Friday, January 2, 2009

CALIFORNIA MYSTIQUE


My younger daughter Elizabeth, who lives in southern California, is visiting here during the holidays, and she brings with her memories of visits to California I’ve made during the past 25 years. In the summers of those 25 years, we traveled through diverse landscapes in this Golden State that draws entrepreneurs, people with vision, tourists, and eccentrics – all seeking a feeling that I often experience when we hit the High Desert – one of freedom and abandonment.

Every summer when I traveled to Van Nuys, Lancaster, or Palmdale, the three places Elizabeth has lived, we’d plan a trip up the Central Coast toward the magnificent rocky scenery near Big Sur and Carmel…or to Lake Tahoe…Big Bear…Sequoia National Park…then inland on Hwy. 5 to Fresno and farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. Some treks were made to see my brother and his wife in northern California, and we veered off course to see New Iberian Roseanne Raphael in Berkeley several times, went over to San Francisco and to Muir Woods, stopped in wine country for a little tasting adventure before proceeding to Crescent City. I’d say that we covered the state, except for two colorful spots – the Lassen Volcano area and Death Valley, the latter for which I have a yen to visit during the winter.

My father and mother loved the West and took us on the famous Diddy Wah Diddy trek to L.A. when I was 11 years old. They declared that we’d be gypsies forever, a claim that frightened me at the time, but I began returning to the scene again and again, beginning in the 80’s, drawn to desert expanses, the paradise of ocean and mountain, and the Mediterranean-like climate, the sights of that beautiful blue sea crashing on gray rock.

Once, when riding as a passenger returning to Palmdale from Lake Tahoe, I amused myself by writing 22 poems within a four hr. drive, recording the landscape as I rode. We whizzed through Cartago, Independence, Bridgeport, and Toiyake National Forest, my pen moving with the acceleration of the car, my exhilaration with the landscape unlike any feelings I have had while viewing scenery since that time.

California is a magic place that drew missionaries, Spanish conquistadores, ranchers, miners, and Native Americans. The landscape encourages an easy outdoor lifestyle at beaches, parks, trails, and waysides. Some of my favorite trees grow in California woodlands and on the hillsides: Monterey Pine, eucalyptus, and cotton wood. Then, there are the cormorants and puffins, red-tailed hawks that frequent the cliffs and rocks at Big Sur; the sea otters and gray whales near Carmel. I’ve traveled the 1100 mile western coastline from one end to the other, looking perhaps for the same elusive place to stop and settle as my father and have decided that the feeling of elusiveness keeps alive that which I call “The California Mystique.”

Here’s one of the snippets I wrote on the Lake Tahoe exodus:

NEAR CARTAGO, CA. (population 75)

Salt flats, fields of uncommon snow,
blush at the edges,

brine shrimp wriggling pinkly;
Not a mile from the turn-off to Death Valley

Joshua trees suddenly jut up,
old men with arms linked,

standing too close to one another,
grumbling to the sun.


Note: Painting by my granddaughter, Kimberly Fontenette, age 16.
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