Noe Valley Voice September 1999

Some Unforgettable Summers

By Florence Holub

While everyone in town appears to be rushing off happily to some faraway place, my man Leo and I seem to have lost the urge to leave this pleasant comfortable spot on the map. Perhaps that's because we have such an exciting store of memories to draw upon.

Our thoughts often go back to when we were growing up in the '20s. California was comparatively uncrowded, and there were a variety of lakes, rivers, and seashores not far from the city, with pure water to swim in and sandy beaches to bask on. In those days, it was safe, even enviable, to acquire a tan.

Both Leo and I had the kind of devoted parents who treated us to summer excursions. So naturally, after we met, married, and produced little boys of our own, we followed their example -- as soon as the time was right.

That occurred after World War II when we had acquired our dream car, a 1948 wood-paneled Ford station wagon, the last genuine "woody" to be made. (We still have it, up on blocks up in Grass Valley, where our son Jan lives.) This spacious vehicle spurred us to equip ourselves with sleeping bags and camping gear. Then, decked out in Levis and hiking boots, our family of four went exploring.

Our sons learned to swim on their own in a single afternoon, in a small backwater adjoining the Yuba River between Marysville and Grass Valley.

On another memorable day, close to the Nevada border, we stopped at a roadside rest to eat our lunch. As we approached the picnic table, we suddenly halted in our tracks, startled by a slithering movement next to an overflowing garbage can. It was a big, fat, patterned snake, perhaps a king snake. We quickly turned to warn the boys, but then heard the car door slam -- they were already safely inside and rolling up the windows. We ran to join them and drove off to have our lunch elsewhere.

One weekend we found a camping site in Jackson Meadow in Sierra County. It was a secluded spot where few people ventured, and we enjoyed the silence and nearness to nature -- that is, until the wilds of nature came too close for comfort. That night, long after we had crawled into our sleeping bags stretched out on the ground, we were rudely awakened by a shrill bugling and stomping that reverberated throughout the forest.

In the clearing about 30 feet away we could see the cause of the disturbance -- a big antlered buck elk proclaiming his territory. We lay breathlessly until he left, but as soon as the sun rose, we felt obliged to depart.

This event spurred us to modify our sleeping arrangements while camping. Leo built a support for inside the woody to hold a sheet of plywood topped by a mattress. The bed snugly accommodated our family -- Leo, me, and our young sons Michael and Jan. (Our youngest, Eric, hadn't arrived yet.) And the empty space beneath the plywood provided storage for all of our supplies. When the tailgate opened, it became a counter, perfect for serving food!

The woody's "bedroom" and "kitchen" were especially useful when we traveled to higher and colder elevations, such as Lassen National Forest in northernmost California. I remember one trip where we settled into a fine but cold campground near Juniper Lake.

Early in the morning we packed a lunch and set out for the lake, which was a few miles away. It was an easy stroll and we passed only one fisherman, heading in the same direction and carrying a canoe on his back.

We arrived at the lake about lunchtime, so we sat at the water's edge watching a large black and white loon shrieking crazily, flying above the surface of the water. When the man with the canoe arrived, out of courtesy we moved to the far end of the lake. There we admired the huge pastel-colored cone of volcanic ash that jutted out over the water.

When it came time to go, we decided not to return to camp along the same trail, but instead to take "the loop" back, which we thought was about the same distance. But before we had walked very far, the path became a series of hills, up and down, through pines and brush. Nevertheless we plodded on, hiking for hours. About 6 o'clock, it occurred to us that we might be taking twice as many footsteps as on the earlier trail.

The sun sank in the west as we trudged. Then came twilight, and finally nightfall, and we still had no idea how much farther we had to go. By then it was so dark that we couldn't see the path, so Leo took the lead as we all got down on our hands and knees and began to crawl along blindly, feeling our way along the worn earth.

Our little boys were sturdy and uncomplaining, and we tried to make light of our adventure. Still, the crawling was becoming very tedious when out of the darkness came a voice: "Hello! Are you the lost campers? You look like a family of raccoons!"

It was the park ranger with a flashlight, who had noticed that our family had not returned to the campsite. Fortunately, the man with the canoe had told him that we had taken the long way home. We were rescued!

With his light the ranger led us back to camp, where we happily but wearily collapsed into our sleeping bags in the station wagon and didn't awaken until the sun came up.

Before leaving Lassen Volcanic Park the next day, we climbed up to view the crater, going across a snowfield and up to the smoking peak. There was a handrail to hold onto while we peered down into the crevice, which exuded a vapor of evil-smelling sulfurous gas. Leo and I turned to make sure the boys were holding onto the rail but discovered that they preferred holding their noses in disgust.

As we left the park we passed a deep blue lake, and although it was summer, the lake was set in a field of gleaming white snow, a beautiful sight.

But not as beautiful as our woody!