Eventually a pause in the conversation signaled an opportunity to freshen our coffee. Nehemiah stood, stretched, and gazed briefly into the myriad, brilliant stars. Turning to me, he gestured in an all-encompassing wave across the area to our east, and began a detailed description of our surroundings. His observations were insightful and undoubtedly came of a wealth of firsthand experience. According to Nehemiah, approximately a mile east of our location, beyond a series of granite peaks are the headwaters of Gerle Creek and Loon Lake. Barely a dozen miles beyond that, as the crow flies, occupying an ancient crater, is Bigler Lake, Initially christened Lake Bonpland, and known to Lake Valley’s native inhabitants as Tahoe, which translates as “Big Water” in the Washoe dialect, or “Grasshopper Soup” if you prefer Mr. Twain’s embellishment. Stretching between here and Tahoe is Desolation Valley; a vast expanse of inaccessible canyons, impenetrable vegetation, flawless, jewel like waters, and sheer granite precipices, piercing the wispy cumulous and vying for the stars. Barely two dozen miles from here, on the eastern shore of Tahoe, lay the Nevada Territory; home of Virginia City, Carson Valley, and haven to this areas Indian population during the long winter months, when snowfall in excess of twelve feet renders these magnificent mountains inaccessible to even the hearty Paiutes.
At this point in our conversation Nehemiah paused, warming his backside at the campfire, and savoring his steaming cup. Mokelumne, squatting cross-legged on the sandy ground and staring intently into the glowing embers, pulled her shawl close around her shoulders and continued. Her captivating saga depicted the well-remembered experiences of her own family’s migrations, and went on to recall time-honored ancestral stories of the ancient ones, who’d migrated to this land long, long ago, when woolly mammoths still ranged the lowlands, and the Great Spirit had led the people into the northernmost reaches of the west coast of North America. From there they’d migrated southward, along the west coast, in a faithful quest for freedom, independence, and a new life in the storied promise land.
Here, after long years of hardship, her people had escaped the great ice, and found a land of plenty. Here the Great Spirit had placed his cross on the mountain, that all who behold the fabled TALLAC, will remember the Lord’s covenant with the Redman; that, while Tallac endures, the Redman shall endure also, prospering in his stewardship, and blessed by the natural wonders of his God. This thought provoking chronicle stirred emotions and resulted in a long, disquieting lull in the conversation. Mokelumne became suddenly melancholy as her narrative brought home the sad plight that her people currently suffer. Tallac and its legend endure to this day, in the form of an ancient snow filled crevasse, high on the mountain. Here its cross-like feature stands lonely sentinel over Lake Valley and the immaculate waters of its majestic lake.
Mokelumne’s people on the other hand, although enduring, represent the last scattered vestige of their once proud nation. Tallac endures, and the noble race endures, but their faithfulness is sorely tested, and despite their stewardship, their cherished way of life and their God-given bounty hang in the balance. Their land is besieged, and the world rushes in.
Rising slowly, Mokelumne excused herself and set up our cots. Nehemiah and I tended the mules and stoked the fire, and then the three of us made up our beds and settled in. Tomorrow would bring new adventures, a fishing trip to Loon, and more precious time with this remarkable couple. I lay there on my cot, with my wool blanket tucked snugly around my neck and the day’s adventures swirling in my head, and I marveled at my blessings and that multitude of stars, and the incomprehensible complexity of our lives. “Obie’s Quest”