Turtle Feathers… and Tunnels

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.

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