“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” - Langston Hughes
“Camping: Nature’s way of promoting the motel industry.” -Dave Barry
Our stay in Eureka stretched to four days. Four warm and cozy days, in the studio apartment of Miles’ old college friend, filled with lively plants and the scents of lavender and sun-warmed cotton. The windows of his second floor abode framed a fan of tree branches, which I awoke to each morning. (It should be noted that at that point we still hadn’t spent any time camping. Our vision of ourselves as smoke-soaked spartan explorers of the west was gloriously tarnished by a downright dude ranch lifestyle, as we basked in the company of friends, walls, roofs, and beds.) Miles’ friend was generous and kindhearted. As we walked around the late night Eureka streets I listened to them banter about philosophy and their shared history, drunk with booze and happiness. On Tuesday it was time to leave. Slowly we untangled ourselves, and departed.
We began our hunt for camping grounds. The clouds that had been following us began to fatten themselves on evaporated sea and lagoon waters, and storm fronts skittering down the coast line. I eyed them warily as the bottoms of them began to shred and scatter to make way for rain. The landscape was a quilt of contrasts: the steely gray of the Pacific and deep blue of the mountains, threaded through with soft white fog that rose up into the batting like spent ghosts. The afternoon began to seep into evening when we finally found The Emerald Forest Cabins and Camping, tucked into a shallow ravine between 101 and the ocean.
Our first night was the kind they call the first pancake: the fire took an hour to start; our dinner was a can of soup and some chopped green onions; I shivered in inadequate warmth until I ended up throwing my jacket over my legs and ignoring the ice seeping into my brand new REI sleeping bag of misery. However, daylight changes everything. In the morning, feeling successful after having not died in our sleep of bear mauling or rain-drowning or starvation or burning, we packed up and began the next stretch of journey with light hearts, eventually making our home in Big Lagoon.
Big Lagoon is a part of the Redwood National Forest. One in a string of lagoons that hangs like a bejeweled necklace along the throat of upper California’s restless coast, it is a meeting place for waters of every kind. Here there is rain, fog, mist, fresh and salt waters, and the damp spirits of drowned sailors and foolish, trusting gold seekers. Their eyes, dazzled by the layered landscape, could not tell sea from sky from land. It is all blue. As far as the eye can see.
And here was where nature, and the weakness of man, would test our mettle. We built a fire with more swiftness and success, and cooked a real meal (beans, rice, broccoli and onions) all within the confines of our lagoon-side campsite framed by moss covered redwoods. A spongy, dryish forest floor promised a comfier sleep, and by twilight, that deep cobalt hour that only the sea can provide, we were ready for sleep. At 2 a.m., the patter of rain began, increasing steadily- but I was not concerned. The tent walls were dry, and I was much warmer than I’d been in the Emerald Forest. Back to sleep I went. When I awoke, my feet were in a puddle.
REI, that beacon of mankind’s penchant for preparedness and reliability, had sold us a doozy.
And so, on we went. Without a tent we were left contemplating our funds and thus the everchanging map of our path. We decided there was nothing for it but to head straight for the nearest REI to replace our leaky home. That meant chopping off a leg of our planned trip, missing out on many places and people we wanted to visit. Soaked in rain and annoyance, I didn’t care too much except that I wanted to go to the Hoopa Reservation and visit my grandpa, buried in the low lying cemetery near the bank of the Trinity river. So we went. Into the mountains and away from my beloved Pacific. Up, up into the redwoods and then descending into the Hoopa valley, lush now with grasses and blossoming dogwood, plum, and redbud. The river running at first a brilliant turquoise and then a wild, heavy mud brown with leftover winter wash-outs, flanked by smooth gray river stones. If you ever get the chance to see it you will be awed by this valley. In the winter and spring the staggered, blue-hued mountains roll grandly into the mist like sleeping giants, pattered against the sky like the weave of a willow basket. The earth feels wide open and unending here. History and luck have allowed this valley to remain nearly as it was before miners and missionaries traversed the sacred Trinity in that unending hunger for resources and power. Today you will see poverty and peace like any other place, but it is different. Every reservation is.
We will leave tomorrow but something of this place is going to travel with me. A restlessness resides in my heart surrounding my place in this world, here where the reservation and the “outside” meet. I’m a tribal member now, assigned a number and everything. But I am not a part of the reservation, not its culture nor its politics; therefor, at its heart, I am not a member of the tribe. I am as much of a stranger to them as they would be to you. However, a familiarity walks alongside that restless displacement within me. Those mountains are as dear to my heart, I think, as the crashing, unconquerable Pacific sea.