Peter Cavanaugh

Time machines

It’s the end of the first week in the year’s second half and it’s 2016’s third month beginning with a “J.” There won’t be a fourth.

Summer offers a perfect time for random thoughts of minimal consequence - an opportunity to temporarily abandon elaborately detailed explorations of national trajectory or brilliantly structured insights into a myriad of topics otherwise remaining alarmingly mysterious and dangerously opaque.

And get away from all those big words.

Let’s take a break, leaving polarizing politics alone for a week.

There will be time enough for that when the conventions commence, starting in Cleveland on July 18 with Philadelphia in the spotlight seven days later.

How lucky we are to live where we do.

When visitors arrive, we get to take them places habitually reserved for special occasions, accessing an amazing environment easily available, yet enjoyed all too infrequently.

Such was the case last week when daughter Colleen and granddaughter Riley arrived from Cincinnati, providing a perfect excuse to cut loose.

I love that time machine only a town away.

The Mariposa Museum and History Center was founded in 1957 and is dedicated to the discovery, collection, preservation, interpretation, exhibition and demonstration of material culture, visual objects and documents that best illustrate the history of Mariposa County. That’s what their website says. They deliver the goods.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington has gone on record stating that Mariposa offers “The best little museum of its size west of the Mississippi.” It’s open year round from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m..

Walking through elaborately cataloged displays sweeps you back in time from the Native American and Spanish periods of the county through the early 1900s. Inside exhibits include an extensive Miwok Indian section, an interior miner’s cabin, a one-room schoolhouse and furnishings belonging to the West’s most famous explorer, Mariposa’s own John L. Freemont.

There’s also an authentic Mother Lode saloon with extra big shot glasses for mountain men of righteous thirst.

Outside you’ll see the only operational five-stamp gold ore mill in California and a fully functional Blacksmith Shop along with other significant pieces of mining equipment.

Loving volunteers eager to share their impressive knowledge of local lore staff the museum.

There was an authentic player piano offering pre-programmed music recorded on perforated paper by ghostly, unseen hands. It was “Roll Out The Barrel,” and who should be doing the rolling and operating the unit during our tour than the very much alive Ron Loya, president of the Museum’s Board of Directors.

Ron honored Eileen, Colleen, Riley and me with a quick peek inside “the vault” - a large, private research area, heavily secured with tight atmospheric controls to preserve yet more amazing archeology and artifacts. It was all quite cool, both environmentally and emotionally.

Shortly thereafter serendipity struck again at another time machine - this one at the Yosemite Museum in the village, completed in 1925 by architect Herbert Maier in the newly emerging National Park Service Rustic Style.

As visitors enter the foyer, a geology room occupies the first space to the right. From there, a U-shaped path leads through to natural history exhibits, a life zone room and an Indian room. As we arrived at this last, it wasn’t ‘what’ was there that proved to highlight Colleen and Riley’s stay, but ‘who’ was there.

National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson has worked in Yosemite for 23 years of his 29-year career. Ranger Johnson appeared in Ken Burns’ award winning documentary film “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea” and was subsequently acclaimed as an “unexpected star” of the mini-series.

Attending a preview at the White House on Sept. 27, 2009, Johnson discussed the project with President Obama, a conversation he had an opportunity to renew during the president’s recent visit to Yosemite.

Ranger Johnson was then kind enough to engage us in a wide-ranging conversation covering countless subjects, evidencing an awesomely knowledgeable, highly entertaining, thoroughly engaging representative of the National Park Service. Anyone who believes government can’t work hasn’t met Shelton Johnson.

Here in Oakhurst we are blessed and surrounded by many other time machines in our immediate proximity, such as the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa and smaller installations such as the Coarsegold Historic Society Museum on Highway 41, the Raymond Museum and Historic Town Site, Oakhurst’s Fresno Flats Historic Village and Park, and the Sierra Mono Museum in North Fork.

Make the present more pleasant with a prolonged pause in the past. It waits with awesome wonder.

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