderfully well-written journey into a fully realized past. Cherington, the daughter of a poet and the granddaughter of an astute businessman, wields the many elements of her inheritance with grace.”
— Beth Kephart, National Book Award finalist, and author of three-dozen books, including Wife | Daughter | Self and We Are the Words
AND: The book goes to ARC (Advanced Reader Copies) print this week!!! After the ARCs have proofed, the book will go into its final stages of printing for publication on June 6, 2023. It’s all quite an amazing journey--and third career--if the first book is completed with a wing and a prayer, the second is testament to all that's been learned before. Early readers are loving this book – I really hope you will too!
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boOKS that RECENTLY slayED me
My latest swoon:
Eat The Document, by Dana Spiotta – who is one of my VERY favorite writers. I read this book for research purposes for my third book--fiction--which will follow the exploits of two young lovers, each descendants of "modern day" revolutionaries. Spiotta’s book, also fiction, covers the 1960s dissidents and their lives underground, along with journal entries by their son as he comes of age in the 1990s. I loved how Spiotta structured this book which had me underlining nearly every other graph. As one of my favorite teachers, Kerri Arsenault, did in researching a book to figure out her own, Reckoning with what Remains, my next step will be to go back and read Eat the Document to outline how it got built. My story will be different than Spiotta's but it’s so instructive to figure out how great writers create their art. And everything by Spiotta is art!
Seaweed Chronicles: A World at the Water’s Edge by Susan Hand Shetterly. Living in coastal Maine, I’ve tripped over, looked under, slipped on, and been fascinated by seaweed. As a kid I used to hunt in big drifts of it on our beach for sea urchins and clams, muscles, snails, and jellyfish. We put it on our garden beds for nutritious mulch and in our compost piles for the same. “Downeast Maine,” Shetterly writes, “is for me the most beautiful place on earth, even in February, even on a dark day in a sharp wind. It is ledge and cobble, spruce and white pine, mudflats that glisten like a harbor seal’s wet pelt, low-tide rocks covered in a layer upon layer of seaweeds, and a horizon straight east across the water into sunrise and Canada.” The book is about seaweed, seaweed harvesting, the people who are working its magic into food sources and medicines, the controversy surrounding those harvests, and as always with Shetterly, contains great nature writing too.
And just picked up:
Being in Los Angeles for a few weeks with our daughter afforded me another FABULOUS in-person visit and conversation with my great friend, fellow award-winning author, and critique group member, Debra Thomas (author of the Sarton Award winning Luz). After a long lunch, we meandered through her favorite bookstore Vroman’s, in Pasadena! And I picked up Anne Patchett's These Precious Days which I hadn't read, but love at first sentence! Perfect airplane reading for going home and certainly a precious day with Deb. ❤️
And I'll let Lena Dunham have the last words for my holiday wish:
“Let’s be reasonable and add an eighth day to the week that is
devoted exclusively to reading.”
Love and Good Wishes,
Buy Poetic License Here: