I climbed Blue Rock yesterday with several visiting friends, and could not help but notice that the experience comes under the category of timeless. Whether it’s trekking up in the middle of the day, or perching on the top and watching the sun go down, or even viewing a complete lunar eclipse, there is no better set of bleachers than The Rock.
I said “climbing” because it makes me feel as though I am still a badass to be able to nonchalantly impart that, “Yes indeed, at my lofty age I can still climb that mofo.”
Let’s be clear about one thing: You actually encounter only one spot where you need a steadying hand-on-rock experience, to “climb” to the summit. It the way is too steep here, just slide twenty feet to one side, and the slope is bound to be gentler.
To the north is Garberville, 35 miles from our home via dirt roads, a distance that Annie and I were contemplating walking a couple of years ago, when we were more actively involved in fund-raising events combatting cancer. It was one of those pledge-per-mile things, and she was confident that she could line up enough mountain folk to back her, to make it all worthwhile.
Unfortunately-or otherwise-she deemed it too taxing on her limited available energy, and decided to abandon the idea. We have walked as far up Bell Springs Road as the 12-mile-marker in the past, a roundtrip distance of 14 miles, so that will have to suffice.
When I peer out to the west out toward the coast, I marvel that it is only twenty miles over a couple of sets of mountains, as the raven flies. You can see the ocean clearly in three spots as you walk the twenty minutes up the Bell to the base of Blue Rock, as the coastal ranges rise and dip along their course.
I know for certain where the three spots are because I have seen the lights from ocean-going vessels in these three dips. Whether in SoCal, the Bay Area or up on the mountain, I have never lived farther way from the ocean than 75 minutes’ drive.
I’ll never forget meeting two “chicks” from Minnesota, as we referred to the gentler gender when I was a punky-La-ZAR-us (Annie’s term), while body-surfing at Newport Beach. Neither of these fair damsels had ever laid eyes on the Pacific Ocean before that day, and I simply had no frame of reference.
They’d never “bagged rays” while baking in the sun after coming out of the surf? They’d never seen the sun set over the water? They never been plunged face-first into the sand, when the wave they were trying to “catch,” taught them a thing or two about being caught?
If having to apply soothing cream to your stomach to ease the burning of sand-surfing, seems like a steep price to pay for body-surfing, imagine having to smear it all over your face-for the same reason?
In the early days we thrived on them, reveling in what it was like to eat, drink and breathe snow. “There’s no business like snow business,” I used to sing to the boys, who were willing enough accomplices. There was always the ever-present hope that the school district would shut its doors. Drat!
Now? That’s easy: Snow is the guest who overstays her welcome.
Finally off to the south, we see the ranch complex, with its mammoth barn on the west side of the Bell, and the house itself on the east side. I remember in December of 1974, a VW busload of us ventured up to our ridge for maybe the second time, after picking up my father from the San Francisco airport on the way past.
Literally, “Beep! Beep! Over here, Papa! Climb in! We’ll make room.”
We traveled up The 101 in a gentle rain storm, that transformed into hurricane-force winds up on the ridge. Resolutely, we trooped up and down the rolling hills, clueless as to which of the three parcels we were on at any given time, ending up at the ranch house with Jerry-invited there by the rancher himself-who would have been the same age as my father at that time, 52.
He never changed in my mind’s eye, but down the line I was to marvel that this square-faced, white-haired rancher, weather-beaten with a distinct drawl, was only 52. Playing poker with him, and hearing him recite poetry that he memorized while serving in the war in Korea in the early fifties, made him seem older than his years.
He’d memorized it by reading it over and over, attempting to use the light from these words, to overcome the darkness of his experiences overseas.
Now, as we huddled around the wood stove, steam rising off our sodden clothes, a few of us sipping on a shot of Jim Beam, we gushed our enthusiasm for everything we had been seeing.
“So much to see. Water everywhere! Some of those rivers are white water wonders!” were some of the observations.
Jerry grimaced, which was quite a feat because his facial features never moved. It was more of a body-grimace, as though an electric current had touched down for a nano-second, sending a little ripple through every fiber of his body.
Maybe I imagined it.
“Now hold on a second there,” he began slowly, his face remaining implacably still, “Let’s not make too much of a little rain,” he warned, just as another in a series of brilliant flashes lit up the dimly lit space. “Come July, the same cricks you’re lookin’ at now, will be bone dry.” Of course he was right.
I’m not sure when his place was built, but I do know Jerry was born in that same house, so he’d been seeing these rains his entire life. He came out onto the road one Saturday afternoon, as Annie and I made our way back down from our daily walk in the middle of a rain squall.
Rubbing his jaw furiously, which was his way of conveying the seriousness of the situation, he didn’t even wait to exchange greetings. “Y’all ought not to be walking when there’s lightning. Turn you right into bacon, faster’n it’d take for me to pick off another coyote.”
Jerry hung all the pelts from the coyotes he’d shot, on the gate down to the Camp, his second residence, this one on the west side and down from the Bell.
Annie and I were genuinely alarmed, this not being the first time we had walked in the rain. Heck, if we waited for no rain, some winters, we’d never have walked. As teachers, we both relied on our daily walk to keep the stress down, a hopelessly impossible task.
My experience with rain while growing up, was the twelve inches we got annually in the San Gabriel Valley in SoCal, the equivalent of a hardy Pineapple Express South-Pacific blower, here in northern Mendo County.
One year in the late eighties, we got 137 inches of rain on the ridge.
Just now, overwhelmed by the comfort and warmth emanating forth from the stolid, ancient wood stove, we listened to Jerry, but really paid no heed to his words.
After all, as I had explained yesterday on the walk up, the $400.00 per acre had amounted to a $67.00-per-month land payment, beginning when I was 23-years-old, and going for the next thirteen years. My land payment was less than my friends’ car payments.
I figured my twenty acres would withstand the march of twenty years’ time, better than their Fords and Chevys.
With or without rain.