Tall Tree and Tahoe

Several “down-time” days with Barney’s older daughter and her husband–first in Palo Alto and then at Lake Tahoe–made for a relaxing break in my cross-country trip. Katie and Greg are now empty nesters twice over–Will, a graduate of USC (with parents who are alumni of rival UCLA) and Peter, a recent graduate of Northwestern who’s enjoying a “Covid bonus” year of football eligibility as the Wildcats’ long snapper while he pursues a Master’s in business.

Literally, “Palo Alto” means “tall stick” and refers to giant redwoods that give the city its name. One of the tallest, as seen in the photo below, towers over a neatly manicured corner of Katie and Greg’s backyard.

Having grown up walking everywhere in my northern Ohio hometown (which was outfitted with sidewalks), I’ve always enjoyed visiting Palo Alto and taking blocks-long walks through shady neighborhoods. It’s a university town, so not surprising to set out from Tasso Street and find myself strolling one literary namesake after another–streets like Cowper, Tennyson, Lowell, Emerson, Coleridge, Whitman, Bryon, and Chaucer, among others.

Palo Alto is home to the beautiful campus of Stanford University where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard met as students. The iconic garage on Addison Avenue, where they founded their company in 1939, is now an official California Historical Landmark with a plaque that declares it the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley.” Hewlett-Packard’s first big contract directed them to produce electronic testing and measurement equipment for the production of Walt Disney’s animated film “Fantasia.”

Leland Stanford Junior University was born out of tragedy in 1884 when Leland and Jane Stanford’s only child died of typhoid fever while traveling in Europe. His parents established the university in 1891 in his memory. Any list of distinguished alumni includes a widely diverse collection of graduates who have made contributions to American life. A small sampling might include Herbert Hoover, John Steinbeck, Sandra Day O’Connor, Me Jemison, Larry Page, Peter Thiel, Mitt Romney, Elon Musk, Tiger Woods, Reese Witherspoon, Cory Booker, Ted Koppel, Sigourney Weaver, and Rachel Maddow.

Like so many others, Katie and Greg have worked mostly from home for many, many months, dividing their time between Palo Alto and the place they built lovingly on the north side of Lake Tahoe a few years ago. Tucked into the Sierra Nevada mountains and treasured for its clear water, Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States (1,645 feet to Crater Lake’s 1,949 feet). It straddles the California/Nevada state line, measuring 22 miles wide and 12 miles long. Statistics promise 290 days of sunshine sparkling on that clear water every year.

I enjoyed several long walks at Tahoe, too, but at an elevation of 6,400 feet, it took more stamina. Even a slight incline on a path can take your breath away for a second or two. On Memorial Day, we had lunch on the lakeside patio of a rustic restaurant, enjoying sunny skies and breezes while large and small boats bobbed at their buoys nearby. As one of many efforts to keep Lake Tahoe as pristine as possible, most boat owners tie up to buoys, and there is a limit to the number allowed. On that beautiful afternoon, it would have been difficult to imagine the choking flames and smoke that parts of this area–especially South Lake Tahoe–have endured since my trip.

CAT-TASTROPHE ALMOST! I am pretty much a dog person, but Katie and Greg are cat people and brought their now senior citizen cat with them to the lake. Brady (named for Tom Brady, though I’ve forgotten why) is a beautiful, creamy European Burmese chosen for her friendly personality. Greg had warned me back in Palo Alto to be very careful not to leave any doors open because Brady likes to sneak out, climb up and hide under the neighbors’ solar panels–a difficult place to retrieve her.

I did well with the alert until one morning when they were working from home upstairs and I was catching up with my journal downstairs. Brady came down and curled up next to me for a bit, even purring a little before hopping down. I guess I assumed she’d gone back upstairs when I opened the patio door to take my laptop out to the picnic table, but Brady apparently had been plotting in the wings to slip out when I wasn’t looking.

A while later, we couldn’t find her anywhere in the house. “She’s never been outdoors up here,” Katie said ominously as we all headed out to search the yard and the path, calling her name. No luck. Panic invaded my heart. All I could think of–and try not to think of–was big black bears and swooping peregrine hawks. I soooo didn’t want to be the culprit who did in the cat! We searched and called, but she didn’t come. Finally, I headed back downstairs to check the extra bedrooms, and there, to my great relief, sat Brady, right outside the patio door, calmly waiting to be let in. Whew!

My last evening there, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at The Sawyer at Shaffer’s Mill, located “down in the valley” near Truckee but still at 5800 feet elevation. Eating in the outdoor bar area as the day–and my visit–came to an end was so relaxing amid golden sunlight and lengthening shadows. A special evening to end a special visit.

I’d now traveled about as “fer West” as I could go and would be heading east and north in the morning.

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