What’s your favorite hookup? Elian is hanging out of the door, G just behind him, as he asks us this. We all agree that electric is the best hookup, better than water and sewer. We are camping at Lake Solano Park, just a few miles outside of the sweet agricultural town of Winters, CA., and are feeling fortunate to have water and electricity at this park. We are charging our phones and Kindles, using the oven, making coffee, listening to the radio, watching a football game (our second success in finding a channel on our TV) and just generally enjoying having power at our fingertips.
We have learned a lot about power in the past week. When we arrived at our last site at MacKerricher State Park, on the coast just above Fort Bragg, we knew we’d be without hookups for awhile. After 3 months, we’d grown accustomed to monitoring our water (our 40 gallon tank needs to be emptied as soon as it fills, and sometimes we don’t have water available to refill at all). Here in dry California, we are all very aware of water. And we’d been without electric power many times before, running the generator occasionally to keep things up and going. So many times, actually, that we’d stopped paying close attention. A few nights into MacKerricher, we heard a sad long beep at around midnight and realized that we’d run down our house batteries. How is that possible?!, exclaimed Elian, who now checks our “levels” obsessively and, like his mother, is prone to panic (I am code named P2P). We explained what little we understood without much confidence. And so began a family exploration into the ways and hows of electric power.
With advice from the previous owners of the Woodebago, who have been more than supportive since the day we bought it, and some close monitoring over the next few days, our batteries seemed okay with a generator recharge and we developed a new system for tracking our power use. But sitting there in our natural wooded campsite, just a few hundred yards from the Pacific where seals bask on rocks during low tide, we became obsessed with electricity. At home, storms had knocked out power before, but aside from calling PEPCO we’d never done much but wait. We always knew that someone, somewhere would somehow just turn it back on. But here we saw a real-life reason to learn about amps, volts and watts, something we probably should have read more about before we left. Only Elian had a real fact to offer: Watts are named for James Watts (that’s from Mr. Williams, he says). It was a start.
We pulled out a few science books we’d brought along (no Internet to google definitions here at MacKerricher), and then looked up everything else we could at the local library, a crowded but well-loved little place.
We learned that all three–amps, volts and watts– are measures of electricity, but very different kinds of measures. Consider a river, said one book. The amp is the rate of water flowing downstream, volts represent the strength of the flow, and the watts are the total amount of water released per second.
Even with our power woes, we managed pretty well at MacKerricher and its nearby town of Fort Bragg. The Gills, dear friends and neighbors from back home, drove up from the Bay to visit and the loop of our campground turned into a little neighborhood that felt for a bit like our street back home (there’s just something about that 10615 house!).
With our friends and their cooler of fresh farm food, we tested a recipe from one of my few splurge items so far, a Western National Parks’ Lodge Cookbook from Crater Lake. Called Braised Garlic Chicken, we renamed it Crazy Chicken since it called for the strangest assortment of ingredients, among them whiskey, rum and a can of coke. We improvised on a few other items (what is veal gravy and who has that?), and the result was delicious with our stovetop rice and tinfoil pan of fire-roasted vegetables. Since it was the weekend, there were families camping with other kids, who came over to share S’mores and crowd around our eight-inch battery-powered portable DVD player to watch The Secret World of Arriety, which now leads as the movie most likely to please a large group of kids.
Nearby Fort Bragg, CA (once inhabited by coastal Native Americans before it was turned into the Mendocino Indian Reservation) is oddly named for army officer Braxton Bragg, who spent just five years at this military post before returning to his home state of North Carolina to serve as a Confederate Army General. Unlike the more appropriately named city of Fort Bragg, NC, there is no military presence here. Fort Bragg, CA is a lumber and maritime town, famous now for its Glass Beach, an expanse of sand and rock pools filled with smooth old sea glass, the brown and opaque glass speckled with bits of green and the occasional blue. Once a dump, the park service cleaned out the trash in the 1990s and 2000s but left the glass, which is slowly disappearing as people collect it from the pools and beach. Fort Bragg is also famous for its Skunk Train, a passenger railway that runs over 40 miles by the Pudding Creek estuary and the Noyo River, and through the redwoods, tunnels and trestle bridges that finally lead to the town of Willits. We opted out of the $25 train ride, since we’d travelled that path to get from Ukiah to Fort Bragg, and then headed out to drive again over those Mendocino mountains to get to Yolo County and our pretty little spot at Lake Solano Park.
On our way to Lake Solano, as we stopped to refill our propane tank in Willits, we decided to go a little further south than we’d planned. We had some old friends in wine country and, as we searched on our phone for their location, realized that their family-owned winery, Delectus, is now located right off the main road in St. Helena. Stopping on the side of the road was tricky in the Woodebago but well worth it. The owner of Delectus, Linda, and her right-hand wine maker, Juan, sat with us for more than an hour to catch up on life and give us some well-needed counseling on a wine question that had been bothering us for years. What is the difference between Syrah and Petite Syrah? Petite comes from a thicker skinned grape with more “aggressive tannins,” Juan explained. There’s actually no relation between the two. Good to know.
We left Delectus with a box of wonderful wine, including an amazing Syrah and the best of all, Cuvee Julia, named for their daughter.
We drove along Rt 128 past countless vineyards, many with grand castle-like entrances and some with carved wooden fences lined with olive trees.
By that evening, we had arrived at Lake Solano Park, where upon pulling and plugging in we were greeted by a large group of loud neighbors. Evidently, a rancher in the 1930s brought a few of these birds to help clear his ranch of rattlesnakes. The rancher eventually left but the peacocks stayed and have made a home for themselves in this park ever since.
They are remarkable to watch as they strut about during the day in groups that we learned are called “musters” (a group of pheasants is called a bouquet, which seems more fitting for the bright colored peacocks). Little baby peacocks, still brown and looking a lot more like small chickens, follow their mothers around on what seems like an aimless wander of pecking and squawking all day long. But at night all of the peacocks gather at 6 o’clock just under a grove of cottonwoods and, one by one, flap their ungainly selves up into the trees to roost for the night. Each morning they drop back down to peck and squawk some more. We know it’s 7 in the morning when we hear them just outside our door.
This morning we headed to UC-Davis, twenty five miles through walnut groves, passing fruit and nut stands and marveling at how much food can be grown from this dry ground. As we drive, we talk about farming and drought.
When we arrive at UC-Davis for the day’s lessons, G asks if everyone here is learning to farm. Some are, we answer, and she and Elian go on to discuss how well Demeter, God of the Harvest, would do here at UC-Davis. A day at the university, where we were struck by how many students are walking and skating and biking around, and then groceries, flu shots at the local Kaiser, and a trip to In-n-Out Burger round out our stay.
Bound for Tahoe tomorrow, where it will be cold but we will be with friends and, thankfully, power.