Sunday, June 1, 2008

Pine Mountain, or Our Enforced Retreat.

I'll be writing about this in my kindergarten, or I should say bunscoil, Irish, but in my more prolix English, here's a view I took, crouched down well enough in the grass to eliminate the cul-de-sac full of tract homes, that obscured this natural vista of the mountains that surrounded our cabin this past weekend. Layne was told she needed a getaway just with her husband. This was meant as a positive encouragement, not as the penal servitude you who know me might imagine. You can imagine her chagrin. A Hobson's choice of being stuck with the two squalling or sullen boyos or with her dear spouse-- cooped up in a few rooms with no escape to ethnic restaurants, generous cable, or even the broadband Net. (The warbles of dial-up made us nearly nostalgic as previous generations might have been for a dot-dash of Morse or the waving of semaphores.) Not to mention that by the time we reached our Stepford subdivision in purported Mother Nature, that she (my wife, not Gaia) was out of cell range. 85 miles from our home, 15 or so from the Interstate, back in a canyon.

What's a modern couple to do? Needing psychic comfort, and realizing a premonition of our restored pairing, pre-sons, we saw in our nibbled meals, our long naps, and our hours spent freed from electronic distractions immersed in the printed page (and we will surely mark our own quirky confirmation of past routine as surely as Miss Haversham for those who gaze upon us, as the couple behind us a few paces on this morning's walk, a green-mohawked lad and his half-black, half-blonde coiffed diminutive lassie who took the air nearby), we scurried off to park our Volvo wagon for two whole days.

We toasted Shabbat without a candle in the whole of the bear-themed house we rented. That is, any item that boasted an ursine motif, you could find it as a dish, a design, or a doorknocker. The "Dancing Bear" Cabin (albeit tastefully furnished and mercifully free of Deadhead subtext if only since we suspected a Mormon owner by "internal evidence"; I found a dozen boxes of matzah which fueled my LDS survivalist suppositions) lay in a sprawling subdivision, clunkily named Pine Mountain Club. The house we rented, you see, is part of a planned community carved out of these forests into these ravines and grasslands.

There's a short walk past atrocious neighboring houses and oversized vehicles which goes without saying. The Stars and Stripes still graced a few porches, one week past Memorial Day and two before Flag Day. Then, you come upon, on an unmarked side lane, Terns Lake tinted a chemical shade of green next to a denuded slope beneath firs. The first day, ducks lined up and waited in a row before a pickup with a perching couple. I guess they had food. I thought of Aldo Leopold and Konrad Lorenz. The second day, three kids, out of Huck Finn and probably as suspect in their mien, fished or at least held poles and boasted that they were about to catch such, in the way of men.

We walked on a bridge over a gully the size that would not give a miniature golfer pause. We strolled on the border of a real golf course, which for all I know about the sport could have been miniature. Swarthy fellows swore in a pair at one hole. Five in caps gathered around another. A sign on a wooden fence told us: "Keep Out." Our morning walk took us yesterday past a stream that was a hose coming out of an embankment. Lacking mailboxes and often permanent residents, all the houses looked as if built with pretend rusticated lumber. Streets full of if Lincoln Logs, on the same five plans, erected what seemed last year. Or, unfortunately, this one, judging from the ubiquitous sound of chainsaws that invades every place I seek to escape to around Los Angeles.

Real horses: we could see a few, but to my citified eyes they seemed barely more real than the redwood-toned, but inorganically situated, second homes built often with an astonishing lack of grace on the development around the equestrian center, 18 (or 9?) holes, and pool that along with a gas station with the highest prices I'd ever seen in the US of A (I know, speaking of nostalgia, just you wait). We passed a forlorn general store, a closed crafts shop of the type you always find in these Hallmark Holly Hobbie retail stretches, and a bakery selling four types of rolls and coffee. These comprised, with a store misspelling Collectibles and a real estate office or two (prices had not come down as we'd expected), the entire burg. The signs warned that if you set foot off of the highway "the County of Kern" had no bother with your hide, and the cutesy courts or lanes named after Swiss resorts or coniferous flora or types of felled timber meant nothing to the exurban sheriff.

PMC was apparently governed out of the fealty exacted from its hirsute villeins to its dormant but dues-paying seneschals. The layout looked as if arranged out of a Lionel Trains booster kit. Not a trace of fieldstone, which as one Inland Empire ex-resident to another I commented at least gave the older dwellings in that dusty expanse of an adjacent wannabee alpine terrain some charm that their ticky-tacky little boxes spawn a century later lacked. Here, in PMC, no building appeared weathered or lived in or matched to the landscaped plots. It's as if I set my model buildings alongside my toy cars, depot, and diminished expanse of trees, to christen this my pretend village.

So, we urban and urbane refugees survived on pasta, veggies, chicken, salmon, and a judiciously poured organic red wine (Vertus, a Crianza from a Spanish vineyard recorded 1355 with a grapey taste I prefer; Full Circle from Stonybrook in Hopland very smooth and dangerously drinkable). Breakfast and or lunch: strawberries and challah (me) or almond mix and arice cakes (she). I drank tea; she sipped coffee.

Layne finished Claire Messud's "The Emperor's Children." It was critically acclaimed, but an anomaly at Lincoln Heights library where I had checked it out for her, as the copy had remained unread. She began the last Tom Perrotta fiction I could find, and that only at the LAPL downtown, "Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies." I guess I will be forced to read it as a forced march back into my own youth. No less embarassing than all those boomers reliving Woodstock, but for those of us who lag a decade behind the Me Generation spotlight, our own bildungsroman gets neglected.

Maybe not a bad thing, but it's strange being from the year in which the most babies ever were born in America, and still feel that you fall between the cracks of the egotistical hippies and the calculating slackers. I hope that my exact contemporary Obama does not revive my uncertain post-Boomer, pre-Gen X, echo baby demographic's audacity of hope to get published with whiny memoirs by other Harvard Law grads. Although Perrotta went to Yale-- a Jersey boy on a scholarship. Son of a postman and secretary, so I assume on financial aid! He's born a week younger than Obama; this makes me about six weeks older than Perrotta.

Very much of its own countercultural moment, with its verve, irony, and wit, I enjoyed Richard Pearsall's catty and erudite and marvelously quicksilver 1969 study of "the world of Victorian sexuality," in my Penguin reprint, "The Worm in the Bud." I alternated with a novel I meant to dive into, and finally re-started, "Underworld" by Don De Lillo. As an admirer not of "White Noise" so much as "Libra," so far for me it falls between the previous two in pace and content, but I have about 70% to go of this enormous investigation into Cold War America. Moods akin to Carver and dialogue recalling Mamet. It'll be intriguing to see if De Lillo can keep the pace, without falling into Pynchon's slacker mode, in the sociologically acute edginess that led to this bon mot: "Every breath you take has two possible endings." The urge is to keep connecting the dots, to find the patterns in events. The cast of characters continues to expand, and I wonder how much further the circle of those initiated into his conspiratorial coven can widen.

All too soon, we packed up and drove off. Two long books, so both I'm only a third of the way through. Traffic flowed well coming back (if not up in that typically unpredictable Angeleno runaround). Sharp declivities of Pine Mountain gave way to the gentler horsey meadows of Cuddy Valley before thinning into the sandier Frazier Park arroyo and then the dryer, more barren, hills that lined I-5 and the Tejon Pass. We headed back to pass the extended asphalt fingers and concrete gullies from which climb over soft stark slopes the red-tiled McMansions that now stretch as far north as Castaic.

I fear this big-box penetration of these valleys and slopes. Last month's news brought a compromise. The ranchlands predating our state's founding will be largely saved. Yet, another Hobson's choice, and one I fear will decimate much of the land around that preserved by the accord. I wonder how the thin telephone directory of these "Mountain Communities" around the Kern-Ventura-L.A. County borders will fare. The same 14 chain stores and SUVs and sodium lights and soccer moms soon will, the Tejon Ranch deal settled, invade the border of the Tehachapis with a hundred thousand people in a "planned community" of Centennial and twenty thousand more in the boutique ranchettes a bit north of Gorman and Lebec. It's harder to get away when you flee to a street the type you don't want yours back at home to become. We left jackhammers that exposed new sewer lines for the triple-lot monstrosity that rises a few hundred feet away from our home. I don't mind a real-estate collapse.

The cabin we stayed in, if you can call a two-story house on a paved street surrounded by places evoking 1970s California condos or A-Frame plywood or Valley suburb as a rustic getaway, had been filled with bear memorabilia. I thought of Lebec and its French trapper namesake back in the 1830s, killed by one of the last grizzlies who roamed here. The Bear Flag Republic that graces our state's furled standard was short lived. The bears in these parts soon became extinct, but they remain rampant on our banner as in the domestic décor.

For now, pending 30,000 homes bulldozed into the chaparral a few miles away, the stars last night astonished me. De Lillo reflects that we reduce the universe to animal figures and kitchen utensils as we seek order in the cosmos. I used to seek in them patterns too, when I was young and could still see a few above the Inland Empire. There, east as inevitably as now north of L.A., the malls and condos replaced the granite plains and the alluvial dust.

The heavens leapt out at me so much more closely than when at Joshua Tree. Did the two-thousand-foot altitude advantage between High Desert and low foothils matter that much? How much closer was I to the galaxies which, in the middle of the night, make me shrink with awe and terror mingled, as they have always done? I recalled reading a few weeks ago that in Galileo's time, at night when walking in darkness unimaginable today anywhere on this continent, we could be guided by our shadow cast by the glow overhead of the Milky Way.

1 comment:

Scudbob said...

I feel your pain. We recently rented a "cabin" in the Lake Arrowhead area and were dismayed to find no cell phone connection, cable, internet, or even reliable AM radio stations.

While trying to find an access point to what we later discovered is now an entirely private lake, we passed a multitude of empty McMansions. Similarly the view from or balcony across the valley was of a cleared off hillside under construction