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Where he was Richard Peña | Sat, May 03 2014 12:00 PM

In discussing possible story lines for this space in the coming weeks, the consensus was that it could be a sort of a “then and now” theme. The thought was we might research people who, at one time, were prominent in the news and report on their current status. This could be former office holders, folks in the news because of business and perhaps even a writer or two.

In thinking about this one day last weekend I wondered how it would be to extend the idea beyond people and highlight happenings and events particularly those that have occurred in recent times. These are those things that happen to us, either personally or indirectly, but that, nonetheless, have an impact on us. 

The thought hit me as we were driving up the grade from I-8 to the Cuyamacas this past weekend for a simple picnic. Son David had come in to town for a few days and as is our custom when he is here we were out to explore. On our way to the Green Valley Falls campground I vividly recalled a morning not quite two years ago. It was on a Sunday in October of 2003. We awakened at the regular time but could see no sunshine. The sky was rather dark and we wondered if June gloom was not making a comeback, spoiling our expectations of pleasant days ahead. As a general rule, October is a rather nice month with only the occasional threat of a Santa Ana. It remains that way until we have our first rainstorm usually in late November.

We went to church that morning knowing that there was something ominous out there, a fire to be sure, but we knew not the extent of it. Had we turned on the television the night before, or even that Sunday morning, we would have known that half the back country of the county was one massive wall of flames.

It wasn’t until we returned home that morning that the severity of this fire became evident to us. We started hearing names like Crest and Scripps Ranch and other names, of which we had heard, but names of which we knew little. But finally we heard one that really triggered something within and though it was far from us it was, figuratively speaking, hitting close to home. And that area was Cuyamaca and the community of Julian.

The first time that I was in the Cuyamacas was sometime in 1938. I have a photograph taken of me relaxing on one of the large rocks near Green Valley Falls.  This was in my navy days and I had, no doubt, latched on to someone who had a car, or, at least, had access to one. It was a good 10 years, however, before I returned to the area, this time, a member of the community who would visit the site many times.

The kids were little and fortunately they loved an outing of any kind. We had some camping equipment, a tent that took 10 men and a boy to erect, a few sleeping bags that had seen better days and a Coleman stove that worked and still, for that matter, works. The camps in the Cuyamacas were easily accessible and they were within an hour’s drive from home. So we all learned to love and appreciate the huge oaks and towering pines that make up the forest. These trips, by the way, always included a side trip to Julian. We enjoyed the quaintness of the town, the shops, and, of course, the fried chicken and apple pie.

It was also along about that time that I was introduced to the school camp. As a sixth grade teacher I was able to take my class to the camp once a year. It is something that not only the pupils, but the teachers as well, anticipated each year. And the camp at Cuyamaca was our favorite.

And that is why we stayed glued to the television and the updates on the fire that weekend. We heaved a sigh of relief when we learned that the camp and Julian were spared but despaired at the apparent loss of much of the timber.
Our journey the other day showed us that though it has been nearly two years since the fire there is still stark reminders of the catastrophe. Many of the larger trees, though burned badly, are making a comeback. Greenery in the form of leaves and new growth are evident on some of the hardier oaks and even some of the manzanita.  There are, however, other large lodge pole pines, for example, still proudly pointing upward but still without a sign of growth. Many of these have a painted white stripe, a signal that they are in line for the woodman’s axe, a death warrant, so to speak.

This is the “now” of which we mentioned earlier. The forest people expect that in a few years all evidence of that catastrophe will be erased. Those of us who find solace in the out-of-doors certainly hope that they are right and that we will never experience such a fire again.

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