Wednesday, June 26, 2019
DRIVING THROUGH A LOST PARADISE
No ‘Shot of the Day’ Today
In general, I’m not a lookie-loo. I may drop in on a realtor’s open house or sneak by a dealership to check out the next bike or pickup, but, in general, I have better things to do than gawk.
Today, however, after an 800-mile loop up the coast and through the Trinities, I found myself lodged at the foot of Mount Lassen intent on staying to the high country as long as possible before heading home. As a result, I would venture south on California’s State Route 32, edge east at Lomo Junction to Butte Meadows and catch the Skyway south to… uh oh… Paradise on my way down to Oroville and then across the valley to home.
Paradise holds special memories to me. As a kid growing up in nearby Chico, a visit to the Pagoda restaurant in Paradise was a sign of high times. The (Caucasian) waitress had flamingly dyed red hair and it took a six-year-old me quite a while to understand that all Chinese folks didn’t have flaming red hair.
Later, a gig in college had me delivering candy, tobacco and restaurant supplies to the little town on the ridge. “Seven days without a hamburger makes one weak,” read the sign at Paul and Helene's Paradise Frosty. And the spiral staircase behind Pinocchio’s lead to an awful place to store the wares I delivered.
During my first year of teaching, my wife and I rented at cottage at Acres of Paradise Mobile Home Estates on Pentz Road, near the hospital where my daughter would, decades later, birth two children.
The flumes. The pines. The dirt roads for exploration. The small businesses serving treed neighborhoods. All ripe for memories. And disaster.
Heading south from Butte Meadows, the Skyway is recently paved. A previous fire cut off escape routes and paving one in the opposite direction seemed wise. The upper Skyway is a delight of rises and curves, forests and vista points, graveled fire roads and cabin sites. The old pavement begins at Inskip, once a quaint waystation on the road to Humbug Summit, now, sadly, a decaying edifice painted red. Twisting into Stirling City, Lovelock and DeSabla, through forests of pine and fir, crossing historic ditches that once fed timber to mills in the valley, it was easy to forget that which would appear over one rise and around one bend.
First, there were standing pines with needles permanently brown. Then there was a stump. Then a scorched homesite, charred concrete foundation, rusted washer and dryer. Then another. Then another. And “Central Paradise" was still five or six miles down the hill.
I angled onto Pentz Road. It would parallel the Skyway. The plumbing shop where I’d delivered copper fittings was gone. Noble’s apple packing shed, gone. A cul-de-sac of newer homes was now a cul de sac of foundations and unkempt weeds. Older homes along Bille Road were razed. Clark Road also. Clark had become the newer commercial core after I’d departed the area. The new Safeway stood as burnt cider blocks filled with blackened rubble. At a melted filling station, in the service bay, someone’s Dodge or Plymouth had just been hoisted on the rack for an oil change or brake inspection when the fire storm hit. The lift still stands, bent and crippled with the mini-van perched on top. Nearby an unscathed Assembly of God owes its reprieve to defensible space more than divine intervention.
I clocked the distance through which I rode through remains from above the old Magalia depot to the Paradise Airport. Erroneously, a sign reads: “Airport closed due to PG&E negligence.” Nope. The airport is closed and an eight-and-a-half mile swatch of this great old town is gone due to a combination of factors: a lack of respect of the potential hazards at the urban-forest interface; a forest that struggles to remain healthy as climatological factors change; a windstorm the likes of which might be termed hurricane in the gulf, but we don’t have hurricanes in the Sierra foothills. And, yes: overhead power lines. Miles and miles of powerlines that successfully feed our insatiable appetite for convenient lifestyles – all of which are okay until something unthinkable happens.
I mull all of this as I fit my motorcycle into a caravan of dump trucks and big rigs loaded with the aspirations of a lovely mountain community, slowly rumbling down Clark Road – their diesel engines humming a dirge – loaded with the crumbled remains of future dreams and the dust and ash of what once was.
I didn’t take pictures when I found myself driving through nearby Santa Rosa’s burnt out areas in 2017. It felt like invading someone’s tragic privacy back then. I didn’t stop for photos this day either. I didn’t want to be perceived the lookie-loo.
Church of the Open Road Press