I drove twelve hundred fifty miles this weekend, a quick trip to Oakland and then back again. Our anniversary. Six years.
From 1990 through 1998 I lived with my ex-wife and Zeke in an apartment not far from downtown Oakland. It was the longest span of time I have ever spent with one address. Annette and I stayed a few blocks away this weekend. Awoken Saturday by the sound of distant trains, the smell of trees, I remembered oddly that I woke that way every single day for eight years. Wondered how I could ever have forgotten.
Back then I drove that same route, more or less, on desperate trips to forsake Oakland for the Mojave. Interstate 5 through the San Joaquin Valley was a gauntlet to be run, and I breathed deeply only after dropping down the far side of Tehachapi Pass into the gloaming desert.
After a few trips I began to find things to value before the desert. Place names: Ortigalita Creek and Crows Landing. The cats’ paws of wind in green oat stems. As years passed and the spread of almond orchards swelled, February would fill the valley with vivid pink blossoms. Along the west verge of the highway, red-tailed hawks stood watch on rough fence posts, one hawk to the mile or more.
The suburbs have filled the valley. They strain against the freeway. They will soon break past it and run rampant through the Coast Ranges.
I saw not a single red-tailed hawk this weekend in more than 1,250 miles of driving.
There have been other losses since last I drove that way. A majestic old Joshua at roadside just east of Kramer Junction has gone missing. And so, it would seem, has this:
There are a hundred thousand blinking red lights outside Mojave now: the wind that stole at least three of my perfectly good hats has been broken to wheel, and turbine blades reflect the scarlet aircraft warning lights.
But it is the loss of those fencepost hawks that hurts today. In their stead, a thousand signs blame liberals for the drought.