I’m starting a series of threads on the environment. This sets the stage for my leanings.
We lived in Winton, California in a house along a country road that carved through an active San Joaquin Valley agricultural area. There were deep almond orchards to either side of the house and a sizeable sweet-potato field directly behind us. We had citrus trees of various sorts scattered throughout the property and I remember one in particular grew large bizarre fruits that looked like massive, thick-skinned grapefruits but tasted like lemons. The skin was so loose it took only seconds to peel them, but they were so sour I could only take a bite or two before my lips pursed so violently they could not be reformed into a more natural expression. My most clear memory, however, was that I was in 7th grade, and lived in fear every day. In the morning on the way to school, I would kneel down in the orchard and pray that the bullies would leave me alone. Sometimes it worked. Others it did not. The thing that strikes me as odd now is that while school was terrifying, I loved the orchards, canals, fields, and semi-wild places that formed the demesne in which we lived. I felt safe when alone. The sound of the canal being whisked through grate-work diversions seemed an almost magical and healing sound. I remember once finding a giant algae-green bullfrog in the canal that I captured and took home and put in a box. Sadly, I put it in the garage and we went on a trip. I cannot remember if it escaped or died. I seem to remember trying to form some notion of where it could have gone, and maybe finding its dry corpse months later. Memory is a strange and uncertain thing. I know that much has been forgotten. Lost forever, but it is strange what is forgotten and what remembered—and how many of my memories might just be constructions of my own making. When I compare notes with my brothers I hear very different versions of things, so much so that I am convinced he must be confused. I know now that memory is an act of creation. What that means for recounting a life I am not sure.
There were large pine trees to the side of the house that separated us from the rows of almond trees adjacent to our house and I used to climb the tallest for fun and as a way to escape. I would scamper up into the very smallest branches at the tippy-top of the stately conifers and hang on with my head about even with the top of the tree. The wind would blow rocking me deliciously back and forth. I could see for miles above spying the fruit and nut orchards and vegetable fields scattered below. I felt safe there. No one knew I was there. No one could see me (I supposed) and there was a security that seemed to run from the roots of the tree itself that whispered that this, at that moment I was where I belonged. I would get quite scratched up climbing up. The branches of these pines were small and close together and I had to step right were the branch sprang from the trunk or I would break it or slide down as it bent under my weight. A few did brake and bend, but this never seemed like something I should worry about, it was just one of the facts of climbing these pines. The scratches, the scramble to the top, and the swaying of the tree all combined to give me a sense of connection and value—a secure place in an uncaring world. There was a sense that the tree liked me being there. Not that there was a conscious animism that I embraced, but just a sense that both me and the tree where happy to be there. I belonged up there. The landscape below was so tranquil and empty of malice. It seemed to almost glow and the sound of the occasional car or plane did not seem to interrupt my sense of well being. I must have climbed after school because I remember the colors presented by a low sun, enhancing shadows and contrasts in the green fields below giving a depth and shape to the landscape that deepened its dimensionality and structure. The multitudes of greens added to the feelings of wonder and satisfaction. I longed for such peace as the view suggested was possible in a hurtful world. There was also a sense of mystery, that the world went on like this forever, with the numerous orchards of nuts and fruits; the calm and orderly layout of fields; the varied trees forming windbreaks and following natural waterways; the wide line of the canals and irrigation ditches that could be disclosed occasionally among the patchwork below; the scattered houses and outbuildings; the telephone wires, roads, and fences which marked the presence of other inhabitants, all formed a horizon which stretched as far as my mind could take it. Even now, at 50, I wish I could recapture the sense I had that right then, in that tree, high above my fears, that the world was a kindly place that existed for my blessing and contentment.