Friday, August 12, 2011

The Storied Metropolis of Hangtown

Hangtown, California, aka, ol' Dry Diggins
The long hard day had assured a good night sleep, and when finally I came to and looked around the following morning, Lidge and Unk were still sound asleep, dead to the world, and snoring to beat the band!  It was almost noon by the time we got under way.  The sun was high, the humidity low, and the air hung heavy with the scent of Manzanita, the drone of insects, and the obnoxious screech of valley jays. We trudged on with determination all day long and right at dusk we reached the crest of a pine-covered ridge. “Over the mountains of the moon, down the valley of the shadow, ride, boldly ride, the shade replied, if you seek for El Dorado.”  So says ol’ Edgar Allan, and Lord knows Poe is well acquainted with shadows. There below, basking in the last red rays of the rapidly setting sun lay the storied metropolis of Hangtown. A small tormented creek meandered through a series of deep, pine-lined ravines, and clinging tenaciously to each bank, at close intervals and in no apparent order, squatted several dozen shake roofed structures reminiscent of the clapboard shanties that graced the Irish community back home. In addition to the rustic, wooden framed structures were numerous log cabins, and on the periphery of the settlement and lining Main Street on either side, an endless sea of tents glowed hospitably from the lamplight within.  The oak scented smoke of countless campfires hung thick in the motionless evening air, and the entire hollow twinkled in the light of countless lamps and flickering candles.  Laughter and jocularity rose spasmodically from a number of well lit gatherings down below, and a melancholy rendition of “Little Annie Laurie” scratched out hesitantly on a pair of slightly flat fiddles, rose plaintively from a massive canvas covered structure in the center of the scene. We eventually found access to the main street and proceeded slowly and deliberately in the waning light, until we reached a large open area in front of the crowded tent.  This was evidently the heart of downtown. Main Street, lined on each side with false storefronts, dropped in a gentle grade from the east; widening and splitting as it approached a long row of canvas covered shops.  At the east end of this row of shops stood a bell tower as high as any building in town.  Main Street proceeded west, past a number of dimly lit, but well patronized saloons and Center Street lead quickly toward a row of barns and stables, which faced the rear of the shops to their south and hung precariously over the banks of scenic Hangtown Creek to the north. Among the storefronts facing the bell tower from the north, was a well lit eating establishment, and observing our approach from this vantage point stood an elderly man and the very first woman that we’d laid eyes on since leaving San Francisco. "Obie's Quest"

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