Finding Scarlet's Run
Picking up the story where I left off... I was on a houseboat on Lake Shasta in the fall of 2004 and decided I should move.
After driving around the countryside for a spell, I went back home to San Francisco but kept thinking about getting out of The City. Two weeks later, I drove back up to Shasta County, called a local realtor on the way up, and asked him to show me some ‘out of the way’ places.
I picked him up in Redding California. Redding is the ‘big city’ in that part of the state. If you haven’t been to Redding before, I think the best way to describe it is to imagine a super-sized truck stop.
Redding is in Shasta County, but the locals refer that area as ‘The North State’ or ‘Jeff State’. This nomenclature refers to the residents desire to sue for independence and statehood or just secede from the nation altogether. They refer to the movement and area as the ‘State of Jefferson’. Like me at the time, you are probably laughing about this but people are deadly serious about it. They form militias and rally around this cause. The underlying ideals around this movement are that the North State is rich in water, timber and mineral resources and we Jeffersonians are underrepresented by our government given the natural resource power we wield. In reality, if Jeff State were to break off, I think it would become the 51st state and not in a good way… 51st in education, household income, quality of life etc. While I’m sure this would thrill #50 Mississippi to no end, it never seemed like a good idea to me.
Like most of California’s rural areas, these are ‘red’ counties. They think libertarian, vote republican, and respond to natural disasters and national crisis with ‘thoughts and prayers’.
A few years after moving there, in 2008, I would enjoy trolling my neighbors by putting Obama yard signs up along the road near Scarlet’s Run. I’d place them close enough to the side of road such that people driving back up the hill in the evening couldn’t resist but swerve their trucks off the pavement to run them over. The blue and red striped “O” logo was an overwhelming cosmic force, acting upon diesel powered trucks, irresistibly pulling them off the road.
They were not aware that I’d purchased dozens of these signs. I would go out every night and 'CHANGE' the sign. On their way back down the hill the next morning, the sign would be resurrected again and ruin yet another rural commute. Thanks Obama.
But on my first day there in the fall of 2004, the realtor I’d called out of the blue to help me find an escape guided me east on highway 44. I drove for a while, took a turn or two and ended up on Whitmore Road.
As we turned onto this small country road, I realized that this was the same one I’d gotten lost on a couple weeks earlier. I took this as a good sign.
This area was huge and sparsely populated. After visiting that day, I tried to look Whitmore up online. Nothing. Today, there is a sparse wikipedia entry for Whitmore, but at the time, all I could find is census data. One thing that jumped out at me was the population density numbers. In San Francisco, then as it is today, the population density is around 16,000 people per square mile. In Whitmore, it was less than one person per square mile.
To further illustrate this for you, I’ve used one of those online mapping tools to approximately encircle Whitmore and then place that same outline over Portland. When you look at the Whitmore area, understand that there are only a few hundred people inside that area versus about one-million in the other.
If you were in Whitmore and need to do some shopping, your driving distance would be similar to if you were in downtown Portland and the nearest shopping center was in the Multnomah Falls parking lot out in The Gorge.
The realtor and I drove for what seemed like a long time. He pointed out sights along the way like big cattle ranches with properties in the thousands of acres. There were rocks scattered everywhere on the rising terrain, some of them as large as a Volkswagen. He said that the rocks were from ancient Mt Tehama (aka Brokeoff Volcano) before it exploded millions of years ago. The modern day remnants of the once great Tehama include the active volcano Mount Lassen. Today, Lassen spits sulphur and boiling mud while it waits it’s turn to erupt again. It’s the southernmost volcano in Cascade Mountain Range that includes Portland’s Mt. Hood. But for me, Mt. Hood and the Going Queen are still more than a decade to the north in the arc of this story so back to Whitmore Road.
During the drive, the realtor explained that Whitmore Road was only paved in the last 20 years or so. Before paving, it was a dirt road that was cut in by German settlers in the late 1800’s looking for a place to grow hops. In some places, you could still see the old dirt road snaking its way alongside of us. In the early 1900’s, it would take the homesteaders living out in Whitmore three days by horse and wagon to get to Redding in order to trade for salt, tack and other supplies. They’d usually only drive their wagons down this road once a year but this was my second time in two weeks.
On our drive out there, you could see black tailed deer, wild pigs, coyotes, turkeys and cows everywhere you looked. On some days, you might even spot a ring tailed cat, lynx, a small herd of elk or the occasional black bear or mountain lion. In the snakiest of years, you’d see a dozen snakes on the drive out to Whitmore, a least a few of them Western Diamond Backs, warming themselves on the road. Sometimes, you'd have to slow down due to traffic.
At some point, the realtor pointed out a dirt and gravel turn off. This was Scarlet’s Run.
I drove in, throwing up a lot of dust, and parked near one of the structures. In the immediate area, there was a two-story home, a separate building with a garage & shop that stood across the gravel drive from the main house, another covered storage area, and a chicken coop.
I checked my cell phone. No signal. I was home.
Because I hadn’t planned this in advance, the realtor wasn’t able to get keys to the house on the property. The owner was out hunting and would be gone for a few weeks. From the outside, It looked like a serviceable home. It was built on a slope which fell away quickly into a shallow canyon. It had a deck on the sloped side of the house that overlooked a creek and the rising terrain on the opposite side of the canyon. A nesting pair of Bald Eagles were hanging out in some tall pines right across from the house. Stepping out of the car, you could hear birds, a light breeze in the trees and the ever present sound of water running downhill. And even though you couldn’t hear it, you could feel that underneath all of that was a profound silence.
Off in the distance, across two pastures, I saw the neighbor’s barn. Or at least, that is how I thought of it at the time. It wasn’t until a few months later, in the last weeks of a long escrow, that I got to see the “neighbor’s” barn up close.
I’d driven out to Scarlet’s Run to meet the seller so I could talk to him about buying his tractor. The seller guided me out across the fenced pasture area, we opened and closed a few gates and eventually got to a barn. Nervously, I asked him if he was sure it was ok if we were out here. He looked at me like I was odd and explained that it was ok for me to be in my own barn. What I had thought was the extent of the ’twenty acres’ I’d purchased was really only about five acres. This barn was a part of Scarlet’s Run, as was the fifteen acres of oak and grass covered pasture, a ‘rowing’ pond, another smaller pond, some little seasonal streams and a lot of ‘riverfront’ property on the other side of the barn.
Getting back to my story about stepping foot on Scarlet’s Run for the first time...
The realtor and I followed a path that wound down a hill which led us to the creek. The creek was much louder once you were standing next to it. It was explained to me that the southern property line went to the middle of the creek and was therefore underwater. To a city boy, this creek looked like a river. It was probably thirty-feet wide and fast moving. I climbed out onto an outcropping of flat rocks, which hung over a twenty-foot high waterfall that dumped into a deep swimming hole.
The creek had been cuting through the rocks of this small canyon for ages. The rock walls were worn smooth. You could see fossilized sea-shells and ammonites embedded the rocks everywhere you looked. There were thousands, if not millions of them. These ancient sea creatures were left behind when this part of California was once the bottom of the ocean in the Cretaceous period.
The realtor told me how you could jump off the rocks into the creek and swim under the waterfalls where a small cave was hidden from view. I got the feeling he’d been here before and done that himself a few times.
Standing there on the rocks that first day, looking down into the creek, with the thrum of the waterfall in my ears, the mist rising in the air from where the falling water boiled below me, I was overcome with emotion and cried. I thought that it should be illegal for any person to live here.
I told the realtor I would please like to buy it.
This was an October day in 2004. I knew the realtor was ready to start the drive back to Redding, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the water below.
I’d find out a few months later what it looked like in late spring when storms of heavy rain would mix with snow melt from the mountains and combine together and consume this canyon in a raging torrent. I would be standing in this same spot, knees weak from fear. What was safe, dry rock, high above the water on my first day in October would now be submerged the following April. I very carefully, and very stupidly, inched my way out to that same spot. By then I knew where the edge of the rock was, but you couldn’t see it any more. The entire waterfall, and that twenty-foot drop was now submerged. The insane roar all around me took my breath away. It was like holding your face one inch away from a open fire hydrant. The ground was shaking from the force of boulders that were unseen beneath the turbulent white water but were crashing down the canyon while whole trees shot past me. The slightest misstep and I’d be swept away.
And before the end of that same year, in November, I was standing in that spot again on the day of my wife’s memorial service. Staring at the once again peaceful autumn waters.
I was looking down at dozens of King Salmon slowly circling the swimming hole below the falls. They knew I was there but were too exhausted to care. They would swim up to the falls, try to leap up into the white water, and then slide back into the froth. You could tell that they knew they’d never make it, but were directed by whatever makes a salmon a salmon to keep trying. They’d swam to this deep spot in the creek, a few hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean, having passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, passing Alcatraz and Angel Island, following the same route that Scarlet and I used to sail, turned right at San Pablo Bay, passed through the delta sloughs, and found their way up the Sacramento River for their final journey north.
Biologist say that Salmon have this truly amazing and unexplainable ability to sense the very creek where they were born. They can ‘smell’ it. These giant Kings had hatched as tiny ‘fry’ and begin an epic journey of peril and death that very few survived. They fought for their lives, growing bigger and bigger as they they made their way down to the brackish sloughs of the Sacramento Delta, where the ocean waters brought in by the tide mixed with the fresh water from Sierra Nevada watersheds. Eventually, they pushed on, out to sea and headed up to Alaska where they lived out their brief adults lives. Then, some signal in their brains told them to come home. And they listened.
These big Kings I was watching, having made their way up the Sacramento River had sniffed out the waters of the North Fork of South Cow Creek and made their way back. This pool under this waterfall was their birthplace and that day on Scarlet’s Run was the end of the line for them. I stood in that spot and cried that day too.
In this blog entry, and the one before it, all the times that you read “I” it was actually a “We”. I’d had a partner in all of this. But soon after coming to Scarlet’s Run, something bad happened. My first wife had a heart attack on Scarlet’s Run. It was noon, on a Monday. It was just the two of us out there. She was thirty-four years old. Some things are too painful to talk about and the “I” is all I can manage to share with you.
A few of you reading this might want leave a comment of condolence. Your response is already felt so you don't need to do that. You and I both know there are no words. I already feel you, my sisters and brothers of the earth.
On that day, the lights went out. If it were not for the fact that my parents had moved in next door (which is ‘bout a mile down the road in these parts), I’m not sure what would have become of me in the immediate aftermath. Sometimes, it can get so dark, you need help finding the light switch again.
I met Jenny, and her her children Jordan and Halie, a few months later. Jenny was a survivor and showed me how I could do it too. About a year after we met, she and I became a “We” on December 31st 2006. She made Scarlet’s Run what it was to become, as I’m about to describe it to you. So when I start saying “We” in a minute, I want you know who I’m talking about.
But I had no idea this dark thing was coming my way when I was standing there that first day in October 2004, taking it all in. I eventually relented to the realtors request and agreed to head back. He said that I would need to return and look at the house when he could find the owner. I told him that I’d see it the day I moved in.
Driving back to San Francisco, I placed a call to they guy who’d helped me buy my house there. I told him to sell it. He asked me if I was sure. I repeated my request. The real estate market in San Francisco moves fast. Three days later the home in SF was sold. I hadn’t yet heard back from the owner of Scarlet’s Run about my offer to purchase when I had to start packing up my home in SF. It was the first of many times that I had to accept that life would move a lot slower out there.
Eventually the Shasta County realtor found the owner and closed the deal. I discovered that on ranch property, it’s typical to have a long escrow period due to the challenges of dealing with all the property and equipment. In this case, the escrow would drag out for three months. Having sold my house in SF, I had no place to live so I put all my stuff in storage and rented a house in Redding.
Sometimes at night, while I was waiting for those three months to pass, I would make the thirty-mile drive from Redding to Scarlet’s Run. It was like going back in time. I’d never seen so many stars in all my life.
Apologies for going off-roading on this topic again. I meant to tell you about Scarlet’s Run and how Jenny and I put a little dent in the world out there but so far all I’ve done is to tell you where it is and how I happened to end up there. As far as a remodeling blog goes, I’m striking out. Next time.