Lake Tahoe sits on the California-Nevada state line, and the rivers in the surrounding mountains form the setting of the ballad “Darcy Farrow.” Ian and Sylvia were singing this song the first time I heard it, and I still think their rendition is the best. I heard many examples on YouTube while looking for one to post here.
As we drove down the highway south from the lake, we weren’t far from “where the Walker runs down to the Carson Valley plain,” and in fact we crossed all three rivers mentioned in the tale, the Truckee, the Carson, and the Walker. We even listened to Ian and Sylvia sing from the CD player at one point in our journey.
Of course I don’t like that Young Vandy put a bullet through his brain, but in comparing this story with other traditional songs I find I like it better than ones where the young man instead kills his beloved by accident or out of anger.
These rivers descend toward the east from from the northern Sierras and always refresh my mind as I watch them from the car. The Walker stays close to the highway longer than the others, and where it flows through desert-like terrain it captivates me by the contrast it gives to the sagebrush-covered banks. It’s fast and furious and carrying a lot of irrigation for the green fields of alfalfa grown farther east where the land flattens out. I recall those expanses of green and the beautiful Nevada cattle ranches in the shadow of the mountains — but we didn’t go that way this trip.
Four years ago we visited this area, and I wrote hasty notes in my journal as we sped along through ever changing layers of conifers, sagebrush, aspens and meadows, trying to preserve the moments of beauty. I didn’t get to catch my own photo of the rivers on either trip, but I found this one on the Web.
|West Walker River|
And below is one of ours, showing the mountains where the heavy snowpack from last winter is still melting and filling the rivers with icy water. On Hwy. 395 this far north the elevation is still above 5,000 feet so the summer temperatures don’t get extreme. The cattle looked content, and I know I was.