I had a thought-provoking week over the holiday fourth. My now 21 year old daughter and I embarked on a two part trip up to northern California. The first part was just the two of us camping and hiking while the second part was a more leisurely time with a portion of the family at our rustic little summer cabin near Petrolia. (Bonus points if you know why Petrolia was so named!) We hiked a beautiful 8.1 miles to Humboldt County’s Highpoint called Salmon Mountain, elev. 6956 ft. This was to our 23rd summit of the 56 California Counties and it ranks a moderate 30th. This was our first summit hike in nine years, partly why this trip together was rewarding and thought-provoking. She and I began this “California County Summits” list back in June of 2002, enticed by the 1994 Wilderness Press book by Gary Suttle. She was just 8 years old and quickly found she loved the beauty and the connection with nature and she also loved the special times and accomplishments with her nutty dad. I can’t say with absolute certainty if those early doses of nature changed her life path, but she is less than a year away from graduating with honors from the University of Oregon with a major in Environmental Studies. And I get to be a very proud dad. We’re all aware that California and large swaths of the US is in a severe drought and many symptoms are clearly evident here in Northern CA. The major rivers we crossed, the Klamath, the Trinity and the Eel were all eerily low. The day warmed steadily between the 5400 ft. trailhead and the 7000 ft. summit and we were thankful to be well above the 109 degree heat we’d been through the day before. We could see the sparsely snowcapped summits of Mount Shasta, over 60 miles to the east and Mount Lassen, 110 miles to the south-east but saw virtually no signs of water in the few gullies the trail crossed while on the hike. Strangely we did see about a dozen small fir trees with the bottom two feet of bark fully removed, apparently eaten off, down to the smooth wood layer. I assume this was done by bears, as the trail was littered with dozens of bear scat. Neither of us had ever seen anything like that before. Could the bears, or whatever animal it was, be so desperate for food to be eating the bark off fir trees?
After our hike we drove back down the steep, narrow forest service road, back to the two lane highway, then westward via 299 to its terminus at Hwy 101 just north of Humboldt Bay. The cool coastal fog dappled air was a welcome relief. After refueling in Eureka, we arrived safely at our little cabin sanctuary in the Mattole river valley before dark and set about opening up the place. This involves fetching the hidden keys, unlocking the gate and house, turning on the water, the power and the gas, sweeping out a dusting of diseased bugs, cleaning the musty fridge and removing a new mouse establishment from the supposedly mouse-proofed oven. After a dinner of meatloaf, zucchini and salad, the long eventful day came to its pleasant end. The rest of the family arrived in two small waves the next day and thus began the summer cabin ritual. Sleeping in, smells of coffee and bacon with breakfast, naps, lunch, walks, more naps, going for a swim, snacks, or nap, prep for dinner, another nap, or read, snacks, go to the store for one that one missing item, like chocolate ice cream. One of the main rituals was absent this year, no fires are allowed due to the extremely dry conditions so we couldn’t have any s’mores or burnt marshmallows. We did bring a smattering of fireworks that we set off Saturday evening, safely and sanely, down on the gravel river bar. Though it was never spoken, I could feel we were all thankful to be there together, healthy, growing up and growing old. This brief collection of moments did provoke the thought; yes, I’m very grateful to be alive.