Good fifth Monday morning of the month from here at Whiskey Creek, where the only thing wet about the creek is its name. By the end of November, if we’re lucky, it will begin to dribble, but by most mid-January’s the creek will roar and continue to do so till late March when it will once again begin its reverse hibernation. But what it lacks in the wet stuff our mostly in-name-only creek more than makes up for in history. Oh, the stories it could tell. At several spots along both sides of the bank that run through our property can be found tailing mounds, piles of rock thrown out of the creek during the scavenging for gold, the haphazard heaps of refuse of a handful of pioneer men who took a whole lot more heartache and grief out of Whiskey Creek than gold. But that’s another story…one that I told here nearly ten years ago. (If you have absolutely nothing better to do this morning, you might consider clicking over to Cornish Miners.)
Instead I’ll tell the story of my weekend and how, for me anyways, it gives special meaning to Bert’s message yesterday. If the great John Steinbeck hadn’t called dibs on it for his novella back in 1937 I might just have named my column this morning Of Mice and Men, though a closer reading of Robert Burns’ poem would have been only partly appropriate…
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promised joy.
As you’ll see, the last two lines bely the truth of my tale.
The weekend of the 28th and 29th was to be a major event in the Cornish family. Ava, who just turned two last week, travels well now and the stars were such that both our boys and their families could make the long trip to the Gold Country on the same weekend. We’d all be together…sons, their wives and kiddies.
Planning and preparation were intense. By the time I drug myself to our bi-weekly jam at Mi Pueblo in Sonora Friday night I was exhausted. Lynn and I had spent a week making sure that everything would be just right for our house full of guests. Given that we’re seeing an especially hot summer here, the centerpiece of our weekend would be lots of water…water in the blow-up kiddie pool, water in the gigantic galvanized stock trough purchased so the four dogs would be able to do their own aquatic cavorting; and most especially brand new pads for our swamp cooler, which is what folks up here in the Mother Lode use instead of air conditioners. (Unlike air conditioners, which cool the air through a refrigeration system, swamp coolers rely on a steady stream of water that is vaporized by a giant fan and then circulated through the house.) So by Friday night everything was in readiness…our schemes were ‘best laid’…spotless house, ribs ready for barrel cooking, yard spruced up and, of course, dual ponds ready for filling. We went to bed confident and oh so excited about having our little family all together in the morning.
And it was the next morning, right around 6:00 a.m., that, turning the shower handle to the on position so I could take a shower so I could get dressed so I could make coffee so I could get my mind switched on so I could update the CBA web site so I’d have the rest of the morning, till arrival time at ten, to do final preparations for our weekend of water features and barrel ribs and grandchildren, I discovered that our well’s pump wasn’t pumping. Now, this was not particularly disturbing to Lynn and I since, during the height of the summer, with all of the irrigation lines that we have running all day and all night on our six acres, the holding tank between the well and the feed into our water system will occasionally empty and cause a temporary pump shut down…never more than ten or twelve minutes. But when the pump hadn’t started up again after forty-five minutes the worrying began, and at just around 7:00 a.m. I began leaving fairly calm, not-yet-frantic messages on the answering machines of the five well businesses that serve Tuolumne County. Just about the time Lynn and I began to grimly conclude that we wouldn’t be hearing back from anyone until Monday morning, the phone started ringing. Each call got a little better than the one before. Well guy #1, we could probably get someone their tomorrow…maybe; well guy #2, maybe late afternoon…I’ll need to get back to you; and so on. Finally, Tanko Brothers, (yes, it’s true, that’s their name and they’re the best in the area), called back and said they’d drive right over.
Five minutes later, Tom Tanko arrived and five minutes after that he announced that the problem was either a burned out condenser, a five minute and twenty dollar fix or a burned out pump, two or three or four days to order and install and a couple grand…fifty-fifty, Tom T. explained. Having no expertise whatsoever when it comes to pumps or wells but having a college degree in English literature and thus possessing more than a passing knowledge of the works of Robert Burns, (the whole mice and men thing), I, of course, knew in my heart that it was the pump and not the condenser, which, after returning from his shop with a new condenser and hooking it up, Tom Tanko confirmed.
All nine of us, Phil, Ivona, Lexy and Ava, Pete, Summer and Teddy, and Lynn and I met up at Columbia State Park, a little intact and lovely gold mining town snatched right out of the mid-1800’s and just over two miles from Whiskey Creek. Lynn waited for me to break the news…I put it off. We stopped in the blacksmith’s shop and watched the smithy make a coat hanger out of horseshoes. We settled into the tiny circuit court house while Lexy and Ted, both nearly four, gaveled the proceedings to order. Still no water situation announcement. We had an exquisite lunch at Jeanie’s Teahouse sitting under a great California Live Oak tree; the kids had their own table and took turns serving pink lemonade out of an antique china teapot. Then it was on to Columbia Candy Kitchen for some chocolate, then an inspection of the team of gigantic horses that pull the Columbia stage coach and finally a little panning for gold in the several yards of sluice boxes set up for the throng of tourists. All in all, great fun in Columbia, punctuated by my casual pronouncement of our water dilemma as we marched back to the cars.
“Well,” Phil asked, knowing that regardless of the problem, dad would have the situation well in control, “what does that mean?”
And here’s the strange part, friends. I answered with complete honesty that I didn’t know. The strangeness isn’t that I answered honestly, it’s that I didn’t know…that I didn’t have a plan, hadn’t even really begun trying to formulate one. I’d not only put off telling the Cornish clan about our water emergency, I hadn’t even started dreaming up a solution for the nine of us, plus four dogs and five llamas surviving two of the hottest days of the year. Not like me…not like someone who’d served as the Director of Planning for a one hundred and fifty million dollar a year public agency for twenty years. You see, I was just too busy enjoying Lexy and Ava and Ted to worry about anything. I was, I guess you could say, just too much in love to be in charge at that moment.
As the last carload of clan members drove down the long gravel driveway and out of site last afternoon, Lynn leaned over and kissed me. You know, she said, if it hadn’t been for that pump burning out I don’t think this weekend would have been quite as perfect as it was. I’m pretty sure you’re right, I agreed. Instead of dad coming up with THE PLAN all by himself and dad supervising THE PLAN’S implementation, we just improvised and did it together, all of us…putting hundreds of feet of leaky hose into working condition, running a two hundred yard waterline through the forest and to our neighbors, moving the kitchen outdoors, importing drinking water from the Safeway, even figuring out ways to stay relatively cool, (well, at least not baking), without the swamp cooler. Everything just worked itself out. Best visit ever.
It wasn’t until this morning that I read Bert’s Welcome column from yesterday. And then read the Message Board posts about Bert’s column. Turns out that Bert and I had recently had a back and forth about the subject of his Welcome. We’ve known for several years that we don’t share the religious views, but it also turns out that, well, we do. Bert wrote…” If you believe that there is something called love, which is a real thing, then you believe what I believe.” So, there you go.