160 years after the disappearance of a promising young explorer, the discovery of his missing journals finally reveals the truth behind an extraordinary adventure
In 1850 young Scottish tree-hunter John Jeffrey is dispatched by an elite group of Victorian subscribers to seek highly-prized exotic tree species in North America. An early letter home tells of a 1200 mile transcontinental journey on foot. Later, tantalising botanical samples arrive from British Columbia, Oregon and California, yet early promise soon withers. Three years after setting out John Jeffrey disappears without a trace. Was he lost to love, violence or the Gold Rush?
The secrets of the extraordinary adventure lie in his precious journals which remained lost, until their discovery, 160 years later. Green Gold is a fictional biography based on a true story told by Gabriel Hemery, a contemporary tree-hunter, forest scientist and author of award-winning The New Sylva.
Journal: Shasta Valley, California, 25th October 1852
I remember there was an unusually big sky that evening, and it was lonely of clouds—surely forewarning a sharp night. I raised a modest fire and added an extra layer of springy branches under my bedroll as a spectacular red sun descended between two giant boulders before me. Thus prepared I drifted to sleep, lying with some satisfaction beneath the canopy of another fine specimen of the magnificent new pine I had discovered days before (No.731). A myriad of stars flickered between the long needles on its gently swaying branches. I was reminded of Humboldt’s analogy—of the blooming, fecundity and withering of stars and planets—and the form of the great garden of the universe which now lay open before me. God had revealed his infinite mysteries.
Sometime later, while wrapped tightly in a meagre HBC blanket, my hat drawn deep down over my head, such was the cold, I was woken by a great weight upon my chest. It has been more than one month since I last enjoyed close human comfort, and I was confused, before becoming immediately alert.
Yet, before I could much react, a terrible pain lanced my cheek, and I found my face to be held in a foul stinking vice. Despite finding myself quite blind, and with one arm caught under my blanket, with the other I managed to strike out. My bare hand encountered solid fur-clad muscle. So short was the coat of my foe, there was no handhold. I thought then that I was confronted, not by a Grizzly, but most likely a Mountain Lion. I raised my legs to grapple with its body and rolled over to one side. I felt the flesh on my face tear open, even as I felt for my gun. With the stock I aimed a blow blindly at its body and, on making satisfying contact, felt its jaws loosen. Yet still it did not retreat, its claws holding fast to my body. I fought viciously, with every limb and ounce of my strength, for what seemed many minutes, but must have been mere seconds, before it fled. By the time I had torn the remains of the hat off my head, I managed to glimpse only its long tail disappearing between the same two boulders where the sun had earlier retreated. Yet there it paused to turn and stare. I feared for a moment it was to return, its unblinking eyes reflecting two startling full moons, yet it evidently decided that discretion was the better part of valour. With a turn of its head it was eclipsed by the night.
I immediately sought to rekindle the fire which had faded to a pitiful glow. With my knife now permanently in one hand, which trembled terribly and quite without control, I heated water to tend to my face and other injuries. I slept for none of the remainder of the night, gripped I admit by terror, and suffering a most fearsome throbbing pain.
Naturally, I have no glass with me, so I was obliged to wait until the sun had risen before I could inspect my face on the surface of a pool in the creek. Being without the excitement of a fight to mask the pain, applying the crude stitches to my cheek hurt more than the beast’s canines.
After attending to my wounds I believe that I became quite delirious. I woke many times to find myself surprised that it was day rather than night, or visa versa. My body was often drenched with sweat, and I found myself shivering, even at noon while the sun was at its zenith. My fire, however, I kept burning day and night, even though the usually simple act of gathering kindling and logs was a great burden, on account of the pain.
I write now, I believe, some two days after the attack. It is unusual for me to stay more than one night in the same place, but I have felt little able to do much more than rest and attend to the fire. While my symptoms were at their height, I experienced vivid and hallucinatory dreams. In many of these I found myself with Prof Woody, and other noble gentlemen, among extraordinary variations of the Edinburgh gardens. What would they think now of my sorry situation? If they could witness my immediate circumstances they would surely experience a similar sense of bewilderment, yet their vision would be no dream. I am a battered man, with a grizzly face, which surely masks completely the youth they despatched with such optimism but two years ago.
I recall Mr Anderson explaining the habits of the various beasts which might prove a threat to us. I have encountered many Bears, both Black and Grizzly, during my travels thus far, and shot more than I can now remember. In fact, meetings are commonplace with these giants, and it is second nature to take measures to counter their curiosity when establishing an encampment. Yet, I can recall seeing only two Mountain Lions in all my time traversing across this vast country (the last one about one month past). On both of these occasions they have been some distance away. I was well-informed that a Mountain Lion will only rarely attack a man—a child being much more common fare—unless it is surprised, or if that man is a coward who presents a fleeing back. I will remember to inform my old guide of these experiences, if we are fortunate to meet again.
Earlier, I followed the path that the animal took between the boulders, and just beyond them, along the banks of the stream in the soft mud among its rushes, I found several footprints. Each was the size of the back of my hand. The rear of the main pads had three lobes; a feature I have not seen before. It may confirm my suspicion as to the beast’s identity.
I have determined that I will start back northwards tomorrow, and to find company as soon as possible in case my wounds fester, although I now feel a little more myself. The snow-clad peak of Mount Shasta exerts a dominant presence in this place, its foothills providing fertile hunting grounds for the botanist. Before me tall pines, all of the same new species that I found these days past, grow between massive boulders, extending without interruption down the valley, and far into the distance. This land is a paradise so rich it would see the same gentlemen emptying their purses to secure more collectors. Yet their ambitions might be cruelly shattered by my appearance.
I inadvertently started this entry on the inside of the cover and front end paper, of this, my third journal, which is already half-filled. I am usually so diligent about my record keeping. I hope the spattering of blood and other marks across the page will be forgiven. At least the hand with which I write is mostly undamaged; I cannot say the same for my other.
Book launch and exhibition in Edinburgh
Tuesday, 15 January 2019
I'm excited to announce that there will be major exhibition hosted by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh running from 27th April, until the end of June. The exhibition will feature original botanical paintings by Nicola Macartney, letters and minutes from the garden's archives, and a range of herbarium specimens. The garden will also be hosting a book launch on the opening day of the exhibition…
Green Gold cover revealed
Thursday, 29 November 2018
First the manuscript is written, then a publishing offer negotiated and contract signed, fundraising started, fundraising successfully completed, then work started again on the manuscript with a first edit then second edit, followed by copyediting . . . it’s a long process writing a book! In fact, since completing the manuscript of Green Gold, it’s been about two years of hard work with publisher…
Editing Green Gold
Saturday, 3 November 2018
I've just finished the first main edit of Green Gold, working with the Editor, Laura, and the Editorial Team from Unbound.
It's such a privilege having a professional editor read your completed novel. Yet, when you submit a final manuscript to the publishers, so many questions and fears go through your mind. What will they think of it? Does the plot work? Is it interesting or gripping enough…
Tuesday, 4 September 2018
I am delighted to report that crowdfunding to support the publication of Green Gold: The lost journals of John Jeffrey is now complete.
Thanks to a generous donation from Forest Holidays Ltd., the crowdfunding effort has just received the much-needed final push over the line.
I had completed the manuscript even before launching the crowdfunding with Unbound, but knowing that 100% funding…
Talk at WoodWords 2018
Saturday, 26 May 2018
This week I was pleased to give a talk about GREEN GOLD at WoodWords 2018, run by Sylva Foundation.
I've uploaded a recording of the talk which you can listen to here (13m39s). If you would like to see some relevant images, I've uploaded a few in a slideshow on my blog: https://gabrielhemery.com/green-gold-woodwords
Sunday, 13 May 2018
I'm looking forward to taking part in WoodWords 2018, run by Sylva Foundation, on the evening of 24th May. I'll be reading some extracts from Green Gold, and describing more of protagonist John Jeffrey's incredible feats and achievements. If you're interested in coming along it'd be great to meet you, and I'm sure you'll enjoy the great line up of authors. More information and tickets…
A special literary event and more botanical art
Friday, 9 March 2018
I'll be taking part in a unique literary evening with Sylva Foundation on 24th May. I will be reading some extracts from Green Gold alongside talks from four other authors, featuring a wonderfully diverse range of books, all on the theme of trees and nature. The event will be held among the community of woodworkers at the Sylva Wood Centre in Oxfordshire. It's sure to be a special evening. Find…
Limited edition print now available
Tuesday, 9 January 2018
We're pleased to release a new subscriber reward of a very special limited edition print.
Thanks to a collaboration with botanical artist Nicola Macartney, with links to Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, we are able to offer 100 readers the chance to own a print of Nicola's latest work, depicting the Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi ). The species was discovered and collected by the protagonist…
Green Gold newsletter No.9
Sunday, 3 December 2017
No.9 of my newsletter is now available, featuring stories linked to the creation of my historical novel: Green Gold - the lost journals of John Jeffrey.
Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi) painting in progress by Nicola Macartney
In this issue, a new extract from the book, more stunning botanical art by NicolaMacartney, how to gift a book patronage this Christmas, plus good news on…
Gift a book patronage
Monday, 16 October 2017
Why not gift a book patronage this Christmas for a truly unique present. Every supporter will have their name listed inside the book.
Giving a book which doesn't yet exist
The one downside to the gift of a Green Gold book patronage is that the book doesn't yet exist (remember it's your support which will make it happen)! To help you give something physical to prove your endearing love…
Book extract: Lampreys, 15th June 1853
Saturday, 14 October 2017
An extract from John Jeffrey's lost journals
Lampreys, 15th June 1853
At Klamath Falls there was a great gathering of Indians, apparently from several tribes, given the varieties of costume and appearance on display. They were all there for a common purpose however; to gather lampreys.
The only lamprey I have seen in this country before now was firmly attached to the flanks of a large…
A new discovery
Monday, 25 September 2017
Following visits to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and Benmore Botanic Garden, collaborating botanical artist Nicola Macartney has started work on some painted sketches of western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) including foliage, cones and a small section of bark. These are the elements which she intends to include in the final painting.
John Jeffrey, the protagonist in GREEN GOLD…
Talk at Oxford Blackwells
Saturday, 16 September 2017
I'll be talking about GREEN GOLD at Oxford Blackwells on Friday 13th October (19:00-20:00).
The event is a 'pledge party' organised by the publishers Unbound, and I'll be keeping good company with five other Unbound authors offering short talks on an eclectic selection of topics. It promises to be an interesting evening.
Kalypso Nicolaidis – Exodus, Reckoning, Sacrifice: Three Meanings…
Stunning botanical art will help celebrate the life of John Jeffrey
Thursday, 27 July 2017
Drawing of the cone from a Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi) by Nicola Macartney.
Botanical artist Nicola Macartney and I are collaborating to help make an exhibition together at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RGBE) in 2018. Nicola is hunting for plant material associated with John Jeffrey, the main protaganist in GREEN GOLD. Some reward levels include an invitation to the exhibition and other…
Gifting a voice beyond the grave
Thursday, 22 June 2017
Now I've completed the draft of my first full-length novel—a work of historical fiction—I feel as though I travelled alongside my protagonist as he walked thousands of miles across North America in search of plants. Yet I went on a very real journey myself, learning about Victorian exploration, the wildernesses of North America, the Gold Rush, and Native Americans. Then further challenges came…
Collaborations with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Thursday, 1 June 2017
Behind the scenes I've been collaborating closely with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) ever since starting work on GREEN GOLD.
Plant-hunter John Jeffrey, the main protagonist in Green Gold, was employed by RBGE, and his exploits managed by a newly formed group - the Oregon Botanical Association. I therefore relied on the archives of RBGE for my research as it holds many letters and the…
The extraordinary journey of John Jeffrey
Sunday, 14 May 2017
John Jeffrey, the main character in my latest book Green Gold, walked, paddled and rode at least 10,000 miles across North America while hunting for plants from 1850-4. During the two years I spent researching and writing the book I plotted his travels in detail and can now publish the route in full for the first time.
After sailing 2,600 nautical miles from London, via Stromness in the Orkney…
Jeffrey's shooting star
Friday, 5 May 2017
In September 1852 young Scottish plant hunter John Jeffrey came across an attractive flowering plant in northern California. After samples were received by his sponsors at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh it was named in his honour.
Jeffrey's shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) is also known as Sierra shooting star or tall mountain shooting star. Its glowing pink flowers, which appear between…
Film released to mark book launch
Tuesday, 25 April 2017
I'm delighted to see my first book with Unbound Publishing launched.
It's taken two years of research and writing, interupted frequently by a busy day job, to reach this day yet I've enjoyed writing the story more than I ever imagined.
They say truth is stranger than fiction, and in the case of the true story of John Jeffrey I've learnt it's even more extraordinary too.
During the winter…
These people are helping to fund Green Gold: The lost journals of John Jeffrey.