By Elise Modrovich
Special to the Sun
Katharine “Kat” Edmonson has always had two constants running through her rich and varied life: science and music. Born in Alta Dena, Calif., Edmonson spent most of her childhood running around in the Southern California foothills of the Angeles National Forest collecting bones and skulls because “I always knew I wanted to be a science teacher some day,” as well as playing and listening to music at home. “My mom hosted Hootenanny’s at our house,” she says, “inviting people over to play and sing all kinds of folk music.” So it was fairly inevitable that Edmonson would pick up and start playing herself. “I was always playing and singing. In the fourth grade the fiddle became the first instrument I learned how to play, and then the guitar. I stuck with the guitar.”
When Edmonson turned 19, she grew restless with life at home, leaving to backpack across the United States. “I hadn’t seen enough. I needed to experience more of what the world had to offer.” At a boyfriend’s suggestion, she ventured to Wyoming to become a construction worker, driving dozers, graders and front-end loaders. “I heard the pay was good, and I thought it would be fun to drive heavy equipment. I was right.” Edmonson eventually developed those aptitudes, adding house framing and carpentry to her growing skill set.
She tried out college a few times but found the day-to-day routine tiresome. “There were too many things I wanted to do.” Edmonson tried combining her love of science and animals by pursuing a veterinarian career, working as a Veterinary Technician for a few hospitals, but “when I saw how long I had to commit to school, I knew I’d have to give up music, and I just couldn’t do it.”
Around that time, Edmonson’s parents moved to Walker Basin to start a “Pony Club” for English Riding, and when she came to visit the folks to help out, “I met a young handsome farmer, and that was it. I became a farmer’s wife.” The young couple moved to Delano, where Edmonson was able to put her equipment driving skills to good use, helping farm 800 acres of pistachios, walnuts and citrus trees, as well as giving birth to her daughter. But again, music called to her. “I really missed singing.” As fate would have it, Edmonson’s mother stabled a horse belonging to Buck Owens’ wife and facilitated an introduction. “I was mucking out the stalls, and he pulled up in his big white Cadillac, rolled down the window and said, ‘I heard you want to be a singer,’ and that’s how I started singing with the Buckaroos.”
Edmonson later divorced her first husband and started singing folk music full time at various coffee houses, eventually joining a country rock band led by Red Simpson’s nephew. The band got a gig at Ewing’s, where Edmonson not only discovered and fell in love with Kernville, but her soon-to-be second husband as well. An avid kayaker, he taught Edmonson how to paddle, and she was hooked, moving with her daughter to Kernville and becoming an instructor for Sierra South.
Always the overachiever, Edmonson turned her new hobby into a career, training to become a world-class kayaker. “I was on the national team for a couple of years, competed in slalom all during the 90s. I even competed against and lost to Rebecca Giddens the year she went to the Olympics.” Edmonson had the opportunity to travel to Chile for a pro team, where she paddled the Futalafu, one of the most difficult Class Five Rivers on the planet. “We went all over the world.” Always seizing opportunities to feed her science mind, she took advantage of her travels to collect “specimens.” “I always got a permit. It was always legal,” she smiles. She made the cover of Women’s Sports + Fitness and was featured in the Bakersfield Californian. Edmonson’s paddling career peaked in 2001 and 2002, when she won the award for “Fastest Woman” at the Sea Trek Regatta and competed in the World Cup Wildwater Competition against 17 nations the year it was hosted here in Kernville. “The river was so high that year, over 5,000 CFS. It was frightening. Probably the scariest stuff I’ve ever done.” Edmonson’s kayaking career ended in 2005 when she went over Brush Creek waterfall and broke her back. “I still kayak for fun, but no more class fives. No more waterfalls.”
During the 1990s, Edmonson began yet another career as a stuntwoman and actress. Tom Moore, co-owner of Sierra South, coordinated a lot of commercial shoots in the valley. “They needed whitewater stunts, I auditioned, and got in a few. Then I went down to L.A., did more stunts, took some acting classes and got some work down there.“ Edmonson was featured in national commercials for Subaru and Nike, TV shows “Home Improvement,” and “Sliders,” among others, as well as doing a slew of print work and performing in Bakersfield Community Theater. Ever the multi-tasker, Edmonson started making art assemblages, running the art gallery co-op “A Stone’s Throw,” and going back to school to get that elusive college degree. “I decided it was about time I finally became a science teacher,” she says. Edmonson worked her way through college as an accountant for local attorney Phyllis Hix, all while raising her daughter, divorcing her second husband, kayaking, acting, and doing stuntwork.
Upon graduation from CSUB and obtaining her teaching credential, Edmonson met and married her third husband and became the science teacher she had always wanted to be, working at Camp Owen for the next 25 years, and receiving the district’s coveted “Teacher of the Year” award in 2015 before retiring in 2016. “I loved it, but when I was done, I was done.” The only thing that briefly fell away during this time due to the emotional turmoil of divorce was music, a situation that she would soon rectify and never do again. “It’s not a job that I do. Being a musician is who I am.”
Although Edmonson stays grounded in Kernville, the community she adopted almost 30 years ago and still calls home, she is busier than ever in her retirement. Edmonson’s first priority is always to her family, spending as much quality time as possible with her daughter and two grandsons. “I am so thankful I have the time to spend with them now that I’m retired.” Her devotion to those grandsons spurred Edmonson to parlay her photography habit into a baby portrait business.
As ever, Edmonson remains committed to her two life passions, science and music. To fulfill her science mind, Edmonson has taken on part-time work with McCormick and Circle Mountain Biological, doing endangered species surveys on large-scale construction projects. On the music front, Edmonson enjoys playing and singing in the Kern River Valley and all around the state in both the all-female Celtic band, “Banshee in the Kitchen” and the country-folk rock “Kern River Band.” Edmonson plays most stringed instruments, piano, the Appalachian Dulcimer, and even the Bouzouki, to the deep chagrin of her beloved rescue dog, Duke, whom she is training to be a therapy dog through Marley’s Mutts. And because Edmonson is never satisfied unless she’s juggling multiple projects, she still spends time on photography, art and puts her carpentry skills to use remodeling an old wagon into a Gypsy Vardo so that she can participate in Whiskey Flat reenactment events. Katharine Edmonson is the true embodiment of what it is to be a Renaissance Woman, and the Kern River Valley is lucky to have her.