LIFE IN THE WILDS OF NORTHERN CA

LIFE ALONG THE RIVER

Our cabin in a skiff of snow. Would that it had always been only this much, but it could get up to 18" which was REALLY 'fun' in that little car!

Okay - so now we were living along the north fork of the Smith River in a 4-room log cabin in the tiny community of Gasquet.  We moved in the middle of winter so right off the bat, of course, it snows!  And we lose power.  And I have to learn to drive that little red car - in the snow!  Oh boy!!!  I'd never in my life driven in snow before.  It doesn't snow (usually) in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Not only that, but getting to and from our cabin from the highway involved driving up and down two fairly steep hills - one with a hairpin curve in the middle of it.  Some fun there!  Thankfully, the car had front-wheel drive and I learned not to panic when it started slipping and sliding all over the place, but to calmly back down and try again.  That was going up.  Going down, if the car lost traction, I just put it against the bank and let it slide down the hill.  Luckily the bank was always on my side of both curves when I was going down rather than, say, a hundred foot cliff.  To this day I wonder why we didn't have chains for that car, but we didn't so - oh well.

Shed where washer & dryer were located - and there was no heat in there either!

I loved the snow, though.  It was so pretty and pristine and sparkled like thousands of diamonds when the sun came out.  Of course when I had to run 30 feet outside to the shed where our washer and dryer were located to do laundry, it didn't seem quite that pretty - especially if I was bringing a load of clean dry laundry back to the house through a blizzard!  But I managed.  I don't believe I'd want to go back to living in a tiny cabin like that again, but at the time it was a new experience and I did love it - putting ruffled unbleached muslin curtains over the windows and decorating with nice warm colors such as gold and orange and tan and avocado green.  I don't know what Kit thought about it all ?  He had decorated the Requa house with dark blue and black before we were married.  But he never said a word about the changes - even when I slip-covered his dark blue sofa with a charming country print.

During that first winter, I began to understand what the term "cabin fever" meant because if it wasn't snowing, it was raining and Gasquet receives somewhere in the neighborhood of 120" of rain (or snow) a year whereas living in the S.F. Bay Area, I was used to maybe 30" or 40" tops!  So I would only venture forth to shop and whatnot on dry days mostly.  By the second winter, however, if I wanted to go somewhere and do something, I just went no matter what the weather - unless, of course, it simply wasn't possible.  And you could always tell who the "flatlanders" were.  They used umbrellas!

The driveway sans snow

One afternoon after the snow had stopped and the sun came out, I decided to go for a walk.  The snow wasn't that deep and I had pretty snow boots - white with white fur trim.  Kit called them 'citified' boots, but they worked - at least in a few inches of the white stuff.  Later on when we got upwards of 2 feet I had to admit they weren't maybe the best.  But for that afternoon they were fine.  So I set out down the driveway - we had a long tear-drop shaped circular drive - and by the time I got out to the street, I was soaking wet!  Not having been in snow that much, it didn't dawn on me the sun would melt the snow on the trees and with our entire driveway ringed by the things, it was like walking in the rain!  Not to be deterred, however, I ran back to the cabin, changed my coat, grabbed an umbrella, and went back out.  I felt kind of silly walking along on a sunny day with an umbrella (I guess flatlanders weren't always the ones to use umbrellas) but after spending several days cooped up in the cabin, I was not going to be deprived of a stroll in the sun - especially along the river which was running full bore.  

THE PERILS OF PERLEE

One morning after it had been raining steadily for several days I turned on the water in the kitchen and - SURPRISE! - we didn't have any!  What???  We were the fourth house down on a gravity-flow water system with two good-sized holding tanks upriver fed by a year-round creek.  How could we not have any water - especially with all the rain we'd been having?  I called Kit at the office, but he was out till around noon.  I explained the problem to someone there and they told me the rain had probably washed a lot of debris down the creek and it was blocking the screen over the pipe siphoning water from the creek to the holding tanks and they promised to let Kit know about it as soon as he got back to the office.  I called the other 3 houses on our water line, but no one else was home.  Hmmm?  Do without water till noon or sometime thereafter, or go fix the trouble myself ?  I opted for the latter.

So there I was, hiking a quarter mile or so up a slippery muddy path alongside a roaring river in pouring rain, looking for the siphoning pipe.  A couple of unladylike words escaped me when I saw it.  It was at least 10 feet over my head and led to a spot up a steep bank.  Crawling on my hands and knees I made my way up the bank to where the creek was emptying into a small pool covered with leaves and twigs and other floating things I didn't recognize.  Oh yuk!  Reluctantly I rolled up my sleeve and plunged my arm into that freezing water - not sure what I'd find in there as I felt blindly around for the opening of the pipe.  Sure enough, the screen covering it was totally blocked with what I dearly hoped was only leaves and twigs, and once cleared, I could hear water pouring into the tanks below again and by the time I got back to the cabin, we had running water!

Kit came home a little after noon and was quite surprised at what I'd done.  Truth be told, I was quite surprised at what I'd done, too!  Who knew I had it in me?!!  I decided I was rather proud of myself.

Yes, and then there were the things I could have done quite nicely without - bats and scorpions!  The only truly dry storage space we had was in the attic and every time I had to go up there, I took a deep breath before opening the trap door and pulling the ladder down, praying any resident bats didn't get upset and fly down into the house.  Fortunately, none ever did.  But I had a broom at the ready - just in case. (And we won't even talk about the time I was crawling around in the attic and put my knee through the kitchen ceiling!)

The scorpions, however, were a different matter.  They gleefully (or so I suspected) came crawling out of cupboards and closets whenever they felt like it.  And they were big and black and moved fast!  I hated to squash them because they made such a mess, but it was really the only way to take care of them.  I vacuumed one up one time when it was crawling on the wall above a doorway and Kit wasn't home.  On the off chance it might not die inside the vacuum and crawl back out, I put the vacuum out on the back deck.  Sure enough, when Kit came home and checked the dustbag, the scorpion wasn't in there!  For someone who'd previously only had to worry about small house spiders and occasional silverfish, the bats and scorpions took some getting used to, I'll tell you!

   

There was another, different sort of challenge needing to be met and that was one of making new friends.  Being part of the Forest Service helped a lot and I was soon welcomed into the fold there.  But I missed having a place to go in the afternoon for coffee and conversation.  When I was working the coffee cart would come around the office and we'd all stop work and sit around sipping coffee and chatting for a bit.  And usually, when I got off the bus in the evenings, coming home, I'd meet my Mom and Dad in good old Hunt's Donut Shop for coffee (and a goodie or two - their custard donuts were to die for!) and find out what was going on at home with the rest of the family (I'm the oldest of four children) and I really missed that socializing opportunity.

But lo and behold, I found JoJo's Drive-Up a mile down the highway.  The name was actually appropriate.  It wasn't a drive-in.  You drove onto the parking lot, parked, and walked into the place in order to be served.  It was frequented mostly by locals and pretty soon I was one of those - coming in for coffee almost every afternoon.  In bad weather I drove, but otherwise I usually walked down, hiking afterward up the highway to the Forest Service Station in time to catch a ride home with Kit when he got off work.  I still smile when I think of those lovely afternoons all those years ago - meeting folks to talk about this and that.  Yes, and, well, maybe gossip a little.  But that's what small communities are famous for anyway.  And while JoJo's may not have had to-die-for custard donuts, they did have really good pie!  :)))

Another thing I had to get used to was shopping.  Before I was married I lived a block and a half from a big shopping center featuring a Lucky's supermarket, Capwell's dept. store, Woolworth's 'dime' store, countless clothing and shoe stores, a big music store (where you could actually take a record into a soundbooth and listen to it to see if you  wanted to buy it or not!) and, of course, along with small this & that shops and several other eating places, the famous Hunt's Donut Shop!  If I forgot to buy something - no problem.  I just turned around and went back.  But when shopping - except for very basic foodstuffs - is a half hour drive or better away, one doesn't just 'turn around and go back'.  One says "Dang!" (or something similar) and waits till the next week's shopping trip.

There was a small market in Gasquet providing the basics to fill in between shopping trips to the bigger town of Crescent City.  It was a nice little homey place with a big fireplace - always with a fire going in the wintertime.  And sitting in front of the fireplace was a barrel table and chairs usually occupied by old-timers playing checkers or chess or something.  At times, however, that little store was the 'only game in town' when it snowed or the highway was made impassable by slides or the river rose and covered the roadway at both ends of town.  Then watch those little store shelves empty fast!  By the second winter I learned to keep a big box of good old Dinty Moore Beef stew and other canned foods, jars of Tang, boxes of powdered milk, and etc. out in the shed - just in case!  And it came in handy every year!   

Last Chance Grade

One more entry under the Perils of Perlee before we go on to the next chapter.  I talked about having to learn to drive Kit's little sporty 4-on-the-floor car, but I didn't mention where I had to learn to drive it!  There's a section of US Highway 101 between Requa and Crescent City where I did my major shopping, called "Last Chance Grade" - so named originally because it's the last time to have a good look at the ocean for a while as at that point, the highway turns inland for the next several miles.  The name has a second meaning, however - a sort of 'Last Chance to get by safely.'  In bad weather the supporting land beneath the road slips causing the roadbed to buckle and fall away!  Cal Trans attempts to shore it up each time which works for a while, but eventually the road falls out again.  Luckily, when I had to drive to and from town the weather wasn't usually too bad.  But no matter!  I was always glad to get past that point - especially coming home when I was literally on the edge of the cliff.  I could not see even an inch of soil beyond the edge of the pavement where one wrong move would send me plunging 300 feet straight down to the ocean.  It was then I was especially glad Kit's little car was so small and fit so nice and safely well inside my lane!

For someone who was used to driving suburban streets and multi-lane freeways, these narrow highways winding atop ocean cliffs, beside raging rivers, snaking amongst huge trees, or through cuts you hoped wouldn't suddenly give way and slide as you drove by (I came one car length within being caught in such a slide!), these new driving experiences far surpassed anything I was used to.  Here's a perfect examples - Sharp curves on a narrow highway hedged by giant trees with who knows what coming the other way - a heavily loaded logging truck or an RV . . .   Actually I preferred facing (or being behind) a logging truck rather than an RV.  At least they usually kept to their side of the highway and were more apt to pull into a turnout to allow cars to pass.  RVs and other tourists?  You never knew what they might do?  There's a true story of a log truck driver coming around a curve and finding a tourist lying on his back in the middle of the highway trying to take a picture of the redwoods.  Thinking fast, the driver did the only thing he could do - he straddled the guy!  Scary stuff. 

Another example - entering the Smith River canyon on the way to Gasquet.  Sheer cliff with no 'wiggle' room on one side, river several hundred feet down on the other!  It took some getting used to but eventually I was driving such roads like the locals. 

Once in the Smith River canyon the highway follows the middle fork of the Smith River and there are places in the wintertime where it could get a little iffy.  In the picture here, the river is running low.  It must have been taken either in summer of early fall because in the winter and especially in early spring the water would be rushing along at the top of the rocks on either side.  Once in a while it might rise almost even with the highway and one particular winter it actually washed over the roadway a bit.  This was also a spot where, in heavy rain, water rolling down off the hillside on the other side of the highway could send a car hydroplaning.  Not too fun!

Bridge over the middle fork of the Smith River.

These rural highways made me nervous at first, but I got used to driving them and now much prefer them to freeways and city streets.  I'll take a 2-lane highway atop a cliff over a 4-lane freeway full of folks changing lanes right and left any day of the week!  And look how pretty the drive is!

All for now. Next: And Baby Makes Three :->
La Nightingail

Molly of Molly's Canopy 04.09.2018 15:34

Nothing like nature to teach life lessons! Nice post and accompanying photos -- and glad Sepia Saturday will be back on track this coming week!

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Latest comments

07.11 | 19:18

The Sierras are beautiful. I look forward to driving up into the mountains every summer on the way to the lake! :)

07.11 | 19:14

There are additional passes both north and south of the ones I've mentioned. I was concentrating on those I've used to get to my favorite lake. :)

07.11 | 19:10

Interesting is how one climbs gradually from the west to cross the passes but from the east it's a steep continual climb due to the way the mtns were formed.

07.11 | 02:00

I fell like I've been on a tour bus! And without any motion sickness! Our eastern mountain roads are plenty twisty but no match for those heights!