Saturday, August 1, 2009

Russ, and the Royal Gorge

I (this is Gay) have spent many hours this past year, transcribing Russell's hand written journals, both to preserve and share them, and to make them easily searchable. I have far to go on that project... you'll be hearing more... but I want to share now some excerpts in which he mentions the Royal Gorge. He and I visited there together in 1988, on August 3rd, and that day turned out to be a pivotal one in both our lives. I will revisit the Royal Gorge with some precious friends next weekend, immersing myself once again in my love for Russ, for life, for this planet and its wonders.

The first entry is a long one, mentioning Royal Gorge only at the very end. In it Russ gives us a vivid snapshot of himself at age 26. After several years living on the coast at Año Nuevo, he was then living in the shack he'd built, 'wren shack', on his parents' property in Grass Valley. He'd just obtained and begun to develop his Moody Ridge property, which he refers to as 'canyonland', and he calls his planned cabin site 'cabañita'.

11/3/75 sunny morning in wren shack. tim & jim & i went out to canyonland day before yesterday and camped overnight on cabañita. taffy, tim's dog, was very nervous all night long, barking and growling and pacing around. we didn't sleep very well, but got up before dawn and brewed some coffee. yesterday we hiked down to green valley and the north fork of the american river, descending via the gulch that heads up at the springs near cabañita, past many tiny cascades and waterfalls, mossy gardens with a species of buttercup in full bloom, and an interesting zone of [brecciated] serpentine that had a band of tufa accumulation ~ quite odd. the river was beautiful, easily twice as big as the south yuba, with many old mine and cabin sites, and a weathered grave marker, wooden, reading 'joe steiner - 1860 1949' ~ i found an old silver u.s. navy spoon with an embossed anchor on the handle. we hiked upriver to where an old suspension bridge used to be, and where there is a beautiful cliff of smooth marble rising nearly sheer from the river for a couple hundred feet. hiking back up to cabañita on the green valley trail was tough, and when we finally packed all our stuff back out to the jeep, the battery was dead ~ my father had left the fire radio on the day before. so we had to walk over to alta on the railroad tracks and call craig, tim's old buddy, to come give us a jumper with his 4X4 bronco. but we finally made it back.

had a dream out at cabañita that i wish i could remember ~ strange. somehow i was involved with some sorcerers in an old world city, ancient stone buildings and marble statues everywhere, a dark stormy night, crowds of people ~ that's all i can bring back from that one.

the headframe of the gracie mine on my dad's property out by nevada city is in danger of falling onto some high-power lines, so my dad wants to pull it down with one of the fire trucks that has a winch and cable mounted up front. there is extensive six-by-six framing in the headframe, some of which i may be able to salvage for cabañita. on one of the main six by six someone carved, years ago, the word 'phantasmagoria' ~ that one especially i would like to retrieve, if it isn't busted too bad. it calls to mind visions of a group of young people who dropped acid together one fine night, a warm summer evening perhaps seven years ago. they partied up at the old gracie mine, the old silent tumbledown gold mine, giant relict of yesteryear. the headframe was sturdier then, a fine outsize jungle jim to scramble over and perch upon, to reflect on the sound of rushing water from the nearby ditch, to loll about and laugh and pass around joints and carve 'phantasmagoria' into an old wooden beam... i would love to build 'phantasmagoria' into cabañita ~ i've had my eye on that timber for years now. i recall when my dad first showed me that property out there, one of the first things i noticed was that distorted word ~ and while we stumbled about in the brushy forest, my dad pointing out little bits of flagging tied in this bush or that tree, trying to communicate to me his visions of roads here, building sites there and then again over there, my mind was wandering, i was chuckling to myself about the acid party of years past, and the weathered old timber with soul, 'phantasmagoria'

soft afternoon light setting cedar walls aglow. i hope to use a lot of cedar in cabañita. i need help if i am to build this cabañita. i need determination. the road, the trail ~ they are done. now to get the materials in. but the design, the design. i have not settled on it. perhaps a sixteen foot diameter dodecagon with sleeping loft? that's a big project! one more heavy storm and the road may be impassable. i should probably settle for less, for a smaller cabin ~ twelve foot octagon with sleeping loft. i've decided to build right to the edge of the cliff, may necessitate a split level ground floor, as some of the serpentine bedrock protrudes in the site. maybe i'm pushing this too fast ~ maybe it'd be better to wait for spring, do some tripping in guatemala, take my time and make my money and do it right. but then again if i let my perfectionist tendencies get the upper hand, it may never get built, like the octagon at año nuevo. compromise ~ half a pie is better than none ~ should be my philosophy here, i think. don't get too fancy. that spot, tho, is so fantastic ~ almost phantasmagorical ~ it deserves my best effort.

~ later, and the sun has set. a warm day ~ crickets thrill as i have not heard in weeks. but cool enough so that the old electric heater is going here in wren shack. a copper bowl mounted on a frame with a heating element in the center, glowing springs wound about a ceramic cone. i watched ridges glow in the sun's dying light, watched the shadow of the coast ranges creep across the foothills, at this distance and low sun angle so diffuse as to be barely perceivable as such ~ by the time the sun is just touching the coast range, only a rosy glow is left on the higher sierran ridges.

it's funny i'm so preoccupied with this cabañita that i care even less than usual about my personal appearance. i sleep in my clothes and wear the same pants, socks, and shirt for a week at a time. i eat my regulation fare: granola, cheese sandwich, tacos. coffee first thing in the morning. it is a rare day when muscles don't ache. callouses build up on my hands. i should eat better. eat some eggs once in a while maybe, or get some vitamins. i've been a man obsessed. i want a break. i wish it was over, that i was sitting in cabanita watching sunglow on cedar, playing my guitar, singing my songs, writing my memoirs. with my old lady by my side. i am sad and lonely in the midst of this drive to accomplish cabañita. i need somebody to love. and i must find meaning in my life, must find it anew. this stream without a channel may dry up otherwise, disappear into the desert sands of a hermit existence. just as at one time i felt it necessary to suspend involvement in the religious meaning i had discovered in life, after an effort of many years; and to fill the vacuum left, affirmed vigorously the attitude that i should look at myself and the world with my own eyes and no one else's, which involved me in an intense study of earth sciences, natural history etc., ~ now i feel the need perhaps to suspend my involvement in that path, at least as far as identity/persona trips go, and reach for a new relation between myself and the world about me and within me. once again i feel like plowing it all under and letting nature take its course; i begin to feel heavy with knowledge and short on spirit. partly because i know no one who shares my intellectual interests, no one with whom to explore ideas and theories. when i attempt to share my appreciation of some of the wonders of the universe with my friends, i generally seem to miss the mark and am taken as a boaster and a show-off. whatever my ideas about myself, the impetus to advance my understanding of the universe has lessened, partly at least because of the canyonland and cabañita. i was looking forward while backpacking last summer to some really intense research on geology pertaining to the sierras and the west in general, to better understanding of plant relationships and classification, to developing knowledge of the california indians ~ but all that has taken a back seat for now. i am in another world almost, where i grit my teeth and battle bushes, where i strain at the yoke like a beast of burden, where i am often too tired to want to socialize. today has been a rest day. tomorrow i will go and finish the trail, and take a long hard look at the building site, and take measurements. and it should be the last time i go out there without a load of materials for a while.

~ still later, after watching some monday night football (with howard cosell!) and poring over the desiderata mrs. anderson sent my father, items relating to the canyonland property, the morgan asbestos mine, the mollie claim, etc. some old photographs, one with the jagged rock blades across the canyon from lover's leap in view in the background.

a pulsating sea of crickets laps at my cabin walls, and manzanita [choirs sing songs not so easily heard.] the eery arias of the cedars are something else again and i will see rainbows over the sierra crest from cabañita, rainbows falling into the royal gorge. i will see the morning star. a river of fog in the canyon, wrens making love. and loads of lightning. from cabañita i will see many fine things.

new adjectives for living in canyonland: 'upcanyon', ''downcanyon', and actually the only new one: 'crosscanyon'. something on the other side of a canyon from something else is, properly speaking, 'crosscanyon'. in my dictionary. ah, bullshit. canyons, cañons, gorges, gulches, valleys, arroyos ~ i like them.

just went through my routine of capturing vespulid wasps and releasing them outdoors, vespulid wasps clinging to my eastern window, on warm days such as today they are quite active. i catch them with a film can and a piece of paper.
That beam was indeed placed as a rafter in the "Little Cabin", the variously colored letters of the word visible from within the sleeping loft.

Three months later...
today i amused myself by sitting at the dining table in my parents' house, plotting cross-sectional views of three different parts of the north fork of the american river canyon. one transect was at lover's leap-giant gap ridge, an impressively steep, V-shaped section. another was a mile upriver. extending from my land down to the river and ascending to green valley trailhead on giant gap road. the other was across the royal gorge, some twenty miles upstream. call the three sections A, B, C in the order described above. see top of page. the bedrock in the region of A is extremely resistant to weathering; in area B is serpentine occupying a fault zone & very weak; and in C is, again, highly resistant but probably somewhat less so that at A. i have not visited the C area and wonder if it was even occupied by a valley glacier ~ it is V-shaped as it would be if stream-cut; but hints at a U-shape ever so slightly. north is to the left on the three drawings; one would [be] facing upstream, in a northeast direction in A and B and east in C. C is only ten miles from the sierra crest, the peak on the left is snow mountain; to the right is the foresthill divide, separating the drainages of the north and middle forks of the american river, and largely capped by volcanic mudflows & volcanic ash, with old river channels & their gravel deposits meandering around. beneath lies the bedrock and the pre-volcanic, pre-uplift terrain. some granite but largely older paleozoic metamorphic rock. snow mountain rises above the level of the mudflow, i believe, which is about 7000' in elevation in the vicinity; downslope at moody ridge the mudflow surface lies just over 4000 feet in elevation.
a party of maidu indian hunters might set forth from camp one fine fall day, and pause on a low prominence atop a ridge with a broad top and canyons dropping away thousands of feet on either side. as the upcanyon winds swept past occasional eddies and surges would set the oak leaves dancing and glinting in the sun, while the whispering rustling flow of sound would be punctured by the various taps and thuds and sharp reports of falling acorns. looking across the tops of ridges paralleling the one they were on, they would see row upon row of forests so even and so effectively hiding the deep canyons between that it looked almost as if it were one broad, forested plain rising imperceptibly to the rocky battlements of the sierra crest, already whitened by the first snow fall of the season. and looking at the ridges, the hunting party would know that, a little ways below the summits of each one, were networks of heavily-trodden animal trails connecting the springs that regularly occurred at the base of the clay-like zone of volcanic ash. often the zone would be easily identified by eye from afar by noting the tendency of the black oaks to dominate the upper slopes and the live oaks those below.
and 4 months later...
~ early evening. cumulus clouds have thinned to reveal cirrus feathers above. woodpeckers laugh, jays buzz. the shadow of moody ridge across the canyon. the amphitheater... i commented to rick and susan the other day that the feeling i get from this area is one of mountains as opposed to foothills. rick said, yeah, and the gateway to the mountains from the foothills is giant gap.


and the gateway from the mountains to the high country, the royal gorge.

really it's all one: the west slope of the sierra nevada. as the afternoon advances the clouds retreat, east towards the crest. snow mountain's crown lost in fog. to be there now! cold, wet (raining perhaps), dark; will the clouds lift to allow the last rays of the sun to bathe the summit in their cool light? and grosbeaks sing.
Twelve YEARS later...
8/3/88 Morning; I await Gay, who is scheduled to arrive this morning for a hike, possibly to the waterfalls below Wabena Point, in the Royal Gorge. The heat wave has slacked off, thank goodness.
8/4/88 Morning. Stiff and sore after the hike in and out of the Royal Gorge yesterday. We drove directly to Wabena Point and descended the spur ridge leading to the two waterfalls visible far below. Encountering a little brush near the top, which gravity helped us through, we had mostly open going over rocky and increasingly steep terrain. When we'd visited The Step near Wabena Point in June we'd seen a cliff facing upslope on the near side of the river which appeared to offer a good route down to the base of the falls from the ridge we planned to descend, and so it happened. The unusual cliff flanks a narrow gully entrenched by the glacier parallel to the river, a gully choked with enormous boulders and graced by enormous canyon live oaks. It was hot. The sun beat so strongly upon the vastness of stone all around us that, well, it was hot.

From red fir and lodgepole pine we had dropped into live oak and douglas fir and bay-laurel, native grape sprawling curtains, a few incense cedar -- poison oak! It was hot, the unusual cliff had blocked out all vestiges of the river's sound, the world had shrunk from the far-flung alpine vistas at the canyon rim, Devils Peak, Castle Peak, Tinkers Knob, Snow Mountain looming across the gorge; shrunk to a canyon increasingly dominated by Snow, Snow with its little grove perched higher and higher above us, shrunk into a canyon enlivened by the roar of waterfalls, one of which's top we could now see -- then shrunk into this intimate gully sweltering, hidden, closed, guarded, quiet, knowing only itself, encircled by cliffs, choked by the giant angularity of mega-boulders --

a turn to the right, a traversal of trees gnarling to a single blade of stone hundreds of feet long up which we climbed to see that we'd Arrived at the lowest waterfall/pool. But what a pool! It was elliptical in outline, cliffs falling sheer into the water from three sides, two waterfalls converging to meet at the pool's surface, but the color, the color -- the incredibly deep green color betokening incalculable depths. Alders, willows below the pool. Nice big boulders along its edge upon which to sit; we sat, we ate quickly -- I'd skipped breakfast and was famished, it was probably, hmmm, one in the afternoon. A 2,500-foot descent. We ate.

We plunged into the pool, water clear water cool. Water shallow beneath the falls, water at low flows, levels, volumes, all of the above, water dashed white and enlivened by falling ten, twenty feet. Water cool, climb out, dry into hot sun and strong canyon breezes shimmering the pool and then dive, and swim, and peer into the impossible and wholly undiscernible depths. Trout, ouzels.
Trout and ouzels and granodiorite -- no -- the rock scoured white to a distance of ten feet or more above the pool, suggesting that the river does indeed roar during the snowmelt. The repeated and intense scouring has not permitted trees near the pool, and the purity of water and rock and air and very little else has an otherworldly character. Perhaps primitive, like, only First Things allowed here.

A ledge provided access across the cliffs to the next pool/waterfall just above. Tiny circle of an impossibly deep pool, water falling twenty feet in column to plunge into deep water, we swim beneath the plunge, are massaged, pounded.

After explorations in the area and more swimming in the Big Deep, we proceed upstream, rock-climbing. After a flat stretch, another sequence of pools and falls, little falls, we stop below a pretty little double fall, photograph, continue, clambered, were amazed by the discovery of another Big Deep. Triple waterfall over blank vertical granodiorite (we'd passed the contact zone) surrounded by other blank flat cliffs, deep, deep, big overhang along one side: amazing in the extreme! Above, another deep, deep pool, no waterfall. Flat stretch, then, as we approach the confluence of Palisade Creek, another large waterfall and pool, this one a double fall, very pretty, with rocks suitably positioned for up to seventy-foot jumps into the pool. A large camp-site not far away signaled the proximity of the trail and bridge. Sure enough; and we hiked up the trail in gathering darkness, arriving at the car when stars grew bright. Home at midnight, sleep, awake, drink coffee, smoke substances. Finally after all these years,


And on a looseleaf binder page, inserted into the journal at this point and dated 8/11/88:
The Royal Gorge

Sun and stone and mountain throne:
the Royal Gorge.
light bright lances
gently shattered rippling patches
dance embracing cliffs, trout,
dance also the ouzels,
dance the waters falling
into pools of deep and many dimensions.

bones of rattlesnake victims like driftwood heaped:
the Royal gorge.
take a foot, take another
and still another:
take four thousand feet and reach
rocky tops of Snow Mountain.
and atop those tops
obsidian clues to vanished hunters:
loping bear, jumping deer, wood-rat, thou,
sing! sing! sing to me
the men who lounged atop these tops,

granite jewels close-pack to fill space,
all around, up, down:
Royal Gorge.
distant roar single hands clapping,
waterfall upon waterfall,
pool upon pool,
ouzel upon ouzel, trout on trout,
eagle golden over all of everything.
to leap, to dive, to swim,
perchance to dream, that
certain stars shot madly from their spheres,
and blended raging raging maelstrom of
torrential Spring,
and remained by way of blessing,
the echoing, echoing, all-reflecting
canyon of canyons:

Royal Gorge.


Janet said...

How lovely. I miss him so much.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Gay. I hope your weekend adventure into Royal Gorge is wonderful... Shellie

Karen said...

How wonderful to walk alongside Russ into those places - I can hear him and see him and see what he saw through his eyes...and I laughed to imagine him at the Gracie Mine property with his eye on that beam and imagining how it came to be there, rather than reveling in plans for future destruction of that pretty little place...Karen