Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Revisiting Tuolumne County

I AWAKE IN A SUNNY BEDROOM far from home, slip back the thin fabric window covering, look down the gravel road that led me to this place and think of rectangles. The tiny plot upon which this cottage had been built and rebuilt and rebuilt again is irregular in shape; it’s acreage hard to cipher. The landmark for the turn onto this road is a doublewide with cars and children’s playthings scattered in the front yard. Across the back fence, the neighbor’s house is bigger and a bit newer. An old John Deere and a rusted wheelbarrow rest within mere feet of his front porch. Top of the hill, a gold-rush era look-alike constructed to benefit from a northward view of the Stanislaus River far below and a high and snowy Yosemite ridge far to the east-southeast. An area plot sustains a horse or two; on another, cattle; on another, sheep or goats. Fences made of rotted posts or t-metal iron and hog and barbed wire mark the irregular property lines. Sometimes.

AT HOME, we live in rectangles. Our houses are collections of ninety-degree angles. Our tiny properties, the same. Each house in the neighborhood is a faded shade of Easter egg and each lawn in front a uniform fescue green. When someone doesn’t water or doesn’t trim, there is dissonance. An auto that hasn’t been run for a month is blight. As is the uncoiled garden hose and the unretrieved newspaper from yesterday or the day before. If we knew our neighbor better we might say something or, at least, pick up the paper or coil the hose.

With rectangles, there is order to be honored. Symmetry. Everything fits. We rise in the morning. We eat. We go to work and return. Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

I USED TO LIVE in the mountain foothills. In a neighborhood of long winding gravel drives, Western Bluebirds, hillsides dotted with oaks and stream courses awash with history. To be certain, cares and concerns lived with me in those hills. Now, perusing the blossoms on an old volunteer plum tree, I have to think real hard to remember what they were.


  1. It's really cool to me that your brain can pull that depth out of rectangles, a shape! Love the imagery of houses painted "a faded shade of Easter egg." Interesting point about the neighborhood blight.

  2. I think, maybe, there is some mathematical equation that can solve the mystery of our level of concern for our neighbor's sense of, shall we say, style. It's probably much like one of those word problems that always used to baffle me mathematically, but that I somehow could solve anyway, much to the chagrin of my math teacher.

    The solve for x in this equation would involve the relationship between human population density, natural scenic beauty, and, as Dave says, rectangles. Not sure how to write it in the language of math, but I'm confident some whiz can sort this out.

  3. Most excellent point, Brother Tim. BTW, Sister Pattiboek suggests you show move west and buy a BMW.