Some of These Changes I Like (some I emphatically do not)

Somehow, somewhere, portions of Hwy 101 have gone missing. The trip from Ukiah to Humboldt State University used to take over 3 hours. Now, Google Maps says it’s two-something. Factoring in a stop at the Bigfoot Redwood souvenir store, I stretched the clock back above three.

In some ways, not much has changed. The high water marker next to the Eel River from the flood of ’64 is still there. I remember that one.

Caltrans is still trying to keep Highway 101 on the side of the hill above the Eel River north of Laytonville. This time they’re driving great big pilings into the ground. Good luck with that. That hill’s been sliding as long as I can remember. I’m surprised there’s any rock left to fall.

The horse barns at the fairgrounds in Ukiah don’t appear to have changed, and the pears are ripe in the few remaining orchards. Vineyards are everywhere, as are wineries. The Hwy 101 corridor is yet beautiful, even with new construction and the decay of old buildings.

Costco’s come to Ukiah, as have many other chains. That’s good – we used to have to drive an hour south to Santa Rosa to do big shopping – though it’s impossible now to locate where the Schwank’s and old Jacobson places stood. The Hopland Superette is empty and for sale. The train track is abandoned. I look both ways at the crossings anyway out of habit.

My high school friends Marie, Gwen, and Laura haven’t changed much. We last saw each other 15 years ago so I wondered. Marie’s hearty greeting on the front step of her parents’ old house was like always. Their wit and ability to make me laugh has not lessened. All that, and the Broiler Steak House still grills a mean steak. I’m glad. These need to be constant.

But there are things that are not constant. I’m ok with most of them.

First, Hwy 101. It’s mostly freeway from Eureka on down. BIG improvement. Snakes are less sinuous and only a little narrower than much of the old road.

Don and Rosemary’s house is not there anymore. Oh, the structure is still there, but it’s different. The huge picture window where I watched on Christmas Eve for the arrival of out of town relatives is smaller and clad in white vinyl, the once brown house (Rosemary called it a rich, deep brown) is gray. The girth of the sycamores has increased and there’s a vine growing over the porch above the front steps now. Some of the old outbuildings are still there, but the place no longer moves me.

Where before I wanted to conjure up the old – sit under the trees, feel the breeze, close my eyes, and imagine the sounds of the radio left on in the barn for the ewes and lambs, I no longer need to. I’ve let go.

My epiphany in Portland about the reason the home dream made me cry appears to have enlightened me sufficiently to reconcile things. When I understand, I move on. I had no desire even to go through the gate, let alone enter the house. I am finished. That’s good.

Over time, my life has changed (I know, that’s deep), but I’ve remembered these things as they were. They’re not anymore. As I’ve changed, so too has this place. So my new saying should be the more things change, the more things change.

Perhaps most unsettling (and unacceptable, if I had anything to say about it) have been the changes at the Hopland Field Station.

My first home with Don and Rosemary at the Hopland Field Station.

Not the landscape. I still see the old houses, the sheep and equipment barns, the old bell for emergencies, and the superintendent’s house still stands. Dad’s office is much as he left it with only minor rearrangement of the furniture. I can still see the old timers moving across the landscape. No, what is most disturbing are the budget cuts that have led to the liquidation of 2/3 of the flock, and the layoffs of longtime employees.

Apparently due to the cost, research has slowed down there. Less research means less revenue for the station and sustainability is a big word there now. Non-producing assets get eliminated.

I understand, but I don’t like it. Not at all. I want to go back and right the ship. But it’s not mine to right and it never was.

I understand that change happens, but these choices made by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department on behalf of the Hopland Field Station, made by people unfamiliar with the history and heritage of this place, these changes, I do not like. I do not like at all.

Nor would Don and Rosemary.

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