Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Real 49ers and Ravens

One of the great things about February in the USA is
that unlike January, may it rest in peace,
there is always a party in February if one waits long enough.
Groundhog Day was yesterday, 
and it is followed this year by Super Bowl Sunday.
This is the day when well over 111 million Americans 
declare allegiance to a team of physically fit gladiators 
and then sit back with a bowl of chips balanced on their bellies
and some kind of cheese-y dip shaped like a football close at hand.

photo courtesy of

I'm one of the few Americans who have never seen a football game.
Of course I've seen parts of football games, 
but therein lies the problem. 
For all I see are a few seconds of running followed by 
a couple of dozen large men piling on top of a ball.
It seems they never get very far, 
and the time delay between the piling and the running stretches on ad infinitum.
This year the Baltimore Ravens will be meeting the San Francisco 49ers,
but instead of talking football, which I've demonstrated I know little about,
I thought I'd talk about the real 49ers and the real ravens.

photo courtesy of

My great great grandfather August 
was a gold-prospecting argonaut, a real "49er"
even though he didn't head for California in search of gold until the early 1850s;
news traveled slowly in those days.
Like many young men of that era, 
he was probably seduced by the allure of easy money
or a longing for adventure or both.
So August left his small German farming community in Loose Creek, Missouri
and set out to find his fortune.
And he did find gold, but as my dad related the story,
August put his bag of gold under his pillow before going to sleep
and awoke to find his partner--and his gold--long gone.
Likely worn out, disillusioned, and homesick, 
August worked as a cook on the ship that brought him home
by way of Cape Horn.
 I found his name on a passenger list as sailing from Brazil to the USA in 1857.
Our family speculated that this could have been our August, 
but there wasn't definitive evidence that it was.

photo courtesy of

As a gold prospector in California, I imagine 
August must have seen a flock or two of ravens.
Stories about ravens foreshadowing evil, 
or themselves being ominous creatures, go back centuries. 
Alexander Wilson recounts some of these tales
in his 1831 book American Ornithology.
Among them: ravens that light on church steeples portend calamity,
and when ravens hover over houses where sick people lay,
it is a sign of impending death.

I found a 1950 book on Google Books titled Our Desert Neighbors
by Edmund Carroll Jaeger. 
Jaeger relates a story about meeting an old prospector in the Amboy territory 
of the Mojave Desert, far southwest of Sutter's Mill 
where the first of the California gold was discovered.
The old prospector warned him about ravens, "them awful evil birds."
The prospector said ravens 
were "good specimens ... of the devil's own awful children"
and added that they were "agin your luck every time."

And this Super Bowl Sunday, will the Baltimore Ravens
steal the luck of the San Francisco 49ers?
Or will the 49ers strike gold?
I really don't know.
Either the 49ers will shout Eureka !
or the Ravens shall quoth Nevermore.
And I, I will ask "Is it over yet?"

No comments: