One sunny day more than a few years ago, Don Pardini was working in Evergreen Cemetery when a couple of odd-looking bones caught his eye. They weren’t hog bones, deer bones, dog bones, cat bones, critter bones, or any other four-footed kind of bones. Don Pardini knows his bones, and he was looking at some strange ones resting in a place they weren’t supposed to be.
But we’d better set the scene here first, the what’s what of it in a valley changing so fast you can’t always orient yourself by the old landmarks because they might not be where they were the day after tomorrow.
Evergreen Cemetery is Anderson Valley’s largest graveyard. It’s about a mile and a half northwest of Boonville right off Anderson Valley Way, which for 150 years was the only road through here until the brief straight stretch of bypass was built between Boonville and the Philo Grange 30 years ago to shave maybe three minutes off the trip to Mendocino.
There are several smaller graveyards here and there in The Valley — two out in Yorkville, another one here in Boonville, one down in Philo. Way, way back it seems certain people didn’t care to be eternally in the proximity of certain other people, but Evergreen Cemetery has always been the biggest graveyard in Anderson Valley.
There are people buried at Evergreen whose parents might have seen George Washington himself. Quite a few of Evergreen’s permanent residents are likely to have seen Abe Lincoln. There are also people lying there who walked all the way out here from Missouri and even New York. There are people who fought in the Civil War, and people who fought each other when they were alive, and people who ran off with someone else’s spouse — the good, the bad and the indifferent, just like the populations of graveyards everywhere.
Graveyard Creek meanders down out of the hills east of Highway 128 and on down past the cemetery behind Mike and Patti Langley’s place, right on by the Chalk Lady’s back door, below and across Anderson Valley Way in a great big culvert which at one time was made out of 2,000-year-old redwood hearts, and on into Anderson Creek.
To the east, Graveyard Creek is so small it’s almost invisible, but when it crosses the highway in winter it seems to become suddenly enraged and, over the decades, has gouged out a steep-sided gully as it roars past 200 years of human history sleeping beside it. For its 300 yards or so, the cemetery stretch of Graveyard Creek is just about the wildest, most impenetrable piece of stream terrain anywhere on The Valley’s floor.
“A tribe of pygmies could be living down in there for all I know,” an old timer once put it. “You never can see all the way to the bottom.”
Don Pardini was born and raised in Anderson Valley. He knows every foot of the place, and he’s put in hundreds of hours maintaining the cemetery which, for a while there, had become a party venue for badly raised young people who have no respect for the people who have come before them.
So Don Pardini is working away at the cemetery one day when a set of improbable bones catches his eye.
“I’ve butchered a lot of animals in my time,” Pardini says by way of establishing his bona fides as a pretty fair country archaeologist, “but when I first saw this thing I thought to myself, ‘It’s not like anything I’ve seen belonging to a four-footed animal’.”
Pardini took the bones to a person he describes only as “someone who knows and she said it was human. I was already pretty sure I had part of a human backbone.”
She Who Knows confirmed Pardini’s first, only and, you might say, dead-on, surmise.
Deputy Squires was quickly on the case.
Pardini told Anderson Valley’s long-time lawman that he’d seen buzzards circling Graveyard Creek’s hidden depths a month or so prior to his discovery of the vertebrae fragments, but had assumed the birds were merely signalling other members of the airborne carrion clean-up crew that the usual venison was on the menu down below.
“People throw animal remains in the gulch here all the time,” Pardini says. “But when I saw these bones — and they looked pretty fresh to me — I knew they hadn’t come out of a grave, and I knew they weren’t animal bones. Some type of varmint had dragged them up most of the way out of the gulch and left them next to a hole where he probably tried to bury them.”
Deputy Squires confirmed the bones as human remains, and everyone who has since learned about them has inwardly shuddered at the thought of some anonymous someone lying in a stream bed beneath ten feet of blackberries and jungle-thick brush, life zipping happily by on the highway above.
Don Pardini said when he saw that the bones belonged to a human being, “I just assumed someone had been dumped there.”
The assumption that we live in times so rootless that people can just wander off and wind up in an overgrown gully without rousing much more than a little internal quiver in us seems pretty scary all by itself, not that it looks like things are going to get any less chaotic any time soon.
“I looked all through there,” Deputy Squires said. “I didn’t find any other bones. The ones Don found are human, though. “I took ‘em over the hill and they’ve been shipped off for a DNA analysis. No one around here is missing so far as I know. We might find out some day who it was.”