Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas in the Gold Country

If I’m lucky enough to break away in December, I usually find myself exploring a dirt road into or out of a deep river canyon somewhere east of the money vortex that is Roseville. I like to get away from the freeways and the neighborhoods and the shopping outlets, and imagine a simpler time.

On a December ride, typically, I’ll pull through an old town site or homestead that had a rather finite history. Remains will be a silvered-wood, clapboard building, long devoid of whitewash; or a brick chimney left standing after the house burned; or a sprawling web of non-native green-leafed Vinca Minor crawling over a brick or rock foundation, vines that in the spring will yield delicate periwinkle blossoms in this decidedly rugged and non-delicate place. Or a piece of rusted corrugated tin. Or an ancient apple tree with broken, worm-holed bark.

I’ll sit myself on that foundation, finger the vine and think about the yesteryears. The days before Feliz Navidad came on the Safeway sound system right after Halloween; the days before retail success was based on only one month’s worth of activity; the “good ol’ days” when Black Friday related to the plague or some such disaster. I’ll wonder about the busted miner who gave up his gold pan and planted the apple tree so’s he could provide for the wife he’d promised he’d come back for when he wuz rich. And about the schoolboy or schoolgirl who must have lived in the house that was supported by this foundation – walking seven miles to school (uphill both ways) in the snow. I’ll wonder about the difference between a good year and a bad year. And then I wonder about Christmas.

In 1823, Clement Clarke Moore anonymously penned “A Visit from St. Nicolas.” In 1848, gold was discovered in the California foothills. By the mid 1850s, any flat or meadow with access to water had a town. During the 60s, the gold played out and the folks that stayed, set to farmin’. In 1897, the New York Sun confirmed that there was, indeed a Santa. In the 1930s, Haddon Sundblom helped Coca Cola show us what he looked like and, in 1947, we found out he worked for Macy’s.

But not out here. I wrap my finger around a strand of Vinca and wonder, “Did Santa visit out here? Back then? Did the kids know about or believe in him? And if there were no Wal-Mart, no K-Mart, no local mall, QVC or on-line shopping, how would the kids ever know that there was a Santa to believe in?”

Of course, the miner-turned-farmer and his gingham-clad wife and neighbors in this section were resourceful people. With some scraps of fabric, a corncob or a carefully dried apple or some good time spent whittlin’; with some penny candy spirited home recently from the general mercantile in town; with a Christmas eve feast of wild turkey (the game bird, not the whisky), dried venison, something from the root cellar, and a pie made of the apples from that tree; with stories of wonder told by candlelight until the sandman pushed shut the eyes of the little ones – Christmas would delight all and Santa Claus would live through this generation and be passed on to the next.

I saddle up and begin the climb out of the canyon, starting the journey home from yesterday and wonder this final thought: “If there were no Wal-Mart, no K-Mart, no local mall, QVC, or on-line shopping, would we have a Christmas?”

I drive home just wishin’ I’da lernt me how to whittle.

© 2009
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. Good post Mr. B. Takes me back to the Sierra foothills which is where I like to be. Astride the new Multistrada, of course.