Friday, February 14, 2014

California as Oz

When I was growing up, California—and especially the Los Angeles area—was a mythical land.  To me, California was Oz.  It never seemed like a real place.  Instead it was the place of television and movies. So was New York, but unlike New York, which also seemed glamorous, California was like a made-up place, a fairy tale. New York was gritty and real—I’d actually been to New York.

I remember the first time I flew into LA—my first visit to California in 1987.  It was an evening flight out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.  As my plane chased the setting sun toward the Pacific Ocean, racing against the motion of the turning earth below us, I watched the land below me moving in the twilight.  Phoenix was a long string of lights; the Valley of the Sun was even back then a nearly 80 mile east-to-west stretch of development.

Further west and the light and the lights diminished rapidly until one could see two things:  the illuminated ribbon of the cars beneath us on Interstate 10—red on one side, white on the other—and a line of demarcation on the southern horizon where the lights seemed to disappear completely—the Mexican border.

Western Arizona and eastern California was a simple blanket of black with clusters of light where the smaller towns and cities lay.  Then the lights on the ground began as a glow on the western horizon, as if the sun had changed its mind and was perhaps coming back up for a final glimpse.  Then suddenly we were looking at the most tremendous sea of lights I’d ever seen.  Lights as far as the eye could see, dense, brilliant, flickering, thriving.  One highway became many, glowing two-tone snakes writhing across the glittering landscape. Thirty minutes later, the light ended abruptly and frighteningly at what appeared at first glance to be a wall of emptiness—the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. 

I was excited, looking at all those lights.  At last, I had come to the land of Oz!

Since then I have been to California several times, but I have not been here in over fifteen years.  The day I wrote this, I was basking in sixty-five degree sunny weather (“real feel” seventy-two) in Winterhaven on the Arizona border.  I had not felt so relaxed and happy in a long time.  The sky was blue and clean, the air fresh and reviving, the countryside quiet except for the frequent trains and the occasional jet. I was reminded of how delightful summer felt in childhood, in central Pennsylvania, before global warming turned the weather on its head, back when California was fictional and mythical, and I was happy and hopeful to be once again in Oz.

In recent days, we have crossed the California portion of the Sonoran Desert and the Laguna Mountains, visited San Diego and traveled up the Pacific Coast Highway to Winnetka, slightly northwest of Los Angeles proper. While driving into the densely populated, auto-heavy metropolis, I could feel the artificiality of the culture here.  This place is the myth-making machine for the American dream, Spin Central for our commercialized consumerist culture.  And while I might have observed this at one time with contempt, I see it now for its absurdity, its irony, its folded-over humor.  I see it for the trickster medicine it really is and am no longer angry over it.  Just certain that I want to visit this Oz for a short time and move on to a place I can truly call home.

Now, where are my ruby slippers?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

O Frabjous Day

Woke to a nicely cool, slightly damp morning (compared to the past two months in Phoenix!).  Walked to the end of the park to view sunrise over the lettuce fields and found this gentleman walking in the distance.  He reminded me of a French farmer for some reason (must be the hat).

Two fields away a cluster of trees hosted a cacophony of birdsong and everywhere doves cooed.

Morning over the lettuce fields.
Yesterday we drove to Yuma from Dateland and despite a couple of wrong turns, ended up in California quite suddenly, where we found a campground—the McCoy Mobile Home Park in Winterhaven, tucked between lettuce fields near the Colorado River in what is apparently part of Imperial Valley.

I wanted to see the border of Mexico.  In Yuma, Mexico is both south and west.  Here is where the Gila River joins the Colorado River and for a brief spate, the Colorado is the Mexican/United States border.

The famous border fence on the west side of the farm fields. 
But one cannot really get to the western border, except on dirt roads and (my guess is) private property.  From even a slightly elevated vantage point, one can look over into Mexico. In our explorations, we found miles and miles of farm fields.

This is agricultural country, much to my surprise, and the fields were filled with workers picking lettuce.  It was packed in boxes as it was picked and loaded immediately onto semi-trucks.  Fresh.

The fields are unlike Iowa fields, because the crops are all short ones.  Lettuce, cauliflower, arugula, other greens I didn’t recognize from the car window. Everywhere one sees old school buses faded yellow or now-faded white, with porta-Johns on a trailer behind.  These are the agricultural transports.  They make a circuit picking up workers in the morning, and take them home at night.  It is hard, back-breaking work for little pay. 

Ninety percent of the world’s winter lettuce is produced here in the Yuma area.  Workers live locally, or travel here in the season to work, or are bused across the border daily.  

Curious to at least see Mexico, we ended up driving 20 miles south to the border town of San Luis.  There I got pictures of the border and the famous fence.  

The park butts up against the border fence.  Here you see foot traffic crossing into Mexico.

Here you see the border at San Luis, Arizona, adjacent to Friendship Park. 

The border fence extending across the southern edge of Arizona at San Luis. This picture was taken facing west.

Close up of the fence

The street that run parallel to the fence. 
In light of the conflicts of recent years, I think that Friendship Park is ironically named! Although I did not see any open signs of hostility--everyone was friendly, there were no obvious guards, etc.  (Certainly not like my visit to Ecuador, where seriously armed police were everywhere!)

I admit I know very little about migrant workers or border disputes, but I was glad to get even a glimpse today of the work being done and the monumental place the border holds in the consciousness of those who live nearby.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dateline Dateland: Westward Ho!

We have finally left Phoenix behind, with a few clear clues our last day that we were not to even consider staying there. I will not share them here.

Our neighbors Nick and Ty helped Rick pack everything up.  After Nick went to work at noon, Ty and Crystal wished us off and we left the X Bar B Trailer Ranch around 2.

I was nervous and anxious as usual when setting out, but in a couple of hours we arrived at the Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site west of Gila Bend.  We were planning to spend the night there, where the BLM has established a campground (no services).  I spent the next two hours or so photographing the petroglyphs, while Rick attempted to set up camp. Here are a few:

Alas, our generator would simply not turn on, so we decided to head on down the road.  

We passed a solar farm, acres of solar panels turning to face the sun.  At sunset, they were faced toward the east, waiting for morning.


We spent the night in Dateland, Arizona beneath a glittering dazzle of stars and the sounds of the Interstate and the nearby train tracks for company.  I love the trains.  In fact, as I write this, I can see the train passing about a hundred feet in front of us.  

It is 7 am and the sun is just rising, so I am going to go watch the sunrise, offer some tobacco to the spirits and take some pictures.

It is chilly, around 40 degrees. I found a lizard laying, curled but facing east, to the east of his hole.  Waiting.  Waiting for the sun to rise and strike him to life, as he must do every morning.  

I waited for the sunrise along with my chilly reptilian friend.

At last, our waiting was rewarded.

I walked back to our camp site and a beautiful morning.