I had been here before, in this quaint little town known as Angels Camp, Calif. It is a beautifully old mining township, nestled in the foothills of the grandiose setting I have called home for damn near a quarter of my life, the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This area is particularly rich in history, mainly due to the precious metal-extracting days of California’s Gold Rush. The times I had traveled through here before were always travels passed with the sheer sense of hurrying through, to get to somewhere else. I had never really taken the time to let the historic sensory this municipality supported in its dilapidated structures gather my attention. Little did I know back then, how much this place was layered in the lineage of my heritage, but now here I was waiting for it to embrace the purpose of me. As I stood with the silence of morning’s first light, just two rurally incorporated blocks from where Samuel Clemens found his first inspiration in some “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, I become aware of something with a supernatural presence trailing me. Hell, maybe I was trailing it, who’s to say either way.
I had woken up at about 4:00 AM that Sunday morning, due in part to the fact that I had set up my tent on a more than slight incline. I found my attempt at sleep to be restless and the tightness in my back wouldn’t allow my ignorance to repose itself in peace. So I got up with the intention of foraging for inspiration. I unzip the door of my collapsible home and my eyes are promptly affixed to the crucifix that stretched into the star-filled sky across the street from where I had attempted to rest easy. I notice how well-lit the sky is behind it and reach for my camera to power her up. I find the proper focus and backlighting, as I go to snap the picture, the camera powers off. Confused I shake the camera thinking that would fix it, much to my apprehension, it didn’t. I check the batteries, although I knew that it couldn’t be the problem because I replaced them no more than twelve hours ago. I chalk it up to my ignorance again and think nothing more of it. I light the bottle top propane stove and fill the granite decorated pot with water. I fill the French press with some grocery outlet-grade aromatic blissful fuel. I sit there for a while, waiting with a newfangled contentment. I start writing down my peculiar thoughts in hopes of creative growth. The flame beneath the propane burner flickers away, it resembled the graceful likes of someone blowing out a midsummer night’s candle. Out of nowhere, I hear a family of frogs; start speaking their minds, in a mass exodus of ribbits, I start humming along with them. I wondered if they were speaking in tongue because I was invading their privacy. I don’t know, and more than likely, never will. I then decide that I should get to know my surroundings better. I remember that I passed a gas station late last night, as I pulled into to town. If it was open at midnight, it must be opened now. I went about my way, on a quest for a cup of joe; I head in the direction of the crucifix. It is what happens next, that you will want to pay more attention to.
As I am walking past the shuttered and antediluvian house of worship, something grabs my attention at the last-minute. I see a shadow that beacons through the faint light of a fleeting window. The apostolic structure and its windows are stained with a retrograded antiquity. I wonder who, if anyone, is inside collecting themselves in lieu of the emergence of a beautiful day’s break. I begin to ponder if it could be a bellow for help in the fashion of a kindred spirit searching for its eternal rest. A chilly breeze blows beneath the surface of solidarity that I feel at the moment. The moon is fullest I have ever seen it, whilst a purple hue settles in gently behind its amazing grace. Eastward, the sun trickles against the horizon, accompanied by the soothing palette of an orange rose. I shiver with the intent of shaking the ethereal presence that I feel grasping at my soul. It seems as though in this search for my own identity, something is seeking my attention through the apparatus of an apparition that is rooted in my family tree.
I can still hear the frogs, ringing in my ears louder than ever. Oh the gospel of Mother Nature, I think to myself. I walk to the doors of the church and look to see if they are unlocked. I do not know why I decided to do what I did next; something wouldn’t allow me to do any different. I was drawn to find out what was seeking my attention; I had to know what it wanted from me. I wasn’t at all surprised to find the doors unlocked. I pull the door open and the air that wafts about me is cold and damp. I walk inside and holler with hospitable declaration; it is my hope that I hear some other hospitable voice. It feels like hours pass through the minutes of silence, nothing answers back. The church is astonishingly well-kept for one that hasn’t been ceremoniously engaged in decades. I walk between the pews and wonder why the backs of them are soft but their seats are hard, this is something that has never made sense to me. I continue on my search for sanctuary and find myself standing in the quire, I notice that the seats surrounding me, all of them are folded proper, except for the one behind me. For some reason I decide to sit down, I pull the leather-bound journal from my back pocket and start writing with a fervent demeanor, the words pouring from my heart are singing through me. It is as though a spectral choir is serenading my soul with the words of a newfound gospel. I sat there writing for what felt like an eternity. I finally stop and breathe about a dozen of the deepest breaths one can breathe. I close my eyes to pray, or it could have just had something to do with bewildered exhaustion.
I am awakened, startled by the serene harmony of a Sunday morning organ. I am still seated amongst the empty quire. I look around and see no one; all of the chairs are now absent, except the one my ass was parked on. I gather my thoughts and position myself upon my feet, slowly stirring out of my short-lived slumber. I start looking about my unfamiliar surroundings with a little more concentration and notice a ghostly man whom looks to be nearing his expiration day. I introduce my presence to him with a comfortable distance. He turns to face me, unfazed by my unannounced attendance. “What are you doing here son?” The question is asked in a southern twang. I respond, “Looking for something but I am not yet sure what that is.” He laughs and responds, “Well ole Chris Columbus wasn’t sure what he was lookin’ for and that turnt out okay for most e’eryone, ‘cept the Injuns’.” He turns his back to me and continues playing the organ. I am amazed at how potent the sound is pouring from his fingers and through the angelic pipes glazed with brass and copper. He stops and stares back towards me with an inquisitive gaze. He stands and walks my direction; I am not frightened or anxious. I am in awe of his carefree demeanor stained with a life full of zest. “Well son”, he says, “You look to be on the right path, but it’s time for you to mosey on about to where you need to be, times a wastin’ and you got work to do, if I ain’t mistaken.” “But I don’t have anywhere to be,” I say. “That’s how ya know y’all on the right path, son,” he answers, “Cause if you ain’t got nowhere to be and you came to this here ole holy haunted cathedral in the middle of nowhere, then you already knowin what you ought do.” “I guess that is about right” I respond. I am amazed that I can understand exactly what he is saying, even though his words are riddled with a lazy twang that is lacking syllables. “A’right son, I reckon I ought to see you to yonder door,” he offers. “Well, before I go can I get your name,” I ask. “Son, you already know my name,” he says with an arrogant and audible smirk. “I beg your pardon, do not tell me what I know or do not know, kind sir,” I retort with a smidgen of punkish behavior. The man responded, “Well, in that case, allow me to give you some advice. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” “Well, thank you for your hospitality and the helpful advice, looks like its near time for me to get on about my business,” I say. As I turn away and make my way towards the door, he says one more thing. “By the way son, the name is Sam, but you can call me Mark.” The door slams as he laughs with hysteria. I muse about myself for a moment and then head back to my camp, walking with briskness in the midst of Angels. Wouldn’t you know it, the sun had yet to fully rise, and only ten minutes had passed according to the standard observation of the Pacific time zone.
I couldn’t help but feel a sense of tenacity from this charismatic and friendly fiend. I felt an intimate and paterfamilias connection with the ghost. In a situation where most folks would be petrified, I found myself intoxicated by the galvanic goodness upheaving itself through the depths of me. The shadow was now gone, or at least it was no longer presentable, due to the height of the sun. Was he walking with me back to my camp? Is he still with me now as I am writing these words with the technological ease of a laptop? Who knows? What I do know, is that I am on the path I was meant to walk.