We were driving back to my dad’s place, my sister and me. To the north, the towering Mount San Gorgonio, tallest mountain in Southern California, hovered over us, with lines of snow descending its steep canyons. Next to the road, cows grazed in a seasonal green pasture, ignoring the dramatic scenery that surrounded them.
“Isn’t that sad,” my sister said, “they want to put five thousand homes on this empty land.”
I turned to her. I could not believe in these challenging times for real estate of all kinds, that a development like that would make it to completion.
“Really,” I said. “Are you sure, Kathy? There are thousands of homes around us in this little town alone that are vacant or foreclosed right now. That doesn’t make sense.”
“Well, Dad and I read it in the newspaper.”
This statement from her, I know meant that it must be true.
Empty Land. Empty? Just because it did not have roads and underground utilities, sidewalks, and homes with manicured lawns and fire-retardant roofs, dogs in the front yard behind chain-link fences barking at every stranger on his morning walk? RV’s up on railroad ties with their wheels removed because gas was too expensive? ADT signs posted near the front door warning visitors to keep their distance?
Empty land, indeed.
I thought about that comment as I took my brisk walk up the road toward the “empty land” on the edge of present day development. On my way – in just one morning walk – I spotted a flock, six or eight to be precise, of western bluebirds frolicking in a small pine wood next to the open pasture. The females twittered and the deep blue males followed. Then, several bright yellow American goldfinches burst into their canary-like song. Further along, in a part of the subdivision that had not yet been built on, I was treated to a contest of meadowlark song between two brightly colored males sitting in opposite corners of a prematurely built cinder-block wall – a signature of Southern California privacy shields.
I walked further up the road, past the Baptist church and the old Morongo Indian reservation well. Four beautiful horses grazed in the “empty land” that stretched from the other side of the road up toward the high country beyond. I witnessed four large hawks – or maybe they were eagles, too far in the distance to be sure, screeching and circling their two nests on consecutive Edison high voltage towers. This was a land of contrast for sure.
Empty land? The native grasses had gone to seed and blew back and forth in the cool spring wind – the waves of grain of our national songs. Ground squirrels scurried about in the field at the end of the road, where civilization yielded, finally to the (empty) land. I walked on a little way, but felt more and more like I was out of my element. That I was trespassing into a natural scene that had done just fine by itself for hundreds of millions of years – without our homes and RV’s and roads – thank you very much.
I turned around and headed back to my dad’s small mobile home, where I sleep in his living room and dread the next administration of morphine for his pain. I look forward to the morning when I can go on my walk and once again experience the abundance of this “empty land”.