IT WOULD BE ALMOST NINE MONTHS before Everett hit the trail again—the longest hiatus in his five years of wandering. Soon after arriving home in September 1932, he enrolled as a freshman at UCLA, almost certainly in response to pressure from his parents. Although he had done well in high school, Everett insisted in a letter to a California friend that “I got in [to college] by rather a fluke.”
Since he did not keep a diary during the time he was anchored at home, and there was no reason to write letters to his family or to local friends such as Bill Jacobs, this nine-month span remains the haziest period in Everett’s life after the age of sixteen. A few scraps of his college essays survive. They suggest that academe brought out a stiff, dutiful formality in his prose, so different from the rhapsodic flights of his letters from the trail. One specimen: a single-page essay on the English Reformation, which earned Everett a D in History 5A. “There is nothing permanent in the world except change, which is inevitable and omnipresent,” Everett wrote, veering dangerously astray, before he closed the essay with a lame pronouncement: “If we believe in evolution, then we must believe that the English reformation was fated, and that Henry was only the tool, if a good tool, to bring it about.”
Even when he chose a subject dear to his heart, as in another one-pager that he titled “Navajo Hardships,” the woodenness prevailed: “The Navajo seems to thrive on his meager diet, which consists of three staples, coffee, mutton, and naneskadi or squaw bread.”
A single piece from his UCLA semester transcends the humdrum plod. It is titled “I Go to Make My Destiny,” and it closes with the kind of proud yet tragic manifesto that was becoming the stamp of Everett’s vision:
Bitter pain is in store for me, but I shall bear it. Beauty beyond all power to convey shall be mine; I will search diligently for it. Death may await me; with vitality, impetuosity and confidence I will combat it.…
My heart beats high, but my eyelids droop; tomorrow I will go. Adventure is for the adventurous. Life is a dream. I am young, and a fool; forgive me, and read on.
In 1983, Bud Rusho transcribed parts or all of five letters written by Everett between September 1932 and March 1933. The originals of all five have since disappeared. Passages in these letters, however, sketchily document the young man’s moods and intentions during his nine months at home. In January, having completed only one semester, Everett dropped out of UCLA, putting college behind him for good. To one friend, he dismissed the experience in the mock-pompous style he and Bill Jacobs had started to affect in 1931: “How little you know me to think that I could still be in the University! How could a lofty, unconquerable soul like mine remain imprisoned in that academic backwater, wherein all but the most docile wallow in a hopeless slough?” Less ironically, Everett added, “Even after climbing out of the maelstrom of college, I find that life is still awhirl, though no longer a swirl. I have, however, been on several Bacchic revels and musical orgies.”
What those revels and orgies really amounted to, we have little idea today, but they may have consisted of nothing more than listening to records and attending the occasional concert. “Music means more to me than any other art, I think,” Everett wrote to one friend. Another letter opens, “I have just been listening to Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D Minor. I turned out all the lights and danced to it—then to Saint-Saens’ bacchanal in ‘Samson and Delilah,’ until everything whirred.”
Over Christmas vacation, Everett visited Carmel and Monterey, renewing acquaintances he had forged in 1930, including his friendship with Edward Weston. On the seacoast, he tried to sketch, but the winter cold defeated his efforts: “[M]y fingers shiver and I have paper after paper covered with wavy, erratic lines which are hard to decipher.”
One of the few memorable experiences Everett had had at UCLA was hearing T. S. Eliot give a poetry reading. And sometime in February, probably in Los Angeles, Everett attended a concert recital by Sergei Rachmaninoff, the great Russian composer and pianist, fifty-nine years old at the time but still at the peak of his performing powers. The event so moved Everett that he wrote a short essay (for himself, not UCLA) trying to render Rachmaninoff’s pianistic legerdemain in prose:
His long tapering hands dart over the ivory like shadows shifting and interweaving under a tree as the wind blows through the leaves above. He hunches forward farther. One hand shifts to a single point and pounces on a key like a cat on a pixie. It is a large Persian cat, and having missed, it recoils and withdraws its paw in a flash, but not the slightest discomfiture is reflected in its face.
The other hand is the pixie.
On February 13, Everett wrote Rachmaninoff a letter. After fulsomely praising the Russian’s performance, he offered him his essay:
I myself am a young artist.… I thought that you might be interested in the phantasy which you in your turn have inspired, so I am sending you what I wrote Monday night after your concert.
With no tinge of hypocrisy,
Rachmaninoff was a cooler genius than Edward Weston. If he in fact received Everett’s brash homage, he never bothered to respond to it.
With college out of the question, still feeling no pressing need to land a real job, Everett turned his thoughts back to wandering. By the spring of 1933 he had decided not to return to Arizona and the canyons, but to make a second jaunt into the high country of California. “In a month or so when it is hot,” he wrote a friend on March 23, “I am going to shoulder my pack and go up into the Sierras, with some rice and oatmeal, a few books, paper, and paints. It will be good for me to be on the trail again.”
Why California, when the true Southwest had proved so much more powerful for Everett? In a September 1932 letter, he elaborated, “After months in the desert, I long for the seacaves, the crashing breakers in the tunnels, the still, multi-colored lagoons, the jagged cliffs and ancient warrior cypresses.” Yet it would not be the coast of Big Sur to which Everett headed in late May 1933, but Sequoia National Forest.
Above all, the restless young man needed to get away from home. About to turn nineteen, he was eager to cut loose from the family bonds that confined him to the house on North Kingsley Drive in Los Angeles. In his March 23 letter, Everett projected beyond the summer: “After the Sierras, I may stay in San Francisco and have the experience of another city.”
But already he was concocting a campaign for 1934, an expedition on a grander scale than anything he had yet attempted: “Next year I expect to spend the whole year in the red wastes of the Navajo country, painting industriously.”
* * *
Waldo, having turned twenty-three, was still living with his parents. He had taken yet another stopgap job as a temporary stenographer in a Los Angeles office. That summer he would land a steadier post with a water company in San Bernardino, some fifty miles east of L.A., which required him to move out of the family house and rent a place of his own. On learning this news, Everett wrote in his diary, “It must have been a wrench for him to pull up stakes.”
Some might chalk up the oddity of two ambitious brothers still living at home at the ages of nineteen and twenty-three to the familial closeness that Christopher and Stella had imposed on their sons since they were infants. More likely, however, it was simply a by-product of the Depression, for during all the years of Everett’s vagabondage, Christopher was struggling to make ends meet for the whole family.
Certainly Waldo had demonstrated plenty of footloose independence long before the age of twenty-three. During the two summers when he was twelve and fourteen, he had worked on a ranch in Montana, far from the family’s residence at that time on the East Coast. (Waldo’s ranch idylls filled the much younger Everett with envy.) At only sixteen, Waldo had gone off to Antioch for college, though he failed to graduate. One reason may have been that his restless itch to see the world led him to interrupt his schooling as he cadged a job as a deckhand on the transatlantic liner Leviathan. To get hired, he had to fudge his age by four years, claiming a birth date of 1905, not his actual 1909.
Only eighteen months after Everett set off for the Sierra Nevada, moreover, Waldo would take a job that uprooted him from California and transplanted him to China, where he would linger contentedly for years, even while Christopher and Stella pleaded with him to come home.
There is no evidence that Everett ever tried to land a steady job. In a UCLA essay, he sneered like a Nietzschean Übermensch,
Work is a malevolent goddess, made impossibly conceited by unlimited and untempered flattery.…
When I am bowled over and trampled upon by the contemptible fools who rush madly to cast themselves upon her pyre, my face flushes to the roots of my hair, but I do not look back to see the evil leer in the eyes of the thwarted goddess as I pick myself up, flick decorously at my smirched clothes, and thread my way past the pitiable throngs swarming to her sacrificial altar.
A sense of entitlement unmistakably runs through such grandiose pronouncements. Yet at the same time, on the trail Everett strove to be as frugal as possible, and to earn enough money by selling his paintings and hiring on for short-term jobs (chopping wood, rounding up cattle, packing for tourists with his burros, and the like) to get out from under the burden of accepting handouts from his parents.
Sometime shortly after his 1931 expedition, Everett wrote down two columns accounting for his profit and loss during the ten-month ramble. “Earned income” began with the twenty-five-dollar poster prize he had won, and included such minutiae as “Posing Pericles … $.20” and “Burro’s load of wood; Roosevelt … $1.00.” The column totaled $76.50. On a separate page, headed “Expenditures, other than for food,” Everett confessed not only to such necessities as buying his burros, but also “Shoe repair … $2.00,” “Haircut … $.50,” and “Telegram … $.65.” Significantly, Everett failed to add up this column. Had he done so, he would have arrived at a total expenditure of $62.50. He might then have prided himself on coming out fourteen bucks in the black for his ten-month odyssey, except that he knew that the cost of food had plunged him deep into the red. And on a third page, in a spidery hand so cramped it breathes embarrassment, he noted:
There was no getting around the truth. Everett’s campaign to become a self-sufficient itinerant artist had to be bankrolled by Christopher and Stella.
The letters home from Sequoia and the Sierras during the summer of 1933 not only dutifully thank his parents for a steady stream of “stipends,” but make many a request for goods and books to be mailed as soon as possible. Thus on June 16, only three weeks into his journey:
I received the note from father and one from mother, also a letter from Waldo and the 5 dollar order from father.… I find that my shoes are wearing out, and I am forced to ask you to send me my boots.… In the same package I wish you would send my can of Viscol, which was on the back porch, a bottle of India ink, a few pencils for writing … an old pair of sunglasses for the snow (gray or blue), if you have an extra pair, and “Casuals of the Sea,” a Modern Library book on my shelf in the closet. After you’ve sent them, you might send what is left of my allowance, because if I leave [Sequoia National Forest] before July, I shall need it to outfit myself.
From Everett’s four-and-a-half-month exploration of the Sierra Nevada in 1933, only a handful of letters to family and friends survive. It would be hard to trace the journey of his body and soul that summer and early autumn, but for the fact that his 1933 diary is intact. That journal is so different from the one he kept in 1932 that it seems as though the author has been magically transformed. Everett made an entry every day between May 27 and October 12, and most of those entries are substantial. Although he records down moods and self-doubts, the general tone of the diary is hearty and exuberant. There is scarcely a vestige of the exhaustion and despair that haunted him through his 1932 traverse of the Southwest.
That his parents had worried about his psychological state during his nine months at home is revealed in the closing lines of one letter home: “No, I am in no danger of a nervous breakdown at present. How about you?”
Everett launched his 1933 journey by getting Waldo to drive him from Los Angeles to the southern portal of Sequoia National Forest. And Waldo brought along his girlfriend. “Betty and Waldo necked at fifty per,” Everett noted in his diary, but added, “Betty seems a good sport, no matter what she does.”
The very first diary entry on May 27 records a turn of events that might well have set Everett off on the wrong foot. As he packed his belongings in Los Angeles, he wrote, “Bill Jacobs did not call, so I called, and his mother said he was asleep, having decided to go some other time. She sounded heartbroken, but I was relieved.”
Everett’s best friend had stood him up in 1931, after promising to share his Southwest excursion with him. Before that, he had reneged on some Christmas trip together. In 1932, Jacobs had belatedly showed up in Roosevelt, where he pried Clark away from Everett’s sojourn to go off on a far less ambitious project—from which his mother had driven him home to Los Angeles. Now, it seems, Bill had once more backed out of a journey with his chum, deciding at the last minute to sleep in rather than bother to telephone Everett with news of his change of heart.
Such feckless behavior might well have exhausted the tolerance of the most magnanimous of companions. It may be evidence of Everett’s lingering annoyance at Bill that none of the surviving 1933 letters is addressed to him. Yet Everett forgave once more, and in 1934 wrote some of the deepest and most intimate letters of his short life to his stay-at-home pal.
On his second day in Sequoia, Everett bought two burros from a local wrangler. For a week or so in his diary, he referred to them simply as “the black burro” (or “Blackie”) and “the gray.” By June 3 he had named his animals, not with classical allusions such as Pericles or Pegasus but with the homely tags of Betsy (the black) and Grandma (the gray).
It was Everett’s intention to climb through the Sequoia National Forest to reach the high Sierra, but upon his arrival he learned that there was far too much snow in the backcountry to set out for alpine regions in early June. Instead, for a full month he made jaunt after looping jaunt out of an essentially stationary base camp, effectively going nowhere.
The diary during these weeks is uncharacteristically impersonal. Granted, Everett was not recording his doings in hopes of impressing any future reader, but there is a sameness—even a tedious attention to detail—about the entries, as Everett records every single thing he did each day. A sample:
I tried to write in the studio, then in the lodge. I talked to John, who clerks there and is studying medicine at Stanford. Then Mickey McGuire, the information girl, came in for a while. I couldn’t write there, so I went back to the Post Office to wait for the mail. The Postmaster and his wife looked at my pictures.
In 1932, despite his setbacks and fatigue, Everett’s journey had an overriding design, as he followed his northeast vector 260 miles as the crow flies from Roosevelt to Mesa Verde. But the tramps of his first month in Sequoia in 1933—many of them day hikes without his burros—seem aimless and arbitrary. He spent almost as much time swimming in streams and fishing as he did hiking. He was seldom far from a road, and he often hitched rides from passing cars to get where he wanted to go for a day or two.
And during that month, he ran into a constant stream of strangers, many of whom he stopped and talked to at length, while with others he set out on hikes and fishing trips. The year before, Everett had declared as his abiding principle, “After all the lone trail is best.” But there weren’t many lone trails in the Sequoia forest in June 1933, and, oddly enough, Everett did not seem to mind that fact. To be sure, on June 23 he complained to his diary, “Thus far, I’ve had only two days of uninterrupted solitude.” But a more characteristic entry was the one he wrote on June 12: “It was delightful to sit in the shade of the redwoods, watch the flag flutter and the men digging in the sun, everyone happy and smiling, working, conversing or watching. The whole atmosphere was of spaciousness, peace, and contentment.”
In 1933 there were many sectors of the Sierra Nevada in which Everett could have wandered through true wilderness without running into other people. The north fork of the Palisades, for instance, where the ruggedest mountains in California thrust into the sky, was seldom visited. Later in the summer Everett would climb Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet the highest summit in the forty-eight United States, but even in 1933 that hike was a popular tourist outing along a gentle and monotonous trail.
Besides the deep snow in the backcountry, another excuse for Everett’s ensconcement in the lower part of the Sequoia National Forest (which adjoins Sequoia National Park) was the effort to find buyers for his paintings to help finance his trip. Yet by heading straight for a popular national forest and park, Everett guaranteed that he would not find much solitude. His diary through June records encounters with park rangers, Civilian Conservation Corps workers, roadbuilders, telephone-line workmen, post office personnel, policemen, and of course tourists. On July 5, after a short probe into more-remote regions, Everett groused in a letter to his family, “When I came down from the back country, I found the park overrun with tourists.”
What did he expect? The diary makes it clear that what kept Everett rubbing elbows with strangers was his eternal longing for true, deep friendship. As unintrospective as most of the entries are, a few veer into the murky depths of that longing. On May 28, his second day in Sequoia, he fell in with a stranger named Wes Leverin, with whom he took a moonlight hike. “I like Wes,” he wrote. “He had delicate, handsome features.” The hike, he added, “was a glorious experience for me.”
Then, just as the diary becomes reflective, three lines have been erased—but not entirely. The cryptogram left on the page reads,
Just two sentences after the partially expunged passage, Everett wrote, “It was good to be called by name and made one of them.” Who the “them” refers to is unclear.
On June 20, Everett recorded another glancing encounter with attractive strangers, as he hiked along Colony Creek.
Three willowy young school teachers with glasses on passed on the other side of the stream. Apparently they did not trust me, for they would not reply to my greeting. I am again mistrusting myself in relation to other people.
This provocative remark is immediately followed by an eighteen-line erasure, one of the longest in either of the two surviving diaries.
Whatever Everett wrote in those missing lines must have been provoked by the glum insight about “mistrusting myself in relation to other people,” for when the text resurfaces, he is still miffed by the schoolteachers’ snub:
The girls came back, and I crossed to meet them, speaking to them as I crossed the brook. They went right on in silence. Not to be outdone even in ill breeding and insolence, I went straight up the hill as if that had been my intention.
Despite these occasional fits of melancholy, Everett’s diary records day after day of enthusiasm and joy. He was reading voraciously again—Apuleius’s The Golden Ass (“I was rather disappointed in it”); the rest of Gargantua and Pantagruel, which he had begun in 1932, and which delighted him; H. M. Tomlinson’s The Sea and the Jungle, which grew on him after a shaky start; and Norman Douglas’s witty novel of decadence on Capri, South Wind. The last book prompted a curious diary entry: “Finally I finished ‘South Wind,’ enjoying the final Bacchic scene. It is truly amusing to me what people say before they pass out. Everyone should have the experience, I think.”
We know that Everett smoked an occasional cigarette. Whether he regularly drank alcohol is uncertain. In all his surviving writings, there are only a few glancing mentions of beer or wine. When others got drunk, as at the Holbrook parade and rodeo, Everett seemed to play the role of the sober bystander. Yet there are those odd allusions to “Bacchic revels.”
Of course, Prohibition had been in effect since 1920, and would not be repealed until December 1933. Because drinking was illegal, Everett would not readily have confessed in print (even in the privacy of his diary) to any personal indulgence in alcohol. Moreover, we know that Stella was a lifelong teetotaler. It may be that if Everett drank, or ever got truly drunk, he would have had an additional reason to keep it to himself, for fear of offending his mother.
As he hiked in the forest, Everett often sang out loud. Sea chanties and cowboy ballads, he mentions in one entry, but more often he hummed his favorite classical music. “I drank at a stream,” he wrote on June 12, “and strode gallantly up, singing some Dvorak melodies, putting all the volume I had into them. The forest boomed with my rollicking song. Then the transmuted melodies of Beethoven, Brahms, and the Bolero rang thru the silent forest.”
That day or the next, Everett mailed a curious letter. It has no salutation, but after Everett’s disappearance, one of his parents added an annotation after Everett’s signature, “To friends from the high Sierra in 1933.” The letter opens with a proclamation of happiness the pitch of which Everett would seldom again match:
During the last few weeks, I have been having the time of my life. Much of the time I feel so exuberant that I can hardly contain myself. The colors are so glorious, the forests so magnificent, the mountains so splendid, and the streams so utterly, wildly, tumultuously, effervescently joyful that to me at least, the world is a riot of intense sensual delight. In addition to [which] all the people are genial and generous and happy, & everyone seems to be at his best.
Yet two paragraphs later in this atypical letter, Everett slips into his odd usage of the perfect tense, as if the joys of the summer—of life itself—were already over: “Oh, I have lived intensely, drinking deep!”
Everett’s extreme high spirits in 1933 after a 1932 campaign so riddled with gloom and despair form one paradox. His comfort surrounded by strangers in the Sequoia after glorying in solitude in Arizona forms another. And yet a third lies in the two landscapes, as different from each other as can be found in the United States. In the canyons and deserts of the Southwest, one treasures openness, distant horizons, and azure skies, even barrenness itself. In the Sequoia National Forest there is little openness and only the odd glimpse of the sky: instead, one is surrounded by towering trees—not only the famous ancient redwoods, but cedars, firs, and lodgepole pines. That Everett could equally love both landscapes may testify to the omnivorousness of his passion for nature. Or it may simply reflect that to be outdoors, on his own, on the move, with no end to the journey in sight, amounted to him to the most important thing in life.
* * *
On June 26, Everett claimed in his diary, “I plotted my course for the next two months to my entire satisfaction.” If so, the vagaries of his rambling through July and August make it hard to discern the shape of that course. In general terms, his plans involved traveling north into the high Sierra, climbing Mount Whitney, and eventually making his way to Yosemite National Park, which he had last visited in 1930. But the actual route of his wandering veered far from a steady trek along that northern and northwestern compass bearing.
By the end of June, the deep snow in the high country had started to melt. On June 29, with a friend met along the trail, Everett climbed Alta Peak, a modest summit 11,204 feet above sea level. Reaching the top in late afternoon, he gazed to the north and for the first time saw Mount Whitney.
In the beginning of July, launched on the High Sierra Trail, Everett escaped the shadowy woods and began to traverse alpine meadows and glades. He left the national forest behind and entered Sequoia National Park, which encloses Mount Whitney. By now, Everett was riding Betsy and using Grandma as his pack animal. The streams were running high everywhere, and the greatest obstacle to his progress was coaxing his balky burros to ford even the shallowest brooks.
In the high country, Everett still ran into strangers virtually every day—backpackers, mule- and horse-packers, trail-building crews, and rangers. By the 1930s, the High Sierra Trail had become a standard objective for outdoorsmen and women who were hardier than the casual tourists who flocked to Sequoia to drive up and park next to such prodigies as the General Sherman Tree. Although it traversed mountain passes and rocky boulderfields, the trail was excellently maintained. Everett’s daily task was not to blaze his own route through the wilderness, as he had for long stretches in Arizona in 1931 and 1932, but to sort out the signposts along the trail that would guide him from one valley to the next. Nor was this alpine terrain deep wilderness, for Everett records regular visits to ranger stations, old cabins, and working ranches.
In early July, the mosquitoes “tormented me fiercely,” he complained, making it hard to paint or even to write in his diary. Yet his spirits stayed high. Fishing had become a serious diversion. For bait, he usually stuck grasshoppers and other bugs on the barb of his hook, but strangers he met along the trail traded or gave him dry flies (the Royal Coachman was his favorite). What kind of fishing rod he had, Everett does not mention. His technique was crude but effective: once he had snagged a trout, rather than play it toward shore, he would jerk it out of the water, then retrieve it as it thrashed in the weeds. More than once, he catapulted a fish to shore, snapping it loose from the hook, but then couldn’t find his catch in the underbrush.
Everett’s diary lavishes many paragraphs on the wiles and pleasures of trout fishing. On July 30,
After patient casting in a deep pool, I felt a tug on my line, and, thrilled to the core, swung the pole, and the biggest fish I ever caught thudded up on the bank. I hunted five minutes before I found him in the deep brake, but he was still flopping. I could hardly close my fist on him. He was a foot long and weighed at least a pound. How I shouted.
On his best day, Everett caught forty fish. For breakfast on July 27, he ate eighteen trout, fried in cornmeal and bacon grease.
One of the highlights of Everett’s July adventure was an epic battle with a rattlesnake. He spotted the serpent coiled and rattling beside the trail, threw rocks at it to no avail, then tried to prod it with a stick. He succeeded in stabbing the snake, then forcing its head into the dirt, but his prey slithered away into underbrush and rocks. Without the slightest sense of shame, Everett described what happened next:
The brush was almost impenetrable. Taking my life in my hands, I reached down and caught his tail, loosed the makeshift spear, and whipped him out on the rocks. He was very much alive, but after a few tries, I mashed his flat head and cut it off.… Only six rattles, and he is not long, but what a fight we had. It was true sport.
Hunting rattler’s as I do comes nearer to real sport than almost anything I know. It has the necessary element of danger, for it is not sport unless opponents are somewhat evenly matched, and the quarry can turn the tables on the pursuer. By comparison, fishing is a diversion for senescent bachelors.
Despite this gloating credo, Everett would continue to fish avidly throughout the rest of his time in the Sierras.
During this part of the summer, Everett was reading two works “with the greatest of pleasure”: Richard Burton’s unexpurgated translation of the Arabian Nights and Edward FitzGerald’s brilliant and idiosyncratic rendering of Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat. At regular intervals, he transcribed stanzas of the latter into his diary, as well as summaries of the tales in the Arabian Nights. Everett’s enthusiasm for these Victorian versions of Near Eastern classics is significant, for both works are paeans to the hedonistic life. Yet both are full of carpe diem reminders of mortality.
On July 22, after transcribing FitzGerald’s lines, “Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why; / Drink, for you know not why you go, nor where,” Everett wrote, “I was completely swayed by Omar’s thoughts, and I decided I’d certainly get some wine from Lee if I could.” This comment is the closest Everett would come in either of the extant journals to admitting to a craving for alcohol.
On July 14, at the Kern River Hot Springs, Everett bumped into two teenagers named Ned and Charley, who happened to be students at Hollywood High School, from which Everett had graduated in 1931. Both also turned out to be Bible-reading Christians, and on the spot Ned tried to convert Everett to his fundamentalist beliefs. In his diary, Everett assessed the pair: “Ned has some intelligence, but Charley is rather callow.” Nonetheless, he paired up with the youngsters to climb Mount Whitney. Six days later they reached the summit—the highest point of land Everett would reach in his short life. On top,
Charley counted the names in the registry book and I took pictures. In the book we entered our names and a legend from the tale of Abu Hasan [from the Arabian Nights] which nearly made us die of laughter. No doubt coming visitors will be affected by it too.
The next day, Everett parted ways with the young lads.
From Whitney, Everett might well have headed northwest along the John Muir Trail, which runs 211 miles from the summit of that peak to Yosemite, as it links up a series of mountain valleys and high passes. (Construction of the trail began in 1915. By 1933 it was complete except for one section at the headwaters of the Kings River.) Instead, Everett wandered up and down the Kern River, lingering in Sequoia National Park and eventually turning back south to the lower national forest where he had begun his journey in late May. For the first time, a certain disappointment undercut his exuberance. “I have found Kern Canyon rather monotonous and depressing,” he wrote on July 28. “There is no variety. The rocks are a dull gray, and the forest is an impenetrable tangle that cuts off all outlook.”
Then a series of minor mishaps interfered with his plans. The first was his discovery that Grandma was pregnant. “Poor ignorant creature,” Everett wrote, “she had no knowledge of contraceptives!” A passerby experienced with livestock examined the burro and told Everett that Grandma would give birth in about a month. The second setback came when Everett developed an infection on the palm of his right hand that festered and spread. “I hardly slept, the pain in my hand was so great,” he wrote on August 2.
As the infection worsened, Everett pushed his way south and down toward the outskirts of civilization. In early August, in order to see doctors, he retreated all the way to the towns of Visalia and Tulare, out on the flat farmlands of the Central Valley, which was scorching hot at the height of summer. One physician soaked Everett’s hand in Lysol and hot water. The next day, he wrote, “[T]he nurse laid me out on the operating table, and after my hand had soaked, the doctor injected Novocain and slashed and probed in four places.” Four days later, another doctor diagnosed blood poisoning.
Despite the seriousness of his injury, Everett kept hitching rides back into the near edges of the forest, where he retrieved his burros and tried to resume his vagabondage. “I am not a good left handed camper, but I did my best,” he recorded on August 4. He wrote a letter home using his left hand, the script slanted backward, the scrawl like a child’s. This was, however, a somewhat theatrical gesture, for at the same time, Everett kept up his diary entries with his right hand.
Contact with the outer world plunged Everett into a new depression. In a ranger cabin, he listened to a radio broadcast. “I heard the San Francisco news by radio,” he wrote, “and was disgusted at the advertising and the vulgar quality of the news & sports.” But in Visalia, he caught a broadcast of classical music on another radio. “The concert was glorious,” he wrote. “I was drunk with the beauty of it.” To the strains of Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” Everett “whirled and wove a dexterous pattern with my feet, reaching and maintaining a frenziedly fantastic mood until I was exhausted.”
At last Everett’s hand healed, and he resumed his journey. Something was troubling him beyond the infection and Grandma’s pregnancy, however. The 1933 diary had become such an unintrospective habit that, reading between the lines, one guesses that in some half-conscious way, Everett was censoring his own darkest ruminations. Thus he ended an August 21 entry, full of the trivial happenings of the day, with a single, unelaborated line, “I had a huge fire, and some hot stew, then thought long long thoughts.”
On August 28 he let down his guard ever so slightly: “I thought strange thoughts, and looked forward to San Francisco. My longing for the desert has increased.” Already anticipating a 1934 return to Arizona, he started chanting not melodies from Dvořák or Beethoven, but Navajo songs and words. That same day he made a confession of which there is no hint in the previous three months of diary entries: “I find sleep very unpleasant. I cannot bear to yield consciousness without a struggle, especially as I sleep so poorly. I call sleep temporary death.”
Despite these inklings that the exuberance of summer in the Sierras had faded, Everett determined to complete his journey by reaching Yosemite. At the beginning of September, somewhere in the high country, he at last intersected the John Muir Trail. Even here, traveling most of each day above timberline, he was seldom alone for more than a few hours at a time. On October 2 he met a solitary rider, who told him he had come from Yosemite in only eleven days, but in Everett’s judgment, the man had “completely ridden down” his horse by pushing the traverse so fast. In the end, it would take Everett twenty-seven more days to reach Yosemite.
The diary hints at periodic spasms of gloom. “Supper and thoughts,” Everett wrote on September 11. The next five lines are erased, with not a single word left standing. Another entry begins, “After a woeful, restless night full of evil dreams …” Everett’s dread of sleep may have sprung from those recurrent evil dreams, as his unconscious took over, mocking the joys that filled his waking days. But the content of those dreams, he was unwilling to confide even to his diary. On September 6, however, he announced, “I set less and less value on human life, as I learn more about it. I admit the reality of pain in the moment, but its opposite is not strong.”
On September 8 a minor accident threatened to abort the whole journey. The detailed account of it in Everett’s diary reads like a surreal nightmare. Thrashing through “a tangle of prickly brush” on Goddard Creek, Everett stirred up a bees’ nest. He was stung at least a dozen times.
I struggled frenziedly down to the water, tearing my shirt. I had to leap down onto some wet rocks, then I climbed up on some more, pulled out the stings and the bees in my hair, threw off my clothes, and plunged into the water. Then I seemed to burn all over, and looking down, I discovered that my body was a mass of poison oak blisters. The shock nearly broke me, and I felt sick all over. When I was trying to put on my shirt, I fell into the water, and could not find the strength to get out until I was half drowned.
It took Everett hours to get back on the trail, as he vomited up his breakfast. “I could see nothing but blackness,” he reported, “and fell back, exhausted, dizzy, and faint.” Struggling to bash his way out of the undergrowth, he fell down repeatedly.
It seems probable that the reeling, staggering fit that Everett suffered had nothing to do with poison oak, but was instead caused by anaphylactic shock brought on by the bee stings. Depending upon the victim’s allergic susceptibility, the reaction to a dozen or more bee stings can range from annoying to fatal. Back in camp that evening, Everett searched for old lemon peels to rub on his skin, for one trail acquaintance had told him that was a good remedy for poison oak. Two days later, Everett still had swollen lips and eyelids. But by September 13 he admitted to his diary that the poison oak rash had disappeared entirely. “Either it was something else,” he wrote, “or some powerful counter agent stopped it.”
Anaphylactic shock was first diagnosed in 1902, but by 1933 it was little understood or recognized, and its relationship to insect bites and stings was not fully clarified until the latter half of the twentieth century. In all likelihood, Everett had a close call with death in the tangle of underbrush on Goddard Creek.
Beginning on September 18, when Everett stumbled upon “a camp of disappointed hunters,” he embarked upon a nine-day detour in his jaunt toward Yosemite. The six hunters hired the nineteen-year-old to burro-pack their supplies into the upper reaches of Fish and Silver creeks in the high Sierra, and to cook and wash dishes for them. The diary account of this junket reads like a chapter out of Don Quixote, as the incompetent hunters miss one shot after another, but finally kill a deer too young to be legal game. They also shoot a doe (another violation) just to enrich their dinners with venison. Much of the men’s camp time is taken up with drinking, cursing one another, and worrying about game wardens. One of the hunters regularly gets lost on his daily prowls in search of four-point bucks.
Everett seems to have tolerated this nonsense with good humor, gotten along fine with the drunken bumblers, and kept his appraisal of their follies to the privacy of his journal. On parting, the men gave Everett ten dollars, a pack of cigarettes, and some of their poached venison.
Throughout the last leg of his 1933 journey, thoughts of the desert Southwest increasingly swam through Everett’s head. Near Mono Creek on September 15, he stared at an escarpment called Vermilion Cliffs, then wrote, “They are a very pale pink, and make me wish for the real Vermilion cliffs of Utah and Arizona.”
At last, on September 29, Everett reached Yosemite. To his surprise, Grandma had lasted the whole trip without yet giving birth. By now, most of the tourists were gone. “The deer hunters are discouraged or sated,” he wrote, “the school boys have gone back to their studies, and vacation time is over for the populace. But this is not vacation time for me. This is my life.”
Despite this boast, Everett spent only two weeks in Yosemite. He climbed Half Dome by the cable route and made several forays along trails he had not explored in 1930. But his diary captures few expressions of the glories of the landscape, and the fulfillment of his goal to return to Yosemite sounds like an anticlimax. Everett spent as much time in the park headquarters, museum, library, and store as he did in the outdoors. The mail from home that he gathered was “disappointing,” although he was pleased to cash the latest of the unfailing string of money orders from his parents that he had received throughout the last four months. Buying groceries, he splurged on such luxuries as caviar and foie gras. Washing up in the Ahwanee Lodge, Everett saw himself in the mirror, perhaps for the first time in months. “My self confidence dropped to zero at once,” he wrote tellingly. “I looked like a ghoul or an ogre.” At once he tried to improve his appearance by going to a barber, who not only gave him a haircut but shaved off his beard and whiskers.
Everett’s plan was not to head back to Los Angeles, but to proceed directly to San Francisco and launch the life of a bohemian artist. On October 3, he recorded his fantasy:
I planned how I would rent a little garret on some city hilltop, and have a place all my own. From it I would sally forth to make color studies of tropical fish in the park, to concerts, to library expeditions, and devil may care wanderings in the city and on the sea front.
The unspoken assumption behind this pipe dream was that Christopher and Stella would continue to subsidize their son as he crafted his artistic career.
Despite the optimism of that vision, Everett’s mood was glum. The same day he wrote, “My thoughts were bleak. At dark I made a fire to cheer myself.” On October 8 he recorded matter-of-factly that he had spent the last seventy straight hours without sleep.
From the park library, he borrowed a novel by Charles Morgan called The Fountain. A best-seller when it was published in 1932, but virtually unread today, it revolves around the saga of a British soldier interned in Holland during World War I, who gets entangled in a passionate affair with a German officer’s wife.
From its opening pages on, the book made a strong impact on Everett. “[M]y heart leaped when I learned the subject,” he wrote, “the contemplative life, the inner stillness which I too am striving to attain, tho I am not done with the wild songs of youth.” He devoured the novel in a day and a half. Midway through the book, stirred by the forbidden love affair around which it pivots, Everett paused to record the deepest statement that he had made that year in 194 pages of tightly scrawled diary entries: “I suppose a great and soul filling love is perhaps the greatest experience a man may have, but it is such a rarity as to be almost negligible.”
In some sense, that sentence, with its mingled hope and despair, could stand as an epigraph to Everett’s life.
Everett finished his diary on October 12, as he prepared to sell his burros, leave Yosemite, and make his way to San Francisco. But at the bottom of a last, otherwise blank page, he wrote a final line: “What a strange dream about Waldo!”
* * *
Judging from the letters and the diary, it is hard to know what the 1933 expedition meant to Everett. From it emerged no deep reflections about his purpose in life, no manifestos comparable to the one embodied in the postscript to the letter to Waldo mailed from Chinle, Arizona, in July 1932. Except for the admirable push in September along the John Muir Trail to Yosemite, Everett’s wandering seemed rather aimless. There was little true exploration about it, for throughout his four and a half months in national forests and parks, Everett almost never strayed from a well-maintained trail.
If the purpose of the journey was to find inspiring landscapes to capture on paper, there is surprisingly scanty mention in the diary of hours spent sketching with pen and pencil or painting with watercolors. Far more paragraphs (and more zestful ones) narrate Everett’s toil as a fisherman. But the stalking, landing, and devouring of trout sound like the play of a boy at summer camp, not the quest of an artist.
Nor did Everett find much of his treasured solitude in 1933. If his goal instead was to discover a lasting companion, a soul mate of the sort he had given up hoping Bill Jacobs could ever be, he came up empty. Not only did the Sierras fail to give Everett even a glimpse of a “great and soul filling love,” but he did not forge a single serious friendship there that survived the journey. The dozens of strangers who briefly shared a camp or trail with Everett flit in and out of his diary like shadows. As early as June 8, in his first letter to Waldo, Everett had written, “What I miss most here is intellectual companionship, but that is always difficult to find.” Difficult indeed, for none of the Neds or Charleys or park rangers or willowy young schoolteachers whose lives briefly crossed Everett’s seemed to promise intellectual friendship.
The hunger for the desert Southwest, for real wilderness, that assailed Everett during the last weeks of his trek through the Sierras would point his life in a truer direction—the direction around which the cult of Everett Ruess that has grown ever since his disappearance is based. But before he could return to Arizona, Everett had high hopes for San Francisco.
In his last letter from Yosemite to his parents, on October 4, Everett pleaded, “I’d also like to have another 200-page diary book if you can find one reasonably.” But if he kept a diary during his months in San Francisco, it has disappeared. Once again we have only Everett’s letters to speak for his experiment in living as a starving artist in the city.
In El Portal, near the western gateway to Yosemite, Everett managed to sell Betsy and Grandma to an acquaintance from Visalia whom he had met in Sequoia. It was a good bargain, for Everett unloaded the animals for the same price he had paid for them in late May. The buyer drove Everett to the town of Merced. From there he hopped a freight to Sacramento—the first time, so far as we know, that Everett dabbled in the hoboes’ preferred means of transportation. It was all fun and games, as more-seasoned vagabonds taught him the ropes. “When we pulled out,” Everett wrote home on October 17, “one of the fellows found a reefer [a refrigerator car], and while the cars were gathering speed, we ran the length of the train on top, leaping from one car to another, till we reached it.” Inside the “reefer,” Everett lounged on a pile of fresh cantaloupes as he “swapped yarns” with his fellow railroad bums.
After a couple of other freight-train rides, Everett “dismounted in Oakland.” From the railroad yard he proceeded to the house of friends of his family, who put him up while he searched for an apartment across the bay in San Francisco.
It took him a week to find and rent a small place on Polk Street—today a chic gay district, but in 1933 a less lively and slightly rundown neighborhood. After he was established there, he wrote home a droll description of his garret. Three of his own blockprints hung on the wall, along with one by Hiroshige for which he had traded, and the battered sombrero he had worn in the Sierras. His saddlebags and Navajo blanket lay on the floor. A simple table served as his desk, from which he could look out onto the street. At night, a neon light outside bathed the curtains with “a rosy glow.” “There are no cooking possibilities,” Everett explained. “I have eaten three cooked meals in the last two weeks. I get along famously on fruit, sandwiches, and milk.”
Shortly after arriving in this city of artists and intellectuals, Everett started pounding the pavement in search of dealers who might show some interest in his work. His mother had sent him linoleum blocks, so he was able to carve, ink, and process new prints; Stella also mailed him prints he had made in previous years. On November 24, Everett reported a gratifying breakthrough. Paul Elder, who ran an influential bookstore-cum-gallery, took the whole batch of prints Everett showed him on consignment. But later, Everett reported, “I went to Paul Elder’s today, and they haven’t even got around to putting my stuff up, so naturally they haven’t sold any.” In January he passed on gloomier news: “A while ago I was reliably informed that Paul Elder’s are and have been on the verge of bankruptcy for a long time, and that I should take my stuff out as soon as possible, as they would not pay me anything even if they sold all my stuff.”
Everett was able to sell prints here and there to new acquaintances, or trade them for such luxuries as concert tickets. He threw himself into the cultural life of San Francisco. During his first two months there, he went to lectures by the muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens and the artist Rockwell Kent (himself a bold adventurer who captured such remote landscapes as Greenland and Alaska in masterly woodcuts and paintings); a concert by the Russian violinist Mischa Elman; a chamber music recital featuring Italian music; and operatic performances of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le Coq d’Or and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. He also signed up for life classes in drawing (at fifty cents a session). No sketches of nude women, however, seem to have survived in Everett’s portfolio.
The would-be artist could not fool himself with the presumption that he was making money or even breaking even. When Waldo sent him an unexpected check as a Christmas gift, Everett responded with embarrassment: “[M]y first feeling was that I did not want it. I know too that you could ill afford to spare it.” But he went on to confess, “I sold a couple of pictures today, and spent the money already. Half the time I am broke or without money for carfare and telephone.”
The truth was that at nineteen, Everett was still completely dependent on the “allowance” that his parents regularly mailed him. And there are signs that he was now taking their generosity for granted. On October 29 he wrote to his parents, “In regard to the remittance, I suggest that you put $10 of the October money (if you haven’t already sent it) in the bank for me against the desert trip, and send the other 15 odd as soon as you can.”
As he had with Edward Weston in Carmel in 1930, now in San Francisco Everett had no compunctions about presenting himself on the doorsteps of famous artists. He had long admired the paintings of Maynard Dixon, who as a young man, two decades earlier, had himself crisscrossed the Southwest and captured its landscapes in oils and watercolors. Only a little more than a week after landing in San Francisco, Everett sought out Dixon’s studio and introduced himself. Like Weston, Dixon was charmed rather than put off by this pushy young stranger.
The linkage with Dixon would prove one of the most fortuitous of Everett’s brief career. One day the master gave him what Everett called “perhaps the best art lesson I ever had.” It was, he wrote his mother, “a lesson in simplicity.”
The main thing Maynard did was to make me see what is meaningless in a picture, and have the strength to eliminate it; and see what was significant, and how to stress it. This he showed me with little scraps of black and white paper, placed over my drawings.
It was not Dixon who had the crucial impact on Everett’s development so much as his wife, the photographer Dorothea Lange. Not yet famous for her portraits of Dust Bowl refugees and victims of the Great Depression, Lange at the time was far less well known than her husband, whom she would divorce two years later. She took Everett under her wing, introducing him to other artists (including Rockwell Kent and the composer Ernst Bacon), and attended concerts with him. Lange was evidently taken with Everett’s looks, for, as he wrote home on October 31, “On Thursday I have a sitting with Dorothea Lange, who wants to make some photographic studies.”
The series of portraits of Everett that Lange took, posing him against a black backdrop, are by far the finest photographs ever made of the young vagabond. Lange captured, as Everett’s own snapshots failed to do, the beguiling mixture of innocence and sensuality in his countenance. Seventy-six years after she made the portraits, they would play a pivotal role in an ongoing controversy about Everett’s ultimate fate. At the time, however, Lange seemed dissatisfied with her work, for Everett wrote home on January 2, “I would have sent you one of Mrs. Dixon’s photographs, but she did not think they were good enough, and wants to make some others.”
With his blithe self-confidence, in October Everett knocked on the door of Ansel Adams’s studio and introduced himself. He wrote his family, “Ansel Adams waxed very enthusiastic about my black and white work. He could not exhibit it in his gallery, but he gave me a number of suggestions which I am following out. He is going to trade me one of his photographs for one of my prints.” The composition that Everett chose was a picture of “a mysterious lake” at Kaweah Gap, a pass in the Sierras that he had traversed in July.
Even Everett’s staunchest devotees have wondered whether his claim about trading pictures with the great black-and-white photographer was a fictitious boast. But at a conference in southern Utah in 2009, Gibbs Smith, founder of Peregrine Smith Books and the publisher of Rusho’s A Vagabond for Beauty, related an intriguing story. Many decades after Everett had met Adams, Smith studied with the master. “One time I asked him,” Smith recalled, “ ‘Did you ever meet Everett Ruess?’ He said, ‘No.’ But then his wife, Virginia, asked him to come into the bedroom. There on the wall was Everett’s woodcut.”
By the end of the year, Everett was getting restless. “I am tired of the place where I am staying,” he wrote to Waldo just before Christmas. And to his parents, even before that: “As to the duration of my stay [in San Francisco], I am not yet certain.… I would like to spend a whole year in the desert, but I might not go until March or April.”
With the restlessness came a renewed curiosity about basic matters of morality and purpose. On December 4, in a letter addressed solely to his father, Everett opened, “I have been asking myself some questions latterly, and I wrote some of them down, thinking you might be interested.” The document that Everett’s questions provoked is one of the most extraordinary in the chronicle of his life. It is, in fact, the only letter from Christopher to Everett after the age of fifteen that has survived. In it, Christopher copies Everett’s eighteen philosophical questions and answers them at length and with passionate earnestness.
It is characteristic of his ambivalence about intimacy that Everett turned to his father for answers to what seem like veiled but intimate questions. Among them: “Must pain spring from pleasure?” “Is bodily love empty or to be forgotten?” and “Can one be happy while others are miserable?” In Christopher’s answers, the Unitarian pastor comes to the fore. To Everett’s inquiry “Is it possible to be truly unselfish?” Christopher answered, “No, because even Jesus fed his ego: a man who dies for a cause does express himself, achieve his goal, perhaps. God does not ask unselfishness in an absurd sense.” As to whether bodily love was “empty,” Christopher asserted, “No, it is a part of life. It is not all of life. I do not see that it should ever be outgrown, but it changes form; it begins animal and always remains healthily animal, but it is refined and sublimated.”
There is something excruciatingly awkward about this extended colloquy. Everett seems in effect to be asking his father about his parents’ sex life. He may even have been seeking permission to have a sex life of his own. Christopher himself was a bit nonplussed by Everett’s far-ranging but impersonally phrased probes into the meaning of life. “Now you tell me,” he closed the long letter, “where did you get all these mind-twisters anyway?”
Everett wrote back like a dutiful schoolboy—or perhaps schoolmaster: “I was very pleased with your carefully considered replies to my questions, and I think you have answered them well.”
By December, in fact, Everett’s life had taken what may have been a momentous turn. On the thirteenth of that month, in a letter to Waldo, he alluded to it in a guarded fashion: “I have met some fine, sincere men, and several fine women, and one girl with whom I am intimate.”
In 1983, after transcribing this letter in Vagabond, Bud Rusho wrote, “This girl was undoubtedly Frances. Who she was or how Everett met her, remains unknown. But for a brief period, at least, romance had entered Everett’s life.”
Rusho copied five of Everett’s letters to Frances, three written in December 1933, two in May 1934. They are unmistakably love letters. On December 14:
I have just acquired the most heart-rending symphony you ever heard. You must come out to my mean hovel Saturday night to hear it, for I have to share it with you. In addition, there are two things I want to read to you, and a new picture I want you to see. Don’t refuse, for I must see you, and I have laid in a store of Roquefort cheese as a special inducement.… I saw two girls on the streets this morning who reminded me of you.
A second letter, only one line long, is dated simply “Monday Afternoon”:
Teresine dances tomorrow night at 8:20, so sleep sweetly tonight.
And another one-liner on December 19:
I wish the most blithe and serene Christmas that anyone could wish. Everett.
From these fragments alone, one must conclude that Everett had fallen in love. Whether he had a brief affair with Frances (if so, probably the only affair of his life), or merely nursed a crush on her, it is impossible to say. Something did not work out, for on May 5, 1934, from an outpost in Arizona, Everett wrote a long letter to Frances in which he voiced a lament:
I was sorry, though, that our intimacy, like many things that are and will be, had to die with a dying fall. I do not greatly mind endings, for my life is made up of them, but sometimes they come too soon or too late, and sometimes they leave a feeling of regret as of an old mistake or an indirect futility.
The whole Frances business is one of the knottiest and most baffling riddles in Everett’s life. Sometime since 1983, the five letters to Frances, like so many other primary documents, have gone missing. The obvious puzzle, which Rusho did not address in 1983, is why the texts had survived for half a century in the keeping of the Ruess family, and yet no one knew who Frances was. The letters to Bill Jacobs survive because Jacobs gave them to the family after Everett’s disappearance, as did several other family friends to whom Everett had written. If Frances too had donated the love letters, then surely Stella or Christopher or Waldo would have known who she was, or would at least have known her last name.
When asked in 2008 about the Frances letters, Rusho had no answers. He was not aware that the letters had gone missing, or where they might be. He could not recall how he had gotten hold of them in the first place, although he thought it likely that Waldo had lent them to him. When asked how the family could have gained possession of the letters without knowing who Frances was, he confessed to his own complete bafflement.
An extremely bizarre theory was advanced around 2003 by the filmmaker Diane Orr, who in the 1980s began to work on a movie about Everett. Orr unfolded the scenario to Nathan E. Thompson, who was writing a master’s thesis about Everett. In Thompson’s summary, Orr argued “that Frances, the woman Ruess was supposedly in love with, was actually the young wife of one of Ruess’ father’s friends. The love letters, argued Orr, were merely a cover up for Everett Ruess’ sexuality.” Orr further argued that Everett had confessed to Waldo, and to Waldo alone, his homosexual tendencies.
This summary does not explain how Orr came into her special knowledge of the situation. Nor does it clarify who would have perpetrated the cover-up—Everett himself, or Christopher and Stella, or Waldo in later years, presumably to hide evidence that Everett was homosexual. Given that Orr is convinced that Everett was gay, her theory of fake love letters to the wife of a friend of Christopher must be taken with a healthy dose of salt. What is more, the five letters to Frances that Rusho published, in all their detail and specificity, sound genuine, not the sort of thing one would concoct as a smokescreen to hide a guilty homosexuality.
In January 1934, Everett continued his philosophical discourse with his father in several long letters. From them emerge the first hints that Christopher and Stella may have started to lose patience with their prodigal son’s wayward course in life. On January 2, lashing back at criticisms his father had voiced, Everett wrote, “There is no need for fearing that I will be a ‘one-sided’ freak artist, to use your phrase, for I am interested almost equally in all the arts and in human relations and reactions as well.”
Everett’s financial dependence on his parents had apparently started to exasperate them. In a defensive voice, in the first paragraph after pleading for yet another money order, Everett rationalized:
As to the way I’ve spent my money, I think it has done credit to my emotions, and I don’t regret it. On occasion, I have calculated things to a very fine point, but you may well cease hoping that I will ever be practical in the accepted sense. I would sooner die.
In his hyperintellectual way, rather than bluntly accuse his son of being a freeloader, Christopher couched his strictures in a cloak of moral responsibility. “What you say is partly true,” Everett wrote his father on January 27, “in your remark that I have done what I wanted in spite of the world crisis.” Everett rebutted the accusation obliquely, by mentioning three friends who were involved in the “world crisis,” only to deride them: “They have been wallowing in the shallows of life this past year—not growing or having new or enlarging experiences.”
His father was not the only one who had leveled this charge against Everett. In an earlier letter to Christopher, Everett recalled:
A year ago my Communist friends were firing it at me when I told them that beauty and friendship were all I asked of life. I am not unconcerned with the crisis of our civilization, but the way of the agitator, the social leader, and the politician is not my way.…
So, instead, during this last year, I have continued to seek beauty and friendship, and I think that I have really brought some beauty and delight into the lives of others, and that is at least something.
Whether or not he grudgingly acknowledged the selfishness of his quest, or the entitlement implied in expecting his parents to foot the bills, Everett knew himself. Beauty and friendship were indeed all that he asked of life. It was a credo he would carry to his untimely grave.
Christopher’s most aggressive attack, however, focused on trying to persuade Everett to go back to college—and this brought out in the stubborn son some of the angriest and haughtiest remarks he would ever direct against his parents. “As to this half-baked pother about my always feeling inferior in the presence of college graduates,” he wrote to his father on January 2, “that fear is groundless too. I am not nonplussed in the presence of anybody, and I am seldom at a loss with anyone I am interested in.”
Christopher had apparently badgered Everett with the monetary rewards a college degree would guarantee for the rest of his life. Again Everett lashed back: “As to the million-dollar endowment of going through the college mill, I have three million dollar endowments already, that I am sure of, and I don’t have to go begging. I have my very deep sensitivities to beauty, to music, and to nature.”
Everett had clearly been stung by his father’s complaints. “You can be ashamed of me if you like,” he went on, “but you cannot make me feel ashamed of myself.” And: “As for me, I have tasted your cake, and I prefer your unbuttered bread. I don’t wish to withdraw from life to college, and I have a notion, conceited or not, that I know what I want from life, and can act upon it.”
It is a tesimony to the complexity of Everett’s relationship with his father that in a letter filled with such proud and sneering rejoinders, he could write on, lapse back into chatty news, and sign off, as always, “Love from Everett.”
By January, Everett was at loose ends. Only nine days after announcing to Waldo the existence of “one girl with whom I am intimate,” he wrote to his brother, “After various turnings, twistings, and recoils, I still have not been able to find any proper outlet for my feelings. Perhaps there is none and perhaps it is necessary for my feelings to die of weariness and refusal.” This may be a veiled confession that already his liaison with Frances had fallen apart, or it may be only a declaration of the existential despair that always lay just beneath the surface of Everett’s flights of transport.
On March 2 he bragged to his family that he had sold a painting and spent four dollars on a ticket on a boat that would soon convey him from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Could one of his parents meet him at the dock with the family car? “I will have a great deal of luggage,” he warned them.
Everett spent about a month at home on North Kingsley Drive. During that stay, he celebrated his twentieth birthday. In an undated letter to Waldo, he mused, “These last months in the cities have been very strange; there have been many beautiful moments.… [M]y relations with people have been riper, with more complete understanding than before.”
Waldo had offered to drive his brother to Arizona. Everett could not wait to get started on another journey across the desert Southwest. For 1934, he had planned a more ambitious expedition than any of his previous jaunts. Sometime in early April he loaded his belongings into the car of a friend who would drive him east to San Bernardino, where he would rendezvous with Waldo. In the undated letter to Waldo, he had closed, “I look forward to the time when we will be going places, together on the road. You are surely a good brother to me.”
His gear packed, in a hurry to leave, Everett said goodbye to his parents. Christopher and Stella would never see him again.