Friday, May 20, 2005

Edwards Crossing

Edwards Crossing, 2005

Leave Your Clothes Behind

Friday, May 20, 2005 Edwards Crossing After High Water

The last big storm that came through brought over 3.5 inches of rain. This caused the highest river flows of the year and the South Yuba peaked at 14,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) Wednesday night. That is a lot of water.

Unfortunately I had to work Thursday so I couldn’t go to the Yuba to see what was going on for myself. Instead I walked along the banks of the Lower American looking for suitable places to teach at 14,000 CFS. The Lower American, a typically slow river becomes wider and faster at that flow, but not particularly impressive. What was impressive, however, was the confluence of the north and middle forks of the American River in Auburn.

The North Fork, a café au lait color, stomped through trees usually quite high on the banks. The Middle Fork had nothing of its usual deep green color. Instead it was black coffee crashing around a bend to form quite a formidable looking rapid leading right into a thicket of drowning trees. People were milling around on the roads and trails, cameras in hand, trying to capture the incredible force of water on film. The two rivers met like a diagram – black coffee running full force into café au lait. The two colors remained distinct for several hundred yards after they met before mingling together in turbulent waves and writhing boiling eddies. I must admit that I was severely disappointed to not be able to join the throngs of camera-toters on the road. It was a fascinating display of hydrology.

Saturday the South Yuba was still high, but it only reached about 5,000 CFS while I was there. I returned to the steep crinoid trail. The sluice box was no longer leaning against the tree where I last seen it. From the top of the trail high up on the road I could hear the river below. I began my descent, but soon my attention was caught by a tire firmly planted in Kenebec Creek below the trail. I veered off the trail and down the hill to check it out, then continued down to the river via the creek.

Quite suddenly the creek disappeared. There had been ample amounts of water collecting in small pools and pouring over rocks and then there was none. I couldn’t figure out where the water went. It was just suddenly gone. I walked further down the waterless creek and suddenly the water reappeared to the right of where the creek should have been. I followed that flow back up. All of the water was pouring out of a cave. Then I realized what must have happened to the water in the creek. That cave was the end of a hydraulic mining flume blasted through the hill in the 1800’s. The creek must have been flowing right over it and seeped through the roof of the tunnel.

Down at the river most of my access to the water was thwarted by brown water that had risen into the thickets of berry bushes and poison oak. I didn’t find much that interested me except for some old canning jars of peanut butter and jelly with rusted lids, a broken robin’s egg and piles of grasses and leaves suspended in tree branches high above the water – evidence of the river’s previous height. I collected empty Gatorade bottles and beer cans and shoved them in my backpack to take out.

Nearing the top of the trail on my way out I saw some movement further up on the side of the trail. As I got closer I saw that it was the same guy who had lugged the sluice box out of the canyon a week earlier. ‘Better weather today, eh?’ he offered. ‘Yup,’ I replied. ‘Lots of water.’ Then he resumed picking up garbage on the steep hillside and stuffing it into a bag. He’s not much of a talker. I felt better for having more than just an empty Splenda packet in my pocket this time.

I drove down to Edwards Crossing to see if I could get better river access there. The dirt road had a few cars parked off to the side, the owners presumably, on the bridge with camera in hand and cigarette in mouth, trying to capture the unusual amount of water in the river.

At the water large thickets of branches stripped of leaves scattered the banks like poorly formed tumbleweeds. It took me a while to realize that some of the tangles were poison oak, the bane of my river existence. I can’t find a good reason for the stuff to exist. It irritated me that the bushes hadn’t been completely eradicated by the river. Instead it was just made harder to identify.

I had expected to see more detritus stuffed in weird places by the high water. Much to my dismay, I found very little. Yet in several places, ribbons of different materials were woven into the leafless brambles like tinsel on discarded Christmas trees lying prone on suburban curbsides waiting to be picked up and hauled away.

Disappointed by the lack of displaced trash, I wandered to the rocks by the bridge to soak up the afternoon sun. Soon after I found a perfect spot by the roaring rapid I looked upstream where I had been. A small beach, previously empty, was occupied by a nude yoga practitioner - this one female - and a clothed observer. This, to me, is starting to represent Nevada City. Come to the South Yuba. Bring your yoga mat and leave your clothes behind.


Coors, 2005

Purple Ribbon

Purple Ribbon, 2005


Kerr, 2005

Sunday, May 15, 2005


Splenda, 2005, digital photograph


Saturday, May 14, 2005

May 14. It’s finally warm in Northern California. The water is up in the rivers. It’s a great day to paddle. But my knee is still concerning me and I decided to take yet another day off. My dad is pleased that I am (finally?) showing signs of good judgment. However I am not pleased with the weather and the water and the state of my uncooperative joints and how all that means that I am not paddling.

To compensate for my good discretion I picked the steepest trail I know – the one that leads to the crinoids – to mollify my anxious being. I need to prove to myself every now and then these days that I am not a cripple at age 31. I picked my way down the trail with more trepidation than when I had come with Sterling. Perhaps I should invest in a sunflower brace too.

One reason I picked the crinoid spot was because I knew I wouldn’t see any boaters – or probably anybody for that matter. When I got to the water is was only me and the river. Every time I come to the river with my camera I fear that I won’t find anything new to shoot. Every time the river shows me how incredibly naïve that fear is.

Today was the day of debris. I soon forgot about not paddling when my leg bumped against a submerged rusty metal screen. The thing looked fascinating through my camera lens. Bent over spread legs, I was completely absorbed with finding all the angles of light and distortion the thing had to offer. When I heard the scuffle of feet behind me, my body involuntarily jolted with surprise. A man came walking from upstream, white bucket in hand and. He was wearing Carhartt work pants and stout boots. As I regained my composure he faintly acknowledged my presence without breaking stride and rambled on in a steady yet slow pace downstream. Standing in knee deep cold water I watched him crouch underneath a low branch and drop down a steep step of rocks where my backpack lay, then up and over further rocks until he disappeared around a bend and out of sight. Then I became captivated by a spider web stretched in a hole in a rock that potted a single spindly tree.

Simple things absorbed me throughout the afternoon: a submerged red branch with dead grasses looped around it in the current, a piece of egg crate foam suspended in a small thicket of trees one quarter of the way across the river, an empty Splenda package floating in a puddle, a plastic orange ribbon tied to a branch, a minuscule pink flower, a spider, a discarded sluice box and, once again, that metal screen in the water.

After taking excessive amounts of photos of the Splenda package and the like, I sat on a rock next to the sluice box that I had dragged out of the water to write. The Carhart-wearing, bucket-carrying man retraced his earlier steps. ‘Is this yours?’ he asked, pointing to the box. ‘No,’ I answered. Once again without breaking stride, he swooped the thing up in his free hand and continued back upstream the way he had come.

I returned to my writing. Movement caught my eye in the water. I looked up in time to watch two mergansers bob down the middle of the wave train. They were just rubbing in the fact that I wasn’t doing the same myself. Or at least that’s how it felt. So I packed up my bag and started back up the trail.
Fifty yards or so from the road at the top, the man sat in a bend in the trail panting. ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time,’ he said. ‘Yup. It’s pretty steep,’ I told him and asked him if he wanted help carrying the thing out. He declined my offer and said he was going to leave it there and come back later. I thought that was curious since he was so close to the end, but said nothing. I have no doubt that it will be gone the next time that I go there. His bucket, I learned, was full with trash he had picked up on the riverbank as he ambled across the rocks. I thought then how very very small the empty Splenda packet was that I had stuffed in my pants pocket to carry out with me.


Leaves, 2005, digital photograph

Pink and Green

Pink and Green, 2005, digital photograph


Screen, 2005, digital photograph


Basket, 2005, digital photograph

Light and Dark

Light and Dark, 2005, digital photograph

Red Branch

Red Branch, 2005, digital photograph


Spider, 2005, digital photograph

Water Strider

Water Strider, 2005, digital photograph

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Monkey Face II

Monkey Face II, 2005, digital photograph

Tobacco at Spring Creek

You think I’m going to write about your tobacco? Maybe I will, but it really doesn’t interest me as much as you may think. Well, at least it doesn’t in the way that you think it does. Oddly enough it triggered something of the last time we were at the river together last summer. Watching you pull out that bag and carefully place those dried leaves on your hemp rolling paper did it. The way you rolled it and licked the seam brought back sitting next to you on the rock in the middle of the river. I looked over at you and my eyes settled on the mole sitting on the edge of your bottom eyelid at your eyelashes. The last time I looked so intently at that mole I remember your lashes clumped with tears – a wetness that took me by surprise when I last looked at that mole under your eye last summer. You had taken my finger and held it up to your wet eyes as if you sensed that I couldn’t believe they were that way unless I actually felt it with my own hand.

This morning started out with blue skies and a scattering of clouds. The computer said that thunderstorms were expected, but who’s to believe the computer? So I left my sweatshirt on the kitchen table when we left. I haven’t been to the river lately. When you brought up going there this morning, I was grateful. I couldn’t have gotten there without your shoulder to lean on or your outstretched hand that was always reaching toward me when I needed it. The pain of my knee isn’t as hard to take as the lack of freedom it causes. I’ve missed the water and it makes me fear my knee because of feeling what it can take away from me with hampered mobility.

I was grateful for your eye for the minutiae down the trail to Spring Creek (yes, it is called Spring Creek – you were right). Your pace as you found: a grub, pieces of fungus, tiny flowers, a cheese spread red plastic stick - was slower than my unsteady hobble. By the creek, past the twisted madrone, on the flat rock above the river, you spread out your blanket with the little giraffes woven through it: Monika. I still don’t like stinky cheese with blue veins running through it. And your tobacco bag came out.

It was getting colder as the clouds sped through the sky in no determined direction. Lying low and huddled against you was the only way to stop the shaking. A hummingbird hovered at the top of a tall pine in the distance twice. A bear head gathered and dissipated in the clouds above. A moth clumsily transferred trees and I still don’t know why. For what purpose did the swallows play in the currents so high up? Soft rain fell on us as our faces were tilted toward the sky.

What was written on those cigarettes of mine from back in San Francisco? Those words were conversations from smoke breaks I took with Mike. I consumed the cigarettes with words. Smoking talk. Tobacco is a ritual. It has been for centuries. The rolling papers, the cigarette breaks, the packing of dried leaves with the whack of the box against a hand – the ceremony, culture and community of it is fascinating. Does the smoke make you feel connected with your new-found community you are now separated from? Is it a shared activity that brings you back to it in your mind and heart? How can I fault you for that? Your participation of the smoking ritual brought me back to my own past and a community now years gone from me – the past that you unknowingly triggered in me as we sat in the summer sun on the rock last year as I cried. Today, once again at the river, it was unexpected to be brought back there by you. But today, unlike last summer, it was accepted. I meant it when I said it doesn’t matter. It is only like coffee…. Is it the river or is it you that does this thing to me?

Your tobacco is related to the sweat lodges and chanting, to the peyote and the integration with nature and the harmony of things. You are striving for an understanding of the interdependence of it all. I hope you can see that my camera, my paintbrush and my words are my attempt at finding and grasping the same things you are. My seemingly ceaseless questions weren’t posed from skepticism or criticism. They were asked in a desire to understand the path you have chosen in trying to reach the same place I am.

Unlike the last time at the river with you, today I felt comfortable. I shivered, my knee protested with small spasms, but as I laid next to you on the hard rock I was comfortable. Next time we should build a fire so we can stay longer.

So, you were right after all: the tobacco did make it in writing.

Monkey Face I

Monkey Face I, 2005, digital photograph