Last night Peg Reza and I had the chance to open the new “Made in the Sierra Foothills” performance and lecture series at Columbia College, our local community college. Conceived and coordinated by English Department professor Callie Kitchen, we entertained and chatted with a wonderful gathering of 50+people for almost two hours. We presented a 45 minute performance of works from “Striking Up Gold Mountain: Stories and Songs of the California Gold Rush,”and then enjoyed a Q&A with some great, insightful questions! One topic: “What do you do when ‘The Muse’ is not around?” And “What brought you to live in this area and why did you decide to do this Gold Rush project?”
Since this was a hometown crowd, a lot of folks knew much of the history. However they were quite enthusiastic about our approach and inclusion of many tidbits that they might not have known. The story of “Lost Cows” and winnowing for gold in dry sand are the just-right examples of this: A little known story about a fellow who found gold way before 1848 while searching for his “Bivouacked Bovine,” and a rarely discussed method for collecting gold, which is just like winnowing wheat.
This vibrant young woman grew up in Sonora where she was one of my “sometimes students” at Sonora Elementary School. I’ve known her since she was In Utero. After high school came a vigorous study at university, then some time in Europe, and that Master’s Degree. Callie came home to make a deep contribution to her own town. I’m reminded of the call in the recent book HillyBilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, which is an entreatment, to young and well-educated folks to rescue America’s small towns, by returning to their roots. Please come home, and bring new energy and change for a more vibrant, youthful future! Callie is doing just that. And this new series is an example of her own effort to enlighten a new generation about the arts and literature talents of our own community.
We were the first of many artists, writers and poets that Callie hopes to bring to the college with the “Made in the Sierra Foothills” project. She received a grant from Poets&Writers.org with additional funding from the Columbia College Foundation. So keep your eyes and ears open for news of the next “Made in the Sierra Foothills.” In the meantime, thank you, Professor Kitchen!