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Call of the Valley: David Kherdian

Shelly Frome
Special to Black Mountain News
David Kherdian

Like most boys growing up in the small town of Racine, Wisconsin, David Kherdian wasn’t aware of his innate sensibility. He had no idea he would later become the author of over 70 books ranging in subject and style from poetry and novels to memoirs, biographies and children’s tales.

And that's not to mention anthologies like "Beat Voices" and "Down at the Santa Fe Depot: 20 Fresno Poets," to name a few. Nor did he have any notion that he would be the recipient of 13 notable book awards or that a film documentary would be dedicated to his life and poetry.

During those formative days of yesteryear, though he had many playmates and friends, he found himself drawn to solitude and nature.  

“I was always highly sensitive to my feelings and my surroundings,” Kherdian said. “As a youngster, you naturally try to find some kind of order. What does it all mean? When I went fishing in the Root River, instead of choosing the deepest spot where all the fish were, I chose a spot downstream where I could be absolutely alone. I had instincts, and it seemed very important  to follow them as a key to who you really are.”

Gathering books that transported him to other ways of life was, unconsciously, another sign of his true calling. For instance, he was fascinated by James Schultz, the noted explorer and fur trader who, at the age of 19, was the first white man to become a member of the Blackfoot Indian Tribe.

Later on, Kherdian wrote a biography of another tracker and mountain man, realizing that under different circumstances he would have become a tracker himself. By this point, he had begun to conflate outer nature with a person’s authentic inner nature.

David Kherdian

“You could say,” Kherdian went on, “all this time I was actually growing my soul. I left my hometown because life there had become stagnant and went to San Francisco to be with all the beat poets of my generation and my idol William Saroyan, the noted playwright. I fell in with these guys and wrote my first book of poetry and three short stories right out of the box. Saroyan encouraged me, and I went from nothing to being a writer. It was all there. It was all in me.”

Soon enough, he came to believe if he put his heart and soul into his writing and tapped into something deep within, surely the work would double back on other people’s lives. Whatever touched him in any form would become everyone’s story.

Without making any adjustments or concessions to marketing, stylistic trends or commercial considerations, the feedback he received from readers and publishers continually validated this credo. At the same time, he distinguished what he called life values from spiritual values. To this day, if he feels the work helps him grow spiritually aside from any external values that may be out there, he feels happy and sustained.    

In his 80s now, he and his wife Nonny, the award winning book illustrator, recently retired to Black Mountain. They love the smallness, the beauty of the mountain setting, and the pleasant, giving people. Moreover, they look forward to a simple, idyllic, quiet life.

Fittingly, here are a few lines from Kherdian’s latest poetry collection, "Black Mountain Home":

            Somehow we have found ourselves in this place of enchantment,

            at home with all that surrounds us;

            plants, trees, animals, the ever present birds, here in body and song,

            in flight or at rest

            throbbing, chirping, our eternal delights along with heaving trees everywhere,

            brush and bushes of every kind

            and just below a tiny wildlife lake set in a bowl —

            our singular meadow beneath green mountains above

            everything around us ever in movement,

            growing in ways not for us to see