Miller used his book to alert the world to the threats suffered by California Natives as a result of rapacious mining, pioneer mayhem and anti-Indian murder. I’m always conscious of the indigenous predecessors who lived on these lands and kept them pristine before the invaders came along.
Miller describes beautifully the northern California mountains, the people who preserved them, and the intertwining of philosophy, spirit, and nature:
When the world is done gathering gold… it will come to these forests to look at nature, and be thankful for the wisdom and foresight of the age that preserved this vestige of an all but extinct race. There was a grandeur in the thought, a sort of sublimity, that I shall never feel again. A fervid nature, a vivid imagination, and above all, the matchless and magnificent scenery, … [the] stillness of the forests, all conspired to lift me up into an atmosphere where the soul laughs at doubt and never dreams of failure. … To the east and west, to the north and south, the busy commercial world may swell and throb and beat and battle like a sea; but on this island, around this mountain, with their backs to this bulwark, they shall look untroubled on it all. (p. 269)
The photo shows the clearing on top of the ridge just up the hill from the cabin and from which you can see out to the ocean, here at sunset. When the fog rolls in from the Mendocino coast, the hilltops do look like islands floating in a white sea. Magnificent indeed. The soul dreams of success in such places (unfortunately at the expense of those who lost their lands here).
The stillness of the forest around me is often only accompanied by bird sounds, most of which I can no more effectively identify than I can the flowers. I recognize the crow's cawing complaint, the fanning air of a hawk overhead, a woodpecker hammering through a tree, a cooing dove, the skittering of quail in the underbrush, turkeys' haunting laughter, and lovelier songs of birds hiding in treetops, inviting an avian expert to come help me learn their names.
New flowers are springing out at me with every new day on the hilltop. I eagerly awaited the arrival of wild iris (left) in many hues: blue, purple, magenta, white. A patch of ferns glows greenly (below, center).
These Yellow Flowers (above right, with my special name for them) compete with the orange poppies and some new blue and white flowers too tiny for my camera to capture. A few mushrooms linger in the forest nearby, beautiful but fearful in their symmetry (in my earlier mushroom eating post, I noted that regular ridges may mean poison).
More Fauna or “Why Is a Dead Possum in Your Refrigerator?”
Just as it takes time to see a flower, it takes time to see a critter that wants to hide. Sometimes, though, when critters show up dead, we get to scrutinize them more closely. Here are three creatures encountered dead and available for closer inspection; skip this part if you’re squeamish.
The alligator lizard was unburied in the rubble of the new addition, still somewhat fresh but clearly dead. I placed him on guard on the table outside my shed for over a week until one morning he was missing. I called out to Mike and Chris, the carpenters, “Hey, who took the lizard? And I don’t mean one of you!” They knew how much I liked my lizard; we had even been keeping track of its increasing desication. I suppose some other critter had, too. Cholo was a suspect, but Ali's disappearance is still a mystery.
I found the mole (below left) on a walk but did not bring home with me; way too ugly with its buck teeth and digging paws . Still, Thoreau offers an apt metaphor for appreciating the mole: “My instinct tells me my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and forepaws…” (351). Indeed, the usefulness of hands over head in the country is thematic for me in my apprenticeship during renovations.
The baby possum or vole (below right, help with identification is welcome), also found on a walk, was too furry and cute to pass up, so it is indeed hanging out in a jar in my fridge in case someone else who wants to see a possum up close get a chance.
Live critters crawling about the place include this impressive banana slug (left) and these darling newts.
Life Beyond the Cabin
I've been discovering many nearby trails ranging down the mountain from where I live and will find even more as I’ve been inquiring of all my new friends about their favorite walks and hikes. A greenbelt surrounds the Brooktrails Township that one passes through on the way to my dirt road association of Spring Creek. Brooktrails maintains several lovely hiking paths through the forests so that one comes upon a grove of redwood trees five feet in diameter or more, stunning, quiet, old.
One such grove (photo, left) down the hill, named for a Mr. Ohl, provides a clearing near Willits Creek (photo, right). Cholo and I enjoy stopping on our way to town at both this grove and on another path that takes us along the creek to a pleasant wooden bridge overlooking the calm waters pooling below the dark forest.
So much to explore, on these acres under my feet and beyond, not to mention in books and through people who know the area well.
Recently someone asked if I was really as relentlessly happy as I sound in these posts. “Don’t you get lonely up there in the hills all alone?” I have had spurts of being relentlessly unhappy in my past life, so a little relentless happiness now provides necessary balance.
Joaquin Miller also had something to say about the battle with winter’s repeated onslaught in the northern climes, just as spring might arrive: