The following was sent to South Tahoe Now by Tom Hallman, Jr., who teaches a writing class. This is from Carolee Kolve as the fire targeted the Lake Tahoe basin.
My heart’s house is by a lake that I only visit once a year. I do not own this land, but my connection to it goes back three generations, two generations ago, and includes many of my dearest friends. This is where I want my ashes to be scattered when that moment inevitably comes.
We visited breathtaking places on our golden loop planet: Lake Bellagio in Italy, Kotor in Montenegro, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, many beautiful islands. But I haven’t seen anything more beautiful than Fallen Leaf Lake.
It’s just southwest of Lake Tahoe, but far enough away to be quiet, pristine, absent from tourists. The lake is the bluest of blues, surrounded by magnificent mountains and a glorious forest. Many people love Lake Tahoe, but those who see Fallen Leaf forever recalibrate their sense of beauty.
And now he’s on the inexorable path of the Fire Caldor.
I set my phone to “Caldor Fire Hourly Updates” and I watch helplessly as it gets closer and closer. It has now passed Lake Lucille and is approaching Grass Lake and Glen Alpine, all places we have walked from Fallen Leaf. The entire south shore of Lake Tahoe, further away from the fire, is under compulsory evacuation. Fallen Leaf was evacuated last week, the week we would have been there.
One hundred and twenty-one years ago, my great-grandfather and other Stanford professors took their families to Fallen Leaf for the first time every year. At that time the journey was so arduous that they stayed all summer. From Palo Alto, they packed up for a summer – kitchen supplies, bedding, cots, tents, clothing, emergency supplies, food – and took the train to San Francisco, crossed the bay by ferry, caught another train to Truckee, took a toy train to Tahoe City, crossed Lake Tahoe in a ferry, hauled rail cars overland to the edge of Fallen Leaf Lake, and crossed that lake in a barge.
It took two days and was well worth it.
My grandmother remembered those summers as the best of her life, this lake as the most beautiful on earth. And I grew up to share his love for this place.
In the 1950s, Stanford bought 20 acres of lakeside property and created the quintessential summer camp for alumni families, dubbing it Stanford Sierra Camp. There are 55 cabins that alumni can rent for a week, and they are guaranteed to return that cabin for the same week, year after year. There is now a multi-year waiting list for these places. No one ever voluntarily stops going, but ultimately we are “expired”.
In the center is a main lodge, where the staff provide wonderful meals and evening programs. Over 60 Stanford students spend the summer there, creating wonderful activities for all children. Two teachers are in residence each week and they each give a lecture and an informal conversation to the adults.
There is hiking, biking, tennis, beach volleyball, pickleball, basketball, and all kinds of boating: sailing, water skiing, paddleboarding, canoes, kayaks, fun yaks. If you are not really a “boat people”, you can always go out on the heavy “boatster” for a nature or photographic cruise. Or to observe the stars at night. If you are ready to get up at 5:45 am, you can scull the pristine and shimmering surface of this exquisite lake.
There are book chats, bridge games, conversations, family beach games, egg throwing, sandcastle contest, campfires, disco bingo night, talent shows , slideshows, an improvisation evening, a children’s carnival, a parade, a legendary capture Contest of flags, and finally, an egg drop contest that attracts all the geniuses of technology in residence to surpass themselves.
The little ones sit on the dock of the crayfish fishing boat. At the age of 7, they are allowed to go out on their own on the lake in a fun yak, with, of course, a lifeguard on duty. And there is a beautiful private beach, frequented by all ages.
Part of the magic is the security of the “campus”. It’s at the end of the road and there is no traffic. You arrive at the camp and park your car for the week. After that, everyone is on foot and the children can walk freely in this beautiful space in complete safety. Of course, all parents are on the lookout for each other’s child. In a secret pact, we keep them all safe, and they feel great and free, bonding with the other children they will see each year throughout their childhood.
We went to Stanford Sierra Camp first with eleven close Stanford friends and all of our kids. Now we are going with our grandchildren. Our two oldest, now in college, spent nine years there and reluctantly agreed to step aside for their younger cousins.
Now we take the four little ones along with their parents. They are 6, 7, 8 and 9 years old and are devoted to each other. But this week is richer and more special for them because of the many camp friends they each made. Friends they haven’t been able to see this year, but pray that they’ll be here with us next year.
The Caldor fire is considered the number one firefighting priority in the United States. News channels report his approach to Lake Tahoe, but most people don’t recognize that he will arrive at Fallen Leaf first. And it is now less than five kilometers.
The Sugar Pines, Ponderosas, Aspens, Junipers, White Pines, and Jeffrey Pines surrounding Fallen Leaf knew my great-grandfather and grandmother. And now they know my six grandchildren. I can only pray that they will remain great, strong and secure, and that they will be there to meet the many generations to come.