Sunday, December 02, 2007
Sunday Scribblings: A Sunday Morning Walk
"Walking my mind to an easy time…"
-James Taylor, “Fire and Rain”
I haven’t done a “Sunday Scribblings” in a while. When I read Guatami’s blog, I saw that today’s topic is “walking,” I knew I’d have to write something. After all, I’ve done my share of walking. Often, I walk the mile into town. I also often walk to my office. Other times, I go for longer walks, the Appalachian Trail being my longest. Then there’s the John Muir Trail and a host of smaller ones, like the Ruby Crest in Nevada, the Laurel Highlands in Pennsylvania, the Uwharrie in North Carolina, portions of the Finger Lakes in New York and the North Country Trail here in Michigan. And of course, there are others too. But after thinking about all my hikes, I decided to write about an early morning walk I took the last time I visited one of my old haunts, Virginia City, Nevada. The first photograph is a copy of a slide that I shot back in 88-89 when I lived on the Comstock (Virginia City). The second, taken in 1989, was of the bartender at the Silver Dollar Saloon. I’ll have to see if I can make some copies of the many slides I have of Virginia City, taken from the Combination Shaft. I also need to see if I can retake the first picture (of the wildflowers) as it appears my copy is a bit out of focus.
I can’t believe it’s been this long, but the last time I was in Virginia City was in the Spring of 2000. Then, I’d been nearly a dozen years since I’d lived there, and it was kind of on a whim that I decided to take off from San Francisco where I was engaged in research and head to Nevada for the weekend. I’d told no one that I was coming to town and got there late Saturday afternoon and checked into the Sugarloaf Motel. That evening I walked through town, stopping for a drink at the Union Brewery. The last time I’d been in town it was closed. Rick and Julie, the proprietors when I lived here, had split up years earlier. The Brewery, now under new management, felt more like a bikers bar than a local hangout. I went next door to Muldoon’s and ordered a hamburger. The last time I’d eaten there Norm was still the cook, but I’d heard he’d succumbed to cancer. I stopped in a few shops, finding a few folks I knew, but I now felt like a stranger. In the early evening, I walked out to Boot Hill and through the various cemeteries: one for the Masons, one for the Firemen and a third for the Catholics. It dawned on me that I probably knew as many people buried under this hard ground as I did in town. Then, after darkness had descended, I walked back through town, stopping for another beer at the Silver Dollar. I couldn’t remember the bartender’s name, it was French and we use to talk about literature. When I described him, I was told he too had died. Sad, I headed back to my room, called it an early night and was in bed before 11.
Sitting on the east flank of Mt. Davidson, morning seems to come early to Virginia City. I woke at first light, before sunrise, and decided to give the Comstock another try. Dressing, I pulled on my boots, grabbed my camera and stuck a water bottle in my coat pocket and headed out to see if the surroundings had changed as much as had the people in the town. I walked down to D Street, headed south along the tracks of the Virginia and Truckee, till I got to where the siding used to cut off to the Combination Shaft. Then I hiked along the old bed to the head frame that straddles a shaft which once dropped nearly 3000 feet under the surface. When I arrived, the sun was still below the horizon, but its rays were striking the top of Mt. Davidson, some 1600 feet above the city. As the sun rose, its rays descended further down the mountain, till the city bathe in warm light that reflected off the glass windows. This was a magical time. I pulled out my camera and shot a scene that I’d never tired of photographing, the city in the background, St. Mary’s of the Mountain in the center, with the gallows frame over the shaft in the foreground and off to the side.
As the air was still cool, I decided to start hiking in order to warm myself up. I headed east, along an old road, out to Flowery Cemetery. Unlike the main cemetery on the north side of town, there are no elaborate gravestones here; this was a pauper’s graveyard. As I kick around through the graves, I come across a rock path. Following it, I visited the Stations of the Cross. Then, out on a ledge, I come to the white picket fence around the grave for Julie Bullete, Virginia City heroine prostitute who was murdered in 1867. Legend has it that she was buried here because as a prostitute she wasn’t allowed to be buried in the main cemetery, but the truth most likely is that she’s buried here because like most women in that profession, she was poor. It seems odd that her grave would be so prominent, in a location that it can easily be seen through binoculars from the porches behind the businesses on C Street, but that’s because this isn’t her real grave. No one is sure exactly where in the cemetery she was buried, but back in the 1960s, some of those with tourist interest in the community decided she needed a grave that they could point out from town. Every year or so, someone comes out and whitewashes the picket fence, so her plot remains visible to the throng of tourist who stream through the city every summer.
Leaving the graveyard, I continue to head east, walking through pinions and junipers, the sage and rabbit brush, passing along side a ventilation shafts for the Sutro Tunnel. The tunnel was an ambitious 19th Century project, in which a drift (a horizontal mine shaft) from the valley to the east was dug into the mines under Virginia City, a feat which helped drain the mines as the water didn’t have to be pumped all the way to the surface. Along the way, several jack rabbits jump up and dart away. There are still a few spring flowers in bloom, mostly lupine and paintbrush. Gradually, I drop of the side of the hill, down into Six Mile Canyon near the base of Sugarloaf, an outstanding geological feature, probably the core of an old volcano. I cross the small creek and stir up a coyote, then turn west and head up Seven Mile Canyon, toward the Geiger Grade. There, just below the road to Reno and north of Boot Hill, is the old Jewish Cemetery. Not much remains, but a simple wood Star of David stands above the small fenced plot. I pause to look around, then head south, cutting across Boot Hill and back into town. I stop at the Wagon Wheel for coffee and pancakes, before heading back to my room, where I shower, clean up, and get ready for church.