Interesting times

Thoughts generated during the drive back from Arizona

Through all kinds of weather
Drought, flood, rain and snow,
We will be together
So it just don’t matter at all

Oh we ain’t got a barrel of money
We may look ragged and funny
But we’re travelin’ on
Singing our song
Side by side
—from the 1927 song “Side by Side”

Driving back this weekend from my vacation in southeastern Arizona felt a little like the lyrics to “Side by Side,” especially the part about drought, rain and snow (and, of course, the part about being together, a little broker than when we left Chico, singing enthusiastically to songs on the radio).

My fiancé, my 10-year-old daughter and I left cloudless, sunny, 80-plus-degree weather in the high (nearly 5,000 feet in elevation) Sonoran Desert at noon on Saturday. By evening, we hit rain in Los Angeles followed by an unexpected snowstorm while driving over the Grapevine followed by lots more cold rain and whipping wind until we made our stop in Tulare for the night.

Driving through Southern and Central California, I noticed a number of curious billboards, including one asserting that the greenhouse effect is a myth, others screaming at Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Barbara Boxer (among others) about shutting off irrigation water to the Central Valley for environmental reasons and turning it into a dust bowl, and one that featured a photograph of a black-and-white cow accompanied by the phrase, “Optigen makes sense.” (Optigen, as it turns out, is a concentrated, slow-release nitrogen product added to the feed of big-ag dairy cattle to help reduce feed costs while maintaining weight gain.)

There’s a fair amount of alarm south of Sacramento. The greenhouse-myth billboard and the ones fearing a second Dust Bowl speak to the notion that folks are trying to make sense of an economy and an environment that are increasingly troubled and fragile, even if they don’t want to believe it. Looking for someone to blame or for supposed holes in someone’s argument are ways to let off steam as well as attempt to preserve a familiar way of life—a job, a home, food on the table and a car (or two or three).

Arizonans don’t seem to feel the same need to let off steam on billboards. In Arizona, they’re packing guns. In fact, while we were there, there was a high-speed police chase through the neighborhood my son lives in of a pair of human smugglers who had just been fingered—the canyons are speckled with signs warning hikers that smuggling and illegal immigration are a regular, dangerous feature of outdoor life there.

“May you live in interesting times.” —ancient Chinese proverb