Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Weekend in the Country

Over the long weekend of Labor Day, John and I piled two suitcases, an amp, numerous guitar pedals, two guitars, a travel crate and, of course, Cleo into the back of his RAV-4 and headed, once again, into the middle of nowhere.  Specifically, we were on our way to Downieville, a tiny gold rush town in the Tahoe National Forest, so that he could jam with a group of people he had met once, several years ago, and I had never met.

Frequent readers of this blog might remember that I am a self-described shy person.  The idea of hanging out all weekend with twenty plus strangers, all of whom have known each other since high school and before, doesn’t just make me uneasy, it causes cold sweat to trickle down my brow and back.  The draws were the mountain air, a rushing river, and a long weekend away from all forms of 21st century technology.  Plus the possibility of a bear sighting.  My plan was to hole up in the hotel room with Cleo where I could write and read to my heart’s content while John spent his time at the cabin playing music.

We set out for the six hour drive on Saturday morning at 1:30.  Yes, AM.  John had a gig Friday night that got him home at 12:30.  By the time he’d unloaded, packed and reloaded, an hour had sped by.  Let’s just say that traffic around Sacramento, normally highly congested, was not a problem.  We didn’t catch much scenery as we headed north, but the nearly full moon was stunning and we loved listening to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for the third time.  Cleo, the normally anxious, panting traveler, eventually curled up and went to sleep; that D.A.P pheromone spray is a god-send.  I’m not going to lie, the last hour-and-a-half of winding mountain roads between Nevada City and Downieville was a tough stretch, even with the sun rising over the mountains and the majestic pine trees. 

Our Inn, on the right
It was a huge relief to tumble out of the car into the crisp, cold morning air, to grab a couple bites of homemade zucchini bread from the inn’s continental breakfast bar, struggle up the narrow Victorian staircase, fall into the bed with the cast iron headboard, and pull the double-wedding ring quilt up to our chins.  It would have been even more blissful if our room hadn’t faced the town square where a Labor Day Weekend reenactment of a gold rush shootout was taking place, every hour on the half hour, and where a street fair went rapidly into full swing, complete with recorded barroom piano plinking out favorites from every decade of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  At first, we couldn’t figure out why anyone would be shooting off fireworks in the middle of the day.  The announcer describing the events over a very loud loudspeaker eventually tipped us off—not fireworks, blanks.  I can now reliably tell you that Cleo does not care for gunfire.  Not that she’s frightened by it.  No, she just has to tell everyone how much she dislikes it, loudly and at length.

We gave up on sleeping after a couple of hours pretending that it was even possible and staggered groggily along the street until we came to a Mexican restaurant with veggie burritos and dark, aromatic coffee.  We ate at a picnic table on a warm deck overlooking the Downie River, and John managed to talk me into driving out to the cabin with him.  I don’t know, maybe it was sleep deprivation. 

Oddly enough, even though I’d been stressing about nearly every aspect of the trip, not once did it occur to me that Cleo might be an unexpected addition to the party.  I am always appalled and judgmental about people who show up to friends’ houses with their pets in tow, just expecting that everyone likes dogs, cats, goats, whatever as much as they do.  Literally, it was not until we were letting Cleo out of her crate that I realized with horror that we’d never asked if it was okay for her to be there.  It was the sight of an Australian Shepherd bearing down on us that shocked me into common courtesy.

There have been so many times in my life that I have regretted wasting energy on worrying.  You’d think I’d have learned the lesson by now. 

I’ve written many times before of Cleo’s shyness with other dogs.  Whatever the reason—the warmth and welcome from every individual in the world’s most beautiful riverside cabin, the adventure of wading through a chilly river to sit on warm rocks and talk with engaged, funny people, the gentle kindness of two mellow and adoring Aussies—Cleo was relaxed and at home in less than an hour.  She followed the other dogs around like a doting little sister, even taking a long walk with them and their mom and discovering (and fully inspecting) a large pile of bear scat. 

Anyone who lives with a Bedlington knows that the tail is the emotional barometer.  It is a clear indicator of a wide range of moods and emotional states.  The angle of each vertebra in a Bedlington tail communicates an array of subtle information.  Sure, you have the standard set: tucked=scared, straight out and rigid=aggressive, gently curved and waving=greeting.  When Cleo is relaxed and happy, her tail extends on a plane with her spine, then just about midway, it curves up into a spritely crescent.  It was the evening of our first day at the cabin that John turned to me and said quietly, “Look at that tail.”  As Cleo followed first one dog, then the other through the kitchen and out onto the veranda, her tail clearly expressed her happiness.  It was the next night that really amazed us, though.  We sat at one of the tables eating dinner with several folks, laughing, chatting, telling stories.  As I moved to recross my legs, my foot thumped against something.  I peered under the table.  The fifteen-year-old Australian Shepherd was curled up less than six inches from my toes.  Penetrating the shadows, I made out another bulk.  It was the other Aussie not six inches from her.  And making the third point in the under-the-table triangle, curled up in a much smaller ball, head on paws, lightly sleeping, was Cleo.

We felt easy all weekend, she and I.  We were warm and welcome, enjoying our new friends, listening to music, lounging and playing and finding it enough just to be ourselves.


  1. I feel as if I have had a vacation. Thanks.

  2. Wow, what a great time you all seemed to have. Just love your stories and yours and Cleo's adventures.
    Makes me feel like going on a holiday too, with my Bedlies :)
    Thanks Joyce for sharing with us :)

    1. Wish you and your Bedlies could have a vacation here, Hessel, so that we could meet in person! (And in canine!)
      All the best,

  3. What a wonderful adventure. Thank you for sharing it. Your descriptions are so vivid, I feel like I was along for the trip.

    1. Thanks, Laurel! It was a wonderful adventure filled with warm and loving people. You would have enjoyed all the music (though little possibility of Hula, perhaps)!
      Lots of love,