This note begins at the end. It has been many months, hot sunlight, winds and cold rushes of leaves spiraling, howling wolves and moons of varying color and size. The place is far but not too far for my eyes to see as I look from the top of the windmill standing in the field of grey brown grass and last fruit of the old cherry tree next to the wind mill, standing below. I can see the white bones from up here atop of the windmill, they are so vivid in the distance where the cliff rises from the Spring Garden Creek. They are so perfect and so revealing. There is something which I cannot restrain myself from being drawn to. It is this spot, this place only I can see and know of. I tell it to no one. I am not at all inclined to share this secret. But of late, it has been haunting me. So, I tell it now. I tell it and maybe there is a ray of something here which I am unable to ever forget.
It was early summer when I heard of a horse, a white horse that belonged to the local town Sheriff, Angelo Scalise, an old Italian wine drinker who shared many a green bottle with my step father, Marvin. Marvin was always getting in trouble with Angelo, but never did Angelo take him to any jail. This sheriff was a man of true honor in the realm of Law Enforcement. He knew the families in this small town and he knew them by heart. That is why my step father was a wild and quite free man. But, there is this one thing I knew, and I always remember how it was and what happened. The white horse, belonging to Angelo, she had died and Angelo called my step father and offered him a little much needed work, to bury the old horse.
No one knew where he buried her but I. I spotted this beauty in death, tossed over the cliff which was a spot I could see from the big yellow school bus as it would wind down the dirt road spiraling in and out like a snake, steep and shaded, in deep shaded forest on a dirt road that was narrow and oft times muddy and slippery, three winding turns, each one more bent and constricted the previous. One summer Marvin stopped the car on this road, jumped out and grabbed a big rock, and in front of the station wagon, bludgeoned a rattle snake in the head with one piercing aim…crushing in it’s head. It was so long it’s tail was hanging over the cliff edge. The head was almost to the ditch where the hard rains flowed and snow fell in winters. That snake never had a chance with Marv. No, he was a master rattlesnake killer. Thirteen years of shedding skins left that most dazzling rattle, 13 shakers… they rub against each other as the snake is in fear and vibrating. This is the same spot he threw the dead white horse into the ravine.
At first, the horse looked much like a rag that had been tossed and the red blood was flowing from the holes the wolves or coyotes left in her side as they ate … at the beginning when she was fresh. Later, I would strain to look down over the cliff, and blackened areas with some bone were showing through, and the horse was being swallowed by the earth. As the summer passed into the winds of All Hallowed Eve, the horse was half dissolving flesh, half bone. I wondered, why didn’t he just at least put some dirt over her, why did he leave her exposed like that? Why didn’t he at least do his job? It was a half ass job. That was what he used to accuse me of many times while growing up. But I was certain he truly was a half ass sort of guy a lot of the time.
I went up to the top of the windmill to stare across the canyon whenever I felt the need to escape the insanity of my very large, loud and constantly fighting family. I just wanted to see what was happening to her. Her bones, finally after winter passed and the next summer heated up, her bones were white and gleaming. She was still there, and there was not a doubt in my mind, she was not alone. I had been watching. I knew that she was being cared for and she would always be with me. So, my advice, which isn’t given oft in a way that ever matters what so ever, to anyone I really want to understand it …. watch. Don’t ever kick a dead horse, just watch as the time goes by. What do you see when you watch time go by? I know what. There is no music in this. There is no rhythm or dancing. Just is.
The thought of having foreign plants in the mountains of evergreen, jungle trees at that! How did these come over from the jungle areas so far from these Sierra Nevada Mountain range? But this is only the after thought of the child who has passed many years with added insight into how this place was altered and meta-morphed. No place stays the same over years of receiving travelers from many outposts and directions. Much like Cocopeli, the humpbacked seed carrier, tossing his seeds everywhere he travels, these travelers are the same, passing without noting, seeds which were carried forgotten in pockets and packs, tents laid down in many places where the hunt for something more is always taking place in the minds of man.
I remember the smell of the Turtle Feathers, like one is before me now. So pungent and strong, like blood from a creature slow moving and unseen among the fern and wet places. It was pleasant, yet had a mystery to the aroma. One that did not incite a hunger, but more a memory. A long memory. A traveling memory, not in any hurry to get anywhere. This child I was, and still am, knowing that there are many variety of experiences which are not at all alike. Not like a question, how was your walk, or your drive over. A flat question, a question like a machine would ask. How was your…. How does it happen, that young sisters and brothers become dull and uninterested, reciting a rote statement of how was, what was, where is and how are you today? No, the Turtle Feathers are far lost in their memory and I have no idea why this living and vibrant experience got buried in them. I wish for them to return, the children they were, to continue the quest for the lost joys we shared, in our “pretend world” that was far from unreal. The automatic talk, like the sound of a coo coo clock, at each hour, not relenting, this is what so many have become in the years that pass, unnoticed, hurried and chasing the dollar bill to pay for that new dress or car, that new bag or chain of a shining plastic necklace of flash.
The day began, on a weekend or summer vacation, early, rising with the sun and the birds calling, the fresh air and the shining streaking suns rays, piercing through the trees. It cut right through you, into your hair and eyes, reaching deep into my body. I felt the rush of what a new day brings, with no plan, nothing to do but spend the day playing. Of course, there were always the chores, but that just made it more lusted for, that free time to make believe you are anyone or anything in the woods, the fields and among the wafting flowers moving in the breezes. Laying down, hidden by tall grass, looking up into the sky, and watching as the clouds danced and made different shapes and became instantly, a running horse, a large eagle flying, an elephant, and next, a big bearded man. It was free theater, laying on your back, deep in the tall grass, not seen, just floating, among butterflies dancing over head, dragon flies passing by, red, blue and green, golden, huge floating dragon flies.
There was a particular weed that grew in the field, that had pointed arrow like projections that would follow the sun. You could watch and slowly, so slowly as the sun moved they too moved the pointed ends toward the sun. I named them Sun Followers. No one cared what you called a weed. It was a free for naming plant. When I pass by these fields now, at certain times of the year, the aromatic smell of those Sun Followers always reminds me, of those long days, nothing to do but pay attention to their movement.
Each tiny creature had it’s own movement and rhythm. Butterflies each had a different way of flitting by, some lifting up and down and sideways, very fast and they were small, tiny, when landing, the wings would tick like a clock, I called these tiny blue butterflies, Tiny Time Keepers. Yes, there is a book that tells you the agreed upon name, but it is not what I knew them by. They ARE Time Keepers.
The slow and constant movement of the turtle, with his shell of green, streaked with black and yellow areas of brightness, patterns like a puzzle that tells a story, this creature was one that felt like something that was able to cross over many miles and places without ever having to worry about whether home or not, home was the multi colored shell covering that he would pull into at night, or at a rest time. The leaves on the fronds that made up our headdresses in those fields and forests when playing the game of war, those leaves were the same color as a turtles shell, and had the streaks of gold through the leaves, like the streaks on a turtle. If you ever have gotten close to a turtle, he too has a mystery of an odor, a watery odor, of the wet earth and mossy ponds he hides in.
In the area over the ridge, was a place that had nothing at all like the wooded and grassy places that were left untouched by the miners water canon. It was called the Diggins. Shale grey and sandy flat rocks all over, with a few bushes, manzanita, dotting the area, striving to grow in a no top soil. The entire place had been tunneled through, mined and raped for gold. Mine shafts under ground, suddenly would be open and gaping ledges and deep drop offs, and if you were not paying attention, you would end up dropping into one of these open shafts. They had been cut into the land, to pull up the gold veins in the earth. Huge piles of slate laying in areas, cut out holes where we became constant visitors to, our swimming holes. We could swim and dive off the cliffs there, swimming into the tunnels and floating on inner tubes all day long in the summer. The only thing to fear was the drop off holes that could turn up anywhere, and the rattlers. Plenty of them lived under the rocks back in our miniature desert land.
Strange what man can do to alter the earth, and make it into another terrain altogether. We would go alone, no authority, no parent, just the warning what would happen if you walked up on a rattler.
My father had many rattles he had taken from these snakes all around our swimming holes and dirt road ways. One day, we were in our car, an old station wagon, winding up the road, and what lay across the entire roadway, 5″ at least in diameter, long enough to have his entire body lined across the road and winding down the hill, a rattler, which caused my dad to stop, jump out, grab a huge boulder, and crush his head with one fell blow. He was a hunter, and he would never pass up a chance to take home some new food, and it mattered not what it was he decided to skin and eat, and this night, we had BBQ Rattlesnake. He had a taste for anything that moved up in the mountains. Porcupines, he would catch them, quills and all brisling, and get them in a gunny sack, take them home and place them in a large cage, with others he had gotten. We had 4 at one time. We knew his plan for them. It was always like that. You knew, the days are numbered for them with Marvin around. They called him Starvin Marvin in town. He was a character. He was my father, stepfather, but still, true father. He was always there for us. He taught us how to get along in a wild place. What would he teach? I may be able to tell more about that in the next rambling on over the freedom in the hills of the Northern California mountains. There is a lot to tell, with a family of 7 kids, and plenty of spaces.
Til next time….. enjoy what gives life to the body, but don’t forget about the soul, and how it also must be fed. After all, it is a kind of body guard, if you catch my drift.
As a child growing up in the mountains of a gold town called Yankee Jim’s I lived in an old house, which in the days of the gold rush, it was the home of the mayor of Yankee Jim’s. It was a two-story house which was over a century old, up on a hill overlooking the hillsides and canyons around this heavily wooded area. Behind the hill over the ridge, was an area that was like a desert.
We lived on a large 12-acre farm with pine trees mixed also with all manner of fruit trees such as cherry, apple, pear and peach along with apricot too. There was even a huge walnut tree that grew over the roof of the house filled with black walnuts that would fall and make the sound of gunshots as they hit the tin roof on the Upper Floor where my bedroom was.
We weren’t long there before my father began doing repairs and renovations on the old house finished in the 1800’s. Before we moved into it the previous owner had a few peacocks that lived on the property that would slide down those tin roofs where corrogated tin came together at sections in each corner of the roof. I would picture those large peacocks sliding down the roof like children sliding in a playground.
One of the things about Yankee Jim’s is I was told you could go into the small creeks and streams anywhere around there and pan for gold and you’d be sure to find some flakes.
I ended up buying a donkey when I was 10 out of the money I saved from cleaning houses of the neighbors who would come up in the summer time only and leave their houses alone, empty and abandoned and I would take care of them while they were gone, I would also make money babysitting for my mother so this is the money I used to buy my first ride, my donkey, Isabel. We would go and stumble all through the hills and I would stop and pan for gold wearing a hat like an old miner pretending I was really a miner and as doing this and it was such a joyful pursuit because I would find flakes of gold up there.
My step dad would help me save them by putting them in a small glass vial of water so they wouldn’t be lost.
It amazes me at how heavy those golden flakes were and how they would stay at the bottom without floating up, so very heavy, That’s why I would find them, they were the heaviest pieces in the whole pile of dirt that I put inside of that pan and that’s what I learned at a young age; that gold is the heaviest of all metals and rock. It isn’t a rock it’s a metal, but you find it in rock.
Yankee Jim’s was a booming town in the day that it was discovered a gold mining extravaganza. In the back area they had washed all the topsoil off and we called it the Diggings, because that’s what it was. That’s where they dug for the gold and where they use the big dredgers and those giant water cannons would wash all of the vegetation and topsoil off of the earth so they could get all the gold out of the earth that they could find. One thing they did leave behind in which I found a lot of them were quartz crystals beautiful quartz crystals.
I will continue this story later but I’m beginning it because I would like to share some things that happened there during this brief span of time I grew up there as a child. It began my life of wonder of course it was began long before then because I didn’t move up there until nine years old and went to the Foresthill Union Elementary School in town three miles away.
This section of the beginning of my story I’m calling, Headdress of Turtle Feathers because the time spent with my brothers and sisters would be much of the time playing cowboys and indians up in the hills where we had these huge leafy fronds that came from a tree that was not natural to the area but was actually a tropical tree that had leaves which appeared as giant feathers we would put into our hair and stood proudly and whooped, as though we were Indians and we called these leaves Turtle feathers. Why did we call them Turtle feathers? I will leave you time to think about that before I come again with more of this story hopefully by the time I return you’ll know why we called them Turtle feathers. If you don’t know by then I might tell.