“The lightning bolt is buried in these mountains. If you find it you gonna buy a castle? Get a dozen wives like a Mormon? Maybe you buy the moon?” He meant gold–the lightning bolt was Papa’s word for gold. Papa didn’t believe in gold, he believed in trees. Trees were his gold.
John Valory stood atop a Ponderosa pine log two feet in diameter. King of trees compared to the mere princely pines back east. He was pulling hard on the upstroke of ten feet of ripsaw steel until his muscles bulged, and then coasting while his son pulled the sharp blade back down. The log lay horizontally over a pit. Down in the hole his son was pulling hard on the down stroke, covered in golden sawdust, imagining the dust as showers of precious gold, the blood of kings and pharaohs. The son of John Valory had dreamed the great valleys of gold. He dreamed gold all the way from Pennsylvania to California. He imagined what his father had not imagined. He had a secret he didn’t tell anyone. He believed he would find a treasure-lode of gold.
Today he would find gold. Today he would become the hunter not of deer or birds, but of precious metal. Today the dream would come true. He would find his treasure right after they finished eating cake.
Today, June 12, 1852, was his birthday, the magic of seventeen. Petr John Valory (his Russian mother skipped the second ‘e’ in Petr to save ink) would get a few simple presents on this beautiful bright blue California Sunday. Then he would go hunting. What his father didn’t imagine was that he didn’t want to get presents, he wanted to give them.
Rumors of California gold ran wild. An ordinary man would make a fortune in a day. Rivers of solid gold lay hidden in mountain valleys and could be found and harvested with a pickaxe and a shovel. Indians could be relied on to trade frying pan sized chunks of gold for pretty scarf or a few dozen beads. These stories were for fools, he knew that. But a young man like himself could find a reasonable amount of gold in California, enough for his dream of giving.
He stopped sawing. He answered his father. “I’d build Mama a white house with blue shutters and I’d buy her a piano. I’d buy Annabel a good horse so she can ride around and stop pestering me.”
John stopped. “Yea?–and nothing for me?”
“After I build you a water-powered sawmill,” he looked at the tired face of the old Dane for a moment. “After that I bring a steam engine from San Francisco. Then you can pull levers and mind gauges all day while steam makes piles of lumber.”
John Valory laughed a good hearty laugh. “How soon can you find this goldmine?”
Papa had quit drinking on the way west, but he was worn thin from cutting boards for other men, for pennies. The old man wanted a lumber mill. Was that asking too much? California was for starting over. He knew it could happen. Petr would make it happen.
In the valley north was a mining camp called Gold Nation where a big man named Dain King was hauling buckets of gold out of the river. Buying every stick of lumber the Valory men could whip from the pit. Getting gold and was hungry for more. Building a long wooden trough called a flume to carry the river out of its bed so men could harvest its golden bottom. Dain King was dreaming big. Petr had seen him from a distance, a great bull of a man, a bronze dome of a head.
Papa kept Petr away from him. Papa wouldn’t let Petr go near him; he didn’t explain why. People had soft spots in their head that weren’t rational. Petr had his own soft spots. His dream of find gold was a big one. But he had a bigger soft spot in his head. He had fainting spells when he was a kid that sent him into a dream world. Strange dreams that were more like memories than dreams.
He dreamed he had lived long ago in a far lost land of sands and pyramids and pharaohs. He was a flying prince–he could become an invisible falcon soaring across great yellow deserts finding big veins of gold beneath the sand. He was called The Gold Falcon.
He had learned to keep that to himself because it was best not to talk about soft spots. The doctor called his fainting spells seizures, but he called them “jim-jams”: the picture in his head flipped and sent him into one of his strange dreams. He was simply gone for a while. Being ‘away’ was more interesting than real life. In Egypt his name was Mahrire. And a pharaoh named Horemheb always sent him on a mission to find gold; and Mahrire fell in love with a beautiful dream girl named Mirael. It was better than life. He couldn’t talk about it.
Papa jabbed him with the long-saw. “Where’s your lucky creek?”