Reflections of Coal Mine Ridge
CMR Oral History - Waltraut Monroe
Waltraut Monroe started hiking the Coal Mine Ridge trails more than 50 years ago. Here she shares a bit of her history and her encounters on the trails of Coal Mine Ridge. Her engaging descriptions bring to life her connections to this treasured landsape.
She also describes some of her interesting encounters with the local wildlife.
Below are key exerpts from these interviews:
When Waltraut is asked if there was anything about her past that foreshadowed her attachment to Coal Mine Ridge and especially "the tree" she responds:
It reminds me of the question my granddaughter asked me, "What was WWII like for you?" . . . I told her I was a child and never heard of Hitler, didn't know who he was. And I felt deserted by my daddy; he had to go and fight. Then later on I felt abandoned by my mother [see below], even though it was just temporary. But that's not what she [my granddaughter] wanted to hear. . . [I was] five years old when [in] Cologne, Germany] and the bombing raids had started. I see myself in the cathedral, the Kölner Dom, by myself somehow; I don't know why I was there by myself. [There were the] gorgeous, gorgeous windows, the painted, tinted windows, and I thought I was looking up into trees, and each time when I go up Hamm's Gulch [today], there is a spot where that's what I see; what I saw then. . . . And then of course, Cologne, the bombs being sent, on and on . . . [The cathedral] was peace; I felt safe there.
Waltraut continues to describe the story of a child's escape from war-devastated Cologne, Germany, and later Poland under communist rule, and a tale of a tree 'saving' her from another danger closer at hand:
After the war, we had ended up as refugees. . . . My mother handed her children one-by-one to her mother. . . to take us with her. . .to Poland. And at the time that seemed to be safe and no-one thought the Russians would ever get there. . . . Then of course the Russians did come, '45 in May and eventually my mother with her five children, two of them in strollers. . . My sister . . had whooping cough and she was covered in boils, head to toe . . . and she decides she cannot stay in a communist environment and decides to leave January. One night we had to walk across a dam to the mainland to catch a train to Berlin. So we had to pass the Russians . . . and all she did - the Russians loved children - she pointed to my little sister and she said: "doctor, doctor, doctor" and they let us through. And then we got on this train and eventually after a half a year or so we ended up in this tiny little community in northern Germany . . . and 500 people in this little community . . . they had to take us, they didn't want us, but they had to take us in. And we ended up with a farmer. He had to empty out two of his silos where he kept his wheat and barley . . . cement walls, cement floor, no electricity, no water. And we lived there for 8 years! And this farmer had three sons; Oh, he had married his cousin. The first son was normal; the second son not so normal, but very very friendly, and the third son was not normal at all, and over the years he always wanted to get me into the barn! So I would just climb up a tree, and he would stand at the bottom of the tree and look up and say "I will get you!" and he called me cat because I was able to climb the tree [but] he never got me into the barn! And I would spend hours with a book up in a tree. . . .
Finally, Waltraut describes her experience encountering Herb Dengler and the Grandmother Oak on Coal Mine RIdge. This passage hearkens back to an earlier interview in which she described the tree's role in her recovery from melanoma:
Oh my gosh, my tree . . . it's the most gigantic oak tree I have ever come across. I stumbled across it in late 70s. . . at first I made it up to the bench, Herb Dengler's bench, and there was no trail yet; the trail stopped there. One day I was sitting on this bench and there is this man on hands and knees crawling through the bushes. He introduced himself - he was Herb Dengler - trying to find how to continue the trail, Toyon Trail . . . . Eventually the trail was finished all the way up to the tree, that's how I came to the tree. . . . In 1979 I had surgery for malignant melanoma, and that was very scary, so I started to really go out [into the woods]. . . . I went by myself and eventually I started to climb the tree and sit in the tree and spend many many hours in the tree every day. Still I like to go up there. . . . And it took me a whole year to figure out how to get into this oak tree because I did not use any props. . . . Thanks to my brother in Austria who was a mountain climber. . . he would introduce me to climbing. . . He would always say you have two hands and two feet; before you move one of the four, all the other three must be very secure. . . . I was not aware of [the profound meaning the tree had in terms of my illness] at the time but it really pulled me [out] every morning . . . after [the melanoma] - what would I like to do? Because I didn't expect to live. And One of the things I wanted to do is take Latin. . . .My mother's generation, my grandmother's generation, all knew Latin. . . . My first class at Foothill College was Latin, so of course I had to memorize all this grammar, flash cards, and I would take them with me and practice my Latin . . . . it was my place of study! . . . But still I was up there sometimes twice a day, morning and again afternoons.