Friday, July 27, 2007

Volcano, California

No volcano. Miners named the goldrush town after the mists that would rise from the hills, giving an eerie sense of an active volcano in the foothills. We didn't go to see the volcano, nor to do mining. We went to Volcano to meet high school history teachers who Louis entertained after dinner with a talk about his new book project. Of course that was the best part, but a close second was the setting itself. I love the foothills and at the end of July the hills are golden as they rise into the Sierra. Apart from the beautiful setting, Volcano has a great little bar where I enjoyed two great little shots of Balvenie whiskey. We stayed at a historic Inn, The Saint George Hotel. In our rooms was a framed photograph of an elderly couple. On the back it said that one of them had been born in the room.
The St. George Hotel is reputed to have a fine restaurant. We did not get to eat off the menu, unfortunately. but had the usual lot of a gathering of teachers-large scale food preparation.
The next day we went to Jackson where they have one of the best used bookstores I've been in. We've made plans to return just to go to Hein and Company Used and Rare Books. I am already regretting having put a few tomes back. That North Dakota memoir was so interesting...
We also went into the Sutter gold mine as part of a group tour. We were all asked if we had been in a mine before, if we had problems with panic, etc... no one volunteered their phobias. When we descended into the tunnel, however, I thought I might just display mine. Overhead an immeasurable weight of rock, getting more immeasurable by the moment. I could not think of much else except the foolhardiness of going underground. We were in California, where there are eathquakes. Mines cave in, there is gas in mines, there are rocks falling, people get lost in the twisting tunnels!
I had my book with me and by paying attention to and jotting down words like collar, portal, face, and back ribs, I maintained composure.
We were told the donkeys and mules who pulled the carts were called links. The links were brought into the mine, and once there spent their entire lives underground, never to come to the surface again. It was too expensive to cart them back out. I wonder if it ever occurred to people that this was a cruelty. It seems unlikely a donkey would have merited consideration the human workers were not afforded.
We sat in the rescue chamber for a while, our guide telling us about equipment as varied as jack bits to canaries to carbide lamps. The chamber was the safest place in the mine with more spring steel rock bolts in place holding the rock together than anywhere else in the mine. Water and air were piped in, a first aid kit and a telephone on the wall. When our guide turned out the light all I could see was Louis' glow in the dark watch face.
Back in the unsafe chambers, our guide told us about the different drills used through history. The first mechanized drill, the "big" drill, made so much quartz dust, or silica dust that it made men sick. The resulting illness: jackhammer laugh, white lung, silicosis. The average amount of time a man lived after taking up the drill-3 years. The hazard pay given for the work-an extra seven dollars.
I was happy to return to the daylight. As we drove toward the mouth of the mine, all one could see was a rectangle of thick turpuoise sky framed by black rock.

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