Sno-jave

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.

Southern Pacific Caboose

Superseded by advances in technology railroad management, the noble caboose no longer rides the rails in the United States.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.

Casmalia, a healing beauty

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.

Sabbatical Reading: Going to Joan’s Town

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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.

Sabbatical: D-Minus 12 – Reading List

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.