From: (David Sewell)
Subject: California and the Southwest
Date: 1 May 1996 07:49:41 GMT
In article <4m3tum$oup$>, Ron Torres <75254.1631@CompuServe.COM> wrote:
California has fueled the growth of Phoenix and Tucson to a great degree. Folks in California tend to have tunnel vision when wanting to escape. Seems like Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona are the prime focus states to escape to.
Ron, you're touching a sore point there. It hasn't been easy, but I've finally come out of the closet enough to admit that I grew up in suburban Los Angeles, mostly. Oh, I try to establish indigenous Southwestern roots by claiming backcountry San Diego County as home, since my grandfather had an avocado ranch there and my parents bought an old tumbledown Depression-era house with 17 acres on the ridge above it, west of Mt. Palomar, where I learned to shoot a .22 and hike through chaparral without doing too much damage to it or to me, but when it comes down to it I'm still one of those Californians who escaped. (Heck, I was born in Sutter Maternity Hospital in Sacramento--that practically makes me a '49er.)

During most of the eleven years I lived back East, going to school or teaching, I fiercely proclaimed a California identity, and when I found myself in Santa Cruz or San Diego for academic conferences I got the hell out of buildings as fast as I could to head for the redwoods or the desert. In the mid-80s I had a friend in western New York who had grown up not far from me in Pasadena, and I thought it was really quaint that she was always talking about Santa Fe and Tucson. So how did I end up here, and am I one of those evil Californicators who's responsible for the pig-ugly two-story "luxury" houses with three-car garages and fake entrance arches sprouting in the new scrape-and-rape desert developments in Pima County?

I don't know. But I do know that my easterly movement isn't new. Mary Austin's "The Land of Little Rain" is one of the greatest of all books by a California writer, but she left California for good in the 1910s, later to settle permanently in Santa Fe. And already in the 1920s she was condemning what we've come to call Californication, lamenting "the deep resentment I feel toward the totality of Southern California. It can't possibly be as inchoate and shallow as on its own showing it appears, all the uses of natural beauty slavered over with the impudicity of a purely material culture." Already in the 1910s, she hated the colonialist fantasies that led Southern Californians to plant imitations of Hawaii, Sicily, Versailles, or whatever else irrigation would permit, supplanting native chaparral and coastal grassland that were too diminutive, too drab, too scratchy, for the immigrants arriving from points East.

When the Mojave Indians were routinely running along trade-trails that took them from the Pacific Ocean to the New Mexico pueblos, when de Anza passed by San Xavier del Bac on his way to San Gabriel Mission and the northern coast in 1775-76, when the Butterfield Stage linked El Paso with the Anza-Borrego Desert, southern California was part of the Southwest. Once Southern California declared itself a state of mind and elected Narcissus its honorary founding father, the link was cut.

I still don't know just how I wound up here, but what I do know is that I am here, and here's where I draw the line. And if Narcissus tries to cross it, I'll do my best to bust up his mirror, wait till he stops blinking in confusion, and say, pointing, "This is a cholla. This is a gecko. This is a javelina. They live here. They stay. Learn to love them, you can stay, too. Keep on kissing your own reflection, get your alienated ass back to Hollywood."

You'll see Narcissus sneaking into Las Cruces one of these days, but you'll know what to do. If he protests over the broken glass, tell him a Californian said it was for his own good.

David Sewell  *   | "Night-walkers, wizards,
Dep't of Geosciences, University of Arizona     |  bacchanals, revellers,          |  sharers in the mysteries."
                                                |      --Heraclitus
Back to the dsew Netwriting page
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.