Vladimir Nabokov

Photographs of and from the Nabokovs' cottage, Portal, Arizona, 1953

By Brian_Boyd, 27 May, 2024

Dear Nabokovians,

David Steingraeber,  Emeritus Professor of Biology (Botany & Ecology) at Colorado State University, and his wife have become part-time residents of Portal, AZ, living in the cottage/casita on the property where Vladimir and Vera Nabokov stayed during their time in Portal in the late spring of 1953. He sent me a photo of the front of the cottage and another by a photographer friend, John Grahame, of the view from the rear, showing the mouth of Cave Creek Canyon and the Chiricahua Mountains. Both have allowed me to post their photographs here. Enjoy!

To set the context: Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, 224:

Eight days after leaving Cambridge, the Nabokovs' tired Oldsmobile panted into Portal, Arizona, in the southeast corner of the state, almost on the border of Old and New Mexico. There they had arranged in advance to rent a cottage on a ranch designed by its owner as a kind of wildlife preserve. Spectacular birds in great numbers visited the cactus-and-yucca waste outside the windows. From the cactus desert it was an hour's drive every morning up to the aspens of the Chiricahua Mountains where, if the weather permitted, Nabokov devoted himself to butterflies from 8:00 a.m. to noon or later. Here he hoped to take long series of maniola, which another entomologist had demoted—wrongly, Nabokov thought—to a subspecies of dorothea, his 1941 Grand Canyon find. Then from 2:00 p.m. until dinner he would work on Lolita.

After the first week of fine weather, it became cold and windy. Day after day he rose at 6:00 a.m in the hope that it would prove warm and calm enough for collecting, but day after day he was disappointed. Lolita profited, and he made excellent progress as he transcribed the text in longhand. To vary a day of enforced writing, he would sometimes translate parts of Conclusive Evidence into Russian.71 It seemed unfair to have traveled thousands of miles to escape the chill of a New England spring and then find nothing but cold and gales. The Nabokovs began to think of moving again. When her husband killed a fair-sized rattlesnake—seven rattles—a few feet from their doorstep, Véra was ready to move at once. 

Brian Boyd

The cottage the Nabokovs stayed in in Portal, Arizona in April-May 1953. © David Steingraeber . 
  • View from rear of the Nabokovs' cottage in Portal, Arizona, April-May 1953, showing mouth of Cave Creek Canyon and Chiricahua Mountains. © John Grahame