A day late posting this week because I drove farther north, to the Eureka, California area to visit someone. No security lines and pat-downs, no motels with boring TV, no eating fast food because there’s nothing else available. Just a pleasant four plus hours over good roads with some goat cheese and fruit to stave off hunger, plus a reminder of what makes this state so special.
Small boats, green hills, and the gentle Richardson Bay to start the journey. An hour later, I’m through the built up commuter towns that line the highway and deliver thousands of people to San Francisco every day. The Alexander Valley opens up. The grape harvest is over, but few of the grapevines have been pruned yet, so it’s mile after mile of copper-leaved vines standing in straight rows but running up and down hills at angles to each other. No wonder so many artists do plein air painting around here.
The grapes gradually disappear and the hills are grayer. Lots of live oak trees with their gnarly shapes, hugging hillsides. We’ve had a lot of rain, so there are small slides along the road, nothing dramatic but enough to remind me that the hills here are young, only now turning from packed soil into rock. I slow through a couple of small towns with soft ice-cream stands and brew pubs that mingle with general stores and feed lots. Yup, cows in pastures up here, stoic as always in weather that doesn’t challenge their survival instincts like Texas cattle are challenged by snow, ice, and dust storms.
Then, almost abruptly, I’m in the redwoods, the magnificent giants soaking up the light and any stress I may have been carrying. It’s quiet here, even at 70 miles an hour. It’s also deserted. I go fifteen miles sometimes without seeing another vehicle even off in the distance. These aren’t even the biggest stands of trees, but they are huge, and dignified, and they remind me they were here first, long before the roads and the cars and the lumber companies.
When I come out of the dense forests, where pine trees share space with redwoods, I come onto a flat plain, a wide space with lowlands, mesas, sloughs, swelling rivers, and an ocean far off in the distance. I know Native Americans lived on this land and it’s easy to see why – bird and animal hunting, oysters and fish, fresh water and the safety of being able to see anyone coming. The Eureka area is home to a handful of tribes. I’ve been to one of their ceremonial gatherings, where they dance for hours in fabulous costumes – kids and adults together – contemporary but ancient, speaking other languages to each other and English to me. The Clarke History Museum in Eureka has some good Native American material to check out if you visit.
Anyway, that’s what I did this week, and it was a pleasure to be reminded of what a beautiful, varied, and historically rich place northern California is.