Thursday, November 09, 2006

Oh California, I Barely Knew You!

On Victor Davis Hanson's blog he's written a post that perfectly describes what I love about California.

A frequently asked question: “How can you live in California with the political insanity?” And my usual answer, “I couldn’t live anywhere else.” This last week I stayed in the mountains at Huntington Lake (ca. 7,000 feet). It was bright blue, about 70 degrees, and the lake and forest absolutely deserted. I have traveled in the mountains of Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and the highlands of Greece and Turkey, and nothing is more beautiful than the Sierra corridor from Yosemite to Sequoia. It is almost a freak of nature—that in an hour you can drive straight up from the Valley floor and be in another world. Or on a clear day from up at Kaiser Pass see the Coast Range 100 miles away—and be in San Francisco or Santa Cruz after a four-hour drive.

One of the last things my 86-year-old grandfather told me—he lived in this house from 1890-1976 and had inherited it from his grandmother who built it in 1871—was “to thank God every day that we live in such a beautiful place.” He meant the vineyards between Fresno and Visalia, and the Central Coast where he had a tiny cabin at Morro Bay that he co-owned with 10 other farmers (he sold his share in the 1970s for $2,000). At 23 I thought that his adulation for his native state was parochial (In my conceit I was puffed up for having left the farm and lived a year in Greece and seen much of the Mediterranean), and also blinkered, since Rees Davis had only been to New Mexico once. But now I realize, as in most other things, he was right all along: the natural environment of California is an aberration, especially the 100-mile proximity of a long-coastline, Mediterranean hills, enormous interior valley, and high Andes-like mountains. Our state’s tragedy, of course, is that so often we have not lived up to what nature gave us, or at least what generations past bequeathed.

It is dangerous to be a laudator temporis acti I grant, but California between 1955 and 1970 was a magical place, full of can-do idealism about the UC system, and its new campuses at Irvine and Santa Cruz, the freeway systems like the new I-5 north-to-south route, and modern airports at LA and SF, the dams and hydoelectric grid, the part-time state Legislature, and the commitment to the melting pot.These days we can hardly add a third lane to a highway someone else built, and talk about blowing up dams not building them. LAX is a disaster; so is UC Merced. And what we used to invest in infrastructure, we now pay out in entitlements and then borrow for minimum maintenance on what our grandfathers created.

And the most disturbing fact? That such a lapse is no accident, but simply a collective reflection on my own generation. After all, when I compare my parents and grandparents–their hard work, self-sacrifice, courage, suffering, and investment for others-to the record of their own progeny (i.e., my generation of this 6th-generation California family), then sadly it all becomes clear. And I am sure other Californians can do the same: ponder their grandparents’ lives versus their own, and then, presto!, comprehend the fate of their state the last fifty years.

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