On the bus this morning, I listen to two students discussing their progamming assignment. From her voice I think one is a Latina. The other is a white man who sounds Southern Californian. She is tutoring him. He asks her question after question like “How do you count mouse clicks?” She answers him with assurance and accuracy. Her phone rings. She speaks animatedly in Spanish. She hangs up. Where were we, she asks. He asks another question about the homework. “I already told you, and she makes a connection between and earlier solution and the question he just asked. “Do you have a study partner?” she asks. He does. “Good, then you won’t have a problem then,” she says confidently and with the tone of experience.
This is what “diversity” is for. The brightest kids in the state regardless of who or wherefrom coming to UCSC to be scholars together. It’s about ending whatever it was that would have kept that girl from getting here before.
Parts of the trip I took last week I planned ten years ago. Which doesn’t seem that strange since one of my guidebooks was “Big Oak Flat Road” which was written in the 1950s. I’ve gone on road trips with out-dated guidebooks before. The last time I looked in vain for a campground near Growlerville (aka St. George) and then realized it had been converted to a prison. But that’s another story.
After an amazing weekend at Pantheacon, I left San Jose headed for Roseville where my friends A and A were putting me up for a few nights. The good thing about furloughs is that you get time off. That bad thing is that I have a 7% pay cut, so vacations tend to include hospitable friends. (I have a guest room here, for those friends contemplating a holiday in Santa Cruz.)
Roseville has such a pretty name, and perhaps some ancient guidebook describes a different city than the one I saw, which even A described as “horrible, horrible. ” It is a kind of boom town, with strip mall after strip mall, and all the streets seem to be named “Stanford” which was disorienting. It’s a place where the twentieth-century threw up.
I had every intention of a wholesome visit to the Sacramento museums, but instead I turned north to visit Malikoff Diggins. I’ve wanted to see the ruins of a mountain that was washed to the sea, causing so much destruction that a farmer filed a lawsuit. Never before had environmental destruction been an impediment to getting gold out of the ground. It changed the world through its awfulness. I take hopefulness from this.
Originally, the town had been called “Humbug” because whatever gold the original prospector had found hid itself from the men who came afterward. Gold Rush towns have silly names just like Web 2.0 products did. Humbug is now the ghost town of North Bloomfield which I found deserted since it was a weekday in winter, and what with the budget cuts for the parks, most of them are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays anyway. Its graveyard is more evocative than most, as it is the final resting place of souls who died even farther down a dirt road, across a green river, than other towns I visited that day, like Nevada City, and Grass Valley.
I drove through those two towns, but didn’t like them much. There are lots of contractor trucks, and a desperation in the air. I felt safe since I had I decided to drive the invisible sedan instead of the art car truck this time.
In Grass Valley I stopped at Laura and Sarah’s Golden Empire Market where the cook asked, “What can I make for you?” so sincerely and warmly my heart melted. I asked for a quesadilla (yes, I’ll take the peppers), and enjoyed the clamato drink so much I had another while I waited for her to finish. House of Quality, indeed.
Grass Valley is home to the Empire Mine State Park, but it was closed too. I wandered around anyway and discovered that the good bits, that is, the ruins of mines and such are carefully fenced off so that now the park is just a nice place to walk the dog. The mine ruins are fenced off because they might be dangerous, what with the asbestos tailings and all, but I got the feeling it was because they are too expensive to provide security for, and those kinds of places do tend to attract drunk idiots after hours, and who needs a lawsuit? What with the budget and all. So I don’t blame them.
I heard running water and found a gentle place to stop a while and listen to the stream rushing down the ravine into a mountain of tailings before changing course.
That night, A & A and I tried a Mediterranean restaurant in Sacramento, but that was as close as I got to Sutter’s fort. The next day I left early, and tried a chain pancake diner that offered a gluten-free menu, fresh ingredients, and coffee in cups and saucers. It’s the sort of place where you can hear the conversations of everyone but you don’t mind because it feels like you’re sitting in someone’s kitchen. As I left, I chatted with a couple of regulars, learned they have a daughter in Aptos, and they love it. They asked me about my trip, and I said that I was visiting State Parks, but they are closed during the week because of budget cuts.
Cheerfully, I went on: “But last week I signed a petition to get a proposition on the ballot so that we can pay a fee with our car registration. It will fund the parks and Californians won’t have to pay fees to get in.” They both thought that was a great idea. “Why shouldn’t we tax ourselves to keep our parks open to all Californians for free? It doesn’t make sense to tax ourselves $6 every time we feel like visiting one of our own parks, does it? Why not just pay $5 once?” Their smiles fell a little at the phrase “tax ourselves” but there was no arguing the logic and they wished me well. I hope they vote for it and tell their redstate friends.
I drove south, and then east toward Coloma. I’d visited the place where the gold rush started before, but this time I was headed for Prospector Rd, which was once “the main route from Coloma to Georgetown.” I wanted to drive it because I read that it was haunted, but on that glorious morning I met only its own natural beautiful self. I eventually rejoined Highway 49 (the miners’ highway) and skipped towns I’ve been to before like Placerville and Amador city, and stopped in Jackson for lunch. The deli had that familiar old make-do feel to everything like these towns do, which is most obvious in the restroom. I was delighted to find pear and dried cranberry salad with feta in the case right next to the meatloaf.
A black fur coat with suede lapels –too small, dang it–attracted me into “Heaven on Earth,” a used clothes store and I had a great time finding a few new skirts and blouses. The owner gave me a cash discount, which seemed a very gold-country custom. She recommended another co-op down the street where I found a cute NSFW velvet dress. That owner said I could use the restroom to change in, even though it was otherwise Out-Of-Order. “But only if you model it for us,” which of course he thought I wouldn’t, so of course I did.
Jackson is a real town, and it has a nice feel to it. The owner of Heaven on Earth asked me what my next stop was and when I said “San Andreas,” she asked “Why do you want to go there for?” I tried to explain, “There’s a history museum…” and she shrugged, but now that I’ve been there, I understand her disgust. San Andreas does have a terrific history museum, but the historic main street is hemmed in by disinterested twentieth-century ruins of every decade except the last. Part of the problem with San Andreas is that because it is the county seat, it puts entirely too much attention on crime stories like Black Bart, Joaquin Murietta, and the various hangin’s that were committed there, both legal and lynching. And it’s the seat of a county called “Skulls.” (According to Bill Bright’s “1500 California Place Names,” a great traveling companion.)
The museum is housed in the old Hall of Records building, just like ours (in Santa Cruz) used to be. Behind that is the old Court House, and behind that the jail and the jail yard. It just goes on and on and because it was a Wednesday afternoon, I had it to myself and could freely be creeped out by the fake bodies in the jail beds. It made me want to buy a pack of cigarettes.
I had started out that day seeking ghosts on a glorious mountain road and they seemed to find me there in that jail. So it perked me up to find this car parked outside. That’s the Black Bart Inn on one side of the street, a grave yard in the distance, and the ubiquitous Real Estate Office in the Historical Building next to the museum. You can’t read the bumper stickers on the car but they are: “All Who Wander Are Not Lost,” “Keep Missoula Weird,” and “The Goddess is Alive and Magic is Afoot.” My people.
That night I saw Avatar in Angel’s camp. Others have said better what it is. I’ll just say it is a gilded turd.
I stayed at A’s lovely little place outside of La Grange that night. She has a view of the valley and Coast Range that cannot be properly photographed, but I was attracted to this pretty valley looking southeast from her driveway.
And then it was on to Coulterville. Have you been there? Such a sweet little crossroads town. I remember picnicking there with my family when I was a girl, sitting on the train engines. That morning I ate at the diner and marveled at the layers of time and cultures, business and pleasure that this land is.
That tall thing is a stamp mill. Four huge hammers would pound gold-bearing quartz to a powder that was then mixed with mercury. The amalgam of Hg and Au would then be heated, the Hg would boil off (mostly) leaving the pure gold behind. An ancient alchemy. Kinda dirty though. You can see a wagon wheel to the left. The wheel is part of a bench that looks exactly like the benches I’ve seen made out of teak farm wagons from China and I think that is what it is: the discarded historic farm implements of a land undergoing a gold rush right now. To the left of the stamp mill is a miwok wikiup, which seem to be erected in a fit of guilt and patronage at all the historic sites these days. This one serves as the centerpiece of a “Peace Garden.” Across the street is a real estate office that is, itself, for sale.
Since I was in Coulterville, I decided to take one of my favorite drives, the Priest-Coulterville Road up to Highway 120 and then to Big Oak Flat. If you have the time, always take this road instead of highway 49. I forgot to take pictures.
When I was a girl Big Oak Flat was where we went to mass if we had to go to mass, while we were camping at Pine Mountain Lake. I think we may have gone to mass here a few times, but it is so ridiculous to take four girls from age 10 to infant to mass in the middle of a camping trip, I think my parents eventually realized that God didn’t intend for them to do that. I drove up to Mt. Carmel for the cemetery and took this terrible picture, but while I was there a cute terrier came up to me and tried to get in my car.
Lucky for me, “Smitty” drove up and said he had been looking for her. We chatted about how great dogs are, and I learned that he was 80, his wife was 76, they had just gotten her from the pound down in Oakdale, he used to drive the school bus, and before that he did lumbering. He did not say how he came to be on oxygen, but I could imagine him swinging a bus around mountain curves with a Camel hanging out of his mouth. I suppose had made the right decision the night before about the smokes. I said I was doing a history tour and showed him the guidebook. He was familiar with it. He told me about an arrastra that he and his crew had found while lumbering: 4 miles outside of Groveland, take Shanahan Road, just past Sugar Pine Ranch. An arrastra is a poor man’s stamp grinder. You know the gold is in the rock, but how do you crush it without capital? You get a mule and a post, and a big rock. Here’s a picture of one.
I hadn’t planned on driving that way, but with a secret arrastra to find, why not? Smitty’s directions were perfect, but alas, no arrastra was to be found. I found the arrastra location between the two streams, just like he had said, but the BLM had done some stream “restoration” and it was gone.
Since I had driven past Groveland, I decided to continue on to Second Garrotte. The first town after coming up the Priest grade and entering the forest is Big Oak Flat. Although the Oak is long gone, the road still curves around it, which I think is just delightful. The second town is Deer Flat, but it’s not really a town anymore, although it was an Indian town during after Big Oak Flat was founded. The next town is Groveland, which started out as First Garrotte. Someone was also hung in the next camp up the road, so that town became Second Garrotte. Unlike the oak down the road, this town was able to keep theirs, although the rest of the town is gone.
Second Garrotte is on “Old Highway 120.” There’s a hotel that is trying to stay in business. A few houses along the way that are recently constructed. I found a freshly built Mormon church, so it must be more populated than it looks.
From Second Garrotte I went down Priest grade. I was headed toward an old settlement in my guidebook called Keystone, although since I had never heard of it outside that book I doubted I’d find anything there. The book said that at the half-way point on Priest grade was a spring. I’d been up and down that road dozens of times, but I had never stopped at this wide spot to find the spring.
There it is (with my invisible car). You can see New (and sickening) Priest grade is across Grizzly Gulch.
The springbox is there, full of trash as they often are, and without water, although the land around had plants that need more water than rain provides so perhaps the spring flows at other times of year.
My adventures on the way to Keystone will have to wait for another night: Red Hills ACEC, Crimea corral, Negro Peak, Copperopolis (both real and the fake), and the search for Sappho of Green Springs. Read it here.
Today we plan to visit more University libraries and the home of Emily Dickenson.
This Consciousness that is aware
Of Neighbors and the Sun
Will be the one aware of Death
And that itself alone
Is traversing the interval
And most profound experience
Appointed unto Men–
How adequate unto itself
Its properties shall be
Itself unto itself and none
Shall make discovery.
Adventures most unto itself
The Soul condemned to be–
Attended by a single Hound
Its own Idenity.
Earlier this month, when Garrison Keillor came to town, the event producer (UCSC) arranged an Ode To Santa Cruz Contest. I wasn’t able to finish my stab at it, but what I wrote I posted below.
The winning author is well-known Santa Cruz visual artist Douglas McClelland. There were 136 entries to the contest.
‘Ode to Santa Cruz’
Santa Cruz, to honor you,
I declare a mural –
surfer facing the sea
wearing a full bore tool belt;
rat gray pony tail.
in hand — he balances,
rampant on a green wave.
Tattoo of Gaia that bears
the word “Mom” on his chest.
His board, a riot of earth tones,
bears the proud legend
“En Plein Air.”
On the shore, strong women
will be seen, gathering
with a rainbow of others
in solidarity. Planting, writing,
catching their own waves.
The painting style is bold,
Rivera-like, colors clear,
edges crisp, but the pearly
Pacific light sweetens the diverse parts –
redwoods, tourists in black socks,
screwtop wine bottles,
pale slackers, bronzed shiatsists,
owlish deans, and organic garlic–
into a rare harmony. All gentled
by an avant garde surfbeat,
string band, folk song loop
from an amp behind
a tie-dyed screen.
Here’s what I came up with:
Ode to Santa Cruz
Don’t expect to find the usual
Californian grid of streets penciled by a railroad clerk.
The roads of Santa Cruz
were designed by a Spanish cow.
Expect a psychedelic web of streets traveled by every kind of vagabond:
free love Victorians, farmers of unfamiliar vegetables, opium smokers, fat tantricas, racist refugees, English majors, poet-healer priests, lesbians, lumberjacks, second-husbands, deaf gardeners, water salesmen, bachelor bass players, graffiti eradication artists, code wranglers, painter hermits, varsity singers, electricians of every gauge, weavers.
Each misfit arrives and remains
expecting their own disruption of the chaos here to be the last and lasting.
Yet watches year by year
the astonished face in the mirror as comfort overgrows chaos.
Expect only perfect weather and that
your rent will empty your wallet.
You will be too broke to ever travel again.
Expect the wide world of wanderers will join you here.
Here, at a holy crossroads, with open arms and genuine smiles.
I’ve lived in Santa Cruz for more than twenty years and even though April is the best month to vacation here (yes, I do prefer it to October, and–honestly–don’t you?), it is usually the busiest month at work. This year I resolved not to miss April again and booked something fun to do every weekend. The third weekend of April I rented a tent cabin at Big Basin and hiked to the waterfalls. Did you know that Big Basin has waterfalls? Yes, there are several. The largest ones can be seen in a twelve-mile round trip hike. The hike I did is well-described on this page if you’re curious.
The best photos of the falls are already available to you on flickr.
Just like with shooting clay targets like I did yesterday, what I get out of hiking is the meditation. Long hours alone tend to inspire me to put my brain to sleep and practice sinking down into awareness of my body moving through the real world, a world of light and heat and matter and breath and fatigue.
And yes, I do like to hike and camp alone. I like being with friends too, but the solitude is necessary sometimes, and yes, it feels safe and not lonesome. The tent cabins lock well enough to keep the ‘coons out, and the steep rental fees keep out the human riff-raff. Being nearly fifty years old helps too, as I find age gives a woman a cloak of invisibility that I didn’t have when I was younger.
In addition to hiking to Golden, Silver, and Berry falls, I found a memorial plaque and bench that I had been told about long ago by Haswell Leask when I interviewed him about the history of my house. Our conversation ranged far beyond the house, however, and our interview is on-line. Haswell’s father was Samuel Leask, a prominent Santa Cruz merchant for more than 70 years. He told me this story:
Haswell: Didn’t I tell you about the Boardwalk stock that my father had at that time? My father was — any money that he accumulated he put back into the business. And he was never interested in stocks or business operations that were different from his own. Well, you’ve heard about the famous Santa Cruz character named Fred Swanton who was a developer. Never made a penny out of anything he ever started; everything he was involved in went broke and he did it all on other people’s money–-though he lived in pretty high style. Well, he had a great reputation in Santa Cruz. He was important because he started things. They were all failures.
The Casino, the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, went bankrupt under Swanton and the greatest debtor was the utility company, the gas and electric people. At that time it was called the Coast County Gas and Electric. The Boardwalk used tremendous amounts of power. The man that constructed the Coast County firm was Waldo Coleman. Waldo Coleman’s family were early Californians and they had a very successful gold mine up near Auburn. And my grandmother was probably the first school teacher in Placer County and she was a friend of the original Colemans. [mother's mother.] Waldo Coleman was some of these people, and the families had always been friendly but not too closely involved.
Well, Waldo Coleman was stuck with this place in Santa Cruz and didn’t know what to do it. He came to my father and asked if he would become a director. And of course it was an important thing in Santa Cruz. He wanted to see if they couldn’t pull it out. And he was interested in getting his money back. Well, they did, and then management that they utilized, I don’t know who they were, but they were very successful right from the very beginning.
But father remained a director in the business although he had absolutely no interest in that sort of thing. He remained a director for 50 years and finally he made them let him out at 90. Eventually he died. We, in going over his effects, we discovered some Seaside Company stock. Evidently he thought that if he was going to be a director that he ought to have a little stock. Well, I can imagine that he hated to buy it, because he never went into anything of that sort. And then it developed, that he had purchased the stock at $6 per share. He bought it right at the rock bottom. At that time we ask what the stock was worth. It developed it was worth about $700 a share. What would we do with this stuff? We can’t sell it because it would all go to taxes. You know, capital gains. The family pondered about it, and we made up our minds. We will try the use this up for things that my mother and father would appreciate spending the money for. So, as Edna said, the first thing was the carpets at Dominican Hospital. We took some of the rest of it, and we bought some acreage of redwood land and added it Big Basin Park.
I had always wondered about the location of the Leask family donation and the bench. In another interview, Haswell had told me that the parcel and the location of the bench had been chosen because it had a nice view. I imagined that this bench would be along the trail somewhere–Big Basin park is full of memorial groves and memorial benches in random places. So as I hiked, I looked for this bench at every one I passed.
It was just like Haswell, in his humble understated way, to not say to me that the premier bench in all of Big Basin Park, with its stunning view of Berry Falls, (the highest and most spectacular in the park) is seen from the Leask bench and this little section of land that his family donated to all of us with the money that their father had invested in the Boardwalk when it was bankrupt and disreputable. The passage of time seems erased to me when I uncover these invisible connections that bind us to the people in Santa Cruz’s past, who loved it exactly the way that we love it.
Last weekend I visited my uncles in Palm Springs. Since their move to California a few years ago, I’ve been able to visit them much more often that I ever had before. Our visits have an ease and emotional closeness that we didn’t when “The Niece Visit” was a Big Austin Event.
One of our favorite things to do together is errands. For example, last December we went to the pet store to get heavy stuff that is difficult to carry on the bus.
While they shop, I wander around, looking at the native wares.
Uncle Bill takes care to create a shopping list, sorted by store, and geographically plotted. This allows us to drive all over town knowing exactly where we are going next so we can concentrate on our conversation.
Last week, in addition to errands, we had time to do an outing and visit The Living Desert, which we had never seen. As they say, The Living Desert is sort of a zoo, a nature preserve, a garden, and a museum. We mostly went to Africa, where I neglected to take any pictures of the giraffes, camels, ostriches, ibex, or any of the shy creatures like the cheetahs.
Our favorite exhibit, however, was the unexpected: a model train running through a fantasy desert of tiny mining boom towns; rusted, dusty kitsch Route 66 relics of the twenties; an immense trestle; waterfalls; fishing holes; hobo villages; and whimsical surprise details. I could have spent hours exploring it all with my eyes and imagination. Instant childhood.
As always, there are much better photos on flickr.
Recently, I’ve been invited to a few mostly-locals-only fundraisers in Big Sur. The community of Big Sur reminds me of what a small, isolated town might have been like 100 years ago.
Last week I attended the Big Big Big Sur Fashion Show, a benefit for the Henry Miller Memorial Library. Since it was a benefit, I spent all my money on blood-orange mimosas, and Loma Linda Bakery bread rolls. You don’t usually get those at a benefits, do you?
When I go to an event at the Henry Miller Library, I have no hesitation in wearing the fake leopard coat, and you can’t just wear those anywhere.
All of the costumes had been created by Big Sur Artists and all of them were either made from recycled fabric or no fabric at all.
As this model handed us shells we could smell her dress, made of fresh kelp and seaweed. Toby drank champagne from her shells, naturally.
I started out with the real camera, but then I started using the iphone because it takes such interesting photos in low-light conditions.
The third act was all fire eaters:
The last act, and the dancing that followed, I’m afraid I can’t describe. The iphone photos give some picture of the energy, the hilarity, the silliness and fun.
I like any outing with the girls where someone says “Let’s get our guns.”
Donna invited Hilary and I to join her at Coyote Valley Shooting Clays. She arranged for us to have “The Experience Package” which is the best thing for newbies like Hil and me: lessons, coaching, ammo, gun rental –everything you need, so you never feel like an idiot or spaz.
Words I learned today: “follow pair,” “report pair,” “hold position,” “presentation,” “open action.” And the difference between “trap,” “skeet,” and “sporting clays.” I also learned about over-and-under, side-by-side, auto, and pump shotguns.
Besides the special joy of learning new lingo, shooting a shotgun is just plain fun. Two hours spent shooting flying targets–even if you don’t hit them–is reward enough–at least for a newbie like me.
But there was something else that will bring me back to more days like this. When I did hit the target, it meant that my mind had been in a certain state of consciousness just for that moment. Particular higher-order functions are for a brief flash of time shut down. My body is pointed at where it is supposed to be, and does what it’s supposed to do, connected with that gentle parabola of the flying clay.
Sam, our instructor, said it was like geometry. I think it is more like rocket science. Or dancing. Or writing poetry. The moment after the clay exploded, I had been in that place that I long to be. Meditation with a bang.
Finally, I think women look great aiming a long-gun, don’t you?
I’ve updated this post with more photos:
I spent Sunday at church. For morning I soaked at Kiva. If you haven’t been for a while, the sauna is fixed and very nicely hot. The redwood tub is restored, not replaced as I had feared. The lawn is beautiful and by 10:30 this time of year, in full sun. There’s a new policy for Friday nights: Men have to be accompanied by a woman. Women’s mornings are still Sundays and Wednesdays.
In the afternoon I meditated and sang with a friend in a room of my house which until recently I rented. I decided to rent the apartment for a little less money, and keep the use of The Garden Room to myself.
In the evening I met a friend for dinner at the Saturn, and then we walked to Kuumbwa for the Ferron concert. I don’t know if it will be the last concert. She wouldn’t say. But she did say that she can’t be doing this forever. She admitted that she promised us she’d be tap dancing to “Ain’t Life a Brook” when she is 80, but now, maybe not. “It’s time for young people to come up and sing my songs.”
Only Ferron would tap dance to Ain’t Life a Brook. It is such a perfect song I had to parody it to get out from under its power.
I don’t know if there is an artist in your life like Ferron is in mine. My first lesbian lover played her music for me. “You haven’t heard of Ferron? You have to listen to this. She’s a lesbian, and sings about her lovers.” It’s hard to imagine now, a world where lesbians could not sing about their lovers in public. I know. Chris Williamson and Holly Near. I know. But I don’t LIKE THEM. They are minor talents at best. Ferron made a record in the early 1980s and even Rolling Stone said she was as good as Dylan. At that time, we only had “Testimony,” on scratchy cassette tapes. It sounded a lot like this:
We didn’t care. I listened to it again and again, as I learned about love and loss. Ferron has written hymns, especially “Testimony” which is how she closes her shows. She wrote that song when she was only twenty years old. There were two Ferron albums in the early 1980s. Her later records are good too, but by that time, we had both grown up, and once she got over the shock of being sober, she recorded songs like “Catus” and “Girl on a Road” that were just as good as the early ones, if not better.
The Santa Cruz favorite:
As I sat for the last time in the Kummbwa singing our hymn with her, surrounded by women of my town, I remembered that her songs formed me, as music does when we were young. Those songs sang me into a woman who wields her strength, a woman who bears pain, and a woman who can depend on her muse to melt them together.
Listen, there are waters
Hidden from us
In the maze we find them still
We’ll take you to them
You take your young ones
May they take their own in turn
But by your lives be you spirit
And by your hearts be you women
And by your eyes be you open
And by your hands be you whole
(“Testimony” by Ferron)
Hosting my blog at wordpress gives me the ability to post from my iPhone. If this works, expect more random reports from my observations of life in Santa Cruz.