Book of Marvels
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Sunset over the apricots

Or maybe they were young almond trees, or plums. I'm just guessing. My father would have known. The white wrappings at the bottom of the trees--which look like grave markings in this picture, or it could be my mood--are something that the growers do to prevent disease, I think.

I took this picture just as I was leaving my hometown--Oroville, CA--on a trip to gather information for an article about olive oil.

I love going back to Oroville, but it's always weird. I haven't lived there in decades, and it's amazing how dramatically small towns can change. Throw up a WalMart and a Home Depot, and acres of quotidian landmarks--tacky motels from the 50s, the restaurant where you used to eat fried chicken, the place where your mother took the dry cleaning, the nursery where you could hardly walk down the graveled path because so many tiny frogs were leaping from the plants, the other places you don't quite recall but know something else was there--are gone. As I drove around, I found myself trying to fit the map of before onto the map of now. In some areas, it was really quite impossible.

Those are the Buttes looming in the background of the picture, scruffy little peaks that rise sharply out of the Sacramento Valley. I always watched them dreamily as we drove away from Oroville when I was a kid. There still don't seem to be any major roads in or out of town, at least not for more than a couple of hundred feet; I like this, although maybe I wouldn't if I still lived there. My father (and now my sister, carrying his navigational genes intact) always chose the tiniest roads, anyway--barely paved roads that wound through the rice fields, past the avenues of elder olives, past the new orchards of almonds and plum and apricot. He always knew what they were, although they all looked the same to me. I'd look over the lushness at the Buttes, so enticingly harsh and uncultivated, and vow that I'd climb up there someday. I told my sister that and she told me that everyone says they're full of rattlesnakes. But it seemed that all of Oroville was full of rattlesnakes when I was a kid. Everyone had a rattlesnake encounter story.

I'm suffering a fictional malaise. The main character in my novel has a bad knee, and I seem to have caught it from her. I went to see a doctor the other day and he said inflamed hamstring, funky tendon (not quite his words), and possibly torn cartilage. But I'm quite sure it's a metaphysical ailment. My character is accusing me of creative abuse-- I've brought her to life but left her unfinished. She's put this twinge in my knee to remind me to finish the damn book already.

I'm trying. Posted by Picasa
How is the olive oil article?
Can't wait to dig in to your novel chapter.
I really enjoyed this piece -- I didn't know you were from Oroville! I liked hearing about the landscape and your origins.
Hello Bloglily! I thought you were on vacation.

Yep, born and raised in Oroville. And I do love to go back there. I never get to stay long enough, though-- I'd love to stay long enough to work in a hike up Table Mountain or drive up the Feather River Canyon to Quincy. There are huge rounded stones in the river that look like elephants bathing. I'd like to stop in Paradise and see if they still have the world's greatest apples!

My novel-- just revised and sent off--is set in Oroville, renamed Ophiria for the purposes of fictional mischief.
Hi, Kris--

Such lovely writing, here. I'm glad I stopped by. Your descriptions of such common things are so poignant.

I have another take on your Dad's intuitive knowledge of just what trees lay in that orchard--just beyond the point of clear identification. My Dad (Uncle Ken, to you) used to say, "Lou would look at the distant orchard and always knew what exact tree made up the orchard. He was always right--by default. Nobody else knew what the hell it was either."

I have such a special delight that you're my cousin.

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