Monday, May 11, 2009

Darwin, the town not the man

Darwin, the town not the man

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The name resounds with memories, echos of party time , characters, high desert scene, stories of same, hikes to secret mines, 10” crystals of calcite, friends won and lost. Once a year this sleepy little mountain ghost town with 37 full time inhabitants plus 15 dogs erupts with activity, creativity, ceremony, lavish potlucks, and to top it off, a rock n roll band for the ball on Saturday night in the old miners union hall, now dubbed and duly signed “Darwin Dance Hall”. It is now time for spring a ma jig, an annual salute to passage into summer and gathering of the tribe, the Saline plus tribe from near and far. We push our busy schedules aside, pissing off mom, as it is on mother’s day, and prepare for the onslaught.

Kathy Goss, the mayor, is in charge, running around like a mad banshee, doing last minute prep, even Canyon has been here since Sunday, after hiking 9 days along the inyo crest with ds buddies. I plan a stealth approach, but she gets on the horn and allows as how the party has already started, so I step up the pace, determine to leave Wednesday, but its slow getting everything together, im not outta town until noon. Im tired and munching a chicken sandwich high above altamont pass, trucks roaring past, wind generators buzzing on all quarters, and I look to the east, and see tracy, out there, the town, tracy, and my synapses click in and focus on the person there “INYO” I scream at the tops of my lungs and now he’s on the cell, “c’mon down, sure spend the night, use my table, we can party down.” Great, my second son is back from staking claims in Oregon and my plans change immediately. I’ve been sick, tired, harassed and its time to kick back and take care of myself. He lives in a small clabord house, foreclosures left and right, a little weasly dog that won’t let me alone, snuffling and licking, until I get my bark off high frequency generator and he immediately shuts up and cowers in a corner. I take a power nap in the back yard,then Inyo fires up the barby and I start twittering the evenings progress. We get mellow and open a bottle of zin, talking a mile a minute. He is the son of Jason Saleeby , my geology buddy who teaches at cal tech and has a place on big island, named his son Inyo after the mountain range west of Saline valley, east of owens valley, in the paradise of the east sierra.

I’m up early and on the road ragin’ down I5 by 7 am, and nothing can stop me now. At 75 mph the miles tick by, I call Cathy B, now her house is threatened by fire in Santa Barbara, on top of having to sell it because of the real estate crash. Through Wasco to last minute shop, gas up and head out into the mountains up the kern river canyon, snooze at walker pass, down into Indian wells valley, into the wide open spaces. I call Sam, but she had a bad fall a year ago and injured her spine and won’t be coming to Darwin. Now on 395 screaming up the long hill to olancha, last gas, then into the real outback, the sign death valley 65 miles, “No services 85 miles” tells the story of the road ahead,

Top the first hill, suddenly there’s a crowd, Elaine aka Desert Holly s multicolored blue bus sits with the hood up, a crowd gathered around, she’s got some help,so I sail past and on to the j tree forest, where the u2 cover was shot. The tree died because too many people tromped on its roots.

Over the hill and down the straightaway, the town spread out with funky houses, most abandoned, the mine with some new buildings, and finally into town proper, past the wrecked trailers, hulks of cars, truck and other things that don’t go. Alexs stone house looks untended, but then it always does, he’s gotta new life and woman in LA. Stop at the only stop sign in town, spy a gathering on the porch of the dance hall, but head right for my campsite across from the dance hall and center of operations. OOPs theres garbage mans truck right across the street, here we go again.

I hear “Is that Terry Wright?” and Catherine/Canyon appears, not in costume yet, and we greet and meet. Suddenly Mike appears and heads to his truck. “Hi Mike” I greet him, “I’ve gotta get out of here” he growls and fires up his truck. “You don’t have to leave mike! You did the same thing to me in Africa”, He slams the door rolls up the window as I approach and guns it outta there spraying gravel all over. “what was that all about?” Canyon asks, “oh just another mike tiff I introduced him as the man who loves to hate, and that pissed him off, I’m back on his shit list.

Canyon and I catch up and Jim comes over, “were gonna have a potluck at Pierre’s, ill carry your chair up in the pickup, as long as you sit with me and tell me more lies”. OK, time to spring into action, people are headed up the hill to a series of containers, now welded and joined into a house, Pierre’s hideaway. A crowd has gathered, old and new, the bbq is spitting out burgers and hot dogs, I add my smoked steelhead to the mix, crack a beer and I’m in heaven. Mike sneaks in, but seemingly in good humor, talking with everyone in his outrageous way, Laura bell arrives to great fanfare, broke her hip on a camping trip and now barely getting around, I meet her daughter’s husband, from Massachusetts, and we connect on many different levels, skiing Cannon, hiking the Whites. We banter back and forth with everyone, what a great bunch of characters. I have 2 burgers, and some wine and keep a steady chatter with Catherine, jim and kristie, Kathy goss, and whomever else comes by.

The sun is hot, but finally sinks to the west, I search out some old friends, then head down to camp to set up. After concentrated effort and many camping tricks, I’m ensconced in the cot, the poker game is going, and I opt out, canyon has her pouffy springs headpiece on and is dealing, I give her a peck and head for bed.

The wind kicks up sometime during the night and the tarp hung to shade me from moonburn starts flapping voraciously devouring my peace and quiet. Finally I get up and tie it in a bundle, insert the ear plugs and am off to ni ni land.

The bird chirpings wake me at dawn and Jim and Kristie are moving around on the coffee deck, looking like the nectar is in preparation. I stagger over, still groggy from the night before, not much wine, but fleurzapam put me down and I walk in a straight line as possible, collapse in a chair and miraculously my mug appears with milky potion, standard coffeee and bailys irish crème, and things are looking up. The stories fly, Nebraska life from Jim and Kristie who spend about 1/2 time there, and then Benton, my half time residence, adding up to some phenomenal tales.

I route out Canyon, luxuriating in her big tent with fancy rugs, scarfs, costume boxes in the corner, and a separate dressing room for prepping for the show. we, then break for Kathy’s where a great egg/potato/ onion/ pepper feast awaits. Kathy is back and forth like a bee, busy busy with chores, things that have to be done yesterday.. We lounge and talk, phil tells stories of shooting down migs and ducking from the patrols in nam. A bit rough he, that experience changed everyone.

The call goes out for the gravestone placing event, and we caravan down to the cemetery with Michaels stone, concrete, water, hoes and shovels and start to work. A big metal bucket with the upper 6 inches cut off to use as a form, and soon we are the Caltrans crew, mixing the concrete with gravel from the ground, a big load, then placing a crazy quilt of rebar in the hole for support, then pour the concrete. 5 people working, 10 people watching, like Caltrans. It’s getting hot, but we drink fluids and hid under sarongs and watch the men work. Man’s work, concrete mixing, women join in and a tarp covered with ceramics Michael made to be used to decorate the grave.. The stone is placed and secured and ceramic colors all around, we admire the work, fine tune it a little and return to town. Canyon wants to see the costume, so we hang under my sun tarp, open a Mcoy mammoth ale and talk and talk and then a bottle of wine, then camembert, then guitar and song, Canyon brings her mermaid costume, a masterpiece of green with a fish head she sees through the mouth. And long tail, to be held ;off the dirt by a thong. She brings a couple of cold Newcastle ales, Carson who forgot to work comes by and picks a little, has a beer, and finally its nap time and I crash out.

I awake to thoughts of beans, and fire up the outside stove Earl has and on Kristie’s stove the onions and peppers and spice, borrow some mape from jim, add marmalade and strawberry jam and its done. I have to pay attention to the process, but go to Cathy’s for a break and a beer, and run into Ginny, cathys friend from alameda, and she is a trip, we get mellow and get into a mock argument, and connect, what a woman. A legal secretary out of work, and a free spirit.

I make 2 pots of beans and take one to Kathys, hang there with Canyon under the shade of a j tree, and watch the downtown scene. People coming and going, Pierre roars by on his quad, Hal stops by to pay his respects and ask a geology question. We have a grand 2-part potluck, at the dance hall, and kathys. G mike is there and runs when I appear, still paranoid.

After dinner I put my guitar into Jims pickup and tell him to come by and wake me up when he leaves for the bonfire on the upper flats. This works great and I sit there with drums all around, no room for guitar, I play the recorder. A cute blonde next to me turns out to be from bishop and knows carol, win and a host of others, we talk and make contact, another mountain woman, doesn’t ski much, but an avid hiker. We agree to get together sometime.. I’ve had it with the drums and people are leaving, I get a ride with Elaine down the hill, and crash out.

Steve from Lancaster arrived in his big bus drunk and arguing loudly with his girlfriend who didn’t want to be here. He threw a bunch of stuff out on the road, his gf crying in the drivers seat, and he disappeared. Finally Jim finds him under Earls van crashed out, and lectures him on proper behavior, he agrees somehow getting the bus into the parking lot. All is quiet, until all hell breaks loose, more yelling and screaming and crying. Jim finally calms them down with the threat of throwing them out, calling the sheriff (who is due up here any minute on his daily run. I sleep through it, but morning dawns with the whole story.

I can roll over in my cot and see Jim puttering around in the predawn light, with the tops of western mts lit up already. I fumble around, find my cup and head over for the morning coffee klatch. Jim and Kristie smoking, talking, waking up , going over events of the evening before. Steve had disappeared again, only to return quietly about 3 am. We wait for more action but none to come. People join in, the Nebraska friends, they flew into vegas, rented a car and drove thru death valley for the party. Someone comes by with gooey buns and I munch a little.

Appearance a t Kathy’s, check out who has arrived, who is telling stories, phil is there telling war stories again, I leave and find Canyon still asleep and sneak up on her again with a big kiss. I bring her coffee and we hang in the xanadu tent for a while, listening to the town wake up.

I have more camp things to do, the sun shade has been blown around by the wind during the night, so I straighten it out, find a way to post the transect on the side of the barn, a beautiful art piece in itself. A guy comes by, another local and asks about the kayak, and I get to talk about Lars and his life, now gone to cancer, too many people dying, at the end of their life for no obvious reason.

The morning progresses, people come and go, I hang at the dance hall, june is there, my kayak partner from glacier bay, she wouldn’t paddle and I yelled at her, another classic trip. I bring out the group picture, and theres mike with huge long beard, killer cain, now passed from throat cancer, smoker;. Hardware dave, now software davida thanks to a sex change operation in thailand, tom and Carolyn now in Alaska finishing their house. The usual suspects. Friends and fellow travelers, all with the gleam in their eye of adventure, new experience in the outdoors and creators and master story tellers.

The tie dye operation is starting, I watch, hang in the gazebo telling art stories with ginny and sandy, perched above it all, watching a Rambo-style truck, old jeep style with a parasol, covered with costumed people, touring the town over and over, roaring by, the owner of the auto parts store in lone pine. More people arrive, the parking lot looks like an rv park, partying people under shade structures, small and large groups and a constant coming and going at the front of the dance hall. I sit with Jurgen, the german artist, old friend from days past, connection with timbo and Christine of pioneer town, he has painted a monument valley scene over the door in her living room in the old west style house designed by a Disney artist set in the middle of Joshua tree forest with huge boulders of granite, her own national park. I’ll miss the big party, may madness, but make a promise to be there for Halloween next fall.

Jurgen is into taking abandoned buildings in germany and refurbishing them for low cost housing. He painted a 3 d scene door on a garage door and the owner backed into it, it was so real he thought he had plenty of room.

I snooze, building up strength for the evening, Canyon comes by in her creationist outfit, long black dress, and sign “Down with Darwin”, Kathy has a costume on with long braided white hair and helmet with horns and breastplate. She and Canyon are the queens of costume, constantly coming up with something outrageous and new.

“Its time for the fish costumes” Canyon yells to me and I pull on the tyvek suit with the fish painted on it by heather and with glitter, and put feet on the fish kite, mount it on a ski pole and enter the fray. More costumes come out, a guy in furs, hat boots vest and many necklaces, holding a staff with a wooden star on it and a bird perched on the crook. Canyon comes with her green fish head, sequined dress and mermaid tail and we pose for the photographers. The fun begins, music playing dueling pianists in the dance hall raging classical, pop, you name it.,

Derek arrives with the band and they start setting up, with drum noises, and piano, bass and lead guitar warming up with a big sound system. He brings me my tripod chair, left in bishop at a concert a month ago and I am complete again, sitting with Pam of the straight hair, looking good, friend of win and carol, another bishopite, fur man and partner, older craggy woman looking like Georgia okeefe. We get food from the potluck table, my beans a hit again, a full spread with casseroles, meatballs, an a last plate of tritip, a major feed. I m working on a 30$ bottle of zin and give Derek the last hit, I don’t need any more and head for the water jug.

The sun is lowering, and the barriers set up to control the crowd into the dance hall. Bad elements from the outback are kept at bay in the street , setting up chairs and sitting in quads and 4 wds unwilling to pay the 10$ fee to enter, and keeping trouble at a minimum. There used to be tweekers, and tweekettes starting fights and crowding the dance floor, but after most of them died in an auto accident and other unnatural causes, and the control fence things calmed down considerably.

Derek is raging, loud band, old favorites, new costumes coming out, Pierres wife has a gauzy white thing on with lightwire in big scrolls underneath showing through, and a bird like headdress. Canyon is in her fish outfit, sans head, showing off her elegant bony upper body, I feast on the sights and we dance me next to Derek in the red pimpdaddy coat with lights on now, and we hug in joy. I got him the gig, and he’s happy to be playing. A little rough, but loud, I’m with earplugs. Mustang sally rings out, stones, beatles, old standards, everyone loving it. I drop a 20 in the tip jar and mingle with the crowd and watch the action. A guy in camo is ripping it up with crazy steps, Kathy goss enters in a long robe and lit up crown, and it goes on and on. I linger outside with the dispossessed, and see some old friends, dave who survived the tweeker stage, when 3 friends died in a horrific car crash on their way to lone pine high as kites. Now he lives at willow creek mining camp in saline valley, all green, water, swimming pool, I promise to visit around the 4th when its good and hot. I’m already pooped and settle in on the cot with earplugs and drift off to the thumping of crazed dancing.

Another morning, another coffee klatch, people already packing up to leave, jim kristie and I settle in and another spate of long stories, and people coming and going. Jay is ensconced in his spiffy car, with his oxygen feeder hoses, emphysema, and morbidly obese, and diabetes, still smoking and drinking scotch. He asked Jim if he would spread his ashes next year, and Jim replied “ ask me next year”.

People are getting ready for the memorial procession for michael’s service. I putter around and get ready to load and leave. Post a couple of signs for geology talk for jason’s transect which I have posted on the side of a barn behind my camp. People mill around and finally we are off, 30 or so costuemed, drums, my recorder, bagpipes, and led by a pickup with a life sized puppet in the back with articulated arms waving and bowing operated by franchesca from behind. We enter the cemetery scattering dried rose petals from a big bowl Michaels daughter is passing around. We gather in the hippie corner of the cemetery, surrounded by souls from the 1800s and recent tweekers, and all are impressed by our job concrete base for the stone and colored pieces of ceramics embedded from wasted parts of Michaels potter career. Words and prayers and poems, one sung in Sanskrit by his daughter, and she passes the urn and we all spread parts of Michaels dust around the site, and on the surrounding desert. Vials of dust are handed out to be spread in places far away that he loved. He was a true child and force of Darwin, one of the original artists who settled there in the 60s to find solitude and creativity in the desert ghost town.

We head back in Jims truck, Canyon next to me, adjusting a new flowing costume and a busby, marge simpson hair piece 3 feet hi, made of wool top and gopher cages. Man she is something else, major creative force. We settle into pre potluck mode and there is Sam, my old friend from ridgecrest and we party, Carson banters and I catch it on video. I put the call out for the geology talk, and get a few takers, go over the section showing geology from Monterey to amargosa desert and down 130 km with no vertical exaggeration. Beautiful colors and incredible science.

Back to the brunch potluck, fill up on eggs and potatoes and other good stuff, gotta avoid the salt, I try, but can tell some stuff is suspect. Pack up the remainder of camp and head out after goodbyes to all. G Mike has disappeared, but big mike is playing guitar and Canyon comes out for a good by kiss. And I’m off on the road again, call Linda from lone pine with a large vanilla milkshake at mcds, and she’s in big pine and I plan a nap there, which I do, wake up gasping for breath, too much salt, head for Benton via bishop vons, no Sunday la times, all out. Tired, make it to Benton and call judy, she’s gardening in Tulsa, we relax for a while, bantering, she tells a story of spreading her first husbands ashes on the golf course after digging them up with a silver spoon. I tell her of lars and Michael, 2 memorial services in one week, too many people dieing.

I’m wiped but call Eileen and she starts talking about her new tv and her new place, “what’s this about?” “Im moving out to that 55+ complex I told you about, you said you wanted me out by july, so I’m doing it now” Stunned, I thought we had a couple of months left, but its over. Change is good but this is huge, I sleep swearing at myself.

3725 words
Copyright 2009 Terry Wright

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Thanks for the story about Spring-a-ma-gig. It was fun to read!