18 February 2011

Chapter 60: "The Bonanza Dies," Pt 2

Abandoned Bonanza 1965 view 3

 A last look at the Bonanza barrack            --UAF Archives

          An unusually large number of ravens began appearing on the site.  Jesse stepped out of the back of the drying room to notice ravens everywhere.
                   Strange birds.  Wonder what attracts them to us?

          As was their custom on occasions where a death is impending, whether it is that of a human or a building, the ravens had arrived.  This site was particularly significant.  In these buildings rested the spirits of many great men who lived and worked there and who chose to stay behind for reasons of their own.  The heart of the Bonanza mine site was about to be thoughtlessly destroyed by men who had no sense of their own place in the universe. 

          “Nice day for a fire. Clear.  No wind.  Ravens!  It’s those blasted ravens again up there on the flattened part of the barracks roof.  What could they possibly want with us?   They’re watching us like we’re a circus act.  Could they be the same ones?  No. Can’t be. Too many of them.”

          “What do you think, Jesse?  No further use for that building, is there?”

          “No boss.  And it’s a creepy place.  I felt like there were ghosts in there,  and I don’t believe in ghosts.”

          “I’ll head up there to the back end where the cliff meets the rear wall. Then I’ll throw a Molotov cocktail into one of the rear kitchen windows from up above. Have the men stay with the equipment and the motors running in case we have to pull back further.”
          “That fire the boss is about to set should take out the boiler building and those other old ones without any problem.  It’ll also clean up the ruins of the collapsed snowshed. Then we’ll have easy access to all that rich copper,” Jesse commented to one of the crew members.

          “Too bad we can’t burn up the whole works.  Lars is funny about what he won’t let us touch.”

          Several beings from another time stood on the flattened part of the roof looking down upon these intruders with their noisy machines.  All that the men on the ground could see were ravens. Lots of ravens curiously assembled on the top of a building about to be burned.  Nothing more.

          “Look, father!  They’ve come , just as grandfather said they would.”

          Michael spoke in the direction of his father Johnny, who stood beside his younger brother Charles and his beloved friend Cap, and the great Chief Nicolai.  The Tyone of Taral and Dan Creek stood in silence, shaking his head and looking very grim and frustrated. Cap’s expressions mirrored those of the chief.   Johnny  could hardly contain himself.  He wanted so badly to go down there and stop these men from an act of destruction which would alter the nature of things in the valley forever.  Johnny’s  younger brother Charles was ready to follow him, but Nicolai waved his hand, pulling  the impulsive young men back.

          Next to the Tyone stood the Great Man -- Stephen.  Behind Stephen stood several others who had long associations with Kennecott.  There was  Wes and Frank, Eldon, Melvin and even Henry.   Wes was one of those who had  joined the small group only recently. Some of the others had been part of the group for what seemed to be a very long time now.  They  gathered here as witnesses to yet another senseless and stupid act.   This was to be the  logical and perhaps fitting end to a process which  began when Stephen first acquired this property to develop the mine sixty-seven years before.   To the grim-faced souls who now stood as unseen observers on the flattened barracks roof, helpless to interfere in  this evil process of desecration, time no longer had any meaning. 

          Every witness there--both the Native and white--looked upon this final act of wanton destruction as the deepest of insults to the memories of those who had once worked and lived here.  Nicolai was equally as horrified as the others, even though it was the great chief himself who had first predicted that the white man’s greed would finally result in this kind of destruction.

Fire at Bonanza
Bonanza barrack had burned down before. This was the original fire in 1916.     
--McCarthy-Kennicott Museum

          “This is the final time we will gather like this in this valley. We have all seen enough.  There is nothing more to be done,”Nicolai finally decreed.  Smoke began working its way through the building as the fire quickly spread from the kitchen, where it had first ignited.

          “This world of mankind will have to learn its own lessons without us --if our offspring survive long enough. 

          “We have lived our lives and we have done our part.  We can no longer be expected to keep trying to warn those who will not listen,” Nicolai concluded.

          “They will keep on their binge of destruction until there is nothing left.  Then they will wonder why they feel so empty--why in the end they have nothing.  ” Cap added.

          “We have all been forgotten.  No one remembers us.  If they really knew who we were, what we are witnessing would never have occurred.   We might as well move on.  Let these people live with the world they have made for themselves,” Stephen said to the group.  The others nodded.

          The men standing by the D-6 and the loader stood transfixed as several large ravens and one smaller one  began to take off from the heavily smoking roof area.  The ravens  followed each other off their perch one by one, heading nearly straight up into the sky until each one disappeared into the brightness of the dazzling sun.  The very tall, eternally snow-capped peaks of the Chugach and the Wrangells shown brightly overlooking all -- much as they had when Nicolai’s people had first viewed them untold eons ago.

          But down in the Kennicott Valley in the shadows of these apparently ageless mountains a process of rapid glacial melting had already begun.  That which Cap Goodlataw had once viewed as a sleeping monster waiting for the right moment to spring back to life had now quietly died and was melting away, its life having been spent.  The great ice monster of old would now slowly dissolve into the rocky cradle around it while the now spiritless ghost town would watch from the edge of the glacier as the whole town began an accelerated process of decline.   

          The once lively centerpiece--the great mill and tram terminal which Stephen had helped design and which Johnny and Cap had once painted had become nothing more than a dead and  windowless relic of a place that had lost its sense of awareness--the sense that  it had once existed as a proud symbol of a very different age.  The jagged, roofless relic of a mill overlooked  four darkened spots where great people had once lived and worked. Three of these charcoal remains were  still smoldering from the wicked series of fires which marked the end of everything that was good at old Kennecott.

Abandoned Bonanza 1970s
Above: Remains of the Bonanza mine site in the 1970s showing the collapsed roof on the ore bunker.  
Below: Aerial view of the Bonanza mine site in 1979    --both photos from UAF AK & Polar Regions Archives

Abandoned Bonanza 1980s

          At the Bonanza site the flames quickly worked their way from the dining hall into the adjacent engineers’ quarters, then up the large central stairwell into the miners’ living quarters.  The floor of the gymnasium collapsed loudly into the blasting furnace of what had been the mess hall.  The screams of pain of once contented spirits coming from somewhere deep inside the raging fire of  Barracks No. Two  went unheard as the crew restarted the equipment to pull their machines of destruction even further away from a source of heat that was intensifying beyond anything the crew of misfits could have imagined.

          Lars shook his head in disbelief at the intensely roaring wall of smoke and flame developing  before him.   It had a very angry quality to it which alarmed Jesse and the rest of the crew.  Even Lars felt a sense of deep sadness and irretrievable loss.

          This is like looking into the face of hell itself.  

          As the dark smoke from the Bonanza fire began to drift down the Kennicott valley toward the Nizina and Chitina rivers, Nicolai realized that Wrangell had begun to steam heavily.

          “Uk’eledi-- It is the smoke in the sky.  The warning.  He is speaking to us all. The Great Creator is angry at his children once again.”

Mt Wrangell 1902 eruption

Mt Wrangell in eruption  1902  --USGS

Ravens Flying into the Sun

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