On Saturday February 22, I took the last train to Taylorsville, which had a population of 150 people until February 28, 2013. After that, the number went dropped to 149, because my sister Emily moved back to Anchorage, Alaska which is where she lived for fifteen years until 2009. That’s when she moved to Taylorsville. Her family rejoiced to have her with us in our arid state. And we all fell in love with Taylorsville. Until she lived there, we had never heard of it.
I went to Taylorsville to help Emily move her possessions from her apartment to a packing container which then shipped them to Alaska. Emily has an inflamed sciatic nerve and can’t get around as ably as she usually can.
Earlier that month, I asked “Emily, do you need help moving?”
“NO,” she said. And then, “I don’t know.” And then she sighed deeply. Two weeks later, I got the call. “I need your help!” she said.
I understood. It’s hard to know what you need sometimes. I packed my valise and made my way through the quartet of transit connections you must take if you have no car: BART, Amtrak bus, actual Amtrak train and then yet another Amtrak bus which dropped me in Oroville, the village of gold where the Feather River leaves her canyon, blowsy and bank-eroded, and makes her weary way to the Yuba River down in Marysville. Emily was waiting for me at a gas station.
Taylorsville is mostly lined up along Arlington Road, a long, straight road which peels off Highway 89, the Feather River Highway. Arlington Road can be treacherous. In 2011, my husband, my cousin and I drove to Taylorsville to spend President’s Day weekend with Emily. The snow was light at lower elevations. We finally put chains on at about 3,000 feet. I thought that’d be it; that would take care of the snow. But ice had formed on Arlington road. The car lost its footing and wandered over the roadbed. Fearful that we were going to crash, I stole a look at my cousin Piet, who was driving. His face was impassive, unconcerned.
I was reminded of the Studio Ghibli character Porco Rosso, a roguish, porcine pilot living in a fictional European county. Piet has a floppy forelock like Porco Rosso and shares his distaste for Fascism, and for the voluminous communication his chatty family enjoys. People tend to flap their hands around Piet in dismay at the unforeseen, the unanticipated, while he stands, silent and imperturbable, an island of thought, as plans unspool in his head. That cold winter night, as our little car meandered helplessly over the dark ice and I gasped in exorbitant fear, Piet, in the manner of the taciturn pig-pilot of Miyazaki’s imagination, exerted his will over the Honda Civic, and brought it under his control, just as Porco Rosso always glides his fighter biplane though a tough landing, emerging battered, maybe, but in control and still… not saying a word.
Taylorsville is sunlit, sparkling and hot in the summer, which is when I mostly visited Emily and very, very still in the winter, which is when I always wanted to visit her. During the winter, it has the ghostly black-and-white quality of a silent movie, with long blank fields dotted with barns that have bowed-out sides. Horses with impassive faces turn to look at you as you walk past them. I called Taylorsville Jotunheim once more or less jokingly, but I liked that notion and nurtured it. I meant to refer not just to its icy coldness during the winter, but also to its location: it was so hard to get to without a car that its distance made it mythic. The Indian Valley, which is what Taylorsville is nestled in, is bordered by Mount Hough to the west and the Keddie Ridge to the northeast. It’s easy to think of frost giants inhabiting the nearby mountains, looking just as they appear in Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire’s “Book of Norse Myths”, with their gap-toothed grins, bulbous noses and untidy hair.
When you look east, the mountain roots taper into each other giving the observer that classic overlapping perspective, each mountain foot crossing the next while the flat pasture-land threads its way through the gap. That’s what I like about the valley: The perspective is always narrowing down and disappearing.
This loss of perspective may be seen in other ways too: the day before I arrived, a woman drove off a bridge, drunk and heartbroken because she had been cheated on. Also, the general plan for Plumas County had come out. It was setting the conservative community of Plumas County on edge. I got a flyer at Young’s Market, the little store that serves Taylorsville. “Rural Advocates Protesting Plumas County”, it said. “A great idea has turned into a 435-page NIGHTMARE.” This circular carried a whiff of indignation just lying there on the counter at Young’s Market: I looked at it and imagined it as its literary predecessor: the colonial broadside, written on foolscap complete with the elaborate and confusing medial “S”: Rural Advocates Proteſting Plumas County, the headline would read, with a woodcut engraving accompanying it. The flyer mentioned Agenda 21 as the cause of all the problems. That, and the length of the new General Plan (“hundreds of pages”!!)
“What’s Agenda 21?” I asked the proprietor of Young’s Market, a canny older woman in her late seventies. “I’m not sure exactly, but it’s a UN thing,” she said. She wasn’t a fan of the General Plan. Agenda 21 is a UN non-binding “action-plan” which aims to promote that buzziest of centrist/left buzzwords: “sustainability”. The utterance of this word could get you beaten up in Plumas County, or Plumaf County as I had begun to think of it. It was first proposed at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. It has sparked open rebellion among the Tea Party, private property advocates and also some moderate Democrats who are shocked to find themselves agreeing with conservatives.
How is this takeover to be undertaken? Local governments come up with General Plans which are modeled on the language of the UN action plan. Well-heeled “consultants” descend from the metropolitan cores of San Francisco and Sacramento to help local governments adapt Agenda 21 goals. The evidence is all over the general plan, mostly evident by the repetition of key Agenda 21 terminology. Carol Viscarra, of the group the Indian Valley Citizens for Private Property Rights, pointed out at a Plumas County Planning Commission meeting that the term “sustainability” appears a stunning 77 times. IN THE GENERAL PLAN. Over and over and over again. This is not Plumaf County language.
It’s clear, Viscarra argues, that the general plan is a sort of junior Agenda 21.
But what’s really going to bring the enforced sustainability, in-fill and livability scheme to Plumas County- and hold your breath for this- is bicycles. Bicycles are the vanguard of the “sustainability” movement (suftainability?).
The Plumas County General plan draft contains this language: “The County shall encourage pedestrian and bicycle friendly communities, bicycle parking and pedestrian amenities in site design and facility improvements in all major residential, commercial and industrial development projects or retrofits, (and) encourage the widening of shoulders along county roads and state highways to promote safe bicycle travel”. It’s language like this that has provoked the fear of a total bi-pocalypse: the domination of cars and rural areas by non-motorized vehicles. “This would work out really well for about three months,” says Plumas County resident # 9574 scornfully in the comments section of the General Plan EIR (Please note: local residents have already been assigned numbers. You have been warned, as they say). “And who would pay for it?”
Others see a more dire threat. Democrats Against U.N. Agenda 21 has this to say: “The push is for people to get off of the land, become more dependent, come into the cities. To get out of the suburbs and into the cities. Out of their private homes and into condos. Out of their private cars and onto their bikes… Bike groups are being used as the ‘shock troops’ for this plan.” Can UN-sponsored insignia for my bike helmet be far behind? Who would press it on me? The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition? Were they in on Agenda 21? Good luck with that. I don’t wear my helmet.
I told James, an earnest young environmentalist who’s definitely used the word “sustainability” more than once in his life (maybe a bit less these days) that the Sierra Institute, Emily’s now-former employer, should purchase a surrey, like the tourists use in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The roads in and out of Taylorsville are either flat or have only a very mild grade. The surrey could be used to show the residents of Taylorsville a new way to get around Arlington Road. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? He laughed uneasily. “We’d probably get shot,” he said. (Please note: The homepage of the Sierra Institute uses the word “sustainable” at least 12 times.)
Shock troops. Numbers instead of names. Bikes and bike lanes instead of cars and highways. This is the shadow side to the community of “livability” advocates I so happily associate with here in San Francisco. I think that the root of the anti-Agenda 21 movement is the fear of being herded into a city. I understand that. I don’t blame the residents of Taylorsville, Greenville and Crescent Mills for breaking a sweat at the thought of not being able to live in their sweet-smelling and quiet little hamlet with horses, and apples, and hot springs and the occasional flashing glimpse of a Bald Eagle. (The bike-phobia? They’re going to have to get over that.) It is beautiful up there, quiet and still. The people in Taylorsville live quietly, I think.
There is one thing they do faultlessly: they always greet each other. Living in a small settlement seems to encourage the simple sort of etiquette in which you say hello to someone you don’t know. There was a going-away party for Emily. About fifteen people showed up. She may not have spoken at length with them, or shared a bottle of wine and tipsy heart-to-heart late night confessions with them, but they showed up to say goodbye to Emily simply because she was leaving, they had spoken with her at least a few times, and that’s what you do. The lapse of time between meeting someone for the first time and acknowledging their presence seem to be shorter in Taylorsville.
I had several moments of saying “how-do-you-do” to a dozen people and noticed each time that it is relaxing to greet another person with grace and simplicity. Manners maketh not only men, but whole towns, too.
Emily and I drove out of Taylorsville, six days after I arrived, silent and somewhat subdued. Behind us, up on Mount Hough, the frost giants took no notice of our departure- they were likely looking for refuge under the rocks. Spring is coming to Indian Valley, the season of melt. This is not a sustainable environment for frost giants.
I was nursing an injured thumb – in Taylorsville, I drunkenly chipped the top of my thumb with a cleaver which caused my blood to spurt and me to faint – while Emily mulled over her departure. “Did I make the right decision?” she asked me. We listened to REM as the rural landscape of the Indian Valley diminished and shrank in the rear view mirror.