Belch Gulch


Belch Gulch
Creative Non-Fiction

“There’s grandpa comin’ up the hill; ya got your stuff ready?”

Carole and I grabbed our crumply paper bags, stuffed with jeans, tee shirts, toothbrushes—the bare minimum. It wasn’t as though we were going on a spa vacation.

We ran down, hopped on the running board of his ’52 red Ford pick-up and hitched a ride back up the hill to say good-bye to our Moms and pick up the food they had ready for us, then grandpa would give us a boost into the bed of his truck. We’d nest alongside his ’22 rifle and sleeping bags, a couple of bags of cement and a somewhat tattered hammock. Once we settled in, Grandpa would shift the gears and we’d rattle off—northwards toward the Grapevine—the old two-lane one, that is.

The wind would whistle and we’d stick our heads out so as to get the full blast, hair flying wild-like, in defiance of every safety precaution now regulated by overly anxious, tight-assed politicians hoping to prove their worth to their constituents.

After getting over the pass we’d head east to Highway 40-something and follow the twisting, narrow road along the rocky precipice snaking along the course of the Kern River. We’d lurch from side-to-side back there—holding tight to the gun to keep it secure and embracing the cargo, perhaps to feel that way ourselves. We’d plan the weekend—intervals of hard work, building the cabin on the land with the abandoned gold mine that Grandpa had laid claim to, hiking up the mountain behind him to build that pipeline for water that he, a retired civil engineer, had designed. But, especially, target practice—taking out empty beer cans he’d collect from the neighbors throughout the week.

Then Sunday afternoon, exhausted but happy, we’d head back down Belch Gulch, wishing we could avoid the week ahead—the drudgery of another kind of learning—one, perhaps, more suited to the lives we yet had to live.

Shannon, at dVerse Poetics, invites us to share the rhythm of the road this week. This isn’t poetry per se, but the prompt took me back to my growing up years when my girlfriend Carole and I would go with my Grandfather to the cabin he was building in California gold country.

A Season of Newness

Photo: D. Slotto

Photo: D. Slotto

For today’s reflection I would like to share an excerpt of the homily delivered by Pope Francis I at the Easter Vigil Service.

“In the Gospel of this radiant night of the Easter Vigil, we first meet the women who go the tomb of Jesus with spices to anoint his body (cf. Lk 24:1-3). They go to perform an act of compassion, a traditional act of affection and love for a dear departed person, just as we would. They had followed Jesus, they had listened to his words, they had felt understood by him in their dignity and they had accompanied him to the very end, to Calvary and to the moment when he was taken down from the cross.

We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, he had died, his life had come to an end. Life would now go on as before. Yet the women continued to feel love, the love for Jesus which now led them to his tomb

But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body.

It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (cf. Lk 24:4). Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do

Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises; we are afraid of God’s surprises! He always surprises us!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives!

Photo: Jimmy Akin Francis washing the feet of several young people, including women.

Photo: Jimmy Akin
Francis washing the feet of several young people, including women.


Good Friday Ritual

Photo: Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles, California by Frank Iley

Photo: Calvary Cemetery, Los Angeles, California
by Frank Iley

Remember back when we were kids?

Mom would load us into the back seat of her ‘53 Buick

and haul us off to Calvary Cemetery.


A stop at our favorite flower vendor,

the sweet scent of stock,

sickening, filled up the car.


We’d visit your mother

and the grave of an unknown soldier, a few rows down

for my father whose body was, who-knows-where.


At noon she’d hush us up

to observe the three hours

and hand us tuna fish sandwiches on Wonder bread

soggy by now ‘cause of too much mayo.


We’d eat in silence, giggling,

not knowing how to spend the time,

not knowing how to pray.


Today—no cemetery.

Today—no mushy sandwich.

Today—she won’t go.

“I’ll be there soon enough,” she says,

but you are there—alone.


I wrote this yesterday for Day 18 of National Poetry Month. The three hours refers to a traditional practice of spending noon to three PM in silent prayer, in observation of the time Christ was said to hang upon the cross.


Photo: V. Slotto

Photo: V. Slotto

a Self-Portrait

The process of oxidation takes time.
Today the scent of Mother’s silver polish
transports me back to 1957
when I was yet untarnished.

My task in these, my later years—
rediscover the original patina
without losing the texture.

Brian’s prompt over at dVerse sent my mind into overdrive. He asks us to write a self-portrait. I was looking for something metaphoric and today, when cleaning out the kitchen I uncovered these silver grapefruit spoons…and glass polish she used to use for silverware. I can’t wait to see where others have taken this prompt. I hope you’ll join us.