The big Yurok — 6’5”, 270 pounds — standing for the first time in the light rain on the high bluff over Requa which overlooks the merger of the Klamath River and the Pacific Ocean was my son-in-law, Donn Holston. I wrote of Donn a couple of years ago in the AVA in an article titled “Athletic Hardware and Indian Magic” when he was inducted into the Idaho State University Athletic Hall of Fame for his basketball achievements along with fellow alumni Stacy Dragilia, the current Olympic Pole Vault Champion, and Marvin Lewis, the current Head Coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. In the article, I wrote of how Donn was born to a Yurok mother, but was adopted when he was a few months old. He was raised in Pocatello, Idaho.
My daughter Story, Donn’s wife, researched Donn’s birth mother until she located her in a suburb of San Diego, California. His birth mother so far has not wanted to recognize Donn. But Story concocted a scheme where I would take their then three-year old daughter Charisma to Trick or Treat her at Halloween so Donn could actually see his mother when she came to answer her door. I took Charisma to her house and rang the bell. Donn’s birth mother answered the door. She was tall, strong, attractive, classy. She looked out into the October night where Donn stood in the outer edge of the light, and I thought their eyes met, and I think she knew the big guy was her son. After a long moment, she looked intently and kindly at Charisma and gave her candy. Then we left.
Donn and his birth mother still have never spoken to each other. Story has studied with great interest both the heroics and tragedies of the Northern California Indian tribes and especially the Yuroks. I think she sees this quest to see the Yurok land and its people with intellectual curiosity and profound passion. Donn’s quest is more complex and even more personal.
But, first we (my wife, Donn, Story, Charisma and I) left the high Greenwood to travel all the way to Patrick Creek Lodge on the Smith River on Highway 199 between Crescent City and Grant’s Pass, Oregon. It rained from Willits to Patrick Creek Lodge. We went to the Lodge to meet my other daughter Daisy and her husband Chris Boger of Eugene, Oregon. The lodge was made of wood — very comfortable, reasonably priced, warm competent staff, and a bar that pours an honest drink. The bartender makes a good hot-buttered rum for a chilly rainy night. We all opened Christmas packages and then went to sleep. There are no phones or TVs in the rooms, but a TV does have cartoons by a big fireplace in the lodge lobby for kids and a TV is in the bar if one wants to watch a football game.
We only ate one meal at the lodge: the Sunday Buffet that lasts from 10am ‘til 2pm. It was terrific. It could seem a bit pricey at $18.95 each until you see it and taste the food. There are salmon, trout, crawdads, seafood, bacon, ham, eggs, potatoes, a variety of salads, caviar, a great variety of desserts including my favorite, blueberries and cream, and fresh orange juice, coffee, hot chocolate, and the item that cuts the pricey tag to a reasonable price is you can have glasses of good champagne that comes with the buffet. Plus, it wasn’t pricey at all because the buffet was Daisy’s Christmas gift to all of us. Chris also has a brother, Don, who was there to visit. He lives in McKinleyville and was informative about the area and he was great company.
We walked a while on the Smith River in chilly but light falling rain. Then after one night at the comfy lodge, we returned to see the combination fun house and aquarium in Crescent City called Ocean World which Charisma loved. I had pneumonia before I left home, so after a time at the cold but very friendly aquarium, I requested that I be left at a warm motel so I could sweat in comfort for a couple of days while the rest of the group continued their tour. Chris and Daisy had to return to Eugene because Chris had a new job in Salem, Oregon, and had to travel through a snowstorm to Eugene, then Monday morning travel to his new job in Salem.
Back to Requa. When we started down the bluff that overlooked the green Klamath merging with the ghostly gray Pacific Ocean, we made a turn to the river and saw four friendly and informative Yurok men and women. Story told them she was showing Donn Holston, a Yurok, the Yurok country he had never seen. Because it was a conversation repeated to me, I can just provide the gist of the conversation with the Yurok men and women. “Donn Holston. I have heard that name. That is a ghost name because many people have heard that name but nobody has ever seen him.” I thought, it’s because they read my article in the AVA. Story said, “No. I think it’s because we have both developed friendships over the past three or four years with Inker McCovey, the Hoopa Valley Basketball Coach, and Emil Marshall of the Hupa tribe who travels with the Hoopa teams because he has athletic sons who are Hoopa Warriors on the basketball courts.”
The Yurok men and women also told us to be sure we went to the other side of the Klamath River to see where the Yuroks have the Brush Dance each year. We did go back to Highway 101, crossed the Klamath, and went up the other side of the river on a road that went up the cliffs above the coast. We saw two low-built and almost hidden small farm houses where people had been observers to warn us if the Japanese invaded in WWII. We didn’t find the place for the Brush Dance, either that, or we didn’t recognize it as a Brush Dance location.
We went to Eureka and booked motel rooms for all of us and and met a Humboldt State Professor of Cultural Studies named Joe Giovannetti. He was intelligent, informative and very friendly. His mother was a beautiful Tolowa Indian while his father was Frank Giovannetti, who grew up and worked in Philo until he moved and got married. Joe Giovannetti showed us pictures of his father and mother. Joe is coming to visit up in the summer to find out more about his father. AVA columnist Charmian Blattner went to school with Frank Giovannetti and said that he was very mischievous. Charmian said that her father, Frank Ward, would ask her when she came home from school, “What did my namesake do today?”
Professor Giovannetti is also an official singer for the Tolowa tribe. He came back to our motel room and sang two Indian songs in the Tolowa language that were beautiful and touching. Donn said, “He was like a good friend that I never knew I had.” And, a coincidence, Coach Inker McCovey’s sister works with Joe at Humboldt State.
The next morning we drove to the magnificent Hoopa Valley where the Klamath’s largest tributary, the bountiful Trinity River, joins the Klamath River. The electricity had been out throughout the valley for the previous three days and was still out on the fourth day when we arrived.
We went to the casino and I told the casino guard that I was with Donn Holston and that his relatives were Youngs and Mastens. The friendly, jocular guard used his cellphone to call some people and told me, “Inker and the guys are at the gym practicing, and you can catch them there.”
We traveled the short distance to the home of the great Hoopa Warriors basketball program. We were all in awe of the magnificent and glorious Indian artwork painted on the Hoopa Valley High School. The murals were optimistic and bright and added spiritual sunshine to the freezing cold day.
Donn stood in the open door of the gym to watch the team and almost completely filled the space left by the opened door. Donn felt he was a distraction to the practice because he was a stranger and a giant-sized Yurok.
Inker McCovey is a terrific basketball coach and efficient, because in a three-hour practice in freezing weather, he worked for most of the time on defensive footwork and defensive positioning and defensive rotation. He made the players know how many steps they had to take to rotate to their new defensive positions. For the last hour, they took between 400 and 600 shots at the basket from all the offensive positions.
The cold weather forced me back to our van. Lyle Marshall, the Hupa Tribal Chair, came to speak with us and was very cordial and helpful in trying to locate some contacts for Donn. But, everyone was gone because of the Christmas holidays and the electrical outage..
After practice, Inker met Donn with a friendly smile. Inker later invited us to visit his family in his home, but we intended to drive home to Anderson Valley that night and there was still much in the beautiful valley we wished to see before the daylight was gone.
We went southeast through the Hupa land on to the neighboring land of the Yurok (separate from the lower Klamath land) and on to the land of the Karuk tribe. Donn and I saw a large bald eagle sitting on a line of wire just before we left the Hupa land. The Klamath River was always near us in the valleys and the canyons that the road passed through. The mist constantly seeped through the forested green mountains. Fog covered the lower mountains occasionally with only the peaks showing among the clouds. The persistent rain continued to fall softly and gave all of nature a clean glassy shine. The North Coast country we traveled receives 50 to 80 inches of rain each year. It is good that there are still roads like this that give the heart a tug to return to it and follow it farther. This road goes nearly to the base of Mt. Shasta.
It was time we had to turn and retrace our tracks. When we arrived back in the Hoopa Valley, the electricity was on and the reservation glowed in the lovely evening.
So, the big Yurok who stood on the high bluff and gazed with wonderment at the wet, green and rugged Yurok country saw a small portion of his ancestral home. Story gained an even greater passion for the land and its people. Donn and Story and Charisma are going to return to Yurok country this summer.