By Trudy Wischemann
Driving down my street the other day, I found myself noticing how different things are than when I moved here a quarter century ago. This is not news, I know. But if I hadn’t stayed put, if I’d kept on moving every decade or so, like the first half of my life, I wouldn’t have been able to understand the meaning of the differences, or to know something about the causes.
That’s different in itself. The mobility of most Americans, or at least those who participate in mainstream culture, does not allow for this kind of attention to detail. Often, when neighborhoods start to change, it’s a result of that mobility. Some people see change coming and move someplace new, to a place that looks stable (or unchanging) to them because they haven’t lived there. Their exodus leaves an opening for others looking for someplace new, and also changes the place where they arrive. So we go around causing things to change in our desire to remain the same as we were, or sort of the same. But things are different.
I started reading Mark Arax’s new book last week, The Dreamt Land. I figured I had my feet planted solidly enough on my own book’s turf to risk visiting his, and I was right. But this new book of his is at once different from his previous books and also the same: a native son trying to understand what’s different about the truth of his homeland from the stories about it he was taught as a child. In doing so, he takes us into some of the biggest stories that continue to shape this place and make it ripe for warfare. That’s different.
It’s the hero’s journey, really, and not one someone from the outside (like me) can make. Having spent time outside this earthen valley bowl analyzing modern life for the LA Times, Mark has circled back once again to understand where we fit in the big picture, and it’s big. Only a native son looking through eyes with truth and love at the lies and deceptions, the greed and ignorance that shape us could produce this offering.
The road is rough. We all live here with different dreams under an umbrella sun that scorches us equally. On some level we’re all gamblers: there’s nothing certain in a semi-arid climate under the influence of global warming (whether you want to admit its hypothetical likelihood or not.) You can pretend we’re not in a semi-arid climate by buying more water and energy than your geographic terrain supplies; you can pretend you’re worth it, sparing no expense. But basically we’re all in the same boat. The only difference is who is going to row, and who is going to just ride and watch the scenery go by—that’s about the only difference, in actuality. Who gets to live their dreams, and who has to move on or die of thirst. Or cancer. Or legal ramifications—whatever.
I can tell I’m going to take it slow, reading this book. It’s not just any book, and it’s not just another Arax book. This book is a challenge to all of us to start thinking about the state’s future, both the people and the land, the politics and the cultures, the dreamers and the workers. It’s not a book to crash through and then set aside. It’s a book to taste, chew, swallow and digest. But one thing I can guarantee you: if you only read the first 20 pages, the next time you look out your window, or drive down your street, you will see that things are different than you thought. And that’s good. That’s hope.
Trudy Wischemann is a grateful reader who writes in between. You can send her your observations of change c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.