Randi Kreiss

Breathing hard, and moisturizing, in northern California

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Not every weekly newspaper has a foreign correspondent, and we don’t, either. So, I bring to you, at my expense, a firsthand account of a summer in the wilds of northern California.

I use the word “foreign” advisedly, because in years past, I have taken readers along on journeys to Africa, Asia and even the Arctic Circle. But this summer we transplanted ourselves to Truckee, Calif., a town 60 miles west of Reno, the nearest airport, and 186 miles northeast of San Francisco, the nearest sushi.

It feels as foreign as any place I’ve been.

We rented a house in Glenshire, 20 minutes from the only supermarket, 30 minutes from Lake Tahoe and 15 minutes from downtown Truckee itself. Maybe “downtown” is a bit of a stretch. You enter the business district by passing the largest building in the entire area, the Truckee Mortuary. I don’t know why the mortuary is so prominent or gets so much business, but it may have to do with the extreme sports popular with the locals.

Along one side of the main street are some touristy shops for folks who come up for the weekend from San Francisco. Along the other side of the street runs the railroad track. A historic train station is painted the requisite deep red.

Long container trains pass through town on a regular schedule. Up at our house in the mountains, the lonesome wail of the train sounds like something the Chamber of Commerce pipes out into the countryside. It is plaintive and romantic and reminiscent of every Western I’ve read.

Oh, and a river runs through it all. The Truckee River is the local destination for swimming, rafting and fishing.

Our kids settled here 10 years ago, and they took hostages: our grandkids. Our rental house is a five-minute drive from them. A 12-minute bike ride. A 30-minute walk. After 10 years of living 3,000 miles apart, we are neighbors for a month.

This morning they dropped in at our place with all the ingredients for a waffle breakfast, including the waffle maker, which they carried in a backpack — on their bikes. The one ingredient we’ve never had before in our grown-up relationship is spontaneity. Wow, it felt good.

Lest it sound too good, I’ll confess to the first-day-in-a-new-place glitches. First, as lifelong sea-level dwellers, we landed in Reno and drove right to our house, which is at 6,700 feet. This is no joke: We opened our car door, carried our two bags up the front steps and had to sit down. The air is thin and desiccating.

When I say it’s dry, you have no idea. Everyone puts Aquafor in their noses to prevent nosebleeds. Our skin looks reptilian. And when I look in the mirror, I wonder, “Who’s that familiar-looking ancestor?”

The first day was challenging. We couldn’t open the lock box on the front door. I called my daughter. She said she was sure we could do it if we really tried. I told her we were lying on the front step gasping for air like flounder. Finally I had to call the homeowner, who lives in Southern California, and he talked us down.

Inside, it was stifling. Days range between 75 and 90 degrees. No A/C. Nights are between 35 and 50. So you have to open all windows and blinds at night and close them in the morning to keep in the “cool.” It does work, but when we walked in at 3 p.m. it felt like a pizza oven, which they have no idea about here, because pizza? It’s five hours away.

We couldn’t figure out how to turn on the ceiling fan, the oven or the shower. We couldn’t make the TV work. All of these things had instructions, but we just couldn’t figure them out. Fortunately, the owner was on speed dial.

Slowly we are acclimating to the elevation and the dryness. We’re on a hillside with hiking trails that crisscross the area and head up into the mountains. We can take walks now without needing to lie down every 10 minutes, and look forward to biking and rafting and maybe even paddleboarding if I can be 100 percent sure of not falling in. The temperature of Lake Tahoe ranges from 39 degrees to 58 degrees. A warning sign is posted: “Danger, extremely cold water.”

Explains the mortuary.

My most memorable moment so far occurred at 4 in the morning, just me outside on the deck in the chill air under a black sky studded with diamonds. Without ambient light, the stars are breathtaking.

For all time and for all humanity, and certainly for me in that moment, the night sky both anchors us to the earth and offers a vision of eternity. Some 1,900 years ago, Ptolemy wrote, “Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth.”

Copyright 2018 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.