As a part of our effort to make the works of Lois Phillips Hudson more available, John Henry will be reading and commenting on a number of her articles and short stories. John has long involvement with the Hudson projects, and is the author of the introduction to
Unrestorable Habitat: Microsoft is My Neighbor Now.
Review of “Next Summer” by Lois Phillips Hudson
You may read the story here: Next Summer
This is a story of friendship and death. It is also a story of memory, devotion, and faith.
Alice is an old woman of the native Yurok people. She lives alone on a high mountain cliff above the Klamath River valley of Northern California on the ancestral homeland of her people, the “Requa Reservation the Government keeps taking pieces of.” She lives on land that long ago was made for her people by the Creator, “the One who made the river.” The One who made everything had promised, “People will be well off in this world, because of this river.” It is near the end of summer, sometime around 1964 or 1965. Alice only has few more days of life in this world. Before her death, she will make one last journey by canoe “up the Klamath river” and attend her last Deerskin Dance with her people. She will “see the Dance done properly” with “all the correct vestments.” And then she will not “come back down the river.” Instead, she will journey to the west, beyond “the line of light at the edge of this world” to “next world” where “the sun goes to sleep.”
The other important character in this story is the narrator, an un-named “I.” She is a young woman, aged thirty-two, a mother of a nine-year-old daughter, and a “descendant of Irish potato-famine immigrants.” She has spent her last four summers in the Klamath River Valley among the Yurok and Klamath native people. She has been listening to the stories and the history of the native people and taking notes. The story does not reveal the exact nature of the narrator’s work. She may be a researcher connected to the Anthropology Department at University of California at Berkeley. She may be an assistant at the Del Norte County Historical Museum. She may be an independent researcher who works “preserving vanishing things.”
The story takes place on the narrator’s last day with the Yurok people. It is late in the summer. She will soon return to her home “fifteen hundred miles away.” For the first time in her fours years of visiting the Yurok people, the narrator will spend the day alone with Alice. Both Alice and the narrator know that this is their last visit together. Both know that Alice is soon to die. Both know that the narrator will not come back to the Klamath Valley and the Yurok people for a long time.
The day is spent in remembering and conversation. The narrator remembers episodes and stories from her last four summers of visits. She recounts important events in the history of the Yurok people. She remembers people she has met in the Klamath Valley and their stories. But most importantly Alice and the narrator talk and spend time together. Alice shows the narrator what is of most value in her life: her store of sacred objects used in the religious ceremonies of her people. Alice opens her carefully packed boxes and trunks and shows the necklaces and head-dresses and the ancient white deerskin vestment, all of which she will wear in her final Deerskin Dance. Something of great value has been passed from an old Yurok woman to a young woman of European descent.
The story ends outside of Alice’s silver trailer-home at the top of the mountain. Alice and the narrator hold hands and say goodbye. Together they face the west and “look to that line of light around the edge of this world.” The narrator comes to understand love, communion, loss, and she sees something of the mystery that is our life. The narrator has received a great gift at the moment of deepest sadness.
To read “Next Summer” by Lois Phillips Hudson is to be for a short time in the presence of spiritual wisdom. The reader faces time and eternity: the present moment, the past, and the unknowable thing that is neither present nor past. We experience the moment when human love must face death. We see with a vision of faith, when the ineffable light from beyond this world illuminates the mundane and everyday. We glimpse, fleetingly and just outside our field of normal vision, the truest meaning of our shared existence. “Next Summer” is a story of a profound loss and a deep understanding.
Note on the text. “Next Summer” was published in The Hawaii Review in the fall of 1979. From notes in Hudson’s files we see that the first version of the story entitled “When I See You Again?” was written in 1965. In this version the narrative is in a more traditional style. There is more historical detail. The narrator gives us many explicit directions about how to think and feel about the events of the story. There are many comments about the conflict between the two cultures, Native and European American.
There are three drafts with the title “Next Summer” in Hudson’s files. The story becomes more stream-of-conscious in narrative style. The time of the story is focused on the single last day, and memory and conversation become more important. The historical and sociological content is present but submerged. The authorial side commentary is removed. Most significantly, the Yurok religion and the faith of Alice are gradually added through the progression of drafts.
Final note: the fictional “Alice” may have been modeled on a real person, Alice Spott Taylor.
— John Henry —