Troubled bridge over waters …

Here in S’lano County, where men are men and women can bench press Honda Civics, we tend to revere our bridges, whether it be the sparkling span that straddles the Carquinez Strait in Vallejo or the quaint, whitewashed Thurber Bridge along strategically ambiguous Pleasants Valley Road north of Vacaville.We partied on the Carquinez Bridge when the new span opened a few years ago, and last month a select group of Solanoans gleefully gathered in a pasture near the recently renamed Thurber span to celebrate the 100th birthday of that two-lane bridge.

Sad as it seems, not all of California’s counties love bridges the way we do here in S’lano County.

Take Butte County, for instance.

Located just a hop, skip and a jump up Highway 99 from Yuba City, Butte County is currently experiencing an orphaned bridge problem. Near the aptly named community of Paradise – home of the renowned Hootch Hut liquor store – there are at least two historic bridges which are neither celebrated, nor even claimed, by any municipality, government agency, private business or citizens’ bridge booster committee.

According to a recent article by Nicole Pothier of the Paradise Post, two old bridges near Magalia, north of Paradise, have fallen on hard times and nobody can figure out who’s supposed to fix them.

The bridges are along old Ponderosa Way, part of a thoroughfare that was built in the 1930s, stretching 700 miles from the Kern River in the south to the Pitt River in the north.

I’m told an eight-lane interstate freeway had been envisioned, but since freeways hadn’t been invented yet, the engineers most likely just wandered off to Oroville to celebrate the end of Prohibition.

The truck route eventually fell out of use, probably due to the aforementioned freeways of the future which became the freeways of the present.

Several government agencies apparently had jurisdiction over the old route as the years passed, but once the bridges were sufficiently deteriorated, it seemed nobody wanted to claim responsibility for them.

(“My bridge? Whaddaya mean MY bridge? That’s your bridge, pal, and you’re welcome to it. I wouldn’t try to walk a butterfly across that thing …”)

Instead of celebrating their historic bridges with bands, donkey races and a judicious amount of alcohol, Butte County wrings its collective hands and looks the other way while wary rural residents cautiously inch over the dilapidated structures and pray that they’ll be able to reach Pitt River before the next big snow.

This is a pretty sorry state of affairs.

I know Butte County. My kids grew up in Paradise, and I can’t begin to count the number of time they’ve phoned me to lament, “Daaaaaad, the bridges up here all suck.”

I think it’s way past time for S’lano County leaders to extend the hand of friendship to their rustic counterparts in the north and offer to show them how to have fun with bridges before all the folks around Magalia are swallowed up by bottomless potholes and rushing waters.

Let’s bridge this gap, amigos. It’s just the right thing to do …

Originally published May 13, 2007

Underwater ouzels? Yeah, sure…

My ex-father-in-law is a former logger of the vast Pacific Northwest, so it stands to reason he’s seen some strange things in his time (not the least of which are the lively antics of fellow loggers of the vast Pacific Northwest).

I’ve learned over the years to refrain from challenging my ex-father-in-law’s tall tales because no sooner do I do so than he provides incontrovertible proof of their veracity.

I poked fun at his tales of tree-climbing gunmen in dog suits, only to have him show me that police had been summoned to round up just such a gang of armed canine impersonators.

Then he told me about the Butte County terrorist who was kidnapping goats, painting them green and threatening lawmen with a golf bag.

Again I expressed disbelief and my ex-father-in-law – also known as Bill – promptly produced a newspaper that described the incident in lurid detail.

(It should be noted that Butte County lawmen aren’t usually intimidated by empty golf bags, but in this instance they thought the bag was a light anti-tank weapon. Nobody knows exactly why.)

Bill has been strangely reticent in recent months, but last week he tried to sneak a flock of ouzels past me.

“Haven’t seen any ouzels around here, but they always used to be up on the creek, walking around underwater,” Bill mentioned. “We used to call them water ouzels because they’d be right up by the creek and then ‘Zeet!’ down they’d go for a stroll around on the bottom.”

Yeah, like I’m going to fall for that. No way am I going to bite on a story about underwater ouzels.

Without a word I spooned up another helping of my ex-mother-in-law’s Frito-and-bean casserole and waited for Bill to continue.

“We sure loved those little ouzels, even though we hardly ever saw them because they were always stomping around on the bottom. You know, underwater?” Bill continued enthusiastically. “I wonder what the crawdads thought of ’em…”

When I didn’t respond to his description of the avian submariners, Bill must have signaled to my ex-mother-in-law, who produced an obscure ornithological text and pointed out a small bird pictured therein.

“There’s one. It’s just not called an ouzel, but if it was, that’d be what an ouzel looks like,” she explained.

“Uh-hmmmm,” I muttered noncommittally, determined not to be caught off guard. No matter what they said, the two wily senior citizens weren’t going to get me to challenge the existence of water ouzels.

Then my daughter cheerfully entered the conversation.

“Oh yeah, Dad – there used to be oodles of ouzels up near Deer Creek. We saw them all the time, jumping into the water, jumping out of the water, jumping into the water, jumping out of the water, jumping into the water…”

My ex-father-in-law now had me at a distinct disadvantage. Although I didn’t believe there were any such things as water ouzels, to voice unsubstantiated dissent would certainly invite disaster.

I eventually scuttled into the night without having uttered more than eight words during the course of the meal.

Help me out here – if you’ve ever seen a water ouzel, heard a water ouzel or eaten a water ouzel, drop me a line. I’ll probably be seeing my ex-father-in-law by Labor Day and I’ll be damned if he gets the jump on me again…

Originally published July 1, 2001