After driving for four hours through an amazing diversity of terrains; acres of tall pines that carpet the ground beneath the eternally impressive Mount Shasta, the enticing dark-green forests of the Shasta-Trinity National Forests, and then the flat, volcanic boulder littered land of the Mount Lassen area, I arrive in Susanville, California.
First stop is the Lassen County Museum. I love spending time in small town museums, the older and dustier the better (perhaps one reason my kids are invariably busy when I ask them to go on trips with me). This is a new museum, but still charming. The highlight is my accidental tour by an 84-year-old man named Duane. He does not want his picture taken so I’ll tell you about him. Duane stands a few inches shorter than me, walks haltingly (due to arthritis, he tells me) and his kind looking expression wears what seems to be a permanent grin. Duane has lived in South Dakota and Southern California, but has resided in Susanville for many years.
He’s quite proud of the town’s new museum but is even more enamored with Roop’s Fort, a small log structure that stands next to the museum. Roop’s Fort was built in 1854, the oldest place in Lassen County. We peek in the barred window at the dirt floored, perhaps ten by twenty foot room and Duane wonders out loud how five men and a trading post could have all called this place home. Then he points out several bullet homes in the exterior logs that hit Roop’s Fort in 1882 during the Sagebrush War, a complicated and silly squabble over money, land and hurt feelings, same as with most wars.
While we admire the old building, I ask Duane about Oregon 7, who has recently traveled through Lassen County and is my reason for being in this part of the country. Duane’s heard of the wolf but doesn’t say much about him. He does say that cougar come down from the surrounding hills once in a while, but that there aren’t any grizzly bears around any more, except for the Lassen High Grizzlies, who he says are a pretty tough lot. He’s wearing a Green Bay Packers hat, a footfall fan through and through. My dad and Duane would have had a lot to talk about.
My Bed and Breakfast, the Roseberry House, is resplendent, the nicest home in town from what I can see. Two stories filled with antiques, old-fashioned wallpaper, sweet smelling soaps. My host, Richard, greets me, then runs to the kitchen to take out a batch of chocolate chip cookies, prepared for no one but me. I settle into my room, then take a couple of the plate-sized cookies onto my private balcony that overlooks the neighborhood. A group of young girls stretch out on a blanket on their grassy lawn. A light-yellow Labrador puppy interjects his gangly self on their party, which the girls don’t seem to mind. Across from this, a middle-aged couple sits in their yard beneath the shade of a sycamore and sip what looks like Sangria. Cars line the streets and I see the old brick buildings of downtown.
How comfortable we all are, what a pleasant scene this is. I’m glad to be here, yet I can’t help but consider, as I often do, what price our comfort has enacted upon this place, as with most places. What now comprises manicured lawns, roads, sidewalks and buildings was once rich soil that fed plant life that fed wild herbivores, which in turn fed predators. The tall ridge overlooking the town was once home to California grizzlies and gray wolves. It must have been so quiet here, without the noise of traffic and the constant spray of sprinklers.
I don’t count the girls voices as noise. There are six or seven of them in the yard now; a few more have arrived on pink and baby blue bikes. They talk, lay side by side in the shade, one reads a book. The girls are an integral and endearing part of all this; the sweet smell of the lilacs, the dark green grass, the sound from the breeze-rattled leaves of a birch tree, the sunshine that tans their arms and legs.
But a price has been paid and there’s no going back from the civilization we’ve created and the future it will exact. As time passes, the concrete will only grow closer to the homes, leaving less grass for kids to play on, less room for a dog to safely roam. I think of the small stagecoach on the porch of the Lasson County Museum. Dwaine told me the coach ran from Susanville to Klamath Falls on a narrow dirt path that is now a wide, main road. That was only a hundred some years ago.