I write this from the picnic bench outside my cabin at Caples Lake. Inside the cabin, five feet away, I can’t access the place’s wi-fi. But outside, amidst the buzzing flies and with the lake only fifty or so feet away, I have a bare blip of a connection. So, here I am.
The two hour drive here was an odd trip down memory lane for me. I’ve lived in Sacramento since March of 1966, when I was just over a year old. Sacramento’s biggest claim to fame is that it is halfway between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. Well, except for that whole Gold Rush thing (but, then, that didn’t actually happen in Sacramento), and … wait a sec, something will come to me. OK, maybe not.
Yes, Sacramento is known as the place between. For far too many people, there is no here in Sacramento, only there … meaning the mountains and the ocean.
For forty-six years, the Hwy 50 corridor to South Lake Tahoe has provided me with a lot of memories and it was part of my trip today. I started thinking back to all those times we drove the road when I was a kid. For sledding at Strawberry Hill, for a week at Echo Lake, for camping along the shores of Lake Tahoe, and for other reasons I no longer recall.
There was this cool place in Cameron Park called Sam’s Place. It had an arcade and skee-ball, sawdust on the floor, and served up basic food like hot dogs and hamburgers. It was a regular stopping point on our way to Tahoe, like the Nut Tree headed in the other direction towards San Francisco. Years ago, Sam’s Place disappeared in the name of progress. Now, there are strip malls and chain restaurants in its place. How does a place like Sam’s survive in a time when everything has to be chain. There’s an Applebee’s there, a Safeway, a FoodSource, a Quality Inn and Suites, fast food restaurants, and … well, just too much. It was a better place when it was Sam’s.
I remember coming back from Tahoe and always knowing when we were nearing home. There’s a curve in Hwy 50 that brings you out of the hills and presents you with the Central Valley. At night, the lights of Sacramento and its suburbs would twinkle in the distance, bringing us home. I wanted to get a picture of it on the way out today, but couldn’t. Hopefully on the return.
As I grew older, I made those trips myself. With friends to play blackjack at the casinos, with my own kids to play in the snow and see the wonders of Lake Tahoe. One of the things that struck me as I drove through the mountain roads today, was how I used to always drive down the two-lane mountain roads that knife through the forest …
… and think about writing a story about what hides or lurks in the forest’s interior. It was probably a Stephen King influence on me, but I thought that regularly back in the days when I wanted desperately to write, but had no idea to go about doing it.
At about the halfway point today, I passed Jenkinson Lake, which provides me with two memories.
First, in the sixth grade, I went with my class for a weeklong trip there. No parents, just a bunch of pre-teen punks and some teachers and chaperones. One of the activities was a hike around the lake, which that year wasn’t so bad because it had been a dry year and the lake was much reduced. What I remember was that several boys who wandered off at some point were assigned the valuable chore of lugging large rocks the rest of the way as punishment. Other than that, it’s just a black hole.
I think about that and realize that a lot of these things we do for our kids to give them experiences and memories, over the years, will become just like my trip to Jenkinson Lake — a recollection that it happened, but not a whole lot more. It’s a shame we don’t find a better way to hold on to these memories.
My second experience at Jenkinson Lake came about 15 years later when I spent a 4th of July camping there with friends. It was the first, last, and only time I have ever camped where there aren’t showers and the toilet was nothing more than a hole in the ground with a ramshuckle structure put up around it. More importantly than that though was the stupidity of the guys in the group. This is a place where fireworks are illegal. There aren’t illegal and legal ones. They are all illegal. Of course, one of the guys brought fireworks of the “illegal everywhere” variety. After the sun went down two or three of the guys took their rockets out to the end of a spit of land that jutted out into the lake and set them off. Ten or fifteen minutes later they were escorted back to our campsite by a couple of forest rangers. 🙂
Ten miles from Caples Lake, I turned a bend and spotted Thunder Mountain and Silver Lake.
In my early twenties, my parents started spending a week here every summer. After a couple of years, they started to invite their children to join them. For more summers than I can remember, it became a tradition. They rented two six-person cabins and we spent part or all of a week together. The parents, the kids, significant others and spouses, and eventually grandchildren. It finally got too big … fifteen people can’t fit into two six-person cabins, but I look back at those days we spent at Silver Lake as probably the best family time we ever had.
Hiking, kayaking, relaxing, drinking beer, playing cards and games until late in the night. Talking, spending time together, and for the most part, it was all positive. The first couple of times I went up there was when I was in law school and, as I told everybody back then, after a year of classes and full-time work, what I wanted to do at Silver Lake was absolutely nothing. So, frequently, while everybody else was hiking every day, I was sitting at the cabin, enjoying the peace and quiet.
Eventually, however, I joined in the hiking fun. Hiking over this ridge to a lake on the other side.
Hiking to the top of Round Top with my brother one year.
This is, by the way, the view from the parking lot where I’m staying the next few days. Round Top is the rounded peak in the middle. To climb it you have to hike a few miles in and then spend 45-60 minutes scrambling up loose rock to get to the top. From there, on a clear day you can see Yosemite to the south.
Beyond those hikes, though, there were many others. My oldest, when he was four and a half, joined us on a four or five mile hike that took us to Frog Lake, Winnemuca Lake, and Woods Lake … without a complaint and with a smile on his face. He was a little trooper.
[Edited to add] I can’t believe I forgot to add this. Thunder Mountain is hike-able, also. Family members did that hike those first few years when I wasn’t that into it, so I never did. New goal (time to update the Bucket List again) … hike Thunder Mountain. But, I have a great memory of Thunder Mountain (and, seriously, how can you go wrong spending vacation time by Thunder Mountain?). Silver Lake has regular summer thunderstorms late in the afternoon. During one such storm, while we were at the opposite end of the lake, my mother and I had the brilliant idea of trying to get a picture of lightning striking Thunder Mountain or at least in the sky above Thunder Mountain. Being the exceptionally smart people that we were, we stood in the wide open space at the end of the lake with our cameras out in the middle of a thunder storm. I’m so glad lightning didn’t find us. And, no, unfortunately, neither of us got the picture we were looking for.
There are so many memories of our time at Silver Lake. I didn’t realize they would hit me as hard as they did as I made this drive. Our family, I think, was happy there. I know that the memories of my kids back then help provide a little balance to the struggles I have with them now that they are teenagers. I just wish there was a way to grab a little bit of that magic that existed when they were younger and sprinkle it on our lives now.
Unfortunately, it’s not just with my kids, but with my larger family as well. After we got too big for Silver Lake, we spent a couple of years going to Convict Lake and then a couple more at Lake Tahoe, before essentially calling it a wrap on the family get-togethers. Too much stuff, too much words, too many feelings rubbed raw in different ways, make the get-togethers more difficult. I wonder if we’ll ever do it again. I’m guessing not and it’s too bad, but it is also reality. People grow in different directions and frequently grow apart. What worked one year doesn’t necessarily work the next. But, we have these memories. I hope, unlike the memories of my sixth grade trip to Jenkinson Lake that are now not much more than a black hole, that the memories I have of Silver Lake, of my family in happy moments, and of my children when they were beaming with the simplicity of a few days at a lake, don’t find a black hole to slip into. They’re too precious, still too real.