My last post was called “Of Stillness and Slow Time”, since then things have got more still (stiller?). I am now staying in a small hotel -3 rooms, no wishing well- no phone, no internet. If I hike cross town, that is past as many as six buildings, I arrive at the internet cafe. It is furnished with sturdy tables and chairs and free internet access. Pas du café. Something about a permit as yet not granted. I hear rumours of available phones at, for example, the Laughing Squirrel Restaurant. The laughing squirrel seems to have split, leaving the field to Mommy’s Roadhouse. Excellent Angus burgers and maybe a phone there somewhere. We tried semi-phore. I am on the second floor on a height of land. Smoke signals are out pending an end to the draught. Shank’s mare works. Just walk up and knock on the door. Thus was I summoned to breakfast this morning.
Amazing how restful it is! My smart phone turns into a stupid phone up here where AT&T gets no reception. Still coping with the altitude, I went to sleep at 8 p.m. and didn’t wake up until 6. Blissfully out of touch.
When I first got here I received a relayed call from a shut-in to bring Black American Spirit. I went to the closet to find a black t-shirt made by that company in L.A. that insists on making its garments in the U.S. Only to discover it is the name of a cigarette.
Before I moved to the small hotel, I borrowed the Prius one morning to go to the Bear Claw Bakery for croissants. I couldn’t find the usual electronic key. I grabbed the second one. I walked up to the car, pressed unlock. Got in. Put the key in the coffee cup holder, started up and drove away. I bought the baked goods, returned to the car. The door wouldn’t unlock. I tried again. I tried the other doors. I tried the trunk. It’s a hatchback after all. I took out my stupid phone and gave it a good talking to. I left the croissant bags on the roof of the car and went back into the bakery. Could I use the phone? Wordlessly the chap I call the grumpy baker handed it to me. I called home. Eventually, someone woke up and answered. That remote key doesn’t work. Hasn’t for years. How did I even get the car to go? Hard to explain how to extract the manual key. Help would arrive via golf cart. Meanwhile I managed to get the actual key out of the remote device and unlocked the door. Now the dash kept telling me “no key”. There was a slot below the ignition button. I poked and prodded. I swear I was about to insert the remote key -well, I would have figured it out given five more minutes- when the cavalry arrived.
The town is remote and perched at 5000 ft. The road up is serpentine. For 30 years, people could and did die waiting for an ambulance. Recently, a helicopter pad was built so that emergency patients can be air-lifted to the Bakersfield hospital. Even so, not everyone arrives alive as we learned last week. In addition there are now paramedics stationed here at the new fire hall. Imagine having to wait half an hour to an hour for the fire trucks to arrive in a town of wooden houses and tinder dry forests.
Today the ribbon cutting ceremony for the fire hall was scheduled for high noon. In deference to my low-land lungs, we drove over. “The whole town is out,” my companion declared. “Really?” I replied. “It’s a small town,” she rejoined. In fact it was just mountain time all over again. We stood in the shade with a dozen other people, all willing to chat. Noon passed. Twelve fifteen passed. Gradually others began to arrive. The crowd doubled and tripled. Around 12:25 -I shouldn’t have even noticed of course – the dignitaries arrived. In due course and with blessedly few speeches, events unfolded.
It had taken over 30 years to get the fire hall and much lobbying and in-fighting, marching with banners and the deaths of two beloved residents. Finally Kern County agreed to build it. It cost 9.5 million and came in 10 months ahead of schedule because there were no snow days. That would be because of the 5 year-long drought. President Obama has declared this a disaster area.
The fire hall is a thing of beauty. Since it is our fire hall, we got to tramp through it. It is still waiting for its brand new furniture, but everything seems to be of the best quality. Stainless steel and granite counters. Two person bedrooms with private bathrooms and built in desks set under the window. One room to accommodate a person with disabilities. (Fire halls are also refuges for battered women, as well as collection depots for unwanted new-borns.) A fitness room lined with mirrors. And of course room for the two fire engines.
Some advice, in case you need it. If the great recession has done you in, move to a place like Kern County where the unemployment rate is double the national average. Such places have access to funds because they are poor. The medical health clinic is 40 minutes down the hill beside the I 5, again beautifully new and up-to-date. Another is due to open up here next month, smaller no doubt but no travel necessary. The new library down the hill has soaring ceilings, an auditorium, a beautiful children’s room, computers, a good collection and remarkable art work. Certainly people are here because the cost of living is much cheaper and many are retired so unemployment doesn’t matter as much to them. Nevertheless, there are service jobs available and every second person seems to be a realtor.
For several weeks, we have been trying to identify a certain bird call, almost piercing, two noted, pendulum-like. It seemed to me it must be made by a large bird. We hear it in the morning and then again about 5:30 in the afternoon, often from a tall pine across the road. We crane our necks, we sneak around and peer upwards. No dice. We listen to bird calls on the Audubon app. Perhaps it is a woodpecker. That could account for its invisibility. One morning, the mystery is solved. The singer sits upright on a rock pile outside the kitchen window and pipes up. It is a squirrel.