I’ve been in Mt. Shasta now for two weeks, with another two to go. I’m pegging this stop as my halfway mark in the journey, although since I am continuing to “make it up as I go along,” that may or may not be an accurate estimation.
The first week here I was surprised at how much I missed the ocean air. I had not known I’d grown so used to it. Also I was surprised at how my eyes were adjusting to the obvious lack of palm trees and familiar flora found farther south, seeing instead dark green pines and trees that had not yet leaved.
Believe me, I adjusted quickly. It’s gorgeous in this part of California. Yesterday I drove out to Stewart Mineral Springs Retreat, where, if I lived here I would have a full-time membership. I went for a badly-needed massage, my shoulder still giving me fits and my back and neck succumbing to the strain of all those hours spent sitting on my backside writing, writing, writing. I had no idea I could take a mineral bath, a steam or sauna, or dip in the ice-cold spring-fed pool or even go into the sweat lodge. I did not come prepared for all that amazingness, so I’ve promised myself I’ll return before I leave.
Stewart Springs is about 15 miles away from Mt. Shasta, on past a small town called Weed and up a narrow winding road. To get there I drove by sprawling terrain with cattle and horses, surrounded by high snow-capped mountains thick with tall dark pines. It literally took my breath away, and for a moment I had to stop Roadcinante right there in the middle of the road and just gape. To my left a couple of tiny foals took turns prancing and kicking around the field.
The weather has been pretty typical for what I know of springtime in any mountains. We are just coming out of a chilly spell, where each night it’s dipped down into the thirties, spitting snow and spoiling some of the braver white iris that had just opened, leaving the fragile petals droopy and sad. There are lots more buds, though, and pink flowering dogwood and redbud and lilacs and apple trees laden with white blossoms, and the scrubby White-leaf Manzanita, with its delicate pink bell-like blossoms and trunk the color of mahogany. The days warm up to mid-fifties and low sixties. Today it got all the way up to seventy. It’s been wonderful to be here and watch it all unfold. When I arrived May 1st, more than half the trees did not even have leaves yet. Now layers of lush green everywhere. And it is still light at 8:15pm!
Today I did laundry, parking on the street a couple doors down from the laundromat and next to a tamale stand, running back and forth to check on my clothing, add more quarters to the dryer, and so on. In between my running I sat with Roadcinante’s doors open, which meant I got to greet lots of passersby, and did some writing while the dogs napped quietly. I rewarded myself with a couple tamales – one stuffed with chicken and the other stuffed with a chile relleno – both fantastic. I topped it off with an ice-cold mango Jarritos that I could only drink half of, because I forgot how insanely sweet they are.
I whiled away part of the time chatting with the tamale vendor who graciously allowed me to practice my Español and did not laugh at me once, bless his sweet heart. (Spanish for snow: nieve, since we were talking about how much nieve piles up in Mt. Shasta during the winter months.) Over the course of our long and delightful conversation we talked about our kids, places we had lived, dogs we had known and loved, and other things. I adore how people here do not seem to be in any big hurry and are so friendly and welcoming.
After I finished the laundry chore I dropped by some places around town to put up flyers for my writing workshop that will be next Sunday (if people show!) and took my recycling to the drop-off center, located at one of Mt. Shasta’s larger parks that is right next to the high school. There are baseball diamonds and tennis courts and a skateboard/bike park and an ice rink, still with slushy gray ice in it, that doubles in summer as a roller-skating rink. I’ve seen toddler play groups gathered in the green grass there as well as intensely graceful Tai Chi practitioners. There are also the Mt. Shasta Community Gardens and a nice dog park.
I try to come every afternoon with the boys, so they can run and sniff and piddle and chase squirrels. During my first week, having watched the skateboarders and bikers flying around on the arcing ramps, I was just leaving the park as a succession of pick-up trucks and Jeeps, all of them with two- and three-inch lifts, came roaring in. I pulled aside as they flew past, a little irritated at these rude boys, when I caught sight of one of the drivers and saw a rosy-cheeked auburn-haired girl, her jaw set with some kind of steely intent. All young women, every last one. Bringing up the rear, a pale pink jalopy truck with enormous tires.
I later discovered they are softball players, meeting at the park every afternoon to practice. They are as fierce on the field as they are in their badass trucks. I watch them quietly, but something in me is cheering wildly.
I ended my afternoon by stopping at Big Springs, where I’ve now become a regular. This is the magical place where the Upper Sacramento River has its origin. The water bubbles out of the hillside and into a wide pool dotted with moss-covered rocks and clumps of watercress. People come with their cups and jars and bottles and sometimes much larger containers to catch the water right as it comes out of the earth.
The water is clean and crisp and ice-cold. I fill my jug and drink deeply, of the water and of everything around me – the sun on the headwater’s surface, the slight breeze stirred by the flowing movement, the dark purple lilac over to one side that has just bloomed, the rhythmic clacking of the passing Pacific Northern train, and the careful steps of the other pilgrims gathered here as they come forward, like me, with hands outstretched to catch the fleeting liquid moment.