History

It doesn’t seem that the Owens Valley has gotten over having their water taken.

Yesterday was Hwy. 395 all the way. Except for a detour in Nevada that took me to the most surprising place: the Smith Valley, presumably homesteaded by Mormons. As I crested a pass, it was laid out, so perfectly cultivated, with green and gold hay fields and rows of poplar and cottonwood wind breaks, all surrounded by mountains. A real, working, productive place with no nonsense. Or so I like to think. A sort of ‘green and pleasant land.’ I wonder how it would be to live there without being a land owner.

Then Janet took me over some Sierra mountain passes, and I was reminded that Oregon is really just the mildly pretty little sister of the bombshell that is, still, California. That metaphor must end now, before it gets faintly misogynistic. I could see the highest peaks up in there occasionally, and they reminded me of sharp little demon’s teeth. I considered stopping for a hike into a lake that I read about, but I am more interested in human culture right now than ‘wilderness’ beauty spots. There is no wilderness anymore, I don’t think. It feels like a playground for people who work in a sterile atmosphere. I can’t believe I, a card-carrying environmentalist since about 1985, am saying this.

The words ‘Owens Valley’ remind me of the movie Chinatown, which reminds me of Faye Dunaway, which reminds me of the movie Network, which makes me think that, prescient as that movie was, all Cassandras are doomed to misery and their predictions make no difference at all. Sorry George Orwell.

Anyway, as I descended further into the valley, the towns looked like time had forgotten them a little, and I was unenchanted with the valley itself. At Independence, I turned off and took a walk and saw the home of the town’s founder, a man named Edwards. It’s the oldest building in Inyo County, and our featured photo. I happened to meet the director of the historical museum on a street corner, and he directed me to some other landmarks–the home of a writer of local lore, ‘The Land of Little Rain’, named Mary Austin, surrounded by a fence with peeling paint. Contrasted with the fresh and tidy historical schoolhouse I passed in hidden little Smith Valley, it feels like people care here, but have enough to do to get by.

When I came out of the valley and found it was getting hot, I stopped for an air-conditioned bite in a local spot in Inyokern, and looked at their tourist bureau’s publication. I hate tourist bureaus. I have had enough of visiting places without a flourishing culture of their own. The Inyo County folks are doing the best they can, but I doubt most people would choose to pimp out their ‘natural wonders’ or a sad, struggling, or fake culture, if they had a more self-respecting way to live. The water theft by Los Angeles of a hundred years ago was mentioned in this publication. I want to visit a place that is getting on fine on its own, with a real culture that doesn’t care what the world thinks, and is not prostituting itself to rich people with no idea of how to enjoy themselves. Plus the air-conditioning was barely working in there.

Janet took me across the Mojave Desert, and I am just going to mention Red Mountain, California, because I did not stop. I came up a hill, and there it was, an explosion of metal, wood, and glass, many tiny shacks that looked inhabited, old business that may or may not be used. Buildings half torn apart for pieces were facing the road. It was not a ghost town, there are people there, but I was frankly afraid to stop, as curious as I was. It looks like a leper colony abandoned to the lepers, or a free-for-all during the Black Death in Europe.

Then I descended into the flow of L.A. on the interstate. I do like cities. It was dusk and the thick smog looked kind of purple blue and the traffic was smooth and we just coasted along in the gloaming, weaving and parting and following our exits from one freeway to the next. It was dark when I found a Walmart in Redlands, and as soon as the top was popped, a young security guard stopped by. She said to ask the store manager, because the large collection of homeless people there steal a lot, and camping is not allowed. She told me about the new LGBT center in Hollywood, that she grew up in San Bernardino, and owns her own house. That the white guy walking by playing the guitar is always around there. She wished me well. And the manager said it was ok.

I thought I was displeased that things didn’t go perfectly smoothly for a minute. But when I got back to Janet, under the lot lights, I could tell that, aside from the wild sunflowers that were growing by the road further north, chatting with the security guard and the ‘support manager’ at Walmart lifted my spirits more than anything else I saw that day. I wanted to take a picture of the sunflowers, but couldn’t be arsed to stop, as our British friends say.

I woke up thinking that caring and being cared for are what humans are made for. I will not give up on that.