In the sierra foothills. Typing on my portable electronic device amidst the squeaks and squawks of stellars jays and quail and other birds I didn’t know or had forgotten. It’s cool out, a gentle breeze, but that won’t last. Sitting on a rock covered in ancient lichens. The forest here is grey pine and canyon live oak with manzanita, toyon, and the ubiquitous non native bromes and oatgrass. On a ridge not too far away are ponderosa pines. I wonder if they are doomed to die like the ones across the hill,a victim of drought, climate change, bad forestry, bad grazing, the bromes.
They say nature bats last but I get the feeling this is only the second inning. We batted and now nature is up. We think we are winning but we are losing. Badly. It’s only begun.
It’s the smells that bring it back. I think it’s the lichens. They smell so sweet. That and sun baked oaks. Back to a summer on the other side of the great valley. Maybe 15 years ago. Studying the spread of wild oats. We learned that in this case the damage was already done. Not spreading because they are already here, everywhere they could be. Whatever they replaced is gone.
Two days ago we drove across the Central Valley. It’s always felt like a dead place to me but this time its energy just vibrated in the air. Dead isn’t the right word but I don’t know what is. This is drought twisted sideways. On one ridgetop trees die but in another range to the shout the lakes and ponds are full. Roaming summer storms dump rain where they didn’t before. Winter storms fail. Overlying it all is the simple fact. We used the water wrong. We used the land wrong. We used the very air wrong. The land isn’t dead. It’s in a deep hybernation. It knows, in some sense, it can wait out its disease. Meanwhile its back is turned to us. Cold, hot, dry, twisted sideways. Like an ancient turtle buried in mud. After we are gone it will stick it’s head up, find what is left, and work from there. It doesn’t have to be that way but all indications are that it will be.
I try to talk to people about this place but that too twists sideways. The feeling of loss turns to hostility. Stupid lawns. Stupid Monsanto. Stupid almonds. Stupid dams. Stupid invasive wild oats. Stupid people who I also love. Stupid. My time with California reminds me of one and only one thing.
A dying relationship. which i have had, with the backdrop of these mountains. I say something originating in love but it filters through the fear and anger in my heart and it comes out mean. She does the same. Our conversations as through a filter. The end is already written and we must act it out regardless of how aware we are of the end. A drought mixed with feverish heat we brought on knowingly. A trail we always loved viewed through the filter of failure. Looking at this oak covered hill feeling love and desperation. Feeling the end. Not here yet but coming. When I do leave it is reluctantly but am made to re avow my loss again and again. When called back I always had to answer no. So I left. It wasn’t my choice at first but later it is. Worst of both worlds. That lichen smell brings back my love of this place as strongly as that summer so long ago. It always will. I left. And coming back even for these moments is an emotional battlefield.
California… I tried. I really did. Maybe in a different time, a different world. Not this one. Sleep well.