On the way to our small ranch from Oakland, I notice that the tiny houses bunched up on the hills relax, gradually, and balloon in size. After I cross the Altamont Pass, dotted with a cacophony of windmills which never seem to be spinning in sync, I’m in a different country. The flat, fecund land of Stanislaus county unfurls itself, punctuated by the occasional big box store, behemoths on the horizon. After the frenetic, suppressed intensity of the East Bay, bigger is suddenly better; my mind can’t quite compute.
Pulling off the 99 onto the 219, I roll down my window and inhale the aroma of fresh fertilizer, trees, soil. The early morning sky is lavender and cloudless and riots of black-eyed susans line the roads. The sprawling fields are soon overtaken by thick groves of almond and walnut and peach trees. The houses, for their part, are old – large slabs of wood held together by nails, adorned with rusty weathervanes. The barns often have windows. Large farm stands with hand-painted signs mark the intersections of roads
After my grandfather died in the middle of harvest, I started coming back to run the farm. Our family has been here for generations, and I’m only just beginning to understand why. I try to fight my intoxication with the smell of wet, irrigated land, and the seductive look of peaches on the branch. I know the rest of the family will want to sell, eventually, as our tiny almond orchard occupies a plot between two swiftly-growing cities. Until then, I’ll keep driving the back roads, breathing in new understanding.