Letter From California
03/10/07 0511.21 pst
San Jose, California
A puff of warm air bathed northern California last week fully three weeks before spring, the cool semi-clear days following sowing seeds of summer hope, poignant yearning for endless months without a drop of rain, hell, we’ve got two years worth stored in the reservoirs. Baseball and waterskiing and fishing’n hiking and barbeque will soon daily be with us, graced with the holy gifts of strawberries and bikinis. Thank God that dog of a month February is gone so California can get on with being itself again.
The clear lingering days also triggered the plum tree bloom (the real one, not that prissy pink ornamental bloom three weeks go) and all over the state tens of thousands of plum trees about to burst our in a glory of buzzing white, my very own Santa Rosa in the front set to bust out around 500 buds today. All the growers everywhere in the Golden State are watching the weather, making sure the bees are ready and waiting for The Set.
Walnut, almond, pistachio, peach, plum, cherry, apricot, apple, nectarine and pears trees are all swollen with buds, plums like always first to trip, and whatever happens in the next four weeks in how the blooms are pollinated and start fruit on the trees, The Set, will naturally determine how the harvest goes this year. Fortunes in strawberries, too, are on the line 50 miles south of here in Monterey and Watsonville, a long dry spring promising torrents of cash if it really holds through May. Last year was a disaster and everyone knows the state is due for a dry spring.
It seems obscure to many to note the agrarian cycles in one of the most relentlessly machine-driven modern cultures the world has ever seen, I’m sure, but the stark contrasts of life cycles and slow pace of California past compared to the roar and splat of spewing machines in our hectic life has always been irresistible to me. I’m quite sure I romanticize the buzzing bees in the splendor of fragrant blossom in the glory that is California (farming and growing are bitches of jobs most humans would flee from), but I still often wonder if I was born just 100 years too late, missing a California that had no asphalt and very few machines. I think I would have liked that California very much better, even with available healthcare then.
Urbanization has happened so fast here there are still fragments of another California time and place all round me: just three miles south on 85 there’s a working farm in a sea of suburbia, looming stucco borders somehow held at bay around five acres of fertile land some human souls insist on farming every year: a rotating field crop, along with corn and vegetable stand plots. Just 2 miles north of here is a real walnut orchard at the 17-Los Gatos interchange, around four acres easy to miss right along the edge of freeway, it even hops over it to the creek in Los Gatos.
When I go seen my Mom’n Dad in Brentwood I go through the Altamont pass wind farm, and finally a windmill design has emerged worthy of the state, massively tall white windmills of breathtaking grace, somehow so appropriate in their incredulously massive scope as they tower over the smooth brown hills, perhaps 20 of them have been erected now.
Drive just three miles north from this majestic modernity and right there along the road is a wooden windmill skeleton from the other California, the old platform long since tumbled over and the ancient blades sunk in the ground like some small setting sun. The tank was just a mess of crumbled boards, but at one time this agrarian technology really worked, the pump parts were shiny, the windmill always gently whirred and the cattle and critters always had a tank of miracle water to drink in the blazing dry heat.
Those massive white towers of modernity three miles back, the windmills of my time, surely they could never end up tumbled over, skeletons of a people, time and place that had been run over by progress and whatever forces of fate that had been thrown at them. No way. Right?
It really is too bad we’ll never get answers to questions like this, we can only do our duty in the tiny time allotted to us. For me this dry, cool California day it means continuing the new irrigation system for the secondary rose garden, watching the plum tree bloom, and scuffing my knees brown in the sea floor soil, captive to a time of electrons and toiling with technology of a California past, wondering what age would have soothed my soul more in the steady sunshine.