Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Western nostalgia

It rained all day today and nothing I put my hands to seemed to turn out right. On the way home I found myself missing the desert. Sometimes it seems a little claustrophic here, with the dense forests and close, low mountains. I miss those wide open space you come to as you drive over the top of the Sierras and come down into Nevada, with its primaeval alkali basins, sand mountains and odd geological formations. Scattered cowboy bars and abandoned cars and cold-water rest stops. I miss the high desert in Northern California--miles of scrub, two lane highways, Tule Lake and history. And the rolling yellow-golden hills leading out to the valley around Altamont pass, with the windmills. They stay golden until they turn brown in late winter, and grow green in February, only to turn gold again by April or May.

What I miss so often is the ability to get in the car and drive far, far away. The land and the freeways feel so much more expansive, and it's not so easy here to just get on the road and leave everythin behind. If you wanted to, from San Francisco you could drive all day Saturday and make it to Salt Lake City by evening. Have ice cream at Snelgroves, and maybe stay the night. Turn around and drive back on Sunday morning.

There's nothing like a drive through the desert to clear your head.

Also, I was thinking of certain places in the Bay Area and on through the Central Valley--ones that have some importance that I can't quite put my finger on why they do. Usually they are places that coincide with driving: the folk-art sculpture on the beach in Alameda as you're heading towards the Bay Bridge--there used to be a small plane there, and what looked like old kinetic sculpture, a naiive interpretation of the work in Hamden Square. Then there's the Nut Tree, now empty, on 80 northeast of the Bay Area, in Vacaville. And then there's the sharp downhill curve as you come out of the Caldecott tunnel into Oakland. Sometimes I'm inexplicably reminded of these things.

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