As anyone who knows me even casually might tell you, I had been planning my escape from the Central San Joaquin Valley for years. The merciless triple-digit summer heat, apocalyptic air quality andgrowing need to awake among lush mountain pines made a steady drip on my psyche.
Empty boxes multiplied in my garage, year after year, as I fantasized about greener pastures.
After spending what seems like a lifetime driving up and down nine-niner and snatching cross-country flights to visit friends who had long before made their getaway, I could not wait to kick the Valley’s dust from my heels. I don’t need no stinkin’ Valley.
I finally bust my big move six months ago. I am nestled at the base of the Cleveland National Forest in Temescal Valley in SoCal, and very much enjoy my mountain views and decidedly cooler temps. I do love it here, and am absolutely happy for the new life adventure, but...
A funny thing happened on the way to Utopia. Nostalgia, with a heavy dollop of reverence; smack, right between the eyes.
Deep-seeded memories bubble up uninvited. They run the full spectrum of a life spent unconcerned about the triviality of climate and horticulture. They are rooted in the people who invited me to share a corner of the hot concrete under our feet, while we spun the magic of irreplaceable friendships.
We squeezed fun and emotional intimacy out of every corner of this alternately lovely, then parched and fogged up Valley.
As teens, dragging Yosemite Avenue in Madera, we inched through tule fog to find other fools determined to defy the elements for the chance flirtation. The summer loops often ended with a cherry sundae at the Big Top drive-in.
Back then, my favorite escape was a weekend with cousins whose parents ran a cattle ranch just outside of town. We flooded pastures to “ski" behind a horse pulling one of us riding a plank, hanging wildly onto a rope. Smiles were closed-lipped to avoid the lethal kick-up of cow pie chips.
Entire days were spent on horseback, pretending we three girl cousins were the Diablo Sisters, riding the range. I may never admit to loving the smell of fresh manure in the morning, but you come to associate good times with whatever is in the prevailing winds.
High school brought its own rituals of friendship when our girl-group swathed bikinied bodies in oil to maximize the tanning rays of a brutal summer sun. Today, we reap a dry harvest of creases and sing a chorus of curses at our youth’s frivolous priorities. But hey, we looked good.
In young adulthood, new friendships developed and deepened through exploration of all the nooks and crannies the Valley offered for escape. Waterways to watering holes, we were giddy with good times taken for granted. Romances began and ended at Fresno’s Reuben’s, Harland’s and Nicola’s, and while slow-dancing at the old Ducey’s in Bass Lake. Sunday morning breakfasts at the Peppermill or The Train Depot brought us back into focus.
Through the years, we swam in backyard pools, sipped something cool in adjacent jacuzzi’s, hit Saturday farmers’ markets, planned shop-til-you-drop marathons, enjoyed live theater and music festivals and met for end-of-the-week cocktails in an endless loop. Reverend Green’s timeless “Love and Happiness” provided the soundtrack.
My best memories remain here. In this heat. In this fog. In this abundant Valley.
This community was, and always will be, fertile ground for growth and leadership debate. We rallied for political candidates — Go Bruce Bronzan! — who expressed our hopes and earned our trust. We joined decisive boards representing the pressing issues of our time. We moved, we shook.
We carried our share of ‘Up against the wall (*&%$#@’ protest signs before strapping on the heavy shoes of government leadership and donning the thick lenses of bureaucracy ourselves.
We found a world that might benefit from one more thoughtful voice; and we found kindred
spirits in each other.
It was also here that I stood beside my best friend at Fresno’s Evangelical Free Church as she promised her life and love to one man, a
promise still going strong after 32 years. We have shared loss of job, loss of love and loss of life with this Valley backdrop.
Did the venue really matter?
I might have lived somewhere else. Somewhere cooler, some place prettier. But, I could not have known friendships deeper, love stronger, loss more lovingly shared, or accomplishments better celebrated.
But, I look down, and I see my feet in this other place. Feet don’t lie.
I’ve done the hokey pokey and I’ve turned myself around; isn’t this really what it’s all about? I
finally get to find out.