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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Friday, March 8, 2013

California dreaming

Our week in California went by as if we were in a dream, made more so by the day-mares of weather at either end of the trip, on the way west just escaping a big storm in Boston when it turned to rain and on the way east beating by eight hours a big storm in Chicago. To be able to foil Boston's February is fantastic enough, but then to go to sunny and warm California besides!

Not only the weather was a heavenly escape. We stayed with our daughter and her boyfriend in the hills just west of the Central Valley near Davis (where they are attending grad school). Yes, this area is populated, each hill topped by a house, others straggling in the little valleys, but the lots are very large, and almost everyone has kept big trees and tends a garden and keeps sheep or lamas or goats or ostriches (!) or cows grazing around the house, and jackrabbits run freely around and through the fences and a herd of a dozen deer wanders around and over the fences and regularly rests in the pines next in the driveway leading to our daughter's house. They were our welcoming party when we drove up to the geodesic dome on an appropriately named Sunday..

The kids do live in a dome home, having lucked out in the rental market around the university. It's a dream of a place on the top of a hill, surrounded by trees and cactus and oleander like a reverse moat, circled by a deck 90% of the way around, its walls inside showing how triangles are made into a sphere. From the deck we watched the sun set over the western hills.

A remarkable feature of California is that you can see hills and mountains almost everywhere. The lower ones are developed, but beautifully, lightly, sustainably, a true American dream of large houses, of cattle grazing on the hillsides so green in spring, of millions of acres of vineyards now extending well outside Napa and Sonoma. But even more dream-like are the bigger hills as yet undeveloped, a curious patchwork of thick woods and open meadows that looks planned but isn't, and of course the big mountains to the east and north, containing an array of national parks and forests truly unbelievable in allure and beauty. This boy's dream of Yosemite might actually happen.

Another feature of the landscape is the often sharp divide between city and country. The Bay area cities extend for a horribly long way east along I-80 (whose horrible traffic we discovered one morning driving into San Francisco), but once out of their grasp, the towns further east become manageable. I suppose it's only a matter of time before more development springs out of farmland (we did see some "retirement communities" and one large casino in the middle of nowheres) but for now in towns like Davis and Vacaville development stops abruptly and fields begin. The suburban sprawl we see in the East is not so prominent in northern California, which has densely packed cities, exurban farmlets, and (still) vast amounts of true wilderness. This is not true of southern California, some people's definition of hell.

Here you dream with eyes wide open. The variety of stimulus is huge: the green hills, terraced rows of vines, redwood forests, the glorious coast. The sheer bigness of the place means I wouldn't get any work done for years if we ever moved. I'd always be dreaming of the next twist, the next vista, on the mountain trail. Of course we were there at the best time of the year (not the impossibly hot summer, not the chilly, rainy winter). So in a way I'm glad to wake up this week back in New England, back in a snowstorm (going on 10 inches last night and this morning), back to work, until our spring and summer begin and the kids can dream of Maine and we can live it.

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