Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Eve 1988

C Street, Virginia City, Winter 88-89
Sometime during the Midnight Mass at St. Mary’s of the Mountain, the zephyr pounding Virginia City blew itself out.  A small group of us who’d spent the evening together stepped out into the cold.  It was now Christmas morning.  We were decked out in boots, heavy coats, scarves, gloves and hats.  The snow squeaked under our feet and the air calm.  We wasted no time and immediately began to walk in an attempt to stay warm.  Overhead, Orion tilted a little toward Mt. Bullion and the rest of my favorite winter constellations were flickering brightly: Orion’s faithful dog, the twins, the bull, the charioteer, the seven sisters.  Only a few clouds, sheer-like, remained from the storm.  We made our way up Taylor Street, toward the lighted “V” high on Mt. Davidson.  A month earlier, before the first big snow, I’d spent Saturday afternoon with Karl and Dave.  Together, we hauled loads of wire and strings of lights up the mountain and ran the lights around the whitewashed V that had been painted on rocks in a section where the sagebrush had been clipped.  The painted rocks were now buried under the snow, but the lights stood out brightly and served as a beacon as we headed uphill.  

The town was quiet as everyone had settled in for a long winter night.  There were a few frosted windows with warm inviting lights, most windows were dark.  The air smelled of burning pinion from wood stoves which provided heat for many homes on the Comstock, and the smoke rose into the sky as an offering to the stars.  We passed the school and D Street, and climbed another block to C Street.  This was the busy street in town, but now all was quiet.  The Ponderosa, the saloon on the southwest side of C Street, and the Mark Twain to the north, were both closed for the night.  Perhaps another bar was open—the Union Brewery, the Silver Queen, the Bucket of Blood, Julia Bulette—there were plenty of bars and generally at least a couple were open.  But we were tired and ready for bed.  We wished one another Merry Christmas in the cold, our breath puffing smoke like a steam engine, and said our goodbyes.  A couple headed south on C Street, toward the Divide, others to their homes to the north.  Victor, Jeannie and I continued on climbing.  At B Street, we split up as Jeannie made her way up to her house on A Street, Victor to his apartment and me to my small home.   

But before going inside, I stopped for a moment to look around. To the north, above the courthouse, were the northern constellations: the big and little dipper and the dragon whose tail seems to wind around that part of the sky.  I then looked back to the east, down Taylor Street into Six Mile Canyon.  All seems quiet and tranquil as smoke rose from chimneys of homes.  I was happy and content even though this was my Christmas without any family.  I went inside and instead of turning up the heat, pulled out another blanket for my bed and crawled in and was soon asleep.    


  1. Thank you for bringing me along for that walk.. squeaky footsteps and all. I truly felt like I was right there. I wish you much joy this holiday season.

  2. I lovely story.

    I looked up VC on the wiki and it seems the pop is down 50% to about 500 people. I was wondering what they do there nowadays.

  3. nice...there is a lovely tranquility in this...that pause before entering and appreciating the world around you...was right there...been

    merry christmas man

  4. Hilary, glad you bundled up and walked along. I'm sure you're out of breath, as each block we were gaining significant altitude and we were all use to running around at 6000+ feet!

    Vince, I am not sure why the drop. Wikipedia listed the Census data which showed the town to be over 1500 in 2000 and down to 850 in 2010. When I lived there, it was said to bee about 750. The Comstock hit its peak in 1875, when VC, Gold Hill, Silver City and a few smaller towns were a booming place.

    Brian, I often paused to look out when I lived there, not believing that I was lucky enough to be experiencing it.

  5. Nicely remembered. I love the smell of wood smoke on a cold night.

  6. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, Sage :) I got a Rick Bragg book for Christmas - it's my first experience reading him. Made me think of you. I haven't gone through your reviews to see if you've written about it, but I'm sure you've at least read it.

  7. So great to sleep beneath blankets in a cold world.

  8. How beautiful.

    First I was cold, and then I snuggled in with you. :-) There's nothing like a warm bed in a cold room.


  9. What a moving and delightful story, I felt like being right there too, ready to head off onto some lively named street and put out the light for a good night's rest as well!

  10. Sage,
    I am delighted that you wrote about this. Well done at that! I so enjoy Virginia City. It is a tough little town snuggled in at the top of this part of the world. I could just picture the constellations that you describe so nicely. Have not had a clear view in a while as we've had quite a bit of icy rain and snow of late. But even cloudy times are magical here...I feel as though I'm standing just slightly below them. I think you know the magic of that as you were even higher in Virginia City!

    Take care Sage. I enjoy your blog. Wishing you a happy New Year!

  11. Ron, I do believe I'll be smelling some wood smoke tonight, as I carry out the trash (I have the fireplace going)

    Thanks Lynn!

    TC, when are you going to start blogging again. I hope you enjoy Bragg--I haven't read all his books, but have read five of them.

    Charles, doubt you get that luxury down in NOLA unless you turn the AC way up :)

    Pearl, I'm speechless!

    Karen, thanks, it wasn't that long of a walk--5 blocks (and maybe 200 or 250 feet of elevation), but I still remember...

    Melinda, I was always amazed at how clear VC was and then descend through the haze as I drove down the Geiger Grade to Reno where it wasn't at all clear with the winter inversions.

  12. you need to check out the new Terminally Ill music video Box of Wine on our blog! It's pretty siiiiiiiiiiiiick!

  13. A fine tale, Sage. Though I'm not about to snuggle in with you.

    I love those few hours of almost complete quiet and peace of a Christmas eve/morn. There is nothing like it.

  14. Speaking of Rick Bragg, I've been meaning to share this article with you, Sage. It's Bragg on college football in the South:

  15. Terminally Ill, the seven day after comment moderation is now active and I don't think I'll be seeing any more of you...

    Bone, thanks, I am relieved to know that. Besides, Pearl's offer is a lot more tempting. You must be on cloud nine this morning--'Bama played a good game.