Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bowman Creek: A Tribute

bench by creek

Old bench at Bowman Creek.

And now, I'll finally get around to why I drove up that old road to Bowman Creek, why I hung around there for a couple hours.

I looked for our old camp at Bowman Creek a while before I actually found it. When I had been back there with geo-colleague BS in the late 1980's (maybe 1988), I had been able to find the site by driving right to it. This time, everything seemed overgrown: the bushes higher, denser, and harder to walk through, the creek overgrown with trees and wild rose.

The actual campsite, out on the fan away from the creek, is fairly easy to find. I was looking, however, for a particular spot on the creek, the spot where Bob Shannon - our intrepid expediter, camp builder, and drilling arranger - had built a bench under the shade of some creekside trees. In fact, he had built every single one of our many camp structures through the summer - here and there across Nevada - inlcuding various forms of camp shade.


The bench that Bob built.

I had remembered a bench made of nice wood built into the side of a tree with a large trunk, sturdy, fully in the shade, right next to the creek. What I found instead, was an old, gray, and sun-weathered bench made mostly of 2x4's and other dimensional lumber, a bit rickety looking but still sturdy, with some of the boards missing. It looked like it had not been built into or right against a large tree, but instead had been built on the ground, and was now near a swarming mess of water birch tree trunks, all smaller than the trees I remembered. The original tree, however, may have been cut down, leaving the bench resting on the ground, possibly upside down; the only clue being one leg of the bench, on the right in the above photos, which is made of non-dimensional wood, perhaps part of a tree. I found old aspen or cottonwood trunks lying around here and there, trunks about twice the size of most current creekside trees.

So, I don't know. I have a clear memory, and I have the above pictures that don't quite match.


View from the bench.

I walked over and sat on the bench, sure that I was not the first person who had used it since our 1970's camp, sure that it was the same bench I re-visited in the late 1980's. I sat there listening to the rushing creek waters, and thought of Bob. The first time I came back, BS collected grasshoppers for fishing bait in the tall grass on the far side of the creek (there are trout in the creek), while I sat and reminisced.

It was close to midday. In the afternoon - a time corresponding to our back-then arrival in camp after a day of geologizing across the valley - the bench would still be in the shade. Shade was important when we first arrived in camp in early September; later, shade was unecessary.


Fall leaves overhead.

I sat on the bench, remembering. The leaves overhead had not yet fallen, though they looked ready.

Bob died sometime in the 1980's from a brain tumor, sometime back before my last visit to the creek with BS. Bob was old when I first met him—his sun-browned and craggy face matched the mountains and deserts in which he lived and worked. He was rugged, even austere, yet warmhearted and good-natured. At the Bowman Creek camp we showered with hot water in wooden, closed-in shower stalls that Bob built; we sat in the deep, brown-and-emerald-green shade next to the rushing, ice-cold creek on the bench that Bob built. We kept our beer in a wide spot in the creek, just below that bench.


A place to put the beer.

From the bench, I looked over toward the creek, toward the pool in which we chilled our beer.

Bob Shannon is gone now. He was the first and oldest of our collective group to die. He and his wife, who he always called “She,” had purchased a modest dream cabin along the western bluffs overlooking Walker Lake, just a few miles north of Hawthorne, NV. Now he lives on in me, and in another female geologist he encouraged in his warm and slowly sagacious way, and he lives on at Bowman Creek, where one piece of his multitude of handcrafted camp contraptions remains. We tore down the rest of his constructions each time we moved camp, dismantling outhouses, showers, shade awnings for trailers and tents, and all else into their component parts of 2x4’s, 4x4's, and plywood: pieces to be hauled by 4WD to our next campsite.


Looking up the fan toward the base of the Toiyabe Range.

There being no beer to be had, I walked back up to my truck and moseyed on.


Harold Asmis said...

That's so wonderful!

Garry Hayes said...

A nice story and tribute. I realize more and more how we need to tell the story of the people in our lives before their memory is gone.

Andrew Alden, Oakland Geology blog said...

It's like the old saying that you never step into the same river: we never return to the same field area.

Silver Fox said...

Thanks for all your comments - Harold, MJCRx, Andrew - I had been wanting to go back for quite some time, and finally got around to it. Things are different when you go back, but there are still extraneous volcanic rocks piled near the creek from 15 miles across the valley! (So I know I was really there!)

Anonymous said...

As a resident (part time) of the town of Kingston, I am only a stone's throw or two from Bowman Creek. I'll have to look for your old bench next time I'm over there. You are right about things always being different when you return. An added problem is that upon returning to a place after many years, your memories of how it was are slowly replaced with memories of how it is now. A strange phenomenon and sad in a way.

Silver Fox said...

Whitelightning, I stayed in Kingston a number of years ago, while working in the area. A small little cabin...

Look for the bench, hopefully you'll find it!