Nevada City lies in the Sierra Foothills, about 100 miles west of the north shore of Lake Tahoe, and an hour’s drive east of Sacramento. It was settled in the mid=1800’s during California’s Gold Rush, and vestiges of mining are everywhere. If you know where to look you will find old mining sites and tracks in the hills, and in the outskirts of nearby Grass Valley you can visit a complete refinery, animated now for tourists. The "town" itself is not only typical western wooden store-front construction, but boasts some two story brick structures, testifying to Nevada City’s prosperity during the gold rush days.
The Yuba river runs through here, too. It is clear, clean, cold snow melt from the mountains which sometimes crashes between huge granite boulders, sometimes glides between boulder strewn banks. Pools so deep you can dive into them from overhanging boulders lie within easy reach of the little hidden beaches. There you can sun-bathe in the altogether on a sun-warmed rock, and children can splash in the shallows gathering gray, white, or blue stones tumbled to perfect roundness by centuries of river flow.
Cornish miners flocked here after the collapse of tin mining in Britain, evidenced by the Cornish pasty shops still operating in Grass Valley, as well as the several columns of Jones’s and Williams’s in the local phone books, but there is plenty of variety. There are Yees, Yeos, and Yonehiros, Reuters, Rhines, Parcuzzis, Pataksas, Jamisons, Jacksons, Scotts. People from all over the globe seem to have found this corner of California, but whether they came during the gold rush looking for easy riches or came for the climate, I don’t know.
The area’s proximity to skiing in winter, water sports in summer, and an international airport in Sacramento have all but eliminated first-time buyers from the property market. But it is nevertheless a haven for a thriving alternative community, side-by-side with the wine-growers, legitimate, (and some illegitimate) plant nurseries, and small business people. There is an ashram up the road, at least two health-organic food markets, a school of Ayurvedic medicine, and a first-class Ayurvedic spa here on "The Ridge" called Blue Sage. There are some reasonably good restaurants, ethnic as well as the steak houses, and an excellent one for California cuisine called The New Moon. And some promising local wines.
The only reason I know about it is because my son and his wife and their two children live here. Holly is an Ayurvedic medicine practitioner and David is an art and wedding photographer. They live in a big house about a 20 minute drive, and several hundred feet above, Nevada City. The air here is pungent with the aroma of sage brush, California Live Oak, pine and Madrone. It is dry mountain air that takes me back to family vacations with my own mother, father and sisters to a place south of Yosemite called Bishop, as well as camping trips with my boys to the mountains and lakes of California , Oregon, and Washington. It is for me the powerful odor of nostalgia, home, the past.
But now,it is the odor of the future,too. Malia is two and a quarter years old, baby Sage is 3 months old. They are both as blond, fair, and Nordic as Nico and Gabriella are olive-skinned, dark-eyed, and Mediterranean. Malia calls me Grandma Hall, which is what I called the only grandmother I remember, and loves to tell me about things. She tells me about how ‘Lia waters the garden, that ‘Lia likes to eat avocado, Gudja berries, and dried cherries. She tells me about the grasshoppers, icky spiders, and ants crawling in the grass, and shows me the sow bug she clutches in her tiny fist. She is extraordinarily agile for her age, climbs competently, does a real head-over-heels somersault, and never walks but only prances on her toes. All of this comes out of a beautifully proportioned but tiny little girl who maybe weighs 22 pounds.
Sage, on the other hand, weighs more than half as much as she does and he’s only 3 months old. He is a very smiley, happy baby boy, who is also all the other things you want in a baby, a good eater and a good sleeper who can be happy for short periods lying on a sheep-skin looking at dangling objects. Tell me if I’m wrong, but being second, lots of babies seem to know that the position of demanding, difficult baby belongs by right to the first-born. It looks like he will be our first blue-eyed grand child. Even fair Malia has golden brown eyes.
Sight-seeing may be dandy, but not when a grandchild is handy, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker.
Holding little Sage, seeing his ready smiles, hearing his sweet baby coos as he tries very hard to talk to me, or having Malia on my lap while she tells me a story ,is all it takes for my body to relax into this moment of eternal reality. It’s the best vacation I can think of.