Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hart Mountain

            It doesn’t matter where you stand in south Warner Valley—in the vast jigsaw puzzle of irrigated hay meadows, among the tules at the edge of Guano Reservoir, at the terminus of the valley where Twenty Mile Creek tumbles out of its canyon—regardless of where you stand, you can see Hart Mountain. 
            From the south, you see the mountain in profile: a massive flat-topped monolith, standing sentinel at the mouth of the valley.  From north Warner, you look Hart Mountain square in the face.  From that aspect, Hart presents itself as a glowering black wall, gauged out by V-shaped gorges and ravines, that runs for miles along the valley’s eastern flank, ranches scattered loosely about its feet.
            Geologists call Hart a “fault block” mountain.  By this they mean that Hart was created by the slippage of enormous blocks of the Earth’s crust as they slid and ground along fault lines or cracks.  As huge wedges of rock slipped downward on either side of it, Hart Mountain was thrust up like it was being raised by a crowbar.
            In 1844, John C. Frémont and his men threw down their packs and picketed horses on Christmas Eve at Hart Mountain’s base.  Their goal was to reach the gentle climate of coastal California, but that winter night they spent huddled against the sleeping giant.  Who’s to say that one or two of those men didn’t lie awake that night dwelling on the presence close at his back—immense and invisible, exhaling in the dark.
            Hart Mountain is almost human.  It has moods.  Summer finds it clothed in warm colors, a russet bloom upon its shoulders. Fall thunderstorms cluster around its formidable brow, black and foreboding.  In the coldest, hardest part of winter, Hart hibernates—a frozen blue and white tomb.  And in rare moments, its head wreathed in clouds, the mountain dreams silently away.
            The people who ranch in this valley grow up, grow old, and die with Hart Mountain within their line of sight.  To these people, Hart Mountain is not just a part of the local geography, or a geological feature.  It is a permanent fixture of that subtle geography of the mind that anchors a person’s sense of place by dead reckoning. Like true north on a compass, or the pole star to a sailor, this mountain is a fixed point of reference for the people of Warner Valley.  Hart Mountain means home.