Cuincy, Qalifornia

7 May

My chamomile tea and pumpkin bread was just proffered to me in the most quaint and ecologically sound of manners; a small ceramic pot of tea, a glass mug, plate and fork on a wooden tray.

That about describes this coffee shop and this town; taste and kitsch meet in the walls of the coffee shop – covered with cuttings from canvas coffee bean sacks and an endless collection of coffee pots of various shapes and sizes and vintages – and in the streets of the town, with its opposing one-way streets which collectively make up Main Street, small cafés, and more consignment, vintage, and thrift than is strictly necessary for a town of 5,000.

Quincy has been the seat of Plumas County since the county was officially established around the turn of the 19th century, and as such is steeped in the West Coast stylings of history. Chinese, Native Americans, the White Man, and a freedman named Jim Beckwourth all came together in various roles to develop a rich culture of basketry, beading, mining, logging, transportation, and agriculture.1

Aside from being the closest “real town” to our free campsite, it provides the indispensable benefit of providing free wi-fi in cutesy coffee shops, as well as excellent eavesdropping involving cow health and blurriness.

1All this information thanks to the $2 admission-fee
Plumas County Museum, which has more pictures of people in the old days
than anyone should ever care to see, but also has extensive collections
of heavy instruments for agriculture, mining, trains, blacksmithing, of
Maidu baskets, of porcelain dolls, of Boy Scout patches through the
ages, and of empty one-quart whiskey and bourbon bottles presumably
guzzled by grizzly miners during the gold rush. Unfortunately for those
drunk bastards, Plumas County was only lucky to have copper, quartz, and
the like.

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Little House in the Big Woods

6/7 May

The square root of 41 miles (as the crow flies) southwest of Quincy, CA on a gravel Forest Service road, a small group of campgrounds are nestled around a waterfall and rushing stream. The sites are not maintained (and therefore free), save for fallen trees being cut to make roads just barely passable. Abandoned picnic tables and fire puts dot the clearing, and an aged sign warns of rotten tree dangers. The restrooms – rather, outhouses – are decorated with cobwebs and tree crumblings. No other cars pass on the road, if it can indeed be seen from here. The stream cuts a deep gash through the wooded landscape, providing a just-accessible source of fresh water, if you’re willing to brave the narrow path trodden into the 75˚ hillside.

These trees are tall, and sporadically drop pine cones as big as my face. The air is of dust and pine needles and is swollen with the cleanliness of a fresh breeze.

Part horror-movie opening, part pristine solitude. It instills a sense of wonderment at the vastness of lands yet to be seen. This is a place where you realize important things: the value of company and the value of solitude.
(Two ducks – male and female – mallards – just came swimming downstream – saw me – paused – and through their wordless lover’s communication took off in a flurry of splashing and feathers. This is not my stream.)
The sense of life, sustenance, and survival. The influence of and on one person. Encounters. Observation. Wonder and why.

A Tale of Irony, Greed, and Betrayal

6 May

Ma and Pa Donner set out for the West sometime in the 1860s. They were accompanied by 25 of their nearest and dearest.

Sometime in the spring, they stopped to fix their wagons (presumably their oxen did not successfully cross the Snake River – FAIL) in the mountains on the west side of what was someday to be called Lake Tahoe. Evidently, they also neglected to sufficiently stock up on spare axles and wheels and, frankly, whoever it was really sucked at Oregon Trail. In any case, their wagons became mired in the ungodly marshes of the Sierra Nevadas (damned mud puddles). Without spare wagon parts they proceeded to fell trees to build their own. Several party members forgot to move and got squashed. During this feat, which took a good while since they had chosen the ubiquitously useless careers of teachers and lawyers, a snowstorm befell them.

Woe unto the Donner Party! Stuck in a bog on a mountain in a snowstorm, they slowly began to get very hungry and cold. Here, the story becomes a tad sketchy (I swear to this point it’s the truth). Common knowledge asserts that they all turned to cannibalism and went up in pillars of smoke and flame. Ish. Alternate renderings suggest some profound sacrifices on the part of the mothers, all to save their children.* Hopefully, this sacrifice involved their own blood and flesh because that’s the only good part of the story anyway. Only eleven members survived.

In any case, the “Donner Camp Picnic Ground” (oh, it hurts) graces the side of CA Rte. 89 somewhere north of Truckee. Its plaques commemorate the bravery and pioneering spirit that made California what it is today: the land of saintly cannibals.

*This is the National Park version of the story. Wimps.

The Roadblocks to Progress

I thought we were finding sunshine, warmth, and happiness. Instead all we seem to be able to find is more snow and closed campgrounds. Not to be a Negative Nancy – Tahoe is absolutely drop dead gorgeous. Dan likens it to Geneva, and even though I’ve never been to Geneva, the accuracy of the analogy seems probable. Now I want to go to Geneva. Damn it. Sidetracked.

The previously sort-of-tried-and-kind-of-true method of driving around and finding somewhere to sleep failed – utterly and almost completely – last night. Everything in Nevada was hot and dry, and eminently camp-able. Lake Tahoe is not frozen, the city of South Lake Tahoe is not ice-covered and there is no snow in sight. Assuming this trend would carry over into the peaks surrounding the lake – which are also necessary to cross to get anywhere else – several wild goose chases ensued. Silly us, lakes surrounded by somewhere in the neighborhood of eight ski resorts which obviously still have snow on them probably do not have open campgrounds nearby. It’s practically winter – mud season – here, too. Luckily the city of SLT operates a recreation area which includes a library, ice arena, lake shore access, and a campground (with running water! and trees! and shade!) for the whopping fee of $26/night. But this, being the only option, was the only option.

Henceforth, today’s project has involved five hours in a coffee shop updating the world on our progress and actually planning (for a change) the next couple of nights. As much as nights spent camping in national forests and wilderness areas can be planned. Unfortunately, we have also realized that mountains in the rest of the country behave much like mountains in the Front Range in Colorado in that they are still snow-covered with roads and campgrounds closed for the season, in some cases until early June. Again, whoops. Woe unto us and our youthful naïveté.