I moved to Rio Nido, a tiny hamlet in the middle of a redwood forest, in the winter of 2008, just a day after the Big Crash.  I had found my sanctuary in a world of trouble.  What I didn’t count on was a new form of trouble.

Rio Nido is a resort community, founded in the late 1800’s by the Eagle Lodge of San Francisco, a fraternal organization of firefighters and cops.  They bought the land from the Russian River Land Company and split it into lots, which were then bought up by the members.  My parcel was bought by two brothers who got the lot for one gold dollar.  Back then, Rio Nido was a summer gathering place for working-class families who couldn’t afford the sumptuous digs at the infamous Bohemian Grove, in nearby Monte Rio, but were content to while away lazy summer days on the Rio Nido beach and then retire to the modest little cabins that ringed the canyons.  During Prohibition, Rio Nido had a reputation as a place where grog was plentiful: Many of the older houses have trapdoors—for a fast getaway when the revenooers come knocking!

The Big Band era saw the Rio Nido Lodge become a popular hot spot for soldiers on leave and their sweethearts.  The chairman of the local Democratic Party piped music onto the beach, and throngs danced to Ozzie Nelson, Griff Williams, Muzzy Marcellino, and Ken Baker, not to mention the Ran Wilde Orchestra.  Couples met here, married, then bought small vacation homes and returned each season, banking memories of golden summers that lingered like the glittering remnants of a lost dream.

The dream was truly lost by the 1960’s: The railroad, which had brought the “summer people” up from the dusty streets of San Francisco, had long since stopped running, the tracks abandoned and pulled up to give way to an ill-paved road.  The second-growth redwoods had shot up to their full height, casting the cottages of Rio Nido into the deepest darkest shadows, and in the canyons it was cool even on the hottest of days.  Other dark things were stirring: druggies, bikers, hippies, and poor white trash who introduced the troubles of the modern world to an earlier generation of plain working-class folks.

The lodge, which had been the center of so much of the social life of Rio Nido, passed from one careless owner to another, none of whom could make it profitable.  Finally, it was snatched up by a psychologist who worked at San Quentin, who used it as an informal “outpatient” clinic for jailbirds just released.  Himself a nutcase, he soon ran the place completely into the ground and—like millions of other fools caught up in the frenzy of the real-estate bubble—found himself in foreclosure.  In the meantime, however, his flock of felons had descended on the lodge like the ravens who gather in the evening and mock us from the treetops.  Drug dealers, prostitutes, and general all-around filth became the order of the day.

To look at Rio Nido, one would think it a sylvan paradise, with trees like the giant pillars of some Brobdingnagian cathedral, shooting straight up into the pellucid summer sky.  The air itself is infused with the incense of the forest: redwood, fir, bay, ailanthus, sassafras.  I never noticed the unkempt yards, littered with broken-down cars, or the shifty-eyed folk who never went to work on Mondays (or any other day): I was looking up, in awe of the magnificence that loomed over me.  I loved my house, with its many skylights, double deck, and a yard carved out of a steep hill.  I terraced the hill, painted and repaired the house, planted a garden and my flag.  All was well—but not for long.

I didn’t like the lodge or the crowd that lingered on over the summer in spite of the foreclosure.  I didn’t like the unkempt houses, some of which were practically falling down (albeit still inhabited).  I didn’t like the property down the street that looked like a junkyard.  Then came the final straw: The lodge was purchased by a developer who had Ideas—and government connections.

You may have heard that California has gone bankrupt, that the Governator has to pay his employees in IOUs.  It’s not true, of course.  There are billions in the “redevelopment” piggy bank, a slush fund that exists primarily to aid developers who give big contributions to friendly politicians.  This particular developer has lots of friends at court, and he had bought up a lot of derelict properties along the river, to have them fixed up at taxpayers’ expense.  The lodge would be “affordable housing” for poor white trash, and a “healing center” for visiting boomers-on-the-mend.  The county planners had long ago decided that this part of the Russian River would be used as a dumping ground for their self-inflicted social problems, and this developer was determined to profit from it.

I was lucky: It didn’t take me too long to sell, and for a good price.  A little place on the other side of the river beckoned.  Adios, Rio Nido—it was fun while it lasted.