North Fork, California, the town that's represented in my mystery novel, The Song of Jackass Creek, was home to 386 residents within its loosely defined boundaries. There were (and still are) about 2000 people living within its greater sphere - some at the end of long dirt roads that wind through the Sugar Pine and Ponderosa, others up a steep gravel drive to a hilltop where they enjoy the high perch and a view that just steals the breath away.
It's the beauty and surprises and challenges of Mother Nature that attract people to remote places that often don't have the amenities we've all come to take for granted. So many of us who lived there had drifted to the mountains for an escape, a new start, or to chase an idyllic lifestyle for which most were unprepared. Some of these flatland settlers made the transition. Others tried and eventually returned to the urban 'devil' that they knew.
I was energized and inspired by living on top of a hill overlooking the logging town. I could see black smoke rising from the rusty teepee burner at the mill from the front steps of the little cabin we'd built in seven (yes, seven) days. It was a curvilinear, board-on-board house, shaped like a soft-letter 'm,' with a sod roof that sprouted wildflowers in the spring.
The 700-square-foot shelter was built without the benefit of a permit by my then-spouse, Marcel, with my help. It was built during bright days over the course of one week in clear sight of anyone driving in or out of North Fork. When I acquired a piano, we just ripped out the vertical boards of the wall, and with the help of neighbors, lifted the highboy in and nailed the two by eights back in place. Eventually, when we were red-tagged for the structure, Marcel pled the case for it being a moveable, temporary structure (that might even appear in the annual Loggers Jamboree Parade) and, therefore, exempt from the bureaucracy of permitting. Remarkably, we won the appeal.
Those were the days when Class K Housing was popping up throughout Northern California. Owner-builders flocked to remote regions to construct homes made of alternative materials from rock to mud to hay bales. A few were brilliant, and others, overly optimistic. Couples lived in tents and the beds of pick-up trucks while they worked (sometimes for years) to literally build their dreams. I wrote many stories on those renegade architects for my newspaper, The Timberline Times.
But the people who interested me most were the old-timers, the stalwarts of the town who watched the flatland dreamers come and go. The locals lived in conventional houses, cabins, and mobile homes. They were fine doing without cable television, big box stores, a nearby hospital, gourmet dining choices, reliable cell service, and with one, two-pump gas station within 30-some miles.
There was the group of men who met daily in the town's one cafe for coffee and conversation. Like a town council, they made frequent proclamations about the state of things. They worried about the future of the sawmill that employed most people in town and suffered with them when layoffs happened. They talked of personal things - like Charlie's two prize mules and the baby lambs that had just been born up the hill. They talked about which of the locals had crashed off the road after the bar closed on Friday night (car always crunched, but driver just fine, thank you!). They were not fans of politics and, predictably, cut from mostly conservative cloth as were most of the long-time residents.
However, when it came to townspeople, they protected folks who, under different circumstances, might have met with their disapproval. I suspect I was in that category - a smart-aleck city girl. But I was happy to write their stories in my newspaper, and they were pleased to see their names in print. When I was visibly pregnant with my son and on the road selling advertising, the owner of the gas station (who was also the volunteer fire chief) gave me gas for free. When I skirted the line with the women of the Assembly of God Church, they had a mass-pray-in for my personal benefit and salvation.
It was a culture of acceptance. A place where what you did counted more than color, or creed, or your choice of a partner. Paupers shared a table at the cafe or the local saloon with the prosperous residents of the town.
With the place and people embedded forever in my memory, it was thrilling to bring them back into my world with the writing of "The Song of Jackass Creek." Readers say, "They seem so real!" That's because they are.
Check out The Song of Jackass Creek reviews HERE…