Orion readers write about their homeground
the place where you live
THERE IS A MURAL in the park of a bullfrog panning for gold. Neon
green and cream-bellied, the amphibian looks determined, with eyelids angling toward a miner’s pan resting in his
lap. Four dice-sized chunks of granite
are painted gold and glued to the pan,
while words curve beneath the painting:
redefine the rush.
During California’s Gold Rush, Mark
Twain lived in these Sierra Nevada foothills. He wrote a story about two miners
at a bar, each betting that his captive frog
could outjump the other’s. It’s a parable
of greed, with one miner stu;ng lead
into the competitor frog’s throat to weigh
it down and win the bet. Twain’s tale inspired what is now the world’s largest frog-jumping competition, a highlight at our
county fair. The world record is twenty-one feet in three consecutive jumps.
Twenty-one feet is nearly as wide as
Main Street in Murphys, where, on early
mornings, warm air from the San Joaquin Valley carries the smell of ham-and-ricotta croissants from the bakery, along
with pine musk from the distant woods.
Down an alleyway, the town pokey stands
as a historic landmark. Iron-wrought bars
cross the old jail’s entrance, while sunflowers splash the color of freedom along
its southern wall. Inside, a body lies on a
mattress, not human but a straw-stu=ed
mannequin dressed in miner’s garb.
I spent my childhood following the
contours of pine and manzanita forests
here. After my family moved east from
San Francisco, rural living forced me to
find new rhythms and hideouts, and to
remake home. Murphys, too, seems to be
making itself again, navigating climate
instability, low snowpack, and moving-
target economics toward a new identity.
Western facades crown storefronts, where
gold buyers have been replaced with tast-
ing rooms and sushi bars, and where a
local food and wine culture and a slower
pace of life is attracting more people to the
area. Murphys’s new motto? Slow down,
grow up, redefine the rush.
Gavin Van Horn
THE SELF-SUFFICIENT LIFE and how to live it is one of my deeper
aspirations—hell, right now I’m on my
couch staring at The Self-Sufficient Life
and How to Live It, a book that has been