Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fern River Resort

On Highway 9, five miles north of Santa Cruz, by a bend in the San Lorenzo River, nestles this venerable motor court. About a dozen cabins stand, painted rust-barn red, under a canopy of redwoods. Willows, elms, and sycamores grow along the bank. A third of a mile up the road, a few minutes' walk brings you to Henry Cowell State Park with its mighty stand of tall trees by the Roaring Camp steam-powered railroad. Its whistles fill the woods as you stroll past the Frémont Tree where the explorer camped, or legend says.

The proprietors of this lodging on the plastic sign legally required on each door of each cabin wish you first of all, in a green font, "Contentment and Joy." They then list a long litany of complaints that the ecologically enforcing County of Santa Cruz requires of them, and they of you, according to more laws. These laws are not to protect the habitat and wildlife and watershed, in their interpretation. They are an intrusion by bureaucrats. Without them, one senses, the forests could be cleared and paved and those towing large trailers would not face a sign that they cannot use the ample driveways and circular turnabouts for ingress and egress of looming behometh and octaned leviathan. The trucks parked in front of some cabins were half the size of the dwellings.

Draconian restrictions on separating recyclables, fulminations against checking out late or coming in past 6 p.m. to arrive, and dire warnings that any "guest" visiting you over three hours will incur an additional charge for the havoc presumably wrought by his or her need due to his or her indoor plumbing to the owners' septic tank. A hot tub (adjacent to a tiny but neatly mowed green) enticingly is promised, but as with the charges for ping-pong paddles, volleyball (a net sits lonely on grass), and trail maps ($1), the added and itemized, ever increasing, actual expense and potential threat of intrusion dissuades even our two teenaged boys from woodcraft or even outdoor adventure.

On arrival (at #5 "Snowbelle") after unpacking, I hear the highway. I am surprised where all the traffic goes up and down from Santa Cruz into Felton, a mile away, or up to Boulder Creek, or over to Scotts Valley, but these slopes, despite their sylvan history as a getaway, grew into a bedroom string of communities for upscale dot.commers, recalcitrant hippies determined to live off the land growing, well, you know, and college grads who never want to go home. This borders the Silicon Valley. As expensive as town-gown lefty utopia greater Santa Cruz may be, it's less so than over the Mountain into the southern stretch of what even in my youth on a county map still promised "The Valley of Heart's Delight": proverbial stereotypes of fruits, nuts, and berries for California's millions, though fewer than today's forty. Tellingly, big-box ubiquitous chain OSH started there as "Orchard Supply Hardware."

The traffic hums and whirs. Caught in the nook between river and hill, the noise dopplers up and down. I walk down to the river, actually a creek about a tenth of the riverbed now. I try to sit, but neither bench nor flat rock allows me but to crouch. I attempt to compose my thoughts after eight hours on highways less tranquil than CA-9. I look out and see three types of trees as listed above. I realize that's about half the trees I can identify in nature. Despite my distaste of the city where I was born and bred, I remain a hopeless urbanite.

I do find that if I am very near the water, I cannot hear the road. Of course, as guilty as any Californian, that same asphalt sped our way here and will allow us not to tramp in mud as we visit Cowell, as we pop up for dinner at the Cowboy Bar & Grill 9/10 of a mile up in downtown Felton, The town drunk, or one of them, has a haircut like Georges Perec, whose "Life, a User's Manual" I am desultorily reading myself to sleep with at home. He leans into various women at the bar as the Phillies beat the Twins, or is it the Yankees the Red Sox? Can't tell from my chair.

Later, we walk next door to the Rite-Aid. Coddled if non-hypochondriac me rarely enters a drugstore, and my kids were already in the food aisle allowed, it being "vacation," $5 each for snacks. The Resort lacks a mini-bar, which is doubtless wise. I notice their tea selection, or similar lack, in case I am ever in need of it in the middle of a strange city on an odd night. I also point out the discrepancy in size between 11 ozs. of Raisinets (30% daily supply of anti-oxidents, the label encourages me) and 5.5 ozs. of Cranberry Raisinets, a misnomer, for I say aloud it should read "Craisinets." My family thinks it's the ale talking, but not only is the label wrong, you get half the amount for cranberries rather than raisins for the same maker, same $2.99. My culinary-skilled helpmeet patiently explains, as if to a doting elder or recalcitrant child, how cranberries are more expensive.

Doubtlessly a secret relief to my family, who drive away, I walk off. I need my daily constitutional, and we've been on the road all day. I digest tilapia, cornbread, and mashed potatoes (and a few carrots corrugated) along with ale. I enjoy my own return under a few bright and even colorful stars, so rarely seen by me, above the very high arches of trees above the highway. I leap aside into the mulchy leaves and pine needles in the gutter as I see headlights approach. There is often no light except what houses or highbeams give at some stretches.

We unveil on the bed what my wife warned we'd find, from her diligent research on Trip Advisor. (Compare her own take on events, unseen by me as of this writing my own: "More, More"). See pictured our spray-painted poly-plastic blanket, thin as what airlines used to loan you, and one small pillow each to match in texture, firmness, and density. No blankets despite for we Angelenos the cooler clime. Nothing in the room but a tiny remote the size of a computer mouse bolted into the wall. Our kids took over the double bed to watch basic cable. Mr. T. oohs and ahs over a halogen see-through cooker in an endless informercial before an audience that oohs and ahs and marvels on cue. Skanks roll around on their own rented beds at the Madonna Inn, which we passed up the 101 through San Luis Obispo. I reminded our elder scion how he micturated there onto a copper urinal, a waterwheel turning above him. It's that kind of place. Our kind of place? Kids watched t.v., dulled by the lack of their usual array of hundreds of channels into seeing How the Other Half Lives. Spouse tapped away on her laptop when the on-off connection permitted. It went off constantly. It then went on again. And off again.

Meanwhile, still getting around as with Perec to books I started in grad school, I skimmed Camille Paglia's "Sexual Personae" which perhaps appropriately or ironically after a bang-up starting chapter that left me in awe managed to by the Renaissance to peter out into the usual publish-or-perish morass. She chortled how every man leaves a woman after coition less than he entered her. Maybe the narrative thrust here follows suit.

Still, sympathetic by shared training if not daily avocation, I skimmed long chunks of our professor, in the mode of her mentor Harold Bloom, expound endlessly but not that interestingly on dozens of works I had little interest in-- a sadistic tale penned by Balzac-- even if I had knowledge of them-- Emily Bronte's "Wuthering Heights." I began to scan the tome for the good bits, few and far between. This book made her reputation, twenty years ago. I wondered how many readers, as with another Bloom, Allan, made it past the first few chapters. Still, I admired her spunk. I'm not leather-jacketed, bisexual, or rock-belting, but I am what she was, an outlier from the usual ivory tower niches; she managed to both get the gig that made her reputation while enlivening, a little, the usual lit-crit jargon. A feminist, but perhaps a likable one. Rare in academia. Although she gave in to the lure to sound like everyone else much more than I'd have anticipated, Paglia still resisted the monotonous call of the tenured siren, somewhat. She managed a joke and/or a smirk now and then. For this small comfort I allowed her much patience and great leeway.

In moments free of angst borne up from the six-hundred pages I held, I listened to the lack of what to listen to, if the blaring t.v. could be (as I had to learn early on in my childhood household) silenced internally so I could get back to reading and/or brooding. Many Trip comments berated said surly and/or ESL-challenged staff and woeful amenities. However, the price as you'd expect was not as rock-bottom as I'd wished. I suppose to pay for cable if not blankets. Or hot showers. Yet, it was more right than that arranged, say, by our friends who stayed at a Holiday Inn Express toppling over CA-19's on-ramp in hideous strip-mall Scotts Valley.

I made friends with a grey tabby, no collar, the next morning, and gave him milk from a box we carried. He sauntered in and took charge of our meager fare. The next and last morning I wanted him to come back for the dish of milk I'd saved-- we were afraid to leave it on the back porch for fear of the Management. I sat on the porch on another plastic item, a chair next to a grimy ashtray, and pondered the stands of the three trees I knew above a small slice of white-capped nudge that showed the water over a few pebbles in the creek that was named a river.

In my hands, I held my thick volume number two, the Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, if sadly left unedited-- they needed an editor-- as Bob, whose one-year wedding to Chris (who works to protect the County's watershed) we had come up to celebrate, had reminded me in a response to Jack Kerouac's "Some of the Dharma" sprawling mess of Merton's similarities. In my lap, I waited for the cat who never came back, holding the worn but never yet-opened New Directions paperback I'd bought half-off at UCLA student store perhaps twenty-five years ago. Remaindered sticker, $8.50, still stuck over a front cover of that smiling Trappist monk, pen in hand. He knew about nature, hermitages, cities-- perhaps even about cats.

So, more about the destination of the wedding reception at tomorrow's entry, "Quail Hollow Ranch." For now, I take home a sliver of calm, for we must wrest it from our daily hubbub, unless we are monks. Even Merton railed against the Cheesemakers, the Loggers, the Looky-Loos at the monastery he found not so fortified against the petty outside world we all crowd within. We all want a resort, and we all demand a retreat in the nature that we come to witness and to demolish so we can get closer to it. For now, in the uneasy trade we all make on this earth, we bargained for a bit of calm and made the better deal.

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