Come to the Edge


by Ruth Rhodes


Ruth Rhodes at the edge of Del Norte

Ruth Rhodes with two of her children visiting the edge of Del Norte County

In one of my most vivid memories of Del Norte County, my husband Lathrop is standing on the edge of a dramatic cliff at the tip of Point St. George, arms spread, looking towards the sea. It is 2003. We have just moved to Crescent City, and this is the first time we’ve ever seen the view at the end of Pebble Beach Drive.

“I can’t believe we live here!” Lathrop shouts over the sound of the wind and waves.
We had truly come to the edge—and in more ways than we could fully understand at that moment.

Del Norte is literally on the edge of the sea and on the northern edge of California. On our west flank is the Pacific Ocean. On a sunny day, if you look out over the water, you see a few sea stacks, maybe small fishing boats, but the dominant view is the fullness of a vast, blue ocean, the horizon, and the curve of the earth itself.

If you turn around and look east, you face mountains. Running up them, dense redwood forests. In the protected places where old growth still stands, you find the tallest trees in the world. These giants grow largest on the alluvial flats of the watershed, on Redwood Creek, the mighty Klamath, and the small but pristine Smith. These rivers, ribbons of seemingly endless water, serve as ancient highways for salmon which return regularly to feed whole communities, cultures and ecosystems. Despite a range of environmental impacts, the land and water here still burst with life.

As many residents have put it, Del Norte is “God’s Country.” Those less inclined to use religious language call it “breathtaking” and “serene.”

But we also live on another sort of edge here. Del Norte is isolated. Only a few long, winding roads connect us to the outside world. We are cut off geographically from the rest of the nation in a way that’s hard to understand until you actually get in a vehicle and make the journey yourself.

While our isolation has its advantages, it comes with unique challenges, too. Despite living in the great outdoors, despite clean air and abundant water, despite the recent growth and expansion of organic, family-run farms, and despite the perception that, as contributor Joan Buhler puts it, “people pull together here,” we have one of the highest early death rates in the state. People die sooner here than in nearby counties. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the average life expectancy in Marin County is 81. Here, the average is just under 75.

But early death rates only show us part of the picture. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Community Health Rankings, Del Norte has higher rates of teen pregnancy, drug abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence than most other places in the country. We are poorer, as a whole, and less educated than most other Americans.
Health rankings, of course, have a way of limiting the scope of our imagination. They don’t show us the texture of life here. They don’t tell us the full story. The only real experts are the residents of Del Norte County themselves. This book is about letting them speak—in turn—about what it’s like to live here.

To read more of the Introduction, and the full book, consider purchasing a copy of Come to the Edge.