Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category


Wednesday, July 18th, 2012









Her name was Vendla.  Vendla Kivi Ajo.  Try saying it: Ven-d-la Kee-vee-ah-ho.  The Vendla has a little lift to it, and the Kivi Aho rolls off the tongue. Vendla Kivi Ajo! What a pleasure to speak it.  It’s not just a name, it’s a picture. We all have words we like to pronounce and this is one for me, for it also brings back memories and events I would probably have forgotten, and faces I still can imagine. Another I have is “cronartium ribicola”: white pine blister rust.  It is a disease that travels between the wild gooseberry and the pines.  I like to say it for it makes me sound knowledgeable, but, in truth, it is the only thing I remember from the Forestry class I took at Cal.  But I do remember the delicious red fat prickly gooseberries, and someday I’ll write a story about them. Another word I like to say is “Nawaliwily”.  I pronounce it nye-willy-willy.  Fun, isn’t it?  This is a very small seaport on the island of Kauai, north of Lihue, that large ships can enter and depart only at high tide, and, at the time I was there in 1944, as you drove along the adjacent highway you could not see the water, but you could reach out and nearly touch a massive ship that appeared to be sitting on dry land.

Oh, yes, Vendla: she is the girl who led me to lion hunting

Our favorite picnic spot near the logging camps was the road crossing of Silver Creek.  It was our favorite, because it was the only water area nearby that was usable.  Most of the streams in the area were in a deep ravine or canyon, fast flowing over a rocky bed, and sheltered by tall trees and brush.  This creek, which eventually flowed into the South Fork of the American River, wandered through a flat, somewhat level area, sandy on each side and scattered tall Pines around.  Our site was just upstream from the ford crossing, and though the water was only 2 to 3 feet deep, it was ideal for cooling off prior to lying on sand in the sun, with a beer or a soft drink, and talking and singing with friends

This particular Sunday might have highlighted a special celebration, for it seemed there were more of us there this time.  From Georgetowncame Freddy with a girl.  Freddy, a husky young man in his late 20’s, had been a “cat skinner” (tractor driver) for several years in the camps.  He had now become a California State Highway Patrolman, and I suspect, cut a fine figure in his uniform.

His guest was Vendla, a pretty, black haired young girl of Finnish parentage, just graduated from high school.  It seems she and I found something in common, for the two of us wandered down stream, discussing the problems of the world, and what fortunes the future held for us.  She invited me to visit her in Georgetown the next Sunday to have dinner with her parents, and we strolled back to the partying group.  Our reception was of a “what have you two been up to?” nature, except for Freddy, who was seriously, and properly, offended and embarrassed, but Vendla and I offered no apologies.

The next Sunday’s dinner was delightful, as were her parents.  Both small sinewy persons, her father was the manager of the gold mine nearby, and had I not been invited for that day, the family would have gone to Rocklin, a small town a short way west of Auburn for a sauna.  Rocklin had a large population of Finns, who enjoyed their masochistic practice of sweating over hot rocks, then jumping into icy water.  I’m glad they didn’t suggest I join them some time.  They might even have added switches on my back for further cleansing.

That afternoon Vendla took me for a ride in their family car on one of the back roads.  Vendla had just finished high school and was ready to sow her wild oats, to become a woman of the world, to be emancipated.  We parked for a while and did a little necking.  My attempts at petting were rebuffed, but to express her new freedom she told a joke using the “F” word.  I was not shocked, but somewhat surprised, for I would not have said that word before women, such were the mores of that period.  And as I parted that evening for the camp, we arranged to go to the “barn” dance outside Georgetown the next Saturday night.

The following Saturday, ready for some fun, I appeared at her house around seven, but found to my disappointment, that she was ill.  She was lying on a cot on their screened-in front porch, in no mood or condition for dancing and insisted I go alone to the dance.  Some of us from camp had been to these Saturday night dances before, but no others had come down this evening.  Nevertheless, I found partners to dance with, and before the 12:00 o’clock ritual of passing the hat to get the band to play another hour, I made friends with another lone lad.

I’ll call him John for I have no recollection of his real name,  but when he told me of his summer job with Jay Bruce, the Lion Hunter, it took me back 10 years to a matinee at the Varsity theater inPalo Alto where Jay Bruce appeared on stage, prior to a lion movie.  Californiahad two official State Lion Hunters, one for Southern California, and one forNorthern California.  When a lion, or you could call them pumas or cougars, posed a problem for domestic animals or humans, the hunter was called to action, tracking with dogs, to dispose of the cat.  John told me he and Jay were camped in a deserted house along the road I would be taking back to camp.  I don’t know how he got to the dance, but he asked if I would drop him off on my way home.  When we arrived at this shack, set back away from the road, he suggested I spend the night with them.  Since my family in camp had expected me to stay all night in Georgetown, I accepted.  We silently entered the dark and bare cabin, but nevertheless awakened Jay, who, after being introduced to me, asked “well, did you get any tonight?”.   With our negative replies, I was given a dirty stinking sleeping bag, which not even a dog would use, but I growled softly and immediately went to sleep.

The next morning Jay prepared us a hearty breakfast with his camping equipment, took us out back, where his dogs were tethered, and into his pick-up truck where we took off on a dusty narrow road into the back-country, that is, even more back than the country we were in already.  The dogs were left behind and surprisingly quiet, probably very content to spend the Sabbath in rest.

First, the three of us rode in the cab, Jay calling out the name of the animal tracks he could see through the windshield, tracks I could not even see, let alone identify.  Then he rode on a front fender, where he got a better look, and after a while, signaled us to stop.  John and I got out and he showed us the tracks of a large cat, which, he said, he would pursue tomorrow with his dogs.  We traveled a bit farther on this road for he wanted to check a steel trap he had set.  There, in the trap, one leg crushed, I saw the ugliest bird in the world – the turkey buzzard.  It was not only ugly, but difficult to kill, for it took him some time, pounding its head with a large stick. Kill it, he must, for, being injured; it would not have survived if released.

We drove back to his bivouac, said our goodbyes and I returned to camp.  I heard, sometime later, that he had bagged a lion in that area; a lion I helped him find.

Now, I hear you say!

“You call that lion hunting?  You didn’t even get scared. You didn’t shoot a lion, you didn’t see a lion, and you didn’t even hear a lion.  You just saw some footprints!”

My reply; “That was as close as I want to get to a lion in the wild”.


But you; you got to meet a lovely maiden, see our picnic spot, meet Jay Bruce, and, if you had been there, petted his dogs.  I never saw Vendla again.  The next summer I checked in on the Kivi Ajos in Georgetown.  Vendla had gone to Alaska, I think married.  Mr. Kivi Ajo had died of lung disease, and Mrs. Kivi Ajo was deliberating her future.  I enjoyed seeing her several years later, serving as postmistress and clerk at Balderston’s store, a few miles northeast of Georgetown.

And thus, the closing of another chapter in my life, and Tales of the Woods


George W. Parker

Burlingame, CA








Yosemite Reservations

Monday, January 2nd, 2012



            “Have you ever been to Yosemite?” she asked.

            “Oh, yes, several times,” I replied. “Once when I was very young, but I don’t remember. My father says we camped there.  But I’ve been there other times that I do remember.  Once, right after World War II, I went skiing there with two friends.  We stayed in a cabin that had a wood stove for heating, and I got a headache from blowing on the fire to keep it burning. Another time I spent a honeymoon there and also went skiing.”

            “What’s a honeymoon?  Is it yellow, like honey?”

            “No, it’s when you take a vacation trip after your wedding to get acquainted.  It’s what you should have done before you got married.  Why do you ask about Yosemite?”

            “I saw a show on television.  I’d sure like to go there sometime.”

            “Maybe your parents will take you when you get older.”

            “I don’t know.  They are always too busy.”

            “Well, you seem to be having a nice summer.  I see you riding your bike up and down the street, and you have lots of playmates.  I saw you trying to walk in high heels the other day.  Where did you get them?”

            “They’re my mother’s, and she was really mad at me.  Tell me about Yosemite”

            “One summer I was working in a logging camp up in the mountains, not far from Lake Tahoe. Have you been to Lake Tahoe?”

            “No, but I’ve heard of it.  Someday we’ll go there my mother said.”

            “Well, I was cutting down trees…”

            “Doris says you shouldn’t cut down trees.”

            “Who’s Doris?”

            “She’s my best friend’s older sister.”

            “Ask Doris if her house is made of wood, and where did the wood come from.”

            “Tell me about Yosemite,” she countered, apparently not concerned with ecology.

I continued my story.  “That summer two new college boy came up to work.  Every summer there was a need for more workers. That’s how I got my job, and because my father was the timekeeper in camp, so I had pull.”

            “What’s pull?”

            “That’s when you know the right people.  These two new fellows must have known the company president.  Anyway, these two fellows were brothers; Jerry and John Chamberlain, from Oakland.  They were both students at Berkeley.”

            “What’s Berkeley?” she asked.

            “That’s a University.  It’s called the University of California, and because it’s located in the City of Berkeley, it is sometimes called ‘Berkeley’, and sometimes ‘Cal’ for California.”  Someday you may go there.”

            “My dad says I’m going to USC, whatever that means.  He says he played football there.  Tell me about Yosemite.”

            “Jerry and John were both very tall, maybe six foot-six, and slim and strong. They were both blond.”

            “I’m a blond. I’m getting my hair fixed Saturday.”

            “Do you want to hear about Yosemite?” I asked, “Stop interrupting me.”

            “I’m sorry.” She answered.

            “These brothers had an air about them, not conceited, but more like assured of themselves, as in ‘born to the manor’, no, don’t ask.  I’ll explain that later. Me, I’m a short, little guy.  I had to use my wits to keep going.”

            “You’re a lot bigger than me.  I like your stories”

            “Going on, Jerry, the younger of the two, told me he had a girl friend from Cal who was working at Yosemite for the summer, and he would like to go see her. ‘The Fourth of July is coming and we’ll have a three day weekend.  Let’s spend it at Yosemite.’  I asked how we would get there, and he replied, ‘you have a car’.  I put to him that the car was a Falcon Knight and twelve years old, and I wasn’t sure it would go that far.”

            She broke in again, “A falcon is a big bird that flies very fast, I saw one on television.  It flew right onto a man’s hand.  Could your car go fast?”

            “Only at night,” I said, but she didn’t get the joke.

            “I suggested to Jerry that we could drive down to Sacramento Friday night…”

            “Where’s Sacramento?”

            “I’ll show you on the map someday, but now I want to get on with the story.”

            “In Sacramento we can stay in our family house, and hitchhike to Yosemite on Saturday morning.”

            “Doris says you shouldn’t ride in strangers’ cars.  They might hurt you.”

            “Doris doesn’t know that we lived in a different world then.  In those days we didn’t lock our house or our cars, and everyone was a friend.”

            “You’re funny,” she said “you’re fooling me.”

            “You want to hear the rest of the story?”

            “Oh yes, I won’t stop you anymore.”

            “Our Sacramento home was only a block from Stockton Boulevard, so named because fifty miles to the south was the city of Stockton.  It was a segment of State Highway Ninety-nine, that stretched from the Oregon border in the north, to the Mexico border in the south, so maybe they should have called it Mexico Boulevard, or Oregon Boulevard.  What do you think?”

            “I don’t know, maybe Mexican Boulevard.  I know the names of all the streets around here,” she answered.

            “Good,” I said,” So I bet you never get lost.”

            “I even know how to walk to school.”

            “Well, we got out on Stockton Boulevard, and stuck our fists up, like this, with our thumb sticking out.  Yes, just like that, but a little higher.  And it wasn’t anytime at all until we got a ride.  A man in a big sedan stopped and asked where we were going, and he said he could take us as far as Stockton.  Jerry got in the back seat where he could stretch his legs sideways, and I rode in the front.  That was a long time ago so I don’t remember what we talked about.  The highway went right through the center of the towns, so we got to see the  stores, and restaurants, and hotels, and movie houses.  There were no freeways then.  It was fun to see how each town differed.  Stockton was big, Modesto smaller, and Turlock, well, it was about like Modesto.  In Turlock, we had lunch at a diner.”

            “What’s a diner?”

            “A diner is a restaurant that also has a counter where you can sit down and eat.”

            “How many rides did you get?”

            “I don’t remember, but when we got to Merced, it took us a while to find the right highway to Yosemite.  It was really hot standing out in the sun.  We had our sweaters draped over our backs and the sleeves tied together over our chests.  We didn’t wear hats and our shaving gear…”

            “I like to watch my Daddy shave.”

            “Does he ever cut himself?”

            “I don’t think so.  He says it’s a ‘lectric razor.”

            “Well, I carried my razor in a little bag in my pocket, with my toothbrush and…”

            “Didn’t you have a suitcase?”

            “Oh, no, we travelled light.”

                        “One, two, three, three, two, one.  See I can count backwards.”

            “Yes, I see, but sit down and stop skipping up and down the steps so I can finish my story about Yosemite.”

            “We got to Yosemite around sundown. It was beautiful, seeing the sun shining on the great peaks and cliffs surrounding us.  We drove along the Merced River, and then past Bridalveil Falls, which we could see in the distance, but the driver didn’t want to stop.  Our destination was Camp Curry, with its hundreds of tents, tent cabins, wooden cabins, restaurants, a lodge, bears, and a big parking lot.”

            “Did you say bears?”

            “Yea, just keep food away from them and they’re no problem. We thanked the driver, who said his family was already there, and maybe we would run into each other again.  We got out of the car and took our bearings.”

            “What were your bearings?”

            “Oh, that just means we looked around to see where we were, and what was around us.  Jerry seemed to know where his girl friend worked, so he took off to find her. While I sat on a bench and watched the crowd of people strolling, running, cycling, licking ice cream cones, talking, laughing, and a few little ones crying.”

            “An hour had passed when Jerry returned.  He didn’t look happy.  His girl friend had a new boy-friend, and didn’t want Jerry around.  He asked her if we could stay where she lived, wherever that might be.  Absolutely not!”

            “She wasn’t very nice. I don’t think I like her,”  she pouted.

            “Our next step was to find a place to stay, so we went to a little office that said ‘reservations’.  We’d like a cabin for two nights, Jerry told the attendant. ‘Ha! said the attendant’, and then Jerry said we wouldn’t mind a tent.”

            “Don’t you know this is the Fourth of July weekend?  Everything has been booked since Christmas.”

            “This didn’t look good, so I asked if we could rent blankets.”

            “No blankets”, he replied “you’d do better to go to Merced.”

“It was getting dark now, so we did some planning.  We would go over into the woods by the cliff, rake up pine needles and cover ourselves.  But first, some dinner.  While eating, some people asked if we were going to watch the fire fall?  Fire Fall, I asked, what is that?

You’ll see, they said, and we followed them to a big meadow where crowds of people were sitting on the grass and some on chairs, they had brought.  It was dark, now, and someone in a loud voice shouted ‘let the fire fall’.  Then, falling off the top of this mountain called Glacier Point, was this fire that kept falling like a waterfall.  It was beautiful and exciting.”

            “Did the fire engines come?” she asked.

            “No, they did this on purpose.  They did it every night in the summer.”

            “Were you scared?”

            “Oh, no, we were a long way off.  It was very pretty.”

            “I want to see it when I go.”

            “No, they don’t do it any more. Doris decided there was a lizard, or something in the meadow that people might step on, so no one could go on the meadow any more.”   

            “I didn’t know Doris was ever there.  She didn’t tell me.”

            “I’m kidding,” I said, “I just used her name because she’s an ecologist.”

            “What’s an ecologist?”

            “That’s someone who wants to save the planet.”

            “Don’t you want to save the planet?”

            “Sure, but I want to have some fun while I’m alive.  After I die they can save the planet.”

            “You’re funny.” She said, “I have to go home soon.”

            “So, after the fire fall Jerry and I walked into the woods by the cliff, and though it was dark, we raked pine needles with out hands into a great big pile. Then we lay down on them and tried to cover ourselves with more needles. It was impossible, impossible.”

            “If Bambi was there, he and his friends would cover you up.”

            “Well, he wasn’t, and we were so cold we couldn’t sleep.  I tried every position, curled up in a ball, lay on my stomach; nothing worked, and Jerry had the same problem; we were freezing. Finally we decided to get up and walk around, maybe we would get warmer.  We walked over by the lodge, and what do you think?”

            “What?” she played along.

            “The door to the lodge was open; we went in, and there was a fireplace with glowing embers, casting their loving warmth into the room.  And there were two sofas facing the fire.  The room was empty, quiet and  dark, except for those beautiful coals.  We each took a sofa and dreamed, until activity in the room awakened us in the morning.”

            “The next morning we toured around the valley.  Mirror Lake ..”

            “Could you see yourself in the lake?” she interjected.

            “Of course,” I answered. “I could have shaved, but the water was too cold.  That was a long walk up to the lake and back, but we were strong, so then we hiked up to Vernal Falls, and then back toward Yosemite Village.  We walked all around the place that day, and then, that night, after everyone had left the lodge, we slept on the sofas again.”

            “Then, the next morning we got up early, got out on the road and hitch-hiked back to Merced, then to Sacramento.  We got in my old car, and drove up to Auburn, then to Georgetown, then, on rough dirt roads, back to the logging camp, and we lived happily ever after.”

            “There’s Joseph on his new bike.  He’s not supposed to ride up here.  Oh, now he’s headed back to his house at the dead end.  That’s a funny word, dead end.  I’ve got to go home now.  I liked your story.”

            “Don’t you want to hear more about Yosemite?”

            “Not now.  Maybe my father will take me there next year.”

            “Well, if he doesn’t, I’ll take you.”


            “I promise.”

            And as she skipped down the sidewalk toward her house, she stopped and shouted back, “Get reservations.”

George W. Parker

  ©  February, 2011


Tuesday, February 15th, 2011



In January , 2008 I was surfing the web looking for information on a sawmill named Pino Grande located some forty miles east of Auburn, California in the Sierra Nevada. To my delight I found a story by a John Barnhill telling about looking for old railroad bridges in that area.  I sent him an e-mail saying I had built bridges up there in the 1930s, and would enjoy writing some stories about working summers in a logging camp for The Michigan-California Lumber Company.  He agreed to post these stories on a web site:


If you are interested my stories of laying rail, building bridges, loading logs, and having a good time where we transported logs by narrow gauge rail, pulled by shay locomotives, and all this before chain saws, give this site a look.

George Parker

February 2010