The Valley, tipped off-center in the clouds, was host to more than lurid red secret romances and surly miners. There were children. There were animals. There were watchers: boys who stuck around long after they weren’t supposed to, until the cold ceased to bother them and the sun didn’t tease them and the eagles were the only ones to see them walk softly on the jagged rocks and crooked walkways around the mine. They watched the odd smattering of children who now lived at the mine clutch red and black plaid lunch pails and canvas satchels as they stepped in thick mukluks over heaves of snow. They watched them as a beautiful teacher taught them history, and composition, and music, and math up in the high green room, so close to where the watchers used to sleep,  so close to where the miners and their fresh-scrubbed families took their meals. They could smell the loaves baking downstairs. They could smell the sauerkraut bubbling in cast iron pots seeping in from the larger families apartments that shared the building with the commissary and school. They could taste nothing but fresh air, consume nothing but thoughts. They were vapor.

When they lived, they lived in the tip top attic of the commissary building, during the mine’s first gold-flecked boom. There wasn’t the space for them in the newer dormitories with two bathrooms per floor, a movie screen, billiards, and a girl for every body that wasn’t too tired out from mucking all day. They were the extras. They were young and didn’t make a lot of money so the girls didn’t pay any attention to them, anyway. In the tip-top attic room that folded into odd shapes like a pop up book, the drafts from the gravelly mountain pass swirled through chinks in the building. A single fire lit the entire chilly space, and when the young men started coughing they thought it was dust from the mines or chill from the drafts. Not enough orange juice to drink. Not enough comfort, their mamas were wringing their hands in worry 5,000 miles away. But they weren’t just barks, these coughs. They were bites. The young men had one of those diseases that are whispered frantically, with accentuated vowels and hands pressed to clammy cheeks. The young men died in their sleep one night and then got up to work the next day, because they were hard working young men, upstanding young men, young men who wanted to work their thin way forward in the world that they knew (on an only slight wavering path to wife, children, land).  They got up every morning just like usual for a few months until they realized no one was giving them any more orders. The living men in caves went ahead and did their own mucking, they drilled further into the rock and clamped their mouths shut and examined holes in the cave walls when the young men tried to speak to them. Amongst themselves, they spoke in whispers, heads turned toward one another in unending question, fear, awe, and eventually acceptance. They decided to stay.   The Valley was showing them even more colors now, even more than the normal Summer reds and golds and purples. They didn’t want to miss the hummingbird winged people, and the balls of light that surrounded the living caught their attention for weeks at a time. The Valley was a nice place to be forever, when you didn’t have to work in the dark for twelve hours. So they stayed, and stay still to this day, and watch.

Copyright Gary R. Johnson Photography


"... all my lovers were there with me, all my past and futures."

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