Up in Oroville, just outside of town to the west, where
ranch land and olive groves once thrived. At Grandpa
and Grandma’s, in the morning waking to meadowlarks
and Northern California skies of cornflower blue.
This was the new house they built by hand after
the old one burnt down. Home-made curtains on
walls framed with sweat on land the bank owned.
Fertile earth, ponds where poplars reach up to break
the afternoon breeze. A mammoth eucalyptus tree marked
the northwest corner at Grand Avenue. Too huge to climb,
so tall it could be seen for miles. Wonder how many
generations of birds nested there before the axe.
Hand picked olives to fill the bin, taken by truck
to get weighed and paid by the co-op. Cows chew grass
between the trees, bees buzz, cars on the dirt road seldom
disturb. Evening comes supper.
Thermolito, the lake across the way. Not an afterthought, an
afterbay. Feather River water flows from the massive earthen dam,
then arrives here before leaving town — part of the great state project.
Grandpa died. Lung cancer. Chesterfield Kings, open pit asbestos
mine work in the Great Depression. He was sixty-three. Siblings
lived into their nineties. He lived to hunt and fish. That’s why they
settled in this area with lakes and nearby mountains in Gold Rush
country, rich with stories and legends.
Grandma had to sell the land that was left, following years
of carving up the once bigger ranch. The bank got their due.
Eucalyptus, gone. Hand-built home too. Avenue, now paved.
Driving by, parking where the great tree used to be.
The old church next door remains. Meadowlarks
still sing their song.
Cancer burned through our home
like an excruciatingly slow wildfire.
Through my sweet Faye, engulfing
our little family. The house still standing,
but we had to leave, our fates out in the
wind. Strangers gave us the gift of shelter,
our familiar world forever gone. All our
belongings covered in someone else’s dust,
no longer belonging to us. But, it was only
stuff, mostly. Combined with years of memories,
certain objects connected by recent or distant
pieces of time. A cherished book or our daughter’s
broken toy. Objects that will not speak the same to
their new owners, or to the seagulls down in the dump.
Photographer, writer, web designer, consultant, and the Visual Media Director for Barren Magazine, Christopher Nielsen has resided in Bakersfield, California since 1971. Traveling the many back roads of California has provided a wealth of inspiration and he feels most at home out in nature. Since the death of his wife of over thirty years, poetry has become his primary form of written expression, and his poems have appeared in ‘Writing Sound: A Collection of Poems from Bakersfield and the Southern San Joaquin Valley’ and will appear in Mojave Heart. He is currently working on a book of photo-poetry, and his photography has appeared in Barren Magazine and West Texas Literary Review. Visit his website, http://www.chrisnielsenphotography.com