Taking the road to Happy Camp

On a recent road trip — the first in a long, long time — we drove the stretch between O’Brien and Happy Camp where the Slater Fire tore through last autumn. Charred desolation unfolded all the way to the horizon, offering a grim harbinger of what lies in store for the American West’s tinder-dry landscapes in the months ahead (indeed blazes in Northern California and elsewhere are already underway). Although fire has always been a recurring feature of these parts for millennia, misguided policy as well as surging temperatures and drought (both fuelled by man-made climate change — thank you, Exxon et al!) means that their frequency, intensity and duration have ramped up like never before.


The scientist Michael E. Mann powerfully argues in The New Climate War that [wildfires, heat domes, megadroughts and flooding notwithstanding] we shouldn’t fall into despair-filled inertia about the climate crisis. Tracing how fossil fuel companies have shifted from peddling outright climate denial to a strategy of equally nefarious deflection and delay, he makes a convincing case for urgent systemic change — most notably, the electrification and decarbonisation of our economies and infrastructure. You only have to take the road to Happy Camp to see what’s at stake if we do not.


I made a bee-line to water as soon as we got to the mountains. A mile-long swim in Castle Lake (pictured) on one day; a thorough soaking from the icy, invigorating spatters of McCloud Middle Falls the next. Water really does make everything better. Or at least more bearable.


Observing a bevy of maskless Boomers (vaccinated, one hopes) practising the tango in the McCloud Mercantile Hotel’s ballroom, I felt like I’d stepped into a parallel universe (or maybe just travelled back in time to 2019). But of course this was very much 2021 — a couple of weeks later, my cousin was admitted to Cape Town hospital to receive oxygen. (Thankfully, after a few days, he was well enough to be discharged.)


We had only just arrived at the last stop on our itinerary — Lassen Volcanic National Park — when we got a flat. I’ve honed numerous skills during quarantine, but sadly tyre-changing wasn’t among them. And so, for the second time in my life, I was in a national park with a flat tyre and no cell service. Thankfully, just like the last time, a park ranger came to the rescue, helping us to put on the spare.


Our road trip thus cut short, the mighty Lassen volcano remains unconquered (by me, that is). I am, in the meantime, attempting another endurance feat: reading Ulysses. At times it’s exhilarating; for the most part it’s a slog. Still, thanks to the support of my fellow book clubbers (who share, it appears, my masochistic streak) I’ve stuck with it; a reading guide and annotations have helped immeasurably too. While James Joyce’s tendency to be a smarty-pants show off is annoying, I’m struck by how daring and brave he was to write something this playful, outrageous, dense, unflinching and provocative. His determination to honour his own artistic vision (critics and censors be dammed!) is an inspiration.


Watching Luxe Listings Sydney (Amazon Prime Video) has been far more enjoyable. Charting the hijinks of various hyper-competitive realtors selling multi-million dollar homes in Australia’s biggest city, the show is a Lamborghini-, infinity pool- and Gucci-crammed delight — complete and utter trash that I don’t want to stop gorging on. Pass the Cheetos please!


The sun-drenched TV version of Sydney is, of course, MUCH more fun than Sydney IRL right now must be. Eish…


I visited in 2017. And, while California has no shortage of lovely swimming spots, I continue to pine after the Bondi Icebergs (pictured) and Bronte’s tidal pool.


I’m listening to an audio version of Pride & Prejudice that came free with my Audible subscription; this one’s impeccably and enchantingly narrated by Rosamund Pike. Every time I return to Austen, I’m reminded by just how brilliant, funny and entertaining she was. (Is?) She’s WAY more intelligible than Joyce, too (though admittedly intelligibility was unlikely much of a priority for him). If you’re in the market for listening that’s a tad more lowbrow, then binge on the bizarre, fascinating, byzantine Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen podcast (thanks, Erin!).


Well done! You’ve reached the end of what’s supposed to be a monthly Dispatch (but has been rather tardy of late). This edition’s format and flow takes inspiration from Penguin Classics’ wonderful “Happy Readings” newsletter (if you’re a bookworm, I recommend subscribing to it). What have you been reading or listening to (and which trashy TV show should I tackle next)? What recipes have you been making? Does your sourdough starter have mould growing on it yet? Have you booked/cancelled/postponed your next vacation? Replies are always treasured so please do drop me a line.