Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A View of the Bay

The Sam J. Sacco Sr. Memorial Amphitheatre

The heavy metal trusses of the pleated roof of the amphitheatre used to be filled with large panes of glass, but they were removed when they started breaking in the weather and through vandalism. The structure was built in 1989 as part of bayside beautification, named to honour an ex-mayor, and then it was forgotten, although the dedication plaque ensures that the name of Sam J. Sacco will live on.

It has NEVER been used for an event of any kind, and is now a gathering place for the homeless. At full capacity, its tiered seating could probably sleep 50 to 100 people end-to-end, but even the occasional napper may be rousted out of there. Without a roof, it’s useless for any purpose in the rain, and it was built facing the bay with nothing to break the wind. Often, during the day, street wanderers with guitars on their backs will meet there and sit around, playing and smoking weed. Everybody’s gotta be someplace.

Shrubs and underbrush all around the bay show evidence of habitation – cardboard flooring, discarded clothing, bits of trash – performance art. There are snug nests under the community center deck. Once upon a time, a man who used to live there had given us a tour of his digs, saying that he felt cozy and protected except for the occasional exceptionally high tide. And until someone found his place and stole his stuff.

Along the bay around the center of town is a fancy boardwalk funded by our local billionaire - plants in huge planters, lots of benches, a railing along the water, lighting, banners. There are elaborate plans for development all along the town side of the boardwalk, but so far, only one building has been completed – or even started. Next to the main entrance to the boardwalk is a building complex with a saltwater taffy and souvenir shop, and a proposed restaurant on the ground floor, and deluxe condo apartments on top – with a deluxe view of the bay.

Home Sweet Homes - With a View of the Bay

A Concert by the Bay

A beautiful sunny day turned into a cool, still, clear evening by the bay. From the grassy area between the community centre parking lot, the fishing dock, and the wasteful and wasted amphitheatre, the happy music of guitar, mandolin and washtub bass made strolling passersby smile, and drew one family to sit on the grass and enjoy their own private concert.

Two of my friends - long time local musicians - were joined by a young man passing through the area who had decided to stay around and join the music scene and enjoy our company for a while. A very talented young man whose guitar playing and singing blended in well. "Two Dollar Bill", "Amelia Earhart", a jazzy version of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" - they play mostly old time music, gospel music, and a smattering of the blues, but they have huge repertoires and great skill. They played until it was too cold to just sit, and their fingers were getting too stiff to pluck the strings.

There are hit and miss paths along this side of the bay, although they are working toward joining them all together into one continuous walkway. From here on past the bridge a sidewalk winds along close to the edge of the water, separated from it by shrubs here and there and by large rocks that tumble down the sides of the bank. As I walked the path, behind me to the west I could see the long plumes of the mill; directly across the water was the island marina with the sun setting behind the fishing boats. Further along my walk there was a night heron sitting on top of a piling, and in the water a white egret.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Land of the Giants

Yes, I am a Tree Hugger

They grow them BIG here…Redwood trees…Sequoia sempervirens…the tallest trees in the world. The new record holder is almost 380 feet in height. Because they are disease, insect and fire resistant, they can live more than 2000 years, but are not the oldest trees in the world. That would be bristlecone pines, the oldest of which, in the White Mts. of California, is 4600 +. The oldest pine used to be 4900, but it was cut down in 1964 so that its rings could be checked to find out how old it was.

Redwoods have very shallow roots, intertwined with, and supporting the roots from adjacent trees. When one falls, many fall. We had a major winter windstorm last year that took big chunks out of some of the parks where stands of trees fell like dominos. A big swath of nature's clear-cutting.

A redwood grove is like a magnificent cathedral, cool and still and holy, with a carpet of ferns, moss, trilliums, salal, sorrel, and a soaring canopy streamed with light. Walk through the dappled light for healing.
Tourists really do lie on their backs to take pictures of the canopy, although I’ve never seen anyone doing it in the middle of the road:
“Just look at the picture of the big trees that Henry took, Lucille.”
“Now, that’s real nice, Martha. Too bad that logging truck had to come along.”
“Yeah, it pretty much made a mess of Henry, but at least we saved the camera.”

Individual groves of redwoods often have small signs posted in the ground near them to identify a sponsoring individual or organization. The area of many, many trees around the place at the river where we go swimming is designated “The California Federation of Women’s Clubs Grove”. Many years ago, Ronald Reagan made a statement that “If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them all”, in reference to a campaign to save the giant old-growth redwoods from being logged out. Shortly after, a sign appeared on a tree standing all by itself next to the highway in the town of Arcata naming it “The Ronald Reagan Memorial Grove”.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Water, Water Everywhere

There are three lagoons not too far north of here. The largest one - Big Lagoon - has a wonderful sand spit about 2-3 miles long separating it from the ocean. About once a year, the ocean breaks through the north end of the spit, but the rest of the time you can walk all the way along its spine in between the calm waters of the lagoon on one side, and the crashing waves of the ocean on the other.
The road alongside Freshwater Lagoon – between it and a wide ocean beach – used to be lined cheek by jowl with RVs and campers every summer - regulars who came back every year to stay a month or more. Can’t do that any more, it’s day use only now. A giant park service building was constructed in the tacky little town near the lagoons. I think they promised wonderful things for the town that haven’t materialized. The campers that used to shop at the grocery store, eat at the cafes, and buy gas are gone and their numbers have not been replaced. The main industry of the town is chainsaw sculpture. Carved wooden redwood trees, Indians, smiling bears, windmills, and totems, are displayed on both sides of the highway all the way through town.
There are several tacky little towns around here that are nestled into incredibly beautiful settings – like faceted plastic diamonds in gold and platinum bezels. Some are working at improving – upgraded to cut glass. One of them is the last burg on the coast this side of the Oregon border. It’s a flat town, fronting on amazing ocean beaches. It bills itself as a comeback city, coming back from massive destruction when it was hit by tsunamis in 1960 and 1964, and damage to the harbour when it was hit again in 2006.
Pelican Beach, Crescent City, CA

It still has a fishing fleet, although now many of the big boats have been mothballed, and some have been converted to harbour residences. The major attractions of town are the spectacular beaches, WalMart, an Indian casino, and a maximum security prison. Yin and yang. It also has a great beachfront park, and a restaurant that serves clam chowder that is worth the hour and a half drive up there. After eating, if you want, you can make a pilgrimage to the great Wally. Attractive as it is, you wouldn't want to face it on an empty stomach.

Lots and Lots of Water

Northern California coastline

The Pacific Ocean pounds and shapes our coastline, threatening, and sometimes taking away, houses perched on the edge of receding and crumbling bluffs. It also laps at or crashes on beautiful broad sandy beaches in and around stands of rocks and dunes, abounding with driftwood and shorebirds.They are all lovely to walk on. You can wade in the shallows even though the water is very cold - bracing and invigorating, we say. (It’s hard to believe that this is the same body of water that washes against Hawaii.) People are scarce on most beaches, although their detritus can be found here and there – mostly in and around the remnants of campfires. I’ve heard of crowded beaches in other places where bulldozers make a nightly run scooping up or burying the daily accumulation of trash. Here there is a massive annual volunteer clean-up day.

When there are people on the beach, there are always dogs. So far, dogs have mostly unregulated access. There’s naked sunbathing and yoga, but nudists have limited access. There are some surfing beaches, where you will see long boards, boogie boards, Yakboards, kite surfing, lots of people and lots of dogs, the surfers all in wet suits to protect against the ass-freezing water.

Sunset on Samoa Beach

A friend and I drove across the bridge last night to the peninsula on the other side of the bay and stopped about halfway along on the ocean side to watch the sun set. A beautiful night, cool and still, the ocean rippling, not crashing. There was a post-graduation campfire near us – so far, just kids having fun. We sat on rocks next to the parking area, silently meditating until the last sliver of sun sank into the water at exactly 9:00. Across the road on the bay side of the peninsula, the mill chugged away, rosy and glowing, with its cloud looking like pink cotton candy. The official company line is that the cloud is steam. Water vapour. Almost all steam. Environmentalists have a long laundry list of nasties that they say the mill is puking out. Government departments have found violations, but have granted the company a variance and extended operating time before having to put things right – for economic reasons. (It’s the Economy, Stupid! That's money you're a-smellin'.)

This is the Land of Water and Trees

This is Six Rivers’ country, crisscrossed by wild and scenic rivers that sometimes flood and fill in huge valleys. There are signs next to the highway going south marking the height of the water in the ’64 flood. If you stand with your back to the sign looking straight out across to the other side far, far away, it is unimaginable that the tidy little river below could have ever spilled over with that much water, that its banks could have extended that far and that high..

That’s the river where we went again to swim. Hot enough there to sunburn if you’re not careful. After a childhood and adolescence spent exposing my redhead skin to way too much blistering sun – and being forever blistered and peeling – I throw my towel down in the shade, and baste myself at regular intervals with industrial strength sunscreen. Again we make our way gingerly along the rocky beach to the water. It’s warmer than it was on our first visit, the river is lower and already has some bits of algae floating around on top of the water. But it is still like a wonderful baptism – the holiest water I know, surrounded by the cathedral of trees.

“They” keep trying to buy up our water and ship it away – to central California – or on down to Los Angeles. The last attempt was by a company that proposed to fill up huge plastic containers that would be towed down south behind some sort of big barge – like pulling giant water balloons. They were blown out of the water by a storm of protest and opposition. That was followed by the usual cries of “you stupid, reactionary, anti-progressive, backwater imbeciles!” from our local business visionaries. The same thing happened when WalMart proposed to build here. Even the mighty Wally decided it had run up against an immovable objection, or at least too problematic for the time being. We like our backwater too.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The River

The grove at Women's Grove swimming hole

Today was the first day of the season at the river. The day was warm - high 70s; the water was right chilly going in, but once under, it was lovely and you didn't want to come out. There was a big family gathering next to us, with lots of kids. While we were tenderfooting our way along the gravel and river rock, and easing our way into the water, the kids were racing barefoot along the rocky beach and plunging into the river at full speed. My god, when did we get so old and thin-skinned?

There are huge trees all around. Walking through and under them is like visiting the most beautiful cathedral in the world. Just watch for poison oak.

I remembered a river visit last Fourth of July. The marine layer (blanket of doom, someone called it) had settled in and it was butt-freezing cold in town. Fortunately, when it's like this here, it means that about an hour or so north, west, or south it will be good and hot. South it was, to the river for a swim. We found a nice, broad, mostly sandy beach, lots of trees, no poison oak on the path down. It was beautiful - sun was warm, breeze was cool, water was very warm close to shore, albeit still chilly midstream.

There were only four small groups of people there, counting us. One group consisted of 3 girls and 4 boys, probably around 17-18 years old, who were having a great time. All tanned, slender, healthy, nubile - the girls decided to go topless. So they all swam over to a big rocky outcropping on the other side of the river, climbed up and jumped off again and again and swam around until a woman in one of the other groups stood up and hollered at them, "Will you put your FUCKIN' tops back on? I have a FUCKIN' five year-old and a seven year-old over here, and I'm gonna call the FUCKIN' cops if you don't put your FUCKIN' tops back on!"

Parenting at its finest.

Anyway the discussion continued back and forth in this manner for a minute or two, then all the kids swam back to their end of the beach and tops were reinstalled. I just lay there remembering how lovely it was to be that young and carefree, and that alive.

Monday, June 11, 2007

And just WHY did I want to do this?

The view from my kitchen sink

Well, this is the pits. I finally open one of these things and all I can do is sit and stare at the blank screen - actually it's a taupe screen with all kinds of options for posting, publishing, fonting, aligning. It's my brain that is blank and won't produce anything postable, publishable, fontable, alignable. This thing will save my drafts automatically. Save my drafty old brain - okay?
Actually this is a test - to see if I'm here and what it looks like.
Hot rodders do it in drag. That's absurd enough.

Who am I? A Canadian living in the U.S. - from British Columbia to northern California by way of a brief detour through Arizona. A displaced person - a DP. When I was a kid, people referred routinely to new immigrants to the country as DPs. It was a derogatory term, said with much superiority and condescension, even as we patted ourselves on the back for being so good as to take "them" (whoever the current wave of "them" was) in. I really am glad that y'all were good enough to take me in, even though I've never completely assimilated.

That's enough for Day 1