Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Very Beginnings

Dear Larry,

You wanted to know something about how and why we met as we did fifty-four years ago. As is the case with almost all enduring associations, it began with a girl.

            When my father divorced my mother and moved to Mount Baldy I was somewhat despondent. True the separation was depressing, but the thought that I might have been able to live in one of the cabins that lined the roads in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains almost overpowered me. I knew the mountains from the time I was a child and I felt that I was meant for them. As I have written elsewhere, I was a Mountain boy along with being a Creek boy. My ideal setting for a home would be in the mountains, next to a trout stream, surrounded by pine trees. I hanker for snow fall, particularly at night with a warm fire in an open fireplace. I had all of these things at Forest Home, every weekend from October of 1959 until the following July. I could not have asked for more; I was satisfied.

            East of Redlands, by following highway 38, a wilderness enthusiast can soon find himself in one of the most glorious natural settings in California. Within a twenty mile radius can be found San Bernardino Peak, Shields Peak, Grinnell Mountain, Anderson Peak, and San Gregornio Mountain, all in excess of 10,000 feet. It is a spectacular Wilderness Area. From the junction of highway 38 from Redlands and Mentone and the main road from Yucaipa, the road enters the main defile of Mill Creek Canyon and quickly climbs in elevation. The view up the canyon focuses on Anderson Peak at 10,864 feet and San Gregornio directly behind at 11,459 feet. For seven miles the roadway winds around the southern skirts of Morton Peak, with Birch Mountain and Wilshire Peak rising from the south side of the canyon. After those seven miles, the highway doubles back on itself and climbs to Angeles Oaks, passes on the south of Sugarloaf Mountain and then winds around through the eastern part of the national forest to Big Bear City. At the point where the road double back, a small improved road climbs south and east to Forest Falls, a small community half way between San Bernardino Peak on the north and Wilshire Peak on the south. A mile or two before Forest Falls, the main road passes through the middle of Forest Home, a conference center owned and operated by the Baptist Church.

            Forest Home was divided in two, Upper Camp and Lower Camp, now called Lakeview and Forest Center. The Upper Camp was located on a ridge to the north of the main road. To get to the Upper Camp the camper would walk or drive east for a mile or so where the road from the Upper Camp joined the main road from the north. Upper Camp was quite new and well-appointed. A lake, called Lake Mears, had been made by damming a large creek. The road made a picturesque loop around the lake and ended in front of the main lodge and an apartment complex. As it sat on the edge of the ridge, the view into the upper reaches of the canyon were beautiful. The view down into the valley was obscured a good portion of the time by the smog blown in from Los Angeles. The view and the complex were luxurious enough that most of us staff members seldom found ourselves at the Upper Camp. We were allowed on infrequent occasions to swim at the lake when there were no paying guests to attend to. We were also called up once or twice to deal with wildlife that had ventured beyond their established boundaries.

            The Lower Camp was quaint. The main lodge and dining hall was located right off the road on the south side of the highway. All of the food and supplies came into the camp through that lodge. I frequently found myself functioning as a dock loader without belonging to the union. All of the staff quarters were located at Lower Camp. Management staff had their own homes to live in. The boys and the girls had their own cabins. I cannot recall ever having been in the girls' cabin; I am not even sure where it was. Just as well, I suppose. The boys' cabin was across the highway from the main lodge and down the ridge a hundred yards or so. The residence was rustic, but comfortable. I enjoyed staying there.

            Up the hill to the south were an amphitheater (now called Victory Circle), a small camp store (now called Blinco Lodge and Bookstore), and a small chapel (now called Cook Prayer Chapel). The rest of the camp was given over to cabins and small dormitories. Down the hill to the north ran a small stream, a tributary of which had been dammed to make the lake. The creek ran down the canyon from Forest Falls and environs. I do not know whether the stream had fish in it; I never had time to find out. I did have time to sit on the bank of the stream, however; sometimes by myself, sometimes with my friends when they were willing just to listen to the wonderful natural world we were part of. Each season had its own charms and I could not have been happier than when I was in camp with a little free time to drink in the mountain air, filled with the smell of pine resin. It was for me, a taste of heaven. I was also in the company of angels who were determined that I would become one like unto them. They succeeded far better than they knew, although the fruits of their labors would take some time to develop.
I'll write about the girl later.