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Saturday, 26 July 2008

The Valley of Hearts Delight

The day after my gig, I went to the South Bay to meet some people, including my tax accountant.  I took the train down from Berkeley to San Jose, where it depositted me next to the Sharks Arena at Diridon Station.  I biked several miles to my friends house in Los Gatos, on the far side of Lake Vasona.

She told me to take the Los Gatos Creek Trail, a bike route that runs next to the creek, through several natural areas and some large parks.  There arent that many dedicated bike trails in the states. This one was exceptionally nice, as it rolled along next to the sleepy creek.

I passed the native and invasive plants whose names I learned at childhood summer camps, but which I no longer remember.  I played along a similar creek when I was 11, trying to catch minnows and chewing on fennel.  As I biked and looked at the lazy water, I smelled the fennel plants, baking in the sun and I was transported back then.

Ive seen lots of greenery in the world, but that smell, so specific to this one place, made me feel so happy.  And then I passed a space where a skunk had been startled within the last day and then, in the park, tanbark baking in the sunlight.

Tan bark is the shredded bark of redwood trees, used as mulch.  Its distinctive.  As for skunks, they dont smell the same here as they do in other places. The reason that some marijuana is called skunk is because it smells like the skunks that we get here.  The smell fades quickly in direct sunlight.  So if your dog tries chasin one, you get an overwhelming weed odor that goes away within a couple of days.  (In connecticut, it smells like that plus burning tires filled with boiling vomit and lasts for months.)

I met my friend - actually the girlfriend that I dated in highschool and we talked and picked fresh peaches and tomatoes from her garden.  Later in the evening, I went to another friends house and had food cooked from garden fruits and vegetables. Everyone there was old California: families from Silicon Valley when it was still known as Santa Clara Valley and from when we grew fruit on the richest farmland in the world. We talked about what was in season, what was growing well this year and splitting cots. (Cutting apricots in half and removing the seed in preparation to dry them.)

Today, I went to the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland and got fresh local zuccini, heirloom tomatoes, peaches, anaheim peppers, all this fabulous fresh produce.

I could live here.  I could live in Berkeley and plant fruit trees in the yards of friends and grow tomatoes outside my backdoor and ride the train to some technichal job and bike everywhere and take my dog to the park at the marina and have warm, sunny days 300 days a year.

When the Spanish arrived, the came to the San Francisco Bay and it was too shallow to sail their ships into, so they went down the coast to the Baja tip and did not sail all the way up.  So they thought they had found an island.  They gave this new island a name from a work of fiction. There was a popular book about an island paradise.  So they named my state for the fictional island in the book.  Where everything is beatuiful and grows and lovers can pick low haning fruit from trees and swim in the ocean and ride their bikes amidst baking fennel and semi-friendly skunks.

I could stay in this land of mythically good weather and food with the people Ive known my whole life (and some who knew my mother and grandmother) and live only a few miles from where one of my great grandfathers grew cherries and another practiced dentistry.  Or, I could go back to England, the country which the cherry-growing great grandfather fled.

I had this idea of an ancestral homeland, but it was romantic and uninformed.  I come from California, from the farming and land, from the chip fabrication plants, (alas) from the software industry, from Castro Street and the White Night Riots, from the Free Speech Movement.  All of this - the Black Panthers, the growing Trans movement in San Francisco, the constant social tumult and change spanning at least 150 years - this is home.

But Ill go back to England in a few days and stay there to finish my degree.  Maybe my home will decide to catch up with the 20th century and fix some of its political problems.  The other day, I saw a weeping woman begging for spare change and it shocked me. She so clearly needed help and there would be none forthcoming.  All the fine weather in the world is no substitute for food, shelter and healthcare.  How far are any of us here from weeping on the street?  A few paychecks?  A lost job?  A bout of depression and no help to vanquish it?  How can some place so idyllic still be so fucked up?

The things is, that political will and work from the people can fix the problems of unrestrained capitalism.  All the protest in the world cant make perfect weather or rich farmland.  So I hold out hope.  I already see positive changes in the space of the last year.  One day, Ill come home again.

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