It was Mark Twain’s famous story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, that convinced my husband that a trip to California’s gold country would be a good plan for Spring Break. We decided to head up north for a week, and our temporary home would be Angel’s Camp, the town where the frog once lived. The foothills of the Sierras are beautiful this time of year—everything is green, the trees are regaining their leaves, and California poppies adorn the hillsides. There are charming mining towns up and down Highway 49, and we had fun exploring a few of them. People are really friendly when you have a baby, so we met a lot of nice shopkeepers and restaurant owners.
The town of Murphy’s became our eating out destination. It has some neat shops, and some day I would love to return to rent a vacation cottage or to stay at the local B & B, an old Victorian. There are dozens of wineries in the area, and the town features many tasting rooms.
It was on one of our drives on a windy road that we turned to check out Mark Twain’s cabin on Jackass Hill. Apparently he spent 5 months living in a small cabin, while he tried his hand at mining. They built a replica of the cabin on top of this hill, named for the donkeys that pack trains kept there. It was here that Samuel Clemens—Twain’s real name—scrawled down the notes that eventually became his frog chronicle, the story that made him famous. He had heard the story in the local tavern at Angel’s Camp.
What was Twain doing as a miner? It turns out that Twain did a variety of things, in addition to writing fiction like Huckleberry Finn, a book I remember reading in high school. He was a newspaper writer for a number of different towns, from Nevada City, to San Francisco, to Buffalo. He started his twenties as a steamboat pilot along the Mississippi. After the fame of his jumping frog tale, he was hired as a travel writer for the Sacramento Union.
My heart is a flutter at dreaming of the possibilities that lie ahead. My day job does not define me, even though I absolutely love it. I can still be a Mark Twain or Lawrence of Arabia. May Samuel Clemens inspire you to go out and turn over that rock—you never know what could be waiting for you to discover.
Credits: The Mark Twain House and Museum web site, http://www.marktwainhouse.org/ , for more background on Twain’s life & Rick McDonough for the photography.