I didn’t grow up a country girl. I grew up in the Dallas suburbs, where the most ‘country’ thing I did was go through a country music phase in middle school.
A year ago, I switched things up and moved from New York City to Calaveras County, CA in the foothills of the Sierras, for love and for adventure. Although I recently made the decision to move to the closest city 65 miles away, my year in Calaveras left an irrevocable mark.
Calaveras is a little over an hour and a half away from where I live now, but sometimes it feels like a world removed. I go back to see friends, to see my dog who lives there with his dad, and to feel the energy of the mountain breeze and the endless trees that remind me of me.
There are a lot of reasons I love Calaveras — the beauty, the sweet sound of live music wafting through small towns, and the serenity the giant mountain trees cast through the atmosphere. But more than anything, I love the people, and how they love and live with the land.
Calaveras is a ‘red’ county, and many people are politically conservative — it’s also predominately white. As a mixed-raced woman who had only ever lived in cities or suburbs, and with no prior connection to the established rural communities, I didn’t expect to find so much of myself in a place like Calaveras. Although I have relocated for now, every time I visit Calaveras it pulls me back in.
It’s hard to explain exactly what it is about Calaveras that is so magical (Mark Twain would likely agree), but something that happened on my most recent trip is a good metaphor to help explain.
After I made the journey out to Calaveras that day, my car started to let off an awful smell, and the battery and brake lights came on. I’m not one to panic, but car stuff makes me feel a bit helpless, and knowing the almost two hour trip would be primarily within a span where cell service is iffy — I was feeling vulnerable. I pulled into the only open auto parts store at 6pm to get the battery tested. Turns out, the fix wouldn’t be so easy — I had a bad alternator that was overheating my battery. A problem which, I learned, can cause a battery to explode.
One downside of the rural lifestyle in situations like these is that most shops close down early on weekends, so as soon as I heard the words “bad alternator,” my mind went into a frenzy rearranging my next day’s plans.
But before my thinking could go into full overdrive, the young man who was helping me said he probably had the part, and that he might be able to find an old mechanic who could change it out. I thought he meant the next day, so I was still thinking I would be spending the night, but when he called the mechanic and put me on the phone, he told me he could be there within the hour.
I haven’t lived in every city in the world, but I’ve lived in a few, and one thing that seems to be a constant is that people make things more complicated than they are — especially when city-mind factors in. But that night, everything was simple. There was no hassling, no haggling, just something that needed to get done. The store had the part, a kind mechanic had the time, and my car got fixed within an hour and a half of my arrival, at a very reasonable price.
There’s a lot to be said about being a master of a trade, and there’s even more to be said about being the master of one people rely on, like fixing cars, or maintaining farms, or digging wells, or building habitable structures. We live in an economy dominated largely by invisible numbers, but in a place like Calaveras, things feel more straight-forward — life feels very real, and the concept of work vs. value is very tangible.
The icing on the cake was the connection I made with the mechanic that night — the kind of connection that is always waiting around the corner in a small town. He lives on the same street where I worked every day last year, and where my friends still live. We also bonded over knowing many of the same people. To top it off, he possessed a gentle, protective kindness that reminded me of my grandpa, which gave me an indescribable feeling of peace. Leaving Calaveras is never easy for me, but as I drove away that night, with the hills in my rearview and the moon guiding me with her light, I couldn’t help but beam with tremendous gratitude, both for my connection to such a beautiful place, and to the people who enrich that beauty with their combination of valuable skill and intuitive humanity.
I think I’m going to play out the rest of my twenties in my new city, but I have no doubt where a piece of my heart remains, and where my soul feels most at home. There is a deep, rooted peace I feel when I look out to the mountains, when I breathe the air from the massive trees, and when I am connected to people so willing to help me on my way. Although I may not originally be from Calaveras County, it is always in my dreams.