Flatlanders

My daughter is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, and reached my neck of the woods this past Thursday (she left, and will return to the trail near the Sonora Pass/Hwy 108 intersect).

She, her hiking partner, and her boyfriend (who has been hiking with them the past 5 days) are taking a break from the trail this weekend to rest, upload blog entries (PCTBOLO), write and respond to email, call family and friends, do laundry, replenish supplies, and sleep 2 nights without the constant buzz of mosquitos. To date they’ve hiked from south of Campo, CA (the California/Mexico border), to the Sonora Pass/Hwy 108 intersect, which is a whopping 1000 miles (1600 km). They deserve a break. They’ve still got over 1600 miles (2500 km) ahead of them.

Calaveras county (like most of the Western US) is hot this weekend, really hot, so I decided to head to higher ground in Alpine county, near Lake Alpine and further east towards Markleeville, where the temperature is at least 10 degrees (Deg F) cooler and there are forests, streams and lakes a’plenty. I’ve been staying primarily above the 6000 foot level and avoiding places that take direct sun. This is one of the great benefits of living near mountains. This isn’t the High Sierras, with peaks in the range of 9,000 to 12,000 feet , more like 3000 to 9,000 feet, depending on whether one stays in Calaveras county, or travels to nearby Yosemite or Lake Tahoe (both within approximately 100 miles of here), but its mountains nonetheless.

Lake Alpine

My hideout for the day (Lake Alpine)
©2001 Chris Hall courtesy of byways.org

Writing that last paragraph reminded me of the label that the locals give to people who visit this area from the surrounding metro areas during weekends, ski season, holidays or who just can’t seem to get off of “city time” and on to “mountain time”. They are known as Flatlanders. 

There’s more to being a Flatlander than an inability to slow down the daily pace of life in order to notice the beauty of the forest and the purity of the air and water. Slowing down also means interacting with the people here as human beings and not as consumers and suppliers looking to maximize sales volume and minimize time spent with each customer. This type of “city time” person-to-person interaction is akin to what a typical fast food manager might say to her or his employees. “Get ’em in and get ’em out, oh and don’t forget to smile” (i.e. fake a smile) as the customer drives away from the drive-thru window, to show them how happy you are having been given the opportunity to nudge them a little closer towards obesity, and how happy you are having served your 50th gallon of carbonated sugar water today. Oh the challenge.

These last statements are in no way meant to suggest that people working fast food are not fine people, nor that all fast food is inherently evil (although most of it is). I worked fast food too, as a teenager, so I will not be throwing stones. It’s the larger cultural phenomenon towards which I fling my poison darts. As a teen, I was only interested in earning money so that I could buy gas for my car, so I could get away from my parents, take girls on dates and not be labelled a teenage loser. There was a market for fast food, and a prepubescent work force that couldn’t think beyond the next surge in hormones. It’s all so insidious.

Anyway, back to “mountain time”. It’s nice to be able to take 30 seconds or a minute or two to talk about the latest mountain news, the new road being built in town, the latest wildfire, or the new tract of land being logged, without someone behind me tapping their foot because they won’t get their coffee for another 30 seconds. Oh the things that could have been done in those 30 seconds!

I’ve never heard a local mutter the word “flatlander” under their breath in the hardware store or the grocery store when someone is in a hurry to get off to their skiing or hiking weekend, but I recognize the moments it would be appropriate. I’ve seen a bumper sticker that reads “I hate Flatlanders”, or something along those lines. Humor and hate often dance together. The community of which I write is virtually unknown to me, as I am a part-time Flatlander myself, but I am certain that those who have the tenacity to make this area home are good, fine people. Their gateway-to-nature community is aesthetically rich in natural beauty, but beauty doesn’t pay the bills. The area sits in the tree belt elevations and therefore has great stands of pine, cedar and fir that are economically valuable to both high and low elevation communities and so logging is a big industry. The very thing that makes the area beautiful is what must be destroyed in order for the people here to make a go of it.

The economy lies in a very precarious balance.  It doesn’t take much to push someone out of business and the percentage of new business starts that fail is high. It’s tough to make enough profit on a loaf of freshly baked bread when the volume is based on bed-and-breakfast traffic. So everyone loses and the crap that passes for bread sits on the grocery store shelves, trucked in from an industrial sized bakery a few times a week. I can’t begin to discuss how this area of Calaveras County functions, but I will endeavor to learn more as I continue this blog and as I continue to live here myself.

And that’s that.

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