Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dane's Steer

Author note: Although this story was written as if I were the reporter on the scene, I must confess that I was not; nor did I write about it. Credit  goes to Sherry Coonrod and Liz Bowen, both of whom did such  marvelous jobs reporting the event that I was able to write this story as if I were there--eight years after it happened. The names have been changed to protect the privacy of the family.

It is said that people often show true excellence in the midst of great tragedy. This was certainly true in the story I’m about to tell...


The Siskiyou Golden Fair is the event to top all events in Siskiyou County. Retailers and social clubs begin planning their exhibits and food booths for next year’s fair before Christmas. The fair happens during the hottest time of the year—early August—when air conditioners run non-stop and a sedative quiet emanates from deserted streets.

It’s during this time when activity begins to stir at the southern edge of town. At first, it’s so subtle that most travelers passing by the fairgrounds on Interstate 5 take no notice. But the locals know because their 10-year-old daughter has been raising a rabbit all year in 4-H, or because they’ve taste-tested those chocolate chip butterscotch cookies their mother is entering for the coveted blue ribbon.

The newspaper staff has a love/hate relationship with the fair. They hate it because of the events they’re expected to cover and showcase daily on double spread pages for the entire week. They love it because, despite all their whining and complaining, the fair is actually a nice break. They get to venture out of the office every day and snap pictures of people enjoying themselves.

But it wasn’t just because of this that I loved the fair. I enjoyed the smells, a mixture of cotton candy, caramel corn, and hotdogs. I loved walking through the exhibits in cool air-conditioned buildings and discovering a true work of genius from an unknown amateur. I even loved listening to the slick salesman demonstrating the wonders of a new blender while tossing whole eggs—shell and all—into a healthy juice concoction. But what I loved most was strolling through the animal pens—cows, steers, chickens, rabbits of all colors and varieties, and sheep with their sweet lamb offspring. And I was always amazed by the 4-H kids who live with their animals during the week of the fair, grooming them, feeding them, watering them, and even sleeping with them. I wondered how it was possible for them to part with their animals when they came up for auction.

But I never imagined how a steer could set the stage in altering an entire community for over a year. Actually, it wasn’t the steer at all. He was just a prop in a much more important drama about to unfold.

The fair had been going strong all week, but the most important part for the agricultural community was just beginning. Each animal took their turn on the auction block. For those handling the auctions, it was another routine day, with a hired auctioneer spewing forth his incredible babble to crowds filled with ranchers and town merchants. I was at the cattle auction, more out of curiosity than to cover it for the paper. Normally we didn’t cover the actual auctions because we received the results from the fair office the next day. But I happened to be walking through the animal pens when I heard the auctioneer and decided to check it out.

I watched as a high school girl in a spotless white dress shirt and green neck scarf guided her steer through a maze of isles into a wide open arena with stands on each side. The auctioneer calmly introduced the 4-H member and her animal before launching into the bidding. Dollar amounts began flying off his tongue in record time. The steer in question was golden brown and brushed to perfection, his physique perfectly shaped. I wasn’t surprised when the gavel finally hit and the words, “Sold to the gentleman in the red shirt for $6,500.”

This same routine was repeated as two more high school boys took their turns with their animals. Then suddenly a mummer started rising from the stands as the next youngster headed in with his steer. Many in the audience stood to watch a tall youth with short blond hair guide his black steer in by a rope.

“And next up is Dane Johnson with his 950 pound steer,” the auctioneer said loudly over the microphone. As if hooked to the same string, the entire crowd flew to their feet and began cheering. I gave a questioning look to a lady cheering next to me and asked: “What’s all the excitement about?”

“That’s Dane Johnson,” she said. “It’s amazing he’s even here. He was diagnosed with bone cancer three weeks ago.”

I looked at the boy again; he didn’t look sick.

“Is that one of the Johnsons from the Green Meadows Ranch?” I asked.

She nodded.

Everyone knew of the Johnsons. They had ranching roots in Siskiyou County that went back for over 100 years. Their family was still ranching the same acreage of land that their ancestors had settled during the gold rush era. Their ranch was easiest the most picturesque in Shasta Valley. A lump formed in my throat while watching the boy stand next to his animal, smiling shyly as the crowd cheered. When the auctioneer opened up the bidding, hands flew up all over the arena.

As bids sped past $7,000, the audience cheered. More hands went up and the auction continued. $8,000, $8,500, $9,000. They were just getting started. When the amount hit $15,000 a cheer rose up again. The boy in the center of it all stood with his eyes glazed over. He was looking into the stands now, at his parents, I guessed. And the bids kept coming. I was amazed when the figure hit $30,000.

For one bull? No, for one boy.

By now the active bidders had dwindled to two. Both men stood side by side. With each raise of the hand, they would smile at the other as the figure went up and up. It became obvious that this wasn’t a friendly rivalry, but a joyful partnership in giving. When the final bid came in at $65,000, the man on the left nodded to the man with the winning bid and they shook hands. The audience in the stands stood and roared in celebration. The boy’s parents rushed across the arena to their son and all three came over to the two bidders, embracing them in an overwhelming display of gratitude.

I didn’t wait for the next day to write the story. I went to the office immediately and set my fingers to the keyboard. I wanted it to come from my heart.

There were many other opportunities to help the Johnson family as they raced around the state for over a year trying to save the life of their firstborn son. But for those who witnessed the auction that afternoon, it was an event that they will never forget.

Yrekans read newspaper stories about Dane in the following months as needs came up. They prayed for the family when Dane went in for his operation to replace his leg bone, sent them encouragement as Dane weakened through chemotherapy, held more fundraisers to help with additional expenses, and wept with them as Dane passed away. Two years later, when Dane’s class graduated from high school without him, the entire class and spectators stood and clapped as his brother accepted his honorary diploma. There was not a dry eye in the audience.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A Matter of Perspective

This is a true story... All the names have been changed to protect the innocent...(or not). It's a story about a strange crime and an even stranger criminal justice system. Enjoy!

A Matter of Perspective

“Is this the reporter who wrote the story about the guy who hiked half the Pacific Crest Trail last summer?” a friendly, male voice asked over the phone.
I had just finished my lunch and was sitting at my desk pondering what I was going to write for the following day’s paper.

“This is her,” I said.

“Well…” he said, “I also hiked the PCT. Only I didn’t just do half. I hiked the entire thing in one year.”

Oh no. Not anther hiker, I thought. “Really?” I said. “By yourself?”

“By myself.”

Although this was impressive, I didn’t want to do another PCT story. I mean, I had just written a PCT story. How could I justify running another one? This kind of dilemma happened often in the small town newspaper where I worked. I would write a feature story about someone doing something impressive, and then other people who did the same thing or better would start coming out of the woodwork.

I exhaled silently. I didn’t like to be rude. Maybe if I just talked to him for a while he’d go away.

“Can I get your name?”

“Patrick Flannigan,” he said.

“Do you live in Siskiyou County?”

“I’m a student at College of the Siskiyous.”

Another college student, I thought. “When did you hike it? Do you have pictures?”

“Lots of them,” he said. “I started at the border of California and Mexico last spring, and ended at the Washington-Canadian border last fall.”

I hesitated. If his story was true, this guy had accomplished a whole lot more than the other college student I had just written about. What could it hurt to interview him? I could at least run a picture and a cutline if the story was pretty much the same.

When he came by the newspaper office the following day, I recognized him immediately. Not because I had met or even seen him before, but because he could be no one else but the man who had hiked the PCT by himself in one year. He looked older than most college students, with gray at his temples and a tanned, lined face. He was extremely tall and thin—about six-feet, five-inches. His smile came easy as he shook my hand.

As he spoke about his year-long adventure, he leaned back in his chair with his long legs stretched out in front of him. He talked about the different parts of the trail, which ones were his favorites and which were more treacherous. He talked about some of the people he had met, and about how he had come close to death when he got caught between a mother bear and her cub while hiking in Washington. The only thing that had saved him was singing a gospel tune while stepping lightly away. He spoke about how he arranged his supplies so that they were mailed to him at different times and town locations near the trail.

He had a lot to say, and I was scribbling down every word.
But Patrick didn’t show his true colors until he began speaking about the reason why he went on the hike.

“I did it to meet and talk to people along the way,” he said.

“Come again?” I said.

“I used the experience to tell people about the Fed and the corruption they’ve brought on our country.”

He didn’t look crazy, but his eyes were serious and he had shifted his body so that he was now leaning forward in his chair.

“Did you say the ‘Fed’?”

“Yes,” Patrick said emphatically. “The Federal Reserve. You do know what the Federal Reserve is, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah—”

“Most people think they know what it is, but they really don’t have a clue. Did you know that the Fed is not part of the U.S. government?”

“No, but--”

“You’re not alone. Most people are completely in the dark about the corrupt system that illegally controls our monetary system.” He was on a roll now, his Pacific Crest Trail stories long vanished. “I learned about all this from an amazing book called The Creature from Jeckle Island, and used my chance meetings on the trail to tell people about it.”

Patrick must have talked for thirty more minutes about the U.S. money system and how it was illegally controlled by a group of private bankers. He spoke about how this group of rich bankers—known as the Federal Reserve—was not elected by the people nor controlled or appointed by Congress.

Although a good journalist would have steered him back to the subject at hand, he had me spellbound.

He spoke with such determiniation that I almost forgot the reason why I was interviewing him. He was a man with a mission… ready to take down the most powerful institution in the world by hiking the PCT and telling his story to a small town newspaper woman. And I was powerless to stop him. Every time I attempted to steer the interview back to the trail, he would steer it back to the Fed. Finally, after spending way more time than I intended to with him, I stood up, stretched, and explained that I had another appointment. He gave me some photographs, eagerly shook my hand, and left.

The following week I ran the story on the outdoors page. It was far more than a photo and cutline, but did not mention anything about the Federal Reserve and his personal quest to take them down.

I figured that was the last time I would hear from Patrick Flannigan.
I was wrong.

About three months later while going through the jail bookings for the morning’s paper, a familiar name jumped out at me: Patrick Flannigan. Could it be? I wondered. Surely there couldn’t be two Patrick Flannigans in Siskiyou County. This Patrick Flannigan had been arrested and booked with a misdemeanor charge of disobeying a peace officer in the line of duty.

I immediately called the sheriff’s office and talked to the public information officer.

Officer Denton let out a frustrated sigh when I mentioned Patrick’s name. He didn’t have to look anything up and get back with me. He knew who Patrick was. Apparently everyone in the station knew about the incident.

“What was he doing to disobey an officer?” I asked. “I’ve met this guy. He doesn’t seem like the type to get arrested.”

“Yeah, well, he was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt and he refused to sign the ticket,” Denton said.

“That’s illegal?” I asked.

“Yep.”

“So he was arrested?”

“Yep. He was warned and given every opportunity to comply. But he refused. So we were obligated to take him in.”

“Is he still in jail?”

“Yep. You’ll have to check the court proceedings to see when he goes before the judge.”

****

Patrick was in jail for two days before seeing the judge to state how he would plead. The judicial system couldn’t release him because he wouldn’t sign any paperwork promising to appear. On the day of his arraignment he was wearing an orange jumpsuit with his hands cuffed in front of him. When the judge called his name, he stood. There was no lawyer by his side.

“Mr. Flannigan, am I to understand that you denied your right to an attorney?” The judge asked, looking from the paperwork on his bench to Patrick and then back to the paperwork.

Patrick said nothing.

“Will you be representing yourself?” the judge asked.

Again nothing.

“All right then. I will determine your silence as an affirmative,” the judge said. “Now, Mr. Flannigan, how do you plead?”

Silence.

“By not answering me, I will have to determine that you are pleading not guilty.”

Not a word.

“Let the court be aware that Mr. Flannigan is pleading not guilty to the misdemeanor charge of disobeying a peace officer in the line of duty. Will November 15 work for the pretrial hearing?”

Patrick stood in silence, his eyes fixed on the judge.

“I’ll take your silence as a yes,” the judge said. “Let the court be aware that the pretrial hearing for Mr. Patrick Flannigan is set for Nov. 15 at 1 p.m.”

The gavel went down.

As Patrick was escorted from the courtroom there were audible whispers from a group of men sitting together in the audience. I followed them out of the courtroom and into the hallway.

A short man in his early sixties with a slow southern drawl and several missing teeth was laughing as I walked up to them.

“He’s got them,” the man was saying with obvious glee. The few teeth he had left in his mouth made clicking sounds when he talked. “They’re hanging themselves. Not only do they have no legal contract to hold him, but now they’re putting words into his mouth. He hasn’t given them any jurisdiction over him, but they’re completely ignoring that.”

The man looked over at me and smiled. “Did you see what went on in there, young lady?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Are you friends of his?”

“Yes we are,” the man said. “My name’s Ted Nelson and this is Dell and John. Are you from the newspaper?”

I had heard of Ted Nelson. Another reporter had warned me about him.

“He’s an anarchist and is completely deranged,” she had told me. “He’s full of hate and has the worst set of teeth I’ve ever seen. I think he files them into fangs.”

But Ted Nelson didn’t seem deranged to me. Despite his unfortunate dental situation, his smile was warm and friendly. And his eyes twinkled.

I introduced myself and told them I knew Patrick from the feature story I had written a few months before.

“I was shocked to see that he was arrested,” I confessed. “So I decided to come by and check it out.”

“Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s not in any trouble,” Ted said, laughing. “Now the county, they’re the ones who are going to be in trouble if they don’t let him go.”

I guess I must have looked confused because Nelson started explaining common law to me-- a concept I had never before heard of. He said common law was the basis for the U.S. Constitution. However, he said that it had been illegally replaced by code law, which was unconstitutional because it violated the tenants of common law. For Patrick, it all had to do with jurisdiction. As long as he remained silent, Ted said the county had no jurisdiction over him and he remained under common law, which gave the county no right to convict or hold him under code law.

My head was spinning as I tried to make sense of it. The pretrial was bound to be interesting.

It came eighteen days later. Patrick had now been in jail for three weeks. He was still dressed in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffed when he stood before the judge. He said nothing as the district attorney made his case for trial. The judge agreed with the DA and set the trial date for the following week.

The same group of men were standing outside the courtroom when it was over.

“Now the DA’s perjured himself,” Nelson said, grinning his toothless smile. “This keeps getting better. When Patrick finally gets out he’s going to have a million dollar lawsuit to file against the county.”

*****

The trial didn’t happen for two more weeks. All the while, Patrick sat and waited in the county jail. On the day of the trial, the arresting officer was called as the chief witness. He was a young man with a baby face and short hair. He was dressed in full uniform, including a bullet proof vest that gave his chest a hard, robotic look. As he explained the events that led up to Patrick’s arrest, it sounded as if he were reading rehearsed lines.

“While he was driving I suspected that he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt because I didn’t see the shoulder strap through the window,” the officer explained. “When I pulled him over and wrote out the ticket, he refused to sign it.”

“How many times did you ask him to sign the ticket?” the district attorney asked.

“I asked him five times. Each time he shook his head and refused,” the officer explained. “I then warned him that he would be arrested if he did not sign the ticket. He still refused.”

“So then you arrested him?” The DA said.

“Yes sir,” the officer said. “He gave me no choice.”

“Did he resist in any way?” The DA asked.

“Only by refusing to sign the ticket,” the officer said.

“That’s all I have,” the DA said.

“Would the defense like to cross examine the witness?” the judge asked.

Patrick leaned back in his chair and smiled.

The judge looked annoyed.

“Let the court be aware that Mr. Flannigan has no cross examination. Are there any more witnesses?” he asked the DA.

The DA answered no. Patrick said nothing. He was looking out the window. There was no jury, just the judge. And it didn’t take him long to determine that Patrick was guilty. The DA recommended that Patrick serve a sentence of time already served. The judge agreed and Patrick was set free after being in the county jail for over a month.

*****

I’m not exactly sure how long Patrick and Ted Nelson worked on his lawsuit against Siskiyou County, the judge, the district attorney, and the sheriff’s department. I know they held special law meetings with other folks who were also fighting battles against the county. And I know Patrick ran into roadblocks at every turn when he finally finished the paperwork. Whether unconstitutional or not, this code law seemed to be recognized by all the federal courts and judges wherever his lawsuit landed.

Each time a federal judge denied his lawsuit, Patrick would add their name to the list of who he was suing. I imagine that list got pretty long after awhile.

Years later, I heard that Patrick eventually moved to Oregon, found a nice girlfriend, and got a job working for a government bureaucracy.

Somehow, that didn't sit well with me. I hope it's just a vicious rumor.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thanks for the encouraging and helpful comments on my introduction! I'm considering eliminating the portions about me and why I became a journalist (sorry Bruce!). Reason? I don't want this to be a book about me. Although I'm the one experiencing the stories, I'd rather my focus be on the characters in each story and keep myself away from making any thoughts or conclusions. I want the readers to make their own conclusions from their own reading experience.

However, I am in all the stories and readers may want to make that personal connection... so I'm still undecided. Perhaps I could include some personal information in an afterword...? Comments on this would be appreciated. I guess I need to take another vote! I know where Bruce stands (thanks Bruce). I definitely agree with Nadine that the "I don't know why I'm writing this book" portion needs to be removed (what was I thinking?). Thanks Nadine for the awesome advice!

Here's another thought, not all my stories take place in Yreka, but all over Siskiyou County. Maybe I should have a short introduction for each area and then have the applicable stories follow....?

Maybe I should just put all this on hold until I get more stories written. That's probably the best temporary solution.

I'm very interested in your thoughts on this, so please comment.

I have a record three followers now! Wooo hooo! Now if I can just figure out how to dress up my blog so that it looks more professional. I'm getting there!

Monday, October 19, 2009

I've been debating whether or not I should keep this introduction in my book or delete it completely. I like it because I believe it sets the scene for the stories to come and I've edited it down quite a bit... but I'm not sure if it will interest readers. Please give it a read and leave comments. I want to know what you think. Also, if any of my historical info is wrong, please tell me. Thanks!

Introduction

I became a journalist for the same reason everyone becomes a journalist: to save the world.

We get this notion when we’re adolescents that we can make a difference in the grand scheme of things. Like other dreamers before me, and those now balancing on the crest of the unknown after me, I had this burning desire to “make my mark.” Something future generations could look back on and say, “wow, if it hadn’t been for....”

This was important to me when I was young.

Firmly brainwashed from my years in public schools, I imagined myself playing an essential role in the all important quest to save the planet. My pen and I were going to take the world by storm.

That was my plan in high school, anyway.

But years later, after landing my first newspaper job in a small, rural, Northern California town, these altruistic aspirations seemed very far away. Sometime during my five years of college I grew up and my lofty dreams were exchanged for more personal, tangible things, like earning a living and being a decent human being.

You can’t be too picky when choosing your first job out of college, and the small newspaper in Yreka seemed reasonable enough--especially since it was the only offer I had. Although considered a mountain community, Yreka is really a community surrounded by mountains. A few of these mountains have pine trees, but most are covered with gray scrub brush that never seems to get green, not even in the wettest of springs. According to old timers, the hills used to be covered with pine trees, but a big fire burned them up in the 1950s. The mountains were never replanted.

But Yreka is close to nature. The forests are just out of sight over the other side of each mountain that surrounds the little town. I know this because I took a dirt bike to the top one day and couldn’t believe my eyes.

The name Yreka comes from the Native Americans who lived in the region hundreds of years ago. It’s pronounced “Why-reeka” and somewhere along the line it was also spelled that way. However, it lost its “W” and “H” before the town was really a town. Some folks say the letters disappeared due to a mistake in the original surveyor’s notes of the region. Others claim the missing letters were not a clerical error, but were purposefully dropped because they were not necessary.

Historians claim Yreka translates as “white mountain” in some lost Native American dialect. Its namesake, Mount Shasta, rises into the air for 12,000 feet some forty-five miles south of Yreka and attracts everything from elliptical clouds to aliens, crystal crunchers, and tall, mythical beings called Lemurians. The town of Mount Shasta sits just below the mountain and resembles a quaint ski village in the Swiss Alps. It boasts 4,000 people and 400 different cults—a per capita world record.

Yreka is not this exciting. The Lemurians rarely visit, preferring to stay in the picturesque village to the south. Instead, Yreka is an old mining town, born on the tide of gold fever. Its first unofficial name was Thompson’s Dry Diggings. According to historical accounts, gold was discovered in Yreka by a horse. The horse belonged to a man named Thompson who was heading to the gold fields in Scott Valley. Thompson’s horse was taking a break (it had been a long, hot day), munching on some grass in a shady spot under some ponderosa pines. The horse didn’t know it but it had pulled up some clumps of grass with little gold nuggets clinging to the roots. Thompson and his mining buddies were astounded. They dropped their plans for Scott Valley and set up camp right there instead.

Mine trenches and tunnels soon filled the area now known as Yreka. And the tunnels are still there today, covered by modern streets and buildings. Every now and then--when it rains exceptionally hard--a street caves into one of these trenches.

Legend has it that there was so much gold in Yreka the chickens who rooted around in the soil had gold in their gizzards. I’m not sure if this is true, but it makes a good story. There are lots of good stories like this about Yreka and the surrounding areas.

But there is no gold left. The last remnants are encased under glass at the county courthouse.

Even Mark Twain knew about Yreka. He claimed in his autobiography that the town had no name until a stranger read a canvas bakery sign from the wrong side. Apparently the “B” was not showing, and all the traveler could make out was A-K-E-R-Y… only he saw the letters shining through from the other side as Y-R-E-K-A. Thinking this was a town sign and therefore the name of the town, he began referring to the town by that name. He must have been a popular newcomer because the town folk heard about it and decided to keep it as the town’s name.

Mark Twain was always good at stretching the truth… which is probably why he was a newspaper man.

My favorite explanation of the meaning behind the town’s name comes from the Yrekans themselves. When visitors get the name confused with the coastal Northern California town of Eureka, Yrekans have a standard comeback: “Eureka means ‘I found it!’” they explain. “Yreka means, ‘we can order it.’”

I chose to begin my newspaper career in this little town of 7,000 people because they offered me a job. Its location—nestled within the mountains of Siskiyou County—was also appealing. Siskiyou County borders Oregon and is the fifth largest county in the state. With only 40,000 people, it is also one of the smallest per capita and one of the poorest. My new home was eleven hours by car from the Southern California suburb where I was raised.

Minor Street in Yreka is charming, many of the buildings being over one hundred years old. But like most new comers, I didn’t realize that three or four of the businesses on this sreet were second-hand stores. There is also a hardware store that sells everything from tools to fine china, and a clothing store that features a horse on its roof and every variety of western wear known to man. Yreka has almost everything to cater to an agrarian community, including a saw shop and a local grocer that doubles as a feed store.

Although charming, my father had this revelation during one of his many visits.
“You just get the impression that everyone is barely hanging on by their fingernails.”

I have to agree. Life isn’t easy in Yreka, and those who are determined to live there tenaciously cling to their existence and their way of life with spunk, dedication, and loyalty rarely seen in larger cities.

The newspaper where I began my career is lodged inside a former grocery building on Broadway. This is one of the newer sections of downtown Yreka, with most of the buildings probably built in the 1940s and ‘50s. With scuffed and cracked linoleum floors, dingy walls, and tiles missing from the ceiling, the building is nothing to brag about. The inside is completely open with no walls separating the different operations—except for the printing press, which whirs and spins nearly all day long in the back room. It’s a wonder any of us could get any work done.

I’m not exactly sure why I’ve chosen to write about my experiences in Yreka, except that I have all these memories--some happy, some sad, most of them peculiar. And I’m afraid of losing them. These stories are in no particular order. To try and remember what happened when would take far too much work, and I’m sure ruin the point. I’ve also made up most of the names and some of the minor details… again not because I’m trying to protect myself, but because I simply don’t remember.

Sometimes a loss of memory can come in handy anyway…especially when you need to make a story more interesting by embellishing on the truth.

So here it is: my flimsy attempt to “make my mark.” But don't worry. I'm no longer trying to save the world.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Here is the first of hopefully many chapters in a book I am currently writing about my experiences working as a small town newspaper reporter. The book will be a collection of stories of my most memorable experiences. I was planing to attach a pdf, but cannot figure out how, so sorry about the sloppy formatting. Sheesh. Anyway, I'm open to feedback, so please give me suggestions on how you think this can be improved.

Angels in the Airwaves

“Have you come to see the angel?” an elderly man asked, his eyes glazed over and pupils nearly white with cataracts.

I had just arrived at a small, A-framed house in the mountain community of Mount Shasta. It was my first “big” story as a freshman reporter for the Siskiyou Daily News. Cars were parked at every curbside, forcing me to walk nearly two blocks to reach my destination. It wasn’t hard to find the right house; it looked like every hippie within 500 square miles was loitering in the front yard. I was approached by the oldest member of the group. As he stared at me with his foggy eyes, I wasn’t sure if he was in a trance, tipsy, or just plain crazy. His breath reeked of garlic and ginger.

“She’s come to give us a message,” he said in an eerie, high-pitched voice. “You must go in and see her.”

“I’m with the newspaper,” I said. “Have you seen this angel?”

“Yes,” he said, turning to the house. “She’s inside. It’s a miracle. But I knew she was coming. I know lots of things because the Lemurians tell me.”

I shifted my weight and opened my notepad, pulling out the pen from its spiral rings. “The Lemurians?”

The man nodded slowly. “So you don’t know. You’ve never heard of the giant angelic beings who dwell in the Great Mountain?” He motioned toward the white-capped mountain that rose above the town. To New Age cults, Mount Shasta is one of the hottest cosmic energy spots in the world. It had attracted thousands of people during the Harmonic Convergence, which had just ended a week earlier.

“They are real,” the old man was saying. “I know because I have seen them. They come to me.”
I was quickly jotting down notes when a woman with long gray hair and a faded purple dress walked over and stood beside the man. She was listening closely and clearly annoyed.
“They tell me things, lots of things,” the man continued. “They—"
“That’s enough, Leonard!” the woman said sternly. “She doesn’t want to hear about that. She’s come to see the angel.” She looked at me and smiled. “You really should go inside and see her for yourself.”

Relieved, I nodded. “Can I just go in?”

“Yes, go straight in,” the woman said. “She is anxious for all to see her. She is good and pure.”
I could smell the incense before reaching the door. It was burning on every flat surface in the small living room. Soft oriental music was tinkering from hanging speakers and all the windows were covered. People--some dressed in robes, others in baggy shorts and T-shirts--were staring at a dark television set. “The angel” was actually a light emanating from the middle of the TV screen, shaped somewhat like an angel.

I took a few photos from the back of the room, then slipped back outside and found the woman who invited me in. She was smiling eagerly.

“Did you meet her?” she asked. “Isn’t she marvelous? It’s such a miracle!”

“Do you know who owns the house?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, pointing to a woman who was talking to a group of people. “That’s Marsha. Marsha,” she called out.

A woman in her 40s with long dark hair and heavy eye makeup, turned and eyed my 35-millimeter camera and notepad. She came right over and eagerly shook my hand.
“How long has your TV been this way?” I asked her.

“Ever since the Harmonic Convergence ended,” she said. “We’ve had people from all over the world and news cameras from almost every network here to film this. It’s a miracle. I don’t know why she chose me, but I am very honored.”

“How do you know it’s not just a broken TV?”

“Because she has spoken to me,” Marsha said. “The Supreme Lady has chosen this venue to elevate forth and communicate through. ”

“The angel told you this.”

“Yes. She is sending a message of peace to all mankind,” Marsha said, handing me a piece of paper with a long message typed in all caps. “This is the message she gave me.” A few people nearby gathered around to listen. They nodded in agreement as she explained, “This is the time to channel the Earth’s energy to meet as one in the sphere of unity and completeness. It is a message of hope, a message of renewal and spiritual rebirth into the chasm of eternal unification.”

I scanned the "angel's" message on the piece of paper, trying to make sense from its garbled language. Giving up, I folded it and put it in my camera bag.

“So you’ve opened your house to anyone who wants to come and see this?”

“Yes, my house is open to everyone. All who come finds peace and fulfillment in the aura of her presence. Some have been here for days. Others come and go. But all are changed by her supreme presence and message of hope. All find peace.”

Clearly it was time for me to leave. I clicked a few more pictures and said goodbye.

Later that day in the newsroom, I stared at my blank computer screen. After a few paragraphs, I realized I needed more information. I picked up the phone and called a TV repairman in Mount Shasta.

A friendly voice answered.

I introduced myself and explained my reason for calling. “What do you think about all this?” I asked.

He chuckled. “I’ve got an angel of my own, you know.”
“Oh yeah?”
“Come by the shop and I’ll show you.”

The TV repair shop was in a rundown building at the south end of Mount Shasta. A middle-aged man wearing jeans and a t-shirt shook my hand after I introduced myself.

“I’m Jesse Norwalk … and this,” he motioned towards an old television set in his storefront window, “is Esmerelda.”

I walked around to get a better look. The angel on this television set was shorter and fatter than Marsha’s angel, but came from the same kind of light shining through the middle of the screen.
“It’s a broken capacitor,” Jesse explained. “The light can come in any shape or form. But it is what it is: a broken TV.”

“Have any of the angel folks seen your TV?”

“Yup. I even went over there and offered to fix the lady’s TV for free, but the she wouldn’t let me. ...Can you imagine?”