We're at that time between the Comptche Volunteer Fire Department's Father's Day picnic and the similar one put on by the Albion-Littleriver Fire Department. The Macdonald Ranch lies within the boundaries of the latter, but family members have attended both events for years. For the better part of the twentieth century, and back into the nineteenth, the Macdonalds hosted a Fourth of July picnic alongside the Albion River. Watermelons were hidden and chilled in the river before serving. Baseball and softball games ensued on open fields with ancient, blackened stumps as backstops. In the first three decades of my life, late June and the first three days of July involved helping my dad move large redwood rounds and extra wide planks into place to serve as tables and support bases for those Fourth of July picnics. Since the Albion often floods its banks in winter, each fall meant hoisting the huge rounds onto the pickup bed and driving them, one at a time, to high ground.
Somewhere in the late 1980s my mother grew weary of cooking up a hundred pieces of chicken and having them devoured by uninvited guests before the platters settled on the serving table, and all the Macdonalds grew tired of cleaning up after near strangers who seemed incapable of finding well defined garbage and recycling receptacles. By that time most of the larger than life figures of my youth who faithfully attended those Independence Day gatherings were gone or too elderly to make the trip down our rugged road. Until the mid 1990s it was far easier to drive along the “Masonite Road” from Flynn Creek to get to the Macdonald Ranch than it was to travel out the Littleriver Airport Road and down what amounted to a rough dusty (or slick and muddy in winter) logging road.
The Masonite Road and before it the railroad made our family equally proximate to Comptche as well as Littleriver or Albion. Indeed, in the summers before I started school, when my mother wanted some alone time, she gave my older sisters and me a handful of dimes and sent us off for a long walk. A long walk meant up the main fork of the Albion, past Tom Bell Flats, and on out to the Comptche Store, where we possessed just enough coin of the realm for a Coca-Cola from the big red, icy cold, box and an Eskimo Pie before turning around for the return trip home. The one and only time I complained of being tired on one of these summer sojourns, my eldest sister pushed a broken redwood branch between my legs and said, “Here's a stick pony. You can ride him home.”
If our mother said, “Go for a very long walk,” that meant that she had had enough of children for the day and we were not to return until super time or dusk, whichever came later. Very long walks might mean that from the Comptche Store we continued on the Flynn Creek Road, past the present day fire station, beyond the Holmes Ranch to where McDonald Gulch (no relation) emptied out across from Uncle Charlie's place. Charles Macdonald was my father's second eldest brother (born in 1890). Though Uncle Charlie spent many years working for the railroad in Fort Bragg (today's Skunk line) he never learned to drive an automobile. By the late 1950s Charlie was well into retirement, but he liked to take a look at the river at the end of the day. This would make our “very long walk” not so long after all. Aunt Lenora (Lenora Clark Macdonald, of the Clarks on Brandon Way, Fort Bragg, a century and more ago) was Charlie's long suffering chauffeur. Us kids would catch a late afternoon or early evening ride with Lenora and Charlie down the Masonite Road alongside the south fork of the Albion to a gate that Charlie kept latched a quarter mile or so east of the confluence of the Albion River's south fork and main branch. In early summer a large patch of thimbleberries ripened there. If you were the child picked to unlatch the gate, like as not, some hard candy waited atop the gate post, candy that Charlie had left wrapped the last time he passed through.
At the gate, Charlie and Lenora turned their automobile for home. My sisters and I, our fingertips red from berry picking, scampered another three miles down the river road, home to a full supper and perhaps a piece of pie, if dad hadn't eaten it all after a long day working in the woods.