Don Rogers: How to tell you’re there
I took the job here reluctantly in 2016. The Scooper satire that had me refusing the transfer back then was dead on at its core, if not the fact. This can be told now, I think.
I was good where I was. Loved the job, the community, the wilds, the challenge in Vail, Colorado. But not everyone in my family was satisfied. My wife pined for these climes, this region. She brought it up — “Why can’t we live here?” — every time we visited, which was nearly every year.
I don’t blame her. Mostly, I agreed.
I agreed Grass Valley and Nevada City were great. This whole region is awesome, ideally situated close to ski country without being buried half the year, and near enough to the ocean with the straight shot on Highway 20 to her beloved Mendocino Coast.
There was the grandson, now two of ’em, up at the lake. The lake! The old friends from college sprinkled throughout northern California, including here and Truckee.
And we’re just a scenic drive through Downieville to Quincy, where marriage, children and the newspaper career all began.
Still, I would have stayed in Vail if just me. Good thing this was a family decision.
That’s the deal, right? Start a family and it’s no longer just you. There’s another, and another, maybe another and pretty soon you have a team, if you’re lucky.
So we made a team decision. We would move. Plenty of Nevada County residents have done the same, those unlucky enough not to have been born here.
If you’re raised in a place, you might not fully appreciate what you have. I didn’t. I fled Hawaii, twice. The kids turned their noses up at Vail. My wife South Bend, Indiana. OK, some of that’s understandable.
My wife asks, less often now: “Do you miss Vail? Do you wish you were still there?”
I tell her the same thing every time. “We’re not rearview mirror people.” It’s not a full answer, and so she’ll ask again, I think with the unasked: “Are you happy here?”
I’m the aloha spirit on this team. I am happy here, but this too is slippery. I was happy at all our stops, including west shore Michigan, farm-field Illinois, Upstate New York, all those places where if my grandfather didn’t go to kindergarten with your grandfather, well, you’re a tourist. And yes, as happy to leave, too.
We spent 17 years in Vail, raised the kids, left with a different color of hair than when we arrived. I believed I had a hand in building something there with the paper. Loved the people as well as the mountains and the trails. Couldn’t imagine I’d find here what I left there, including my writing group. Never could hope to replicate that.
Hah, but I was wrong. The literary interest and community here is so strong. Bookstores everywhere. Authors, too. Mentors all.
I’m still in awe of Sands Hall, her memoir “Flunk Start” on my nightstand at last after my daughter finished it with enthusiastic reviews to everyone she meets. Sand’s brother-in-law, Louis B. Jones, the novelist. Sister Brett Hall Jones, who I’ve gotten to witness running one of the top writers conferences in the land in Squaw Valley.
Jordan Fisher Smith, whose “Engineering Eden” is a flat out classic in the “Sand County Almanac” vein, I’m convinced. It’s also a California Book Award winner. Appropriately, Jordan gave the first Starker Leopold lecture last night in Berkeley — to some of the best and brightest in environmental scholarship.
Josh Weil, the unassuming Pulitzer killer, beating two of ’em in other contests with his novel “The Great Glass Sea” and short story collection “The Age of Perpetual Light,” now in paperback, also a California Book Award winner.
And Rachel Howard, Yuba Lit’s founder who took time to encourage my fiction efforts and point me to my new writers group. Now I’m not sure I could live without this group. I went from great to sublime.
I’m so over the top probably because Vail literary wise is more desert, think Nevada, compared to this oasis.
The fiction writing hobby is still new, not me until my hair went gray and my basketball game south. In this, at least, I’m a young buck rubbing velvet on the bark of a meditative art, something I’ve grown convinced we all need to live our fullest.
Doesn’t have to be writing. Woodworking, working on cars, playing music, painting or crayoning in or outside the lines, even straight up meditating if you can free your mind — whatever gets you surfing those brain waves and resetting those neural pathways.
The gold vein I found here runs wider and deeper than mentioned so far — colleagues, new friends, a whole ’nother set of trails and ski hills to explore.
I’m starting to think the only way I’d avoid looking back from here is not to leave at all. There are worse ways to choose a home.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union, Lake Wildwood Independent and Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.
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