Monday, November 30, 2009

Relief Hill Road - North Bloomfield to Washington


I’M SURE THERE ARE TROLLS in the world. I always had thought that they were little three-fingered, rubbery creatures with long purple or orange hair stemming from the sides of their otherwise bald heads, like the ones I bought at the Eighty-eight Cent Store in Chico as a kid. But this is just ignorant. Trolls are the size of us. People size. I know because I’ve seen um.

I WONDER ABOUT THOSE who live out where there is nothing for which to exchange coin. How do they survive? Do they hunt? Fish? They can’t grow grain where grain doesn’t grow, so what do they do for bread? Up and around the derelict townsites of foothill California, gold rush era apple trees and fig trees still, I suppose, bear fruit. But apple season is October and fig season, who knows?

In and about Relief Hill’s odd collection of 150-year-old buildings, long devoid of glass or paint – amply marked with “Keep Out” and “No Trespassing” signs – trolls exist. The ones I’ve seen all were male, all of a certain age – edging toward old. Long gray-white hair – perhaps not shorn in this decade – and string-thin beards, same color, except about the lips and brown-toothed mouths, where the whiskers are the color of mud – dyed by tobacco juice or some other sort of spittle.

VIETNAM was more than a generation ago. Many of my era who served never came back. Or came back to places like this. Away from a society that chose to assume a holiness to which it had no claim. Away from those who spat in their faces. Away to a place where time didn’t exist. Or right. Or wrong. Or someone else’s definition of what’s moral. Away to a place of distance. Of peace. Of relief.

Relief Hill. Why not?

I DIDN’T SEE MANY OF UM. Reclusive lot they are. Gripping the bars of the too-big-and-expensive-to-drop GS, I held on, crossing wash-boarded ruts and ball bearing gravel. Stopping seemed not an option, given the gravity of the postings on each side of the road. When I passed one, though, I made a conscious effort to nod my head. He glanced and lifted a hand in acknowledgement – the other hand pinching a handcrafted Marlboro Light. In the seconds when I wasn’t focused on negotiating the road, I did see his eyes. Old, deep blue eyes. Eyes that knew something. But what? How to live from apple season to apple season? How to snare a trout down ta the Yuba sans license? Maybe poach a deer or wild boar? Or a squirrel? How to dodge the wild fires that rage through the region every late summer – that somehow leave the ancient buildings of old Relief Hill standing? Or how to keep warm in the damp winters at 3000 feet – too warm to snow, but too cold to warm aging, arthritic bones and joints?

This old troll knew something. In just an instant, his blue eyes told me so. I wished I’d stopped the bike and hiked back a few yards for a little visit – or, at least, to pay tribute, as one must do when encountering a troll.

TWO OR THREE MILES LATER, down at the bottom where the Relief Hill Road crosses the South Yuba, I paused and thought about “the grace of God.”

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

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