Tuscarora on my mind – forever
A year ago in March, Dave and I camped in Tuscarora, Nevada, over spring break. We had bought an acre of land on Weed Street the month before, and were impatient to set foot on it.
As we turned onto Highway 225 north of Elko and began the gradual climb to 6,100 feet – which is Tuscarora’s elevation – we drove into flurries of snow. Soon the hills and mountains disappeared into mist, and eventually all that remained was the blacktop snaking through an increasingly white world.
I don’t think we encountered another car the entire 50 miles to Tuscarora, and when we arrived shortly before dusk, we had to park and camp pretty much on Weed Street itself for the snow was too deep on the property.
None of the streets in Tuscarora are paved, including Weed Street, which back in the 1880s was the “commercial district.” There is a photo of Weed Street in “Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps” that ostensibly “shows” a candy store, post office, Idaho Bar and Primeaux’s general store. But all that is really discernable is a muddy, snowy street, a Conestoga-type freight wagon yoked to 10 mules parked in front of the Idaho Bar, and a group of men all wearing dark hats apparently staring at the photographer who’s taking this picture.
Another photo of Weed Street, taken in warmer weather, has a caption explaining that in the early days, there were no trees in Tuscarora (because every tree and sagebrush was used to fuel the boilers that ran the silver mills), so potted pines were brought into town and lined the street as decoration for special occasions.
Weed Street was named after a miner who is credited with discovering silver veins on the east side of Mount Blitzen in 1871. As a result, the original site of Tuscarora on McCann Creek (where miners worked placer tailings for gold) became Chinatown, and present-day Tuscarora moved up the hill a couple of miles.
There are few, if any, visible remains of those days. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that 1,400 Americans lived in Tuscarora in 1880, and that there were 10 mines and three mills in operation.
It was cold in Tuscarora last March, probably 30 degrees during the day and 15 degrees at night, but I was amazed to discover that I didn’t feel the cold. As long as we stayed outside, we were warm, but the moment we spent even a few minutes in someone’s nicely heated house, the outside temperature suddenly seemed unbearable.
The first morning, Dave set up a stove from an old propane heater he’d brought along, attached a tall chimney, and put on a pot of beans. In the meantime, I unearthed a number of stones, arranged them in a circle, and Dave built a little campfire. Then I took photographs of our “kitchen,” our “land,” and the only building we owned: a dangerously listing outhouse with a door that hung on by one hinge.
At night, fully clothed including hats on our heads, we’d lie in our sleeping bag in the camper, zip down the “window” facing us, and look up at the stars. We had no worries, no sense of time passing, for we lived in the moment. The future was now, and it seemed to stretch before us like Independence Valley itself.
Dave loved to say of time, “Whether it’s a month, a year, or a hundred years, it’s forever and beyond because we’re together.”
Today, I know all that we still had ahead of us: dancing at Helen McMullen’s birthday party, growing sweet peas, watching “The Sopranos” with Sev, flying to Seattle, Tennessee and Mexico. We still had the summer road trip, the family reunion in Colorado, rafting on the Arkansas River, and drifting lazily on the lake in Michigan. We still had books to read, poems to write, art shows, lectures and a Bob Dylan concert to attend. There would be garage sales and thrift shops to explore, and we had yet to select all the trees, the seedlings, we would plant in Tuscarora.
But last March as we camped in the snow on Weed Street, we didn’t know how bountiful and glorious the months ahead would be. Neither did we know that the hundred years we loved to imagine as ours would not extend beyond 11 months.
Even in September, and later in January, when Dave had to undergo radiation again and again, it did not seem that our future was compromised. Even when Dave lost weight and strength, we never lost sight of Tuscarora. It was, after all, the best way for us to live and the only way Dave could die. Even now, Tuscarora slumbers on the hillside above the snow-covered glory hole. Its promise lives outside space and time.
• Ursula Carlson, Ph.D., teaches writing and literature at Western Nevada Community College.