Hippie Squared: Gold Country Gold


A blogumn by Jeff Rogers

“Out here we grow amunds. ‘Almonds’ are what we sell.” Lou’s giving me the tour. “This year the birds got ‘em all. Wasn’t worth knockin’ one tree.”

Past the almond groves their acreage ends at the edge of a tree-filled canyon. Successive ridges of oak-dotted yellow hills climb to the gray line of Sierra Nevadas. Three canyons over the gold rush began.

My wife and I have taken her mother to see cousin Bertie for the first time in fifty years. They grew up together, third generation San Franciscans. Irish great grandfather fled the potato famine. Grandfather “Pop-pop” owned seven saloons on the Barbary Coast and a famous night spot in San Francisco. The first floor was a public restaurant. The second floor an exclusive one. Third floor was the brothel.

Bertie takes in refugees. She takes us to feed the burro his nightly garlic bread. He’s as big around as he is long. “He loves his garlic bread.”

Someone shot the burro’s friend the goat. And bobcats got the chickens. But they’ve still got two geese, three ducks, two cats and three dogs. “And a troll living in the garage,” says Lou.

The troll’s an old hippie on the run from the City. For his tiny rent he also gets dinner. Tonight Bertie serves frozen lasagna, frozen vegetables and a frozen chicken, with wine from a box and porch-temperature Bud Lite in frosted mugs. It’s a friendly meal and the company is golden.

Gold country is also where “local color” began in American literature, popularized by Bret Harte, and Mark Twain in “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

They still hold the contest. “People come from all over the world,” Lou says. “Korea, Japan. Few years ago some Russians brought frogs ten times bigger than anybody else’s. City fathers spent hours combing the by-laws but couldn’t disqualify them. Didn’t matter. They couldn’t jump. Too heavy to get airborne.”


Photo Credit: Steve Ryan