I just got back from a visit near home yesterday. I got to hear some old-timers stories, eat some home-made baked goods, and gossip with some ladies.

In reality, Mark and I just got back yesterday from a site visit to Southern Humboldt County so that I could figure out logistics for the Annual Meeting in September. Much progress was made there, but that’s not what this is about.

Occasionally, I am lucky enough to get to take a trip up North for work. Last year, I made it up to Crescent City, 7 hours north of SF and almost in Oregon, a few times. I love it up there. The big trees have a lot to do with that. But, also, there’s the people. Every time I go up there, I hear stories ala Grandpa from some old-timer local, usually an ex-logger, and am usually mistaken for someone’s relative, not a city slicker, but someone who used to teach at the school or someone’s friend’s niece. Really. This happens every time.

I take it as a compliment.

A little about Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Driving, you don’t get to Humboldt County until you’re about 4 hours north of San Francisco. You don’t reach Del Norte County until at least 6.5 hours north of SF. It’s country.

In Humboldt County, the Eureka-Arcata area is the major town, the largest urban area between Portland and San Francisco. It has a small airport and a population of about 60,000. Humboldt State University in Arcata has about 7,500 students. For many years, logging was the major industry. Today, the hospital is the biggest employer. The Garberville-Redway towns have a population of about 2,000. The surrounding hills have thousands more people. The area used to be large ranches, which have been divided up into 30, 40, 80 acre parcels with a family on each. The Garberville area has a rich pioneering history, complete with river rats, ridge runners, moonshine stills, logging, farming, ranching and all of the tensions and trials that go with settling an area. This area has also been a beacon for hippies and people who want to live a more “alternative” life. So the locals are an intriguing mix. Just north of Garberville starts Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the first redwoods park, which contains the stand of redwoods that inspired the founding of Save-the-Redwoods League 90 years ago. Today, the redwoods provide a lot of tourism and service industry jobs. There are several very nice restaurants and lots of places to stay and camp. Humboldt County is also home to Pacific Lumber, Headwaters Forest, and all the lands that are contested in the PL bankruptcy.

In Del Norte County, the major town is Crescent City. The town and surrounding area has a population of about 15,000. The major employer used to be the timber industry and is now the prison. My favorite chicken fried steak in California is in a diner here. There are lots of chain restaurants and a few nice restaurants. The “hippie” population isn’t as prevalent here, so it’s a bit more country. There are lots of gorgeous redwood parks up here.

I’m from the country, a small town of 35,000 in mid-Missouri. Before we moved to town when I was in grade school, we lived on a farm, complete with chickens, goats, cats, sheep and a sheep dog. My dad helped my Grandpa farm soybeans, corn, and feed for cattle. My days were filled with making mud-pies, playing in the creek, reading books in my treehouse, fishing with Grandpa, baking with Grandma, picking corn and watermelons for the farmer’s market, and trying to steal the eggs from the rooster. I was a true tomboy. But we moved to town before I learned to hunt. That always has made me a little sad.

I went to university in a big city. I moved to California and have lived the last eight years in one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the nation. I’m still more comfortable barefoot up in a tree than I am at a fancy restaurant with three forks for my dinner or in Santa Cruz eating a tofu scramble. I can eat in a fancy restaurant without embarrassing myself (too much=) and I can do hippie handicrafts with the best of them. I’ve learned to do these things, but what comes naturally and what I feel most comfortable doing is making a pork chop gravy and listening to Dave’s stories about the ’64 flood.

So, when I go up North, I’m at ease, because it’s country. It’s the same folks as my family, making a living off the land. They don’t set out to rape the land, they just want to use the resources they have to do as well as they can for their family. It’s when big corporations got involved, in both farming and timber, that things got nasty. With this perspective, I can hear their stories and they can tell them to me. And it’s like being at the kitchen table with Grandpa.

That’s why the visit was like being home.

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