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North & West Reviewed

Trucks, trucks and more trucks. Unfortunately, that's the initial reaction of my recent trip north from Sacramento to Dunsmuir.

Apparently the covid hasn't kept the big wheelers from truckin’ on — maybe more of them just more obvious because of the lack of regular pre-covid traffic.

Interstate 5 is always trucks anyway, heading north in the early weekday morning, hazy with an overlay of sick orange air pollution. I thought the covid keeping folks indoors had helped to clear the air. But no. Summer Valley heat, Summer Valley skies, polluted air.

Goin’ up, I hope, where the air is better and the valley heat has softened.

Up through the salad and vegetable bowl of California, boring, I-5 meant for going, farm fields and farm equipment — how much asparagus can the world eat? No migrant workers in the fields. The border wall of covid?

But slowly and surely another California starts to grow. Trees, Ponderosa pines? Starting to climb up to Redding with its hints of Lassen and Shasta Mountains.

Went on into Redding looking for a breakfast cafe patio but finding nada, the Sundial Bridge stickin’ up its white egret beak but I've already been — “curious” it is, as a friend once said.

Going up, passing Shasta Lake — with its low-level almost adobe-like exposed shoreline showing it looks more like a gigantic puddle than a lake.

High forested hills, logging trucks with their peeling bark corpses, almost a throwback to another time, smelling smoke in the air from nearby spot fires.

And there is Mount Shasta, a big, gray hump with streaks of washed out snow, looking more like something out of Conan the Barbarian or a pissed off aboriginal than my past image of Buddha-like.

Right on time for the Dunsmuir exit, home to Tim Holt, Editor General of the no longer existing Suttertown News in Sacramento and current editor of the Northwest Review in Dunsmuir. Why I've come up this way, our relationship as editor and contributor and our friendship, long time knowing each other.

It's my first time in Dunsmuir. I've been to nearby Burney and succulent Berney Falls and two friends who have a home on the Fall River — a deep, sumptuous river, Mount Shasta still snowy then up there like a Buddha.

Into Dunsmuir past the Sleepy Hollow like Dunsmuir cemetery and look for Hill Street.

Tim Holt and his wife Sandra have a home that can best be described as “lived in,” a wild and naturally hairy lawn/garden, the house most comfortable in the way an antique shop, a library, or any open air market can be.

We've known each other for so long we ease in easy, not too long a time between our last meeting in Sacramento, Tim having just read a short story of mine concerning a meeting between John Muir (who Tim portrays for various audiences) and a Buffalo Soldier in Sequoia National Park.

Let's walk, let's talk. Very, very hot. Mount Shasta looming, my cooling off mission not accomplished.

Dunsmuir doesn't surprise me. It pleases me, having lived in small-town Montana, Dunsmuir is an old railroad town that time has remembered. Flyfishing and weekenders, summer renters and full timers far from the madding crowd, human sized neighborhoods tucked together on the hills among the trees. Tim Holts parents are from here. Tim points out his mother's original house — originals.

Main Street in Dunsmuir retains a lot of its original self, hopefully to remain so, you know, local, nothing overdone, simple pleasures.

It's our pleasure to sit on the covid patio of the Dunsmuir Brewery Works (what else?) and share some time.

Good tales to tell and talk before we walk back. We are well met.

I'm off to Mount Shasta city, McCloud and Weed. Did you think I wasn't going to smoke some now-legal weed in Weed? Come on.

Mount Shasta city too gas-stationed. McCloud just right, stagecoach and locomotive historically with a real-life shake shingle frosty shack for a milkshake in the shade, gray Shasta glowering. And Weed. Well, all I have to say is their all-Weed souvenir shop of which I'm not immune. And their somewhat covid shuttered western logging style Main Street with its legal pot shop. Thanks, but I brought my own.

Then an evening with friends there in their home on, in fact almost in, the thick Fall River. No more description required.

With that in the morning I'm off to Eureka on the coast by way of Route 299 out of Redding along through the burnt over woods of the Merlin’ landscape, slowly, slowly, easing, twisting, turning, the scent of the ocean eventually, gray and cloudy. Eureka, the Pacific Ocean, gray and gnarly, some sand in my shoes, breathing in the fresh destination.

Now it's 101 all the way to Highway 1 at Fort Bragg. 

But let's not get ahead of ourselve. I hope you know the Humboldt Redwoods. If you don't know them you must. You must go — towering trees, those dinosaur weeds. I did, and yet didn't know. Yet here I am in the eclipse-like shade of what seems like some other planet that I've come across, so humbling that the word, the words, have no meaning among them. I'd kneel, but they wouldn't even notice. Woody Guthrie's “This Land” could end with just “redwood forests.”

The very end of of the continent. After some more twisting and turning hills and woods on Highway 1 and voila! A real Eureka! The rugged Pacific coastline, rocks and crags in the aqua blue ocean like so many Captain Nemo’s nautiluses on the surface.

The Fort Bragg I see could use a facelift, fast food crap and all the assorted imported/US junk that ridicules the redwoods. But it eventually comes to an end and you are left with the ocean and Mendocino County — gray and windy and almost wilderness. Easy does it down to Highway 128, heading east for I-80 over there through more groves of redwoods, time standing totally tall and still. Through well-known Boonville, sun setting and on into wine country. Country is the right word. How can there be so much wine, so many vineyards? Most are covid closed. Calistoga, Yountville, Napa… Then out of the vines on to hustling I-80, home to Sacramento.

One Comment

  1. Cat Spydell August 27, 2020

    Thanks for the lovely tour. As a part-time nomad who is Covid-stuck but (luckily) living here in beautiful Philo, I enjoyed taking that Northern California journey vicariously through you. I may have appreciated Mt. Shasta a tad more than you did when I last traveled through there a couple years ago, because we met 2 locals within a few minutes of arriving who were warm & inviting & gave us the best information about what stores & eateries not to miss while in town. Now similarly I have Dunsmuir on my “go to” list thanks to you. Hoping 2021 sees me back on the road more, but until then, essays like yours give me a reason to add future destinations on my “places to see” itinerary.

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