Friday, April 07, 2006

A stop on the Carrizo Plain

Strange math. 4663 people feet years.

9:00 p.m.

I'm camped out in my tent, surrounded and nearly concealed by the wild vegetation of Carrizo Plain, a couple hundred yards from the gravel road that traverses this place. Up off a dirt track utility crews apparently use to inspect power lines crossing the valley.

I camped in this same spot during a pre-trip "dry run" about a year ago.

It’s cold and overcast. Not a car has passed. There are some headlights about twenty miles north, near Soda Lake. The only sounds are that of the wind and an occasional jet high above.

"D-Day" approaches. The movement will come to an end and decisions will need to be made. I can only put off the return for so long! The reality of "homecoming" is so different than my imagination of the event. But I must try to face this “arrival at the edge of the unknown” like all the others that have gone before in this journey: positively and courageously.

A sense of “fate” or “destiny” seems to have abandoned me recently. Where has it gone? Maybe it’s a certain attitude or mental state that opens our eyes to signs our lives are indeed following some pre-ordained path or plan. (Sometimes it is so clear!) Perhaps the indications are out there right now. I'm just not seeing them.


Sister Mary (no, she's not a nun) and brother-in-law Robert in front of Disneyland's Jungle Cruise. Oh, wait. That's their pool!

It was 9:00 when the first stirrings woke me this morning in Glendale. Mary had overslept and was late for work. (That’s a terrible feeling!) She called her office and said she’d be late – she wanted to visit with me a little longer. Robert, Mary and I had some coffee and croissants, sitting outside in the warm sunlight. Previous mornings had a chill, but not today. Janie called from Las Vegas. She and Otto might visit L.A. this weekend. But I can't stay around.

Saw Mary off to work, then Robert kept me company while I packed. They wanted me to stay longer, but I said “I’m melting! I need to move. To do something.”

On the road just before 1:00, heading north on Interstate 5. Decided to take the backroads through Fillmore, Santa Paula, Ojai, up to the Carrizo Plain, then perhaps over to Jolon Road, through Camp Hunter-Liggett, and out onto Highway 1 south of Big Sur. Some of my favorite California roads.

(How long can I stretch this ride out? And what happens when I reach Santa Rosa?)

Only thirty minutes from suburban San Fernando Valley, the intoxicating fragrance of orange blossoms fills the air. Orchards stretch for miles across the Santa Clara River Valley east of Fillmore. What a treasure! I thought they were long since leveled for housing. Oranges, lemons and avocados, a time capsule of Los Angeles' rich agricultural history. Before the mid-twentieth century boom, the Los Angeles area was known for its citrus, grapes and other produce. A veritable garden paradise.

Fillmore retains its small town character, however just a few miles to the west Santa Paula is slowly becoming assimilated as a suburb of the coastal cities.

Highway 150 winds up a river canyon to Ojai. Along the way, there are many temporary signals controlling traffic through constructions zones, where landslides from severe winter rains have washed out portions of the road.

Typical Spring landscape. Near Ojai, California.

In my college days, I enjoyed stopping at "Papa Romano's Pizza" on the eastern edge of Ojai. Coming out of the hills,descending towards town, I found the building at a fork in the road. Now it’s “Boccali’s". When I asked how long since this was "Papa Romano’s", the owner said he bought the place twenty years ago, in 1986.

Sat outside at one of their picnic tables, enjoying some good pizza and fresh lemonade from the farm. I learned from the staff that my intended route to Cuyama and the Carrizo Plain, California Highway 33 over the Santa Ynez Mountains, was closed due to a slide. "Rats." Visited a Forest Service office in Ojai to confirm the highway situation.

The only options were to back-track most of the distance traveled today and take Interstate 5 northward, or follow a round-about path through Santa Barbara (where traffic is typically a mess) and Santa Maria, then east toward Cuyama. I didn’t want to go back. That's no fun. So, I turned toward Santa Barbara.

Traffic wasn't so bad as I briefly skirted the Pacific and then crossed inland via San Marcos Pass to Cachuma Lake and Santa Ynez Valley. A perfect afternoon, if slightly on the cold side. This land, the Central Coast of California, is just incredible. It lifts my spirit, like no other place, I think. It may require some effort to accept all the other people who also love this place, but it's still fairly easy to escape the crowds.

This afternoon, traffic was refreshingly light. At a turn-off for Solvang and Buellton, I hesitated, then continued straight. Then stopped and turned around. "Let's go to Buellton and see the 'Hitching Post' restaurant!"

Then I came to the turn-off and hesitated again. "No. Forget it." Made a u-turn and started north again. Then hesitated again. "Come on. Let's go!" Another u-turn. This time I pulled to the shoulder and waited for the debate to be resolved. “Make a decision and live with it, for god’s sake!” "Buellton."

At Solvang, the "Chumash Casino" (which didn't exist on my previous 20 or 30 trips through this land) is an enormous complex that’s totally incongruous with the pastoral Santa Ynez Valley setting.

The beautiful gated homes, horse ranches and wineries that now populate Santa Ynez Valley remind me of the divisive debates raging in this country over welfare and immigration.

"Welfare" comes in so many forms; it certainly isn't reserved for the poor. Though these people pay dearly to live out here, and perhaps consider themselves entitled, they receive a far-greater benefit from society, in terms of infrastructure, utilities and services than the disadvantaged. They could not live here without the burden being shared to some extent.

It is humanity in microcosm: many take too little so that a few may take too much (as in Third World-First World relationships.)


Stopped for a photo of “The Hitching Post”. That's all. The day was slipping away, and I didn't want to be reaching the Carrizo Plain after dark. Passed the miles of rolling vineyard around Los Alamos and into Santa Maria. Refueled: gas over $3.00 per gallon for mid-grade. Not much different than South America!

From the movie Sideways, "The Hitching Post" in Buellton, California. Don't you dare ask for Merlot.

Reached here just after sunset. The road is in good condition. It's early in the season. Later, it will turn to dusty washboard.

At 9:00 p.m. a lone car passes by. Somewhere out there in the dark, the coyotes are making quite a ruckus.

(Check the next post for Carrizo Plain photos!)


Genevieve said...

The eerie yips and howls of the coyote in the dark can make a body feel lonely. I don't think I've ever heard them howl in daylight.

timtraveler said...

They sound so...maniachal!

I've never heard them by day either.

Drew Kampion said...

We hear ’em often by day up here on Whidbey Island ... usually sounding like some sort of argument in the pack, but sometimes they seem to be on a day-hunt.