Friday, August 16, 2019


…a glorious childhood haunt…

I wasn’t expected to show up.  Barbara was the last of the three great moms who cared for a bevy of neighborhood youngsters – myself included – in 1960s Chico.  The memorial gathering for her was to be held some four and a half hours away from Cloverdale.  But it was a summer weekend; Enrico, the Yamaha was due for a road trip; and the canyons and ridges, rocky outcrops and pristine lakes of Plumas County are to travel what whipped cream and a cherry is to a sundae. 

California’s highway 70 traces the rugged Feather River Canyon between Oroville and Quincy.  Pioneered by James Beckworth in the mid-1800s, it is the lowest of the Sierran crossings, though the last to see a railroad.  The highway and the old Western Pacific swap sides of the canyon as both routes pass small hydro facilities, historic whistle-stops and bergs all under gleaming granite cliffs and cool pine forests.

Bucks Lake, itself, is a high-country reservoir dotted with forest service cabins – a little known playground for residents of the northern Sacramento Valley and beyond.  

Kayaks and canoes co-exist with jet skis and fisher-boats while bald eagles and osprey circle above and black bear roam in the woods.  

The road I remember as graded dirt is now long-ago paved. Camping and day-use spots are abundant. The dam I once crossed on foot is now gated off.  I park nearby and walk back to the cabin I’d last visited decades ago.

Barbara, the neighborhood mom, had battled dementia for quite some time, but family made efforts to see that she would spend weekends at “the lake” almost until the end.  It was her happiest place.  

Looking out a picture window, I recalled splashing on the beach, the smell of Sea-n-Ski, sandwiches wrapped in wax paper washed down with Cragmont sodas, and my failure to master the sport of water skiing.  Barbara was laughing and splashing and skiing right along with all the kids.  Happiest place, indeed.

My return home would be a different route.  East of Quincy, a the LaPorte Road winds from Route 70, crossing a diminished Middle Fork of the Feather then climbs Buzzard Roost and Gibsonville Ridges, past the alpine head waters of the South Fork. Each turn offers another breathtaking view.  

August-spring wildflowers carpet the high, cool meadows and it feels as if I am riding through the ground floor of heaven.  

Further west, the LaPorte Road routes past historic mining and lumbering villages – some little more than place names.  Sixty miles on, I am driving through the dry, 95-degree grazing land of the Yuba foothills outside of Marysville, wishing I were back at Bucks Lake reveling in the cool breeze rising off the water.

The day before, when I had entered the cabin, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to identify the neighbor-kid-now-cabin-owner I hadn’t seen in perhaps forty years.  He stood and called me by name.  “Greg,” I said, a bit breathless from climbing the granite stairs to the house, “this still is among the most beautiful places in the world.”  Greg took my shoulders, turned me around to look out that picture window with the stunning view of water and forestlands crowned with fair-weather clouds.  Then he pointed to the hand painted sign above.  It read: “Welcome to the most beautiful place in all the world.” 

© 2019
Church of the Open Road Press

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