Unusually frigid weather arrived early in Tuktoyaktuk, Canada where many species of birds live during the warmer summer months. The sudden drastic drop in temperature caused Wise Owl to announce to the flocks of snowy owls, that it was time to prepare to leave the Artic and head south. Young Powder and Puff were glad to hear Wise Owl’s pronouncement. The siblings had known for some time the migration south was near. Unlike normal years, this year the white owls would head further south than usual in what bigs call “an irruption”.
Why it was called an irruption and why the owls flew further south, the younger owls didn’t know. They weren’t even sure Wise Owl knew. They suspected it was because in the Artic where they lived, the normally ample food supply was rapidly disappearing. Every day, lemmings and other rodents on which snowy owls fed, were harder and harder to find. The icy subzero winds sweeping across the flat tundra, signaled it was only going to get worse. Even the normally prolific lichen and cloudberries complained about the cold.
“We’re stuck here,” Candis Cloudberry complained to Powder one impossible late August morning. As the strong winds burned the tough skin of the willowy arctic plant and drilled into the downy coats of her two owls friends, she said, “You owls can still escape the deadly clutches of winter and you’d better do it before it’s too late.”
“I’m sorry you can’t come!” Puff said, taking a berry from the giving plant. “The ice is worse this year… How’ll you make it until warm returns?”
“Us cloudberries will tighten up and sleep until spring,” Candis returned and halfheartedly added, “It’s not so bad.”
“You’re right, Candis,” Powder said, swallowing the last remains of a pathetic Norway rat and fluffing his speckled wing feathers in an attempt to add dead air insulation against the biting wind. “It’s time we owls get outta here and head south.”
“Yeah, only scrawny rats and cloudberries left to eat!” Puff complained.
“Rats will soon be gone… we can’t live long on cloudberries,” Powder said.
“Cloudberries, yuck!” Puff blurted, then, caught herself. She cocked her head and apologized, “Sorry Candis… but we owls are carnivores.”
“I know… I know,” Candis said sadly offering Puff her last berry.
“Thanks, Candy… you’re a real friend,” Puff said touching the berry plant with a wingtip. “See you in the spring.”
Suddenly the sky filled with winged owls climbing into the deep blue sky. They were following Wise Owl and the other white-feathered elders south.
“Hey, Candy… we’ll see you on the other side of winter,” Powder smiled and turning to Puff said, “Let’s get outta here.”
And so flocks of snowy owls from all over the Arctic headed south.
It took Wise Owl and his flock several days to reach the big river where it was their custom to spend the winter. However, a quick survey of the poor food supply there convinced Wise Owl and the elder owls to fly further south.
A group of young spectacled winged owls, refused to go arguing that the Columbia Gorge basin had served them just fine in the past and would do so again.
“Suit yourselves,” Wise Owl said calmly. “If you change your minds, look for us at the end of the valley.” With that, Wise Owl took to the air. Most of the snowy owls followed.
Powder wanted to stay with the cocky rebels, but his concern for Puff caused him to join Wise Owl’s flock.
Wise Owl and his band of owls made their way to the western edge of one of Oregon’s Cascade Mountain timber baskets. They fluttered onto gray stumps sticking out of the water at the edge of Dorina Lake located a few miles east of the sleepy town of Cottage Grove.
After a short rest Wise Owl coaxed his flock off the stumps and into the air. They settled in a small grove of trees not far from what once was the Bohemia Lumber Company. The skeletal remains of the sawmill were strewn over a sizable patch of ground now covered by blankets of ravenous blackberry vines.
Powder enjoyed exploring the lifeless hulks from the mill. He’d never seen anything like it back home in the Artic. Among the rusting corpses, the siblings found hundreds of secluded pockets and chambers where they could rest or stalk prey or trade secrets. A rusty cone shaped structure rose out of engulfing vegetation. It looked like a giant beehive. Powder often flew to the screened opening at the top and rested on a rusty iron rung to wait for a field mouse or some other small animal to venture across the sawdust covered floor. He’d then swoop down and capture lunch.
Puff was less brave about poking among the debris than her daredevil brother. She was sure she heard the blackberries vines talking among themselves about how to claim more of the rusting debris or ways to ensnare and stab unsuspecting intruders. And if that weren’t enough, she swore she heard the muffled, screaming cries from the mill’s decaying machinery. The sounds were nothing like she’d ever heard in her beloved Artic. And she heard other voices too… not wolves or caribou, or polar bear… something different. At dawn and dusk and on misty days she could see ghostly phantoms of the sawmill’s past life. It must be their voices she heard. The older owls didn’t seem to be bothered by the voices. Puff shrugged… trusting that, because no one else seemed bothered by them, they must be harmless.
The owls would have been content to remain in the sawmill grove all winter had it not been for something even more disturbing than hovering phantoms, lifeless forms and whispering plants. Large numbers of bigs traveled the rock-hard trail that meandered among the trees and along the lake’s edge. The owls had heard about bigs but most had never seen one. Now, they found themselves living among them and that was disturbing. Wise Owl became fearful that, if they stayed at the lumber mill graveyard, the bigs would do something awful to them… that they too might soon become phantoms of the past.
One day Wise Owl had finally had enough of his flock complaining about the noisy buggies zipping along the trail morning, noon and night. That afternoon he announced that he was moving further south and into more isolated timber. He invited the rest to join him. There was some mumbling and grumbling. Powder didn’t want to go… but in the end every owl let it be known that he or she would join Wise Owl’s short migration south away from the troublesome bigs’ hard rock trail.
Within minutes of Wise’s announcement, the colony of snowy owls took flight and winged its way toward Bohemia Mountain.
Bohemia Mountain’s peak rises to a height of little more than a mile on a remote western slope of the Cascade Mountains on the southeastern end of the Willamette Valley. It gets less rainfall than Oregon’s coastal range to the west. But when fall arrives, the steady winds coming off the ocean 60 miles to the west, carry chilling dampness to the stands of Douglas fir and other plant life rooted on the mountain slopes. Excessive rain and pervasive dampness are what keep Western Oregon
As for Bohemia calling itself a mountain… That was a joke to Mt. Hood, the Three Sisters and Mt. Jefferson. Those mountains always chortled among themselves when anyone within earshot refered to Bohemia as a mountain.
“Only 5,987feet… can hardly be called a mountain!” snickered towering 10,497 foot Jefferson.
“Puny!” scoffed 11,240-foot Hood.
The 10,000-foot-plus Sisters giggled.
Distant (and foreign) Mt. Adams yawned and drawled, “midget.”
Tall Tree was an old growth Douglas fir rooted near the peak of Bohemia Mountain. At that elevation tree growth is naturally stunted. Measuring 150-feet tall from the ground to her straggly top twig, Tall Tree was much shorter than the 250-feet tall old trees growing in clusters over the lower mountains surrounding her. Nevertheless, because she dared establish herself atop the mile-high mountain, Tall Tree’s top tassel looked down the verdant terrain in all directions including her taller cousins.
A half-mile in distance and two-hundred feet below Bohemia, the Musick stand of old growth fir occupied the eastern side of Fairview Mountain. These imposing giants envied Tall Tree’s dominance. One might say they were jealous of Tall Tree… lording it over them like a spindly monolith. On the other hand, they took pride in the fact that their great height brought their top tassels almost as high. This vantage point also allowed them to spy on everything within shouting distance. The older and taller they got, the more they observed and the more they gossiped. The oldest of the big trees had overheard the secrets of the inhabitants of the forests and mountains for 200-years or more and, urged by incessant breezes stirring them, they enjoyed repeating the stories to anyone or anything that would listen.
Tall Tree’s prominence made her an attractive target for lightening. Her vulnerable exposure atop Bohemia Mountain discouraged most birds from nesting in her branches. Once in a while a bird would flutter onto an upper branch for a quick rest, but it never stayed for more than a few minutes. The majestic tree’s prominence also made her uniqueness the subject of gossipy interest among neighboring trees.
In addition to everything about Tall Tree the giant trees of Musick knew the intimate secrets of elk, deer, bobcats, mountain lions, cougar, squirrel, wolves, bears and multiple varieties of birds. Nothing escaped their insatiable curiosity.
Because they had lived so long, the old trees could tell stories about the humans they called bigs who once lived among them. Yes, there was a time when a thriving community of gold miners lived and worked near the crest of Bohemia Mountain.
Of course, the life-cycle of the shrubs and other smaller mountain vegetation living in the understory was much shorter than the big trees. So they knew only what the old growth trees told them about the miners. And their stories seemed small and trivial compared to tales the giant trees could tell about the miners. Nevertheless, the juicy rumors and stories spread among plants living on the forest floor was of interest to everybody… the giant gossipers as well the small plants. You can imagine the intriguing stories vine-maple told about creeping salal and the colorful stuff rhododendron spread about Oregon-grape or salmonberry’s jealous rants about red huckleberry and lacy ocean spray, not to mention graceful snowberry. Even the tiny whispers from the mosses about lichens fed the ears of everyone but especially the rumor-hungry big trees.
As salacious as all this talk was to listeners, nothing gained more interest than hearing the stories of the men and women who lived on Bohemia 150 years ago. If it wasn’t a foxglove, it was a sprig of liverworts that begged one of the big trees to rehearse an episode or two from the days of the Bohemia miners.
To satisfy everyone’s hunger for stories about the miners, once a month all the birds and animals of Bohemia gathered on the mountaintop and listened to Tall Tree retell stories about the mining days. The gathering was to happen again any day now. In the meantime, life on Bohemia and the surrounding area went on normally. During storytelling times a truce existed among all animals. Woodpeckers didn’t bother owls and owls didn’t bother woodpeckers, cougars didn’t bother bull frogs and bull frogs didn’t bother fish and so forth.
Alex Woodpecker and several of his friends lived in one of the old snags located throughout Musick Grove. Snags provided lots of pockets for nests and an abundance of beetles and carpenter ants for the noisy birds to feed on.
However, the constant whispering of the nearby gigantic fir trees annoyed Alex and his friends.
“You monsters need to quiet down.” Alex said sitting atop his snag. “How’s a woodpecker to get any rest with you constantly murmuring and whispering?”
Stretch, the tallest Douglas fir in the Musick Grove, swayed large in the breeze and laughed, “You should talk… your rat-a-tat-tat fills the air from early morning to dusk.”
Alex hopped to a dead branch just down the snag trunk to give himself time to think up a reasonable retort. He stretched his neck, cocked his head and said, “That’s different… you should be thankful for my rat-a-tat-tat… I’m after Douglas fir bark beetles and ants.” Eyeing the giant tree, he paused and added, “You ought’a like that.”
Stretch jerked, giving his tassel a quick toss. Then, he leaned into several trees standing beside him. The big trees swayed whispering to one another.
Finally, Stretch said, “Yeah, beetles are bad… We’re glad you like to eat ‘em.”
“I thought so!” Alex exclaimed, “So you can drop the complaint.”
“But,” interrupted Stretch, “We can’t help whispering… it’s breathing for us… If we don’t breath… we die.”
“Oh boy… dead trees… rat-a-tat-tat,” Alex said gleefully and added, “that’s a lot of beetles and ants… an everlasting feast.”
“Maybe… but what happens to you when beetles get us all and there’s nothing left but piles of nurse logs and sawdust on the forest floor?” Stretch asked.
“I should care… that would take forever,” Alex chimed cheerfully and rattled the silence of the forest with another loud rat-a-tat-tat.
“Tell that to your kids and your kids’ kids,” Stretch warned.
Alex thought for a moment. “Okay… so you have a point,” the humbled woodpecker admitted. “So… you keep on breathing and I’ll keep eating bark beetles. It’s a deal!”
“It’s a deal,” Stretch repeated, as he took a deep breath of carbon dioxide and continued swaying in the breeze.
Alex went back to pecking.
The constant whispering of the giant trees didn’t annoy every forest creature. To most of the animals and birds it was a soothing sound. It was reliable. It was comforting. The big trees had lived on this hill and the surrounding mountains for hundreds of years. They knew anything and everything that ever happened in the wilderness.
It was a big surprise to Tall Tree to have a flock of snowy owls suddenly cluster in among her branches. In her two-hundred-year life, she’d never seen a snowy owl.
“Never seen the likes of you before,” Tall Tree drawled, “Who are you? Where’d you come from?”
“The Arctic,” Wise Owl answered. “Winter came early and forced us south.”
“Had to come this far, huh?” Tall Tree asked.
“Yeah, slim hunting along the Columbia, too,” Wise Owl said. “We hoped it would be better down here. We’ve never come this far south before… tried a lake and a sawmill junk yard a few miles away.”
Seems cold to us here too,” Tall Tree said. “Small growth ring this year for sure.”
“Bigs’ activity frightened us away from the lake,” Wise Owl said finishing his thought. “Looks like there aren’t any bigs around here.”
“Bigs!” Tall Tree said emphatically with a tone of dislike. “A few come up here from time to time, but you don’t have to worry… not this winter anyway.”
“It’ll be good to settle down,” Wise Owl said.
“There used to be lot of bigs around here when I was a young tree,” Tall Tree said. “They came in wagons, on mules and on foot to do what they called mining… looking for gold.”
“What’s gold?” Wise Owl asked.
“Not sure,” Tall Tree said. “It’s yellow and hard… can’t eat it… what use it is I don’t know… but they like it a lot… kill each other for it. Stick around and you’ll hear more about it. Tonight is story time. I talk about the old days to gatherings of the birds and others living within range. Sometimes ghosts from those days come out and help me tell the stories.”
“Wow… sounds like phantoms of the Yukon,” Wise Owl murmured. “Ghosts of yesteryear where we live,” he explained. “You don’t mind a bunch of owls hanging out in your branches?”
“I like it… most birds won’t roost on me…” Tall Tree volunteered.
“Why not? You seem friendly enough,” Wise Owl said.
“I am… It’s not me… they feel vulnerable I guess… fear of lightening, maybe, or being picked off by the predators.”
“Oh my… are we vulnerable too?” Wise Owl asked concerned.
“No lightening this time of year… Big fellows like you… I doubt a bird dare mess with you.”
“Alright then, we’ll settle in and wait for storytime.”
By late afternoon, Barbed Owl and his gang had also gathered in the branches of shorter trees not far from Tall Tree. Powder and Puff flew over to have a look. The two curious owls got close enough to see that the large owls had brown eyes in the center of a face that looked like a mask, not like snowy owl, whose face resembles a kitten’s. The barbed owls also had dark streaks running down what looked like a cape draped around their shoulders. The barbed owls were suspicious of the large white birds, but they kept their suspicions to themselves, returning Powder and Puff’s greetings with measured excitement.
The siblings also introduced themselves to a group of barn owls that came out of an old wooden framed building near Tall Tree. Leslie Barn Owl told Puff that the owls had to evacuate the hotel to make way for the phantoms that almost always came out to participate in Tall Tree’s stories. Powder and Puff also mingled with younger members of the Spotty Owl gang, which had glided over from Fairview Mountain to Bohemia where they occupied a stand of naked alder on Bohemia’s north slope. These friendly owls looked a lot like barbed owls though they were smaller and had spotted breasts and yellow eyes.
The forest all around Bohemia Mountain was filling with birds of every description. … birds of every description – in the trees and on the ground. For some reason or another the birds didn’t settle on the large piles of multicolored tailings forming mounds in front of the caves dotting the mountainside. And the animals also stayed clear of the rusty rails that skirted the crown of the mountain and ran down hill into the forest below. Powder wondered why, but didn’t ask. He figured he’d find out soon enough.
Wise Owl and the other snowy owls had never seen such a variety of birds. Though they all had wings and skinny legs in common with snowy owls, these birds would likely never even survive summers in the Artic, let alone winter.
Powder and Puff would certainly have something to talk about when they flew north in the spring.
At first Powder and Puff tried to learn the names and features of all the birds… but soon gave up… there were too many. There were winter wrens, chestnut-backed chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, varied thrushes, several species of swallows, red crossbills, evening-grosbeaks, brown creepers, olive-sided flycatchers, Hammond’s flycatchers, gray jays, Western wood-pewees, and Western tanagers. Some of the larger species in the audience included red-breasted sapsuckers, common ravens, peregrine falcons, pileated woodpeckers, turkey vultures, wood ducks, common nighthawks, and red-tailed hawks. Birds in lower numbers included Vaux’s swifts, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers, pine siskins, hermit warblers, Pacific-slope flycatchers, golden-crowned kinglets, and ruffed grouse.
“Wait ‘till we get back home and tell Candis,” Puff shouted and laughed, “The evening grosbeak’s belly looks like one of her cloudberries.”
“The peregrine falcon has spotted legs and belly like us… don’t you think?” Powder asked.
“I guess… but they have a funny shaped head…” Puff chuckled.
“What’s wrong with their shape?” a strong voice asked.
Puff looked up. She expected to see an upset falcon ready to scold her. Instead, a huge eagle sat on the branch just above her. It was Rusty. His eyes seemed to blaze with threat. Ruffled white feathers covered the eagle’s head like a hood.
Snowy owls are large birds themselves and aren’t ordinarily concerned with threats from other bird, but Puff was shocked at the size of this challenger. It was clear that the big bird could destroy her in an instant, if he so chose. She swallowed hard. Powder sat trembling on the branch beside her.
“Nothing wrong,” Puff managed to say weakly, “It’s just different from owls… that’s all.”
“Polar bear heads don’t look like owls, do they?” Rusty Eagle asked and asserted, “… I’ll bet you don’t you laugh at polar bears.”
“Yeah, it’s not a good idea… at least not to his face… besides, they’re not birds,” Powder contributed to support his sister.
“Okay…” Rusty laughed, “So turkeys are birds. You think they have funny shaped heads?”
“Don’t know what they look like,” Powder said perplexed.
“Guess not,” Rusty conceded. “The point is, beauty is in the eye of the looker. Only a mother could love the looks of a turkey… You should always look at others through the eyes of a mother… that’s all… you ever see a sea slug or a warthog?”
“Try caribou, fox and musk ox. We know what they look like,” Puff said proudly.
“Don’t forget rock ptarmigan and penguins,” Powder added.
“So there you have it,” Rusty offered, “And before you know it other funny looking creatures will arrive. Try not to laugh. There’ll be deer, elk, bob cats, mountain lion, beaver, and others…”
“But not to worry… bobcats and lions will leave you alone… at least tonight,” Rusty encouraged. “They’re coming for the stories.”
The afternoon wind began to pick up. The trees began to whisper among themselves. A vast congregation of birds and animals of all sizes and shapes occupied spaces on Bohemia Mountain.
Whispers of the trees swelled into mummers and mummers formed into words. The chirping of the birds and growling of the animals fell silent. Finally, Tall Tree began to speak.
“Welcome everyone…” Tall Tree paused. A warm symphony of contented noises rose from the congregation.
“Most of you know about phantoms… some don’t…” continued Tall Tree.
“1854 seems like yesterday… I was a young 30-year old Douglas fir… just a lass of a tree. That year… well, my age ring shows that it was a good growth year… we had lots of rain. I believe it was the big named James Bohemia Johnson that found a nugget of gold in a creek not far from here. Us young trees didn’t know what gold was. We tried to figure out why Johnson got so excited about it. Anyway… he was. The truth is he was so excited he went to Cottage Grove and told everyone in town. After that, dozens came up here looking to find some of the yellow stuff for themselves.
“Then, in 1858 Rufus Adams, O.P. Adams, William Shields and W.W. Ogelsby found gold in Sharps Creek and the rush was on. Bigs came streaming onto this mountain from all directions to get in on a gold rush. They came from California and points east looking for treasure.”
Tall Tree gestured toward the wooden structure a few crow-hops from her trunk.
“That building over there is all that’s left of Bohemia City.”
“Look at that!” Puff shouted, poking Powder in the side.
“Not so loud,” Rusty said quietly, “The ghosts won’t come… just listen and watch.”
Tall Tree spoke in hushed muffled tones, “Rufus Adams and his brother O.P. Adams worked the Champion Mine”
Puff pointed at a figure that had just emerged from a dark hole in the side of cliff near Bohemia’s summit. “Look Powder!” she whispered.
The big’s dusty hair cascaded from beneath a broad brimmed felt hat, framed his face and hung over his shoulders ending at the buckles of his red suspenders. A full beard hid the finer features of his face. A flannel shirt, covered with a pattern of small faded horses, was tucked loosely into the waist of his grimy denim trousers, which were bloused in calf-high black leather boots. He carried a pickaxe in one hand and an empty water jug in the other.
A gasp of astonished surprise and fragments of muffled fear arose from a segment of the spectators who had never before seen such a spectacle. But the swaying motion of Tall Tree’s authoritative branches and the movement of others in the know quickly squelched the verbal outburst of the nervous animals. Only the whispers of the big trees, the words of the phantoms and the creaking echo of a distant branch broke the stillness of Bohemia Mountain.
How and why they understood what the bigs were saying was beyond Powder and Puff. Powder rose, stretched to ask Wise Owl, but he was silenced by the big owl’s stern left wing.
“Where are you Billy Shields… you low-down slithering weasel?” Rufus Adams shouted into the atmosphere. His voice echoed through the timber repeating his anger…. “Where are you Billy Shields… you low-down slithering weasel?”
Leslie Weasel poked Jim Weasel and whispered, “Why’s that big abusing us weasels?”
“Got me,” Jim mouthed.
“Sssssh…” Juanita Manzanita breathed swiping Jim gently with a low hanging branch.
“They do a lot of name calling…” Rusty Eagle whispered, “Don’t take it to heart… isn’t worth it.”
“Who’s looking for Bill Shields?” Kitty Granger called leaning over the rail of the Bohemia City Hotel porch. She was a pretty thing sporting a full lavender dress, which swept the porch deck as she moved. She wore a purple shawl draped around her shoulders insulating her bare arms but liberally exposing her neck to the chilly air. Her hair swept up the back and formed a sassy fountain atop her perky head.
“It’s Rufus… Rufus Adams,” Rufus shouted slamming the pick into a mound of yellow dirt. “That low lying scum jumped my claim… “
“Bill’s cute.” Kitty crooned. “He wouldn’t do that…and anyway, how do ya know it was him and not W.W.?”
“Set-em-up says he saw Shields snaking out a wagon load o’ ore while O.P. and I was down at the Grove! When I see him, I’m gonna pop him a good one in the mouth.”
“Don’t think about it,” Kitty said sailing to the steps. “Come on up here and buy yourself a hefty drink.”
“Well, I’ll fill my jug, Rufus said holding out his water jug and mounting the steps. “Gotta get back to the mine… O.P. is grunting away in there… awfully thirsty.” Rufus walked past Kitty to the water barrel and ladled water into his jug.
Kitty snapped his suspenders when he passed her on his way down the steps and said, “Aren’t you hungry? Why don’t you buy something? How’s a lady to make a living?”
At the bottom of the steps Rufus turned and said as if spilling a secret, “Might buy the whole hotel.” He smirked, “Looks like we found something! Don’t tell anybody!”
“Oh… that’s why you’re so mad at Bill… is it? He might have got a nugget or two?” Kitty teased.
“He might have…” Rufus grinned and putting a finger over his whiskered lips said, “Mum’s the word.” He turned and resumed his trek back into the dark opening of the mine.
Kitty skipped across the porch and sat down on the top step. She rested her chin on her knees and hummed softly.
“Badgers dig holes… don’t they?” Georgie Huckleberry whispered in Liz Huckleberry’s ear, “Are they looking for nuggets too?”
Liz chuckled, “I think they’re looking for something to eat… roots maybe…”
“Yikes… huckleberry roots? I hope not…” Georgie gasped.
“Roots and bugs and stuff… they live underground…” Rusty Eagle offered.
Just then a loud shout came from the mine opening. O.P. and Rufus Adams came running out of the mine as if driven by an explosion.
“Yowweee!” O.P. Adams was shouting. He was holding up a nugget of gold the size of a hen’s egg. The two brothers danced in a circle in the middle of the clearing – stomping the ground and singing at the top of their lungs… “Oh it’s gold I’ve sought and it’s gold I’ll find… it’s gold I’ll look for ‘til I’ve lost my mind.”
Rufus stopped the twirling. Holding his brother’s arms and with a big grin he shouted, “No brother, ‘It’s gold we’ve sought and it’s gold we’ve found… It’s gold we’ve found…. And we ain’t done lost our minds!”
Kitty descended the step and glided over the yellow-orange trailings and stood near Rufus.
By now a dozen other miners had come into the clearing and were crowded around the proud prospectors.
“… Couple o’ ounces, I’d say,” drawled Fred Hanson. “Could I have a closer look?” he asked holding out a gloved left hand.
“Long as you don’t try to keep it,” O.P. said displaying his pickaxe while placing the nugget on Fred’s leathered palm.
“Tempting… but long as you’re holding that axe…” Fred grinned looking closely at the yellow prize, “Yeah… least an ounce.”
“Way you two are acting … must be more,” Wally Darby insinuated admiring the gold.
“Might be…” O.P. grinned and after a spit into the powdery dirt added with a snap, “Might not….”
“Awe, come on, level with us!” Jake Winfred pleaded. “It’s what we’ve all been hoping for.”
“Yeah… gives the rest of us hope…specially if you found more than this loner…” Jesse Willis added touching the precious find with a bare finger.
The two brothers looked at one another as if they’d gone too far. Everyone waited. Rufus broke the silence. “Probably shoulda kept it a secret… but couldn’t have for long anyway,” he said taking the nugget from Fred. “Yeah, looks like we found a nice vein o’ quartz in Champion… loaded with gold.”
“Flying cows! Lady Luck here I come!” Burt Dillard blurted hoisting his shovel and heading toward his diggings.
“Blasting caps here I come!” Ben Jason exclaimed taking a cigar from the bib of his overalls and putting a match to it. The other miners excitedly returned to their claims hoping to uncover similar strikes.
“Whopeee!” shouted Kitty Granger heading for the hotel steps, “I’m sending for party stuff… we’re gonna have a party… the biggest party you ever seen.” In her excitement she tripped over the hem of her dress and fell forward into the tailing dust. She managed to come to her knees, but seemed helpless to go further. Her hand and lavender dress were covered with copper colored dirt and she had a red smudge on her chin, which made her look like she had a goatee.
Rufus quickly stepped to help her, “Don’t you worry Kitty Kat,” he said lifting her to her feet. “I’ll buy you a dozen dresses.” When he looked at her face, he laughed. “… Might even marry you… beard and all.”
“It’d take more’n a dozen dresses for me to marry you Rufus Adams,” she said stifling tears and brushing herself off.
The excitement had brought Lula Lee out the hotel front door. When she saw Kitty fall she walked down the steps, picked up Kitty’s shawl and used it to wipe the dust off her face and dress. “Kitty sweetheart, you come in and get your hat on. We’re gonna make a living for sure! We ARE gonna have a party soon as we can get to town and back!”
The others had gone. O.P., Rufus and Fred Hanson started for the gaping mouth of Champion Mine.
Before Lula Lee and Kitty disappeared into the hotel, Lula called out loud enough for the three miners to hear and said, “Watch out Rufus. I just may marry you myself.”
Almost immediately, a burly miner emerged from a gray weather-beaten shack across the clearing from Bohemia City Hotel. Bill Shields tromped across the open space deliberately driving his heavy black boots into the loose dirt sending up puffs of yellow dust. He wore tight fitting black buckskin pants and a tan long sleeved shirt that seemed to small for his robust body… the sleeves rolled up just short of his elbows. A broad gray leather belt circled his waist. In front gleamed a large silver buckle in the shape of a snarling bear. A broad brimmed sweat-soaked felt hat shaded his dark face. From his right wrist dangled several strands of leather like the thongs of a cat-o-nine tails. A pearl-handled pistol rode in the holster strapped to his right leg. The big man carried a coiled rope, which he snaked several times around Tall Tree’s trunk and knotted it. He then placed the rest of the rope behind a clump of sword fern growing at Tall Tree’s base and disappeared behind the hotel.
There was silence.
“Is that all?” Creeping Snowberry asked breaking the silence. “Last time the bigs sang songs and danced.”
“Shsss,” Tall Tree whispered, “Be patient… I’m not done yet.”
“Hey Tall Tree!” shouted Phyllis Poison-oak. “Didn’t that rope around your trunk hurt?” she asked.
“Yeah, when I grew and the rope didn’t I was gradually choking to death. See this scar.” Tall Tree said shaking a branch near her top calling attention to a sizable swelling circling her trunk.
“Wow!” Les Rhododendron said, “How’d you get out?”
“A bunch of squirrels gnawed the rope in two. That was so long ago, that I don’t remember their names. I’ll bet they were your ancestors, Ralph,” Tall Tree said gratefully.
“Well, I’ll bet the squirrels wanted to keep you alive… you give us squirrels cone nuts…” Earl said.
Tall Tree paused realizing that there was too much talking. “We need to be quiet or the phantoms are liable to go away.”
Silence returned to the mountain-top forest. Tall Tree resumed her story.
Lula Lee was excited and confident that the Adams brothers find would bring a new prosperity to Bohemia City, and that, indeed, the miners were ready for and were due a big party.
That afternoon Lula and Kitty hooked up the wagon and mules and headed for Cottage Grove to get supplies.
Most of the residents in Cottage Grove had heard about the Bohemia mother lode. Lula and Kitty’s visit brought life to their adventurous dreams and an unusual stir of excitement. When Lula and Kitty returned to the mountain, a trail of fortune seekers followed.
One morning a line of five ore-filled cars sat on the tracks just outside the mine opening waiting to be rolled into place at the sluicing rig just over the crest of the hill. The crew had stopped working and had gone into Bohemia City Hotel for the noon meal. While the crew was otherwise occupied, Bill Shields took the loose end of the rope he’d tied to Tall Tree and secured it to the back panel of the last of the five ore cars. He then moved to the front car and kicked away the big wooden block that prevented the cars from rolling down hill. He nudged the train of cars forward. He waited for them to start moving. When he was satisfied they were on their way, he laughed and danced off into the woods and out of sight.
The ore-filled cars rolled east along the rails, which dropped over the steepening incline. On the downhill slope they began to gather speed. Shortly the iron wagons reached the end of the rope attached to Tall Tree. The rope snapped taught, ripping the rear panel out of the last car spilling its content along the tracks and causing a terrific racket. The train of cars continued gathering speed as they moved down hill. By the time they reached the first curve they were traveling so fast that they left the tracks and hurtled over the crest of the cliff, crashing through the woods into the canyon below.
The calamity made a terrible noise bringing the miners rushing out of the hotel. Looks of astonishment registered on their faces.
“What in hades is this?” O.P. shouted surveying the scene.
“Looks like we’ve lost it all,” Rufus answered rushing down the steps toward the wreckage. “What happened?” he shouted, “Who did this?”
“It was Bill Shields!” Powder shouted expecting to be recognized.
Soft laughter reverberated through the trees among the animals, birds and vegetation.
“You weren’t there,” Tall Tree chuckled, “They’ll have to find out who did it another way… but they’ll find out… wait and see… Let’s just be quiet.”
“Some low-down mis-fitting cuss did this!” O.P. shouted picking up the frayed end of Bill Shield’s rope.
It took Rufus and O.P.’s crew two days to retrieve the scattered ore, snake the ore cars back up the hill, repair them and get them hauling ore again.
During that time Rufus and O.P. questioned everybody in the camp about who had sabotaged their work. O.P. carried a chunk of the offending rope in his pocket. He constantly produced it asking over and over again, “Whose rope is this?”
His question became so annoying that the standard reply from everyone became, “Don’t ask me. Ask that fellow behind that tree.”
“I don’t see anybody behind any tree,” Puff complained quietly.
The trees, shrubs and animals chuckled again.
Rusty placed a kind wing on Puff’s shoulder and whispered, “Nobody’s behind the tree… it’s a joke.”
Puff ruffled her feathers and with a tone of uncertainty said, “Oh.”
Tall Tree resumed the story.
Rufus and O.P. hired shotgun-toting outlaw Black Bart to guard their claim and equipment.
Bill Shields steered clear of the formidable gun bearer, but looked for clandestine opportunities to sabotage Rufus and O.P. Adam’s successes. He avoided suspicion by driving his pickaxe into an out-cropping of rock a hundred yards from Champion near Musick Mine on Fairview Mountain… but he only halfheartedly worked his site.
It was about noon on the third day since the ore car calamity when Lula Lee and Kitty Granger drove a team of four mules up to the Bohemia City Hotel’s back porch. The mules were pulling a flat bed wagon loaded with supplies. A caravan of fortune seekers accompanied them swelling the population of the mining town.
Sally and Paul, Lula Lee’s teenage helpers, rushed to greet the hotel proprietors. The foursome unloaded the wagon. With the help of their young employees, Lula and Kitty almost immediately began planning a feast in celebration of the Adams brothers’ gold find. Kitty laid out a large piece of butcher paper and painted a sign on it that read, “There’s Gonna be a Diggings on Saturday,” and on another, “Are you Coming to the Diggings on Saturday?” She nailed the signs next to the east window of the hotel.
The posters and the glut of new visitor made it clear to everyone that a celebration was about to happen.
Tall Tree swayed in a sudden gust of wind.
“Do we get to go to the party, too?” Sam Salal asked hopefully.
“Well, I was invited… couldn’t help it…” Tall Tree drawled, “I was in the middle of things,” She paused chuckling before resuming, “I guess you all would have been invited, if you had been there.” Tall Tree paused and chuckled, “I remember your Great-Great Grandma and Great-Great Grandpa Salal were there.”
“Let’s get on with the story, Tall Tree… the party!” Wanda Mole urged impatiently.
“It was quite a time on Bohemia Mountain, it was,” Tall Tree resumed.
On the morning of May 9, 1863, six tables occupied the center of the clearing in front of Champion Mine next to Bohemia City Hotel. The tables were loaded with food and drink.
Lula wore a brand-new paisley green calico dress. Around her shoulders she draped a loose knitted, sage colored shawl. Kitty sported a handsome yellow cotton print dress with a combination of white flowers on bronze vines and in her hair she wore a yellow ribbon. Lula brought a white cotton dress for Sally and a new pair of jeans for Paul. The two youngsters looked like shiny new buttons when they came out to help Kitty put final touches on the party paraphernalia.
“What about Bill Shields?” Phyllis Poison-oak shouted. “Did he get away with his mischief?”
“Yeah!” Creeping Snowberry chimed in. “I think he needs to be punished.”
“Funny you should ask, Phyllis,” Tall tree drawled, “You had a hand in that.”
“Me?” she quizzed.
“Yeah, Look where you’re growing,” tall tree said dropping a cone at her base. “Your great-great-great grandfather and his family lived at the base of my trunk during the mining days. They were here that day Billy Shields came to get the rope he attached to the ore car. Poison-oak oil got on his hands, ankles and, worse for him, on his face. Everything swelled up and itched terribly. He stayed hidden for as long as he could because he knew that when the miners saw him, they would know it was he who tied the rope to the ore car.
“Do we get to see?” Phyllis asked gleefully.
“It’s not pretty… you sure?” Tall Tree cautioned.
“He deserves it… besides, it’s our nature,” Phyllis happily observed.
Well, finally, Bill couldn’t stand it any longer and came out from hiding, seeking help…. Listen.
The miners had taken the day off and had gathered in the clearing to celebrate. The clearing was packed with miners and visitors awaiting the signal for the festivities to begin. Some sat on the ground others on fallen logs. Warren peddled three-legged stools for 25-cents each.
Suddenly, from the trees behind the hotel staggered a man. His face and hands were a deep, ugly red color. It was obvious that he was in complete misery. It was Bill Shields. For a while the crowd was stunned at the sight.
“Please help me,” he whimpered, “I’m afraid I’m going to gouge out my eyes and claw off my skin…please help me!” he cried approaching Kitty.
She involuntarily reached out toward him but was cut short by the Lula’s stern voice. “Don’t touch him… you’ll get it too.”
“More ‘n that!” Rufus Adams shouted. “He’s the low-down lout that tied the rope to the tree and sabotaged our ore cars… ought to kill him,” he said approaching the outlaw with piece of iron pipe.
“You don’t want to try that!” Bill growled pulling his six-gun from its holster.
“You don’t want to do that!” Lula said stepping toward the hotel porch, “You shoot and you’ll never find out where the calamine lotion is….” She continued, knowing that the soothing ointment was the only relief Bill could get to escape the irritating oils of poison oak, “What’ll it be?” she asked and waited for an answer.
“Oh, man, I give up,” Bill said putting the gun back in its place. Then he pleaded, “Please get the lotion.”
“I’ll give you a shot of lotion!” Rufus said raising the pipe to strike.
A gasp came from several spectators.
“Don’t do that!” Sally cried, “the poison’s enough…. Look at him.”
Bill whimpered, “Yeah, man.”
“You learned a lesson?” O.P. Adams asked taking the pipe from Rufus.
“Yeah, I’ll work your mine for a month… for free… just let her get me the lotion.”
O.P. grunted, “You’ll get nowhere near our mine… and if you do come close, we’ll fling you into the poison-oak patch.”
Everyone laughed. Lula beckoned Bill to come. As he made his way to the porch steps, she disappeared into the hotel. Bill clawed at his face and hands as he mounted the steps. Lula met him at the door with a large bottle of lotion. The desperate man grabbed the vessel, opened it and doused his face, hands and ankles with the soothing liquid. He sat down on the top step of the porch clutching the bottle. Lula made her way down the steps and back to the feast. She gave Paul the signal. He applied an iron bar to the dinner bell. It rang out filling the hills with a resounding echo.
A horde of hungry miners and friends stampeded the food-filled tables
Jim Cannery and Jake Willis, who had come up the mountain with Lula and Kitty, fired up their fiddles, Jack Slake his banjo and, before Bohemia City knew it, blue grass music accompanied by foot stomping, whistling and singing echoed in the mountains resounded in the valleys and faded away in the distant hills.
The children and their mothers, ordinarily living in crude cabins along Culp Creek, came to the diggings. The young ones skipped rope, played leapfrog and ran around and through the camp flopping like birds shouting at the top of their lungs.
“What are the little bigs doing?” Powder asked.
“I’ve seen them before up north in the Gorge,” Wise Owl said, “… thrashing about with no purpose as far as I can figure.”
“They call it play,” Rusty Eagle said, wistfully, “I’ve seen bears do it too. For us birds it’s taking a bath or riding the thermals… soaring high in the sky.”
“Let’s show Candis, when we get home,” Puff said, “not the rope stuff, but we can do the flopping.”
Wise Owl and Rusty laughed.
“You’ll get a chance come spring. In a couple of months we’ll be heading back to Tuktoyaktuk.”
“I like it here,” Puff said.
“Yeah, me too,” Powder agreed, “Why can’t we just live here, forever?”
“Tradition!” Wise Owl snapped. “You don’t want to change tradition.”
“Why not?” Puff asked, “Didn’t the irruption change tradition… coming all the way to Bohemia Mountain?”
“It happens every few years… when food is scarce. That’s tradition too.”
“Feel that sun? Hot huh?” Rusty observed. “It’ll get hotter. When it does you’ll be glad you’re back home in the Artic.
“The story!” Leslie Barn Owl interrupted, “Tall Tree, get back to the story.”
A murmur of agreement filled the air, “Yeah, the story.”
“Not much more to tell this time,” Tall Tree announced.
The Saturday Diggings went on all day and into the night filling the atmosphere with jolly celebration. In the days that followed, Bill Shields recovered from his run-in with poison-ivy and made peace with the Adams brothers. He’d learned that cooperating with his community was better than being an agitator. He ended up being the Bohemia City Hotel carpenter, if you can imagine that.
“Other miners found gold in several sites around Bohemia Mountain: Musick Mine, Annie Mine, Helena Mine. The Bohemia Mining District turned out to be the richest district in the West Cascade Mountains. Even these days, bigs still look for the mine James “Bohemia” Johnson bragged about. He called his mine, ‘Mystery Mine’. And that’s the story of Bohemia,” Tall tree concluded with a quiet flourish.
There was a moment of silence, then, Wise Owl began to applaud. Others followed until the forest rang with sounds of gratitude.
When the noise died down, Puff said, “Tell us another story, please!”
Tall Tree swayed in the wind as if searching her branch memories for another story. Instead of beginning another story she said, “That’s all for today.”
A groan arose from everyone. The young ones cried, “Tell us another… tell us another!”
Tall Tree replied, “Well, stick around ‘till next story telling time… I’ll be telling about a raging fire that nearly destroyed the great forest south and west of here…”
“Tell us… tell us!” Powder cried.
Tall tree surveyed the eager eyes of the young around her and began, “Well, it starts like this, Wally Deer and his family were trapped by forest fires coming at them from all directions… The frightened deer huddled together hoping the fire would pass them by or leap over them, but…” Tall Tree stopped and then with a dramatic flair said, “but that’s another story… for next time. Now, it’s time to eat and dance.”
Two months later and after many stories from Tall Tree Wise Owl and his band of Tuktoyaktuk owls took to the air and headed north flying above the Willamette Valley, over the Columbia basin, across Washington state, British Columbia, Yukon and Northwest Territories, landing a week later on the warming tundra of home.
Powder and Puff were exhausted from the long trip. They spent one whole day sleeping before venturing out of their nest to cruise for food.
“Hey Candis!” Puff shouted, “You’ll never believe it.”
“Never believe what?” Candis Cloudberry asked stretching her stiff branches toward the sun.
“Tall Tree’s stories,” Puff enthused.
“Tall tree? What’s that?”
“I forgot… all you know are shrubs and bushes…” Puff said measuring her words. “Well, on this winter’s trip south we met Tall Tree… she’s tall… taller than a hundred wing spans.” Puff stretched out her wings to their extremity.
“Wow, never seen anything that tall… not even icebergs,” Candis mused.
“Tall Tree told us a story about poison-oak and gold miners in the mountains down there. Bigs love gold… they want it… they dig in the ground for it,” Puff explained.
“Ah yes, gold… I’ve heard about gold…” Candis drawled mater-of-factly.
“You have?” Powder asked disappointedly.
“Yeah, Jessica Tern, got it from Glen Penguin… who heard it from the penguin pack storyteller. Yeah, the Klondike Gold Rush of the late ‘90s. Thousands of bigs rushed in from all over the northwest looking for the yellow stuff… lots of killings and hangings, dance halls, gun fights, rodeos… more than 4000 bigs got richer than you can imagine. What they did with the stuff, the storyteller didn’t know. Glen or Jessica didn’t either. Do you know what bigs do with gold?”
“Oh!” Powder and Puff said at the same time with a deflated air.
The two owls and their friend looked at one another for several moments.
Powder broke the silence asking excitedly, “You want to learn how to play ‘leapbird?’”
“Yeah, I guess,” Candis said perplexed. “Want a berry? It’s the first ripe one of the year.”