This past weekend brought me to Lake County, California, where my initial reaction upon arrival was: What the hell is a lake doing down there?
That there is Clear Lake, so named for its greenish hue. Clear Lake, the centerpiece of Lake County, could be the oldest lake in North America, according to some geologists as well as the hopes and dreams of its struggling tourism industry. The lake rests on a series of fault lines which push the bottom of the lake down at the same rate at which it fills with sediment, ensuring the lake’s unusual longevity.
Clear Lake, or as my father likes to call it, Blue Collar Lake Tahoe, is shockingly the largest natural lake wholly within California. I say “shockingly” because it rests in the mountains behind a rain shadow in an arid chaparral environment with no major river inlets. There is no snow pack as there is with the Sierra Nevada, and summers typically have temperatures at an upwards of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Not to mention, it is surrounded by wine country, whose cash crop is notorious for excessive water use. How a lake ever existed there in the first place is beyond me, let alone how it continues to survive humanity.
But alas, there Clear Lake sits in Lake County, north of the Bay Area and west of Sacramento. As far as I can tell, most of the state is oblivious to its existence. It is nearly impossible to get to by accident, and it isn’t on the way to anything, nor does it have the recreational appeal of Sierra lakes, whose glacial waters promise a crisp, refreshing alternative to Clear Lake’s warm, murky, mercury-laden shores.
Culturally, Lake County is peculiar to me in the sense that it felt almost more like Texas than it did California. In general, Californians spend their leisure time in a hurry: bike ride in the AM, get coffee at 11:00, lunch, yoga from 1:00-2:00, read novel from 2:00-2:30, sit under tree from 2:30 to 2:45, and so on and so forth. At the end of the day, the day off was more stressful than a day of work. In Texas, people are content to grab a six pack, head to the shore, and drink all day under the sun. Which is precisely what I saw at Clear Lake.
But I think what took me most aback about Lake County was my inability to categorize it with another part of the state. It isn’t Bay Area: it doesn’t have that liberal cultural influence, nor does it revolve around “disruptive” technologies and young entrepreneurs talking about their startup ideas. It isn’t the North Coast: it’s not covered in Redwoods and inhabited by the aging flower children of the 60’s growing pot in their vegetable gardens. It’s not the Central Valley: it’s generally homogeneously white with no perceptible resentment towards Sacramento politics. And it doesn’t have enough hillbilly conservative unemployed ranchers to be included in the Great State of Jefferson.
It’s just it’s own thing with its own people, perched in the Coastal Mountains, oblivious to the rest of the state.
Although it does have a quickly growing wine industry. Take that, Napa!