For a brief moment, before the arrival of all the local bikers and partiers, I find peace in our motel pool. Alone while B. naps, I watch as a slight breeze stirs milkweed floating on the surface. Soon, a father brings his young daughter in for a swim. I remember how on the way up to camp, my dad and I always chose a motel with a pool slide, eating dinner at the local Smorgasbord – back when eating out was a rare treat. This trip, getting up at night to use the bathroom, I have a sense of deja vu, walking in the dark, the same smell of damp in the room, air conditioner running.
My dad wasn’t a model father: he left his first family – with a son and two daughters. He also left my mom and me, eventually marrying the woman he would stay with, until his death many years ago. He was, like all of us, a flawed human being. But he did try, especially later in his life, to be a good dad.
Traveling to northern California’s McArthur-Burney Falls State Park, where Dad and I camped over 30 years ago, I find new buildings, everything changed. Somehow, though, it’s still the same: the falls, Lake Britton, filled with rainbow, brook, and brown trout; memories of fishing and cooking over our campfire, sipping Olympia beer. Wonderful smells instantly take me back: pipe smoke, moss, incense cedar, ponderosa pine, the sun’s heat on volcanic rocks – vesicular basalt? The indigenous plants of Burney Creek: the black and white oak, currant, maple; the spectacular scenic beauty of Burney Mountain and the surrounding Cascade Range.
As I approach the falls with B., all time falls away. It’s as if, by going once more down to that spot on the creek, I could, for just an instant, return to that moment in time, fishing in the stream with my father.
And suddenly, everything seems to come alive – huge butterflies lazily swooping in the midday heat, supersaturated green trees shot through with sunlight, sky ultramarine with tufts of white cloud. Lassen and Crater Mountains blue, ringed with snow. Wildflowers a morass of mountain lilacs, meadows aflame with California poppies.