Change of Terrain: Campground in Central Cali


The sky is that deep but pale color of sky, almost a shade of periwinkle. When I asked the kid at the park entrance if that was a storm coming, he replied, “no I don’t think it’s rain. We are in, like, a seven year drought. It never rains here.” He said it could be the fires burning nearby, but he couldn’t recall where.

Hammocks hang from the trees above the sandy, dusty ground. These hammocks are woven and bright, the kind you’d find on a beach in Mexico. I think of my hammock I left back at home, which I would love to have now. I consider the lightweight, thin nylon material that packs into itself. There are no evergreens here, though these trees here stay ever green considering this drought. In the dimming evening light, they stand out as black silhouettes against the yellow land. Spanish is the language most often heard streaming through the campground heat tonight. Sounds echo, nothing to pad their existence. This grove we strangers sleep in tonight is like an oasis here surrounded by yellow hills.

A young guy comes around in a truck and gets out at each of the campsites. “Hello, uh, I just was wondering if you would like to buy some firewood,” he says as though he feels uncomfortable with the task.

I’m used to people in trucks driving through campgrounds casually calling out their windows, “firewood?” This polite and courteous manner is similar to the young guy in the park entrance booth. I had asked him what kind of species live around here. “What kind of species, like….(confused pause)?”

“…Like wildlife that live around here. Are those deer up there? Are there ticks?”

“Uh to be honest I don’t know. I just started here,” he says.

“Don’t you live around here?” I ask.

“Well, in LB.”

“LB?”

“Oh, sorry,” he says with a smile. “Los Banos.”

I’m smack in the middle of Central California. The part you have to drive through to get to somewhere else. I’m on my way to San Diego. From the Redwoods. I got lucky there was even a campground at all in this area. There are barely any hotels, let alone campgrounds. It’s hot. And dry. And there are no waves or mountains. The outdoor people here are a different kind of outdoor. The contrasts between here and home are peculiar, and I linger on each small detail so different than those to which I am accustomed.

The neighbors compete for the music, but unbeknownst to themselves or each other. Only me. The outsider who sits in silence alone in the back of her dark Subaru with no fire. No tent. No hammock. Nothing. The only thing outside the car is Sage, my feet, her bowl of water and the long leash attached to my hitch. The air seems to be cooling and that is promising, because I am worried we will be too hot.

…..

My worries prove correct. Sleep is a restless sort, and I imagine they will find Sage and I dead from heat stroke in the back of the car. I pull out my phone and google many variations of “sleeping in hot car” to see if we are okay, and I learn I should probably be more worried about carbon monoxide poisoning or suffocation. I am uncomfortable in this new and unfamiliar place so far away from anyone I know. But eventually there is enough light in the sky to leave for a sunrise hike into the hills with Sage girl before getting back on the road.

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