A Valentine to My Hometown

  • Nick Nicholls, 11 with Brutus

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    Nick Nicholls, 11 with Brutus

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By Ian Nicholls

I moved to Frazier Park just under four years ago, previously lived in Mendocino County for three years and the Beach Cities for eight years preceding that. It’s important that I point this out as it makes sense of what follows.

Moving from Long Beach to Ukiah was traumatic enough: I had become spoiled by Big-City living. If I was hungry and too lazy to cook, I needed only to pick up a phone and a cornucopia of delivered food was available to satisfy my whims: Chinese, Italian pizza or Mongolian BBQ, roasted, fried or flamebroiled chicken. If I was too lazy to go shopping for groceries, no problem! There was a number I could call.

I left the bright lights of the big city (and the book of clichés I’d been given for Christmas) to move to the redwoods.

After a period of adjustment to the fact that they rolled-up the sidewalks and turned off the traffic lights after dark, I found myself liking the fresher air, clearer skies, lack of helicopters and sirens buzzing 23½ hours a day, and settled down. Eventually, economics led me to move back to Southern California, where, by an odd chain of events, I settled in Frazier Park. My first day here, I drove around town and thought ‘My God. what have I done?!’

I’d traded the greenery of the redwoods for the ‘beigery’ of the hilly part of the high desert.

Now, before you start baying for my blood, I’d like to point out that I grew up in a very small farming community in England that, when my parents moved there, had less than 200 residents. I tell you this because I’d hate anyone to get the impression that I’m a citybred dimwit who thinks that beef comes from trees grown in the backlots of supermarkets or anything: I’ve shovelled my share of yucky-stuff.

It just felt to me as if I was taking a step backwards in my own evolution, going from one of the largest and most exciting cities in the world to Frazier Park, a place that doesn’t appear on many maps, in just two easy steps.

I actively contemplated committing egregious felonies just so Uncle Sam would kick me out of the country and send me to Uzbekistan or Canada or some other depressed, messedup nation with an identitycrisis and a schizophrenic need to have multiple official languages.

This attitude changed very quickly, though, as I made trips to the local market, gas station, park and post office. I found (much to my pleasure) that when people were saying ‘hello’ or enquiring after my health, they weren’t trying to sell me insurance, or timeshare, or twice-fried chicken on a stick …they really wanted to know if I was okay!

I had to do some digging into my own past to remember how life was more than 30 years ago, in the time before we moved to the big city.

I found that if I stand out in my yard and lean on my fence, two things will happen. One, I will be looking at Mt. Pinos Way and two, if there’s someone walking up or down the hill past my yard, they will more often than not stop and shoot the breeze. Heck, people will wave if they’re driving by and don’t have time to stop and shoot the breeze. I have lots of "Hey" guys: guys (and guy-ettes) who walk or drive by, wave and say "Hey."

This may not mean very much to some. They are the ones missing out on what I consider to be one of the best things about small-town living.

Last Saturday, my dogs managed to make a break for freedom by cunningly circumventing two fences and a gate, and evading a posse that consisted of Deputy Ochoa and myself. You see, we’d been out for the evening to visit friends. Upon returning at 1:30 on Sunday morning, we found all three of our dogs—two beagles and a pit/mastiff cross—had gone AWOL. And to top that off, one of the Beagles is partially deaf, partially blind and around 16 years old (which makes him older than about 20 percent of the rest of the town’s residents, according to the US Census Bureau).

We called the Sheriff’s office in a minor state of panic, worrying ourselves silly because of the reputation pit bulls have, and the recent reports of llamaslayings in town.

After Deputy Ochoa had calmed us down and ascertained how the dogs got out (it was dark and his flashlight was better than mine!), I found myself pleadingly informing him that my dog isn’t dangerous. He’s just a big doofus (the subtext here being "Please don’t shoot my dog if you see him"). Fortunately for us. Deputy Ochoa is a dog-owner himself and was sympathetic to our plight.

I spent a good hour driving around the town that night, encountering the deputy doing the same thing—also looking for my dogs.

The next day it was our plan to make posters with pictures of the dogs. Unfortunately, Microsoft had other plans as our computer’s main drive had recently committed suicide, taking with it about six thousand photographs and a couple hundred of the dogs doing various cute things.

I decided to do the next best thing and I drove up and down every single street on both sides of the valley, stopping and talking to everyone I saw, asking if they’d seen my dogs.

I stopped in stores, the gas station (many times) and the park, always with the same question: "Have you seen any of my idiot dogs?"

The first beagle turned up on Monday, being walked up the hill toward our house by a wonderful lady who was out seeing if Lucy (the dog) could show her the way to her home.

The next day, Ogle (the 16-year-old wonderbeagle) was returned to us by a man I haven’t even had a chance to thank in person, yet.

And then yesterday morning Brutus, the pit/mastiff/toiletbrush WonderMutt, came home of his own accord.

Thankfully, he had no blood on him and seemed to be none the worse for his little vacation. I say fortunately, because it meant that he’d not attacked or been fighting with anything, thereby giving truth to my assertions that he’s just a big doofus and not dangerous.

I don’t know, and probably never will, how many people were keeping an eye out for my dogs. And I can never thank the people who found my dogs enough. My wife and children were distraught when the dogs weren’t here on our return, and my baby daughter was devastated at the thought of losing them forever.

It all turned out for the best in the end, and it also reminded me of long-forgotten benefits of small-town living. It’s not for everyone, and I’m glad. Otherwise, we’d get to be a big town right quick.

In the four years since I moved here, I’ve become spoiled by clean air, the ability to see stars at night, the fact that we have actual seasons (most of the time) and hundreds of other little things that make it worthwhile living here: They know my name at the store. They know my brand of cigarettes at the gas station. They know my kids and their names when I walk down the street and neighbors take time to ask about them, even if I don’t have the kids with me. All this stuff is largely taken for granted by natives. It has to be learned (or relearned) by those of us who choose to make Frazier Park our home after having found other places wanting.

I’ve pretty much run out of ways to wax rhapsodic about how much I love living here, and by now many people are probably thanking God for that…. But I felt that if I didn’t get this down on paper that I’d burst, or worse: that feeling of well-being would be wasted and nobody would know how much this town has grown on me.

I’m looking forward to many more years on “the Mountain,” to raising my children, growing the candle business I run jointly with my wife, and having my own personal slice of the American Dream in this little town that I’ve made my home and that has been made more homelike because of the people who live here.

Thanks for sticking it out this far and many, many thanks to all the people who looked for our dog. Without them our family had a hole in it that would have been impossible to fill.

This is part of the February 10, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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