There used to be a flume, high on the mountain, on Burnt Hill Creek. By the time I lived there, it was nothing but a line of boards, fallen from their nails, rotting on the mountainside under inches of maple leaves, storm-stripped twigs, and berry brambles. It reached a kind of building that was so old, the wooden walls were completely broken down. Maybe it was a water-house, or a makeshift mill of some kind? It could have been a miner’s last-ditch attempts at finding gold. I don’t know. When I stepped into the remains of shack, the planks snapped under my weight, and I fell through the floor my feet sinking into the soft loam. I had to prop myself onto an age-grayed post, and dump the detritus from out of my shoes.
I am probably the last person to see the remains of this old flume. I asked my dad about it. He told me what it was. I don’t remember. All I know is that on the Southern Oregon coast, more than 50 years ago, somebody built a flume that ran hundreds of yards down a steep creek, and emptied out into an old building. Who was the man that built it? Did he think it would last? When did he give up and decide the flume was no longer worth the trouble of maintenance? Was it my Grandpa Mead? When I am dead, nobody will remember this structure.
When I was a teenager, I asked Grandpa Carpenter where the family at the Bullis Place dumped their trash. The Bullis Place was a cleared prairie, where Burnt Hill Creek flattens out into a wide muddy meadow. Alders and short willows pepper the landscape. The evergreens are farther away, where the land is more stable and the water isn’t free standing. The road was cut open by winter storms. If, by walking or in the Jeep, a person could manage to get to the old homesite, you saw a couple old wrecked cars, nothing more than a frame; usually the steel body rusted away completely; a steering wheel poking out of the grass like a grave marker.
The Bullis Place, years before, was called Irma, after my great great grandmother. They had a post office there. I actually don’t know who Bullis was. I just know that the stagecoach road (which predated both the Old and New State Highways 101) passed by Irma on its way northward. My third Great Grandmother Clara and Grandfather Nathaniel lived there. Now the whole area is owned by the Crook family.
Twenty-six years ago, a person could still see, at the top of the prairie, a stone perimeter that marked where the house once stood. A few ancient fruit trees dotted the hillside. Now only an inches-high foundation remains. I wanted to see the dump, to find glass bottles, blue from age, and maybe old pieces of china. Grandpa C.’s speech was garbled and I never really understood his directions. He told me, enormous sweeping gestures, where the families dumped their trash. I nodded and smiled, and pretended I knew what he was talking about.
I headed to the Bullis Place and spent an afternoon sliding down tumbledown cliffs, looking for any evidence of habitation. I found nothing. Someone who wanders that way might, but probably won’t, see old evidence of a homestead, but when my family dies, I doubt anyone would remember it was called the Bullis Place, and before that, my 3rd Great Grandparents lived there, and operated a post office and a stagecoach wayside in the middle of the Oregon coast mountains.
Nothing is permanent in southern Oregon. Nothing tends to last longer than a few years. Without intense maintenance and preparation, the evidence of humankind disappears after a few hundred years, and will be found only by archaeologists. But why would they bother to look at these places? what would captivate them about old Irma, which has value to nobody but myself? Who would care that I found the remains of a flume in the 1970s? Who finds interest in a bunch of old boards that are buried beneath feet of fallen leaves? Maybe I’m the last one. Maybe these secrets are for me alone, and cared for by nobody but myself. Maybe generations of human habitation, up on Burnt Hill Creek, will die with me. Perhaps this is the way fate would have it. Our attempts at civilization are like a fly buzzing around a horse. One flick of Old Nellie’s tail, and the fly is nothing more than a memory, and hardly a worthwhile one at that. Sorry to go all Ecclesiastes on you today. Have a great Monday, and enjoy what we have *now*. In 150 years, signs of our passing may be nothing more than five hundred yards of buried planks, or a steering wheel standing erect in the middle of a meadow.