water and refuge

We unlocked the gate at the Taber Mine and drove down the rutted road with our old 1972 Suburban clattering and creaking over the water bars. Drove into the cleared spot before the bunkhouse and scrambled out.

Quiet. Light in the towering firs and pines, the bunkhouse looming three stores overhead, its old stained sides the hue of bitter chocolate in the tree-dusk. Sound of water trickling out of an overflow to the mine pond below us. The mine and bunkhouse lie tucked into the upper point of a ravine, and as in so much of the Sierra, that means water runs down forever and you have that lovely sound so rare where we come from in So.Cal..

Birds in the branches, then the whir of a hummingbird. I never caught a good enough look to identify it to species.

We set to making up our sandwiches, mixed up iced tea,  ravenously ate every crumb. Last of the tomatoes from our home garden, dill pickes and good Dubliner cheese with ham.

Walked through the bunkhouse and it felt as if we’d just been there a couple of days before, the same sense of generosity giving grace to the painted wood of the kitchen with its old wood burning range, the old glass chimneys of kerosene lanterns waiting on the top shelves, cast iron pans and a mix of fine china. Upstairs that long wide room that runs the entire length of the bunkhouse, windows on both sides, couches and a particular table set under the window made of single giant plank of wood. “I want to write stories there,” said the kid, running her hand over the ridges that tell of hand-sawing. Tiny wood stove up at one end by another desk. Dead mouse under the bookcase.

We explored, read the notes John had left for winter visitors warning them of how they had to be careful of setting the stove-pipe right before lighting the stove. Not to worry — we would have no need of that. Not only did we have our own vintage Coleman, but John had set up what looked to be a brand new propane stove atop the old wood-burner. We would boil all our water, not being sure of our water source. Both husband and kid have had adventures with intestinal parasites from uncertain water sources.Image

It’s worth a digression on water-borne parasites. We talk of such things as giardia, but the possibilities of uninvited creatures taking up residence in your gut are legion. Brushing your teeth with the wrong water, or getting some in your eye are perfect opportunities. Used to be that there were places remote enough that you could drink a stream of clear lovely water down and never suffer. But people have spread these little parasites, other mammals including the wildlife have picked them up and they continue in an endless ripple to make nearly any surface water source you find, however remote it feels, a source of illness. Not grave illness in most cases, but misery enough. Husband’s last bout of giardia came from a municipal water source in an outlying town of Atlanta Georgia out of a nice chrome tap, so if you have symptoms (I won’t detail here — you can Google it for yourself) it’s worth suggesting parasitic assault to your doctor. And no, I don’t live in fear. I just don’t play with the water or drink without thought. For all I know I might be one of the lucky ones who carries extra visitors in my gut and never suffers a symptom. Given my past of living in West Africa, it’s a distinct possibility — therefore I am one of those hand-washing maniacs who can’t prepare a meal without washing my hands every time I turn around. The simple best interruptions to the rule of the microorganism gang? Hand-washing, and watch out for the water…


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