Exploring the Eel River Valley

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The truth is, it is virtually endless, this cornucopia of good wild and rural places.

But the terror.

I was in Ben Morehead's office in Arcata last week when he handed me a copy of American Demographics magazine. Based on a few key elements, like population change, average temperature and topography, Humboldt County, followed by Mendocino and Del Norte, was listed as the top county in the nation for natural amenities.

Good lord, thank goodness that didn't make it into the New York Times. All I could imagine was having to fish in a flotilla of brand new salmon boats, develop a highly tuned ducking reflex for hunting and choke on the dust of fancy hiking boots.

I admit my selfishness. And all I can do is apologize for it.

While I'm flyfishing -- or more accurately line-slapping -- at One Mile Lake, it doesn't seem possible that such a migration could encroach on me. The reality is it can. It is likely, judging by other places I've known in the country, that it will.

This is why I feel bad for people who have spent time here without knowing the place. There are lots of folks who have taken in so few facets of the jewel, despite a long claim as Humboldt County resident.

For me, I just can't bear not to know something new every season, while getting to know something old in between.

Perhaps, though, these same people will not know the difference when the place grows and people spread into the wild places, and old timers and die-hards must pack farther afield to find the smaller hidden places to get away.

My coworker told me a TV sportscaster poked fun at Eureka during a Kings' game last week. A shot outside Arco Arena was explained: For all you folks in Eureka, that's what we call a freeway, he said snidely.

Just what I covet most -- six lanes of traffic.

I pity the man whose perception is so muddied, but I pray he keeps up the act. Then we might avoid that giant highway stretching to the north. At least for a while.

Why is that 2 percent terror so pervasive?

Because there is always the threat of squandering time, and the thought that I waited too long to come to California. Missing opportunities is so easy. On a drive back from the Bald Hills this fall -- where I was watching a prescribed fire in the old growth -- I spied a herd of elk wading into Stone Lagoon to get away from the uncommon heat. I had my camera and a good zoom lens, and the right late-day light to take an exceptional picture.

I didn't. I wanted to get back to the paper, file my story and get home, for no particular reason. I consider the half hour it would have taken me to stalk the elk and get the shot squandered. Perhaps such a choice will come up again, and I've pledged to make a better decision if it does.



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