April 22 (1977, 1978, 1988, 2003, 2005)
Giant Gap Dam II ~ Esoteric History

4/22/77 morning in the canyon. jays and acorn woodpeckers have a noise contest. a note i would have written last night if the candle hadn't burnt down: that even now, at the end of april, a woodstove would be nice mornings and evenings.

checked out the dogwood spring ~ it is flowing pretty well. later this summer they may all dry up…”

[Russell Towle's journal]

4/22/78 morning. now the sun hits the pinnacle crest only 20 min. after sunrise, if that.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

4/22/88 morning, cloudy, cool, raining from time to time. I am, of course, out of firewood, having been swayed by the prevailing opinion that winter was OVER; strange to think that a scant week or so back, temperatures reached into the 90s.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Tue, 22 Apr 2003 14:08:43 -0800
To: North Fork Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Some History

Hi all,

Recently explorations in Giant Gap have revealed some tunnel and other work of the "Giant Gap Survey," a plan hatched in the 1890s to divert water from the North Fork American to supply San Francisco.

More recently, in the 1960s Placer County planned to build a dam in Giant Gap, using the water for hydroelectric power and to supply agriculture and residents of the county itself. I asked Matt Bailey of Dutch Flat about this Giant Gap Dam, since I had always heard that he played a big part in stopping the thing.

Matt told me that the plan pre-dated formation of the Placer County Water Agency; it was a County project, and kept somewhat under wraps, while Placer County explored possibilities with the Bureau of Reclamation and the State of California. Word leaked out, and an "inside man" literally passed the dam documents through the window, to the rabid environmentalists, who quickly photocopied them and passed them back.

Thus the County was taken somewhat by surprise when vocal and determined and informed opposition arose at the first hearing.

The plan had some interesting components, such as driving a tunnel from the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork of the American into the South Yuba canyon to the north, in order to add South Yuba water to the flow of the North Fork. Also, in order to use the water, it would have had to be pumped uphill to the ridgetop near Colfax, thus canceling almost all hydroelectric benefits.

Matt Bailey, Eric Gerstung, and Gene Markley* spearheaded opposition to the Giant Gap Dam. They contacted CA State Senator Peter Behr and the North Fork American, from its source along the Sierra crest, down to the Colfax-Iowa Hill Bridge, was added to the nascent California Wild & Scenic Rivers Act. Matt, Eric, and Gene formed a group called "North Fork Wild Rivers Council" and almost every weekend found them making slide show presentations all over Northern California. Matt took groups of students from U.C. Davis, on many occasions, out to Big Valley Bluff, the wonderful 3500-foot cliff on the north wall of the canyon, east of Emigrant Gap, and sent them back to Davis with petitions to hand out, on behalf of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, and the North Fork American.

In 1972 the CA W&SR Act was passed, with the North Fork American among the several rivers under its protection. To add more protection, Matt and the others continued their efforts to get the North Fork American designated as a Federal W&SR as well; this was at last accomplished in 1978.

Such is a little local history. Thanks Matt!


Russell Towle

*I raise here a tribute to these three activists—on behalf of the North Fork American River; on behalf of the Sierra Nevada; and on behalf of the wholeness of our Earth—these men to whom  all humanity owes deep gratitude for their persistent work to our and the planet's benefit. I already knew the names and a few of the positive works of Matt Bailey and Gene Markley but the name of Eric Gerstung was new to me until I saw it in this blog post of Russell's. I did a little research to learn more about him and find that he passed away quite recently, in December 2013.

Eric Gerstung, R. I. P.

Before the Gold Rush
California’s streams
were crystal-clear,
and salmonids ran up them
till their way was barred
by perpendiculars
too high to leap.

The rape of nature slowed
as placer mining was controlled,
but man’s rapacity runs on, and
thrives today in pleasant guise,
and but for men alert
to threats to Mother Earth
our world would be
more ravaged than it is.

So, let us thank such men,
like Eric Gerstung, savior
of the cutthroat trout,
campaigner for the public ownership
of wild and scenic lands,
supporter of a hundred causes
stemming hurt to the environment,
whose faith was Nature
and whose church
a grove of redwood trees. 

—James Moose
Thank you, Matt Bailey, Gene Markley and Eric Gerstung.


Esoteric Essay
[North Fork Trails blogpost, April 22, 2005:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2005/04/esoteric-essay.html ]
Friday morning I drove down to visit Alex Henderson near Auburn, to imagine some cabinets which might be built in his kitchen, and then to use his table saw to cut strips of red and white Philippine mahogany to make Penrose rhombs, of thirty-six and seventy-two degrees.

Around noon, tho, it came time to take Alex's nimble little Beamer convertible for a test drive.

"Let's go to Boole Road," said I, "there is some kind of old religious commune or cooperative out there, near the North Fork canyon."

For so I had heard from Ron Gould, who joined Placer Legacy's Loren Clark and others for a tour of the site, some months ago. It seems there was something historic about the place, which had some kind of printing and binding equipment. And the land itself governed access to roads running along the canyon rim.

At the Applegate exit on I-80 we turned south and took a right on Boole Road. Almost at once a sign proclaimed the entrance to the "Esoteric Publishing Company," and Ron had mentioned that name. So we turned onto the paved driveway, and saw a group of buildings sheltering in an oak grove, above left.

Up we went. A woman was receiving a delivery on a loading dock at the rear of an odd concrete building. We drove near and I asked if we might take a look around Esoteric. I mentioned the Placer Legacy, Loren Clark, and Ron Gould, and confessed my interest in securing public access to the North Fork canyon.

There was some confusion while it developed that we had stumbled upon a Jesuit retreat, built on property which had once belonged to Esoteric, and when this was finally sorted out we were asked to wait while she telephoned up to headquarters.

Before we knew it, we were in Lindsay's SUV, trundling up Esoteric Road, gathering tidbits of the history, which went back to the 1890s, and admiring the millions of buttercups blooming in the lush meadows to either side.

Lindsay explained that near everybody in Placer County had heard tell of the Esoteric Society, and that local legend insisted each and every building on the grounds was haunted, through and through. Strangers wandered in at any time, looking for ghosts. If the strangers had their way, they'd tear the buildings down until they found those ghosts.

Well. Public access to ghosts is not of vital importance, not in my world.

The Meadow Vista Trails Association obtained permission to use Esoteric lands, and we saw some of their trails marked, here and there.

Also, large numbers of E Clampus Vitus were arriving to camp in a meadow, an annual event it seems. They too have an arrangement with Esoteric.

Esoteric Publishing still exists in some rudimentary form; an internet search revealed that it had published a title as recently as 1962. Lindsay told us that a certain old brick building along the road had to do with the Society (for it was more than a mere publishing house), and that a man named Fred Peterson awaited us, and would tell us more.

The road climbed to a gap on a ridge, and suddenly the North Fork was below us, and snow peaks glinted in the distance, above the flat volcanic uplands of the Foresthill Divide. A short climb west led us to another old brick building, or rather, half brick and half frame construction, ramshackle in appearance, and with enough in the way of trees around, to mask its potential impact upon the canyon viewshed. A variety of outbuildings, and Lindsay's humble cottage, stood nearby. And a tall, thin, ancient man, his faced etched into a thousand deep creases and cracks, his hair rarely long for his age and quite white, stood on the entrance steps, at the west end of the building. A battered old grey metal toolbox rested on the steps beside him, and he gripped a ring of many dozen keys.

This was Fred.

Not far away was a California Styrax bush in full bloom, evidently planted long ago by some member of the Society. The first place I ever saw this species was a short distance to the east, down in Codfish Canyon. They have quite showy white flowers.

Lindsay indicated we should get out, and I approached Fred, introduced myself, and mentioned that I had heard of Placer Legacy's interest in the property, and appreciated the chance to take a look around. I expressed admiration for the view, and interest in the building, and in the history of the Society. Once again I dropped the names of Loren Clark and Ron Gould.

"Ron Gould, you say," Fred began, "I remember him: a quiet man, didn't have much to say. Seemed interested and all that, tho."

I rushed unnecessarily to Ron's defense.

"He may be quiet," said I, "but he knows how to listen; Ron doesn't miss much."

"I know he doesn't," Fred cackled genially, "because, when they left, after the Tour and all that, he told me, 'Nice to meet you, Fred'. He got my name right, anyway."

When Alex joined us, Fred grabbed his grey metal box and instantly led us away on the Grand Tour. So many facts and subjects were spilling out constantly, one getting in the way of another, that it was a bit difficult to hold the thread of any one fact or subject. We garnered some time for all that at the foot of a long outdoor staircase, and again on the platform up at the third story entrance, while Fred turned his mass of keys, keys of so many shapes and sizes and colors and metals, over and over and over, searching for that one key we now needed.

Around 1891, a man named Hiram Erastus Butler came to Applegate from Boston, where he had run afoul of Madame Blavatsky's Theosophical Society. Fred made it seem as tho Butler had fled for his life, or perhaps I only imagined that secret agents of the Society had been set upon poor Butler, like so many transcendental pit bulls.

For in the late 1880s, Butler had dared to raise a rivalry against Blavatsky's popular sect; he had named his new organization the Esoteric Society, and had published a book entitled "Solar Biology [Bible History of Solar Biology, Involution and Evolution, Man's True Nature, The Selection of Partners and Hints Regarding Marriage, The Twelve Signs or Functions of the Zodiac, The Power and Importance of Breath, The Polarities of the Signs, Order and Harmony of the Seven Vital Signs, The Positions of the Planets, Attributes of Character, Critical Periods of Life, Sexual Excesses, Etc.]"

And Butler left Boston for Applegate, and he and the members of his Esoteric Society built the buildings, and began publishing this new Gospel According to Butler.

Fred told us that the very bricks of the building were made on the property, using manzanita to fire the kilns.

Finally the key was found, and the old door swung open. We entered a room almost demonically musty in smell and appearance, with a mixture of new and old furniture, odd paintings, and custom signs inscribed with Sayings of the Master, which Fred had made long ago.

Fred is a kind of curator of the history of Esoteric Publishing and Hiram E. Butler. He wants Placer County to preserve this history, and make a museum in the decrepit structure. If the County doesn't act, Fred fears that some rival religious organization or cult might step in, purchase the property outright, and rapidly and malignantly subsume the true history of Butler and his Society, beneath their own dogma, their own history, their own people.

So this rather large building is already a museum of sorts, which Fred maintains as best he can, while unable to afford to fix the leaking roof. Every room smells dank and moldy, and every window is covered from top to bottom. So it is dark and smelly and, as it turns out, full of all kinds of strange and mystic memorabilia, some of which dates back fully a century to the days when Hiram Butler gave lectures, and needed to show his audiences the Seven-Pointed Star of Vital Planetary Vibrations, circumscribing the Six-Pointed Star of the Masculine and Feminine, and labeled with the word "Logos" in both Greek and Hebrew, along with astrological symbols and the good and old Snake Eating His Own Tail, representing, Fred instructed us, Eternity.

We wandered from room to room and from attic to basement and again and again the keys were revolved into every kind of geometry while The One was sought. Eventually, The One was always found, and we would enter yet another musty, dusty, mouse-poopy dark chamber, and some new magical and mystical painting or prescription was met.

Moses hurried the Israelites across the (parted) Red Sea, in one huge painting all of eight feet long. Another painting sported a very wise and loving and friendly-looking lion on the upper left, a bunch of mystical symbols elsewhere, and, below right, where one would expect to find the painter's signature, the combined astrological symbols for Leo and Sagittarius.

"Those are the symbols for Leo and Sagittarius," I remarked, "look how they are combined."

"That's because Hiram Butler had his Sun in Leo and his Moon in Sagittarius," Fred explained. "Butler is the Lion." And he rambled into an explanation about how Butler was revered by his disciples and liked to be called The Lion, which was only right because his Sun was in Leo, and Esoteric Astrology, as opposed to Exoteric Astrology, was concerned only with the Sun and Moon signs of an individual.

All of which I followed perfectly, for, from studies in the 1960s, I knew all too much about the Theosophical Society and such-like cults and cabals. I had read a biography of Blavatsky, and also of her successor, Annie Besant, and knew, for instance, that her second-in-command, second, yes, yet equally capable of receiving Divine Guidance from Ascended Masters, Avatars, and every kind of good and decent Spirit Guide—her second-in-command had lost favor, when it emerged he had sexually molested the children of many Society members, in Australia.

I did not mention this to Fred. Maybe it would have pleased him to learn of this stain upon the honor of the larger, more-powerful cult, that noble Theosophy which had hounded Hiram Erastus Butler right out of Boston, so long ago.

During all this slow and stately Tour we were accompanied by Lindsay's daughter Hanna, an eager and happy sprite of ten years' age, who knew every nook and cranny in the place, and managed to be both enthusiastic and very polite. She was a joy, a ray of pure light in these dark halls and steep narrow stairs and mildewed rooms.

I believe the old structure could be whipped into fairly decent shape. It needs a good roof first, better drainage away from its foundation second, a concrete basement subfloor third, and then, with a thorough cleaning it might well be opened as a museum.

In one attic room Alex found a very old photo album containing photos of Yosemite, among other subjects. When Alex exclaimed his appreciation, Fred offered to let him have it. Alex refused, of course. Fred's willingness to give away the album does not bode at all well for preserving the integrity of this very unusual collection of historical materials.

I do believe Esoteric is worth preserving. But the true worth of the Esoteric Society property goes beyond its importance in the history of minor cults, or its role in the history of Placer County; the true worth has to do with protecting a goodly portion of the canyon rim, upon which who knows how many houses might be built, and also with enhancing public access to a certain system of dirt roads along the canyon rim.

Wherever we went, the old grey toolbox followed. I essayed the joking remark, 'wherever goes our President, so also goes the Nuclear Football', but Fred didn't rise to my bait. His toolbox had strips of tape and paper plastered over it with labels in cursive script that I could never quite read. I don't think it contained tools.

Fred and Hanna called one room the Patriotic Room. It too was jammed with mystic insignia, but a large American flag draped one wall. The flag looked old, perhaps because everything was dusty and therefore looked old no matter what its actual age might be, so Hanna and I busied ourselves with counting the stars.

There were fifty stars.

Then Fred sprung a pop quiz on home-schooled Hanna: "Do you know what the Thirteen Stripes stand for, little girl?"

Before she could answer I jumped into the breach and answered, "They correspond to the Thirteen Dragons of the Apocalypse, of course!" He walked away, muttering about tender young minds, and the dangers of Truths all too dangerously True, for a being of her innocent years.

While walking around the south side of the building, I noticed that Little Bald Mountain and Snow Mountain were visible, and a little triangle of snow I mistook for one of the peaks near Alpine Meadows ski area, but which in retrospect I am guessing was in fact Mt. Mildred's north summit.

Fred asked if any of the peaks visible were Mt. Rose, and I answered in the negative, for the Sierra crest bars all of the Carson Range from most any point on the west slope of the Sierra. Perhaps members of the Society had evolved the idea, a century ago, that one of the snow peaks in the distance was Mt. Rose. Perhaps a special and religious significance was attached to this notion.

But it is a false notion.

Fred and Hanna saved best for last: the Library. Here a large room with a Franklin-style wood stove was lined with glass-fronted bookshelves along one long wall. The collection ranged from Swami Vivekananda to Dickens and from one generation of Huxleys to another; a somewhat remarkable and unusual collection have mainly to do with religion and mysticism, but straying widely into Greek myths and, really, many subjects. The Society had printed and bound their own indices to the Library.

Hours had passed. I had only imagined driving up to some gates, and peeking in at distant buildings. Maybe a little innocent trespassing, to get a glimpse of the great canyon. Instead we stumbled directly into the Grand Tour. I was fascinated, and would have stayed longer, but Alex had a schedule to meet, so we made our apologies and our thanks, and left.

This required we be driven back down the hill, past the swelling ranks of Clampers, to the Beamer, which we'd left to the mercies of the Jesuits. Lindsay was getting ready for work, and her husband Kent took on the task.

Kent is a slender man of middle age, with fine features and greying long hair. He is a Juilliard-trained pianist and gives lessons at the high end of expertise, as well as composing his own music; a mixture of Prokofiev and show tunes, he said. I was quite curious as to how someone, anyone, had ever landed there at Esoterica. Clearly this Kent was the very same Kent we had seen named in posters around the big old building, and the same musician Fred had alluded to at the very beginning of the Tour, who composed music for the Society in a front room, one of several rooms we'd never set foot in.

So I threw a couple questions Kent's way and we swiftly learned that the Vietnam War had chewed him up and spat him out, very much the worse for wear, so that in 1969 he became a hippy and moved to California, and within a few months his path led him to Esoteric Publishing. He stayed until 1974, returned in 1993, and has lived there ever since, composing music, and raising his family. And at long last that bad war's wounds had healed.

Then we were at the tiny Beamer and said our goodbyes, reluctantly, for Kent is quite a nice and interesting man, and we'd felt an instant rapport. Perhaps we'll meet again.

Such was an interesting few hours on the rim of the North Fork canyon. Fred and Hanna had proudly shown me how one could see the river itself, far below; I think we were looking at a point a little below Ponderosa Bridge.

This Esoteric Society, also known as Esoteric Publishing, and the Esoteric Fraternity Publishers, is of historical interest, and occupies a position on the rim of the North Fork canyon which could have great bearing upon the viewshed, and upon public access to old roads along the canyon rim. It is not the typical Placer Legacy project, but I am inspired to think it is a project worth pursuing.


Russell Towle

1 comment:

  1. Wow.




    And I want to go on a tour.