Empire Mine State Park

There was an arson arrest made related to the fire that broke out near my house and my mother’s house. We live in the foothills of Northern California and fire is a very real danger here.

We are still watching the details of the fire, as it is still an active incident.  We are still prepared to evacuate.  With regard to the arsonist, I’m very sad that someone set fire to our neighborhood and Empire Mine State Park. I say this as I listen to more sirens drive by.

Empire Mine has been my morning walk and my happy place for the past three years. It is my community park.  It is my place of nature and peace. I have hiked every trail more than once. More than twice. More than ten times.

Empire Mine State Park is the place where I get my steps. It is the place where I listen to Mozart or Joni Mitchell or Eminem, depending on my mood. It is the place I take friends and family to show off the beauty of my neighborhood. I have met humans and dogs there. I have met squirrels and lizards and deer. I smile every time I pass by a fern or a wild flower or an interesting leaf.  I have watched trees grow there. I have marveled at the colors in the park.  Lately, I have loved the green and the yellow and the crimson.

I took my mom for the first time last week.  We walked from Penn Gate (an entrance mostly used by locals and horse riders) to the visitor’s center.  I gave her the three-penny tour and told her that I’d show her the rest of the park in the coming weeks.

Right now, I don’t know how much of the park is left.

There is a bridge in the park that my wife and I cross on a regular basis. I usually make her stop and kiss me when we cross the bridge.


It smells like pine and dust and grease and something like linseed oil.  It smells a lot like the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.  We cross it every time we walk through Empire Mine State Park. I’m not sure right now if it is still standing.

This year, in the spring, at the back of the park, my wife and I paused to watch bumble bees going wild amongst the sage. There were purple flowers for days and an incredible buzzing. It was so alive. Yesterday, as I walked through that part of the park, I caught a whiff of the sage drying in the autumn heat and I smiled for the changing of the seasons.

I still don’t know the extent of the damage but my heart breaks. My heart breaks about the fire and it breaks that someone could have been so careless or mentally ill or downtrodden or desperate to unleash such an expense on a community.

I don’t know enough of the details to be mad or vengeful or heated. I don’t know that any details will ever make me feel mad or vengeful or heated.

I feel sad. I feel really sad right now. And, based on the initial reports about damage, I’m probably going to feel sad for a really, really long time.

I have taken pictures almost every day for the last year. This is my park.  This is my heart.  This is my place.







*If you feel inclined to do something, please donate to Yubanet.com, our local fire-safety website. ($2 is fine. $200 is nice too. Donate what you can. There is no auto-renew and no additional obligation.) Yubanet has kept so many people aware and safe in times of devastation. The site in run by an incredible person and is the go-to communication when it comes to fire danger: http://yubanet.com/subscriptions/


It has been nice to get out of Nevada County and find a worthy distraction to adjust my head space. Portland is a worthy distraction. Portland is outer-space.

For Portland, as for any victim of stereotyping and sketch comedy, there is a grain of truth that makes the prejudices rude and the sketches funny. Portland is a place filled with art, ideas and front-yard vegetable gardens. It is a place where people stock there their fridges with passion fruit flavored beer and go out to tiki-themed bars and order rum drinks with kitsch names like “Navy Grog” and “Zombie Punch.” It is a place of flagrant whimsy.

Yet, there is no garbage in Portland. Within the city limits, there is only compost and recycling and, if you think you have found garbage, it is because you have disrupted the somber chi of our Holy Mother Earth or because you lack the creativity to find a reasonable excuse for salvage. Portland accepts no garbage. I have been in Portland a mere thirteen hours and I know this to be true.

I walked about a mile this morning to find coffee. I moseyed along, passing judgment on each house’s garden and expecting to see more cyclists or find a closer coffee shop. The rain in Oregon makes Portland egregiously lush. Each yard has at least five varieties of fancy foliage in perfect condition. Daphnes, dahlias, rhododendron, Japanese maples, poppies, peonies and so much more. It’s as though there is a city ordinance that declares that all residents must possess a green thumb.

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I am traveling with friends to a farming conference in Tacoma and Portland is a stop in transit. We got in last night to rest before making the last leg into Washington. We stayed at the home of a Nevada County ex-patriot and her partner, and were greeted with warm smiles and the pleasant glow of holiday lighting.  In June.

Entering their home was like stumbling into an art gallery. The living room and dining area were painted in shades of turquoise, making the wood floors look like a beach and the rugs like colorful beach towels. Orange curtains dressed the windows and no wall or shelf was spared from art. There were ledges filled with sentimental knickknackery, potted house plants and books on obscure subjects. The fireplace mantle was decorated with ships and mermaids. After walking down the lime green hall, into the sunrise-colored kitchen stocked with jars with home-canned foods, all my mental representations about Portland were solidified.

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 I love Portland, Oregon.  The place is awesome.