A miner named Daniel A. Jenks made this drawing of Yreka, California in 1860. That was right around the time my great-great-great-grandparents arrived in town. We don’t know why Frank and Rita Vieira chose Yreka after they got off the ship from the tiny Azorean island of Graciosa, or even what they did there besides get busy producing, according to at least one account, as many as nine kids. (One of these was another Frank, my great-great-grandfather. My mom says it’s hard to sort out the Portuguese relatives because they’re all named Frank.)
I wonder what the original Frank would have thought if someone had told him that in 156 years, his great-great-great granddaughter would be doing some yoga on the deck of a Best Western chain hotel down the street. Or that, to do so, she will have traveled all the way from the San Francisco Bay Area on her own, in a thing called an automobile, in fewer than six hours.
That I made it to Yreka by Saturday night surprised me, too. I left home around 10:30 a.m. but it took me three hours and four tries to make it from Fairfax to the next town over. I kept turning around and going back home.
- I became convinced I hadn’t properly shut the door to the storage freezer in the basement. (I had.)
- I forgot to pack — and I’m serious about this — my 4″ tall spotted-owl finger puppet, who goes by the name of Owlish. (He’s called that because when I first showed the owl to Stewart, he said: That’s too small to be an owl; it’s only owlish.) Owlish has since forgiven Stewart and he always comes to Alaska with us. I couldn’t bear the thought of confusing him by leaving him behind; he’s an anxious enough little bird as it is. (I’m embarrassed to think how far I might have been willing to backtrack for Owlish. I’m glad it was just five minutes.)
- I forgot to pick up the bag of Meyer lemons I was supposed to get from a neighbor to bring to a former neighbor who has moved to Oregon.
- The plumber called with last minute instructions and I had to go back and change the note I left for the nice folks who are renting our house while we’re away.
I know all this contradicts the stuff I said about what a good planner I am, but I blame my confusion on losing our hot water heater the day before leaving. One unexpected drip turned into a day-long festival of decisions and details, plus shutting off the water and gas to the house for eight hours. A lot of you already heard this story, so I won’t belabor it except to say how lucky we are that this happened when it did and we didn’t leave a potential mess for the renters.
I had a feeling I would finally relax when I drove through the pass and into the enormous valley between Mt. Shasta and Yreka, which is one of my favorite places in all the world. A great expanse opens up in that instant — a broad view of scrubland, pasture, and river with more and yet more mountains in the distance.
I sometimes indulge a romantic story about how I’m attracted to this landscape because of the history of my family in Northern California. It’s impossible, however, to sustain such a romantic narrative in the ensuing pile-up of thoughts about mining, logging, and the generally colonizing and pillaging stance of the country from which my forbears hailed. I settle, instead, for the immediate, astonishing beauty around me and the understanding of how fortunate I am to be here, whether because of something that happened 150 years ago or because the water heater didn’t blow out three days ago, or whatever.
Now I’m on my way through Oregon and I hope to be in Seattle by this evening. All the driving and visiting on this leg leaves less time for writing, but I’d like to keep checking in. Stewart has reported from the cabin via satellite phone that all is well there, just as we left it a year ago. No breakdowns or break-ins. I could hear the relief in his voice even through that crackly connection that really does sound like it’s coming from another planet.