I wrote this article recently for a local online magazine called Forest Living California. At first, I envisioned it being more of a travel piece, reporting on a local town near me. But, it turned out to be more in my typical writing style, creative, reflective. You can check out the online version here, with pictures.
To the Hills: Rough and Ready, California
“I go to the hills, when my heart is lonely.” – Maria in The Sound of Music
I was feeling melancholy today. Sometimes when life is in transition, and it’s difficult to see how things will turn out, it’s hard to stop my mind from whirling. When this happens, my solution is to go for a drive.
Going for a drive helps me clear my head. I may or may not have a planned destination; I might just go on a whim. I like to leave the music off, and commit my attention to the landscape whizzing by. I can feel the air pushing through the partially rolled-down window, and I listen to the sounds of my tires tracking the asphalt. The light seeping through the tree boughs sometimes blinds me, and warms the interior of my car.
Today, after running around town completing some rote errands, I realized I had a free afternoon, and, acknowledging my melancholy mood, the last place I really wanted to go was home, where a smattering of mundane to-dos awaited me: laundry, mopping, vacuuming, organizing, and cooking. I’m not really bothered by these daily tasks, but sometimes, when my heart is lonely, I feel like just heading for the hills.
Quick mental checklist of my current status: full tank of gas, yep. Bottle of water, check. Snacks, check. Purse, of course. Cat’s inside? Yes. Didn’t leave the stove on? Nope. Alrighty, I’m ready to hit the road.
I headed north on Highway 49 out of Auburn. I’d had the Grass Valley area on my mind for quite some time as a place I wanted to visit. Specifically, I was super-intrigued with a little town north of there by the name of Rough and Ready. What a fascinating title! What in the world could be hiding in this little-known location? Winding through Grass Valley’s historic downtown, I connected to the Rough and Ready Highway, and followed it to my mystery destination.
Rough and Ready is named after the nickname of our 12th president. Say what? You don’t know who our 12th president was? (OK, me neither. I had to look it up.)
His name was General Zachary Taylor, and his nickname was “Old Rough and Ready.” Before becoming president, he was a career military man, rising to the rank of major general. He served as our president from March 4, 1849 – July 9, 1850. Tragically, he died 17 months into his term, after consuming “raw fruit and ice milk.” He contracted what could only be subjectively determined as cholera, or acute gastroenteritis. His supporters were convinced there was foul play in his death. Even into the 1990s, conspiracy theorists were trying to prove his death was an assassination (Wikipedia).
A.A. Townsend, who served under “Old Rough and Ready” during the Mexican-American War and greatly admired him, started a mining business in 1849, and called it the Rough and Ready Company (Wikipedia). Coming from Wisconsin, they settled in what is now the town’s location. At one time a thriving community, a century-and-a-half later, in the 1980s, it was bypassed by State Route 20, and became what it is now: one of the quietest little towns I ever stopped in.
On arrival, I parked in the lot of the Old General Store, which is closed and up for lease. When I stepped out of my car, I was enveloped in silence. Maybe it was because I was driving with my window open, and could hear and feel everything that was going by, that it was such a noticeable change. But, when I stopped and got out, there was nothing – not the sound of the wind in the trees, not a bird chirping. I was standing in total and utter quiet. I closed my eyes and turned my face to the warm sun. Everything in my head that was previously percolating was instantly melted away.
I think I was the only living being that day in Rough and Ready; that’s what it felt like, anyway. I walked across the highway without a worry of oncoming traffic. I stood in front of the modern fire station for a few minutes, admiring the contrast of its newness to the older structures nearby. I took a few pictures, but mostly just soaked in that sumptuous silence.
How healing it is, to be held in the quiet of nature for a few solitary minutes, to regain perspective, and to separate, for a moment, from the constant inundation of information we are tasked with in our daily lives.
That’s what a mind-clearing drive does for me. It provides a change of scenery, literally taking me from one place to another, and in turn, helps me to see anew any situation. I can reflect on all the ways I’ve been fortunate, and set aside my worries, and maybe even realize there was no need to worry in the first place.
There wasn’t a thing open that day that I visited Rough and Ready. And, that was fine. I didn’t need to be shopping in a store, or eating a sandwich, or doing anything. That tiny little dot on the map gave me what I really needed in that moment: a renewed sense that all is OK. I left my cares there, in the parking lot of the Old General Store, and drove home, where my laundry and cat were patiently waiting for me.
This tiny community’s faint history is honored with a California State Landmark (#294). They hold an annual celebration of the “Old Republic of Rough and Ready” as a way to attract tourism (Wikipedia).
“God knows I have endeavored to fulfill what I conceived to be an honest duty.”
– U.S. President Zachary Taylor, July 8, 1850; the day before he passed.
- Rough and Ready, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rough_and_Ready,_California
- General Zachary Taylor, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zachary_Taylor