Thursday, September 3, 2009

late afternoon summer river

A phrase like "cat skinner" sends my mind for a run:  "There's more than one way to skin a cat," Mom used to say, encouraging me, I suppose, to try a different approach to solving a dilemma. Until this morning, I'd always thought of that "wise old saying" as being mean, cruel to cats.  And now, putting "cat skinner" in close proximity I see something different.  Yesterday I took a photo of the enormous Caterpillar sitting in a bucolic field.  My son in law commented on FB:  "Beautiful yellow iron when do I get to drive it and tear some things up.  Put some fire in front of it and we'll really have some fun."

Growing up in the backwoods of Humboldt County, quite a while before it was a dope capital, my uncles and neighbors all either were ranchers, or they "worked in the woods."  They were fallers, cat skinners, choker setters, log truck drivers and made Redwood shakes and posts on the side.  My involvement with them at work was bringing copious amounts of food to them with Aunts and Mom.  Of course we were never very close to the logging operation, as the country was incredibly rugged and dangerous.  The mere mention of "The Cat" brought shivers to one, as it was such a dangerous occupation.  Now and then the skinner would lose control of the yellow iron which always spelled disaster.

Wayne's dad, a timber faller, was killed in the woods two months before Wayne was born.  His mother, like the deforested land, was left to fend for herself and raise her family.  And that, is another story entirely.

Then there is this little river, The Russian River.  It slides, at this time of year, slowly toward the Pacific Ocean.  "Old Timers" around here always say that the river used to dry up, you know.  Every summer.   That was before human intervention, and the long and complicated practice of selling and stealing water.  Now, the Russian River shares a lake and a dam and tunnel with the Eel River.  Both rivers suffer.  Neither has salmon runs anymore.  The Eel River has no eels in it.  Strange varieties of "invasive" fish shadow the bottoms of swimming holes. Water is pumped from the Russian River, day and night, by big diesel engine powered pumps onto acres and acres and acres of vineyards.  Zinfandel.  Merlot.  Pinot.  Chardonnay.  Fume.  Viognier.  Syrah.  Wine country thirsty.

Oh, another thing "Old Timers" have told me:  the really old timers dry farmed the grapes.  And the Native Californians picked the wild grapes which grew up into the Cottonwood trees along the banks of the streams and creeks.  Quite a different picture than of modern living.

Well.  I love to go to the River, no matter how small.  The smells of Cottonwood, willow, mint, wild grasses, the rocks and the slow river always spark a riot of memories.  The colors and wildlife never fail to lift my spirits, to remind me that even at this brink-of-disaster time renewal is at hand.

Let's go swimming.



Anonymous said...

A piece of writing as lovely as the photograph that inspired it. Love the mix of personal history and Larger Issues. And love the new picture, too. That lens is a worthy investment!

N2 said...

Lovely writing, lovely photo! But I'm afraid that is a lot of water hyacinth greening up the river picture that is a noxious weed and needs to be pulled out!! Just ask Ms Penelope...

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