To avoid LA’s notorious traffic, we were up before dawn, and ready to hit the road by 4AM. My mom took the helm for the first leg as I’d had a restless night. Other than contending with the chaos that erupted when we tried to adhere Mary – our Garmin GPS– to the dash instead of where she belonged on the window shield, we were off to a good start. Especially, when I realized a full moon was to accompany us. Heading south on the I-5, I could watch the moon descend behind distant hills and with the turn of my head catch the sun as it rose far away in the east.
With the light, came the death: death to the right, and death to the left. California, the agriculture state, is experiencing a serious water crisis after four consecutive years of drought. Yesterday, the state approved the first ever state-wide restriction in water use to the tune of a 25% reduction. Signs proclaiming the government as the water shortage culprit sprout up along the highway blocking views of the acres and acres of pecan, walnut and almond fields. NoCal blames the government for allowing southern cities, like San Diego, to blatantly ignore government restrictions. The swimming pools set in every other SoCal lushly landscaped backyard are pointed to as evidence. This may be true, but it seems the real offenders are the farmers, specifically the nut farmers. California uses around 80% of their water for agriculture – livestock and food—and an extensive amount of that goes toward growing nuts. Did you know it takes one gallon of water to grow one almond? More environmentally-friendly irrigation techniques, like fallowing, would help to cut water use, but farmers are unwilling to miss out on a season’s profit. Almonds are the most lucrative export in California; hence, all the road signs attempting to get citizens on board the blame-tractor.
My preoccupation with almonds soon shifted to cows as we came into Stockton. From the comfort of an air-conditioned passenger seat, I saw thousands of cows standing in scorching heat awaiting their imminent slaughter. I wondered if their water consumption had been restricted, too.
Our road trip was certainly not all doom and gloom. Fighting the winds through the San Gorgonio Pass was a thrill. Woah! Thousands of windmills rose from the earth and lined up for miles. Mesmerized by their whirling arms, I found it a challenge to keep my eyes on the road. Those turbines seemed animate to me; alive à la the long-armed giants perceived by Don Quixote.
The Mojave soon became the Sonora and my mind drifted to the dream I’d spent all winter dreaming: to leisurely made my way across the desert in a white Westfalia camper van (the one that’s for sale in the parking lot next to where I buy my groceries) camping and writing along the away. When my mom had informed me we’re driving to Arizona, I thought: “Hey! My little dream is sort of coming true.” Unfortunately though, this wasn’t a pleasure trip. We were on a mission to quickly take care of my grandmother’s other property in Arizona and promptly return to California. There would be no dawdling at the Salton Sea for me.
My meditative state broke when the fear of overheating the Rendezvous’ engine had us switch from the AC air to the staggeringly hot desert wind. The dash read 91 F. I didn’t mind so much, we were in the desert after all. And in the Sonora Desert, there are Saguaros. Those giant prickly figures with their wonky arms stood proudly throughout the dry landscape. I particularly like the ones standing alone atop a ridge high in the sky. Gazing at their unique beauty, I had a strange urge to hug one.
Crossing the border into Arizona, we decided one more cappuccino was in order. And, it was at a Starbucks that we discovered Arizona was having its own crisis.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, you can only have one shot of caramel in your caramel Frappuccino. We’re in the midst of a nation-wide caramel shortage. And we’re the only Starbucks in Arizona with any left!”
“What?” said the blond with the fuchsia lips. Turning around, her eyes wide in disbelief, she announced to the line of customers. “Oh my gosh! I hadn’t heard a thing about this.” My mother and I tried to disguise our laughter, which only made us laugh harder so I turned toward the back wall in search of distraction while my mother dug through her purse in hopes of the same result. Funny and sad to live in a world where caramel shortages can create more angst in some people than drought-ridden fields or dead-thirsty cows.
Back in Rocklin, I write this in the wee hours and from the comfort of a bed. My window is open wide and in the dim grey light I can see the neighbour’s picket fence. Mingled with the birds’ songs, I listen, smiling, to the rush of rain on the leaves of all those thirsty trees.