It was early spring 1972, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. My young wife and I were considering our future. We studied a roadmap spread out on the kitchen table of our small Wherry house on the Air Force base. It was a Triple A map of the western United States. We had marked a circle around the name of a town with a strange name, and were trying to figure out how long it would take to drive there. And, we were silently wondering if that was where we really wanted to go. We had already made the decision, but there were lingering doubts. I guess that’s normal when you are trying to decide where you want to spend the rest of your life. “Look at this town,” I said, laughing and pointing to a town on the map south of our destination. “It’s called Dunsmuir. What a cool name. Sounds like a Scottish castle by a moor. It’s nestled in the forest along the Sacramento River. I’ll bet it’s beautiful. Hell, if Yreka doesn’t work out, we can go there.”
Using a ruler, I measured the distances between major towns and cities along the route, then added them up. Interstate 5 was incomplete back then, but taking that general route looked to be around 1,500 miles.
We figured it would take three long days to make the trip, averaging 500 miles per day. That doesn’t seem so daunting today, but our circumstances would slow us down. We were making the journey in two vehicles. One was a 1970 Mustang fastback, and the other a four-wheel-drive jeep, actually a 1967 Toyota Land Cruiser, which, by the way, we still own. Also, we were taking our one-year-old son, Bobby, and two dogs: Pokie, a black Labrador Retriever, and her big, lovable-if-not-too-bright puppy, whom we had named, “the Hulk.”
The moving van arrived at our house the next morning. Because we didn’t have much furniture, the van was loaded and on its way by noon. There was a ton of military paperwork to do that afternoon, so our plan was to be on the road the next morning. We were invited to spend the night with friends who also lived in base housing, a couple with a small child.
The next morning, our caravan set out for a new life adventure. I drove the jeep, accompanied by two rambunctious black dogs, and Ann drove the Mustang with a toddler. The jeep was (and still is) very spartan. It was … well … a jeep; noisy, bumpy, and didn’t go very fast; and it didn’t have a radio. As we headed west on Interstate 40, I thought, Bob, you’re going to have three days of solitude. Use them wisely. Think creative thoughts.
I did my best. It wasn’t so much creative thinking, as it was ruminating: nostalgic reminiscing and future dreaming.
I thought about our first five years of married life, four years of which were at the military base in New Mexico. It had been good. We had made friends, mostly military, but some civilians as well. Being stationed there was fortuitous, the luck of the draw. It was during the Vietnam time, and the luck of the draw could have been Southeast Asia. Toward the end of my tour of duty, the Air Force had put on a full-court press to recruit young officers like myself for a career in the Air Force. They actually flew us to Las Vegas one weekend and wined-and-dined us. A career in the military had never been my objective, but I admit to some second thoughts. Our military life had been good, and the JAG Officer’s pay and benefits were much better than the $800 a month that the law firm of Correia and Bacon had promised to pay me in Yreka. Also, I would be eligible to retire in only sixteen years, with a full military pension. But still … no regrets. I didn’t like having to wear a uniform, and we wanted to make our own choices about where to live, not have the government do it for us.
I visualized a future in a small rural town, sort of like a western movie. I pictured myself driving around the main street in the jeep, maybe with a rifle in a rack, waving and nodding to local friends and good ol’ boys. I pictured my family backpacking in the Marble Mountains, camping next to small mountain lakes, catching trout for dinner cooked on a campfire.
I imagined myself in an old-fashioned courtroom, looking like Gregory Peck, making an eloquent argument before a gray-haired bespectacled judge in a black robe. One thing I absolutely did not imagine: myself as being a bespectacled judge in a black robe, seventeen years later. Who would have thought?
On the third day of our journey, we drove up Interstate 5 through the town of Dunsmuir. We were on the home stretch, and didn’t want to take the time to stop. But, driving along, the visual impact was as breathtaking as I had imagined. It was a lovely day, and spring is a wondrous time. The mountain was bright white against a cloudless blue sky, and the Dogwoods were in bloom.
Today, I am writing this in the summer of 2020, forty-eight years later … reminiscing. Things actually turned out pretty much as I had pictured; better, even. After all, we’re still here. Shortly after we arrived in Yreka, we bought a Victorian house that was built in 1906. We still live there. Our daughter Carrie was born a year after we arrived, and both kids were raised in that Victorian house. After getting married, Carrie and her husband chose Yreka as the place they wanted to live, so now we have the next generation, two young grandkids, one in high school and one in junior high, who often frequent the house, sometimes sleeping over.
It’s been good, but, like life itself, not perfect. Right now isn’t so perfect. We are in the middle of a pandemic, pretty much quarantined to our house. School won’t resume as usual for the grandkids, and will probably be distance-learning, which sucks. Their normally-scheduled sports and other activities are being postponed, if not actually cancelled. We’re also in the middle of a drought and heat wave, with temperatures in the 100s. The outside air is thick from smoke from a wildfire somewhere in Modoc County. In big cities, thankfully many miles away, people are in the streets, looting, burning buildings, and hurting and killing each other. It’s a perfect storm.
But this too will pass. Won’t it?