At the time of our meeting Martha Charles was one of the oldest living members of the McCloud Wintu Indians.
She pushed open the tattered wood screen door that would not have kept a sparrow out much less flies.
It was hard to say if she reached five feet tall as she was pretty hunched over from the years.
Her eyes were beautiful and her hands wrinkled, tough, with the appearance of being old…but not frail.
Most things harden with age showing the ties to the past.
Martha spoke softly but went deep in her thoughts when remembering her youth and life along the river.
A small kitten had crept along the kitchen table, making it creak under its weight.
She beamed as she pulled the kitten into her thick cotton sweater.
She was born in 1888 on the McCloud River where it carved a very deep canyon flowing south before the lake and Shasta Dam were constructed.
The Wintu tribe lived along the river catching salmon and collecting acorns. At one time it was recorded as many as 49 Wintu villages had been found along the McCloud arm.
Historians note that they may have traded with the Modoc Tribe to the north for obsidian to make spears for fishing. Catches that may have reached into the thousands, caught and dried in a day.
She spoke of the beauty of the canyon and the winds flowing through the pines and oaks. It was land we both loved. My mother, Inez was born a few miles north in Weed. Both women lived in the shadow of Mt. Shasta.
All too soon it was time to leave and Martha picked up her cane and pushed open that flimsy door. She walked slow, taking the small steps and holding the chipped wood rail as it swayed until she pushed the tip of her cane into the soft dirt driveway.
When I looked back she was staring into the oaks near the house and the blue sky behind. I found myself not wanting to leave, knowing that it would be the last time I would see Martha…lost to time.