Dust and Mud - Photography by Dana Thomas
Born In the Land of Monkey Flowers

Born in the land of the monkey flower; orange and red blossoms in spring clinging to road cuts and the thin soil between sandstone boulders; he learned to love the red bark of manzanita and madrone, the pungent fragrance of sage and chemise and the red winter berries of the toyon.  Dreaming about the golden hills covered with bunch grass, traversed by Chumash, conquistadors and rancheros, drawn to spreading oaks, sycamores in creek beds and the yellow, orchid like flowers of the palo verde.  Born in the first house in a disappearing orange orchard, the groves gone before he was old enough to walk down the street, turn the corner and start school.

As he grew, the drive to the beach changed from two lanes to four and the distance between developments shrank. He traveled the foothills and upper reaches of the Sierra, explored the coastal canyons, treated the Owens Valley like a cathedral, learned to love the Central Valley parks with well watered grass and shade trees serving as a welcome refuge during drives up and down Highway 99 on blistering summer days.  When it came time to choose, he moved away from the engineering economy and chose the outdoor world, first in the natural lands and then when the realities of making a living closed in, the world of orchards and fruit.  Long hot days spent in the brush chasing the wild fires which haunt the foothills were replaced by long hot days as an indentured servant to irrigation and harvest schedules.  Seeing the realities of an economy built upon diverse thought and cheap labor, learning that his world was struggling with and benefiting from the shifting tides of immigration, he was amazed as people with no stake, little understanding, short memories and no tolerance parked their Toyota pick-ups on the border to protect a way of life that was already secure from a people who were not a threat.

Land costs increased, mountain lions disappeared and as the dream of putting down roots in the rich agricultural land receded, he joined the world built upon selling and buying. Building demand and then finding fruit to supply the demand he traveled to the southern hemisphere and developed a love for Chile; a country that looked and felt like home, but which was not as far down the path chosen by California. 

Living on the coast and waking up early to the quiet time in the morning when the diffused light and the bougainvilleas created the mirage of a seaside village allowed a respite and permitted a brief continuation of the California illusion, but as the coastal cities grew, eating up the land until the only open country was locked in military bases and private estates, he retreated. Pushed to the east, to a foothold on the edge of the desert, a hillside covered with the sage and an old house which needed work, he clung to an image that was no longer reality. As every new patch of asphalt increased the heat and each rude act increased the alienation, he watched as water became scarce and lawns and pools increased. Feeling older than his years he continued to looked east, east to a higher and colder land, a land where pinon and juniper mixed with the sage. To a land that had been bypassed during the rush to the coast, a place where he could gain a few years on the demons that had taken over the golden hills and sycamore lined creeks of his native land.

Finally the time had come.  Overhead the red-tail hawk circled, hunting the open areas between red tiled roofed homes thriving on the rodents prospering on the detritus from the occupants.  He checked the ropes which tied down the load, stepped up on the running board, settled into the seat, turned the key, pulled out of the driveway past the sold sign and down the hill that had comforted him these last years.  Pointing the truck east, he mentally plotted his route across the wide desert, through the red rock country, across the Colorado and Gunnison and into the mesas and mountains he would now call home.  With anticipation tinged by sadness he said a last good-bye to the orange monkey flowers, manzanita, madrone, sage and toyon of home.