An uncommon sight in the Mojave National Preserve: snow, in the desert, and down below the 3500′ level.
As we drove, I explained to Aaron the difference between the “high deserts” and the “low deserts.” That difference was never starker than the week of December 23-30, when the demarcation between the two all but matched the snow-line.
All of which was a poignant reminder that the desert is not a single, simple climate zone, but can and does encompass a wide range of micro-climates as altitude and geography change, sometimes within a mile or two. Within each of these zones live varied but surprisingly diverse and and rich ecosystems camouflaged by what appear to the common observer to be desolate landscapes.
Of course, I am horribly biased: I do love the desert as much as I love the seashore, and the ache to live again in drier climes grows in me daily. Is it the Wandering Jew in my soul that misses these scenes? Does something inside of me yearn for Sinai and Galilee? Or do I simply treasure the solitude and the chance to commune in quiet with the Infinite, far from noise, crowds, and fog?
No matter. I will be back, and right soon.
He’s being goofy to try and hide his emotions on visiting Yosemite for the first time.
Superseded by advances in technology railroad management, the noble caboose no longer rides the rails in the United States. Southern Pacific 1886, shown here, has not only been saved from the scrappers by the San Luis Obispo Railroad Museum, they have completely restored her inside and out to a like-new condition.
Riding past this, I added the museum onto my bucket list.
Just off of the Vandenberg Air Force Base reservation we turned inland and rode through this hidden valley of oaks and sycamores surrounded by rolling green hills. I’d never been through Casmalia, and it looked like a hidden gem.
But this beautiful place has a rough past. It had been a railroad boomtown when the Southern Pacific first came through, then an oil boomtown when the oilfields nearby were still producing. Finally, just over the hill in the background somebody opened a toxic waste dump in 1973 that wound up polluting the groundwater. The EPA shut the dump down and took it over in 1992 as a Superfund site, and the effort to remove some 4.6 billion pounds of toxic waste is still underway.
The town is starting to return to normal, but I can see a time in the future when, the ground water once again clean, more life will come to this beautiful little valley.
This was my first book of Didion, and probably just as well that I started with Slouching. I am drawn to Didion’s work primarily because I see her as one of a chorus of Californian voices who have influenced American letters, and arguably for the better.
I find Didion has a permanent second-person detachment, the ability to be in a milieu without allowing herself – or being able – to be of it. She is the chameleon with the clear eye, who is able to blend in enough to get close to her subjects, but at the sme time never loses the detachment.
At some point, I almost wanted to shake her and ask “okay Joan, who are you and what do you care about?” Because, Lord knows, I looked, and all I found was the detachment, the curiosity, the wonder that borders on perpetually asking why? This makes for a damned good observer and a journalist. But Didion herself remains a cipher, at least here.
Perhaps this is why her later works, especially Blue Nights and The Year of Magical Thinking, are such important parts of her oeuvre. Maybe that’s where we find out if there is something more to Joan than her observations. There must be: the subtlety of her filter and the gentle way in which she chivvies us to her conclusions are hints at greater storms unseen.
This looks like the final stack, with a few more in the Kindle:
- Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke
- The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy
- Death by Pastrami by Leonard Bernstein
- God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism by Abraham Joshua Heschel
- Lady Susan by Jane Austen
Can’t wait to begin.
This is what low blood-sugar looks like. Plus history.
Waiting to order our breakfast at the Outpost Cafe on US 395 and Route 66 in Hesperia, California.
Stopped atop Donner Summit on my way from a meeting in Reno to a meeting in San Jose, I could not help thinking about the engineering that went into piercing this steepest of North American mountain ranges with a transportation artery that links the nation with coastal California.
The story of the construction of the transcontinental railroad is a treasured piece of American lore, and the project’s great historians tell us that effort to cross the Sierras with iron rails was the most arduous part of that undertaking. Building the Lincoln Highway through the Sierras, and later Interstate 80, have been almost ignored. What of the engineering, of the careful balance between the needs of the automobile and the need to care for the land, of the value unleashed by eliminating the need to veer northwards to the Columbia River or southwards to Tehachapi?
The pioneers would have not dared to conceive of traveling from Truckee Meadows to the San Francisco Bay in a week, much less in an afternoon. And yet, here I am, and with time enough to stop in Dixon for lunch.
My historian’s nose tells me there is more to be learned and a bigger story to be told, and I file it away for future thought. Sitting back down in my car, I say a silent “thank you” to the trailblazers who found this pass, to the surveyors who chose the path, to the engineers who designed it, and to the legions of men who hewed it out of the granite.
I pulled off of Interstate 5 at Grapevine looking to see if I could find history. To my delight, I found it, almost hidden, all but forgotten, and ignored by tens of thousands who drive past it each day.
This, from the mouth of the Grapevine Canyon in the San Joaquin Valley, is a forgotten vestige of what was once the main highway between northern California and southern California: a two-lane road winding up Grapevine Canyon to Lebec, then over and along a series of ridges until dropped into Castaic north of Los Angeles in a tangle of descending hairpins.
Perilous in the best of times, any kind of seasonal weather made the road treacherous if not vicious. During the Depression, there were sections of the road that had a “passing lane” that could be used by cars coming from either direction, with what in hindsight were predictable results. As a little girl, my mom had a friend whose father was a California Highway Patrolman. He used to enthrall their group of friends with horror stories about the accidents he saw along what was then called The Ridge Route.
The evolution of America as a nation over the past three centuries has been enabled by transportation links, from the Baltimore Pike, the Cumberland Gap, and the Erie Canal to the Oregon Trail, the Transcontinental Railroad, Route 66, the Interstates, and, what was arguably World War II’s greatest legacy, the most extensive civil aviation infrastructure on the planet.
Too many of those stories are on the verge of obscurity. This is unfair. They deserve to be told, and heard, by a generation that takes such links for granted, if for no other reason than to better understand the nature of the sinews that hold our naturally centrifugal country together.
Virtually working from a perch atop the train station at San Juan Capistrano this morning. A late spring rainstorm is passing through, the hills are a bright green, and there is ranchera music in the air. The town feels a little sleepy, and it leaves me kind of wishing that it was a Friday before a lazy weekend.
Lazy weekends are a bit of a fiction for me lately. During my workout yesterday I caught myself singing along to Huey Lewis & the News’s underrated “Couple Days Off” in a really loud voice. I’m hoping for a smooth flight tomorrow: I could use the sleep.
On that subject, this post marks the beginning of about six weeks of interesting workplaces, both real and virtual. I will share in real time as bandwidth permits.