Saturday, May 20, 2006

Mothers Day in Bodie

About 9 years ago I hiked to the top of Whitney with 7 good friends including my brother (the permit only allowed for 8). On my birthday. It did not make me a more popular party host, as my guests soon realized (I think at about 13,846 feet elevation) that they would rather be eating cake and drinking beer than gnawing cliff bars and sucking on camelbacks. But we all made it, and we eventually did have cake and beer. Which had been secretly hiked in by Dh, who was not at the time even close to being Dh, but certainly earned points to that end on that trip!!
After the trip I had my first experience at Bodie, CA. Bodie is a ghost town south of Bridgeport, east of the Sierras. It is a real ghost town, with a real badass history. Have you seen Deadwood? Yeah, that bad. What is left after a few fires is now preserved in a state park but in a no-frills kind of way. Everything is pretty much as it was left when it was abandoned; broken glass and rusted cans, rusted kids toys, eerily unfinished schoolwork, etc. All of it is coated in a thick layer of dust. There is a book full of letters in the museum written by remorseful people who took something away from Bodie (a book, a rock, a window latch) and then had grisly bad luck. Badass bad luck, not your garden variety. These people had sent the offending item back, along with their regrets and their stories. I was spooked enough to refuse even to buy a postcard from the place and carefully clapped the desert dust off my sandals before getting back in the car.
So, last week, after the Elijah retreat/adventure had taken us up the scenic eastern sierra hwy 395 for some skiing and hotspringing, I lobbied heavily for taking the 13 mile road in to Bodie. It was mother's day, which I had planned to avoid, but I soon realized that I could use it to leverage the roadtrip in that direction, so of course I did. Not to much resistance, mind you. Bodie has it's own pull. We were greeted by the still snow-scattered sparse desert hills, glaringly unforgiving sunlight, intense blue skies; the perfect backdrop to the rustic remains of Bodie.
I'm not sure what it is about Bodie that I am so attracted to. It is oddly beautiful, it is rich with history, it's history is rich with lawlessness. It is the stark desert and deserts intrigue me. It is tragic. Among other notable stories, there is the one of little Evelyn, a four year old killed by a miner's mis-swung pick axe, whose death caused the entire town to mourn, and whose ghost is one of many that are said to frequently haunt the area.
It is stilled.
So we walked among the ruins and peeked into the windows - legitimate voyeurs after paying our nominal fee to the ranger. After exploring the residential area and what remains open of the mine area, we ventured down to Main Street, where the school is in perpetual Halloween season, where on the saloon stools there remains a dusty butt-print, the general store is in vandalized disarray, and few storefronts remain after fires destroyed much of downtown.
Dh came around the corner of one small building on the corner with a dustprint on his nose and said, "I guess you don't want to look in this window this time, do you?"
I squinted. I realized it was the undertaker's building.
I had this vivid memory of the first time I had been there, my feet planted in the same spot, peering in the same window, focusing past the eye-catching glass-viewing-windowed coffin, and my gaze settled on what has doubtlessly churned chills up the spines of thousands before mine: A child's casket.
I stared at that the first time and felt immensely sad. I have an almost tangible memory of wondering at that time, if someone who had lost a child was seeing that picture, how would they feel? Would it be harder? Would it be even more sad? Would it be more personal?
About a month before Elijah died, I passed a dead cat on our winding mountain road. For whatever reason, that day I felt so sad for the cat, for the cat's family. For whatever reason, and apropos to nothing in sight, that day I wondered if it was harder to see roadkill if your child died. Would seeing a dead animal make you more sad, because it reminds you of death in general, or would you be more desensitized to the death of an animal, because you had experienced the death of a child?
Are these strange thoughts to have? This is what it is like to live inside my mind.
At any rate, I have the answers now to all those stupid questions.

It is harder.

1 comment:

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