Sunday, January 5: This morning, Steph drives me to Enterprise Rental Car at Burbank Airport, where I rent a Hyundai Elantra for the rest of my time in California. She encourages me to drive up Highway 101, but when I put my friend Jayne’s Danville address in my GPS, I’m led to Interstate 5, which takes me a fast shot (6 hours) through the dust bowl of California.
Near Fresno, I pass the Harris Cattle Ranch, California’s largest beef producer and the largest ranch on the West Coast of the USA, producing 150 million pounds of beef per year in 2010 (Wikipedia: Harris Ranch). Cows stand in mucky holding pens and open shelters in a sprawling complex sitting on brittle and arid landscape as far as the eye can see. The smells of manure and stinky cow’s breath permeate the air as I drive past.
On this long drive along California’s dusty inland route, I pass diagonal rows of spindly trees, fallow almond and orange orchards; the pathways between the trees are swept clean except for sprinklings of yellowed blossoms. To the west, beige fields dotted with cactus and star thistle weed stretch out to a horizon ending at naked rumpled mountains. Corrugated metal industrial buildings periodically punctuate the monotony of the landscape. Driving through, I can’t help think of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
Debates about water rights rage on billboards along the road: Congress created the Dust Bowl! – Higher Food Cost! – Farm Water Cut: 50% 2010. – Water=Jobs.
Water and water rights are among the state’s divisive political issues. Lacking reliable dry season rainfall, water is limited in the most populous U.S. state. An ongoing debate is whether the state should increase the redistribution of water to its large agricultural and urban sectors, or increase conservation and preserve the natural ecosystems of the water sources (Wikipedia: Water in California).
As I pass a baby blue silo, Pink Floyd sings “Teacher, leave those kids alone” on my radio. Later I pass orange and mandarin groves beside the San Luis Canal of the California Aqueduct, part of the state’s interconnected water system that serves over 30 million people and irrigates over 5 million acres of farmland. The canals remind me of Oman’s falaj system, except these canals are wide enough and big enough to be boat-worthy.
Jimmy Buffett sings “The Russians had plutonium, the sailors wanted beer,” as I drive past more orchards of white barked trees, bordered by signs: Apricot Wine. – Corn Maze.
Much like the Eskimos have 50 words for snow, I can imagine the California farmers along Route 5 having dozens of words for brown: khaki, umber, burnt sienna, tawny, toast, coffee, chestnut, beige, amber.
As the sun drops in the sky, the fields and orchards take on a lavender hue, and I can see wind farms on ridge tops, windmills in frozen cartwheels, asleep for today. Electrical towers and industrial plants, including the Safeway headquarters in Pleasanton, show me I’m getting close to my destination, the Town of Danville, one of the wealthiest suburbs of Oakland and San Francisco.
I make my way to Jayne’s condo, where we reunite for the first time since our trip to India in March of 2011 (catbird in south asia). Though we are best of friends, we don’t see much of each other face-to-face, though we talk by phone several times a week and have done so for the last 10 years. We catch up, have some dinner, then head to the lovely home of one of her British friends to watch the opening episode of the new season of Downton Abbey. What fun to watch the quintessentially British show with a bunch of Brits. 🙂
Tomorrow, we’ll head to Monterey.