Monday, April 11, 2016

~ Willow Creek Cemetery ~

“I went to the wilderness to confront the basic of life to be sure that when I died I would not regret living” ~ Henry David Thoreau.

This old cemetery was established in 1877.

It has such a western sound to its name, a fitting resting place for a good friend.

The historic, Willow Creek Cemetery is located a hundred yards off the Airline Highway, route 25.  I must have gone by the Willow Creek Road a thousand times and never knew the cemetery existed until today.  The cemetery, established in 1877, is about 5 miles south of Paicines, California.

The weather lately has been spring-like and perfect for riding a motorcycle.  But today, the rain clouds have moved back into California and my rain gear is on me even before I leave the house. 

The ceremonies start at 1 p.m. and the Pinnacles are a good 4 hours from Three Rivers.  Normally, my ride takes me on scenic Highway 198, past Coalinga, and then north on Highway 25 to the Pinnacles.  I stop for gas at Harris Ranch and because of the steady rain, decide to take interstate 5 heading north.  "It will save you some time," I tell himself.  Years ago, I left Paicines on an off beaten country road called Little Panoche Road that ties into Interstate 5.  Yep, this is the route I'll take.  It will save me 30 minutes and I must arrive at the cemetery by 1 p.m.

The rain is fierce and the traffic seems to be going 100 mph despite the downpour.  There ahead of me is a motor home going slower.  I figure it is safer behind a slower vehicle even if I catch more rain.  A few times, my bike hydroplanes and it is nerve-wracking.  Finally, the off-ramp for Little Panoche Road is up ahead.  It will take me to Paicines.  The rain is still coming down but this country road is heaven in comparison to the insane interstate.  The cows are everywhere, eating tall green grass.  I do not see another vehicle on this isolated road.

The rain has stopped.  I'm about two miles from Paicines and the brief sun will help dry me out.  The Willow Creek Cemetery isn't far, a bit further south and I'll be there in time.  The easy-going woodland hillsides, cows, and open land agrees with me. 

A bit more relaxed, I reminisce.

We both worked early in our careers for the National Park Service at a little place called Pinnacles National Monument.  He was in Maintenance and I was in Administration but at a little place like Pinnacles, organizational lines are easily blurred.  Everyone did everything.  Your first job is always important, memory-wise.  But the group of people there become lifelong friends. 

When I first met him, I liked him.  He was a cowboy at heart, a hard worker, a excellent hunter, and loved to barbeque.  "Bob, have you ever eaten wild boar?" he asked.  "Come by the house and have some."  He lived in a small house, just off San Benito Lateral.  It was a beautiful area and just a bit further down the road was the Bar SZ Ranch where hundreds of horses grazed.  His good friend Jim Shields lived nearby on his ranch.  "I got this pig, just up that canyon," he points with his hand.  Denise and I loved the meal, the setting, and his company.  Later, he would invite me to a cattle branding on John Shields ranch; a neighbor, and Jim's dad.  He was very good on a horse and I helped them where I could.

His career with the National Park Service would take him to Everglades National Park where I heard he did a great job.  "The mosquitoes were unreal," he once told me "so I had to look elsewhere for work."  That elsewhere became Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks where we met up again.  Now, he wasn't riding horses much but Harley-Davidson motorcycles.  Eventually, he bought a house in Three Rivers and lived less than 1/2 mile from us.

"Retirement is great Bob, you're going to love it."  Although we never did ride motorcycles together, he was one of the first to see my new Yamaha Road Star.  He rode his bike to Sturgis one year and with some help, he pointed me there well.  Oh yes, a cowboy, a hard worker, a hunter, a great cook, and a biker.  There is one more thing to add, a rock climber.  You'd never know but he helped our Mountain Climbing Search and Rescue Team at Pinnacles and successfully climbed the Elephant.

That's what I'm thinking about as I approach the Willow Creek Cemetery. 

His daughter Mary welcomes me.  I tell her that your mom and dad took us to dinner in Tres Pinos when we first got to Pinnacles in 1971.  She was about 1 year old at the time.  It is 12:30 p.m. so my decision to take the Panoche Road worked.

Friends, Willow Creek Cemetery.

There are many local people here today, as well as some retired National Park Service employees.  Many wear cowboy hats, boots looking like they had just come from working in the fields.  

I am impressed with the words spoken, first by his daughter Mary and then his younger brother Richard, and then older brother Ken. 

Mary was emotional but her words came out nonetheless.  "In the final days of his life, he requested two things," she said tearfully.  

"Bury me next to my friend, Jim Shields."

"First, he wanted me to see if he could be buried at the Willow Creek Cemetery.  And second, if permission was granted, he asked to be buried next to his friend, Jim Shields."  

Mary approached the Willow Creek Cemetery Caretaker with his sincere request.  


She then told her dad that his requests had been granted.  "That put a big simile on his face," Mary said. 

The ceremony was simple, yet, powerful.

Mary continued.  "Once he knew where he would rest," he said:  "Have several bottles of my fine whiskey, pour everyone a shot, and have a toast."

With our shots in hand, one cowboy asked if he could make the toast and his words tearfully faded ... 

"To our good friend Gary Bornholdt"

Gary J. Bornholdt 
July 29, 1942 - May 28, 2015.

Peaceful, Willow Creek Cemetery in the foothills.

My iron horse approaching the Willow Creek Cemetery.
I stop to say a silent prayer.

Pinnacles National Park.
When we worked there, it was Pinnacles National Monument.

High Peaks Trail ~ Pinnacles National Park.
Gary hiked these trails frequently.

1 comment:

  1. I knew Gary for a brief period of time, I had the surprising pleasure of sharing NPS housing at Cedar Grove one evening with Gary.Little did I know that those few hours with Gary that evening, could probably be compared to spending time with Sam Clemons or Will Rodgers,oh my gosh, he spoke of the pig hunts,his time in the Coast Guard, his hands on real life experiences in NPS maintenance.Without realizing it at the time,Gary was sharing his life with almost a complete stranger.Sadly,as life often seems to play out,this was the last time Gary and I would be together one on one.Until I read Roberts recollections of Willow Creek, I had forgotten Gary, thank you Robert, for allowing me to reflex and remember a good man,rest in peace Gary.