Lingering and Living Memories of a Heartland
I went back home for the long holiday weekend. It’s curious to me that North Fork, "The exact geographical center of California," is not where I was born and raised yet is the homeland of my heart. It’s where I landed after shunning an academic future to run away with a wild man in a repurposed orange school bus. It’s where I couldn’t find a job from which I would not be fired and so, made my own – a little tabloid newspaper I named The Timberline Times, that celebrated life in a logging town, the folks in the one café on Main Street and the rowdy bar with “The world’s biggest urinal.”
In North Fork, I discovered that I loved writing, writing about people, for people. That I had a flair for graphic design and a determination to beat the odds. And the inspiration for my move from unemployed college graduate to struggling newspaper owner was a town steeped in history and abundant with personality.
When I eventually left North Fork, I was able to transform my publishing experience into a career as a journalist, and writer. But the experience of my years immersed in the distinctive culture of the lumber and mining town, with its memorable characters – old-timers, young rebels, business owners barely hanging on, the Mono people struggling for respect, the acceptance of folks not fitting the norm – stayed with me. It became the setting for my mystery novel “The Song of Jackass Creek” and led me to think about the people and place throughout the many months of writing the book.
So, I was thrilled to have those memories reignited throughout the past July 4th weekend at the 61st Annual Loggers Jamboree. There, I found the spirit of North Fork had traveled the decades with descendants of people I knew and newcomers who carry on the culture - proof for me that I'd not romanticized the town's embedded character.
The arena for logging competitions was set up for axe throwing, double hand bucking, choker setting, hand chopping, tree falling, hot-power saws, log rolling, and more – all skills once needed and honed when logging was the lifeblood of North Fork. The mix of competitors was a warm country stew – young, old, men, women, members of the local Mono community. The star of the professional event was Nate Hodges, a national champion whose biceps resemble those of ancient Olympians carved in bronze. He went home with several top honors.
But enthusiasm for all the competitors was abundant and loud. Saws screamed for two hot days. Axes tumbled toward targets that rewarded the best shot with an explosion of beer from a can embedded in the center of the target. Through it all, families sat under pine trees, whistled, shouted, cheered, and celebrated a tradition that predates them all.
An accidental crowd favorite was a woman competing in axe throwing. She hefted the axe over her head and behind her back and strode mightily forward to gain momentum for the 20-foot throw. The axe tumbled through the air, barely missed the target but squarely hit a 12-pack of Budweiser sitting on the ground. The explosion was loud, messy, and got a thunder of applause.
Above the arena, vendors sold local art, crafts, and food. Most popular was the big tent where legendary “Indian Tacos” had people lined up throughout the day. Individual pieces of puffy fried dough are layered with beans, cheese, seasoned meat, greens, and magic that only happens in the hands of one extended family. Each order is handmade, and I watched both days as folks walked back to their seats carrying their Indian Taco as if it was blown glass on a pillow.
I spent my days running between my booth (where I sold many books and donated others to local groups)
and the arena where I took photos. The best part, though, was talking to people – new and old friends: Courtney, a neighbor vendor who kindly helped me wrestle with my new pop-up tent that, of course, did not just pop up; a Mono Elder artist (Po-chi-chi-ca) whose memories reached back through many generations, before rancherias and reservations; enthusiastic members of the local history club who freely shared their knowledge with me, and people I’d known from my own days as a local. There was Tom Wheeler (now a County Supervisor) who has the distinction of being the oldest competitor to win the title of Top Logger at a previous Jamboree; the very perky Connie Carpenter from whom I rented my first office for the Timberline Times, and Candi Lewis, a Mono woman whose family makes beautiful dream catchers and walking sticks. I’ll leave you with this story from her – and my own take-away from the weekend: Home is where your heart is.
Dream Catcher: Netting woven inside a circle, embellished with beads and strips of leather tied to feathers and hung in a bedroom window.
How it works to protect the sleeper:
When a frightening dream enters the room where you sleep, the Dream Catcher stops it in the netting, and the bad dream gets drawn into the beads. When the sun rises and warms the beads, the caught dreams melt and slide down the leather and into the feathers, where they vanish in the wind.
Thank you for reading Down Darby Lane. Sharing my memories with you is a privilege I value.
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