It’s been a while since I’ve visited you, almost seven years. I hadn’t even written you. So I admit I was a bit wary and nervous when I flew into Redding Municipal Airport a few weeks ago. Would you remember me? Have I changed? Had YOU changed? But I needn’t have worried. As soon as I hit the tarmac, the 113-degree heat slapped me up the side of the head like a glowing branding iron and my friend, meeting me in the lobby, was chatting with an old high school chum she hadn’t seen in years.
It was SO Redding. It felt like I’d only been away for a weekend. True, there was bit more smoke in the air; the nearby fires turning the hills into soft focus with the late afternoon sun a hazy red-orange fuzz ball (I had asked my friend to light a candle for me and leave it in the window for my visit, but really, there was no need to go THAT far!).
The reason for my visit was to organize a house, sort through old clothes, old art and papers — an old life. What I discovered, however, were things that I had forgotten and could never be packed and taped up in a box and stored.
I had forgotten about the wildlife around you. I watched hawks weaving slow and easy patterns overhead. I saw wild hares dart back and forth in the scrub brush near the airport. I saw (and smelled) skunk families racing across late-night back roads and watched hummingbirds hovering incredibly around their feeders at a friend’s house (even the influence of a couple delightful mojitos did nothing to dampen my amazement and delight).
I had forgotten the sky, that huge, wide wonderful sky over you. Can’t hardly see any of THAT in Paris.
You’ve grown, Redding, put on a little weight, especially around your east side with the extra blockbuster stores around Hilltop and Dana. I saw new houses around Mary Lake and elsewhere.
Downtown still seems as desolate as before, even with the addition of the beautifully renovated Cascade Theatre and the train station and new businesses like the Vintner’s Cellar. I know you’re trying, my friend. Don’t give up.
But then there’s Pop’s and Gene’s where I could finally get a good burger with tater tots. And of course the new Rivers Restaurant (editor’s note, now View 202). What a treat! I’d compare my evening on the terrace watching the sun go down behind the misty hills sipping the last of a Pinot Gris from Chef Cal’s cellar to any Paris bistro.
I was with you 28 days, a short four weeks. I’ve a lot to think about before my next visit. A part of me is still with you (actually a LOT of me is still there in a 10-by-20 storage shed on the west side).
So thanks, Redding, for reminding me where part of my heart is still beating. I’m looking forward to my next return to see the hills and trees and that giant nighttime sky filled with stars.
We’ll do lunch, okay? So, light a candle in the window so I can find my way back.
But keep it in the window this time, will ya?
Editor’s note: This a best-of column that was originally published August 17, 2008.
Doug Cushman is a former Redding artist and author who now lives and works in Paris. He was born in Springfield, Ohio and moved to Connecticut with his family when he was 15 years old. While in high school he created comic books lampooning his teachers, selling them to his classmates for a nickel a piece. Since 1978, he has illustrated and/or written more than 100 books for children and collected a number of honors, including a Reuben Award for Book Illustration from the National Cartoonists Society, New York Times Children’s Books Best Sellers, and the New York Public Library’s Best 100 Books of 2000. He enjoys hiking, kayaking and cooking (and eating!). Learn more about Doug, his art and his books at his Web site, http://www.doug-cushman.com/