In Hyampom, a small community located in Western Trinity County, there is no such season as spring. They call it redbud. Not redbud season, redbud time, or even “the redbud,” used as a noun. It’s just plain redbud. “You don’t want to plant your tomatoes in the ground until late redbud,” one woman said to me as we were discussing gardening techniques. “Redbud came early this year,” another man exclaimed gleefully.
I can see why. With its gorgeous magenta flowers, ranging in color from a very light pink to a deep fuschia, it commands attention. It takes over the landscape of the valley, and it’s difficult to notice the beauty of anything else.
The Old Garrett Ranch sits next to the Trinity River in Hyampom. Mark and I have spent several long happy weekends there in the Birdwatcher’s Cabin, one of two residences that the owners rent to guests. Uschi and Ebbe, a couple from Germany, bought the ranch in 2001. They live simply and sustainably, raising chickens and turkeys for eggs and meat as well as maintaining three large organic gardens and an orchard. For Mark and me, it has become not only a peaceful retreat and a place to sort through our challenges, but an ideal of how we’d someday like to be able to live. We’ve had some of our toughest and some of our most uplifting conversations on a bench made of fallen tree limbs overlooking the river.
Last weekend Ebbe and Uschi invited us to visit them for Redbud Day, an annual community event. We were excited to go, especially when the invitation made mention of “Louise Garrett’s Famous Redbud Day Casserole.” We were also excited that they now consider us to be their friends.
Ebbe and Uschi greeted us with a gigantic bouquet of redbud when we arrived at the cabin. We greeted them with a gigantic bottle of homemade limoncello. Upon telling them how excited we were about the famous casserole, Ebbe explained how it was made. “Louise Garrett was famous for being really frugal and using absolutely everything,” he said. “So the casserole is made with the whole chicken. You use the entire thing – skin and all – and grind it up and put it in the dish. Except the bones, of course.”
On Saturday nearly 150 of the 200 people that reside in Hyampom made their way to the ranch. Long tables were covered with every sort of food and sweet treat imaginable. Uschi had even slaughtered and cooked a turkey for the party. “This is the way I like the turkeys best, ” she said. “Dead. When they’re alive, they’re really a pain.”
The Mostly String Band played bluegrass tunes from the front porch, and it was fun to watch people eating, drinking and reconnecting as the distance between homes is great and many of them go for months without seeing each other. The people of Hyampom are friendly, quirky and fiercely independent. Their lives can be extremely isolated, especially in the winter, and often rough. You either get why they live here, or you don’t.
One woman told us about the day she moved to Hyampom over thirty years ago. “The moving trucks had just pulled up to our new home when my husband had a heart attack.” He was rushed to the hospital in Redding, but it was too late, and he died that night. She didn’t know what else to do, so she had the movers unload the trucks, and has been in Hyampom ever since. “I used to call this place ‘God’s Forsaken Country,'” she said with a smile. “Now I just call it God’s Country.”
The day after the party we went for an early morning hike along the river. When we got back to the cabin I looked down and noticed that the folds of my jeans were filled with tiny little wildflowers from the fields we’d walked through. For some reason the visual filled me with a joy I can’t seem to articulate.
After that we joined Ebbe, Uschi and several of their friends for brunch. There were eggs, asparagus with bacon, orange rolls, homemade bread, jam and steak. We all talked about how much we had enjoyed Redbud Day, especially the silky texture of the casserole (fully attributable to the ground chicken skin, I’m sure.)
“Yes, ” Uschi said, “I’ve heard many stories about how Louise Garrett used everything, and it’s true. She never threw anything out.” She went on to tell us about a time that she had gotten really angry at Ebbe while he was fixing the water lines. Apparently Louise had attached the water lines using her old underwear, and Ebbe was taking it upon himself to remove them.
“I threw things at him and told him to stop, ” Uschi laughed, “after all, Louise Garrett’s old underwear is a part of this landscape.”
Just like redbud.