by Patty Harvey

Winter in Humboldt County. Long nights, few if any visitors, heater addiction. There is a growing depression in the terra cotta in front of our wood stove and a growing crispiness on the backside of my favorite bathrobe. First one stands facing the life-giving combustion, then gravely turns and toasts the backside. Repeat for six to eight months and buy a new robe.

Last year was our first whole winter in Willow Creek, in our once-upon-a-past vacation house about 3,000 feet up Bran-nan Mountain.

When does a vacation house cease to be one? When you hang the baggage of your daily affairs upon its rustic rafters. Our homely rock wall summer cabin, once steeped in harmonious surrender to silence, began to buzz with meddlings of phone, fax, computer and spouse's many cacophonous guy projects.

So we worked, marveled at the furies of no-nonsense rains, watched the river rise, watched videos and stood by the wood stove. Our cats discovered snow, refused to go outside and demanded union benefits in the form of litter boxes. They had a very persuasive form of lobbying.

I was a poor sport. I went to work in the dark and came home the same way. I toasted my robe, grumbled about the rain and longed for more daylight.

Do I have an ancient affliction with the chic new title, "Seasonal Affectiveness Syndrome?" I don't know. If so, I'm not alone because I really didn't notice how many visitors from the sunnier climes we didn't have last winter until summer arrived, and so did they.

They came in a steady stream, filled with goodwill and ready for respite from the rigors of Southern California living, ready for fishing, rafting, berry pie and freedom from daily grinds. They wanted to see "real" Indians. They wanted to talk and talk and so did we. I guess that's why we invited so many. How were we to know they'd all come?

Some stayed one night, some on and on, not bearing to leave, hanging in there to see who might show up next. We had all kinds: distant relations, bachelor friends, single moms with and without kids, old friends, friends of friends, and, of course, our adult children who pay the usual touch-base, laundry-detail visits, along with the coterie of their friends, just in case of geezer overload. We welcomed a rainbow of race and culture. It was as much fun presenting our visitors to the environs as vice versa.

Here we were, two teachers, one doctor, one electrical engineer, a Karate master and a building contractor together in a rubber raft, casting off at Pigeon Point campground for a little baptismal whitewater experience. Half the company is French. Who will lead? The contractor, of course, because he lives here and by God owns the boat.

He is also the only one who speaks no French. The boat makes progress, most of it circular. Commands are shouted out, yet each sailor follows orders issuing from deep within his or her own psyche, and in a language suited to preference. As each rapid is approached, faces reflect anxious concentration as each begins to paddle with crazed abandon, despite desperate cries from the raft's owner to lay up oars. As it turns out, it is the contractor's wife who suffers the only casualty, finding herself inconveniently under her spouse after a free fall through Hell Hole.

The French are charmed by all they see and want to see the Indians who, we patiently explain, are not like in the Westerns. They are agog, visiting a Hupa/Yurok family we know, and thrilled to receive a "medicine" bundle of herbs and a bead necklace as mementos.

Then we piled in the car and took them to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Gold Bluff, Fern Canyon, and happen across a stick game near Orick. Our French are in heaven.

We end up at the Trinidad pier, eating berry pie bought at a stand, admiring the view, watching the passers-by stare as our friends chatter away in French. A curious fisherman approaches, drawn by the romantic accents.

"So, uh, where you folks from?"

"We come from Paris" they answer in their best lyceé English.

"No kidding? Imagine! Lookin' out your back door at the Eiffel Tower!" His voice reflects reverence, awe.

It has been a perfect day. And suddenly the seals are everywhere, diving, cavorting, showing off. "Phoques, Phoques, Gérard, viens voir ces PHOQUES!" screams Frédérique. Toute de suite, heads swivel in their direction, aghast, disbelieving. Hélas, what an attention-getting word the French have for "seal."

So winter is here, company gone, time to stoke the stove and unpack that new robe.

Or maybe I'll wait until next summer. There won't be any visitors around to see it until then anyway.

Patty Harvey is and has been, variously, a freelance writer, teacher, waitress, housecleaner and traffic flagger, transplanted from Santa Barbara and now rooted in Willow Creek.

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