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The serenity of a babbling brook

I’m back on the Sac this week, the Upper Sacramento River to be precise. It’s the 50-mile stretch that runs along Highway I-5 from Mt. Shasta to Lake Shasta. For nearly three decades now, these headwaters of California’s largest river have been my “home stream.”

It is a pretty little thing, gently winding and tumbling through a tree-lined canyon, wild enough for bears, foxes, deer and all manner of birds to call it home, yet so close to our state’s major north-south highway that you reach dozens of access points just by taking one of the many exit roads that lead down to its forested banks.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the only ways to get up here was by horse-drawn stagecoach or train.

Numerous resorts were built along its banks, their guests arriving by a train that ran parallel to the water. There were no dams on the river then and huge runs of salmon and steelhead rewarded anglers of every skill level. Eventually, people started building cabins near train stops and resorts at vacation enclaves with names like Sweet Briar and Castella.

The town of Dunsmuir, about 50 miles north of Redding, became a busy hub and residence for lumberjacks, miners and resort and railroad workers. Today, it is a shadow of its former bustling self, but still worth a stop, especially to dine at Cafe Maddalena, the best gourmet restaurant for many miles.

Just around the corner from Maddalena’s is the legendary Ted Fay Fly Shop, owned and operated by my friend Bob Grace. His shop is always my first stop.

Scattered here and there along the railroad tracks, remnants of that bygone era remain, but you’d never seen them unless you took the time for side trips off the highway.

Dottie and I and our Sonoma friends and neighbors, Tom and Katherine Culligan, are staying in one of those old spots– Castella, once a thriving resort. The cabin we rent, owned by Ken and Mona Carr, was built when its owners took the train in and out. In fact, the tracks are only about 50 feet from the front door. The old shack vibrates every time a train goes by and there is a crossing a short distance away that requires several long toots of the train’s whistle. We hardly notice anymore.

Out the back door, the scene is entirely different. A large swath of tree-line green grass leads down to a peaceful stretch of stream broken in many places by boulders providing cover and feeding spots for rainbow trout.

Although many of the old cabins still exist, I rarely see another angler on the water, and walking around the village, you get the impression that most of the cabins are unoccupied most of the time.

Dottie likes this spot because she can fish for short periods, then walk back to the cabin to relax and read for a while.

Although my age has slowed my wading considerably, I have a tendency to stay out fishing for as long as there are fish interested in what I’m offering.

It doesn’t need to be a lot. A rise or a peck now and then is all it takes for me to abide there just a little longer. Even though I sometimes feel the strain in my leg muscles, the rest of me enjoys the benefits of the best stress-reducing therapy that nature can provide.

In those moments, in the shelter of majestic and magical Mt. Shasta, the cares of today float away with the current and I am at peace in the serenity that only a babbling brook can provide.

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