Monday, July 13, 2009

Homecoming

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It’s an odd thing, going home.

Two days ago, Charlie, the kids, and I drove from southern Oregon to the cluster of tiny communities where we had both grown up in the Sierra Nevada mountains of northern California. We don’t get there very often…once every few years at the most, and as God is our witness, every damn time, we forget how absolutely breathtakingly beautiful it is. And for you other Oregonians out there who are now bristling, yes Oregon is a beautiful state; if you read this blog at all regularly, you know I love where I live, but you simply have to see places like this to appreciate what I'm saying here:

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Go. Go see. Your jaw will drop, I promise. (Even if you’re from Oregon.) Because it’s not so much the individual physical attributes (thick ponderosa forests studded with granite, alpine meadows, elevations high enough to momentarily take your breath away) that make the Sierra Nevada what it is. It’s the sheer magnitude of them. In order to follow the plane of a lodge pole pine with your eyes, you need to tilt your chin to the sky. To capture an entire peak in the viewfinder of your camera requires taking one giant step back. Then another.

For us, it was like a shot to the arm (a much needed shot, five hours into a six-hour drive). From approximately Quincy, California on, we both became giddy, suddenly finding ourselves fighting the urge to turn off at every other dirt drive or fire road we recognized, just for the sheer nostalgia of it. Sadly, we quickly found that nostalgia is an indulgence only for the child-free: the kids were coolly unimpressed at the site of Mom’s first horseback ride or Dad’s favorite fishing hole. Still, every time we entered a city limits (population ranging from 4,000-250) or turned a bend of one of many winding roads, the familiar landscape and landmarks cut through the usual (tedious) business of travel with children like a sword.

A double-edged sword.

Because everything was exactly the same. And I know, I know…that’s precisely what you’re going for when reminiscing, right? But it made us both a bit melancholy. You have to understand: this is a rural area in the extreme…when we were teenagers, the high school churned out classes of 30, max. It was 60 miles to the nearest movie theater and significantly more to a decent shopping mall. Places like that don’t grow exponentially, like we’re accustomed to elsewhere. We weren’t expecting a Starbucks to have sprung up on every corner (to my knowledge, you can still count the number of traffic lights in the entire county on the fingers of one hand). But somehow, all that still-pristine wilderness (not to mention all the familiar faces) served to remind us of what we’re missing, living in a city of 50,000.

And the things that had changed had changed without us. Another no-brainer, I know, but it still blindsided us. Driving through the canyon near his aunt’s house to take the boys fishing, Charlie couldn’t look at the devastation of a recent forest fire without tearing up. (And by recent, I mean 1994...which, ironically, was the very year we left.)

Maybe this is how going home is for everyone, everywhere: bittersweet. Evocative. Complicated.

But we really hadn’t expect it, at least not this time around, on nothing but a spontaneous jaunt with already-tired kids and an over-packed car, so you’ll have to forgive me for allowing a Travel Segment entry to become about the polar opposite of travel: homecoming.

We do, of course, have our reasons for living elsewhere. Most of us do, right? And they‘re good, solid reasons. But that doesn‘t mean we can’t see the other side of the coin. And we stubbornly hold that it doesn’t mean we can’t go back, at least for a long weekend.

We took the kids to a few of our favorite haunts:

Sand Pond, off Gold Lake Highway by Sardine Lake Lodge (where Charlie tried to straddle one of the many drifting logs as he had as a kid, leading to his remark: “These used to float much better.”) Hmm...the boys seemed to have no problem.

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The shores of Sardine Lake with the Sierra Buttes as our backdrop…quite possibly my favorite place on earth. No exaggeration. (And I chose the photo with Calvin swimming just for proper perspective. See what I’m saying about the scope of these mountains?)

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Camping at Salmon Creek (you know you‘re in high country when they put bear lockers at every site).

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You gotta wonder what Calvin’s thinking…

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Fishing the Feather River near Greenville, CA.

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Who says you can‘t go home?
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