Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bjorn and his Big Blue Truck

Just before you hit the Busy Bee bakery - this is on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, in Inverness Park - you want to take a left onto Vallejo Avenue.  We were heading to the Blackthorne Inn, and if you go, request the Eagle's Nest as the place to lay your head.  Trust me.

You've been hiking in Pt. Reyes, right?  In the Spring?  When the lupine, poppies, and shooting stars create a crazy gorgeous tapestry?  Go.  Spring is around the corner.  So go, and make sure you turn left onto Vallejo.

That's just what we did the first time we went.

I'm thinking about that trip now because it was thirty years ago this month that the Big Rain hit.  If people hereabouts talk about The Storm, that's the one they mean.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  It's just before the little green bridge that you turn onto Sir Francis Drake.  The road sign is often missing, so keep your eyes open.  Like I said, at the corner with the Busy Bee, you turn onto Vallejo and head up the hill.  But just before the Blackthorne, there on the right, you'll notice a false note.  What's a blue tarp doing there, almost buried in leaves from the months-old winter drop?

It won't make sense to you, and it didn't make sense to us - surely someone would have gathered it up, thrown it away?

The reason we noticed is because an artificial patch of blue, even when mostly obscured by fallen leaves, sticks out if it's been discarded in the middle of all that nature.

I don't know why the image of the tarp stuck with me, don't know why I asked the Inn's handyman about it the next day.  But I did.  And this is what he told us:

Were you living in California in '82?  Don't suppose you remember the storm we had that January?  Worst storm to hit the North Coast in anyone's memory.  One meteorologist called it a punk storm because of the damage it did.  Dumped a half-year's worth of rain in about a day.

It closed the Golden Gate Bridge, derailed trains.  Ten people down in Santa Cruz, below Love Creek?  They got buried dead in a mudslide.  Then there was a hunt for a Bengal tiger that got loose.  Some pot-growers in La Honda had used the cat for a watch-dog until he escaped in all the wet.

Here, in Inverness?  It was bad.  We were cut off from help for days.  But people really pitched in.  Manka's served the storm's refugees on linen tablecloths.

And here?  Before this was officially the Blackthorne Inn?  Two couples owned it.  Will and Patricia were one of the couples.  They also owned an old pick-up truck and a dog.  The pick-up was blue, the dog was a Shepherd mix.  Bjorn loved his truck.  He slept in the bed every night, come rain or shine.  When Will would take off to run errands, Bjorn would hop in the back and hang his German-Shepherd face over one side of the bed, then run across and check things out on the other side, happy only as a dog in a truck can be.

Will and Patricia, though, they'd agreed to sell the truck.  Probably hadn't asked Bjorn what he thought, but....

A teenager had come and given the blue truck a test-drive.  Decided it was just what he was looking for.  They agreed on a price, and the boy was going to pick it up the next weekend.  Then the rain came.

Came down hard.  For hours.  Then for a day.  Can you imagine hard rain for an entire day, and then more?  The ground soaks up the water, but like a sponge, at some point there's just too much.

It rained past that point.  When a hillside gives way, the sound?  It's like a dozen locomotives, all of them angry.  Mud and rocks and trees, torn from the earth, rushing downhill - I hope I never hear that sound again.

When it was light enough to see, we went out to check the damage.  First thing Will saw was that the truck was gone.  Patricia started calling for Bjorn, but he was gone, too.

Will found the truck.  It'd been taken from outside his cabin, where it was parked uphill from the Blackthorne, and swept a ways down Vallejo.  Swept down and engulfed under a hundred tons of mud.

The tarp you saw?  The blue tarp?  That's the top of the cab.  Of the truck.  The rest is underneath, buried.  They figured Bjorn just hunkered there in the bed of the truck and went down with it.

That was enough for Will and Patricia.  They were through.  So the Blackthorne - or what was left - only had one couple owning it.  It was going to take a lot of digging out and rebuilding, so that's when it became an Inn.  The money for all that work had to come from somewhere.

But Will and Patricia?  They come back early every Spring.  They set out a blanket on the side of the road and turn up the music.  While Will repaints the top of the truck's cab with a new coat of blue, Patricia plants flowers over where the bed of the truck would be.  So we get flowers in the Spring to remind us of Bjorn.  Flowers and a fresh coat of blue paint.  That way, we don't forget.

And now that I've told you, well - you have to promise not to forget, either.  Promise?

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