Across the Alps

23 December 2011, from To the levee

From Fortuna, the road winds eastward. Highway 36 connects the coast to the valley, bouncing and turning its way around the Klamath Mountains. My mother and brother worked at a summer camp here, and the names of the towns echo around the rocks from the distant past: Hayfork, Mad River, Hyampom, Peanut. It’s wild country: as much as California seems soft and luxurious, this land is rocky, unpredictable. The little towns along the road face inward; their residents look up at the approaching little white rental car, and scowl a bit, sense the intrusion, put up their guard. As usual, I realize I’m low on gas, and hope I will make it to Red Bluff or Redding to fill up, or it will be a long night, the sunlight already fading fast in the chasms where the river roars.