Little Boy Lost

Now also at www.Urbanwildland.org

In the time I have spent living off of Koenigstein, there have been three births, two deaths and now, a small boy found somewhere along the road. Sammy Evans was discovered at 7p.m. on Monday, after he was reported lost some six hours before, having last been seen on Tree Ranch Road. He was located by a bloodhound named Roscoe and Michael Grossman of Ventura County K9 Search and Rescue. "He's a wonderful kid who got confused and got scared and they found him," his father Steve Evans said. "The gratitude we have is unbelievable."

In the early evening, as the wind dropped, the search-dog picked up Sammy’s scent and led his handler up Koenigstein Road. The prescient mystic, William Blake, has most of the details right:

“Then they followed
Where the vision led,
And saw their sleeping child
Among tigers wild.

To this day they dwell
In a lonely dell,
Nor fear the wolvish howl
Nor the lion’s growl.”

Sammy was found, according to media reports, in a wooded area about a mile east of where he was last seen. No mention was made of finding mountain lions, coyotes or even foxes in the vicinity, although, on occasion, all three roam these parts. The media was mute too, on the exact nature of the woods in which he was found. I should add that young Sammy was apparently awake when discovered and spoke with his human rescuer. No word on his interaction with Roscoe, the bloodhound.

I am an essayist not a journalist: a quick check with local scribe Chris Wilson suggests that he is not following the story – he referred me to the Ojai Valley News’ intrepid Misty Volanski who after a cursory report in the local rag has moved on; fellow blogger and esteemed Ventura reporter, Kit Stolz, is missing in action, hiking the Pacific Crest trail somewhere along its more than twenty five hundred mile length; Urbanwildland is therefore attempting to pick up the threads in its author’s amateur, essay-ish kind of way.

The story, as I have outlined it, is based on news reports. As a long-time historian manqué, however, I understand the value of original research. So it was that I drove the length of Tree Ranch Road hoping to detect some latent, psychic echoes of the parent’s panic on discovering the loss of their child or perhaps of Sammy’s desperation in attempting to flee the family unit. Note that I am discounting the notion that our boy wandered off unintentionally and became disoriented and lost. Ending up on Koenigstein involves traversing the County divide separating the Ventura and Santa Clara River watersheds, and requires a serious intent - a concerted effort to put distance between oneself and one’s nearest and dearest. Was there some inkling on Tree Ranch of what made Sammy run? (Ancient reference: What Makes Sammy Run, the 1960’s Broadway musical based on Bud Schulberg’s story of the rise and fall of Sammy Glick, archetypal Hollywood Jew – stereotyped as smart, ruthless, savvy and crude). Our Sammy is black, ten years old and four feet tall, but he too has demons that impel him to run.

Tree Ranch Road is mostly horse-properties. Not of the Kentucky blue grass, white fence, lush meadows kind, but the dry, dirt and dust, metal corral, hard-scrabble Ojai kind. It appears to be mostly a street of pick-up trucks and horse trailers casually parked in front of one story ranch houses; but as you drive north, across intermittent speed bumps, something changes. The 12700 block, where Sammy was reported missing, is composed of mostly two story structures of dubious architectural provenance and irrigated grounds that have aspirations (mostly unrealized) of achieving estate status. These gardens cling to some European ideal while their northern aspect is dominated by south facing native chaparral hills that rise up to Fuel Break Road, running along the near ridge, as it heads over to High Winds and Boccali’s Ranch. Lush exotics and schlerophytic natives are thus poised in a Mexican stand-off - nature and nurture unresolved and unresolvable.

Sammy most likely stuck to the road, eschewing what for him were probably the unknown pleasures of bush-whacking over to Sisar, and then going cross-country to Koenigstein. Let’s face it: the kid was in escape mode, out Tree Ranch, east on the 150 then up Koenigstein - terra incognita – until he decided that a rest was in order and he hunkered down among the oaks on our property up the hill (favored hang-out, too, of recalcitrant Thomas Aquinas students, who chug beer and wine while enjoying the westerly views of the Upper Valley and the shade of our ancient live-oaks). I don’t mean to be proprietary, just saying that Lorrie and I are the chumps that pay the Ventura County property taxes on the only ‘wooded area’ directly off of Koenigstein. In other words, “Whose woods these are I think I know”.

I am delighted to have played host, albeit unknowingly, to runaway Sammy. But it was the trees and their shade that appealed to him. It’s an old story: as William Bryant Logan points out in Oak – The Frame of Civilization, the genus is intimately involved in the recent development of humankind; as he says, “People stayed and went where the oaks were. There is some basic sympathy between oaks and humans.” Sammy was seeking comfort from Quercus agrifolia, the Coast Live Oak, the same tree that helped nurture ten thousand years of successive Native Californian cultures, finally ending with a constellation of balanocultures (oak and acorn societies) epitomized by the Chumash. As Logan notes, these were the last cultures on earth that continued to rely on the fruits of the oak where once they were a mainstay of the temperate belt that girdled the Northern Hemisphere after the end of the ice age.

When he was nine, William Blake saw “a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars”. In Martin Frederick’s, The Life of John Clare, 1865, he recounts that Clare had a favorite place where he would write his poetry. “it was the hollow of an old oak. Inside this old oak, John Clare used to sit in silent meditation for many hours together, unmindful even of the waning day and the mantle of darkness falling over the earth”.

How long did Sammy sit under the oak and what did he see? By the middle of August it is dark not long after eight. Was Sammy mindful of the waning day? What did he plan for the night? A few hundred yards to the south of his resting place are the trampled depressions (now mostly covered by chaparral) of the house sites for a small band of Chumash who lived on the banks of Bear Creek. Foxes begin to snarl as the light fades. Spirits of long dead Indians may still haunt the oak woodlands. Owls hoot and bats jink and fade as the sun drops into the westerly haze.

Enter Roscoe: slobbering over child and foreshortening the night of his young life. Safely back in the bosom of his family, under the now ever watchful eye of his parents our Little Boy Lost may yet be planning his next great escape. May Blake’s arboreal angels watch over him…..

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