Each summer morning the heat had risen before I got up. The sun was already slanting across the backyard when I looked out at the day. My brother and I, maybe my two cousins or some friends, would head directly to the creek or maybe we’d sneak to the nearby ranch whose only remains were a big house and a bigger cherry tree. No one ever came to scare us away from climbing the tree and eating cherries until we got sick. Our houses were built in the middle of these small ranches and orchards. If the fruit trees didn’t interrupt the placement of the houses, they stayed. In our yard, we had plums and apricots. Up the hill our neighbor had oaks and walnuts.
As a little kid I had no idea that around me was a graveyard of an era. California had been acres and acres of golden fields and orchards. And rattlesnakes and gopher snakes and poison oak and creeks and dirt lanes. I didn’t know we were living at the end of an era. The end had actually come but it was beginning for us—families who’d bought into the idea of suburbs. Yet the remains of ranch life remained in the creeks that still ran uncovered and where we safely ran wild. Beyond the pools and paving, a California connected to its soil and sun struggled on.
I have never returned because I’m not one to go hunting for the past. When I think of where I grew up, the scent of buckeye and bay trees, the shade of an oak, the rustle of the dry, dry September grasses, I think of our former governor and Buddhist, Jerry Brown, and his family’s ranch where he retired to—rolling hills, valley oaks, weathered barns and no doubt tarantulas in summer. I think of Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose and think I should reread it.