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Camp Meeker Beat - Tom Austin - February 2016


Camp Meeker Beat - February 2016

by Tom Austin

As I write the February column for Camp Meeker, I am sitting in a most un-Camp Meeker-like location: at my parents’ house in Southern California – Orange County, to be exact. The contrast is rather striking, and brings home to me the reasons why I choose to live in a place rather uncharitably nicknamed “Damp Sneaker”. 

I am a fair-minded person, and therefore I will begin with the aspects favorable to the OC. This is easier than you might think, you smug and superior NorCalites. For starters, the sun is shining and a balmy breeze caresses my face. I know that huddling around your woodstove cradling your cup of herbal tea has its charms, but so does a nice warm blue-skied winter’s day. No, we’re not choking in smog; actually the air quality is quite a bit better than it was a couple of decades ago when I lived down here. Next: cultural ferment and diversity. The house I grew up in is now smack dab in the middle of Little Saigon, the largest concentration of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam. And by and large, Vietnamese people are awesome. They came here in 1975 as illiterate fishermen, the ones who helped the South Vietnamese elite smuggled their gold bars out of the country. Now they own the town. Three generations of scrimping and saving and keeping their money in the community. The first generation was the fishermen. The second generation became doctors, lawyers, and engineers because their Tiger Dads and Tiger Moms would accept nothing else. Now the third generation grew up with affluence and are becoming violinists, because their doctor and lawyer and engineer parents want them to have culture. Recognize the story? It’s the American Dream. Now I love me some Sonoma County, but compared to this, we are a little…monochromatic. It’s nobody’s fault; it’s more that country living is not for everyone. 

I know what you’re thinking; if the OC is so great, why did you leave? That’s a fair question. It’s not all sunshine and oranges here. This will be brought to you about five minutes after you get off the freeway. Five minutes generally spent still in sight of your off-ramp, stuck in the first of many traffic lights. This will be true whether you arrive at rush hour or at midnight. When you manage to get through the first few red lights, you will make your way to your destination along ruler-straight streets spaced at precise half-mile intervals. You will pass by identical housing developments and strip malls (and, cultural ferment and diversity aside, a strip mall with Vietnamese signs is still a strip mall). You will pass over what passes for a river. You will recognize a river by the wide expanse of concrete banks and the tiny rivulet of muddy water that trickles down the middle.

Compared to all that, what do we have in humble little Camp Meeker? Oh, not much. There is the aforementioned huddling around the wood stove. The joy of shoveling not snow, but wet leaves and mud from the front walk. There is the disappearance of the sun over the edge of the canyon by the early afternoon. What else? Not much. Just the ability to walk out your front door into the forest, the opportunity to walk to the ocean (and what an ocean it is!) with more chance of seeing a whale than a car. The chance to take your Gazette and find a quiet pool in the creek to read it by while your kids try to spot crawdads and steelhead fingerlings. The chance to palaver with the local raccoons and try to persuade them to tip over someone else’s trash for a change. The chance to fall asleep with rain-swollen Dutch Bill rumbling in your open windows. The chance to ride your bicycle on the same roads the professional riders use, past the same countryside that generations of photographers and painters have journeyed here to capture. The chance to come eye to eye with a golden eagle, or a dozen of them. 

What would you choose? I know my choice. For all the pleasures of Southern California, coming to live in the forest was like taking your first drink of water and realizing that you have been dying of thirst your entire life. Welcome home, Camp Meeker.