Saturday, March 29, 2008

Stop and Smell the Flowers

So, did I get my nose back to the grindstone and work diligently at my dissertation in the remainder of this week? No, I did not! Instead, we went out to see the wildflowers, as it is wildflower blooming season. (and horrible allergy season, at home, but that’s another post.)

I had read some reviews of how amazing and beautiful the wildflowers are in March and April, so I did extensive research on the web and planned up a little trip. The first problem was that the famous areas all got burned up in a wildfire, and those trails and camping places have been closed indefinitely and are desolate heaps of ashes, anyway, but we managed to find a scenic road and drive up it. Much more my lazy style than hiking all that way!

I drove up through the wine country, around and over the side of the wine country, along a valley, and then through a cute little touristy town that Dissertation Buddy had been wine tasting in frequently and promised she’d show me the place. Then we drove out to the mountain.

Of course, I forgot my camera, so I’ll have to describe all the wonderfulness. But I got my idea for the route from this site documenting this guy’s bike ride (Lance Armstrong uses this path to train in the winter months, so hell no I am not biking up this mountain!). Right outside the town it was all soft and green, and the road quickly narrowed until it was barely wider than our car. It climbed so steadily that I worried I might get tired, pushing on the gas, and have the car slide backward if I were to ease off the pedal. There were lots of crazy-tilted switchbacks which we mounted ever higher, and lots of blind turns in and out of the hills where I thought we’d be annihilated by fat SUVs barreling back down the mountain (assholes!). There were, indeed, some intrepid cyclists kitted out in full spandex glory. We passed them as if they were stopped, they were pedaling so hard and moving so slowly. I felt sympathy for them, especially every time I hit a blind curve and nearly ran into some.

I was only doing 20 or so as we ambled through rolling green fields, then green fields with uninquisitive cows, then the beautiful mountain turns and switchbacks. The grass was long in places and rippled like the surface of a lake. In others, the ground cover was scrubby and patchy --- there were agaves and other cacti in places, and the earth was reddish, rocky, and extremely dry. My familiar California habitat! In places the hills/mountains were broken by striations of rocks pushing up out of the earth --- serpentine, which glimmers in the sun, and copper, mostly.

And as we’d come around one bend or another, sometimes dangerously close to the edge of the road where it crumbled off into nothingness, we’d gasp at the absolute beauty of the view below --- glimpses of the lake in the bottom of the valley, dense forests of pines and evergreens, fields of scattered oaks both sturdy and the cool twisty-gnarley kind, and an amazing shade of blue sky.

It was a wonderful drive, and sometimes we’d even see a lupine or a poppy plant. “Ooh!” we’d say, “Look! Wildflowers!” But in truth, inside I was a little, “eh? the newspaper pics had carpets of these flowers stretching everywhere you could see!” It was a gorgeous trip anyway, but I was feeling a bit misled. When we stopped at a scenic view turn off, another car with an elderly couple stopped and got out with their dog. The woman asked if we had seen any wildflowers and she had the same basic complaint as I did. So I felt a bit vindicated, although Dissertation Buddy tried to get me to close the conversation. Her friend is going blind and she was of the opinion that telling them we had seen more (or any) wildflowers would make them really upset and remind them of their fading eyesight. I’m of the opinion that people with fading eyesight should not be driving on hairpin turns through the mountains. But anyway.

We got back in the car and continued. A mere fifteen (a beautiful fifteen) minutes later, we passed a steep hillside that was literally blanketed in wildflowers. It was gorgeous, and like an optical illusion: as we approached it, it looked like a carpet of orange --- California poppies. As we passed it, noting another scenic turnout for us up ahead, the colors changed and it became a magnificent blue-purple as the lupine became visible. Ahhhhh!

(I hope the grumpy elderly couple continued on, because, yes, there was one carpet of wildflowers and it should have satisfied even her.)

There were a couple people there enjoying the flowers when we got out. We parked under a pine ---- sugar pine, I think ---- and the place was quiet except for distant birds and the squeak of pine needles under our feet. I breathed in deeply the spicy tree smell (like cinnamon and vanilla and sap), the gentle breeze, the dryness of the dirt; this is what I associate with California and camping. Dissertation Buddy loves the coast and Big Sur but I grew up camping in the valleys and not in places full of salty air and fog. This was familiar: chaparral, forest, the West.

We crossed the road to the flowers. The lupine smelt amazing, like blueberries. The bright petals of the poppies were as fragile as a butterfly’s wing. Dissertation Buddy was so taken with it all that she tried to use her cell phone camera to capture some of the view. It was peaceful, even with some other tourists around. Fat bees buzzed everywhere and gnats chewed on my shins, but I didn’t care. It was one of those perfect California days where it’s too chilly whenever the breeze blows and too hot whenever it stops. (Perfect if you’re hiking, that is.)

Eventually we got back in the car and headed ever upward, the views becoming downright spectacular as we wove in and out of the mountaintops. We weren’t sure if we could go to the very top, as some of the campsites here were closed by the fires as well, so we kept our eyes peeled for a good spot with a view in preparation of a picnic.

If you know me you know that I always prioritize food and that food must come everywhere with me. So of course we had planned picnicings. We had bread and cheese and salami and a really tasty chickpea/tabbouli salad thing DB had made and added all sorts of interesting nuts and seeds to. Mmm! We lounged around and looked at the view and talked about all the different places we needed to go camping before we left California. (for it’s just a matter of time, right? I’m sure my one job offer will be from rural North- Southeast Arkansas Technical College and I’ve just got to make peace with that now. But it will be hard to leave all this.)

I was a bit worried when I remembered my usual response to eating a large meal is to immediately fall asleep, which bodes ill for driving, but I managed to get us back down the mountain just fine and it was even prettier the other way. If that’s possible.

We drove back through the town and stopped off at some lavender farms. They were disappointing as they weren’t really growing. No blooms ---- just some small sad-looking green lumps. Tsk. It seems odd that they wouldn’t be growing when now is declared the flower blooming season, but evidently they don’t follow the California wildflower schedule. DB said she knew some of the nicer wineries were outside town --- less pricey, less pretentious. So we drove around and got lost for a long time and then just picked a random winery, which may have been the one she was thinking of and she had misremembered the name.

Have you all seen Sideways? I haven’t, but I guess it’s set somewhere around here, roughly, and the LA Times had an article about how, since the latest thing has been to charter a bus up from LA with a bachelorette party or otherwise loud and rude and crude mob that does not understand the intricacies of high-class wine tasting, the prices of everything are going up.

Luckily, it wasn’t too bad where we stopped. I really liked the first thing we tasted --- a Sauvignon Blanc --- nicknamed “sunshine in a bottle!” It was good. The rest ranged from “meh” to a really weird metallic strong taste, that DB said was tannins. I didn’t like those. DB, being a veteran wine taster and grad student extraordinaire, cadged tastings for us of their pinot and all the other wines they make but didn’t include in the price of our tasting. Atta girl! Still, I liked the first one best. She raved about the pinot and we proceeded to have an argument about pinots because she is my only source of wine knowledge, and has either told me something wrong or is changing definitions and information on me when I’m not looking, which is not fair.

Anyway, pounding a bunch of wine and having an argument is a sure sign that we should hang around a while until I was good to drive back, so we went into the garden out back and then wandered all over someone else’s property next door, talking and being silly. Luckily, no one had any problems with this. We chased some baby goats, because they are cute. And we saw a hawk just hanging in an updraft, looking out at the expanse below him, and we were jealous. It was still a beautiful day, although the wind was picking up and getting chilly. After a long talk about nothing in particular we got back in the car at last, and drove drove drove back towards home. We were quiet most of the way back, tired out I guess.

I’m so glad I went, even if I really should have worked on the diss. I wish I had time and money to do more of these types of things. In any case, I need to promise myself that I get out and do this more often, and not lock myself up in my apartment avoiding both my dissertation and the outside world.


Feminist Avatar said...

This is SOOO unfair. This week we had snow. There are no leaves on the trees and wildflowers are just a twinkle in their mother's eye.

heu mihi said...

Well that just sounds great. Good for you! And you absolutely *should* take advantage of living in a beautiful place with days of nice weather, because you don't know how long that will last....

Dr. Brainiac said...

Sisyphus honey, sometimes you need to give yourself permission to just get out in the sunshine. It will do you far more good and make you more productive in the long run than feeling guilty about it. Once I decided that I was always writing my dissertation, even if it was just letting ideas simmer on the back burner while I did things like laundry or float in the pool with my daughter, things went more smoothly. You can't just sit there staring at a computer screen all the time.

Horace said...

This is why I envy you your California location. Other reasons, too, but BRU just doesn't have wine country nearby. Le sigh.

Belle said...

Isn't California amazing? I mean, just when you think it's irredeemable, you find these amazing spots that just take your breath away. I'm using your day out to compensate for my time in Smogville. So thanks for the trip!

the procrastinating professor said...

I agree--you really must stop and smell the flowers sometimes, instead of musty books (though that is a smell I love!). If you are ever in the Texas, you should check out our wildflowers (especially the bluebonnets) in the hillcountry. Thank you, Lady Bird Johnson!!

D said...

I totes made this a vicarious vacation, and I fucking felt guilty even for feeling like I was leaving. But it sure was good to go...