Pages from Tahoe’s Past – A Walk and Talks

This opinion column was submitted by RGJ columnist Pat Hickey and Carson City-based writer Sean Whaley.

The last time I walked on the prairie along Taylor Creek was in 1988. It was a September afternoon before my 20th high school reunion.

Like the Tahoe kokanee returning to its birthplace in the creek flowing from Fallen Leaf Lake, I was returning from LA to one of the tributaries of my youth. Like a landlocked salmon, I hoped to deposit my four young somewhere in the vicinity of my past.

Thirty-four years later, I am back in the messy mud of that same meadow during its spring thaw. As I walk and talk along the edges of the spillway with my childhood friend Bobby Maro, I keep an eye out for yellow-legged frogs, whose heads look like stones spurting out of ponds before they sprout their legs and do not reach the earth. They have yet to experience the metamorphosis I hoped to go through growing up nearby.

Upon reaching the wide sandy shores of Baldwin Beach, banter with Bobby and Sean turns into memories of teenage keggers and waterskiing there over half a century ago. Walking west towards Cascade Lake, we enter as guests the private estate of “Brig” Ebright, great-grandson of Dr. Charles Brigham, the legendary lake doctor whose family once hosted Mark Twain, John Muir and John Steinbeck at the property.

Pat Hickey hears stories of the early days of Lake Tahoe from longtime resident Brig Ebright.

In Steinbeck’s case, the Stanford dropout who later enrolled in John Muir’s “Wilderness College” was not a guest. The writer worked as a caretaker and “not-so-good guardian” to Brig’s father and uncle. Ebright, 75, says Steinbeck frequently tied his father and uncle to a line of dog runs while writing his first novel. Perhaps a reward for his carelessness, the future Nobel laureate was nearly killed one night in Cascade Lake when an old tree toppled over his cabin.

Speaking of ancient trees and old gentlemen like Brig who watched them grow and die in the Tahoe Basin, I ask the Tahoe resident if he remembers selling his frozen lake water to the Hickey Ice Company ? My grandfather Pat was a regular customer of his ice cream delivery business. Like the “Hickey” in Eugene O’Neil’s “The Iceman Cometh”, my grandfather was blessed with both the gift of small talk and a devotion to Irish whiskey. Rumor has it that Pat needed to employ a designated driver to make sure he finished his deliveries before the ice melted or he fell out of his buggy.

There are still memories to be melted down — or kept.

As we walk north along the beach recovering from winter and before the summer tourists arrive, Sean observes:

“Our trip began on a beautiful stretch of sand on a perfect spring day on Sunday. After getting our feet wet while crossing Tallac Creek, we encountered a rocky stretch by the lake dotted with a few private homes. After we ducking under pillars and weaving around rocks we came upon Cascade Creek as it cut its way into the lake After crossing the creek, probably the first of many on our trip around the lake Tahoe we came across the remains of an old cabin, the building was in ruins but the views just above the lake were beautiful.

“We followed the creek to an old road to Hwy 89 and crossed over to continue to Lake Cascade, a scenic loch formed by a glacier nestled beneath snow-capped Mount Tallac. In the distant past, the mile-long lake and surrounding lands were used for fishing and hunting by the Washoe tribe. This third leg of our hike took us past towering ancient trees, crystal clear streams and fascinating history.

As Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In the case of Tahoe, good glacial moraines between Cascade Lake and Emerald Bay made them good neighbors. The very private one. The other, well a public treasure.

That walkabout with Sean around my childhood home brings back more than just memories. It renews a connection with nature and the people of Lake Tahoe.

Like the returning kokanee transforming from the silvery blue color of its lake existence to the breathtaking vermilion of its final demise, I too have come full circle. Hoping to be changed by our journey along the Tahoe shore, it’s my return home.

RGJ columnist Pat Hickey served as a member of the Nevada Legislative Assembly from 1996 to 2016. Sean Whaley is a writer based in Carson City; he covered Nevada capitol politics for various media from 1989 to 2017.

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Calvin W. Soper