A man bends at the river’s edge, his face obscured by his flat-crowned, wide felt hat. He’s running his hand in the water at first, now reaching into it more purposefully. The camera closes in on his nail beds, cracked and dirty beneath the twinkling water. He lifts a small stone out of the water, wipes it on his shirt front, then holds it out, refracting yellow rays of California sun. The soundtrack swells as he stage whispers: “gold.”
This “memory,” an amalgamation of old Westerns and Discovery channel “dramatic recreations,” was my first, and only precursor to the Sacramento river. The Gold Rush, a chapter of American history I personally have not reflected on since grade school, still occupies a significant portion of the historical imagination of this town.
There are remembrances everywhere, some are stilted, such as the architecturally rich but functionally vapid corner of the city called Old Sacramento Historic District, comprised entirely of tourist traps and candy “shoppes.” Others staid, like the California State Indian Museum, a “museum” that could more accurately be described as a ‘“textbook” whose black and white pages were blown up and mounted onto the walls of a single windowless room.
And some, blessedly, are extraordinary, like the river, which inexplicably gleams with flecks of gold still. During the drought, the Sacramento Bee reported that diminishing flow in the river had, “been leaving gold residues, like gilded bathtub rings, amid the cobbled banks of many rivers and streams.” Of course, the headline writer didn’t miss her opportunity for a “gold lining to the situation” joke.
It takes us thirteen minutes, door to door, to the river access point at Sutter Landing (pictured throughout.) It’s the sweetest little beach. Dogs, children, swimming, overt public drinking, and even the occasional scuba diver all happily co-exist among the sand and foliage that abuts the river. We originally found it scouting a location for an upcoming family portrait session, and although we ended up choosing a different location for that shoot, I would love to shoot a family here before the warm weather is gone. In the meantime, you can find me there, photographing mine.