The Smell of Gold

Caitlin Mohan
2016 Boom A Journal of California  
Passing time on the Yuba River M y son and I sit on a boulder in the Yuba River when he asks if the river looked this way a hundred years ago. Since I have been visiting this same place for the last forty-five summers and with the exception of a new wash of gravel or a fallen tree that changes the depth of a hole, I tell him that the river will remain the same. Probably. The river's granite boulders and jade waters teach firsthand how water takes the path of least resistance. In fact, this
more » ... radius of my childhood, Highway 49 running past Nevada City over the south fork and up a dirt road, looks from a dusty car window as it always has-a red earth, scrub brush landscape that curves away from pressures of modern life even as it pulls the imagination back to gold miners and a hundred years later to the rednecks, retirees, and back-to-the-land types. What's different today is that when I roll down the window a sirocco of marijuana saturates the car-the new smell just beyond the road that will become the scratch-andsniff memory for my children's recollection of this place. When I was a kid, summer's first swim began with my nose skimming the water's surface in an effort to rediscover that familiar scent of river, rock, dragonfly-whatever it was that brewed Gold Country smell. My father, for whom "odors" were of paramount importance, a gateway to memory and feelings, taught me to register the smells of Highway 49. He would hang his head out the car window, shouting into hot wind, "Can you smell it?" For a New Jersey transplant by way of Greenwich Village and Berkeley, California was a land of Lotus Eaters. He never could get over the place and the smell of (what was it?) witch hazel, cedar, manzanita-it drove him wild. Yes, I could smell it, though we could never name the intoxicating elixir of plants, animals, and dirt, for we were East Coast in origin, summer visitors and hedonists, not scientists. We would leave the diagnostics to people like Gary Snyder who lived year
doi:10.1525/boom.2016.6.4.62 fatcat:xs6rxwlcungypm6thcnnudhsfi