G called me three times during my slow drive home to make sure I was safe through the wild winds in the valley and gusts of rain in the mountains. First came the valley east of Taft - a wry term for what is flat semi-arid land alleviated by vast acres of regimented Langer Farm apple trees - I would call it a plain - where colossal tumbleweeds as massive as haystacks whirled across the road - they were bigger than any I saw in Texas when I drove west in 1976, and I hadn't even known we had tumbleweeds in California; then came whirlwinds whipping up the sandy soil and causing me to drive blind, bringing flashbacks of driving through a sandstorm near Sharm el Sheikh in 1979 and the relief at seeing Egged Bus Stop signs sticking up through the sand at eye level. At one point I slowed to a crawl as the dust was so thick with violent spouts coming off the roadside.
On the way there in patches of pale sunlight I passed hillsides of tall, waving weeds with those little silky yellow petals and remnants of the sweeping slopes of purple-blue lupines. There were also magnificent bushes I have never seen before, lush with pink blossoms - I have no idea what they are - the earlier apple blossoms and perhaps pecan trees were easy to know (Langer Farms! crates for future fruit!) but I pass through these colorwheel sights unable to put names to most of what I see. If I were at the theatre I'd at least know the names of the characters; at the opera I know the names or first words of an aria, when I meet people at least I ask them their name, and here I pass through the wonders of creation in complete ignorance.
As I leave Taft I usually turn to the music program from Fresno and Bakersfield, KVPR FM, 89.3, a happy find the first time I made the trip, when I stumbled on a museum-quality program comparing the music of Schumann, the romantic poetry of Eichendorf and the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. Two weeks running! In Red-Neck country! This time they were broadcasting something that may have been George Gershwin writing An American in a Bad Reception Windstorm, so I switched to a CD with the heart-stopping voice of Dylan Thomas reading his and others' powerful poetry and his wacky non-novel of Adventures in the Skin Trade which is a mixture of Samuel Beckett and Catcher in the Rye but ends ends ends because DT died died died, of drunkenness.
With his voice entering my bones, at the foot of the mountains, I stopped at Grapevine. Now I've always been puzzled by Grapevine. Was it a tangle of roads? That's what I pictured. But no. Once I drove off one exit too early and found myself in a mall of widely spaced gas stations. Surrounded by untamed country. This time I waited until the Grapevine exit and found... another group of gas stations. But smaller. Is Grapevine a village? A sentry post? A camel stop? Keep posted, readers, when I come back from England God-willing and if God is not blasting the heath with witches' winds, I'll venture further and let you know what I find. Maybe... grapevines?