There’s a moment when, driving over the Grapevine on the serpentine 5, you feel hurtled into Central California. The road slants downhill, curving around the mountain, and suddenly there is a break in the scenery. The plain brown range disappears, and you are overlooking the great valley. From that viewpoint it doesn’t look like much (the farmland hasn’t really begun yet, and the smog chokes the air like a thick blanket), but you have been thrust into a new world just the same. I’ve seen that vista a hundred times, emerging from the hilled heights. Smog or no smog, it means I’m almost home.
A million thoughts hurtled through my head when the mountains opened before me on Saturday. Just a little bit longer, and I’ll be in the San Joaquin Valley. Home. The place where I was born and raised, in a culture that was colorful and robust. I’ll be where it’s green and sylvan in it’s own agricultural, irrigation-gifted way. Where there are wide open spaces full of purple wildflowers, dotted with every tree you can imagine. There is, of course, an extra helping of ash trees (or Fresno, in Spanish). At home, I’ll be able to pick my own fruit, walk in our almond orchard with the dogs, and gather the stray peacock feathers that have floated over from our neighbors’ yard. This is the last time that I will be home for a long time.
And so I enjoyed the scenery on the 5, descending into the valley—the brown fields mottled with vineyards and orange groves praying for rain. I even looked at the smog, the valley’s grey mantle, and knew that I would miss the sunsets it creates. I joked on Facebook earlier today that “home is where the cats are,” and there is truth in that. My cats, my family, my ranches, and my sunsets. Soon, this won’t be my reality. I will be far from here, in a land that is truly green…but even so, this will always be home.