Yreka 1860
Yreka means “north mountain” or “white mountain” in the now-extinct Shasta language.

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.

morning deck
A little private deck overlooking a creek (and the freeway). Not at all bad for a Best Western.

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.

  1. I became convinced I hadn’t properly shut the door to the storage freezer in the basement. (I had.)
  2. 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 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.)
  3. I forgot to pick up the bag of Meyer lemons I was supposed to get from one neighbor to bring to another (former) neighbor who has moved to Oregon.
  4. 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.

Shasta Frederick Butman
Oil Painting of Shasta Valley by Frederick Butman, 1864

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 narrative in the ensuing pile-up of thoughts about mining, logging, and the generally colonizing and pillaging instincts 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 on Friday.

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.

Stewart Swale Crop
Stewart in his happy place (photo from a few years ago).

17 thoughts on “yreka

  1. I laughed my way through your backtrack experience and reveled in your patience! You are an extraordinarily gifted writer, Shae and I eagerly await your next installment. Excited to see you on Friday in BC! ❌⭕️

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So loving your posts. Fun to see these beautiful photos and drawings. And completely understand not going without Owlish. Always fun to see Stewart in his Happy Place. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love you, and your writing, and seeing Stewart in his happy place. I too am extremely impressed with your persistence to get out of town with nothing left undone. Safe travels!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We so enjoy your wonderful travel posts, Shae. The photos, your delightful descriptions and the care you take with EVERYTHING! Lamb Chop wants to know if she’s going to California with us. She wants to meet someone (you) who turned around to make sure Owlish made the trip. Safe journey and love from us to you both.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yay! So glad to see this post! And I laughed so hard about Owlish. You are so good for sharing that with us! Keep on writing–I promise to do so as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a delightful story! Glad your maintenance issues are solved…what a pain right before you were leaving. It sounds like you are really going to appreciate your time away. Your fabulous writing leaves me with all sorts of thought provoking images …..throughly enjoying your blog. Would love to see a photo of owlish some day …:) Take care and safe travels . XOXO

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Nancy! Owlish is very shy, but now that he knows so many people understand where he’s coming from, he may let me take a few photos of him. I’ll ask him tomorrow. XOXO


  7. Hi Shae,

    So glad to know you’re on your way, leaving no trail of water or a bereft owlish behind. It takes what it takes to launch the next adventure. And as good as you are about having adventures, life has a way of intervening and altering plans. You’ve done a very graceful pirouette around the interferences.

    Much love,


    Liked by 1 person

  8. Shae, Your writings and adventure sharing are making your favorite time of the year my favorite time of the year too! Thank you for letting me go along for the ride………as always, love to you, enjoy your sanctuary and the road to it. xo Julie

    Liked by 1 person

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