"Nature is the medium in which life transpires,"
Scott Russel Sanders on Wendell Berry.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Day 8: Castle Crags State Park, Shasta SHP & Weaverville Joss House SHP

3 June, 2011

Castle Crags State Park, Shasta State Historic Park, and Weaverville Joss House State Historic Park

Up at 4:30 today to make it to Castle Crags State Park with enough time to explore and then make my interview with my friend and ex-boss retired Ranger Dave Horvitz at Shasta Historic State Park. I Left the house under a clear pink sky at 5:30 just fifteen minutes before sunrise. As I drove up I-5, the sweet smell of alfalfa spilled through my open window.

I love stealing a morning all to myself. Only a few travelers crawled along 5 like the first few ants on an abandoned lollipop. All is quiet now, but I sensed the inevitable swarm and scurried along and took in the sweetness of before I was inundated.

One of my favorite things about driving long distances in California is watching the landscape change—from the big sky, egrets, and open fields of the valley to oak woodland to conifer bearing mountain ranges. When Shasta came into view, I pulled over to gawk under its authority. Snow still covered the volcano from the tip of the cone down to as far as I could see.

As Castle Crags came into view, I had to force myself to stop mountain watching from the driver’s seat. The temperature dropped to 46 degrees by the time I reached vista point at Castle Crags State Park where viewed three distinct mountains: Shasta formed from volcanic rock, Castle Crags from granite, and the Trinity Alps from serpentine.

I met Dave and his dogs Ike and Dinah (aka Ole Prune) at his home behind Shasta State Historic Park where he lives with his wife Heidi, the Superintendent of five California State Parks including Shasta SHP, Castle Crags, and Weaverville Joss House, and their two sons. We strolled up to the museum where Dave introduced me to Jackie. Jackie worked in the museum which used to be the original courthouse for the booming mining town. Upon hearing about my interest in writing, Jackie showed me two fascinating old papers from the formation of the town. One was an old map drawn by hand. “They didn’t always orient their maps to the north” she told me as I gazed at the meticulously crafted sketch.

During a major forest fire a few years back, the park began packing up the the 98 paintings by California artists donated by Mae Helene Bacon Boggs that hang in the museum along with other artifacts such as a Native American basketry collection. The collection has since been unpacked, but it was a huge project. The museum, aka courthouse, is complete with functioning gallows (which were used twice), a ghost, and a jail in the basement.

I walked with Dave a few hundred feet up the road there to an old cemetery. I felt like a Chihuahua walking with a Great Dane taking five steps to one of his; Dave is tall and a deft hiker from years of traversing backcountry wilderness.

Across the street the remnants of the town which once supported a population of more than one thousand people—more than live in Shasta today. The historic town includes a functional bakery and blacksmithing shop where local blacksmiths hold demonstration once or twice a month.

Dave is the embodiment of the American Park Ranger. He is fit, jovial, witty and sharp. He loves what he does and it shows. He beams when he talks about the parks, history, animals, environment, and even the quirky details of each park.

I will be posting my interview with Dave shortly, so stay tuned.

On my way to Weaverville Joss House, I spotted two Bald Eagles soaring over Whiskeytown Lake. By the time I arrived, the sky darkened and it began to rain. Inside the museum, I met Jack Frost a park interpreter born in the Grand Canyon. His father worked for national parks and mother worked for state parks. Jack is a full of energy, very kind, and shared his deep knowledge and passion about the Joss House with me and two other visitors.

The Joss House is a temple that is still in use today. Chinese migrants built it in 1873. These migrants were initially welcomed as workers, but when they showed up to mine for gold were retaliated against with vehemence. The Joss House became a way of saying “We are staying” and of bringing a bit of their own culture with them. The large and magnificent furnishings of the temple were brought over from China in the late 1800’s by boat and train—quite an undertaking. All the temples like this one in China were destroyed during a period of unrest.

Joss House served not only as a temple, but also as the first school for Chinese American children in Northern Californian. In a small room adjacent to the room for worship is the caretaker’s quarters, and classroom. One caretaker lived there for 61 years and ran the school, the temple, a business selling herbs, and served as the town bookie.

Joss House ADA ramp is curved to ward off evil spirits; it is believed that evil spirits reside in straight lines.

“What about the fence?” one of the other visitors asked.

“Evil spirits cannot reside in the fence because it is painted red which is a color that represents “good luck” Jack responded.

Before I left Jack told me to “take a look at a map and the parks that are closing. There will not be one gold rush historic map left north of Sacramento” Joss House serves more than 2000 school children a year, as does Shasta SHP. (As a side note Petaluma Adobe, also slated to close, serves 2000-6000 students per year).

This urn is still used to burn prayers written on paper, so they will be heard by the spirits

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