Although she was born in Carlinville, Illinois, and graduated from Blackburn College, Mary Austin spent most of her writing career in California, New York, and finally Sante Fe, New Mexico. A well-known, popular, and prolific writer, Austin published thirty-three books and three plays and was closely associated with many important literary figures of her time, including H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Jack London, and Willa Cather. Still best known today for her nature writing and southwestern cultural studies, Austin has been increasingly recognized for her work on feminist themes, including the play The Arrow Maker, the nonfiction The Young Woman Citizen, and the novels A Woman of Genius and No. 26 Jayne Street. What has been perhaps an overemphasis on Austin’s nature writing has, since her death, eclipsed the fact that Austin was known during her lifetime as a colorful, eccentric, and controversial person whose direct and outspoken opinions engaged a wide variety of topics.
Beyond Borders demonstrates that variety. In addition to her monographs, Austin also published her short fiction and essays in periodicals. In fact, like many a writer earning a living from her work, Austin wrote prolifically for the magazine market, producing during her career over two hundred individual pieces published in over sixty periodicals. Although a collection of her short fiction appeared in 1987, Austin’s nonfiction periodical work has remained uncollected until now.
In support of Austin’s essays, Reuben J. Ellis provides an introduction that establishes a biographical and historical context for Austin’s work. In addition, each Austin essay is prefaced by brief introductory remarks by the editor. A selected bibliography of Austin’s essays is also included.
Since this is a hill country one expects to find springs, but not to depend upon them; for when found they are often brackish and unwholesome, or maddening, slow dribbles in a thirsty soil. Here you find the hot sink of Death Valley, or high rolling districts where the air has always a tang of frost. Here are the long heavy winds and breathless calms on the tilted mesas where dust devils dance, whirling up into a wide, pale sky. Here you have no rain when all the earth cries for it, or quick downpours called cloud-bursts for violence. A land of lost rivers, with little in it to love; yet a land that once visited must be come back to inevitably. If it were not so there would be little told of it.
This is the country of three seasons. From June on to November it lies hot, still, and unbearable, sick with violent unrelieving storms; then on until April, chill, quiescent, drinking its scant rain and scanter snows; from April to the hot season again, blossoming, radiant, and seductive. These months are only approximate; later or earlier the rain-laden wind may drift up the water gate of the Colorado from the Gulf, and the land sets its seasons by the rain.
Oliver had been sitting for some time in front of the Buffalo case, wondering what might be at the other end of the trail. The cows that stood midway in it had such agoinglook. He was sure it must lead, past the hummock where the old bull flourished his tail, to one of those places where he had always wished to be. All at once, as the boy sat there thinking about it, the glass case disappeared and the trail shot out like a dark snake over a great stretch of rolling, grass-covered prairie.
He could see the tops of the grasses stirring like the hair on the old Buffalo's coat, and the ripple of water on the beaver pool which was just opposite and yet somehow only to be reached after long travel through the Buffalo Country. The wind moved on the grass, on the surface of the water and the young leaves of the alders, and over all the animals came the start and stir of life.
And then the slow, shuffling steps of the Museum attendant startled it all into stillness again.
The attendant spoke to Oliver as he passed, for even a small boy is worth talking to when you have been all day in a Museum where nothing is new to you and nobody comes.
"You want to look out, son," said the attendant, who really liked the boy and hadn't a notion what sort of ideas he was putting into Oliver's head. "If you ain't careful, some of them things will come downstairs some night and go off with ye."
And why should MacShea have said that if he hadn't known for certain that the animalsdidcome alive at night? That was the way Oliver put it when he was trying to describe this extraordinary experience to his sister.
Dorcas Jane, who was eleven and a half and not at all imaginative, eyed him suspiciously. Oliver had such a way of stating things that were not at all believable, in a way that made them seem the likeliest things in the world. He was even capable of acting for days as if things were so, which you knew from the beginning were only the most delightful of make-believes. Life on this basis was immensely more exciting, but then you never knew whether or not he might be what some of his boy friends called "stringing you," so when Oliver began to hint darkly at his belief that the stuffed animals in the Mammal room of the Museum came alive at night and had larks of their own, Dorcas Jane offered the most noncommittal objection that occurred to her.