• Otter Views: Lassitude at Lassen

    by Tom Stevens

    steerIf all goes well, travel vacations have a blissful “apogee.” In astronomy, that’s the farthest an orbiter gets from the body it’s circling before mother gravity pulls it back.

    In holiday parlance, it’s when the vacationing self achieves the greatest spiritual and emotional distance from the workaday self. A friend once called this state of mind “the end point of desire.”

    I’m told enlightened people experience this all the time, but I seem to have to drive long distances to get there. Even then, vacation satori is hit or miss. Sometimes luck trumps intention.

    My original intention was to find in the wilderness a clean, clear, sparkly body of fresh water to row across, swim in and camp beside. Ideally, I would also be able to drink the water after filtering it through a clever hand-pump unit purchased from REI.

    Hoping Ahjumawi Lava Springs would be this pristine body of water, I drove to Shasta County only to discover it wasn’t so. The Springs may have been pristine in pre-contact times, but now surrounding cattle ranches and rice farms decant enough waste into them to deter swimming and foul the REI pump.

    bearThen there is the steady tattoo of gunfire. After a relatively sleepless night camping at The Springs, I rowed back to the mainland, loaded up the truck, and stopped for gas at a garage in McArthur. “What hunting season are we in?” I asked the owner. “Ducks? Elk? Tourists? I heard shooting all night.”

    “Those are propane cannons,” he grinned. “S’posed to scare black birds out of the rice.”

    Relieved, I breakfasted next door at Myrtle’s Chit Chat beneath the solemn gaze of a huge longhorn. “Tex was a mighty fine steer,” read the accompanying ode. “To Albert’s heart he was dear. He stood on a hill on the road to Pittville, and lived ‘til his twentieth year. Now he overlooks the food being cooked . . . today at Myrtle’s Café.”

    Comforted that the region values poetic sentiment along with firearms and secession bids, I leafed through that week’s Mountain Echo. An article about the upcoming 95th annual Intermountain Fair suggested what sort of mettle longtime residents possess.

    The fair’s 2013 Destruction Derby would mark the 30th consecutive race appearance of Charles “Skeeter” Bethel, who set a high bar for personal grittiness. “One year Skeeter severed two fingers just a week before the Derby,” reported the Echo. “Surgeons reattached the fingers, and, with duct tape securing his injured hand to his chest, Bethel kept his string of driving in Derbies intact.”

    campfireMy own, far less noteworthy, driving took me next to the stream side town of Adin, which trumped even Myrtle’s Cafe in the mounted animal derby. Adin Supply, the big general store there, featured a dozen trophy heads and an entire stuffed bear. I bought a ball cap so I’d remember that place.

    Also memorable was the Modoc County Historical Museum in Alturas. A small and excellent repository of that region’s cultures, settlers and industries, the museum boasted a coal-fired locomotive outside and a prodigious gun collection inside. There was also an antique telephone switchboard, but it didn’t dial 911.

    My quest for a mountain swim led at length to Lassen County and Lake Almanor. But alas, its tributaries drain many cattle ranches, and the wind was kicking up whitecaps. Discouraged, I parked beside a bike shop in the amiably-named town of Chester.

    “Any swimmable lakes near here?” I asked the burly proprietor.   “How long you got?” he squinted. Rummaging beneath a counter, he produced a curious, Bingo-type grid card with seven rows of squares across and seven down. “I host a game for lake swimmers,” he explained. “There’s 49 lakes within a day’s drive of here. If you log them all, you win a tie-dyed tee-shirt.”

    “I just need one lake,” I said. “I’m nearing the apogee of my vacation, and I haven’t found the end point of desire.”

    He nodded. “Right fork as you head out of town. Eight miles on pavement, six more on gravel will take you to Juniper Lake. It’s coming up on Labor Day, though. You’d better get out there.”

    rowerReaching Juniper Lake in mid-afternoon, I was lucky to claim a campsite. I promptly pitched my tent, donned my swim gear and inflated my row boat. Feeling like some latter day Vasco da Gama, I circumnavigated the lake. Its waters were deep, clear, sparkly, pellucid, sun-spangled, luminous, gem-like . . . words fail me. And at the top of the lake was a shallow, sandy swimming channel.

    After a night blessedly free from propane cannons, I hiked the next morning to the even clearer, cleaner, warmer “Crystal Lake.” That was the end point of desire, and this is, therefore, the end.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on September 20, 2013

    Topics: Otter Views

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