I took a trip today, mainly to visit a well-known regional botanical garden and to see what they had at a native plant sale. I came home with too many native plants, including some varieties of manzanita, a baby elderberry, and a wild Mojave Desert grapevine (Vitis girdiana). I walked the trails at the garden a bit. Really, it was beautiful. Quite warm in Claremont today, but not too warm, and it felt like autumn in the woods, as I climbed higher on the mesa. I walked as high as the trails allow visitors to go. Up at the top, it was chaparral land, with planted shrubs and shrubby trees mingled in. I could see part of the southern face of the San Gabriel Mountains.
My own Mojave wild grape is not nearly so impressive (yet). The photo above is by Stickpen from Wikimedia Commons, released to the public domain. And I thank Stickpen, whoever you are, heartily, both for the use of the photo and for the inspiration to think big for my grapevine, which now stands barely two and a half feet tall or so. I know it’s full of life, though, because the nursery specialist at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden told me so. She helped me pick out the one that wanted to live at my house.
Back to the mesa-top. I could hear the distinct whoosh of southern California traffic from the several freeways below and nearby. It’s a sound that I’ve lived with for the last almost 40 years. Wow, most of my life. Ohio, Connecticut, and West Virginia each take up large chunks of my mental landscape. But 40 years. No wonder it really does feel like home here so often, in spite of the memories from other places that crowd in, nudging California out of the way whenever possible. That distinctive whoosh, it’s so recognizable, a part of my internal landscape. My home in the high desert has replaced that endless rush of traffic with a certain high, lonely silence. Still, we know the city (the cities, more accurately) stretches out below us, and around us, through the mountainous crevice of the Cajon Pass. We can tell at night by the semi-circle of light across the night sky. Perhaps to the north, the glow recedes just a bit.
I realized something going home. First, since the ex finally left and four of us must share one car, none of us travels alone much. That’s fine. Still, in the solitude of my lone excursion, on the way home, I realized that Old Route 66 which took me to the botanic garden has punctuated my life. In my late teens and early twenties so many of the roads I traveled from Chicago to Texas and points west were connected to or were, in fact, Old 66. My friends and I, in that era, drove those stretches so often. As a young mother, when I drove from the South Bay of California back to Ohio regularly to visit, that road was usually the backbone of my journey. What really hit me, though, was the place of that road in my life when I came to live in the mountains of southern California with my often difficult ex , who could be particularly callous when subject to drink. One way I held onto my soul was to take to driving alone (or with one, two, or three offspring) on Old Route 66 with car windows down and music turned up loud. Sometimes I was going somewhere, sometimes I was going nowhere, only away from my pain. I can see that stretch of road and little excursions along it protecting my younger heart. Those days might have withered my heart, might have caused me to utterly fade away into the shadow of despair. The Mother Road helped keep what was real and lively in me alive. No wonder they call ways of life, philosophies, even religions, “ways” or “paths.” There is just something about certain roads.