The Christmas Tree Farm

Sun glints low in the winter sky, filtering through the trees creating an ethereal atmosphere through the lightly forming mist. Ground damp with the falling dew, moisture sucked from the air and deposited on the paths, the rooftops and the driveway down to the Christmas Tree Farm.

A busy scene, with cars parked at a jaunty angle on the steep farmyard slope, car boots open, roof racks tied with rope, an incarcerated barking dog breathing heavily on the misted up window. Wellies on, for even if just entering the tree-barn, the spirit of the farm visit must be kept alive.

On entering the open-fronted barn, excited chatter emanates from its bowels. On the left, Norway Spruce, full and bushy, dark bluey-green with a hint of violet, branches thrusting slightly skyward, dense and pungent, pine fresh, and spiky to the touch.  On the right, the Nordman Fir, expensive, statuesque and stately, silvery green with a hint of turquoise, each needle defined and organised into a tessalated pattern by nature, branches poking sideways and fun-like, inviting temptation to adorn. Soft to the touch, needles smooth like chain-mail, linking together and only ruffled one-way like a dog’s coat.

Decisions. They have to be made. Children in heightened states of excitement dive into the green jungle of ready-cut trees, pulling out a possibility, twirling it round like a spinning top and then discarding – not tall enough, wide enough, conical in shape enough. Each taste different, not realising that when removed from its faithful counterparts and isolated in the home, decorated with family favourites, it is the perfect tree ready to be pronounced the best Christmas tree – ever.

Stacked up trees, leaning against the slatted wooden walls of the barn, graded roughly in height, silent and waiting. An old black and white sheep dog, tail wagging greets excited visitors, delighted by the constant attention and extra pats. Dog-breath vapour in the cold damp air, tail causing a small breeze and knee-level creating a slight chill just above the welly-line.

In the corner, stacked together, tress with big wooden labels, marked with a name and a date, trees pre-chosen whilst growing in the plantation, waiting silently, untouched until some little bright face in a woolly hat and mittens comes to claim his own. Outside in the yard, more labelled trees, all waiting for an owner who has spent the winter so far, imagining the tree growing in the field, imagining the tree in the rain and the wind, the sun and the mist, the light and the dark, the snow and the frost, steady and upright in the frozen ground. A tree, seen in the mind’s eye long before the reality of its being adorns a corner of the lounge. Dare it be suggested that this tree, treated like a welcome guest, takes pride of place at the head of the family celebration, looking down on the family to whom it now belongs, in a majestic and peace-giving way. For something so naturally beautiful, really needs no adornment, but, as is the way of Christmas, it gets a sprinkling of sparkle and shine, glitter and gold, tinsel and treats.

The yard, surrounded by other ramshackle authentic barns and outbuildings, smells of a heady mix of wood and coal smoke pouring from the chimney of a rambling outdated bungalow. One imagines that inside things have not changed for 50 years, the kitchen table, the dog basket in front of the aga stove. Warm wintry smells fill the cold damp air, the smell of comfort, of evenings by the fire, of Gran’s house and the ?? fire, of jacket potatoes cooked in the embers in the ash-tray underneath. Drifts of smoke on the Cornish winter air, filling the place with a scented sense of place, adding to the atmosphere that is the day for choosing a Christmas Tree.

An old tractor, some hay bales and a serious carpet of pine needles add to the pungent smell creating an atmosphere second to none, of a working farm, of a family making a living, of the joy of Christmas. Sacks of potatoes stacked on a pallet, brown knobbly bags stuffed full of the winter staple, like Santa’s sack, piled high and sold to accompany the trees, almost as though farmland bed-mates should not be split up. Tasty, smooth skinned fist sized browny-white potatoes, a feast for a king, destined for many a Christmas table.

The farmer, an bashful old-boy in a loose brown coat, thick sweater and heavy boots, smiles beatifically at the children and parents clamouring to choose their favourite tree. A couple of farm hands unload the trees from the tractor and trailer, fresh back from the fields, sawing off the scrappy lower branches and discarding them in a pile behind the shed. A younger man, short haircut and earing, wearing a parka-style khaki coat and warm boots excitedly assists in the fun, by grasping trees from the stacked-up leaning lines and parades them up and down the barn to the excited squeals of children and discerning looks of parents. Modelling the trees as though in some fashion-week cat walk, like this year’s Collection depended on the barn-style exposure, he twirls the trees and with a sweep of the hand demonstrates the benefit of each and every feature. The height, the width, the even branches, the cluster at the top for the fairy, or maybe the Christmas star? The quirky, the odd and the downright wrong of each and every tree, all falling on the critical gaze. Cheerful chatter, the merits and disfigurement of each tree discussed and rejected and gleeful decisions made.

The old farmer, dog by his side, smiles and nods at happy people, looking as though his heart would burst. Never was there so much joy in the face of one man. A bashful smile and a few Cornish lilting words, an eager nod and a clasping of hands, like a charismatic Pontif, overseeing his flock, paying homage to his followers. Not a hint of arrogance, or ownership, or authority, or greed, just a man captivated by the sheer pleasure of seeing children and mums and dads and grannies and granddads so happy.

His mission starts in early autumn, when one by one, families drift by his farm, to choose their tree. An invitation into the waiting barn to choose a wooden label, hole drilled in the top threaded with a length of baling twine. Marker pen given to the child, the name of the tree-owner and the date for collection marked for future reference. A short smiley noddy conversation with the old farmer, a wave of the hand in the general direction of the Christmas Tree plantations and an unaccompanied sploshy welly-walk down the muddy path leads the purveyors of this ultimate Christmas treat to their destination.

There they are, like row upon row of green soldiers standing to attention in the south facing sloping fields, standing as though in an adoption parade, all saying ‘choose me, choose ME’. Mud and straw underfoot, the task begins of walking, because one can, up and down the rows and rows of trees, hand dragging across the branches like dragging a stick on a railing. Why does it matter what it feels like? Senses are piqued, the smell and feel of the fields in the weak autumn-winter sun is comforting, the silence that surrounds the trees, the oxygen they give back to the World, one can almost hear them breathe.

Small children make the trees look bigger, adults walk among them, standing tall and looking down into the needly-crowns, imagining that fairy or the Christmas star. Like a prickly-piney maze, criss-crossing the Cornish landscape, a catch-crop to provide farm income, in between the daffodils sold in the lay-by in spring and the smooth potatoes in their brown paper sacks.

Choosing the tree is the hardest thing of all, and when done, the wooden tag is tied with pride. The tree has an owner and its new life has begun.

A crop it is, like wheat or barley or cabbage, growing trees for cutting and sale is the industry here, like growing cut flowers or spuds. For those who worry for the trees, who try to be green and sustainable by buying a tree in a pot, this is not their place. This place is for the person who loves the trees for what they are, who has loved the trees for the seven years they take to grow this big, for the smell and the experience of visiting the farm and the old farmer who was sent as a Christmas Tree Angel, put on this Earth for the sole purpose of making Christmas special for hundreds of children and families across his patch.

A tight and meaningful handshake, a gentle nod and a Christmas word, and the deal is done. Money changes hands, but gladly given. Tree netted and carried to the car, potatoes dumped heavily in the boot, straw and mud scraped from wellies and children pile back into the car. Cheery waves as the car departs up the muddy drive.

Darkness falls and the image of the old farmer, sweeping up the needles and clippings, preparing for the next day with his faithful dog at his side, walking across the silent Christmas tree filled yard back to his bungalow, to his elderly wife, who smiles and joins in the tales of Christmas Tree children and wooden label skulduggery (for this does happen to be sure), is peaceful in his armchair, imagining what good fortune he has to be the purveyor of such joy.

Notes from Westonbirt

Glory. sun shines through leaves creating a golden haze, like God glinting with a magnifyimg glass from on high. Spectrum of red yellow orange through to rust and gold leaves on just one branch, decorated like a golden challice on a byzantine altar. Clear, bright cold air enhances the scene, not a flutter on a breeze, no movement, as though permanently fixed in time. The leaves of gold and burnished red like crimson enamel,  their faces lifted towards the sun, stand proud and unaware of their photogenic beauty. The stir they cause, the human wonder in a arborial wonderland, the click of cameras, gasps of amazement, drawn breath with wonder. Children play hide n seek among the leaf-drop,  mums count, dads chase, granparents lean on sticks, eyes sheilded from the glare, too bright to handle, like an apparition of halo gold to dazzle the eyes. Smells of leaf mould entagled with damp earth, so English, so primordial, so pungent. A world to compare, cherry blossom time in japan, autumn glory in the english countryside, a similacrum of another country, recreated beauty to delight the Western eye.

Tioga Road

The man from Mariposa, who we met in Anchor Bay, when Yosemite was just a dream and the sea was washing starfish on the shore, described the view from Tioga Road as follows:
“The way I see it, its like someone took a giant ice-cream scopp and dug out the tops of the mountains along the ridge”. This description is unrivalled for that is exactly what it SI like, a huge tub of granite=grey ice cream , dug into hungrilywith that scoop, carving out fussures and valleys, gulleys and points in the exceptional tub of granite=ripple.
The afternoon sun casts shadows across the smoothrocky walls, so smooth that a man could slide down without ripping his pants.
I always thought of beinge as a dull colour, a colour one wears when one gets old as skin and har colour fades and no one knows what suits best anymore, or beige to decorate your home when you want neutral tones, and can’t be bothred with colour. But I am wrong, for beige, buff, faun, whatever the coulor is called, I the colour of Yosemite, of Olmstead Point and beyond. And within that beige wonderland, is a myriad of colour, enhanced by the skylight-blue and dark felty-greens. Beige that turns yellow through to grey and brown, to streaky black with hints pf orange like dripping honey that punctuates the bleached moonscape surroundings. A colour like putty, the medium of the glazer’s knife, pressed tight against this window on the World.
A brass topographic model adorns the view-point, the peaks rubbed shiny by a million hands, leaving polished gold. For that it what it is, the peak of Half Dome, with its peaked visor-overhang at sunset IS polished gold.
The 3D model allows you the bird’s eye view, to imagine yourself above the wilderness, soearing high like an eagle, beady eyes looking down. How tiny we must be, standing aloft, gazing down the grey-lined valley, split and sculpted by glacial flow.
Fingers trace the Tioga Road on the sculpted brass, the wind snatches at voices, sounds carry on the wind, languages from all aroundthe world, all here at this melting pot of beauty. Tioga Road in polished brass.
“ You get a sense of distance, of perspective, just look at thos e hills, just look at it, just look at it….” An excited man exclaims, his wonder nd awe caught by others, an infection of the non-medical kind. The mountain wind, quite fierce, rips at the hair, people reach for jumpers and a scarf even though it is 28 degrees. Japanese
pose, Americans talk, Italians get in the way.  A know-it-all American points out to varying people where we are on the brass topograph again and again, to unsuspecting people, proud of his heritage and in a vicarious way, claiming it is a his.
Breath short, altitude over $8,000, the air thin. Hike seems laboured, any climb an effort. Engines roar, people come and go, car doors slam. RVs pull up, El Monte, CruiseAmercia, Appollo, RoadBear RV, all having a great time on their once in alifetime holiday.
The sun shifts, the pace quiets, mid-afternoon

The Dry River Bed With A Dangerous Secret

The freshest of air, thin in the clean still morning, breathed in and out like an oxygen mask heaven sent. Away, far in the distance, the Sierra, the pinks and yellows, the browns and blacks. Forests as far as the eye can see.
A turquoise, yellow, blue and green lake, the colours of happiness, shines through the tall reeds, pond skaters and dragn flies dressed for pantomime in iridescent bright red, green and blue. Tall spindly remnants of forest, burnt to a cinder, giving life to the new growth below.
A deep gully, a dry river bed with only ankle deep pools left between the rocks. Boulders tumbled, stacked high over each other, in some kind of natural order, smoothed by water and glacial action, all stacked t get in the way of the water. Huge trunks, jagged and smoothed lie across the gully, blockin branches and trunks, twisted and foreed in their way. Where is the water? What massive plug-hole swirl made this devastation, like the aftermath of Gurnica in a ? painting?
Thoughts turn back to the scoured waterfall path on the rock face, the flow here in the winter must be immense. A walk back u to the road speaks the truth, ‘Yosemite Falls River’ speakls the sign. This dry river bed, with its mangled masses of dry wood and sand, feeds the most powerful waterfall of them all. Yosemite Falls.
Standing deep on the river bed, the feeling of fear and awe is all encompassing. Imagination runs riot, ears, sure they can hear the rumble of gushing water, turn to the real sounds of birds and the bees. The idea of being here, just like when the tide goes out on a surf beach, understanding what it might feel like to be deep underwater, a branch tossed like a matchstick down, down, down. Imagine the adventure, through gully and valley, over stone and boulder, down under in the bubbly depths, spiking upwards for oxygen, to be sunk without trace in the next rush. Sweeping past lichen covered rocks with specks of gold, past wooded valleys, rushing along in the ferocious current, bobbing up and down like a cork on the sea. Imagine the ultimate drop, the slowing up when reaching the calm befre the storm, the slow waters of the headwaters of the waterfall. A final gasp, an oxygen fix, a sense of quickening pace, an sense of abandonment, like there is no control, no going back, just destiny. The fal fal falling over the edge, like a bird in flight, soaring down among the bubbles and air pockets, the debris and gold, the silver and rainbow, the soft water, airborne.
The fall, time suspended, graceful and final. The splash, pounding at the bottom, the oxygen pipe gets thinner, smaller, tighter, deep deep down in the dark dark green water, where swirling and spiralling in a vortex. With the flow at its slowest, the passage is hard, but the light of day is beyond. A hundred feet on and there is peace. A floating magical peace. Looking up, the cascade continues, relentless and powerful, a million gallons a second or more.
Back at the top, the rounded pebbles ground to sand make a place for the chipmunks to play and feed. Each one, with cheeks stuffed with seed from the cones, leap form rock t rock, from bush to branch, with one purpose in mind, to store food for the forthcoming winter. Which, just like the floodwaters, wil surely come.
Wind catches the trees, a rustling sound, a birch tree with silvery skin and fluttering leaves. A crested bird with indigo blue sheen, a blue jay, hovers expectantly waiting for the picnic crumbs, sits in the pines. Calling his mate to join him. Hop skip and there he is feasting on sandwich crumbs.
He sees it all, the Blue Jay, the river in flood, the chipmunks playing, the people picnicking. The waterfall, which is, and isn’t, breathes a powerful life into the dead river bed, creating the most enchanting spectacle of all, Yosemite Falls.

Glacier Point – The Setting Sun

Crowds gather, a reverent silence descends. A man with a guitar strums quietly accompanied by his friend on a harmonica. A soulful sound. On top of rocks, couples huddle, lovers close and silent, wrapped up warm, waiting for a once-in-a-lifetime spcatical or even an ‘I DO’.
Posers, who have to be seen to be seen, old people on picnic chairs, travel rugs wrapped around their knees, insulated mugs of coffee in hand, people leaned on fences and the Camera-ati, tripods perched three-leggedly awkward on the uneven surface. Hasseblad, Canon, D40, 5D, 5D Mk2, Nikon, the Hassleblad wins the day – envious noises all round. The Japanese owner tells of his image-capture struggles, dropping in and out how much the camera cost.
Camera-talk, the knowledge imparted, shared. Some show-off American males in theor twilight years, talk of histograms and stopping down. Some talk of Photoshop and stitching in the moon in a Ansel Adams way. Why come then? A postcard would surfice. Some get on with th e job quietly and securely. No matter who, the spectacle is like no other.
The face of the mountain, Half Dome, turns from plasticine grey to blue, to soft yellow, to gold, and then as the sun sinks in the sky to the West, its refelcton says farewell to the day, and its parting gift lights the sideways-turned face orangey-red, so deep , like the inside of a blood orange, that we can only wonder at Nature’s gift. As the orange glow pales, thoughts turn to the West. The crowd makes a collective turn, and far across the low sierra, the horizon turns purple and gold, bruised with purple as though a loaded watercolour brush has been run along a straight edge ruler. Jagged peaks point to the sky and grow dark in the evening glow. Suddenly, an individual thought, as the favoured few depart – to look down. Fear, gasp, step  back hurriedly – a sheer 3,500 ft drop to the valet floor. Courage gathered, a second view explains the fear, far far below in the evewrgreen darkness, the tops of tiny pines, monopoly sized houses with twinkling lights, like stars fallen to the valley bottom, the whire roofs of the RVS parked in a crscent, the silver thread river like a spillof mercury in a science lab. The only sound is waterfalls crashing floorward in cascading torrents, blown leftwards in a gossamer rainbow on the gentle wind.
Step back , vertiginous, thin air at 8,000ft altitude , dizzying. Altitude sickness. Imagine falling down, down down.
Half moon lights up Half Dome like a silver dollar ready to be spent on Nature’s night.

Steve

High up the cliff face, a crescent moon shape incision, a red speck, a climber with his tent, sits aloft, 200 ft from the summit of The Captain. Like a red pimple on the face, the climber is still. What can he see from up there? How amazing must that be! How dangerous. How once-in-a-lifetime-death defying. How incredible.
A crowd gathers, fingers thrust skyward, forearms shield eyes from the sun. A woman walks amongst the crowd, handing out wrist ribbons and asking for donations. For Steve. Who is climbing ‘El Cap’. He has no legs, he has a special harness, he hauls himself up by his arms on a rope pulley system. He has been climbing for six days. He will finish tomorrow. He is exhausted. The climb has been much more arduous than he expected. No shit!
Steve has formed a charitable foundation, for kids with disabilities to do outdoor activities and make their dreams come true. Steve wants to prove to kids that disability is no barrier. That is some way of proving a point!
He has trained for 2 years and has a team of marines with him, and another to carry him down when he has finished. His wife, her worried face full of pride and admiration tells of how he is the nicest man she ever met. Guess he must be.
Humbling human endeavour.
The sun sets on another day on El Capitan. Steve is up there in the moonshine, cold and exhausted and challenged. Bears are out roaming, the river flows silent, the eagles go back to their nests, the night owls awake. The crickets sing and the air goes still, Yosemite Valley is asleep. Steve surely must be awake.

The Captain

Along the valley floor, a two lane road takes traffic driven at city speed. Boulders line the river bed and deep aqua and green pools, glinting in the morning sun, look inviting and calm. Foliage in the trees, lime and sage, forest and basil green. Great branches of trees wedged beneath bridges and across small rapids tell a story different to that in view. For the mighty torrent of the Merced River, in full flow has shaped and sculpted this amazing granite landscape for millennia, A river, its mercury trail spiling over the mountainside must be a sight to behold, for the stains on the cliffs in the dry season, like polished pewter rubbed with a rusted brillo-pad, scoured into the rockface leaving the surface gleaming.
And there it is, out through the trees, out into a bejewelled meadow of green and yellow and vermillion, The Captain standing proud, presiding over his valley full of arborial troops with his military might intact. El Capitan – a cliff of sheer enormity, the face, a putty like texture, like grey plasticine you could poke you finger in, or the smooth flat surface made by a sculptors knife while the clay still wet.
The height, monumental. Scale disrupted, for the human scale is totally inadequate, like we are the mice and he is the man. Colossal, mighty, majestic are not words enough for this body of rock with the name of a man in charge. Alone, a pine tree, growing on a ledge, survives against the all the odds, a little bed for made for only one.
Shadow moves across the smoothed grey face, like a massive sundial dictating the time of day. Tiny trees sprinkle across the top, like tiny sponge trees on a model railway. The great face of time, wise and knowing looks down from its height, time on a different scale, for the suspicion is that we are only here for a mere second in the timescale of The Captain’s sundial.
Lying flat on a beach made by a meander in the river, the hot sun scorches down, staring up to the sky, crowded with rock and granite on a convex projectile, the patch of blue sky miniscule and defined. Gaze round the visual circle, the granite turns from smooth to jagged, to pinnacles pointed like Chinese mountains, piercing the sky like cathedral spires of the Gaudi-esque Spanish kind. Jagged splendour.
This huge sculptor of landscape, the glacier, long retreated, with it majestic power and artistic flair has made this valley creative in design, leaving the maker’s mark embossed in the solid stone. A trade-mark lip atop each and every pinnacle, re-sculpted by the artist’s ancestor, snow, returning year after year for time immemorial. This sculptor, so talented and natural, embosses crescent-shapes and V’s, and signature prints across the wind-protected faces, making the smoothest faces seem flawless and clean. A clever trick of dark and shade, of the dark side of the moon.
Thoughts turn to the meadow, the dry crispy straw-like grass, the yellow bloom, punched with vermillion seed heads and drifts of green. These meadows, once glacial lakes, filled in over time with silt washed down the valleys, first made into marshes then fields, so fertile, that the wild-growth is rampant and cluttered. This autumn plumage spectacular in its livery, changes with the seasons, from bud, to flower, to seedhead to snow-covered dormancy in a full cycle of the almanac of life.
Tourist buses come and go, depositing loud people, with loud clothing and loud voices, with cameras and palm-corders, and everything else in between. Not one moves from the bridge, the main viewing point, no one tries to get a better view, a different angle, a spectacular sensation, just accepting the second-hand view offered through the camera lens. Experience counts for nothing. This five minute wonder is good enough for the ‘Been There, Done That’ brigade, tour chatter and camaraderie are the name of the game, as is ‘Destination One-Upmanship’ – “You been to Deaaaath Valley Yeat?” Booms the patterned shirt, long- shorted baseball capped man “ We went Yesterdaaaay. 140 degrees. Near death experience I tell Ya – You wanna go there!” Why, is the consideration.
But, as in the words of Evelyn Waugh, ‘The Tourist is the other man”, each to his own, we are not to judge or be judged, for ours alone is the experience, it is what we make it, our enjoyment, our pleasure is all ours. Time to stop and stare is rare, we should take the chance while we can.

The way to Yosemite

Sierra Nevada, New Mountains, mounds of yellow hills, growing slowly into foothills, forested edges, bare tops. Windmills adorn the crest of the hills, farming earths natural resources to power Mans’ incessant desire for power.
Mile upon mile of orchard, fruit trees, nut trees, bushes and sprinklers. Each mile, a farm shop selling the bounty of the Sierra plains. Giant peaches, plums, strawberries, sweetcorn and almonds. Mile upon mile of sweet almonds. Flowers in the spring must be a sight to behold. Pistachio trees hang, fecund with pink clusters, cashew nuts in their tell-tale hard shells brown and hard. Massive trucks, and canneries and packing sheds line the flat route, interrupted by the owners’ ranch, fence, verandah, rocking chair, flag an’ all.
San Francisco grew wealthy on the produce form these plains, in fact, the market forces dictate they probably still do.
Past rivers and lakes, over bridges and creeks, the road winds its way through the country. Towns come and go, smaller and smaller, provincial towns supporting communities, all living from the tourist route. Stores selling camp gear, skis and sticks, vie with Starbucks and Maccy D’s.
Winding mountain road, just wide enough for an RV, evening sun casting an alpine glow over mountainsides, highlighting the one and only road ahead like a golden snake climbing higher and higher across the Sierra. Forests, green and dense spread thick across the hillsides like a woven rug. Boulders and morain clutter the hillside, scattered around like the fall-out from a giant pepper-mill.
Suddenly, a brown sign, Yosemite National Park, proclaiming arrival and thrusting visitors into a world of excitement and expectation. The trivia forst, $20 to eneter the park, 5 day pass, keep it on the windscreen. A checkpoint where visitor numbers are counted and control in excercised with military precision. Rangers in hatss, fully uniformed to look sever ofr helpful depending on a point of view. Tickets issued, camping reservations approved, access is swift. A visitor centre with toilets, information and gift shop stand by side by side. The Big Sell of Yosemite starts here. Choose to engage or ignore. Turn a blind eye to the tour buses and expedition tours, make your own way, for that is what surely matters. Packaged Yosemite does not work for some.
Campground busy and crowded. Pitches between the trees, fire pits and benches for family fun, and camp fire stories about bears. Uneven ground dictates a poor night’s sleep and tipped over drinks. Bear lockers are filled, crickets sing, fire crackles and sleep is not far away. Dreams of giant fruit and winding roads, of pistachio nuts and sleeping bears, of the excitement which has only just begun.

Eucalyptus

Shredded papery bark hangs like giant bunting, dripping from the trees, reveals smooth white trunks, oily to touch and smooth like clay. Wind blows high in the branches and the dry rustling sound of the papery leaves clatter together like rubbish swirling on a street corner. Pleasant smells touch the senses, oily and warm, a reminiscence of medicine and massage all in one. Huge stands of Eucalyptus in drifts, standing tall but languid in the early morning heat, with drooping shoulders like there needs to be no effort in movement.
Tracks of a wild-cat creep across the picnic table and clothes spread out to dry overnight, a night-time visitor, a prowler, invisible and silent. A snake wind itself across the dusty path, a beautiful moth, with amber spotted wings in black and gold like a Cherokee Indian headdress settles and basks in the sun.
Eucalyptus covering acres of mountainside, drifting away in a shimmering halo of silver and green as far as the eye can see, dropping down into silvery-grey valleys filled with the scent of clear air.
Childrens’ voices call through the trees, a school party arriving for a camp, bright coloured backs and hats, excited chatter, squeals of excitement, Moms in supporting cars arrive with cool-boxes and BBQs , suncream and a worrying pose. Teachers, well in control, organise games and dictate instruction, warnings about snakes and wild-cats. Kinder-voices squeal in fear and excitement in equal measure. Tents are erected, beds made and the delight of crawling in and out of the new-found home lasts for a long long time.
Distant views of San Francisco shimmer in the heat, water twinkling and moving like liquid tinsel, the sounds of the city far away but audible, a boat horn, a ferry toots, aeroplanes taking pff from Oakland, cars, the ever present rumble of trucks and cars on the Freeway, keeping America on the move. A place so still, yet an awareness of movement is ever present. In the Eucalyptus groves life has a different pace.

Long Drive South

When does something stop being different? Senses atune to the surroundings. When does big start to feel small, when does long distance become ordinary distance? Senses resign themselves to the challenge ahead, it’s just another day, another journey.
San Francisco, 368 miles whispers an almost apologetic sign, that also tells you that Willets is only 68. The sixty eight miles to Willets, Southwards through the American West on Highway 101, is interesting enough, but things begin to look the same. Small towns, in a strip, with Wild-West style facades, a thrift shop, a grocery store, a coffee place, a verandah with drunks and druggies hanging over the rails giving a faded sense, a nod to times gone by.
Same the world over, the druggies and drunks are intertwined with the clean and honest people, faded hippies who came West in the Sixties and never went away – or changed their clothes – or had a shave, for this place with Garberville at its epicentre, is known as the Emerald Triangle, where Cannabis is legal. Or so they say. It is more a case that it is legal to grow Hemp, and the bi-products, and the cops turn a blind-eye to its future use. A website, and text-ring called ‘Busted’ exists, just so warnings of who was busted by which cop can be circulated fast. Good cop, bad cop. They don’t seem to really care. Maybe because they have a greenhouse in the their own backyard, after all shops selling hydroponic equipment are on every street corner and the pungent smell hangs in the air, overpowering the smell of fries and coffee from the drive thru ???.
These dropouts, or maybe drop-ins, seem to have it sussed. No one seems to notice them as they sit under trees, dreadlocks matted and dusty, bags bulging with oddness. A man, with a dog, sat crocheting some multi-coloured wool, two girls with a sign ‘looking for work’ on a bit of card, nose studded and skinny, sit across the parking lot watching and waiting with glazed eyes, for what? A man, in his early seventies, staggers down a dusty track, weaving this way and that, his white vest shouts of his biking past, his lack of teeth and dreadful limp tell of what is now. A sad reflection on what this drug can do to a guy. They might seek peace, they may have found it, but it looks like some kind of struggle all the same.
‘One Log House’ café shouts a sign, or two, or three. A watering hole with a difference. In the same vein as the ‘Drive Thru Tree’, but much smarter and with no JR, with proper postcards, is a huge hollowed out redwood log, made into a house. Key code punched to get in, free with your purchase from the cafe,  donations to charity, it is a mini wonderland of cosy and quaint. Kitchen, fitted with a sink, and shelves with artefacts from a by-gone era, leads through to two tiny bunks, covered in green gingham, pillows and all. Oh so cosy and sleep inducing for the weary traveller. A fifties Bakelite radio, a table lamp, some books and some old photos, leads through to a sitting area with a table and bench, and a door out the other side.
‘Created by an Artist in 1945, it took him and his friends 9 months to hollow out the tree’ and make a travelling house on a trailer – a sort of cylindrical organic caravan. ‘It travelled the Country, visiting County Fairs and Expositions’ it continues. Then a long, and very dull history about restoration and ownership.
Imagination caught, in a Goldilocks kind of way, this place entrances and kindles a feeling of complete security, of playhouse and Granny’s all rolled into one. On further inspection, the One Log House needs some exterior attention. The huge iron rings holding the tree together are rusting and loose, the bark, which is the nature of redwoods, is falling of in long leathery strips and piles of termite dust litter the floor. A faded air, but a national celebrity laid to rest in the county of its birth, can sit calmly and eek out its days making money for charity bringing a sense of nostalgia and charm to the most excited little girls in everyone.
Mile after mile, town after town feels the same. Smarter, and where several big highways converge is Willets, a smarter town. Shopping Malls and Starbucks, copy-shops and nail bars, its history as a staging post reduced to a crossroads with a filling station on each four corners. Much goes on it Willets, or probably much goes through.
Long stretches of road, hills, pasture, meadows, the 101 is a diverse as an eco-system from nature. Huge car sales lots along the highway scream of a country obsessed with travel, ?? a place where, you could swing off the highway, buy a giant RV, go next door and buy an SUV or Saloon to tow behind, go next door and buy a boat to go cruising or fishing, and finally go to the Super Target and kit the whole lot out for $100, fuel it up at Chevron at the end of the road and off you go. No need for a home, Arizona desert in the winter, Californian Coast in the summer, there is a routine, apparently. All following in the footsteps of the Artist and his hollowed out log.
Town after town slip by, shopping mall and commerce strip, fruit trees and vineyards, nut trees and artichokes – in fact – ? A Town that proclaims it’s the ‘Home of the Artichoke’. Have a heart. Fruit growing country, once feeding the Canneries of San Francisco, ready to be shipped to the world. People grow rich on fruit in this part of the world.
Finally, the city lights of San Francisco, the driving pace quickens, city drivers racing and rushing, in the golden twilight of yet another day. Bay waters glisten and sparkle, a breeze lifts the clouds drifting into the darkness. A long bridge, rumbles over a huge expanse of black water, a mist on the surface. City lights twinkle and beckon, but driving through is a must. We will be back. A right turn, through suburbia, Redwood Heights, into the hills above the bay, twisting winding country roads narrow and climbing all the time. Deer darts into the headlights, frogs cross the road. Eucalyptus trees hang their shredded bark into the light-beams like torn skin, the smell pungent and warm.
Far below, the expanse of the city, airplanes landing and taking off, the roar of the engines overhead, the sounds of the city far below. The distant hooting of ferries as they cross the fog-filled bay, intermingled with the sounds of the forest at night. Destination unknown until daylight, the singing of the crickets and oily astringent smell of the eucalyptus soporific and sleep inducing. 386 miles of varied landscape, of insight, of variety, exciting and humdrum, a small slice of how America lives, or in some places, how it is dying on its feet.