Home is a sentiment but I feel it strongest when I am elsewhere.
Last week I left the desert with the dawn and reached Chico 10 hours later at dusk as the sun set and the rain drizzled. My friends and I went out for fantastic pizza and shared a bottle of white, nestled in a booth in our winter jackets as the lights outside bled in the rain. Back at my Airbnb, Scout was curled into a cinnamon roll on my bed. It was a perfect evening.
In the morning, finding our plans in Yuba had been cancelled, Scout and I returned to Bidwell to revisit the scene of one of her more memorable shenanigans. The rain from the day before had left in the night and a low fog hung over the rim. The volcanic rock was running with rainwater; ephemeral waterfalls sang from the edges of the bluffs. I danced my way along the trail as Scout raced from puddle to pond to rivulet along the route. We hiked 10 miles before lunch. It was a beautiful experience that caused my heart to sing constantly with a harmonic refrain of mutual glee and grief. Scout was off leash the entire time and never caused me concern. I couldn’t have asked for a better day in Chico.
On Tuesday night, in a drive I could have done in my sleep, I swung up to Redding for the evening. Magnetically drawn, it should be no surprise that I found myself back. In the morning, Scout and I hit the road before 8. The pink and purple sunrise framing a cloud-draped Lassen was picture perfect. I sometimes forget the views I took for granted. The orchards and fog on the way back south were equally as scenic. It was getting old having my breath stolen by the scenes around me (she said sarcastically).
Scout and I arrived in Truckee after noon. Though some snow was clinging to the heights of Donner Pass, the Sierra was suspiciously bare. Scout and I spent many hours walking and hiking over the next few days there. We stayed in a home on the golf course which had open space connecting it to the Truckee River trail. We stomped boot tracks and paw prints all over those trails and fields. On Thanksgiving, Scout threw herself into the whitewater but nimbly climbed from the river without needing swift water rescue. When she emerged from the brush, her breath hung in an icy cloud around her alert eyes. We also hiked around Mount Judah at Sugarbowl and visited Donner Memorial State Park. We lived our best Northern California lives and fell into exhausted, cranky sleep in our bottom bunk each night. We missed the snow though. The ice rink at Northstar wasn’t yet open, the ice rink in town was closed, the resorts had delayed their opening days, and an uneasy anticipation hung over the area as visitors and locals alike waited on the forecast to bring the magic. Unfortunately, that magic wasn’t projected to arrive until Scout and I were long gone.
On Sunday, I was too angsty to sleep. Scout was restless too. We pretended to sleep from 2am onward but eventually accepted our fate and rose to begin our slog back south. The wind had risen in the night in advance of the storm system. By the time Scout and I reached the east edge of Lake Tahoe, pink clouds stained a moody velvet sky in advance of dawn. The wind-whipped white caps at Sand Harbor and the state park looked more akin to the Pacific than the beatific shores of memory. The wind would be our howling companion all day. (Also, the cool thing about heading due south for 10 hours is the sun is in your eyes from the moment it crests the horizon until it sets again.) We made the most of the Eastern Sierra journey though, since it had been a trip I had been wanting for a time. Mono Lake, June Lake, Convict Lake, Mammoth, Hot Creek, and various hot springs in the Owen valley were the highlights of the drive. Unfortunately, having passed the last location on my to-see list outside Lone Pine, checking the GPS revealed I still had 4 or more hours of quality car time ahead of me.
The allure was lost. From then onward, as 395 shrank into a two-lane highway, as 58 took me towards Barstow, and finally as 247 pulled me into the Mojave, I was mercilessly abused by a combination of the wind and a succession of aggressively slow moving trailers and motorhomes. It was a nightmare. I was angry about leaving my home of Northern California, I was upset about the lost time, I was anxious about the work week ahead of me, and I was exhausted from a combination of all the things. I unpacked and was asleep around 7pm, much to Scout’s disappointment.
Returning to Northern California was something I had looked forward to since April 8th when I strapped my bike onto the back of the Subaru, filled the gas tank at the last station outside Yuba City, and headed south into the rice fields. I’d left on a rainy spring afternoon and I returned on a rainy autumn eve 7 months later. Every day within those months had contained thoughts, dreams, and memories of the places, people, and experiences that’d composed my years. Returning was everything I had hoped. Northern California’s beauty and wonder was not a construct of my mind or memory. It’s real and it’s still there. If anything, besides breaking my heart, the brief interlude affirmed that “home” will only ever mean that area. I strengthened my resolve to make it back in whatever capacity I can. There are many sides of California, but that one is mine. That one is home.