Back to “Start”

I started this story in the summer of 1950, in Belden, California. I was 18 at the time, and my mind was very much on the future. Behind me, in my memory, lay high school, World War II, and the Depression. Ahead of me lay adulthood, military service, marriage and children. And a war, just weeks from breaking out. My sense of time was bounded by my childhood memories and my adulthood anticipations/angst. I think that that is the way it is for all of us. Looking back on it now, more than 5 decades later, I can see that my view of the future was essentially mythological, a kind of theory about what would happen that had little basis in the real world. We have the sense that we can see off to the edges of the World, and that edge seems infinitely far away, both in front of us, and in back of us. But it is not the edge of the World we see, just the limit of visibility in the fogbank of Now.
I have a copy of a map that shows Bucks Ranch. The map is the Bidwell Bar 30’ Quadrangle, Edition of April 1897, reprinted in 1944. The topography was surveyed by R. H. McKee in 1885,6 and 8. The three lakes are on this map, though not labeled. Bald Eagle Mountain is called Bucks Mountain, and the peak that now bears that name is un-named. You can see the valley that became Bucks Lake, and in that valley, presumably under water now, a place called Rutherfords. Looking at this map, and the modern maps I have of the place, and bringing to bear my memories from having spent many months there, my imagination can morph the images together into a continuous story, a kind of history that connects me in my Now, to people and places more than 100 years ago. The accuracy of that story is open to question. I realize, in writing this, that my recollection that Three Lakes was newly constructed and sterile when I first visited them in 1950, was erroneous.  There they are on this earlier map!
The earlier map was, of course, erroneous in itself, at least in the sense of precision. But perhaps in other ways as well. Why would the mountain called “Bucks Mountain” refer to different peaks on different maps? The standard practice is to call things by the name the local people use. Perhaps, between the 19th century map and the 20th century map, people started calling a different mountain “Bucks”. Or perhaps the cartographers simply goofed the first time. The mountain you can actually see from the Bucks Ranch house, shown on the Bidwell Bar sheet is actually the one now called Bucks Mountain. Bald Eagle Mountain, though larger and higher, is hidden from sight from the ranch by the bulk nearer peak-Bucks Mountain. There is some kind of error here.
The history that my imagination morphs out of the discrete images before my eyes or from my memory is subject to similar errors, inevitably and invariably. But to the degree that one can apply the techniques of objective science to the question raised, to that degree the errors can be made less incorrect.
In this simple way, the past and the present can be connected in the flow of a story, a history. And in making such stories, the sense of Now is enlarged, incorporating more distant pasts.
But when you are 18, your Now is very circumscribed. The amount of money in your pocket. The image of a pretty girl that you could have ….at least talked to. Your fellow citizens in the draft board who lusted after you to fill their quota. Looking back now 50+years later, I dwelt then in a myth, from which I awakened only slowly and reluctantly.

Youth considers history to be fact. As you age, you come to realize that history is a theory constructed out of a series of discrete artifacts arranged in an order you hope is proper chronologically. But there are invariably artifactual errors.
At Bucks Lake, there are artifacts of human existence: the maps, place names, events recorded in local newspapers, private letters and so forth. Then there are older artifacts, contained in the oral culture of the pre-European inhabitants of the region. The first backward step in time is measured in decades and centuries. The next step is measured in thousands of years. If we let our minds attend to the artifacts of these years, the boundary of our Now, the bubble of time that we live in, gets a little larger and our sense of connectedness enlarges accordingly, connectedness in time, but also in space, for the two are bound together, both by the art of the poet and by the mathematics of the scientist.
The first two steps backward in time you take almost without thinking. They just come about because of the ordinary experience of moving down the time-line of life. The next steps are more problematic. They must be consciously thought about, and far fewer people take them. The 18 year old youth can follow the mathematical statements even with his rudimentary skills at numbers. But the numbers can alienate as well as connect, and for more often the former rather than the latter. Simply saying the glaciers were here 10,000 years ago, simply puts them outside the bubble, into some mythical place that has no relevance to the angst of today. Ten thousand, ten million, ten billion… it’s all the same, outside the bubble. “Once upon a time…..”
Find your way to the top of Bucks Mountain or Bald Eagle Mountain. Run you fingers along the grooves carved in the solid “granite” bedrock. Scrabble your way through the rubble of moraine deposits lower down the slope, or bordering Silver Lake below Spanish Peak. If you travel to the peaks of the modern Sierra Nevada, or to more distant Arctic lands, the origins of these features is apparent. Masses of ice, flowing under its own weight create these features. But there is no ice now. Plenty of snow in the winter, occasional patches that survive the summer, but no permanent masses slowly creeping down slope over centuries. No ice now, nor within human memory. Not in the old newspapers, or private letters. Not in the songs of the Maidu, nor in their myths.
But you can see it, in your mind, looking at the rock surfaces in front of you, connecting with the Arctic images and the form of the land surface on the map. They morph together into a story:
Ice covers much of the land. Only a few peaks protrude up through it. It is seemingly as barren and lifeless here as Antarctica. Slowly the ice recedes. Streams fed by the melting ice and choked with sediment flow south, down and away. As the land is slowly cleared of ice, people begin to appear, at first only occasionally, hunting, staying longer as the ice disappears. Then other people arrive, digging in the earth, cutting down the trees, making maps, building roads, houses, highways, dams. Then you, finding your way to the top of Bucks Mountain. Ten thousand years gone by in the time it takes to read a paragraph.
Two questions emerge from this history:
In what ways is it wrong?
What happened before?

Next: “The Auriferous Gravels


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