Who would think that nasty brown hills and scrubby brushland could cause such joy? I know I'm not coming home for good, but that didn't seem to matter. I know I have flown home a couple of times, but this time it was different.
I left Nevada super early, trying to beat the heat, and it actually worked. I had a nice cool drive, and it was not even noon yet when I took to the back roads through the Sierra. I chose one that I had always avoided in the past, since every map I've ever seen shows it as a partial dirt road. It turned out to be perfect. Slow, steep, windey, and empty, but there was a semblance of pavement the whole way.
Just after I passed the last thing they called a town, it started to smell like home. There's a kind of sweet vegetation smell, mixed with dirt. Did you know that dirt smells different everywhere you go? You never notice it until you come home, and then you go, yeah, that's my dirt. That dirt can be found nowhere else. Momma always knew this; in New Zealand, you could catch her inhaling deeply every once in a while when we passed a churned up field near Methven.
Some people would argue that California is not the west. Actually, many people have. When I mentioned that coming into Oklahoma and Texas, the "west", felt like coming home, many people looked at me like I had sprouted antennas. "But you live in California," they said. "CALIFORNIA," in case I didn't get it the first time.
California may be on the verge of being taken over by housing developments and shopping malls, but it isn't final yet, and it is still the farthest west state. Near my hometown, they still ride horses to school. You can't get up your driveway if you don't have 4-wheel drive. And normally-dry creekbeds make getting to town interesting after a rain. It's going to be a lotta years before they have a Denny's in New Cuyama, I think. Everyone still gathers for lunch at the Buckhorn, and they look a mite surprised to see someone unfamiliar at the counter.
Driving in through this was a perfect way to end my trip. Gradually, things felt more and more like home. I always wondered why early settlers stopped midway. Why settle for Kansas, when California was waiting? For that matter, why settle for the Cuyama Valley, when the ocean was just over the next set of mountains? Maybe they found home. Maybe they came to a place where the brown hills just smelled right.
Me, of course, I kept going. Only the ocean stopped me. And it won't stop me for long.
I'm home now, which I guess sorta means this blog is at an end. Kinda. In a way. Of course, in just a few more weeks I'll be heading north for Montana, where I will be spending the winter. I have visions of much knitting, but an even better image of me in a ratty old smoking jacket, pecking away at a manual typewriter, as the snow piles up around the country house. True, the house is actually in a small town, I think, and I don't even own a manual typewriter that works, but isn't it a perfect little picture?
Besides that, I missed Wyoming and northern Colorado almost completely. I think I'll have to do little trips down from Montana. So check in, every once in a while. I may be having another adventure quite soon.