As the days of my 85th year draw to a close I find myself wresting with a paradox:
just where the hell were these idyllic storm free winters when I was pruning grapes seven days a week? Just to confirm that my mind hadn’t gone south along with my hearing I offer the following from some old newsletters: 1993: “the winter was delightful, particularly if you happen to enjoy pruning grapes on snowshoes.” 1996: “…a four foot diameter digger pine came crashing down in a snow storm wiping out eighty feet of deer fence and two gates.” 1999: “I was sloshing around the vineyard in mud and snow.” 2002: “It was one of those long, bitterly cold, winters. The kind where vicious storms lash out and shatter conifers like brittle matchsticks.” 2006: “It snowed every day in March with the exception of the two days it merely rained and hailed.”
Are you beginning to get the picture?
For twenty-five long years I fought Mother Nature tooth and tong and now that I’m a wheelchair bound spectator, squinting at the outside world from the confines of my office, the capricious lady has thrown in the towel and declared northern Trinity County a “no fly zone” for storms. T’ain’t fair McGee!
As most of you know Keith has taken over the entire vineyard and winery operation. My role has been reduced to insubstantial fluff. I show up at the winery periodically to “keep an eye on things,” but invariably fall asleep before catching anyone in a grievous n misstep. I insist, however, upon being vigorously shaken awake for any barrel tasting. It’s a bothersome task, but I’m a firm believer that duty trumps comfort. Oh, and another thing, before I depart I always like to leave the crew with a few words of encouragement. It was something I picked up watching Pat O’Brien portray Knute Rockne giving a stirring Notre Dame half time talk. “Gang”, I pause to make sure I have the full attention of both girls “Gang, I want you to know I think you’re the cat’s meow.” How’s that for stimulating the blood and fueling the imagination? It kinda leaves you teary-eyed and all choked up, doesn’t?
Last summer, while helping a historian locate East Fork Indian sites, I came across some Wintu place names that might be of interest. The list came from Jim Fader and was recorded in 1930. Jim was born in 1845 and was considered the last local Wintu chief. Incidentally, both Keith’s and my ranches were once owned by Indians, Keith’s by Jim Fader and mine by Bud Wagner.
The one thing I learned was that the Wintu had a penchant for naming virtually everything.
No creek, spring, deer lick, mountain, trail, meadow, fishing hole, flat or swamp was too insignificant to name. The area where Keith’s ranch is now located was called ts’upaxi or “goes fast, gets stuck,” an obvious tip of the hat to the soggy nature of the meadows there. Immediately to the west there is a flat across the river that was named lubelen panikni or “place where the Wolf dances.” China creek, across from the winery was called limoston or “roaring noise.” A fishing hole in the river above the winery was named phuq lubeq or “dust waterhole.” Wildcat Peak was tsup’ewi son or “Spike buck rock.” And the mouth of Halls Gulch was named khawi labalqol or “Copper basket mouth.”
In 1948 I had the good fortune to meet and visit with Jim Fader’s daughter, Ida Lechuga, on numerous occasions. I had a Forest Service trail maintenance contract on the Halls Gulch trail that began at her cabin’s doorstep. I knew her only as “Princess Ida” which was based, I think, not only upon her father’s status, but also by her comportment. She acted like royalty. With admittedly one exception. It was late one afternoon and Ida and I were talking on her front porch when her two mongrel dogs began to bark and yelp inside the cabin. The hullabaloo became so distracting that I asked if something was wrong. She looked at me as if the thought hadn’t occurred to her and turned to peer into the shadows of the cabin. There, coiled on the kitchen floor, was an immense rattlesnake holding its own against the antics of the dogs.
Ida shook her head wearily, gathered up a broom, and swept the snake out the back door while muttering what I perceived to be a torrent of Wintu profanities. This was hardly conclusive however. She wouldn’t let me kill the snake so perhaps she was merely entreating the reptile to take its pleasure elsewhere.
In the hospital room in Redding, from a large window facing the Trinity’s we watched the sun slowly setting westward with a vibrant orange twilight glow that was fading into night. So to, like the sunset my father was slowly fading into the next life, his wife of sixty years and his granddaughter were holding his hands, as dad peacefully moved on to the next harvest on 6/6/15 at the age of 86.