The continuing saga of a beleaguered Sonoma mother of five on the trail of a missing emerald necklace – the legendary Green Tara.
Rachel often fantasizes about living in a Buckeye Creek Estates home. She admits this to no one. She imagines the luxury of having toilets that don’t sing, and countertops made of tile or granite, not Formica. She likes the palette of the Estates, too – slate grey, taupe, and a spectrum of farmhouse whites. The paint on the Alvarez siding has faded to a lighter shade of (the native) guacamole green, adding to the Poltergeisty feeling Rachel gets when she drives up. When seen from across the street, the second story addition lists slightly to the left like the top layer of a wedding cake melting in the sun. The entire frame of the house shakes whenever the door slams, but with two teenage girls, she is used to all the slamming by now.
Sharing the stoop with Rachel are two newspapers – a local weekly and the San Francisco Chronicle, which she’s never subscribed to but which arrives daily nonetheless. She reads about large tracts of land subsiding in the Central Valley beneath the almond orchards as groundwater is sucked from the aquifers. Sacramento politicians vote for tunnels to divert water from life-giving rivers of Northern California to irrigate industrial farms and to satisfy the unquenchable thirst of Southern California. In a special report, the dismissal of the San Francisco Bay and Estuary by Big Ag lobbyists as a barren wasteland hastens the death throes of a vastly distributed food chain.
The author of an Op-Ed calls a new tract housing development in the Valley “Pandæmonium,” an allusion to the capital city of Milton’s Hell because it too had been “built in an hour by demons.” And still, the rain never comes.
April, the cruelest month, brought a few brief showers to the wine country, but these wet sneezes were scarcely enough to settle the dust during the fourth year of the worst drought on record. From November to March, storm systems piled up like a train wreck in the western Pacific, dumping rain over the vast expanses of ocean and depriving the Golden State of the freshwater that developers have relied on in their quest to subdivide every inch of land into a Radiant City of self-storage facilities, big box centers, and corporate campuses.
The long range forecast remains grim. Grape growers keep their heads down, hoping nobody will notice the devastation of oak grasslands and forested hillsides to make room for vineyards on a scale to rival Isengard. They hope nobody will notice how the world’s appetite for cheap chardonnay continues to deflect public scrutiny while these same vineyards create subterranean lunarscapes. But Rachel notices, or used to notice until recently, when she stopped paying attention. She has wearied of her role as Chicken Little. What use is there of sounding the alarm when the sky will never stop falling? Still, that someone else is writing about it is reassuring.
News aside, Rachel has more important issues to contend with. For example, over the winter when the rains didn’t come, she put on 11 pounds, mostly from vanilla pudding cups. Plus, she is approaching an event horizon of housework and self-improvement goals put on indefinite hold while raising children that refuse to be raised. The succession of too many warm sunny days, and all this chronic enthusiasm for growth and expansion, is unnerving.
She thinks wistfully of spring rain, of the metallic smell of droplets on sun-heated asphalt. Rain used to be an excuse to retreat from the world for a while, to deprogram herself from the cult of busy. She is reminded by working mommies in “Livin’ the Dream” t-shirts and LuluLemon yoga tights that, as an unemployed stay-at-home mother, Rachel truly has no idea what “busy” is. Her kind of busy doesn’t count, maybe because it is self-inflicted and evokes scenes of poverty and squalor in their collective imaginations, much like the scene inside the house she is ignoring right now.
Today the sky is monotonously blue, a pastel backdrop for billowing white clouds that bounce like empty thought bubbles from the coast. Spring has formally arrived in the valley, carrying in its breezy tresses every airborne allergen known to man, the scent of rotting cow manure, and a host of spores liberated from the desiccated soil by sudden, powerful gusts of wind that race across the lowlands from San Pablo Bay.
By the time the wind stops in early summer, thousands of landscaping crews will descend upon the yards and neighborhood parks like a swarm of human hornets, blowing, blasting, and drying out the roots and topsoil to make sure the dust never settles on Vallejo’s grave. In fact, Rachel hears one now.
Across the street, a man with a leaf blower blasts a few spent blossoms from one side of the sidewalk to the other, driving the birds and the bees towards rapid local extinction in his path. Rachel puts her hands over her ears.
“It’s a tool,” says Rob, appearing in the doorway. “It saves time.”
“It’s a phallic kazoo,” said Rachel. “Why do you think women never touch them?”
“They have a higher tolerance for disorder?” Rob disappears into the garage – the Den of Chaos itself.
…to be continued