Summers in New England were magical because suddenly, out of the ground that was frozen six months of the year, there was food everywhere. My parents had a garden and some of my earliest memories are of grazing on snow peas picked off of vines that were taller than me. The rest of the year most of our fruits and vegetables were frozen, but for a few months there were snow peas and eggplants and raspberries and zucchini (which I hated) and mushrooms and fresh herbs growing in our backyard and, once when I was two, hot peppers that my dad claims I ate off the plant without crying.

One summer my father took my family to go fruit picking in the neighborhood where he grew up. I was dubious about this idea because my grandparents’ neighborhood was dominated by a mall, and my grandparents and all their neighbors (except for AT&T) had postage stamp sized plots that were fenced in with chain-link fence. But he surprised us and pulled into a street a few blocks from my grandparents’ house, and it was all wild grass and a line of trees so dense we couldn’t see what was beyond them.

We waded through the grass and the trees with our fruit-picking gear and came out on the other side into an abandoned orchard. The trees were ancient but heavy with peaches and pears left to ripen by someone long gone on the branch.

I recently finished an interview with Carlo Matos that will be published on Paper Tape in the fall. We talked about his fifth book, The Secret Correspondence of Loon and Fiasco, which is currently looking for a publisher. Most of this book isn’t about California, but some of it takes place in Merced. After finishing the book, you’re left with the feeling of how tenuous human settlement is in California, especially where the California sections of the book are set, in the Central Valley on the eave of the housing bust.

I’ve been trying for the past four years to articulate the anxiety that I hear whispering like a soft breeze. Nothing lasts. Nothing lasts. Nothing lasts.

In New England, I was surrounded by the ruins of stuff dead people had made. My parents’ house is on land that was part of a farm once, and there were continual reminders in the wall built to hold up a bank and the tree that was half crab apple and half cherry until we got sick of picking inedible, wasp-infested crab apples off the lawn every fall. My father once dug up a grave stone that had been buried in the backyard. I learned to ride a bike on a path that had been trodden hard by cattle pulling barges from lock to lock, then trains rumbling over railroad ties before it was paved over for bicycles. Stone walls crisscrossed the woods like the echo of someones who pulled their rock harvest long before my ancestors got there.

 

 
 
 

California is famous for ghost towns, but time moves differently here, seeming to swallow human action before the gesture is finished. Turn your back for a hot second, and your work is erased. The ground opens. Cities vanish. The people who lived here before the Spanish came say the gods throw boulders at each other from volcanic mountain tops.

How strange it is that this is the place where refugees settle, seekers come to find truth, and actors and entrepreneurs come to leave their mark. Here where the land erases everything.

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