Wildflowers in Death Valley

In the desert, we don’t know our names

It’s been eventful. We went to Death Valley and I was suitably overwhelmed by the salt, wildflowers, snow, sand and ‘lowness’ of the place. Death Valley is below sea-level and the sense of constantly traveling on land that once wasn’t land hung over me as we traveled across the miles of it. Lots has been said about the magnificence of the place — it’s all true. It’s surreal. It’s majestic. It made me sad. In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley. Yes, I reminded myself of the diversity of life, and the yellow wildflowers were coming up in many places. Apparently, there will be an explosion of them this year. Then we got stuck in the desert. We were driving to the ghost town of Ballarat and on a washed-out stretch of gravelly dirt road, our car made horrible noises and died. It was just past noon,

Transplants, Essays

A lovely short essay by David L. Ulin on the California Incline here: Transplants have to stay somewhere for a while to make it theirs. For me, the Incline has become a shabby-chic monument to this idea. Now it is closed for reconstruction, and I worry about what will be left when work is done. Will it still resemble the landmark I invested with weight, the road I drove with my children? Will I recognize it, recognize my memories, or will all that be erased? Southern California, its critics like to insist, is a landscape of forgetting, but I no longer believe this to be the case. Rather, like the Incline, it is a landscape of association, in which the connections we make, our attachments, are what render us native. And a rather hefty list of the 100 best Articles and Essays of 2014 and 2015.

Arroyo dry stream

Where I live now

Driving into a freeway is like diving—the roar in my ears, a sense of being submerged, almost drowning, and somehow, I’ve surfaced onto the right lane. I coast along, buffeted by a force greater than me, like wind, the collective will of people wanting to get somewhere. The 110 or Pasadena Freeway is also called the Arroyo Parkway because in parts it runs next to the Arroyo Seco, a seasonal river and canyon, literally “dry stream” in Spanish and now after four years of drought in California, certainly dry in most parts. Being a Parkway (a road that connects to a park), it’s prettier than many freeways and more dangerous. This was the first freeway in the western United States, the first of the great American roads on this strip of coast. It’s a dangerous distinction. It was built for 45 miles per hour; cars swoosh past at 70 miles per hour. Because it opened in 1940, and because America is a new country, the Parkway is lovingly called the ‘Historic’ Parkway. Coming from a country where we take history for granted, we find this both amusing and faintly moving. We live on a hill above the freeway—Ads, my husband of fifteen years,