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Chris Erskine: An Escape to the Mountains

LAKE ARROWHEAD — Feeling bad for Russell Wilson, a big-deal quarterback whose career just collapsed. I made him a giant pot of chili, but I don’t know where to send it. So I’m eating it in his memory, with a dollop of sour cream and some oyster crackers.
Look, I had to do something.
From what I can tell, the NFL is mostly about winning. The players’ spiritual growth, the memories they make, all come in a distant second. As they should. The NFL ethos is the purest Calvinism.
Meanwhile, my college kid is standing in the kitchen gulping milk. It is the thudding sound of an HVAC system about to fail. I swear, I thought the dog was getting sick again. Gulp, gulp, gulp …
Oh wait, now Smartacus is in the hallway, punching that button on the thermostat that never works the first time (the contact is kinda shot). Punch, punch. Punch, punch, punch …

Norman style chateaus on a woody hillside Did Napoleon stay here
We put away Christmas as if clearing a crime scene

FYI, Smartacus did his Christmas shopping on TikTok. I don’t know quite what to say to that, except we all should embrace change, otherwise it’ll kill you, this crap — the digital key codes, the reservation systems, the lost pleasures of going suddenly to a movie.
For the record, here’s how you used to make a reservation. You called the restaurant. Took about 45 seconds.
Now? You go online, click around a little, book your table. They text you a confirmation. A day later, they send a confirmation of your confirmation. Just before you arrive, you get confirmed again. A day later, you receive two customer surveys.
Honestly …
Of course, our kids love this new world. The other night, Smartacus, Rapunzel and Uncle Truck raced 30 minutes to Studio City, where they waited in line for an hour for a burger.
This is the state of America as we begin 2024.
That’s probably why I feel so bad for Wilson, the quarterback whose career has been suddenly crushed. He’s probably thinking: “I worked hard. I have all the money I’ll ever need. Now I can spend my days waiting in long lines for cheesy burgers.”
Before the COVID cornered us, Suzanne and I motored up the hill to where God stores his snowshoes — Lake Arrowhead, 90 minutes from Los Angeles.
Tinsel in the pines. Oak in the fireplace. We stayed in a Norman-style chateau on a woody hillside. Found the old inn online and thought — “Did Napoleon live there? I never knew France was so close!”
As you know, I prefer old inns that look like battle sites and bars that resemble shipwrecks. That’s why Arrowhead impresses me. It’s lived a little. The inn was special just for the way the old windows quivered in the early morning light.
My motto: If it ain’t Baroque, don’t fix it.
Seriously, folks, you could film all your Hallmark movies here in this lakeside town — which seems dusted in donut sugar — though the film crews would probably overpaint the old hotels and straighten out the ancient shutters. Then Arrowhead would lose everything I love.
Anyway, it was a Christmas week of steady rain and muddy footprints … of takeout coffee gone quickly cold.
One drizzly night in Arrowhead — pre-COVID — we hopped from bar to bar to bar seeking fellowship and cheesy burgers.
At one stop, with the TV glowing over my shoulder, I watched the Eagles play the Seahawks in Suzanne’s pretty eyes, like tiny twin screens. It was an experience that ranks up there with sipping Bordeaux in Bordeaux, or chowder in Nantucket. Like really almost perfect.
As some old English dude once said, “A lover’s eyes will gaze an eagle blind.”
I suppose Suzanne just enjoyed seeing me happy in that hillbilly bar, the moon’s milk spilling through the clouds. I suppose she was paying me back for not rushing her through a high-end gift shop earlier in the day.
You know, faith and love are dark matter — little puffs of invisible energy that knit the universe together. Light bends over great distances, and hearts ka-THUMP at the oddest times. That’s how we know dark matter is out there somewhere, twinkling around, filling our cups.
Similarly, the holidays, whose existence is such an ethereal, faithy thing. They’re going away now. The trees are stuffed upside down in the trash, and the old platters are back in the closets. We store away Christmas like it’s evidence to be used against us in a court of law.
And now, January. By comparison, a fallow and featureless month. Yet a lovely fresh start as well.

Looking for a fresh start to your year? Try the glorious old UCLA Lake Arrowhead Lodge, 90 minutes from Los Angeles. It’s a 10-minute drive from the village and features hiking, a giant pool, spa and tennis and pickleball. Winter rates start in the $200s.

First published January 4-6 in Outlook Newspapers.

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