Part I – Heading South
In the weeks before our California trip, I grew anxious. I couldn’t let anything get in the way of our long awaited musical campout bash with beloved friends. I’d waited so long – 999 days to be exact – since the last time I saw these people. I spent the intervening time practicing mandolin, and wrote a cathartic worrying song, ultimately encasing myself in bubble wrap and staying home.
I can’t decide what is right, it’s keeping me awake at nightMe, Nancy
Should I go or should I stay, I feel different ’bout it every day
It wasn’t just re-entering the wild from my proscribed world. It wasn’t just daring covid to come for me as cases climbed. It wasn’t just skipping a beach trip with a friend. It wasn’t just thinking twice about everything I did. It was all of it. Decisions were killing me. It was a short covid window before our trip, we needed a negative test result to attend, and getting sick would ruin it all.
As the time approached, I continued to fret. In the 999 days since the last trip, I’d forgotten how to pack a suitcase, how to organize our gear, how to camp, how to jam in a group, how to stay up late, how to socialize, how to potluck, how to be in a crowd, even what it was like to spend two full days in the car (each way).
Dust off those rusty strings just one more time.Robert Hunter
As we finally set off, healthy and whole, I had 700 miles ahead to worry but Alan soon suggested I might want to stop the future thinking, and try to be present. Oh yeah, good call. One breath away from my center. I settled in.
The long drive gave me lots of time to consider, and go over lyrics of songs I hoped to lead in the jams. I immersed myself in the scenery flashing by, and realized as we left the urban boundary, that this was our first drive so far south on I-5 in 999 days. I’d almost forgotten the pastoral beauty and openness as the hills rose up around us. Black and white cows dotted the verdant green fields. Bright yellow Scotch Broom scattered amidst brilliant orange California poppies and purple lupines. Barns of every shape and size in shades of reds and greys sprinkled the plains and hills along the way.
Hawks circled endlessly, pulled in by the interstate’s all you can eat buffet, smaller birds harassing them. Most of the traffic was trucks, long and wide, jockeying in and out of the lanes and caring little about suddenly pulling in front of us. Perhaps the gas prices kept more cars off the road: $5.20 and rising in Oregon, and $6.20 or more in California.
Occasional clear-cut hillsides peppered the otherwise thickly forested land, with dramatic multi-colored basalt outcroppings protruding here and there. Best of all, the temperatures kept rising – we were going SOUTH – leaving behind a wet and cold winter and spring. It was a damp 58 degrees leaving Portland, 70 in Eugene where we picnicked (in a park with dozens of Canada geese on the thick green lawn, and a great blue heron standing in the shallow creek).
It was 80 by the time we got to Roseburg where we crossed the Umpqua River. Sheep joined the cows as we approached Canyonville, and the greens grew greener, denser, olive, emerald, sage greens, grassy, leafy, verdant, and lush. Scattered tendrils of cirrus clouds highlighted blue sky above. I felt exuberant, like I’d never driven this route before.
Alan’s eclectic playlist moved us along easily. Dylan, Bob Marley, The Bills, Bonnie Raitt singing Joni Mitchell, the Flecktones, Abigail Washburn, I’m With Her, John Hartford. We crossed the Rogue River and it hit 85. Brown patches appeared amidst the green. Descending past Medford, Mt. McLoughlin appeared, brilliant snowy white. Rocky mesas jutted out just to the east and snowy Cascades rose beyond. Signs for Crater Lake kept beckoning, but we had other plans.
In just half a day we entered warm dry summer. We chugged up and over the Siskiyou Pass in our heavily laden car, not an inch of room to spare. At 4,310 feet, this pass is the highest elevation on I-5. Descending again into Ashland, oak trees dotting rolling brown hills, a backdrop that continued through much of our journey.
An Oregon sign bade us goodbye, and California welcomed us in. Next was the smooth sided cone of Mt. Shastina, Mt. Shasta’s drier, smaller sister, and we gratefully made our first California stop in the town of Mt. Shasta where an old friend waited, homemade pizza ready to pop into the oven. We swapped old stories and traded new ones; so much happens in three years of not seeing someone, both sadness and glory. We filled our grateful bones.
With Mt. Shasta glistening in the rearview, we entered a gorgeous stretch of remote forest and dizzyingly steep slopes. This trip was quite a contrast from previous trips, air choked with thick smoke, or the time a semi spilled its load of rebar and we waited hours till it cleared. I didn’t think I’d ever feel too hot again, but when we hit 98 in Redding we turned on the air conditioning. Lake Shasta appeared dangerously low.
The redtail hawk writes songs across the sky…Kate Wolf
In the golden rolling hills of California
Our next stop was Berkeley to see my brother. He took us on a quick trip (if you’ve driven with my brother, the emphasis is on quick!) into the hills to the exquisite Botanic Garden by Tilden Park. I immersed into the exquisite native flowers, plants, textures and scents, a treat to the senses, and a dusty dry contrast to Portland.
In Oakland we visited my nephew and his wife, and THEIR SUPER DUPER amazing, brilliant, and adorable baby. Walking through their fascinating urban neighborhood, I enjoyed the flowers and young moms and babies, and the neighborhood park. There’s nothing like that squeezy baby smell. The utter exhaustion that babies bring came back to me, along with the deep incomparable joy. I had the exquisite honor of giving the bedtime bottle and story, and tried to stay awake.
Finally, over the hills on Highway 17, we rolled the windows down to breathe in the sequoias, manzanita, dust, and fog, and admire the distant view of our beloved Santa Cruz coast. Tears welled in anticipation and then we were there. 999 days collapsed into a heartbeat. I clung to each warm human body as folks pulled in all weekend. These are friends of the heart, chosen family, musical soulmates, generous, kind, and loving. We’d made it.
Around the next bend the flowers will sendKarla Bonoff
The sweet scent of home in the breeze