I am doing the A-Z challenge, focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County. I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me. Today’s letter is I for Island Mountain.
A Couple of Magpies
Unlike the Grace Hudson Museum or the Mendocino Headlands, Island Mountain is not a place where the casual traveler ends up. From my home on Bell Springs Road, it takes two hours to get to “the Island," over dirt roads, if I am driving. If Casey is driving, it is closer to ninety minutes, but that is another story entirely.
Specifically, what is up at Island Mountain? The best response is to say that there is a very hardy breed of people, who inhabit this area. If you want to know precisely where the Island is, and you have a map of California in front of you, find the exact spot where Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties intersect, and you are within spitting distance of the site where we work. There is an antique Ford van, long abandoned, which is just off the road, and marked with a large triangle, painted on its side. There is an H in one corner, an M in the second corner, and a T in the third corner.
I saw the fellow for whom we work last week, and he said there was still snow on the ground up at the Island. Considering how mild this winter has been (driest in Mendocino County since 1923) it just goes to show that Island Mountain is a rugged sort of place. It is located north-east of my home, but to get there, you must travel approximately forty-five minutes, pretty much due north, and then loop around to the right, and start back in the direction from which you just came. There is a road that goes straight across to it, but the road traverses private property, and is protected by a locked gate. Needless to say, locked gates are in ready supply as you make your way back to the Island.
The closest store is the one in Harris, which is another half-hour past the turn-off for Island Mountain, almost up as far as Garberville. Ironically, the first time I ever went to Harris, was back around 1976, after we had purchased our twenty acres on Bell Springs Road, but before any structures had been built.
We were returning from a camping trip which had seen us get as far north as Vancouver, in Old Paint, my ’62 VW bus, when Old Paint developed technical difficulties-serious to the point where it could not travel more than fifteen to twenty miles per hour, without the engine emitting a clanking noise that unmistakably shouted out, “crankshaft bearings wasted.”
We were up in the Shasta area, and pulled in at Hayfork, sitting in the shadow of Mount Shasta. I had a couple of ideas that I thought might buy us a little more time, and stopped in at an auto-parts house to see how extensive their supply of VW parts was. The man behind the counter was truly clueless, to the point where I asked him if he minded if I came around the counter and looked through his catalogs myself. “Help yourself,” he said, gratefully. Though I found what I was looking for, and made the necessary repairs on the side of the road, it was not enough.
Looking at our map of California, we determined that we could make our way down the center of our great state, via dirt roads, all the way to Bell Springs. Though there were no signs whatsoever, by continuously asking directions whenever we were lucky enough to encounter other folks, we managed to make the fourteen-hour journey and arrived at our property just as night fell. I had known that my folks were up there (all the way from Los Angeles) and that they had their campsite set up, so we were greeted with open arms, a hot fire and dinner. Pretty nice, considering this was before the era of cell phones and we had no way to communicate. It was all part of the plan.
Now when I travel the road to Island Mountain, even though it takes as long as it does to get there, I think back to that first journey, and chuckle to myself. There is minimal phone service while on the road, but once we get to the Island, we are so high up in the air (4,313 feet at its highest point) that the phone service is restored. We even pick up great radio reception from Eureka. The construction work we do is appreciated, and pays well, but we really have to want to be there; otherwise, the three-to-four hour, round-trip commute would put a real damper on our spirits.
But Casey and I do not like to operate under a cloud, so we make the best of the commute, chattering away like a couple of magpies, as we contemplate the universe of a couple of working Joes. It pays well and the hard work is greatly appreciated, so we continue to make the journey, as often as we can. It’s all good, as Casey would say.