Three decades ago James Bishop Jr. ’58 sat at the bedside of his mother, model and artist Lucile Brokaw, and received her dying wish for him: that he should live in a town in Arizona with a creek running through it. In the title essay from his newest book, The Pink Nectar Café: Myths and Mysteries (Wildcat Publishing, 2011), Bishop writes of finding that town, Sedona, and of his first foray into the myths and mysteries of the Southwest.
Bishop, a journalist and writer previously based in Washington, D.C., and New York, went to Sedona shortly after his mother’s death and settled there. He was unexpectedly drawn to the zeitgeist of the town and its New Age embrace of Native American traditions and faiths. The book’s dozen essays reflect Bishop’s conversion from an East Coast skeptic to a man willing to be enchanted by—and to live peacefully with—things he cannot explain. The tagline on each essay in The Pink Nectar Café (from a song by Iris DeMent) is, “Let the mystery be!”
Slender though this volume is, the essays cover a lot of ground, from “Wicked Navajo Winds” and “Ghostwalker,” stories of white encounters with native belief, to “The Lady Who Blew the Whistle,” about a one-woman campaign to bring down the board of trustees of the Museum of Northern Arizona, to “The Dying River,” whose protagonist is a bureaucrat trying to stem overdevelopment of a fragile watershed.
Some of the essays veer into territory that many readers will find difficult to credit—”Grand Canyon Secrets” describes theories of Egyptian ancestry for the Hopi and Puebloan peoples, for example—and Bishop can clearly live with that. Taken as a whole, the essays make a powerful case for the Southwest as the continent’s most enduringly unknowable and iconoclastic locale, what its 16th-century Spanish conquerors called “the northern mystery.”