Funny as it may seem, one of my favorite things about moving back to the country is actually the town. Grass Valley, California, is a Gold Rush town, with just the kind of colorful history you would expect from the wild west. Grass Valley, and Nevada City, our chi-chi neighbor to the north, make up the heart of Nevada County. Local legend has it that the shape of Nevada County, which looks like a Derringer pistol pointing right at the state of Nevada, was no accident: Locals were angry when the newly formed state of Nevada stole the county’s name, so they bought land from neighboring Placer County and the gun shape was created. Another beloved (and this time definitely true) Nevada County tale involves the Great Republic of Rough and Ready and the night they got fired up decided to succeed from the Union (in 1850) over the taxes imposed on their gold claims. They elected a president and had an anthem written, but after about three months they felt guilty about it and rejoined the United States as enthusiastically as they’d left it.
Nowadays, it’s a quirky place where rednecks and hippies, cattle ranchers and pot growers, conservative Christian churches and Yoga communes, skateboarding punk rockers and Future Farmers of America not only coexist, but revel, and even overlap. Where a municipal ordinance was enacted out of necessity that outlaws leaving your car unlocked with the keys inside, because a rash of teenage joyriders overwhelmed the police department one summer (people still do it though). Where Occupy Nevada County continues to stage the politest, most cheerful monthly protest you’ll ever see (as well as fiercely advocating for people facing home foreclosure). Where a mid-week, midday traffic jam in downtown could turn out to be caused by a gang of Burningman types on stilts dancing down Mill Street (that happened last week). Where the cars in the parking lot at the venerable Briar Patch co-op are as likely to have Tea Party bumper stickers as they are to have “No Farms No Food” and “Grow Organic” (actually I’ve seen several cars around here with all three).
I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, and I do wish our district could elect a Democratic congressperson someday. But truly, on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t matter that much around here. What we have in common is a lot more important to us than what we don’t. We have the rivers, the mountains, the four distinct seasons. We have the stars in the night sky and the flowers in the meadow, cows in the pasture and berries on the vine. We know how to be generous and kind to one another, despite our differences. And as the late, great Nevada County resident and storyteller Utah Phillips once observed (I really don’t know who said it first, but I heard it first from him): In Nevada County we only lock our doors in the summertime, because otherwise people will come into your house when you’re not around and fill it with zucchini.