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from the Estate of RH Euston

from the Estate of RH Euston

LATE AFTERNOON

A picture in faded sepia. A father and two boys stand behind a great green prickly pear cactus, the boy’s faces full of sun, graced with a  shimmer of security and contentment.  The father, well, a father’s firm gaze looks straight into the camera lens.  The day is lazily, autumnally hazy. The blight of smog has yet to suffocate the Los Angles Basin. It’s a warm late afternoon. It’s Sunday. The resinous smell of an old eucalyptus tree mingles with the scent of  nearby chaparral.

Though the picture is now almost three quarters of a century old, I know the setting and the time: the La Crescenta Valley, at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, when in 1944 a few vineyards still survived on terraces and when in the deep mauve of sundown I heard dogs barking, that domestic call echoing across the valley, breaking an almost rural quietude

But the  year is 1944. Around the world the greatest war is in its most fateful stage. But for one hundredth of a second, the world in one tiny spot on earth is at peace.

My father and my brother are gone years ago. My father from ripe old age. He and I walk  for a last time, in Spring, carefully, slowly rounding the gentle curve of the San Diego mobile home park, while I point out and name every kind of flower and tree that I can. He seems to understand, maybe, I think, from the smell of jasmine and lemon. Is this his last taste, his last smell, his last seeing of the natural world around which so much of his life revolved? Days later he lies unconscious in a white bed in San Diego Kaiser Hospital,  intravenous vines twining around his pale arms. He finally sleeps, and soon joins the infinity of the Pacific Ocean, as he wished.

My brother brightens the picture with the innocence of an Andy Hardy movie character, with stocky frame, short sleeves and wavy hair, his smile that of a buoyant teenager in the 1940s who runs track and wears a letterman’s sweater with golden track shoes pined to a big “G”, who edites the high school newspaper, who wins blistering towel fights with his little unarmed sibling, my brother who graduates from UCLA Phi Beta Kappa, serves as a second Lieutenant in the peace time army, and who talks and writesabout high adventure. But in adult life he chooses to live close to home, work in Los Angeles, travels about the world. His life closes very near home.

I alone remain, putting memory to work, to find the direction of the past in the ravines and hills of the mind. The “I” is not the boy of seven standing before the cactus, suspenders rounding the shoulders, in love with this magic afternoon. But in the picture the “I” of that certain afternoon has come to life for a moment in this very present. That one hundredth of a second of camera time has brought life to a long ago moment in the life of a family, of a place called Southern California, at the cusp of its great transition into the world of the present. Its shimmering, beckoning autumnal imprint has traveled those long halls of memory to a far distant vanishing point. Thus the magic of that quicksilver, evanescent click of the shudder.    SRE

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This year’s Fourth of July celebration theme was “An Old Fashioned Fourth.”

If my childhood Fourths served as the model, the festivities would have begun with a fried chicken picnic dinner on a blanket while watching fireworks across the town pond. This would have been followed by excitedly forbidden (if not downright illegal) bottle rocket blasts set off by my best friend’s father in their backyard, with all the neighborhood parents standing around alternatively saying “Now Lew, that’s not really legal is it?” followed by appreciative oohs and aahs as colored sparks filled the sky.

If it were my husband’s and his pals’ “Old Fashioned Fourth” it would have included rice-paper wrapped, LA Chinatown procured, firecrackers placed by each dad next to the breakfast bowl of shredded wheat. Another delightfully questionable walk on the wild side for a solidly middle class, definitely law-abiding neighborhood citizenry.

And at Port Orford’s 2013 Parade? We had: horses, fire engines, the local ambulance sporting fake body parts, a flock of motorcylists, a large group in matching red T-shirts riding on a flatbed, a woman in the back of an old convertible wearing a beaded wedding dress, and a float featuring a loin-clothed “Indian”, Uncle Sam, a colonially-costumed guy reciting the Declaration of Independence (I think he was meant to be Ben Franklin), a young man in full dress military uniform, and someone wearing a chef’s toque holding a dog on a leash.

As you can see here in Port Orford we all imagine our “Old Fashioned Fourths” differently.

For our Fourth, the Friends of the Port Orford Library decided to honor our librarians past, present and future. For the Parade we dressed up as Port Orford librarians of yesteryear, although somewhat mysteriously to me, we carried name signs of today’s librarians. (I guess we were doing double duty and/or channeling past lives.) And our entry included kids (representing future librarians) riding a pick-up and chanting “Read Books! Read Books!” all the way from the start at the Crazy Norwegian’s Restaurant on the south end of town, to the terminus at the “God Bless America” liquor store 14 blocks north. For this amazing entry we netted “Best of Class.” I’m not certain how many classes there are or who our competition might have been. Still a prize is a prize.

One thing that doesn’t change is we throw candy to the kids lining the streets. Now that’s a new fashioned Fourth I can get behind.

And here’s a Fourth of July band I can never get enough of; .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODu888i14-I

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Of course desert wildflowers aren’t the only showy displays in the Mojave. There are the Joshua trees themselves.

Generally described in terms like bizarre, twisted, strange and gangly (the plant specialist in the park brochure even uses the term “grotesque”), we find vast Joshua tree forests along the loop trip through the park’s northern portion anything but. Different or unique for sure, but hardly worthy of John Fremont’s description, “the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom.”

Maybe the problem is that Joshua trees aren’t, in fact, trees at all. They’re members of the Lily family—a monocot and subspecies of flowering plants that include grasses and orchids, as well as Fan Palms which we discovered years ago at the end of the park’s Lost Oasis Trail.

Below is a slide show of Joshua trees and their environs so you can judge for yourself. We even unearthed a photo of Fan Palms taken in the early 90s. I guess if you’re looking for a sugar maple or a doug fir you might be disappointed. But if you’re looking for another desert denizen (like that other desert “tree” the Saguaro) then, like us, you may find these fibrous giants rare, fascinating, maybe even closer to something from a fairy tale than a horror story.

AMONG THE JOSHUA TREES

All Photos © SR Euston

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Entering off Interstate 10 last April, we took a brief byway tour of Joshua Tree National Park in hopes of seeing desert wildflowers. About 12 miles down a standard desert side road— narrow, winding and in some places almost washed-away—we got to Cottonwood Spring and its campground. Along the way and at the campground we saw wildflowers in abundance.

While not the sensational banks of color that California poppies or lupine present on grassy hillsides, desert wildflowers can be quite spectacular against the dun background of dirt, sand and rock. In the desert washes and canyon hillsides, flower colors from white to yellow to pink to red to blue stand out like banners announcing the arrival of spring. This year at the Park, the Joshua Trees themselves were especially prolific. Unlike most years when only a small percentage bloom, virtually all the trees were covered with blossoms in mid-April.

Joshua Tree Blooms

Joshua Tree Blooms

Scientists have a variety of theories as to the why—some think it’s because of “just right” weather conditions, others that it signals a desperate sign of drought and climate change. And the headlines bear these theories out. “Prolific Joshua Tree Bloom Could Signal Warming Climate” (KPBS, April 17, 2013) to  “Blooming Joshua Trees Wow Watchers, Surprise Scientists” (the California Report, April 19, 2013).

From the Huffington Post:

“Something mysterious is happening in the Mojave Desert’s Joshua Tree National Park. The reason may be grim but the effect is beautiful.

“It’s more than interesting, it’s probably unprecedented in anybody’s recent memory anyway,” Cameron Barrows, a research ecologist at the University of California, Riverside, told ABC…He’s talking about blooms on the Joshua trees that are larger than locals say they’ve ever seen.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/12/joshua-trees-bloom-video_n_3070822.html)

The theory is that with the past two years of significant drought (in the Mojave annual average rainfall ranges from two to five inches, with last year posting only 0.7 inches) Joshua Trees have gone into survival mode, prolifically producing seeds to insure long-term survival.

Will it work? Or will the icon of the Mojave disappear? With reports of little to no reproduction in the last 30 years for some areas in its range it’s hard to be optimistic.

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If you’re looking for a straight shot traveling the length of California, you’ll most likely take one of two routes: on US 395 up the east side of the Sierras or on the far west side up Interstate 5. (Like all other interstates in CA for some reason it’s referred to as the 5.) I’m partial to the east route; it’s less traveled and spectacularly scenic. But for the quickest jaunt it’s hands-down the 5, traffic on its southern tier from San Diego to north of Los Angeles notwithstanding.

The 5 takes the traveller through California’s Central Valley, a 450 mile long vista of enormous and seemingly endless agribusiness (over $23 billion dollars of it annually)—fruit and nut orchards, row crops, cotton, rice, olives, grapes, alfalfa and grain fields, feed lots. On a lucky day, you can see 40 miles east to the Sierras.

Central Valley, USGS photo

Central Valley, USGS photo

The southern tier of the valley, the San Joaquin, seems particularly industrial. There are very few houses visible from the highway and the unfenced fields stretch away to the horizon. Very occasionally we see one or two humans, generally straw-hatted against the sun, standing beside a dusty pick-up eyeing or monkeying with some pipe or valve, we speculate associated with watering and/or fertilizing. We spy one person with a hoe. For the immensity of the verdant landscape which provides over 20% of the US’ annual food production, it’s eerily empty of the signs of day-to-day human activity. An off ramp signals the occasional farm town, but after crossing Tehachapi Pass and dropping onto the west flank of the valley, there isn’t a major city until Stockton, 250 miles north. There the Sacramento segment of the valley begins. As the valley narrows, fields become smaller (though still huge by my lights). There are many more farm towns, cities large and small, and roadside homes and barns.

Ultimately we leave the valley and enter the Trinity Mountains. Lush conifer forests line the roadside and Mt. Lassen, its peak still snow-covered, appears on the distant eastern horizon. Ahead looms 14,179 foot high Mt. Shasta, its flanks still lined with snow.

IMG_2159

Welcome to Weed © AME

We end our day at Weed, CA. A small town in Mt. Shasta’s shadow its economy has always been built on lumber. Tourism now adds much needed dollars. Enterprising citizens also began the College of the Siskiyous, which opened in 1957 and now enrolls 2400 students.

Weed Thanks You © AME

Weed Thanks You © AME

After such a long day I’m happy to find the bustling Hi-Lo Cafe, obviously a local hangout as well as a welcome spot for tourists. The waitresses are exceptionally friendly, all giving a shout-out to a returning native as he comes through the door. The takeout turkey and mashed potatoes are genuine good down-home food, The next morning we visit Ellie’s Espresso and Bakery across the street. Quite posh for a small town, complete with leather chairs and a couch!

By 9:00 a.m. we’re back in the car, on the final leg of our trip back to the Oregon Coast.

Mt. Shasta at Weed © AME

Mt. Shasta at Weed © AME

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Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery ended their 4000 mile expedition with a huge welcome back by the citizens of St. Louis on September 23, 1806. Members of the Expedition were rewarded with land and double pay and most went off to seek their fortunes as farmers, fur trappers, adventurers or soldiers. One, Sergeant Patrick Goss, lived to be 99. Another, Private George Shannon, became US Attorney for the District of Missouri from 1830 – 1834.

Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis

Meriwether Lewis was appointed Governor of the Territory of Upper Louisiana in March 1807 but didn’t take up the appointment for over a year. He also was in charge of writing up the results of the Expedition. After incurring debts related to the Expedition’s winding down which the new President James Madison declined to pay (Thomas Jefferson, the original commissioner and ardent supporter of the Expedition had also been a close personal friend of Lewis and had never had qualms about its cost), Lewis set off to Washington DC to plead his case in person. He had, it appears, become severely depressed. Along the way, in Tennessee, he likely committed suicide, although there are a few who hold the theory that he was robbed (he had only 35¢ when he was found) and murdered.

William Clark

William Clark

Clark was appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Territory of Upper Louisiana, a post in which he continued even after he was designated governor of the Missouri Territory, a position he held from 1813 until 1820. He also picked up the journal preparation upon Lewis’ death. The journals were published in 1814, ten years after the Expedition began. Clark also kept records of the fates of the members of Corps of Discovery. Perhaps most interesting was what happened to the Shoshone woman guide Sacagawea who most feel died in 1812. Clark adopted her two children—the boy Popey, who he had befriended on the expedition, and his sister. Clark died in 1838 at the age of 68.

de Anza

de Anza

And what of de Anza and his 1776 Expedition? Many of the soldiers and civilians in his 240 person entourage went on to their final destination, the founding of San Francisco. Most prominent was his second in command, Jose Joaquin Moraga who led the settlers as they built the first structures at the new presidio site. By September, 1776 Spanish dreams of a port on the Bay were a reality. Many of the original settlers (many Basque like de Anza) remained in San Francisco forming the core of the new city; their names are listed prominently by the San Francisco Genealogical Society. (http://www.sfgenealogy.com/spanish/anzaexp.htm)

de Anza

de Anza

De Anza returned to the Southwest where he was appointed Governor of New Mexico. In 1779 he launched a successful campaign against the Comanche who had been terrorizing the area for decades. In 1786 the Comanche signed a treaty with de Anza which brought peace to the area for over 30 years. This treaty allowed the safe colonization of the Chama and Pecos Valleys. de Anza retired in 1787 and died the following year in Sonora.

So the final question: Who had more lasting impact, the Explorers—Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery, or the Pioneers—de Anza and his settlers? If the decision is based on standard history texts (at least where I grew up) the answer is obvious: Lewis and Clark. I remember no mention whatsoever of de Anza, or even, in fact, much at all about the Spanish and their profound influence and contributions to “discovering” and settling in the West.

Lewis and Clark at Great Falls, MT courtesy of Jim Carson

Lewis and Clark at Great Falls, MT courtesy of Jim Carson

At least my daughter’s Santa Fe high school experience included a year of New Mexico history so she was exposed to de Anza’s importance there. And although I wonder how many notice, the place names, old families, even the regional lingo serve as a constant reminder of the Spanish influence in the Southwest and California. And the generations of descendants of de Anza’s expedition who remain (Moraga, Alviso, Peralta, Mesa, Pacheco, Sanchez, and Castro among them) serve as reminders of how San Francisco began.

de Anza Expedition

de Anza Expedition

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The Spaniards had begun exploring the area north of mid-Mexico in the 1500s. Rather than looking for the fabled Northwest Passage and mapping unknown territory and its natural history as Lewis and Clark had been commissioned, Spanish/Mexican expeditions were undertaken not by explorers but by the military and Catholic missionaries. Their goals can be boiled down to three: hunting for gold and silver; protecting far-flung Spanish claims of northern empire from English and Russian exploration and colonization; and, of course, saving souls.

Along the de Anza Trail ©AME

Along the de Anza Trail ©AME

There are many historians who think at least one such expedition can compete with Lewis and Clark for sheer magnitude and results. That’s the two trips Juan Bautista de Anza the Younger, a Basque military man and head of the Presidio at Tubac (then in Sonora Mexico, now in deep southeastern Arizona) took from 1774—1776. Earlier this spring, we followed a small portion of their journey, a four mile trail which connects the Mission at Tumacacori to the  Presidio at Tubac.

Along the Trail at Tumacacori © SR Euston

The Santa Cruz River Aong the Trail at Tumacacori © SR Euston

Like Lewis and Clark, de Anza was looking for a land-based trade route, in this case across deserts and up the coast from northern Sonora (now Arizona) to Alta California. But there was also another goal: to found a Presidio and mission at San Francisco. This colony of Spanish settlers, military personnel and missionaries would establish an “on-the-ground” beachhead of Spaniards to protect its claims in Northern California. After successfully scouting Indian trading and mission travel routes in 1774, de Anza returned to Mexico where he organized a large group of colonists (30 families totaling about 240 men, women and children) and military escorts to travel the 1200 miles to the Presidio of San Francisco.

They must have looked like a traveling town as they set out: families, military, cowboys, mule packers, Indian guides and 1000 head of live stock. The group was accompanied by Franciscan priest Pedro Font. He and de Anza kept journals detailing the journey. Setting out on October 2, 1775 from San Miguel de Horcasitas (north of Hermosillo in Sonora), they headed north through Tubac (where de Anza recruited Basque friends and fellow military men), Mission San Xavier del Bac, and Casa Grande, then headed west to Yuma Crossing where Quechan (Yuma) Indians provided them aid in crossing the Colorado as well as feeding them beans, squash, corn and wheat and, according to de Anza, more than 3000 watermelons. They labored across the Mojave Desert, across the San Gabriel mountains and on to Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. From there they headed up the coast to Mission San Luis Obispo, arriving at Monterey five months later on March 28, 1776. Along the way eight children were born. Only one person died, a woman probably in childbirth. In June, 1776 the colonists, led by de Anza’s second in command, Jose Joaquin Moraga, established the Presidio and Mission at San Francisco.

de Anza Expedition Map  Courtesy of webdeAnza at uoregon.org

de Anza Expedition Map
Courtesy of webdeAnza at uoregon.org

(Then What? to be continued)

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